Whenever there is a natural disaster there is an outpouring of sympathy and compassion. Which is only natural. When the catastrophes cuts a wide swath and is as dramatic as the recent earthquake in Haiti, much of our compassion is driven by the media. Not that our milk of human kindness does not flow on its own, but the media sort of sets the agenda as it does in so many other aspects of our lives.

In a few days if not weeks Haiti will fall off the front pages and prime time news, and the media will find something else to latch on to. And we will follow it loyally to get our next fix. Haiti will go back to being normal: poor, violent, deprived, on the margins of global consciousness. The earthquake only heightened its misery and brought it into sharp focus. But for decades Haiti has been constantly rocked by economic and political quakes. Unbeknownst to us.

The world economic system based on profit and driven by greed has created conditions in which a few rich countries live off of the wealth of countries that are rich in resources but whose people live in dire poverty. Of course, all this has been analysed to death – from Adams to Marx to Keynes. Those who have read even a bit of any of these worthies know what the routine is. I bring it up only to highlight how, as a human race, we have got so accustomed to, desensitised to unimaginable inequalities of human life.

There is nothing “natural” about economic disasters. They are man-made, even if earthquakes are not (but the jury is still out on that one). But of course the mass media and our masters – in corporations, governments and universities – will never tell us this. And most of us do not care to know. We go with the flow, from media sensation to media sensation.

If we were talking about this in the context of a religion we should be branding ourselves as blind and irrational. But our modern religion of endless economic growth and endless consumption is so secular, serving the gods of the market. Nothing blind or irrational about it. Our collective conscience will be aroused by a Haiti-like disaster every now and then. But for the rest of the time we will allow the media to rule our lives and let our conventional wisdom make sense of our world.

The thing is that natural disasters can’t be brushed under the carpet. The media makes a big deal about it. But man-made disasters – resulting from the robbing of poor countries, wars, corporate greed – can be nicely packaged and made to appear as a natural order of things. No unreasonable demands are made on our compassion and generosity. We must save those for another earthquake, another tsunami. The tsunamis of everyday life are neatly tucked out of view. We live in an Orwellian reality. Obama gets the Nobel Peace Prize and justifies war without even wincing. Did we hear even a tweet of irony about that in the media?

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