How Do We Avoid Becoming Numb to the Crisis in Afghanistan? by Christina Lux, Mohabbat Ahmadi, and Ignacio López-Calvo

When we see body counts rise, the human capacity to respond often becomes frozen. “The more who die, the less we care,” as highlighted in a recent article published in Risk Analysis, which follows up on Paul Slovic’s earlier work on psychic numbing. We have all seen this happen with COVID – the number of deaths become almost incomprehensible. Knowing this, as we see article after article cascading through the news on the millions at risk for starvation in Afghanistan, how can we counter the numbness we know may set in? How do we deal with the feeling that nothing we can do at this stage matters? 

We believe one answer is to focus on our immediate spheres of expertise and influence and commit to making a difference in the life of at least one person during this crisis. For us, as scholars, artists, and academics, that has meant focusing on safeguarding scholars and artists in the Afghan academy.  At UC Merced, we just established a fund for scholars at risk and launched an emergency campaign that will allow us to bring one Afghan scholar or artist and their family to UC Merced for a year or longer.  Campuses across the UC system have been working together on this effort, in collaboration with organizations such as Scholars At Risk and the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund. For you, responding from your area of expertise may mean something else — for example, if you’re a firefighter, a K-12 schoolteacher, a small business owner, a pastor, an imam, or a coach. 

We know there are much larger issues at hand that brought us to this day — both historical and systemic problems. We may disagree about the root causes, but as we continue to work on those larger problems, we must still acknowledge the urgency of this current moment and the individual lives being impacted each day.  The crisis is now, so let us respond immediately to the people who are arriving in our neighborhoods and communities, as well as those remaining in Afghanistan according to our capacity.   

Several of our former U.S. Presidents and First Ladies, across party lines, are honorary co-chairs of a new campaign to “remind us that this is our opportunity, in a time of all too much division, for a common purpose.” Take a look at and see how you might help welcome the refugees we will have coming to our communities. Whatever your politics may be, our nations have now become deeply intertwined. We owe it to the people of Afghanistan to acknowledge our interconnected histories, to take the time to make space for those arriving, and to welcome them, one by one, each in our own way.   

Perhaps our new neighbors can help us find better solutions for the future, both here in our own communities and in the communities they are coming from. 

Christina Lux holds a Ph.D. in Romance Languages from the University of Oregon and a Certificate in Conflict Resolution from Cornell University.  She previously served as a Cultural Envoy to Brazzaville, Congo at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy, where she worked with youth who had survived the civil war. She is co-editor of the book The Humanities in the Age of Information and Post-Truth and her work has also appeared on NPR, in the Houston Chronicle, and in journals such as Women’s Studies Quarterly and BioScience. She is the Managing Director of the Center for the Humanities at UC Merced. 

Mohabbat Ahmadi formerly taught Business Administration at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul. He is also an artist whose work can be found at He maintains ties with both scholarly and arts communities in Afghanistan and the United States. He currently works at UC Merced and previously worked at UC Berkeley. 

Ignacio López-Calvo holds a Ph.D. in Romance Languages from the University of Georgia and is the author of 80 articles and 8 books.  His work focuses on Latin American authors of Asian descent and the relationship between human rights, racialization, gender, migration, and authoritarianism. He has also edited three volumes on East-West cross-cultural relations, as well as an anthology of Spanish-language Jewish and Arab authors. He is a Professor of Latin American Literature and Culture, Presidential Endowed Chair in the Humanities, and Director of the Center for the Humanities at UC Merced.