Saturday, June 25, 2005

Cynical Whinging Alert

I really get fed up with people complaining about Live 8 and Make Poverty History.

I don't think either is perfect, but there seems to be a massive counter-cultural correctness in attacking developing world aid and charitable fundraising for it. Complaining about people wearing wristbands is now as much a fashion status as it is to wear one. Typically, the complaint is that the money is of little use, will be spent unwisely and, most importantly, that the entire exercise is nothing more than a sham ego trip for Sir Bob Geldof and those who donate to his appeal.

In actual fact, there are certainly imperfections in the current charity models on offer. To begin with, I suspect that if the developed world really wants to have a substantial effect on the misery of Africa, and the developing world more generally, it will have to make significant macro-economic structural reforms. There is certainly a sense in which to attributing to aid and a voluntary wealth redistribution any sort of status as an instant cure is plain wrong. The real hope of the developing world is an end to two-faced protection and the coming of genuine free trade in a globalised economy.

Additionally, I suspect that one-off donations to a telethon are not the optimal way to generate aid anyway, if that actually was the best form of self-sacrifice (or at least the exclusive form of self-sacrifice) by the developing world that would make a difference. It's vital to communicate to donors that direct debits (or any form of regular giving) are disproportionately more useful to charities than one-off gifts. So much of their work is ongoing that budgetary planning is vital.

Finally, on the criticism of Sir Bob; it may be that he has an over-inflated idea of his own importance, but to discredit the entire project as a reaction against Geldof's over-reaching ambition and self-importance is rather petty. For both Geldof and people supporting the Live 8 or Make Poverty History campaigns, there will be a multitude of motives and emotions. However, I think differentiating between conscinece-- that is to say, approval of one's own actions --and self-importance is very much one of perspective. Altruism based on conscience will necessarily overlap with arrogance, as the essence of conscience is defying your self-interest in the belief that ther eis some essential goodness in a less personally-advantageous course. While we may argue about the degrees of selfishness in altruism (for which see one of Richard Dawkins' awful books).

It is perfectly legitimate to criticise the methods of the latest charitable campaigns, and to question if their aprroaches or tactics are the best way to tackle the problem. But I fear that in reacting to percieved popularity, and bashing these initiatives so strongly, many people are throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. The willingness to sacrifice and the interest in helping others, which exists in these campaigns is absolutekly fantastic, and to be celebrated. I'll be sticking up for them constantly, and while I may hope they'll actually become more radical- and suggest the real sacrifices we need to make -the spirit behind these initiatives is a good one. Self-absorbed heckling misses the point: if you agree that something needs to be done, don't get bitter in preference to embracing the enthusiasm that exists and working from within to look at better solutions.