“One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” This pithy aphorism—variants of which have been attributed to several historical figures, mostly Joseph Stalin—is key to understanding the hysteria that has dominated the first half of 2020 in the USA.
Its meaning seems simple enough: death only matters inasmuch as the ones dying are made to matter. Accordingly, if just one person dies—but you know (and presumably like) that person—such a death becomes “tragic.” Conversely, no matter how astronomical their number, the deaths of nameless and faceless people carry no “intimate”—that is to say, no emotional or sentimental—factor. They are just “statistics.” (This latter view is bolstered by the fact that death is inevitable and comes in a myriad of ways. So why obsess over or be shocked by it—especially when it comes to strangers?)
Communist dictator Joseph Stalin’s stated claim—that “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”—is often referenced today to explain how he managed to kill millions of his own people. By seeing that his victims largely remained nameless and faceless, he ensured that their otherwise tragic deaths would appear as mere and inevitable statistics.
Ironically, while this would be an example of how a dictator can present his diabolical deeds as benign, since the start of 2020, the reverse tactic has been used in the US: a comparatively few deaths that, like the countless ones before them, might have remained statistical, have been presented as personal tragedies in order to scare, demoralize, and demonize America.
To understand this, one must first put aside their emotions and objectively consider some facts (i.e., easily “triggered” types need read no further).
Enter COVID-19: when kept in context, the number of lives lost to this virus is unremarkable and has not warranted the virtual shutdown of the U.S. and its economy. Why? Because coronavirus is only one of many causes of “preventable deaths” in the U.S. As discussed here, about a million Americans die every year from preventable causes—meaning causes that, often more than coronavirus, can easily be, but are not, prevented. Although these deaths are exponentially more than those from coronavirus, the media never says a word about them; they are mere and inevitable “statistics.”
Why this disparity? Why provide us with the names, faces, and stories of those who have died from coronavirus—but never talk about the millions who have died from other preventable causes of deaths, including from similar diseases (like regular flu, which annually claims as many as 80,000 American lives)? Why constantly show us a red bar on every news screen noting every single death caused by coronavirus—but never show us a similar graph of the many millions more who died from other preventable causes? Why not have a constant graph showing us how many Americans die annually—nearly three million in 2018, or 7,708 every day—and how they die?
In short, every death from coronavirus has been intentionally turned into a personal tragedy, while millions of deaths from similarly preventable and often more tragic causes in the U.S.—41,000 from second-hand smoke, 40,000 from car accidents—have remained a statistic; things we just learn to live with.
Then there was the George Floyd incident: while arresting a black man, a white police officer killed him. America has since been on fire; listening to the media, one would think that racism is so embedded in America that all across its streets police are randomly arresting, torturing, and murdering black men. Accordingly, widespread violence, looting, burning, the destruction and decapitation of America’s heritage—even the “annexation” of territory in Seattle—are the inevitable backlash that must be patiently endured.
And yet, the irony remains: if black lives matter—and they certainly do—shouldn’t we start by saving the exponentially more black lives lost at the hands of other blacks? Every year, several thousand blacks are murdered by other blacks in the streets of America; between just 1979 and 2014, 324,000 blacks were killed by other blacks. Indeed, just this last weekend, 85 were shot, and 24 died—including a 3-year-old and a 13-year-old girl—in Chicago alone.
And yet, this is a nontalking point for the media; these thousands of needlessly and tragically lost black lives are a statistic.
It comes to this: death is inevitable; everyone will experience it, one way or another. As such, whenever the media make a big deal about any one—or one kind of—death, know that they are doing so only because it serves an agenda: in this case, to sow fear, hatred, and division.
Joseph Stalin knew how this works; so do his neo-Marxist successors in America.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Sword and Scimitar, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.