Sunday, 14 October 2012


It occurs to me that there is an unchallenged bias which runs through society, a bias so intrinsic to human nature that we don't ever really think about it at all. I'm not talking about pretty people, although that is an issue which bears examination. No, I am talking about the fact that whenever there is a disaster of some kind and people are killed, the media are always quick to point out how many of them were children. Now, on the surface this seems very rational: children are often innocent of any real crime or malice, and they have their whole lives ahead of them. But when you dig a little, the idea becomes a bit murkier, if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors.

Think of it like this: if your premise is that a child dying is worse than an adult dying, then where do you draw the line. Does a person's life suddenly decrease in value as they achieve the age of majority. 'Happy 18th Danny, you are less important to society now.' And, if that is the case, does this formative moment differ in territories where the age of majority also differs. Is an eighteen-year-old's worth the same in one place as a twenty-one-year-old's in another.

There also arises an interesting mathematical question: is the age of a three-year-old more valuable than that or a four-year-old; is the life of a girl worth more than a boy, given the longer life expectancy, or is it the other way around. Is my life, as a man in his late twenties (ok, early thirties) worth more than a pensioner. The dividing line suddenly seems very arbitrary indeed. I can't imagine anyone saying that a three-year-old and a four-year-old have differing values, but there isn't really a place where one can draw the line and feel comfortable, is there?

On another level, it's kind of insulting to think that people give more of a shit about a child simply because it hasn't had enough time applied to it yet; however, knowing this, I too still feel the irrational sadness whenever I hear that a busload of kids fell off the side of a mountain, more so than I would if it were a busload of adults. Is it reasonable for me to do so, based on nothing more than human emotion. In and of itself, I suppose it is, since my small emotional reaction to a disaster makes no difference to the event itself. But if it could, would I decide to cast the lots randomly, and let everyone take their chances, or would I choose to save the children first?

Imagine if you were on the Titanic as she slumped beneath the Atlantic, and there was one spot left in a lifeboat. You have to choose whether to give the spot to a two-year-old, or a seven-year-old. Is it, 'sorry seven, life is tough'? What if you had wounded on the lifeboat and a qualified doctor standing next to you? Of course, I don't have answers to these questions, but I find it interesting to think about (if not, perhaps, helpful). Take from it what you will.

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