After describing what I planned to submit as an op-ed for a newspaper, an editor there told me that the newspaper might publish it, but to beware of Afghanistanism.
Merriam-Webster defines Afghanistanism as “the practice (as by a journalist) of concentrating on problems in distant parts of the world while ignoring controversial local issues.” Oxford defines it as a “Preoccupation (especially on the part of journalists) with distant events, as a diversion from controversial domestic issues.”
It’s not subterfuge on the part of journalists, nor is it nefariousness on the part of consumers of journalism. It’s a human predilection to care more about events and people that are closer to us. “Out of sight, out of mind” has some real truth to it.
The editor even related the irony of Afghanistanism, a term originating well before the United States and the Soviet Union entered protracted conflicts in that nation. It’s a term used to describe preoccupation with foreign problems and events at the expense of local ones, and the country in the term itself became a local problem. Local residents are to this day deployed, maimed and killed on Afghan soil. Afghanistanism is irrelevant, until it’s not.
Why don’t we spend more time learning about things that matter in the world, even if they don’t seem immediately relevant to us right now? Myanmar recently thought it would be a good idea to drive over 600,000 Rohingyans into Bangladesh, for example.
In his essay, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” Peter Singer says, “If we accept any principle of impartiality, universalizability, equality, or whatever, we cannot discriminate against someone merely because he is far away from us (or we are far away from him.)”
You might ask, “aren’t we more equipped to understand our own community’s issues and people?” Yes. Why can’t we try and understand both though? Isn’t that more valuable to humanity than 10 more minutes of Hulu or 10 less minutes of sleep?