Excerpts from an ongoing dialogue my friend Nessie and I are having concerning Niger in particular, and famine, starvation, and AIDs in general.
Nessie: Please forgive the soapbox but I’ve been especially touched and saddened by the current situation in Niger. As I’m sure you’ve all been seeing or reading about this in the news (famine, starvation, AIDS), I won’t go on, but here’s a link to today’s coverage in the New York Times. To see these babies at 15 months that are smaller than my baby is heartbreaking…not to mention their mothers’ faces. One story said that 15 million dollars would break the cycle (obviously, more complicated than that) – but that’s nothing to the U.S. We spend tons more than that to research bark patterns of the New England fir tree – with tax dollars! CARE here in Atlanta is helping if anyone is interested. PSA is over – back to your regularly scheduled program.
DG: Funny that you posted this. i just sent a donation this morning after reading the article. Very upsetting. Although I also feel that it is upsetting that people whose children are starving continue to have so many kids. I mean, they might not be well-educated, but most people understand how babies are made. Why bring one into that kind of poverty?
Nessie: I don’t know. That’s a situation where I’d love to go to Niger and really understand not only what’s going on, but what their lives and perspectives are really like. I mean, it’s as if they are at a different point of evolutionary culture and at this moment and time, the forces of science and nature are bearing down on them. I can’t understand it, but I would really like to know more. Sometimes I wish I was a young college student who could just take off to the Peace Corps or something. Do you ever wish you could do that? I have no global perspective and I want [my child] to have something of that. Sigh.
DG: You have more global perspective than the average person. I think your baby will be fine, too, with you and ned [husband] steering her. I think what’s going on is that they have kids they can’t feed, don’t use modern agricultural tools and methods, and live in an area where it is not always easy to grow things, due to drought and flood. I also sometimes think that it is nature’s way of evening things out (survival of the fittest), and that this is the way civilizations and tribes have risen and fallen for all eternity,but that we are more in tune to it because of our media access the world over. But it is easy to think that way on a big scale, not so easy when faced with a particular mother or family’s story. It is very sad.
Nessie: A thought. What if it is an evolutionary process, but not to “modify” these poor African populations? What if the rooting out is meant for us? If we (as a culture, nation, whatever) can’t find the reasons to help other people in our global community, what if we are the evolutionary “liability”? I don’t buy the evolutionary/weeding out argument because before European colonization of Africa, they were one of the most advanced societies in the world. Perhaps imperialism, which we (democracies – all of us – not just the U.S) still exact every day (i.e. diamond mines), will get us in the end. If these more “primitive cultures” go by the wayside and we just ignore it, we not only lose our humanity, we may lose important cultural contributions that we don’t even fully appreciate yet. Survival of the fittest just may include the quality of compassion which is also a human strength – IMO.
DG: I agree that compassion is an important quality. That is obvious. Compassion is one of the qualities that differentiates us from other species. To blame all of their problems on Imperialism, though, is kind of a narrow view of things. There are patterns of weather and disease that we do not even have record of. . . these things have happened for thousands of years. I am not saying we shouldn’t show compassion, when we have so much, but just that there is a possibility that, in nature, we are not supposed to be able to fix every crisis, possibly including this one. I do agree though, that it might be Western culture that is decimated at some point. All of the greatest “Empires” have fallen in written history – look at the Roman empire. (Now, ever-expanding Roman Catholicism is an interesting one.) I’m not so arrogant as to think we are immune to it. I just think there is an ebbing and waning of life always going on in nature, and we are possibly just too small to see the big picture or to understand it sometimes. It is how nature works to keep a balance, in the same way that it created the tsunami last year. I am not saying we shouldn’t feel compassion, just that maybe there is a point where we cannot control something that is bigger than we are.
Nessie: True. I did want to clarify that I wasn’t suggesting imperialism was the cause of their problems, just that they haven’t always been considered so “primitive” as in prior to their colonization. Obviously, the weather (and local politcs) has had a huge impact on their circumstances. I’m just not sure that its part of the evolutionary process you suggested. One could say Hitler was part of the evolutionary process for European cultures and if we hadn’t intervened, they would be a far different society today. O.K., not a great example but that’s all I got this morning. ; )
DG: I don’t think it matters whether or not their practices are deemed primitive or advanced, only whether or not they are successful in supporting the civilization. I guess my point is that civilizations, including governments and agricultural practices, are possibly part of the evolutionary process of man. (You seem to disagree.) I am not saying we should not try to help them, only that there are always going to be “weaker” and “stronger” peoples, and that this may be something that we can’t intervene and fix completely. Maybe we can lessen some of the pain and suffering of the people, or teach them to use more modern irrigation methods, or whatever, but i don’t think we have enough “band-aids” to fix the whole continent. Hitler example: We didn’t crush Hitler easily – it was a complete battle of wills and the stronger people were victorious. It could have gone either way, though, right? It’s not like we won simply because we were in the right, but because we were STRONGER and a superior fighting machine. We killed better and died less. Hitler was part of the evolutionary process of man, but so was his fall. Again, just an ebbing and waning of “superior” societies. Survival of the fittest. Or was it a victory of Good over Evil, and if so, why isn’t Good victorious more often?
There was a lot more of the discussion, but that was the beginning. . . Thoughts, oh Reader?