July 4, 2005

Live 8? Bah Humbug! Setting free the Scrooge in me

Posted in Africa, G8, Live 8 at 10:27 pm by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]
Chris Martin, Gwyneth’s man and Cold Play guy, is quoted in two different Guardian articles regarding Live 8. The beginning of Emma Brockes’ article, “The music’s over, the message lingers on“, features Martin immediately:

It was, as Chris Martin of Coldplay put it, “the greatest thing that’s ever been organised probably in the history of the world“, and although veterans of the two world wars might have disagreed, for once the drift-net rock statement captured the mood.

Then, in Alexis Petridis’ “Berated by Madonna, rocked by Robbie, stunned into silence by images of famine”, Martin appears again:

Martin introduces Richard Ashcroft singing Bittersweet Symphony as “the best song ever written sung by the best singer in the world“, which even the most devoted fan of Ashcroft’s former band the Verve might consider gilding the lily a bit.

Somehow these Martin quotes capture what I imagined Live 8 would largely turn out to be: hyperbole. As I read the articles about the event, I sense precisely what I assumed I’d sense: exaggerated sentimentality, silly and no doubt disingenuous expressions of guilt, an ecstatic collectivist orgy. And some damn good music to boot, with good intentions all around.

“Sir Bob” may be a fine fellow, and, as Hinderaker has argued (and as this Telegraph editorial wishes to confirm), he may be largely in tune with reality. Nevertheless, his program and his most specific goals are part and parcel of what I might call the “guilt agenda,” a phenomenon that exists mostly but not entirely on the Left and whose purpose is to make those of us who live comfortably feel guilty. What else can explain slogans such as “the scandal of poverty?” Whose scandal? Apparently we are all acting “scandalously” by not relieving Africa of its problems. Surely a term like that is meant to instill guilt.

Geldof’s two most specific goals seem to be total debt relief and a doubling of aid. I will support debt relief for one reason and one reason only: I already know we’ll never get that money back in the first place. As far as I’m concerned, this is a largely ceremonial gesture. As for the doubling of aid, I reject the idea whole-heartedly and, more than that, I call for a gradual cessation of the existing aid, with the aim of completely weening the African countries off of aid as quickly as possible (but, for genuine humanitarian reasons, without suddenly pulling out their lifeline.) I need to be specific here: I’m asking for an end to government aid. I support private charity organizations doing whatever they want with the money that people voluntarily give them.

Shall I be more blunt? Africa is not my problem. Yes, I said it: “not my problem”: the statement the guilt-layers most abhor and ridicule. But I stand by it. And though I feel sadness when I see starving children, I certainly don’t feel any guilt, and I have no confidence whatsoever that a government appropriating my money and pumping it into international aid programs is going to help them — at least not for long.

(By the way, Geldof also pushes for more equitable agricultural policies that give African nations (and their farmers) a chance to compete. I support him 100%, but the underlying reason for my support is not because it will help Africa, but because I believe in the free market, period. I dearly hope such a free-market solution would, in fact, help Africans, and I believe it would.)

I don’t know much about LiveAid, that 20-year-ago gig, but it seems to me that it focused on donations rather than calling on taxpayers to funnel their money through governments. To this extent, I would have been more likely to support a repeated LiveAid. In this Scotsman article, Fran Healy is quoted talking about how he saw LiveAid money being well-spent in Africa. That’s truly great, and I’m all for it: as long as it is not a “mandatory contribution” in the form of my tax payments. But, sadly, that’s what they are calling for this time around if they are asking governments to double their aid.

Speaking of that article featuring Fran Healy, it also drips at points with the slime of icky “anti-us”, meaning anti-those-of-us-lucky-folks-in-the-west. It’s the kind of stuff that just makes my skin crawl when I read it:

He stresses, too, that Africa – only occasionally rich, but always richly diverse – is not necessarily the continent of the defeated and the damned.

“They are rich in things that money cannot buy, such as community,” he says, “whereas we’re poor in those things.

“We’re given this impression that the people of Africa are just skinny kids with flies around them. That is happening in some pockets but, predominantly, people simply need food, healthcare and water. They don’t have a pot to piss in and, although 30,000 are dying every day, they’re survivors.

There, the community respects their elders; you get the feeling they’ll pull through. Here, if people had their television taken away, there would be rioting on the streets.

That is utterly nonsensical “noble savage” garbage. Don’t get me wrong: I hope his positive assessment of the abilities of some people in the poorer African countries to “pull through” is correct. But his anti-us juxtapositions nauseate me. “We” are apparently a pathetic bunch of people who don’t have a sense of community, who don’t “respect our elders” (?!) and who are addicted to materialism.

Thankfully, however, we have high profile people with good consciences like Healy to call on our leaders to appropriate more of our money.

To cap it all off, here are some selections from the bottom of this Guardian article. The section is called “What they said” and features quotes from various notables. Here are a few of them, with my editorial comments:

“History and the generations to come will judge our leaders by the decisions they make in the coming weeks. I say to all those leaders: Do not look the other way, do not hesitate … It is within your power to prevent a genocide.” (Nelson Mandela) [read: if you do not appropriate more money from your citizens and send it to Africa, you are guilty of genocide.]

“We are not looking for charity, we are looking for justice. Eight of the most powerful men on earth are meeting in Gleneagles. We have a message for them. This is your moment too. Make history by making poverty history” (Bono, U2.) [read: you are committing an injustice — you are guilty of an injustice — if you do not appropriate more money from your citizens and send it to Africa.]

“I’ve learnt that success depends on knowing what works and bringing resources to the problem. We know what to do – the generosity we are asking for can save millions of lives.” (Bill Gates) [Oh that’s just great: multi-billionaire Bill Gates is asking governments to spend more of my money?]

“There’s a lot of rich people in the world and a lot of them are just selfish. The Live 8 people are saying they don’t want it to be like that any more.” (Snoop Dogg) [A+. Dear Mr. & Mrs. Dogg: Today Snoop did his oral report on Live 8 in front of the class. I just wanted to tell you that Snoop did a good job on his report. We are pleased that he is taking school more seriously this semester. Sincerely, Miss Mary-Ann, Snoop’s third-grade teacher.]

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