Monday, January 03, 2005

Tragedy du jour or bias?

I just saw an amussing comic on the tsunami relief effort:

It featured a helicopter labeled, "US concern" caring a care package labeled, "relief" to Sri lanka... in the foreground stood starving Sudanese folks watching the aid package go by. It got me thinking: What's our (the world's) deal with helping Africa? Or maybe it's as simple as the fact that the Tsunami/Earthquake is so recent, while the hundreds of thousands of folks who've been slaughtered in Rwanda, Darfur and other regions in Africa, coupled with the massive AIDS pandemic is simply "yesterday's news"?

I don't know if human beings have an endless supply of sympathy or empathy for each other... i knwo at some point we have to pick our battles and help those we can, or those we seem to connect most with; but i'll be damned if Africa doesn't seem to get screwed in this whole deal year after year. Then again maybe it's just me... Maybe everyone's doing enough and there's just more suffering than relief in the world and we just have to suck it up and be grateful for not being on the receiving end as much as others have been/continue to be. I dunno.

CNN released a study in the last few days that said that America spends less than half of one percent of its budget on non-military related foreign aid. Makes us look pretty bad, don't you think? Americans spent over a billion dollars last year on fastfood alone according to the "Super Size This!" documentary (which by industry accounts was way more accurate than Michael moore on his best day.) It's weird having a president brag about $35 million in foreign aid then couple hundred million, knowing that we blow ten times that on grease alone...

Anyway, I just think we have to do more... At some point we all--the entire world--have to commit to being servants and not just consumers or conquerors. At some point we have to see that we are a part of the same human family and that our differences should strengthen us and not divide us. We just have to do more for each other...

Don't we?

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At 11:34 AM, Blogger Seth said...

Great post.

A buddy and I discussed this over lunch today. Not to lessen the impact of this tradegy or how great the response has been, but more people die in poverty, disease, war, and AIDS every YEAR. Heck, probably every week or so at its worst. The supreme social injustice of an entire continent of people being flushed down the toliet makes this tsunami look like child's play. Sadly - while it may make for sexier news coverage - nature can't hold a candle to humanity's inaction.

To answer your question, yes, we should help each other more then we do. Having a good morality isn't just about what we shouldn't do but also about what we SHOULD do. You'd think today all I needed to be moral was to make sure my wife doesn't get an abortion and be sure to not kiss dudes.

It's all much bigger then that. For example, it's also the fact that others die so that I may live as I wish. This is a much bigger moral dilemma in today's world. It is much bigger then much money we should 'pledge' (check out today's NYTimes, let's see how much of these millions actually GET to victims) to this recent disaster.

We MUST help our brothers and sisters who live in devestating poverty. Their and our futures depend on it. It is even more important then the 'war' on terrorism.

Personally I'm hardly perfect at this... in fact I downright suck. I can hardly keep myself from going out to lunch every day much less being philantropic. But this is a point to start, and I think I'm doing alright if I see the world in all its injust and pain then MOVE towards doing right, to bringing justice and mercy to the afflicted.

I encourage all of us to do that. The world sucks. We can do something about it. Bono says it great on the new U2 album, 'I heard your voice whispering 'in science and in medicine I was a stranger and you took me in.'

To close, check out organizations like DATA, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Sojourners, and others. I really believe that the 21st Century will be defined not by things like the internet or even terrorism, but by how we responded to crushing poverty. We have the science, the money, and the means, but do we have the will? It's save the world or else.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

Well..first I'd like to say that it makes sense we send stuff to Sri Lanka first since they were one of the hardest hit...although, technically we should send more to Indonesia, since they were THE hardest hit of all. Anyways, I would think that the 350 million would be divided and distributed with the hardest hit countries getting the largest percentage and then the rest getting smaller percentages. But who knows if anyone will get it right.

However, I would like to note that there is DEFINITELY a bias AGAINST Africa and African peoples. There's just no doubt about it. We [the world] sat back and watched as approx. 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days. THEN, the U.S. has the gall to say that it would never let another Rwanda happen and yet here we are again...with genocide in Darfur. No one gives a crap. I have to say..the browner you are, then the less the world in general or the Western world, cares about you. AND..the less your country has to offer, the less the Western World cares about you. If Rwanda had tons of oil, then I'm sure we would have stepped in with the hopes of being "justly" rewarded after providing our help.

At 2:19 PM, Blogger Pontificate4U said...

Wow-great timing. I woke up this morning with something stuck in my craw and decided to burn one and write exactly what came to mind. Afterwards I came here and wondering if perhaps anyone else shared my sentiments, and lo and behold . . . Here is my contribution (it's a little long winded and scattered but I hope that can be excused)

Yesterday I completed a post wherein I was unable to properly articulate what I was feeling. So here goes . . . This morning I woke up, turned on the computer and proceeded to peruse the tragic headlines dominating the media outlets. After about 30 minutes of mindless drubbing, compliments of the "gifted" AP'esque writers so prevalent in journalism nowadays, (I think this owes much to the fact that scores of Americans can't handle too many compound sentences during their spoon feedings)I became incensed about something pertaining to our current global plight.

Can anyone tell me how many people die worldwide from starvation and disease daily? Well depending on who you believe that number can range anywhere from 40-70K every day! It never ceases to amaze that the singular way of convincing the general public of the severity of a situation consists of bombarding them with carefully crafted images intended to evoke the maximum visceral response. Otherwise the events(s) are scarcely noticed by Joe Fatass who can't (and by all rights doesn't want to) feel it if it doesn't invade his home. My point is this: when will we find the money to assist the 20-30K people who fall victim to curable diseases daily; or perhaps the roughly 40K people who will starve to death today. Trust me, those people are nowhere near the area currently in question. You can bet that Sweden wouldn't pony up 120 million under normal circumstances, but since so many of its own have disappeared among the ruins this "tsunami" now creates a day of mourning, special task forces, etc quite possibly to give the appearance that it is doing all it can in order to appease the voting masses. Think I'm just being cynical? - you better believe it - but I'm right!

Where are the donations and debt relief for most of sub-Saharan Africa which has been living in the eye of the storm for the last 250 years? Sec. of State Colin Powell has already gone on the record saying something to the effect that America's generosity will almost certainly elevate the standing of the US in the Muslim world. Could there be a worse reason to give? It makes me sick that we are so concerned with how we appear in the eyes of so many thugs in the Muslim world but cannot seem to do right by our own moral compasses. It is most hypocritical and laughable when one considers the supposed Judeo-Christian values that ostensibly underpin our whole society. I doubt Jesus would have wanted us to give only because Leonardo Di Caprio and Jackie Chan tell us it's the appropriate time to do so - but sadly that is cue most Americans will use to give. Where are the anthems like Boy George's "Grief Never Grows Old" outside the framework of a highly publicized tragedy? Funny I haven't heard word one from that shithead regarding genocide and starvation in Africa or human rights abuses in China!! It's amazing how the camera brings out the very best in people for precisely the wrong reasons. Think Leonardo Di Caprio's manager likes seeing his name mentioned in the same breath with Tsunami? You better believe it.

I will be the first to admit that a catastrophe on this scale cannot help but call the world's attention, but in the spirit of selfless giving let's not forget that there is an abundance of people elsewhere whose lives are tottering precariously between miserable existence and death. The media plays an increasingly important role in the priority we assign to assisting those in need. Without the horrifying images scattered across the world landscape, this tragedy simply becomes another in a serious of unfortunate events affecting poor people somewhere else. The destructiveness of this tsunami was truly astonishing in its ability to ruin lives in little more than an instant, but millions more lives are being destroyed slowly due to disease and hunger. It's difficult journalistically to present the American public with a report that showcases famine and pestilence because they are less dramatic and ask that we imagine little anonymous black girl or boy will die in the near future.

I'm almost certain that foreign aid would not have been so forthcoming had this disaster occurred somewhere even more remote and obscure like equatorial Africa where it's just more of the same - black folks dying in droves. Not many Swedes and Germans vacationing there eh? Had Sweden and Germany been unaffected vis a vis loss of life, then I doubt we would be witnessing generosity like anything on the scale of the 600 million Germany has promised. Do any of you out there really believe that Nigeria, the Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana would be the recipients of such largesse had there been similar circumstances resulting in catastrophic loss of life there? - shit no!! Are you kidding, catastrophic loss of life is a daily occurrence for them.

CNN and FOX News are able to dictate who gets exposure and who doesn't, and in this increasingly competitive market, horrific news translates into higher ratings, and consequently increased revenue from advertising. Sick aint it? Sick though it may be, such is the way this world works. Money is the bottom line! Anyone who thinks I am overreacting should visit one of my previous posts and look for the picture of the Sudanese girl on death's doorstep. . . That scene may play out a thousand times a day somewhere in Ethiopia but we would never know because of the inherent racism built into the media. After all who has the most disposable cash with which to purchase those pretty baubles and trinkets appearing in your home countless times every night? It's not blacks and Hispanics mind you - think you know what the answer is yet?? That's right it's white men and women between the ages of 18-35! Psychologically we are conditioned to be more sympathetic to those with whom we share the most similarities. This is not social Darwinism or something more sinister, it is just human nature. We are less likely to commiserate with suffering among blacks, Hispanics, Thai's or Indonesians because they simply don't look like us. Pictures of dead kids with blonde hair and blue eyes is far more effective in attracting viewers and soliciting aid by the rich west.

I don't expect that most people will agree with the "vitriol" I have spewed out here today, and I would certainly encourage them to inform me where I have erred, because I would love to believe that something besides pecuniary concerns and greed are driving this world. I am loath to find examples that convince me of our self acknowledged generosity and caring other than on a purely microscopic scale. Little Jenny is wonderful for having baked those cookies to raise money for something she really can't comprehend, but she has contemplated things greater than herself for the first time and that makes it pure, wonderful and hopeful. What is saddening is that the majority of us have become so dependent upon the bright lights and cause celebre to react that we forget to do the right thing when their is no media feeding frenzy and celebrity spokespersons to appeal to our philanthropic side.

At 7:12 AM, Blogger Seth said...

Good comment.

We are a hypocritical people. Big surprise, people have been that since day one.

I offer two positives, one is that at least we are helping... and despite our 'spoon-fed' views of the world we still can help when disaster strikes. Granted its in a way that ignores other massive problems in the world, but at least we're doing something.

Second of all, I've been talking to a lot of people, and one of their first things on their mind is the tragedy of Africa.

Maybe some more minds are changing, and that's always good. Reason is on the side of poverty relief when it comes to Africa, that should be enough to convince the world, we've just go to stick at it.

At 9:34 AM, Blogger Charlie said...

The tragedy of Africa is caused by bad governance there is not one African leader, apart from Nelson Mandela, who has not been part of a corrupt and self serving regime from military dictators to elected politicians.
Even Thabo Mbeki of South Africa lacks common sense. Speaking to the Sudanese assembly in Khartoum, he said that British imperialists such as Winston Churchill caused the continent to be divided by race colour, religion and culture.
There was never a time in history that the African continent was not divided by race colour, religion and culture. Until you have African leaders who are above corruption and who do not take the wealth of their nation and stick it in a Swiss Bank account then saving Africa is a waste of time and effort.

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