By Andrew Quist. Photograph by UO College Democrats.
Psychic numbing prevents us from scaling our emotions and empathy when confronted with statistics of human suffering. Statistics alone do not motivate us to act to solve large-scale problems. But visual displays can overcome psychic numbing by turning statistics into something tangible.
If you walk along the main quadrangle in the University of Oregon this week, you’ll see 732 small flags representing all of the victims of school gun violence in the U.S. since the shooting at Thurston High School in 1998 in the neighboring town of Springfield.
The display was created by the University of Oregon College Democrats. In an interview with the student news website Daily Emerald, Program Director Kevin Lance explained, “When it’s numbers on a screen it’s hard to put that into perspective. It helps to see the numbers.”
The idea was inspired by a similar visual representation. In the fall of 2016, groups dedicated to raising awareness of sexual assault placed hundreds of flags on the same quadrangle to represent campus sexual assault victims. And in 2007 various peace and veterans groups filled the lawn with flags, representing deaths from the war in Iraq.
In each instance, the advocates behind the displays attempted to go beneath the surface of the numbers to communicate the individual reality of the victims. Flags displays are one of many ways activists can use visual representation to overcome psychic numbing and motivate pro-social behavior.
To learn more about gun violence, visit the website for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence: lawcenter.giffords.org
To learn more about psychic numbing, click here.