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Charity supports the elite
The 36th Letter of an Autonomous Thinker



Amsterdam, September 3 2003

Dear reader, 

Marco H.D. van Leeuwen described the logic of charity in Amsterdam in 1800-1850:
"The local elite had several reasons for providing poor relief in pre-industrial Europe as maintaining a reserve of cheap labour, stabilising social order, preventing unrest and reducing the threat of infectious diseases". Giving money gives donors also status and power.

Modern charity does not solve the destitute position of half the worlds’ population. It is still a colonial activity in which arrogant masters treat their slaves not too badly by giving some of their affluence to the poor. The Red Cross, Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Christian Aid, Save the Children, Live Aid, etceteras send scores of people to poor countries. Most of them are good willing and give concrete help to poor people. But I have always had some doubts about these people. My African contacts with members of Kennedy’s Peace Corps in the sixties affirmed they mostly gave help in exchange for an adventurous and cheap holiday and a good mark for the future career.

Indeed some people benefit but most of the good work is undone by the elitist countries to which the helpers belong. Too high prices for AIDS medicines or the brain drain of intellectuals educated in poor countries are only some examples of the stream of money to rich countries that is bigger than all charity. According to the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3027079.stm ): "… Mali got in 2001 from USAID $37.7m, and lost $43m because of American subsidies on cotton. So you ask yourself sometimes, who is helping whom?"

Huge numbers of Westerns invade the Third World to spread their patronising ideas under the disguise of help. An important reason to intrude in the lives of poor people (the poor may never intrude the private living sphere of the rich) is the preservation of the present social order at the cost of a tiny bit of the own prosperity. Corrupt indigenous leaders get more help from the West than the poor.

The UN looks nice on paper but is controlled by the Western elite. Many Third World people distrust even organisations as the WHO or UNICEF that directly help (but as we have seen in the SARS-crisis they keep the Third World in tutelage). Why is money given to poor people? Because they are dying? No, to maintain the existing order.
Even when some people are indeed helped by charity, their children often remain in the same miserable situation with hardly any promise on a more decent life. At the most charity takes away some of the worst effects of a terribly wrong situation. It does not question the causes of the situation.

People in and around charity organisations should reconsider if they should not direct their money and energy against the elite that also preserves the present situation by allowing nice people to soften the worst pains.

Yours truly, Joost van Steenis


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37. Elite attacks elite
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