Red Shirt Effect - Why We Disregard Human Life

If you were ever a fan of the original Star Trek series, then you know that wearing a red shirt is fatal if you aren't Scottish. Likewise, for you Star Wars fans out there, you know that putting on a Storm-trooper uniform means you are basically disposable.  Our stories are full of deaths and violence which don’t bother us at all. This would, of course, not be an issue except that the same psychological process which keeps us apathetic to the death of another “Red Shirt” is the same process which we use to diminish human life in the real world.

Narcissistic Storytelling


Every culture has a foundation in how it tells its stories. Sometimes we express our values in the choices characters make, but sometimes the way we tell the story itself is more of a reflection on our values. For example, we tell VERY narcissistic stories. More often than not, the main characters in a story are the only ones that matter. We are given a character to relate with, and then the preservation of that character becomes essential. We want him or her to live, but don’t really care about all the other people who may be dying along the way. So if a Red Shirt dies, who cares? But if Kirk dies… We riot!

Shared Identify and Tribal Loyalty

If you love those who love you, what credit can you expect? Even sinners love those who love them. - Luke 6:32

So this comes down to one of the most simple of human shortcomings; we like those like us and don’t like those who are not like us. More dramatically, we personally identify with those like us and distance ourselves from others. Even though they aren’t “official,” we still have class-based social structures and hierarchies. The further away our class is from another, the less human that class seems to us. The rich often see the poor as “trash,” and the poor often see the rich as simply being “the man” (in a bad way).

Why The Game of Thrones Shocked Us

George R.R. Martin set a new precedence in story telling by building up characters as relatable, thereby humanizing them to us, and then still proceeding to kill them off. The effect? We feel real emotional loss at characters in the story. The Internet is full of people talking about how George seems to be playing with their emotions by “forcing” them to like a character just long enough to make us sad when they die. And then he does it again, and again, and again… we just never knew we could care so much about so many people in a story.

Red Shirts Should NEVER Be Real

As thousands of children and mothers cross into our borders, so many people still just see them as a nuisance, or trash to be gotten rid of. Many of these people are the very same ones who would be lighting a candle vigil and holding a prayer circle if a local child was kidnapped. The difference? The local child is “one of us” and the immigrants are just “them.” They aren't human to us, and we don’t experience the same empathy as we do for those we identify with.

This dehumanizing class psychology is at the heart of most of the worst violence in the world. You see, it is hard for us to kill human being, so to act on our fears and anger we have to make some people  “less than human.” It is all fun and games when the red shirt gets disintegrated by a phaser, but it is another issue when the bodies are filling mass graves.

Empathy is a Muscle We Have to Develop

I remember watching the Iraq war on the news in 2003, and hearing the death toll numbers roll by, nothing really phased me. Then I heard that David Bloom, and NBC reporter died while covering the war in Iraq. It phased me, and I felt bad. He didn’t even die from the war itself, it was a health condition. But since I saw him on the TV, he was the Kirk and everyone else was just the red shirts.

If you are looking for a practical devotion to grow your spiritual maturity, then try practicing empathy. Look at people you don’t care about or relate to and try to see them they way you would your children, your parents, or even those in your own churches. How would your political views about the world change if it was your family trying to cross the border to find safety? How differently would you think about war or foreign countries if you just saw them all as family? We tolerate way too much, because it only happens to “them."

Human beings, not "illegals"

Human beings, not "illegals"