I live in New York City, where we are all harbor delusions of grandeur. The narcissism around here is pretty extreme, and if you don’t notice it, that’s just evidence to me that you are self-centered even by New York standards. Everything is for us, and nothing is for anyone else, except for scorn: Whether we’re ignoring the homeless or watching videos of old people getting hit by the train, you can say that we’re not a charitable lot.
“Charitable”? Is that the word I meant?
So I was on the train, and what did I see, but some posters proposing some very “charitable” behavior. Sending medical students to help poor people, and totally not just padding their résumés!
Alright, so here’s the first thing: “The best medicine” is actually top quality medicine and medical care delivered by trained medical professionals for free to those in need. This nonsense about emotions totally obscures the real need for development aid to underdeveloped countries, instead replacing it with these “charitable” missions with their bullshit message about the emotional connection between the medical student American (who obviously has lots of opportunities for social advancement) and poor people in these foreign countries with little to no chance for social mobility (whose countries will still be mad underdeveloped when the Americans leave).
The liberals for whom this is intended think that they’re better than right-wing bigots because they’re going to “chip in.” But they’re not. They’re less vulgar, but just as useless to these other countries as your right-wing uncle. Jamaica or Kenya or whatever, they need help that is best provided by forcing our government to provide massive development aid. Do Jamaicans not already have ton of people? Is volunteer staff what they’re short on? No, underdeveloped parts of Jamaica are surely lacking in development and highly trained medical professionals, not doe-eyed Americans who want to feel good about themselves and look good to future employers.
So, to be clear: What they (the Americans) “get back” is the right to be pleased with themselves and one more entry in the old work experience section. What they give is their total lack of experience. You can see why for that they’re owed the right to be smug and have more job opportunities. Apparently poor countries like Jamaica haven’t “given” us enough already. Underdeveloped countries, generally speaking, are so woefully underdeveloped precisely because of the immense human and material contributions they’ve been forced to make to the enrichment of countries like the United States, the United Kingdom (why not United Queendom? they haven’t got a king at present…) or France.
Imagine for a moment that medical students from a country with a better medical system than the US (say, the UK) came here to make some money by caring for Americans, what would the response of poor Americans be? If they were informed about the realities of their own society, it would be “We don’t need foreign doctors, we need to reform our own system so that our society provides itself with its own medical care!” Of course, in the case of the US, it’s an issue of the obscene cost of necessary medical procedures, whereas in underdeveloped countries, it’s more an issue of a lack of the necessary infrastructure, but in both cases, the problem isn’t solved by foreigners coming and “helping” so they can feel good about themselves. It is a systemic problem:
So back to New York and my subway ride. Maybe the problem with New York isn’t that we’re too cold. Maybe some of the gestures at helping others are really just useless. Maybe the problem is that on the rare occasion that we manage to think about how unfair the world is, our response is just as useless as cynicism or contempt for the suffering. What then is to be done? Next week we’ll have my thoughts on that, as clearly as an angry student (the most useless layabouts I can think of) can formulate thoughts on action.