Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A closer look at Honderich's rant on charity

Yet another Honderich howler! You will recall the Professor stating that the Palestinians have a moral right to terrorism. Well, having shown him the magnitude of his mistake on this issue he has since chosen to berate those who do not give money to Oxfam or the Red Cross.

But, If you are expecting to read a detailed explanation of Honderich's position do not bother clicking on that link: the vast majority of the interview simply reveals the Professor's prejudices and torpid thinking.

Focusing, therefore, on the brief statement:"for Ted Honderich, if you do not give money to Oxfam or the Red Cross, you are killing Africans as surely as you had deliberately stopped a food convoy reaching a refugee camp," where does he err? Another philosopher, Mary Midgley.better known these days for taking Darwin's latter-day bulldog Richard Dawkins to task, could teach Ted a thing or two:

"Historians in the future, if there are any, will of course study our age as we study ages already past, seeing what we ought to have done, and wondering how we came to make the mistakes that we do. As usual, they will find it hard to understand how we missed the clues which will be plain to them - clues which undoubtedly are already staring us in the face. So far this story is a common one - a normal historical predicament."

Taking then a historical perspective, what can be said of charities such as Oxfam? Well, they have been campaigning since 1942, first as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, and today are one of the hundreds of thousands of charities in the UK alone. Since then Oxfam has been busy trying to raise funds to combat 'problems' such as hunger, disease, exploitation and poverty. They state that "poverty is avoidable" and that their "purpose is to overcome its causes, not simply to alleviate its symptoms" Socialists would not dispute that a small minority worldwide, even in the very 'poorest' countries, do very well for themselves avoiding poverty. We also think it vital to correctly identify cause rather than symptom, and argue that only when the vast majority act to end the system which deprives us of the fruits of our labour, will poverty give place to comfort, (privilege to equality and slavery to freedom: see our Object and Declaration of Principles.

Oxfam's misdiagnosis means that it has failed miserably to deal with these 'problems' for the past sixty-four years. This is also true of the myriad of other well-intentioned charitable campaigns. Consider, for example, the Child Poverty Action Group. When it was first formed, its members were so certain that the problem would be solved within the year that they did not open a bank account. That was in 1965...Later, upon 'celebrating' its 21st anniversary, the group released statistics showing that the number of people dependent on Supplementary Benefit had doubled and that a third of the child population lived at or below the poverty line.

Over one hundred years ago Oscar Wilde made this pertinent observation regarding charities:

[T]heir remedies do not cure the disease; they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor. But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible” (The Soul of Man under Socialism).

Charities through their assorted campaigns foster the dangerous illusion that, either through increased donations or political pressure on governments, the 'problems' which plague so many of us can be solved within capitalism itself. But, history shows otherwise. Indeed, with regard to starvation, Honderich needs to learn that " in every “food crisis” since the Great Starvation in Ireland in the 1840s, the workings of capitalism have produced the obscene spectacle of the export of food from an area where people are starving because, not having money, they don’t constitute a market and so don’t count" Read on here.


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