What a world

      1 Comment on What a world

So, a dozen children were trapped in a cave in Thailand, and the whole world mobilized to get them safely out. You may perhaps have heard something about it, unless you were trapped in a cave yourselves.

People are odd, aren’t they? The world sends expertise, mechanical power, aid, attention, all sorts of things. The situation is desperate, there are miles and miles of underground passages, many of them totally lightless and filled with cold water. Time is limited, both because the rainy season has arrived and any day the rest of the passages may fill up with water and drown them all, and because the air will eventually run out. Every obvious rescue method carries unacceptable risks. Days later, we get those kids safely to the surface. It really is amazing and inspiring what people can achieve. Isn’t it? I am quite serious about that. I think it’s moving that people can find their attention riveted on the plight of total strangers in places they’ve never been nor thought of. I think it’s incredible that we humans have developed the tools and the brains to make it possible to save every one of those kids.

And it’s also true that floods in Japan killed 179 people at the exact same time. There are half a million people in Venezuela with malaria, and there are a million cases of cholera in Yemen. There’s no real point in listing this stuff—every day there is something going on somewhere that would require much less effort and expense to rescue many more than thirteen people. The attention of the world can’t focus on thousands as easily as on a dozen, and that’s just how people are. Your money is needed—needed—right now by people in desperate conditions, and that was true last week, and will be true next week, and you’re really only going to make that donation when something gets your attention. Maybe it’s terrific that people are like that! That is, after all, how we get these kids out of the cave; that’s how RAICES (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) with an annual operating budget of $7 million, got donations of three times that in a month. Sure, if they had that money last year, it would have gone to good use, and almost certainly there are people who would be alive today that are not because RAICES and their counterparts had only limited funds. But many people—most people—don’t give by any rational analysis of efficiency but instead by the emotion of the moment. And when I’m talking about being amazed and inspired, it’s by people’s emotions as much as by their actual achievements.

Look—people do, in fact, provide aid to millions of people in danger and in need, every day. That could be amazing and inspiring as well. Are you moved? Do you think it’s incredible? Because me, not so much, every day. Maybe I ought to, but I don’t.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

1 thought on “What a world

  1. Chris Cobb

    People need a story to be inspired, and it’s easier to build a narrative around the plight of a small group, but there are many instances in the history of the last half century of massive humanitarian efforts to save people from famine and other natural disasters.

    It’s much harder to build the story and to provide aid effectively when human conflict is a major cause of the disaster. In Venezuela and Yemen currently, people in a violent conflict are actively involved in creating the humanitarian disasters. For concerned bystanders to provide aid under those circumstances, the power of nation-states would have to be mobilized to create the conditions necessary for humanitarian aid to be delivered. The problems to be resolved are deep and complex, and the developed nations of the world are not well positioned to mobilize the political will to deliver the aid needed because the U.S. has the most feckless, callous president possible. Human agents of disaster also work to suppress news and/or create counter-narratives.

    I wouldn’t underestimate the extent to which the way in which the stories about humanitarian aid are being told and, more significantly, not told might contributes to your lack of inspiration about it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.