Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In the debate on the ills and goods of aid...

...let us not forget something important:

“The international aid community has a tendency to colonize, and this tendency is no less apparent in its moral debates where all too often it has shown signs of making all the moral problems of the world its own. In debates about humanitarian ethics, this has sometimes meant that relief agencies and their critics have tended to overstate the moral burden on humanitarianism – perhaps because it is easier to accuse a relief agency than a warlord these days. But it should never be forgotten that relief agencies are always responding to the violence of others. The difficult moral choices faced by relief agencies usually come about as a result of the immoral choices already made by political leaders and other individuals and groups. In most situations, relief agencies inherit an already uneven moral playing-field. It would therefore be morally negligent if excessive agonizing by or about relief agencies (the groaning of the white man and his burden) shouted out the accusations of blame which should be put squarely where they are most obviously due: with the killers, the rapists, the dispossessors and their political leaders who initiate and sustain the policies of excessive and unjust violence in today’s wars and genocides.”

Hugo Slim - Doing The Right Thing: Relief Agencies, Moral Dilemmas and Moral Responsibility in Political Emergencies and War (1997)

Damn good point. Spend days on end reading about the ills of irresponsible aid can get a fella aspiring to work in the field (or one related to it) somewhat down, but every now and again you read something that highlights the other, equally important side of things.


  1. Nice post Quinn. I almost posted a similar thing recently. It is very difficult to be an intelligent person trying to do good in the world. There are so many ways to "do it wrong". Self examination is necessary to ensure that the work you are doing is having the effect you desire (often it doesn't, even with the most well meaning projects). However, I believe that the world needs more people TRYING to help. The majority of the people out there simply don't put any energy into trying to help. If someone wants to be constructively critical and help you do something in a better way, that is a positive thing. Often people just like to sit back and be critical of others who are trying to make the change that they themselves don't have the courage to create. Be proud of yourself and keep it up!

    1. Hey Matt,

      Yea, I agree. Humanitarianism isn't perfect - far from it - but the intention behind it (free of manipulation by coercive players) is something worth believing in. For me, that's really the key bit - failures aside, it's hard to think of something more worth trying to get right in this day and age.


  2. To both of you,

    Well said. Since I'm continuing work in this type of field (though sadly, only domestically), I really appreciate both of your words on this. While it's all probably not as well managed as I'd like it to be, it's well intentioned and at the end of the day, what has been done is far better than the nothing that could've been.

    Thank you both again.