So, in the light of the terrible things happening in the states at the moment, I thought now would be an appropriate time to talk about relativity.
Sandy is causing enormous amounts of suffering and loss on the East coast. Eight million are without power, thousands of homes are destroyed and 48 are confirmed dead (from Contra Costa Times, 31/10/12, 2pm UTC+12). This is a tragedy, and understandably we are all praying for the wellbeing of those who are afflicted by this.
However in perspective this storm is nothing. We talk of 8 million without power, but hundreds of millions go without power for their entire lives. Thousands lose their homes, when millions never had sufficient housing to begin. People are cut off from food and medical supplies by the storm, but in many parts of the world food and medical supplies simply aren't there to begin with. Forty-eight people tragically died because of hurricane Sandy, but global poverty kills more people every three years than WWI and WWII combined, including the holocaust (from Pogge's book on global poverty).
Why don't we have the same level of public outcry about atrocities like this occurring every day? It's easy enough to push from our minds, at least when we're not faced with news-worthy event like the natural disasters that hit Haiti or Indonesia a few years back. It could be a form of apathy, an attitude that things that happen continually are just a fact of life, whereas a sudden disaster captures our minds.
But it's more than that. It's the same reason we are more upset when a relative falls sick than a complete stranger, and why we don't break down in tears whenever we read the obituary section of the local paper. We care more about things that are familiar to us, things we can relate to. New York has Broadway, it's the scene for dozens of movies and tv shows that we know and love. To see it empty and devastated by storm is so much more personal for us than images of starving children a world away. We can push global poverty and its hideous death toll out of minds simply because we have never truly experienced anything like it in our lives, and we just can't conceptualise it. It's different, it's outside, it's nothing to do with us... unlike those poor first-world people hit by a superstorm in cities as familiar to us as our own.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Sandy. But we have to bear in mind that far greater disasters occur every day, and ones that we can do much more about.