I have been known to mock Damian Doyle (aka Toaf) because he seems to spend an inordinate amount of time looking for one new disaster or human tragedy so that he can suggest that we should all either feel terrible guilt that we are living in plush western affluence, or a deep shame that we don’t automatically divest ourselves of all worldly possessions and give money till it hurts. I like to suggest that his interest in world wide suffering makes him a fan of “disaster Porn”.
Personally I tend to think that charity begins at home and I am far more inclined to support causes that are more local. Yet it is the malaise of the modern left to think that their guilt chips can be made quiet by the constant giving of alms.
So I found the piece in today’s age rather interesting it rather neatly lays out the dilemma inherent in our interconnected world, caused in part by the 24 hour global news cycle. Not a week goes by without there being news of some new natural or man made disaster. I think that it is only natural that we all eventually become rather immune to the images of suffering on the TV. Likewise I have absolutely no time for the constant calls from charity organisations seeking donations I have developed a standard replay along the lines of “As a matter of policy I do not donate to any organisation who cold call me” and it seems to give them the message with out being too nasty that I don’t appreciate their begging. Anyway this ramble is by way of an introduction to the OP Ed piece that I found in today’s age by Maria Tumarkin:
But wait, should you be giving money to the Pakistan appeal when you walk past homeless people in your city every day, when eight young indigenous people killed themselves in the Northern Territory recently, and when traumatised children have been exposed to intolerable levels of anxiety, distress and self-harm in detention centres?
Actually, should you be giving money to strangers (assuming a part of your donation reaches those strangers in the first place) when your own sister cannot pay rent or your own grandparents are struggling on a government pension? Is this not the height of hypocrisy to look away from the needs of those closest to you, to judge them less pressing and serious than the needs of people on the other side of the world?
AND I am not even going into the serious critiques of foreign aid as a whole, such as the one recently put forward by economist Dambisa Moyo in her book Dead Aid (Oprah loves it!). Moyo is hardly the first to argue that societies become trapped in aid dependency, which perpetuates disempowerment and endemic corruption, and gives rise to more poverty and dependency still. (In the same way Noel Pearson, love him or hate him, has argued that welfare dependency has trapped and poisoned indigenous communities across Australia.) In his recent public lecture Against Charity, philosopher Slavoj Zizek proclaims that in the West charity has been swallowed whole by cultural capitalism (see, for instance, the rise of the so-called philanthrocapitalism) and altruism has been subsumed by consumerism so the two can no longer be pulled apart – buy Starbucks coffee and support free-trade coffee producers; choose organic and save the planet; shop here and say a decisive no to child labour.
In my younger days there were probably no fewer natural disasters, no fewer wars and definitely no more instances of individual suffering its just that the news of events and the vision of that disarray and the faces of the starving are there in our living rooms day in and day out. Oh I know this is sort of the opposite of the “If a tree falls in the Forrest“riddle because we hear the sound of suffering so much that so much we no longer seem to notice any individual instance of pain.
Anyway Maria Tumarkin’s column is thought provoking and worth reading