Sunday, March 20, 2011

Remember This When The Networks Start Talking "Donor Fatigue" [Anthony McCarthy]

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The woman in the paisley tube dress saw her house crumple when the land convulsed that dreadful day in January 2010. Home today, as it has been for 14 months, is a dank, dirt-floor shack barely wide enough for a small bed.

But Amazante Valesco, as relentlessly buoyant as she is deeply poor, hears the news from Japan of the earth trembling and monster waves cascading and thinks, “What happened to them is worse.’’

Before Haiti’s earthquake, the 56-year-old mother of five lived in a neighborhood of this capital city known among the locals as Tokyo, although Valesco isn’t sure why. “When the tsunami hit, I saw that even a train full of people got washed away,’’ she said. “That makes me very, very sad.’’

This is what I was talking about last week when I said the better part of human nature combined with our ability to reason was our best hope for survival and a decent life. It isn't going to be found in the absurdity of trying to redefine "altruism" to fit it into an academic model of natural selection, which denies the reality of unselfishness by redefining it as selfishness. The reality isn't found in papers in behavior or cog-sci journals. Apparently, it's more likely to be found in people who live in squalid deprivation but who have not allowed that to destroy their humanity. They haven't been talked out of that and into, would be, science based indifference, Though there really isn't much in the way of science to support it. Apparently, the burden of affluence and contemporary understandings of ourselves convince us that we are fatigued by news of distant suffering, ignoring the example of people whose souls aren't so deadened.

I am working on a long piece about Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind, the book form of her Terry Lectures from 2009. I would recommend reading them but you can hear her delivery of them here. The central essay, The Strange History of Altruism, is a revelation.