I saw a series of tweets today:
“RT @Refugees We’ve found 2000 displaced ppl in awful conditions in Central African Rep. Sick, hungry & lacking even safe drinking water.”
“RT @Refugees: “[...] I have never seen people living under such circumstances”
With a link to: “It is estimated more than 125,000 people, many of them women and children, have been forced out of their homes in northern CAR (Central African Republic) since 2005. Another 137,000 are refugees in the neighbouring Chad and Cameroon.”
262,000 refugees at risk. Basically the entire population of British Columbia north of Kamloops is on the move and out of food, water, clothing, shelter or personal safety. Oh, and over 10% of them have HIV, did I mention that?
And my response was “And….?” What am I supposed to do about this? Is it enough for me to simply know about it?
I doubt it. Since the mid 1980′s I’ve had the impression that our ability to know about humanitarian disasters the world over has far outstripped our ability to respond meaninfully to them, to the point where we are inured to the horrors of the world and paralyzed by our relative inability to prevent or mitigate them.
While our ability to know about humanitarian needs has improved dramatically, our ability to address them is virtually the same as it was 25 years ago.
So for the last 25 years we’ve heard the screams of the dying more and more clearly, while we’ve had no more ability to address them.
In fact, in increasingly public ways we have repeatedly failed when trying to address them. Forty years ago mothers admonished their kids to clean their plates because “Children were starving in China”.
Now those kids are starving in your living room every night, and still our kids are right when they say “Oh yeah? Well send them this, then. Can’t do that? Then what’s your point?”
Moreover, the constant bombardment of images of humanitarian disaster makes it increasingly unlikely that people will help. When the Ethiopians were starving in 1984-85 they were it. We could rally around that. There was a distinct and confined problem with an obvious solution: we need to send these people some food, so ya’ll chip in some money and we’ll ship the right stuff over.
Now? Now I’ve got a new one every day. I gave my $100 to the Ethiopian relief, my $75 to Somalian war orphans, my $50 to Oxfam, my $25 to Liveaid, my $10 to Darfur….
Shit, man, I’m tapped. Now I don’t do anything. And each new wave of despair fills me with rage and grief because I am seemingly powerless to stop it or assist the victims.
I can’t imagine that politicans are any different. They’re only human. What if I write my MP or my MLA about each new disaster that deserves government help? I’ll be the nutcase writing him a letter each week and soon it’ll be “what is it this week from this guy?” Which will make my protestations meaningless.
So what are we left with? Am I being called on to witness each tragedy, each death, so that no one dies alone? Am I now being recruited into a silent nation of sympathy, which offers nothing more than that of a professional mourner, wailing away to show that this person had worth, regardless of how that worth was so cruelly neglected?
At what point does our sympathy begin to twist into mass psychopathy, where we can detect the emotional tragedy and can mimic the appropriate response, but feel nothing?
I yearn for a massive increase in our ability to deliver relief directly to those effected by a tragedy that touches us personally. I wish to see the massively increased ability to trasmit these images and stories worldwide and virtually instantaneously translated into a two-way street that allows for delivery of relief in a similar manner.
Until that time and without such an effort to develop rapid, direct, worldwide and specific responses to such calamities, we risk a most ghoulish sort of voyeurism.