Saturday, June 25, 2005

Oh Stop Your Bellyaching

Richard says that he gets "really fed up" with people complaining about Live 8 and Make Poverty History. His argument, of course, falls into exactly the same logical fallacy that the organisers of these publicity stunts make - that is, that because the aim is noble, the whole campaign should be supported. I read somewhere of a very useful test for political slogans - that is, that if they are of any worth, and not just a truism, then someone should be able to reverse the meaning, and it make a statement that a politician would actually make. "Make Poverty History" quite obviously fails on this front.

In any case, Richard would surely agree that procedure in tackling problems is important. And my argument is that the procedure of MPH and Live 8 is entirely wrong. 100,000 people holding hands because Bob Geldof tells them too doesn't make any difference. Simply flooding aid into Africa won't make any difference whilst there isn't genuine free trade. Nor is free trade a viable option whilst the poorest countries in the world remain in the grip of evil leaders who siphon off aid and profits to fund palaces and wars. Tackling poverty whilst ignoring agency on the part of Africa will not make any difference to the suffering that goes on there.

Richard argues that if I believe this, I should get involved with MPH and change its direction. That is a statement of fantastical naivety. It's a celebrity juggernaut, and my getting involved would make little difference. The Geldofs of the world are too set in their ways on their mission to take on board real and substantive alternative arguments. In any case, I would not want to be involved with such a dumbed-down, populist movement. Because the populism of MPH puts arguments in ridiculously simplistic terms; makes people believe that there are easy and quick solutions; that it is all the fault of big business and government. I can't accept such a movement. The issues at hand are complicated and require serious thought, and to pretend that they can be solved easily is frightfully dangerous. The anti-governmental message of MPH is the sort of thing which unnecessarily leads to detachment from the political process. The political solution isn't simple, it isn't going to be sorted by a quick fix, and to suggest that it is is wrong.

Of course, a message more complicated than Geldof's wouldn't suit the publicity seeking pop stars. It possibly wouldn't even garner the media attention - which, if true, is a sad reflection on the state that political debate in the media has reached. Let's look at Geldof's Glastonbury speech:

"We will face down those eight men who can do this thing. It is not a question of money"

Well, that's what you keep saying it is, actually. We just need to give more aid, remember?

"To die of want is an intellectual absurdity and it is morally repulsive. I would ask the people watching this on television to imagine half of this field dying now. And the other half dying tomorrow. And in a field in Cincinnati the same things happen. And Toulouse, and Milan. And between the breakfast room of that hotel in Gleneagles, and the meeting room of that hotel in Gleneagles, those eight men would have resolved it in 2 seconds."

Stirring stuff, you might say. All of which is completely inimical to finding support for a real solution to the problems of poverty in Africa. Yes, poverty kills millions. But it doesn't just instantly wipe out half an entire field. Nor are the solutions so simple that eight men can implement an entire solution in 2 seconds. Even the BBC balked at this claim, editing it to 10 seconds on their website. But even 10 seconds isn't enough to sort out those problems. It's not a question of sending lots of aid to Africa. It's a case of governments worldwide instituting difficult, long-term structural reforms - and that's something that takes a lot of time and effort.

I'm sick of all these hippy do-gooders saying that it's really simple; that it's just evil governments, evil businesses not being prepared to do anything about it. No - it's bloody complex. It takes time and effort. And whilst there are so many sanctimonious whingers with such a loose grip of the real issues at hand, it really takes the impetus away from reform.