Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Charity Begins Somewhere On the Other Side of the World

The wife of the Australian Prime Minister is the last one to discover her tender and caring sentiments for the poor children of the world. The phenomenon has the character of an epidemic among certain people, and I'll talk more about it in a future blog, in the context of vacuous 'celebrities' doing that kind of thing. But the basic trend is clear and has at least one, to my mind somewhat sick and reeking-of-hypocrisy, common denominator: the children that are being 'cared' about are not in your own country, but Africa, Asia, or wherever else the affected party appears to discern an opportunity to atone for the sins of whatever or whoever.

I'm putting it in this cynical manner, because that's the only way I can see it. The wife of Kevin Rudd, Thérèse Rein, is a typical case in point. Gushing about her new-found concern for the poor and underprivileged children of the world in a TV interview, the one thing completely absent in her statements was an expression of concern for the dismal conditions of the indigenous children in her own country. Nor was there any hint that they were somehow included in the range of those she was eager to help.

The utter absurdity of this becomes obvious when we hear things from these kinds of people like "every child has a right to...[substitute your fav human right here]". Well, it seems like the children of Africa, for example, have such rights to a greater degree than those of Australian Aboriginal communities. I know the likes of Ms. Rein would vehemently deny that, but actions speak louder than reassurances or declarations.

The conditions of life for children in Aboriginal communities in Australia are terrible. Poverty and purposelessness is ubiquitous; abuse of all form, including the sexual variety, is endemic. Hope is nonexistent.

Now I ask you: does it really matter, for any of these children, whether they live in Africa and are miserable, abused, hopeless, die young...or whether they live in Australia? Does it mean that, just because these children happen to live in what is a rich nation with all the trapping of 'Western' human rights and civilization, they are therefore less deserving of the attention of Australians who have found their sense of compassion, than the children of Africa or Asia?

How can these people even think about helping the 'children of the world' if they're not starting with the underprivileged children of their own community?

My suspicion about the reasons are, again, cynical: I think for the celebs out to 'save the children', doing it at home (and there always are deserving children 'at home'!) is just not glamorous enough, unfashionable and not gathering enough attention. It may also not help to assuage their feeling that somehow we owe it to other, 'poorer' or otherwise worse-off nations, just because we happen to be better off—and, I guess, because people may have a notion that somehow we're complicit in the misery in those places. That then, I guess, makes children in our own country less deserving of attention than those in those countries to whom we seem to 'owe' something. It's a twisted and, frankly, dumb way of reasoning—if 'reasoning' it can be called—but it seems like a plausible explanation for something that otherwise appears just plain sick.

In the case of the Australian's PM's wife, I also suspect that another factor comes into play: it's just too hard to start at home. The whole issue of how to deal with the problems of indigenous Australians is a political hot potato. Actually a potential powder-keg. And that's obviously where charity ends. It's so much easier to give charity to the children in countries where ultimately one has no control over, and therefore also will not suffer under personal political consequences, of any aid rendered. One can go home with the warm and fuzzy feeling of having done some 'good', but it's OK to stick one's head firmly into the sand if things don't go right. That then is the fault of some evil governments and safely out of one's reach of the controllable. Very unlike having to face the consequences and the full ramifications and manifold complications and difficulties associated with doing it at home.

As I hinted at before, this is not just an Australian phenomenon. It doesn't matter where you look in the 'Western' world, to find charity that definitely does not start at home.

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