Americans must read more than just the headline on complex issues

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Near the Lexington light rail station in St. Paul, Minn., protesters with Black Lives Matters block traffic to and from TCF Bank Stadium before an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. Black Lives Matter St. Paul staged a die-in on the Green Line light-rail tracks to protest what they consider excessive force by Metro Transit police officers who arrested a boy with autism there Aug. 31. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT; ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS OUT; MAGS OUT; TWIN CITIES LOCAL TELEVISION OUT

Near the Lexington light rail station in St. Paul, Minn., protesters with Black Lives Matters block traffic to and from TCF Bank Stadium before an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. Black Lives Matter St. Paul staged a die-in on the Green Line light-rail tracks to protest what they consider excessive force by Metro Transit police officers who arrested a boy with autism there Aug. 31. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT; ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS OUT; MAGS OUT; TWIN CITIES LOCAL TELEVISION OUT

“Eat your vegetables! There are starving children in Africa!” At eight years old, as you squirm in your seat, yearn to go outside to play in the yard and stab your broccoli repeatedly with your fork, you may not question your mother’s admonition. You may accept it at face value and feel guilty about the bounty of food you’ve been provided in the face of this reminder of those who are not as fortunate as you.

You also might question the relevance of the plight of malnourished kids in a far-off continent in contrast to your full belly and a longing for playtime. And as you grow up, attend college and take your mandatory philosophical inquiry class, you may learn the official title of the reason behind your mother’s well intentioned argument: the fallacy of relative privation.

Otherwise known as the appeal to bigger problems, the fallacy of relative privation refers to the occasion when arguments about certain issues are minimized on the grounds that more important issues exist, like when eight-year-old you argues you’re being drowned out by the idea that there are children in the world who are not.

The fallacy of relative privation again came to light in the argument that people should not publicly and intensely mourn the loss of a single lion’s life when many African-Americans endure a daily fear the loss of their lives at the hands of police.

For those who aren’t familiar with the two sides of this dilemma, here’s a brief recap: Cecil was a protected lion at a Zimbabwean park who was illegally killed by an American dentist in July, sparking massive social media outrage and petitions that clamored for the prosecution of Cecil’s killer. Many celebrities, including Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Kimmel and Ariana Grande, expressed grave dismay at the perceived absurdity of this act.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement began in 2013 with the shooting of Trayvon Martin and has continued to increase the magnitude of its campaign against police brutality after the deaths of unarmed citizens Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Some claim the extreme backlash against the killing of Cecil the Lion was unwarranted when, in their eyes, there has not been a similar outpour of support from public figures and groups regarding the previously mentioned deaths of the unarmed black men and others who have been killed by police in the past year.

An article in USA Today addressed this phenomenon when it said the death of Cecil the Lion has “the added advantage of being less controversial.” The Huffington Post supported this idea by suggesting that the outrage around his killing was “easy.” Because most people could quickly understand the particulars of this lone animal’s death and almost everybody agreed that it was immoral, celebrities and social media commentators could express anger at the act without fear of speaking out of turn and, more importantly, without having to comb through the particulars and ambiguities that BLM attempts to raise awareness about. Ultimately, the story of Cecil the Lion is one that unites readers, listeners and viewers.

Some have accused the media of being racially biased for not covering the BLM movement as voraciously as they did with the killing of Cecil the Lion. This begs the question: where are people finding out about these cases of police brutality, if not from the media? When comparing the number of hits from Google News, The New York Times, CNN and Fox News, all outlets had far more articles on the BLM movement than Cecil the Lion.

So what should we attribute the perceived lack of widespread interest and passion surrounding the movement? It harkens back to the idea that understanding what happened in the case of Cecil the Lion is far easier than comprehending the details of all of the cases that BLM draws attention to.

An 2008 article by NPR titled “Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again” covers how scientific evidence has shown that the human brain can’t multitask. Instead, it rapidly shifts from one task to another. The “executive system” of the brain decides which tasks to focus on and when to suppress irrelevant information. So when  aimlessly scrolling through Twitter or Facebook, readers must make a conscious effort not to skip over controversial topics such as BLM.  Instead, they should stop, pause and click on the article link.

Unfortunately, this is not what the average reader does. When New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo gathered data about readers’ habits, he found that when looking at Slate stories online, most people only scroll halfway through an article before stopping. And if that applies to print as well, I’m sure many of those who began to read this article are long gone by now! Cecil the Lion is easy to comprehend in a couple of paragraphs; the scope of the Black Lives Matter movement is not.

Important issues, such as potential injustices against a race that has been historically oppressed in this country, have thus become lost in the shuffle. In the age of Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter, there is simply too much information for any one person to consume it all. People are naturally scared of getting left behind so, if left on default, our “executive systems” will start to repress reading or watching most things that require a little more time to comprehend.

DePaul philosophy professor Danielle Meijer believes learning about the BLM movement would actually help the cause of those who are seeking justice for Cecil the Lion and vice versa. Because we are all interdependent, according to Meijer, all of our issues are interdependent and inevitably boil down to the same goal: helping the greatest number of people and animals achieve their greatest good.

“That’s always been a big question in ethics, in philosophy,” Meijer said. There are so many things to worry about, and because of technology, we do have an information overload.”

Meijer said the false dichotomy of having to choose between Cecil the Lion and Black Lives Matter stems from many people’s inability to realize we are all connected and therefore, all of the causes we care about are connected as well.  She pointed out that even within the BLM movement, cases and issues are ranked by which ones are discussed the most, and that these specifics can be distracting. Meijer believes that this idea is far more important than arguing about the hierarchy of social issues, which is actually doing something about what we believe in.

How does this relate back to that eight-year-old who eats her vegetables because children in Africa can’t? Logical fallacies are argument shortcuts; they allow us to make our point quickly and directly without evaluating all perspectives and details. But just as the BLM movement leaves room for all lives without having to literally say it seeks to protect all races from police brutality, there is room in our media landscape for all stories without having to waste valuable time literally ranking their importance. The importance of a story is relative to an individual’s life and experiences, and so it’s the individual’s responsibility to familiarize themselves with stories that might not be vital to them but are life-and-death matters to others.

At this point, it’s not about awareness of major stories. It’s safe to assume that most who are aware of Cecil the Lion are also aware of the deaths of Trayvon Martin,Mike Brown and Eric Garner. It’s not about hearing these stories, or scanning them. It’s about listening. It’s about comprehension. So, while learning about entire movements like BLM might require a little extra effort and take you out of your comfort zone, your mom was right: Eat your vegetables.