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Feeling good vs. doing good

Via Coquette, on Koch 2012:

1. From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex.

2. The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.

3. The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.

4. This world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs—of white people and Oprah.

5. The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.

6. Feverish worry over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice. Worry about that.

7. I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an eye on it, for you know it is deadly.

Even more cynically (or at least Hansonianly): it isn’t even about feeling good, it’s about looking good.

  • jamessweet

    I know I’m completely missing the point here, but where the hell is this estimate of 1.5 million for civilian casualties in Iraq coming from? The highest not-pulled-out-of-the-ass estimate I have heard is a little under 1.2 million, and almost everybody — even some of the most vociferous campaigners against the Iraq war — think that that estimate is grossly inflated.

    Most credible estimates are in the 100,000 – 150,000 range. Now I’m willing to accept that those may turn out to be gross underestimates, e.g. there was a credible (though also much criticized) Lancet survey that put it in the 650,000 range.

    But 1.5 million is not a justifiable estimate by any criteria.

    (I’m sorry to be splitting hairs, when even the lowest estimates are inconceivably tragic… but as a gnu, I figure truth matters for its own sake, right?)

  • Pierce R. Butler

    jamessweet @ # 1: … where the hell is this estimate of 1.5 million for civilian casualties in Iraq coming from?

    I suspect it includes those killed by the Bush-Clinton-Bush sanctions (which Clinton’s own Secretary of State admitted had taken the lives of over half a million children) as well as those who have died due to the Bush-Obama war and occupation.

    For a very good defense of the Lancet study’s figures, see Deltoid.

    • jamessweet

      I suspect it includes those killed by the Bush-Clinton-Bush sanctions (which Clinton’s own Secretary of State admitted had taken the lives of over half a million children) as well as those who have died due to the Bush-Obama war and occupation.

      I had initially considered that, but — and maybe I’m over-parsing here — the text refers to “an American war of choice”, emph. mine. To me that seems like it could only refer to the current occupation.

  • Mattir

    Why exactly is TED on that list? Interesting lectures online hardly strikes me as WSIC.

    Kristof has a fairly long history of calling attention to people who are working to solve their own problems at a grassroots level. I know we’ve given money to a variety of African women’s organizations that we would have known nothing about had he not profiled them in his column, and they’re all been organizations founded and led by women in (and from) the communities they serve.. That’s a bit different from the odious Kony 2012 type stealth evangelism, which really is “let’s go solve the problems of those brown people because we’re Christian Murkins…”

    Great typo about Kony/Koch…

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.

    QFT.

    This was shown during the Iraqi fiasco where once the facade of WMD was demolished, the justification for the invasion became “Saddam is a big meanie!” The same idea continues with the Afghan adventure, where the justification is “the Taliban are big meanies.”

  • piero

    As we all know, charity is a means to achieve the end of feeling good abour ourrselves. Nobody can ever act against his/her will, and our will is mostly determined by our emotions. A few weeks ago I had a chance to try a little experiment: a beggar knocked on my door, told me a tear-jerking stoy and asked me for some money. I saw the opportunity to try something different and draw some conclusions. As a matter of fact, I did not care much abour the beggar’s misfortunes, because I knew he was lying. He was reciting a perfectly rehearsed script. But he was certainly in need, so I gave him all the money I had with me at that moment (about 25 dollars). He came back three more times, and told me different by very well-rehearsed stories: he needed money to buy workclothes, or his youngest child had burnt his hand on the stove an was in urgent need of medical attention, or his mother needed to travel from some place far away in order to see how his grandchild was doing after the grafting, and so on.

    Of course, I did not give him 25 dollars every time he came, but I pretended to believe him and gave him some money each time. Until I felt it was time to call the game over, and told him I had no money left (which happened to be true, in fact).

    Now, how do I feel about this episode? He was obviously poorer than me, but he was also a dishonest con man. He deserved to be helped, but I did not deserve to be lied to. I gave him in all perhaps 80 dollars. Was it worth it? To me it was. I learnt that I really don’t care about what dire straits a person finds him/herself in, unless my generosity is properly acknowledged and recognized. My feelings towards the guy in question are rather muddled: on the one hand, he is obviously a sociopath; on the other hand, he’s is most certainly poor. Do I have a duty to help those in need, even when they are sociopaths? After this experiment I found that what I really feel is that I don’t. So I’ve cancelled all my contributions to charities, because I don’t know who the beneficiaries will be. From now on, I’ll give my money to those who work for a fairer society, not to those who expect to alleviate in an insignificant measure the suffering caused by modern capitalism.

  • John Horstman

    It’s so nice to FINALLY see the charity-industrial complex getting some mainstream scrutiny. Usually charity scandals seem to be treated as their own separate incidents and not reflections on the inherent systemic dysfunction, but with such high-profile scrutiny in such a short period of time (Komen and then IC), people are starting to twig on to the systemic nature of the problem. When one tries to motivate behavior with money (the behavior of the people running various charities), the behavior that one primarily motivates is making as much money as possible. Any other concerns (social justice, human well-being, happiness) are secondary at best, which is ultimately why one can’t use capitalist models (like neo-Liberal privatization of the functions of the welfare state) to fix the problems with capitalism (widespread poverty and exploitation, especially through socially-re/enforced systems of privilege).

  • josh

    What a load. The world is complex, so let’s reduce it all to The Big Capitalized White Abstraction. Is this an irony test? Because I can’t easily think of anything more banal or emotional than stuff like this.

    • piero

      Could you clarify your post for the benefit of us, the less endowed with hermeneutical prowess?


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