It’s been a while since I’ve written one of my trademarked heartless, unfeeling, insensitive bastard pieces, so I think it’s about time I got it out of my system.
It’s largely a rule of life that the more one has of something, the less one values each individual item. There’s an apocryphal story that, based on their annual earnings, if Bill Gates/Paul McCartney/Warren Buffet were to drop a hundred-dollar bill, they should not pick it up — the cost of their time to stop, bend over, and recover it would be greater than the value of the lost bill. (Note to self: see about getting those restraining orders keeping me from following those gentlemen about lifted.) But nowadays, as both the United States is closing in on 300 million people, and the world apparently has more people living today than have lived and died in all of history, it seems that the value of each individual life has actually increased.
With all the people in this nation, one would think that our national sense of proportion would if not scale in parallel, at least increase. But it seems to have had the opposite effect.
Just for grins, let’s take 1950 as a landmark. We have roughly twice the number of people we have today, so one would think that our sense of proportion would, logically, double. But it doesn’t.
The latest casualty figures out of Iraq list the number of American troops killed as approaching 2200 in the nearly two years since we invaded and toppled Saddam’s regime. In contrast, 2,403 American service members were killed in hours during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The left is currently aflame over blaming Bush for the deaths of twelve coal miners in West Virginia. But when you look at the trend in mine deaths over the last ten years, or since the dawn of the 20th century, the big picture becomes clearer: the Sago mine disaster was an aberration. This is not to diminish the loss of those twelve men, but an attempt to find a context.
With so many people in the United States, one would think that individuals would be less newsworthy. But still some people just manage to capture the attention of the nation. Laci Peterson. Jennifer Wilbanks. Natalee Holloway. Terri Schiavo. Paris Hilton, for god’s sake.
I think I can attribute it to a few factors. The rise in leisure time (defined as time not spent at work) is certainly a factor — people have the time to waste on frivolities and pointless interests. The increase in emphasis on the individual, the focus on things such as self-esteem and self-image and self-consciousness, must play a role.
But I think the key element has been the 24-hour news cycle. My cable lineup features CNN, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, and Fox News — that’s four channels that need to find material to fill up every minute of every day. With that, and the need to compete with each other, there is an insatiable hunger for stories to get and keep viewers.
Andy Warhol’s most famous statement is probably when he said that some day, everyone would have 15 minutes of fame. It took about 40 years and the all-news channels to pull it off, but it looks like it might be here.
So, is it a good or a bad thing? I don’t know. I can see pluses and minuses on both sides. But it certainly seems to me a subject worthy of considering.