When I first conceived of my previous post it had a rather different character than it ended up: a testament to the immediacy of blogging, and how one’s thoughts can take one in unexpected directions. Lindsay’s original post, which is far better than any of my analysis, had a powerful tinge of sadness about it. What are we doing when everything is so ****ed up?
I’ve never seen a war up close and personal, thank God, so can only rely on others’ reports, but one very powerful theme is that war is almost never noble or honourable, but is a terrible, ugly, de-humanising, tragic event. All adjectives that could be used to describe the sort of extreme poverty from which the aid industry seeks to rescue people. For the foot soldier forced to fight a war, some of their biggest problems stem from blinkered generals fixated on a particular strategy (how many ‘big pushes’ did the Western Front see in WWI?) without due regard for the realities of the situation on the ground, and so it goes in development too. SNAFU. Of course, war and development both also have their heroes, who, against all odds, actually manage to achieve a truly worthy feat, and these heroes are rightly lionised.
My family and friends from my old life praise me for what I’m doing; the nobility of the sacrifice etc. But how noble exactly are we? Or are we just a peculiar bunch of adventure seekers practising poverty one-up-man-ship? The grim I-told-you-so satisfaction of the grizzled veteran who sits there and can say:
“Once again the donors and the recipient country government have ****ed it all up. There’s no chance of really doing what they expect, so we just have to try our best.”
What’s point of that? Because the donors would get someone else if you didn’t take the job? Because that someone else would be worse at it than you would be, so better you do it? Doesn’t seem very noble to me.
Fighting the system sure takes some courage, and it can take many forms, even, dare I say it, a blog. But what I find so sad and disappointing is that clearly the aid system could be so much better, and clearly a great many people within the system know and understand that, and yet the status quo seems to change so very slowly. Did you turn up to work today to alleviate poverty, advance tropical conservation, or to claim your pay cheque?
Here’s wishing for a nobler international aid system!