Good Intentions II: Feed The World

“… every seasoned aid worker knew then, and knows now, that there is no necessary connection between raising money for a good cause and that money being well spent, just as there is no necessary connection between caring about the suffering of others and understanding the nature or cause of that suffering.”

– Foreign Aid expert


230px-Live8Logo

Live 8 Promotional poster

Author and Professor of Engineering at Oakland University Barbara Oakley PhD names the entrenched idea of changing the world before changing oneself as a kind of “hyper-altruism” that has had a recent resurgence among the minds of mega-philanthropists such as Warren Buffet, George Soros, and Belinda and Bill Gates. They have donated billions to the needy in Africa and the sub-continent and have encouraged their fellow filthy rich friends to do the same. She quotes The Economist’s Matthew Bishop and Michael Green who termed this new phenomenon as “philanthrocapitalism” which continues to pump huge amounts of money into the foreign aid industry.

So, why are the same problems showing little signs of being affected by such massive financial contributions and in fact are largely getting worse?

According to Oakley:

“Financial altruism detached from strategic and objective thinking has been shown time and again to have detrimental consequences at exorbitant costs. […] Not all aid is bad but debate has continued regarding the efficacy of foreign aid and whether massive investments are of any use.” She makes the further and vital point: “Staring at pictures of starving children can in some sense, hijack analytical portions of the brain. Perhaps it is this that results in some of the ineffectual and pathologically altruistic behaviour that characterizes many foreign aid policies and programs.” [1]

Oakley then discusses the advances in neuroscience that strongly suggest:

“… developing dispassion – the ability to displace ourselves emotionally from a situation that arouses our primal, emote control responses – is vital in being able to help others. In a related vein, developing our ability to use our rational brain to feel compassion for others – without mirroring their emotions – is important for preventing compassion fatigue or burn out often seen in those who care for the suffering.” [2]

We know we need to cultivate objectivity as well as our more intuitive feelings modes so that they work in unison. However, there is something more here than the dynamics of how our rational brains are so easily bypassed by images which elicit the required response. Pathological altruism is exacerbated and encouraged by psychopathy at institutional levels and which requires a total subversion of nobler thoughts that lead to altruistic action. This merely results in the creation of further multi-layered problems rather than the needed long-term amelioration.

It is the reflex of empathy and its altruistic actions which can and do cause harm based as they are on a) guilt that we do not do enough for our fellow-man and b) a lack of knowledge as to how this selfless giving may actually manifest in the world. Rather than facilitate the easing of suffering it can compound the problems, adding insult to injury as this passage from Oakley quoting the Time’s Nancy Gibbs illustrates:

After the 2004 tsunami, aid poured in from all over the world. But included tons of out-dated or unneeded medicines that Indonesian officials had to throw out. People sent Viagra or Santa suits, high-heeled shoes and evening gowns. A year later after an earthquake in Pakistani, so much unusable clothing arrived that people burned it to stay warm. It may make us feel good to put together children’s care packages with cards and teddy bears – but whose needs are we trying to meet? It may not feel glorious but often the greatest need is accomplished quietly, invisibly. Either way, the same principle holds in helping as in healing: First, do no harm.  [3]

And if such a simple, genuine outpouring of good intentions can be so easily go astray, what does this say about the more complex dynamics of our global institutions and foreign aid organisations enmeshed in a world that is by nature operating on a model that is exploitative?

The role of celebrities as entertainers, image makers and icons is ready to be made use of should opportunities arise. When necessary, the good-will and compassion of the people with disposable income and an awakening conscience can move mountains. This show of “people power” is, however, consistently diverted by a financial system that is grossly and purposefully unjust. The role of the media and the celebrity-fest surrounding the Live Aid world-wide concert in 1984 and the Live 8 concert which followed in 2005 is a case in point. Coinciding with the latter concert was the annual G8 Summit hosted by the UK. The G8 is composed of the world’s leading industrialised nations (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United States and Russia).

On the Live 8 website we read:

These concerts are the start point for The Long Walk To Justice, the one way we can all make our voices heard in unison. This is without doubt a moment in history where ordinary people can grasp the chance to achieve something truly monumental and demand from the 8 world leaders at G8 an end to poverty. The G8 leaders have it within their power to alter history. They will only have the will to do so if tens of thousands of people show them that enough is enough. By doubling aid, fully cancelling debt, and delivering trade justice for Africa, the G8 could change the future for millions of men, women and children.[4]

Despite having no rules governing its own operations, no formal or legal powers and no mechanisms of accountability, the G8 wields huge economic, military and diplomatic power in the institutions of global governance. These institutions include the UN Security Council, World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. They are products of a system that is the antithesis of decentralisation, the driving force being to achieve new market access for their members. As one aid expert stated regarding Geldof’s initial Live Aid: “… every seasoned aid worker knew then, and knows now, that there is no necessary connection between raising money for a good cause and that money being well spent, just as there is no necessary connection between caring about the suffering of others and understanding the nature or cause of that suffering.” [5]

This applies as much to ourselves as it does to the world at large. “Understanding the true nature and cause of that suffering.” The unpalatable truth is that G8 leaders and those above seem to have neither the inclination nor the desire to alter history unless it benefits their own particular requirements.

These concerts illustrated the well-spring of genuine empathy and compassion which was allowed to be cynically used and exploited via the egos – however well-intentioned – of a collection of celebrities. It was a perfect opportunity for politicians to get in on the act and smile for the cameras while the feckless media sung along. The facts are rather different to the sophistry and rhetoric heard so often from the likes of Bono and Geldof. Their own positions of influence are conveniently used to promote an agenda diametrically opposed to their own wishes to cancel debt and end poverty in Africa.

One has to ask why eleven years later, did we need another Live Aid?

Why did all those in the G8 for whom the suffering of millions have never made the slightest impression, suddenly grow a conscience?

They doffed their hats to Sir Bob because it dove-tailed into their agenda.

Bush, Geldof and Bono

The seemingly inspiring and very well-intentioned Live 8 event served as an actual and symbolic rendering of how our subjectivity is used against us all, directly mirroring the issues in exploitation. In this instance, it is a more intangible but cynical twisting of a potential mass altruism and the devaluing of an innate desire to assist, since we are encouraged to be drawn into the sensation of compassion without due attention to cause or effect or where these emotions are taking us. The very same participants within a system who created that tangible suffering in the first place are also those taking full advantage of directionless conscience. It is a circular feedback that benefits only the status quo based as it is, on the ignorance of the mechanism of politics and bureaucracy and our wishful thinking that we can “change the world,” in this context.

Not one month after the famous Live 8 concert, a much touted headline read: “$55bn Africa debt deal ‘a victory for millions’ which was splashed across the front page of the Observer in June 12 2005 with Sir Bob Geldof’s rhetoric reaching epic proportions stating: “Tomorrow 280 million Africans will wake up for the first time in their lives without owing you or me a penny…”

Firstly, the G8 proposals for HIPC debt cancellation were already inadequate based on debt relief that will be granted to poor countries “… only if they are shown to be “adjusting their gross assistance flows by the amount given.” In other words, their aid will be reduced by the same amount as the debt relief, thus gaining nothing. Paragraph two states that “it is essential” that poor countries “boost private sector development” and ensure “the elimination of impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign”.[6]

So, there we see the real reasons for the winks and smiles.

Let us not forget that debt payments rose in 2006 and have doubled in 2015. This alone dilutes the aforementioned “victory”. It is also the height of hypocrisy that while Bono, Geldof and other entertainers were wooing G8 leaders, British arms sales to Africa had reached £1bn a month before the concert and show no signs of slowing.[7]  This underlined the hollow nature of the event and the truth behind African poverty and debt.  (The hypocrisy is also underscored by Bono’s penchant for shifting his assets to offshore tax havens and investing in the very corporate franchises that he is telling us have to be reformed).[8]

The foundation of Africa’s wealth and resources are largely in the hands of trans-national corporations some of whom are directly or indirectly under the direction of G8 membership. The men in suits and soppy grins are the brokers and beneficiaries of this appalling suffering which continues under the euphemism of an “African Union.” This was signed into effect on July 11, 2000, by 54 nations of Africa. Like the European Union, it has only one peacekeeping force, one Central Bank, one Court of Justice, one currency, and so forth. Essentially, it is a blueprint for control that affords very little rights to Africans by promoting civil war and corruption from which the West can profit. They do this by keeping a cap on any independent development that might eclipse western interests.

Immediately after the Gleneagles meeting had wound down and G8 leaders had been chauffeured away to their sumptuous hotels the Belgian government was already hatching plans to give lenders greater control over poor countries and reneging on agreements to write off 100 percent of their debt. Belgian IMF representative Willy Kierkens is quoted in a document leaked to the activist group Jubilee Debt Campaign to an address to the IMF executive board that “rather than giving full, irrevocable and unconditional debt relief… countries would receive grants.” [9]

The then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that the agreed upon total of $48bn a year of aid by 2010 would also include a 100 percent cancellation of multilateral debts of the most indebted countries. Yet Gordon Brown brazenly claimed in a Treasury Committee that this aid increase includes money put aside for debt relief. Blair lied yet again and G8 member countries showed that their signatures symbolised nothing more than a temporary appeasement. [10]

Logo_of_the_African_UnionAfrican Union logo

From Making Poverty History a key working group, one activist argued that there existed the same old spin doctors doing what Alistair Campbell did so ruthlessly when covering up for Blair’s lies in the Downing Street Memos: “‘Our real demands on trade, aid and debt, and our criticisms of UK government policy in developing countries have been consistently swallowed up by white bands, celebrity “luvvies” and praise upon praise for Blair and Brown.” [11] [12]

Yet Make Poverty History is not the only one to be absorbed by the new politics masquerading as New Labour – the new evangelism of the US. It is this New Wave that is shackling African Countries into the false economy of the African Union and the realization that any allotted money can only be accessed if they sign up to World Bank and IMF economic policy conditions.

While Blair, a born opportunist, was busy jumping aboard the Make Poverty History train, he knew all along that the emotional fuel would run out. Why else would he be secretly cutting the government’s Africa desk officers and staff at the same time that the Department for International Development was forcing the privatisation of water supply in Ghana for the benefit of British corporations? [13]

Amelioration of poverty, disease and significant successes do take place. And Geldof is right when he said that there was a global change in attitude. But this has never been the problem. Most normal human beings are immensely keen to help those suffering and in need. But the outpouring of emotion is not enough unless it is supported by effective frameworks (untarnished by political pathologies) through which change can flow. Overall, while temporarily more children were able to go to school and less were hungry the dependency and cycle of that debt remains. The “support” addresses symptoms which, although worthy, amount to sops and buffers around the primary fences of poverty, prolonged and exacerbated by Western exploitation. This includes massive bias towards privatization which comprises one half of the World Bank expenditure on what it considers worthwhile projects. Worthwhile that is, to its own coffers.

More and more conditions have been added to the initial agreements which were already piecemeal and ineffective. There were no real high level negotiations between Bush and Blair other than how best they could capitalize on naivety and gullibility of nations. For this duo it was merely an exercise in extracting the juice of image and hype to buttress their plummeting support on a range of issues. The overriding stipulation surrounding the whole sham of debt relief and the Make Poverty History movement was that it be conditional and tied to the original economic structures that created the problems in the first place.

Throw as much money as you like at these problems it will not alter the cycle of debt and poverty until the structure is re-evaluated and radically reformed.

We can only do that by becoming aware of what we are dealing with and immunizing ourselves against this psychological pathogen in our midst. We do that by learning everything is to know about how such people think and act.  Meantime, compassionate peoples are played by seasoned psychopaths for whom getting fat on power and profit at the expense of others is easy. The fact that 7,000 Africans die every day means nothing. They rely on it to secure their spoils.

There are ample reasons to conclude that Live Aid in 1984 was harmful as well as positive in limited terms. Yet what exactly did all this achieve? A compassion that lends wings to long-term action based on objectively evaluated pragmatic solutions, or a deadly compassion that serves to play into the hands of global leaders? “The fact is that Ethiopia remains one of Africa’s poorest countries, and the whole of sub-Saharan Africa is, if anything, worse off today than it was after Live Aid. Geldof himself has been of two minds. He says that Live Aid “created something permanent and self-sustaining” but has also asked why Africa is getting poorer.” [14]

As well he might.

Yes, just as the Ethiopian famine was a hideous reality, the final results of this great resettlement served the G8 powers admirably. As journalist David Rieff stated, the: “… resettlement policy – of moving 600,000 people from the north while enforcing the “villagisation” of three million others – was at least in part a military campaign, masquerading as a humanitarian effort. And it was assisted by Western aid money…” In effect, UN institutions and donor governments helped a totalitarian project kill thousands of people under the pretext of humanitarian assistance, where “…aid to victims was unwittingly transformed into support to their executioners.” [15]  According to French NGO Medecin Sans Frontieres [16] the death total from deportation and raids came to as many as the lives that were saved. The result was good PR for G8 leaders and more misery for the poverty-stricken.

So, do nothing? Isn’t the “the positivity of the action better than the pessimism of the thought?” As we have seen, it is a little more complex than that. Geldof has to be commended for his seemingly genuine intent and ability to cut through apathy and despair. Yet his passionate comments in a recent report to answer his critics summarises so many whose dynamism and emotional drive are used against them:

‘Behind all of this bitter carping is the corrosively cynical view that none of this works. That because they, as critics, do nothing, nobody else should even try. Well, they’re wrong. You can alter policy. The individual is not powerless in the face of either political indifference or monstrous human tragedy. Let me say it embarrassedly, cornily, almost guiltily. Let me try to say it without sounding like some pious twat. You can change the world. And millions upon millions of you did that this year. This stuff works. Sometimes. [17]

He goes on to discuss the dying baby Birhan Woldu the “little scrap of humanity” now a grown women who was saved by the original Live Aid concert 20 years ago… “all of it was worth it for just her. For that single life.”

It is hard to disagree isn’t it?

In one very real sense he is absolutely right and nothing should prevent such a call to action. But how are we to confront the deeper issues behind this call that is “in the box” of a wider control system that demands the cycles of endless Live Aids? That for one life saved, millions of dead will follow due to a subjective activism that plays into the hands of those several steps ahead. Live Aid camouflages the core issues and thus leads to a perpetuating cycles of the same.

Perhaps what we are facing in the 21st century is not a call to end third world debt or to demonstrate against any one particular political atrocity, of which there are many. It is to raise our awareness to the fact that the very core actions of our world are purposely and intentionally created by a minority of psychologically deviant persons. Until we grasp that fact, which includes an in depth knowledge of the mechanisms of political psychopathy, Geldof’s well meaning, but ultimately naive mission will be co-opted with mathematical precision.

Contrary to what the musician states, this stuff does not work. It never has. As clinical psychologist Andrew Łobaczewski  states: “even normal people, who condemn this kind of [Pathocracy] along with its ideologies, feel hurt and deprived of something constituting part of their own romanticism, their way of perceiving reality, when a widely idealized group is exposed as little more than a gang of criminals.” [18]

And we are still duped by such a gang who know crowd psychology very well indeed.

 


Notes

[1]  (pp.239 -241) Pathological Altruism By Barbra Oakley http://www.amazon.com/Pathological-Altruism-Barbara-Oakley/dp/0199738572
[2] Ibid. (p.242)
[3] Ibid. (p.243)
[5] “Cruel to be kind?” by David Rieff, The Guardian, June 24, 2005 – “Live Aid forced the world to confront the Ethiopian famine and raised more than £50m. But as Bob Geldof prepares his Live 8 reprise, aid expert David Rieff argues that guilt-stricken donations helped fund a brutal resettlement programme that may have killed up to 100,000.”
[6] “John Pilger isn’t celebrating victory -‘The illusion of an anti-establishment crusade led by pop stars” Daily Mirror, June 26, 2005.
[7 ‘UK arms sales to Africa reach £1 billion mark’ The Guardian, Antony Barnett, June 12, 2005.
[8] ‘U2 Under Fire For Tax Move’ Irish Examiner, August 9, 2006.
[9] ‘G8 debt deal under threat at IMF’ By Steve Schifferes BBC News, 15 July, 2005
[10] ‘How the G8 lied to the world on aid’ The truth about Gleneagles puts a cloud over the New York summit by Mark Curtis, The Guardian, August 23, 2005: “Russia’s increase in ‘aid’ will consist entirely of write-offs. A third of France’s aid budget consists of money for debt relief; much of this will be simply a book-keeping exercise worth nothing on the ground since many debts are not being serviced. […] … the deal applies initially to only 18 countries, which will save just $1bn a year in debt-service payments. The 62 countries that need full debt cancellation to reach UN poverty targets are paying 10 times more in debt service. And recently leaked World Bank documents show that the G8 agreed only three years’ worth of debt relief for these 18 countries. They state that “countries will have no benefit from the initiative” unless there is ‘full donor financing’.The deal also involves debts only to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the African Development Bank, whereas many countries have debts to other organisations. It is a kick in the teeth for the African Union, whose recent summit called for “full debt cancellation for all African nations”.
[11] http://www.downingstreetmemo.com. “The Downing Street ‘Memo’ is actually meeting minutes transcribed during the British Prime Minister’s meeting on July 23, 2002. Published by The Sunday Times on May 1, 2005 it was the first hard evidence from within the UK or US governments that exposed the truth behind how the Iraq war began.  This site is intended to provide information about the Downing Street Memo and how it fits in with numerous other documents and events that relate to the Bush administration’s march to war.”
[12] ‘Make the G8 history’ By Stuart Hodkinson, Red Pepper, July 2005.
[13] If one visits the newly created Dept. of International Development (DFID) and the G8 websites one would be forgiven for thinking that everything is on track and the world is save in their hands. Toss in some rhetoric, statistics and self-effacing explanations of how hard it is to accomplish significant gains on the Millennium Development goals (yet drive to do all you can for the Department’s “Business Partnership Unit” which reveals the real intentions behind the Department as a whole) and there you have another quango headed by cabinet minister Hilary Benn MP with the inevitable cracks of impartiality will begin to appear if not intentionally created. Set up to filter direct action and further apply bureaucratic obstacles, political manipulation takes the place of clear, unambiguous directives. The case studies, and funding alone, although with merit, indicate a symptomatic and piecemeal approach that once again does not incorporate an overall strategy. that ensures a free-for-all competitive dash where the structure of suffering is allowed to be brushed under the global carpet.
[14] ‘Cruel to be kind?’ by David Rieff, The Guardian, Friday June 24, 2005.
[15] Ibid.
[16]www.doctorswithoutborders.org.
[17] ‘Geldof’s Year’ The Guardian, December 28, 2005.
[18] p.166; Political Ponerology – A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes By Andrew Lobaczewski.
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