Major breakthrough today in my confusion about why everybody gets so angry at me for suggesting the obvious – that we are pretty selfish, and than many of the concerns that today masquerade as “selfless” are in fact … selfish concerns.
My frustration and confusion stems from the fact that I know a lot of good folks really want the world to be a better place, are willing to devote time and treasure to that end, and are bright, generally rational people. Yet I also see so many of these folks working – often as “activists” for the right or left – in ways that don’t really seem to me to be productive. More like obsessive compulsive, and in many cases actually counterproductive, where the activism simply polarizes the debate and makes it harder to reach the compromises needed to move ahead. (Health care reform comes to mind in this respect).
The breakthrough? Good people are too busy trying to convince themselves that their personal priorities line up with global priorities when in reality …. they usually do NOT line up at all. It’s this conflict that leads people to get angry at me when I say “hey, why not devote the time and treasure to health care in 3rd world rather than a new hospital wing or university wing in USA?”. The reason is that folks can’t bring themselves to admit that the hospital / university donation is a more accessible kind of charity (for those of us in the wealthy world) and will have a lot more visibility and personal satisfaction for them than giving that money for a bunch of PlumpyNut or Oral Rehydration Therapy in the third world.
This, I maintain, is a moral travesty and an unconscionable state of affairs. The return on investment by any rational measure is spectacular with one form of giving and trivial with the other.
Opposing comments are, as always, very welcome…
Altruism tends to be somewhat dependent on a person’s economic or social standing. Celebrities and corporate executives can afford to give away bundles to their favorite charity, whether that’s saving chickens from KFC-torture or blind kids in Bolivia, etc. Most normal citizens can’t, so just send a few bucks to Sally Struthers or a church, or give at the office more or less.
That said Im opposed in principle to charity-nomics (tho’ at times charity may do some good). The point is not to just throw shekels at social and economic problems but to fix them, hopefully without recourse to extreme measures (whether …maoist, or fundamentalist muslims, or putting up McDonalds across the 3rd world).