2005-12-27

What good is charity? A proposal.

Bill Gates, Bono (of U2 fame) and Melinda Gates have been named as the 2005 TIME magazine persons of the year. The Gateses were chosen partly for the $3+ billion their foundation spends on third world public health each year, but just as importantly, as a tribute to the Gateses' and Bono's ability to sway entities with even larger pockets into contributing.

Certainly, the donated money will improve, and rescue, the lives of large numbers of people. TIME writes that the Gateses' foundation alone has helped save at least 700.000 lives in poor countries, and I'm sure it has had a very positive impact on many more.

However, I am not certain how this manner of help is going to make things better in the long term. There are 6 billion people in the world, and the vast majority of these people are poor. Some argue relativity, that poor people are only poor materially. This article, among many others, shows how these people are also poor mentally. Their states of mind are medieval.

I can see no reasonable and good way how 1 billion of rich people, who among themselves have people who are disadvantaged, can prop up the other 5 billion through giving. In fact, nothing good has ever come from uncritical giving, and there are more than enough examples. People who, rather than using what gifts they receive as an opportunity to become self-reliant, instead rely ever more on the gift-giver; and worse. In the long term, therefore, giving don't work.

What does work, however, is teaching. And giving can improve the long term fortunes of another only insofar as it is in conjunction with teaching. Because the reason a person or a country is in misery is not that she was denied access to wealth by some whimsical, ill-tempered deity. Wealth is not received from up above, but instead is a product of people working together in a long term constructive endeavor. Knowledge and wisdom are the highest gift; yet, at the same time, most difficult to give.

It has taken the western society hundreds of years to break out of the mental prison of the middle ages. This is the same prison as third world people are in. Knowledge of how to create a constructive society will not emerge in their minds in a reasonable timeframe spontaneously. And their poverty is chronically incurable unless they themselves form a constructive society.

As per the phrase that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, we won't be successful in teaching most of third world's grown people. And we can't go there to teach their schoolchildren either. Their elders' values are largely dysfunctional, or they wouldn't be living in misery. Therefore, the children need to be taught things against their own elders' values. But if we teach them those things, we will at minimum be accused of cultural imperialism, or worse; our teachers will be vilified, expelled, or even lucky to escape the local idea of punishment.

Yet, there are things we can do.

I propose that, in overpopulated countries where most people's prospects are a lifetime of hunger and suffering, an economically promising and politically viable possibility is:

A self-funding scheme of large-scale adoption of children

The scheme I propose is based on the premise that every human being is an intrinsic potential creator of wealth, and all that is needed to realise this is to place the human being in a proper environment. I propose that, while the potential of most of the 6 billion people on earth goes to waste, we can salvage some of this potential by taking those people and putting them in an environment where they will thrive. We shall nurse them, feed them, raise them and educate them to our highest standards, and in 25 years we shall have individuals who will go and create wealth on their own. And I'm not talking a few thousand people; I'm talking hundreds of thousands, a million, or more. These individuals can either disperse to a country of their choice, return to their own or we can start with them a new country entirely. As part of our agreement with these individuals, they will pay for their raising and education from future income they make, as is the case with people who take a student loan and graduate e.g. from Harvard. In other respects, these people shall be free to move anywhere in the world and pursue careers of their choice.

Coincidentally, there is an enormous volume of money looking for a very similar investment as this. Retirement benefits. Pension funds invest safely and prefer not to risk most of their money on companies that may fold in five years; and they invest long term, managing funds whose life spans are measured in decades. And they expect a positive, even if modest, return.

What better and more promising long term investment is there, if not one that is guaranteed by a whole generation, one which we raise ourselves?

2005-11-13

Nationalism and languages

I think people need to be more open to let their languages simplify and change.

In my experience, the primary reason why these days many unnecessary complexities endure is destructive: nationalistic pride, arising out of a fear that the nation will otherwise be trampled. Fear of change, fear of foreigners.

In order to protect this sense of false security, people go to great lengths to maintain traditions which would have long become a useless burden otherwise. Examples are plenty: the French language board, a Don Quixotic attempt to "protect" against English; Japan and Kanji, taking children a perplexingly long time to learn, which they could spend learning many more things that would be more useful (including, perhaps, a foreign language?).

We are all human; only good can come from mixing freely. Maintaining dysfunctional traditions just for the sake of it does not lead anywhere (except perhaps to war). Nationalism is inherently bad.

I'm not American, and not from an English speaking country either. But I think people should embrace the opportunity to unite (in a global language, and a global culture associated with it) rather than putting on brakes.

2005-06-04

O pretiranem konzervatizmu

V družbah po svetu poteka večen boj med novim in starim: med idejami, ki so se v preteklosti izkazale za uspešne, in drugimi idejami, ki se v novih okoliščinah zde obetavnejše. Velikokrat se izkaže, da so stare ideje še vedno pravilne: nove rešitve, ki naj bi nadomestile starejše, so pogosto nedodelane ali pa so včasih preprosto naivne. Pri uveljavljanju novih idej je treba paziti, da se ne zanemari modrost, ki je vodila do starih.

Vendar pa ta esej ni o nespameti novih idej. Kadar se novost izkaže kot nefunkcionalna, je povratek na staro in boljšo rešitev navadno še vedno možen in običajno tudi hitro izvedljiv. Namesto tega želim govoriti o nasprotni vrsti nespameti, ki je škodljivejša od prejšnje. To je nasprotovanje novim idejam iz principa; ne na podlagi njihovih dejanskih pomanjkljivosti, temveč iz želje po ohranjanju starih, tradicionalnih idej.

V zadnji evropski izdaji revije TIME (datum izdaje 2005-06-06) je možno prebrati o težavah, s katerimi se v Indiji v naporih proti AIDSu srečuje fundacija Gates. Njihova največja ovira je tradicionalnost v tej deželi: kaže, da se pretežni delež prebivalstva noče soočiti z ugotovitvijo, da njihov dosedanji način reševanja problema spolnih bolezni - to je molk - ne zadostuje. Število okuženih za virusom HIV narašča, država pa se zateka k ponarejanju statistik. Brez da bi dosti storili, naj bi število novih okužb z virusom HIV iz leta 2003 na 2004 upadlo iz 520.000 na 28.000, kar seveda ne more biti res.

Okuženih z virusom HIV naj bi v Indiji, po oceni Združenih narodov, bilo do 8.5 milijona; po drugih ocenah je verjetneje, da jih je še enkrat toliko. Zanikanje, da je problem resen in da obstaja, pri njegovem reševanju ne pomaga. TIME navaja primer zdravnice, ki se je pri govorih v šolah, s katerimi skuša razširiti znanje o spolnosti, soočila s starši, ki so vstali glasno vpijoč: "Zakaj kvarite naše otroke? Naši otroci so angeli!" Niti s svojim možem, ki je srčni kirurg, se o tem problemu ne more pogovarjati. "Če ne morem o tem niti govoriti doma," pravi, "si lahko predstavljate razdaljo, ki jo mora ta država še prepotovati."

S takim pristopom se Indijci problemu AIDS ne bodo izognili. Kljub molku, ki zagrinja deželo glede spolnosti, odkrivajo, da ima večina poročenih moških spolne odnose z več kot eno žensko, in da imajo žene pogosto ljubimce. V Bombayu je spolnih delavcev in delavk 80.000 ali več, pogostost okuženosti z virusom HIV pa je med njimi kar 50%. V odsotnosti znanja in uporabe kondomov se bolezen širi: prek tovornjakarjev in migrantov, ki obiščejo mesto, k njihovim ženam; od njihovih žena k ljubimcem; in tako naprej. V okrožju Koppal, ki je en dan vožnje od Bombaya, je okuženih zdaj že 5-8% od več kot milijona ljudi.

Zahodnim očem je očitno, da je širjenje AIDSa treba zaustaviti s širjenjem informiranosti o spolnosti, z vzpodbujanjem rabe kondomov, z izboljšanjem zdravstvene infrastrukture. Indijsko konzervativno mišljenje pa se s tem ne strinja: tako kondomi kot informiranost o spolnosti naj bi vzpodbujala promiskuitetnost. Promiskuitetnost pa je nekaj, kar je zanje samo po sebi napačno.

Tisti, ki ne seksajo z večimi, in katerih partnerji so prav tako zvesti, torej ne bodo zboleli. Kaj pa potem s tistimi, ki so promiskuitetni, ali ki imajo partnerje, ki so? Takšnih je, kaže, več kot polovica ljudi?

Odgovor konzervativnih je tih, a očiten. Takšnim je prav, da se okužijo. Naj kar zbolijo in umro; to je kazen za tiste, ki ne znajo spoštovati tradicije.

V tej dogmi pa leži globoka ironija. Monogamija, ki jo tradicija zapisuje, je v resnici prvotna obramba človeštva proti spolnim boleznim. V časih, ko zaščite s kondomi še ni bilo in ko ni bilo sodobnega zdravstva, so bile spolne bolezni, ki so danes ozdravljive, smrtne. Potemtakem ni prav nič čudno - še več, pametno je - da so verstva iz teh časov predpisala: "Kdor spoštuje Boga, naj ima eno ženo! Moža in ženo, ki se tega ne držita, bo doletela božja kazen!"

Zagrožena kazen seveda ni bila od Boga; bila je od spolne bolezni. Ta verska zapoved je v času, ko ni bilo druge zaščite, učinkovito varovala pred okužbami. Velika škoda pa je, da novodobni tradicionalisti ne razumejo tega zgodovinskega konteksta in to zapoved interpretirajo ne kot nekaj, kar ima in je imelo svojo omejeno funkcijo in namen; temveč nekaj, kar je prvotno bilo zdravstveno navodilo, vzamejo kot aksiom; kot dogmo. Zapoved, ki je nekdaj ščitila, tako danes ni več v človekov prid, temveč ga omejuje; ne glede na to, da je danes mogoč zdrav in varen seks in da lahko družba ostane zdrava, tudi če seksamo z večimi partnerji, zagovorniki konzervatizma menijo, da je starodavna zapoved pomembnejša, kot njen namen. Zato so proti kondomom; četudi kondomi pomagajo, pridige o abstinenci pa ne. Da bi ohranili staro zapoved, ne le ignorirajo, temveč naravnost kršijo njen prvotni namen.

V prostoru, na katerem ima vpliv, stališča enake disfunkcionalnosti zagovarja tudi katoliška Cerkev. To, žal, prav nič ne koristi. Človeku je spolnost potrebna. V želji, da bi ohranili dogmo, ne pozabimo na njen prvotni namen.