Community Update

Digital Empowerment Toolkit Now Available!

At World Pulse, we recognize the need for ongoing learning—for you and for your community! Our toolkits aim to provide the resources you need to advance your social change work.

We are excited to introduce our Digital Empowerment Trainers’ Toolkit, a dynamic resource to help you bring the benefits of connecting online to women in your community. Check it out today! »

Why the numbness?

The difference between 9-11 and the Darfur killings is… What is it? If it is unknown to you, you are not alone. How did we all FEEL after 9-11? Did we feel the same about Darfur? No! Governments did not feel the same either. After 9-11 many things changed, including safety measures and money laundering prevention. But after Darfur, only minor changes took place.

For every person killed in 9-11, there were about 100 people killed in Darfur; this means that for every person you remember from 9-11 with a picture in your home, you probably would have to have two walls full of pictures of people dead in Darfur.

Was 9-11 a genocide? To UN scientists, it was, and it was recognized as so immediately by the world and most world governments. Was Darfur a genocide? To the same scientists it was, but even when the press was informing day to day with pictures and media coverage, people over the world remained silent, astonished, not able to determine if it was genocide indeed. The same happened with governments around the world: they watched, and looked away.

There are studies made by experts from the UN and other instances that coincide stating that the reason why this happens lays in the psychology of genocide and what happens with our brain with big numbers: numbness. To make it simple, they state that the brain is not able to make an image of a big number of people.

This fact makes it easier for people to give money to charities that share stories of people in trouble, who they can picture in their minds, instead of supporting the millions of victims from genocide, which cannot be pictured in their mind frame.

For me, we also need to study the ecology of the Sudan and the US populations. The real difference lies in the survival strategy of each society. I call it the ECOLOGY OF SOCIETIES. Ecology comes from the Greek word ‘oykos’ (home), just as the word economy. For this reason, many have named ecology as ‘The Economy of Life’. One stem of ecology, the Dynamics of Populations, studies the causes and modifications of the abundance of species in a given environment.

According to the ecological theory, there are two strategies that affect this abundance: k and r. The dramatic truth that we refuse to see, is that these strategies of survival of populations used in ecology, can be also transmitted into human populations. Let’s see:

k survival strategy

Low reproductive rate (implicit in the fertility index)
Paternal care to descendants
Big corporal dimensions
Long generational time
Stable habitat
Low or constant mortality rates
Low migration
Defensive mechanisms development
Inter specific competition
Small number of siblings
Late reproduction

r survival strategy

High reproductive rate
No paternal care to descendants
Small corporal dimensions
Short generational time
Unstable habitat
High mortality rates
High migration
Inexistence of defensive mechanisms
Intra specific competition
Big number of siblings
Early reproduction

“Ecología y Formación Ambiental”. Vásquez, Guadalupe Ana María, McGraw Hill, 1996

If we translate these characteristics into the populations of the US and Darfur, we will see that the US easily fits into the k strategy of survival, while the Darfur society fits into the r scheme.

Besides the psychological reason exposed by UN scientists, there is also a physical and ecological reason why Darfur numbed us all: their implicit survival strategy. Does this mean that we have to look away just because Darfur society lives within the r survival strategy? Not at all. Realizing they actually have a survival strategy that is different from the US one (and in the larger view, different from most industrialized countries), will make us take more integral steps into the prevention of genocide inside this type of societies.

One more aspect that should be exemplified here is how most developing countries are in reality immersed into a change of survival strategy, and the stages of this development is what makes them different. As human beings, we need to take full action over these aspects.

Animals have been studied by us through this perspective for about four decades now, and ecology has taken great steps towards the preservation of natural heritage. How successful have we been in terms of doing the same with human heritage?

Isn’t it true that ‘The Economy of Life’ needs to be used to redefine our economic horizons? Isn’t it true that genocide definitions and scarce legislation have not been enough to prevent Darfur happenings? What are we waiting for to apply the ecological science into economy and living standards of underdeveloped populations?
Do we want another Darfur in South America or anywhere else?


Maria Cuellar's picture


Hi Jacquie,

As always, I find your piece very powerful. I thought this line was very true: "what happens with our brain with big numbers: numbness." If people were to feel more and more pain for each person who died in each genocide, war, or terrorist attack, we would feel much worse about Darfur than about 9-11. I sometimes think that humans are incapable of doing this, and sometimes they stop feeling pain for humans far away, and just start feeling pain for disasters that happen to their loved ones.

It seems that the world's media coverage is more subjective than the UN scientists, but they should both have more support for people in worse situations.

Thanks for writing this editorial,

heatherc67's picture

Genocide Condition

Hi Jackie,

Compelling piece. The question that remains is it "numbness of the mind?" When Rwanda occurred in 1994, the U.S. press secretary was trying to determine what genocide meant and was the atrocities happening in Rwanda meet that definition. Also, within my country our history does not come out and say that the European immigrants committed genocide on the Native Americans and this includes both American continents.

The numbness often occurs, because the U.S. media does not give as much attention to Darfur or Rwanda as it did with 9/11. Also, it can occur when information is lacking within the schools and other learning resources.

Thank you for sharing this!



jap21's picture

Hi Heather

What you state here is completely true. What I say in the article is intended to be seen as a pragmatic approach, in which theories are taken to be 'tools' rather than competing claims of truth, to be considered as having greater promise to move ecological and sociological research in a constructive direction, to finally promote global thinking towards more egalitarian, sustainable life processes in the planet.

Thanks for being so open minded and taking the time to answer my post.

In friendship,


Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America

Magazine »

Read global coverage through women's eyes

Inside Congo's Growing Sisterhood

Inside Congo's Growing Sisterhood

Community »

Connect with women on the ground worldwide

PAKISTAN: They Went to School and Never Came Back

PAKISTAN: They Went to School and Never Came Back

Campaigns »

Be heard at influential forums

WWW: Women Weave the Web

WWW: Women Weave the Web

Programs »

Help us train women citizen journalists

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

Blog »

Read the latest from World Pulse headquarters

Announcing Our Prize Winners!

Announcing Our Prize Winners!

Partners »

Join forces with our wide network of partners

Nobel Women's Initiative

Nobel Women's Initiative