- Which country’s people are the most charitable in terms of donating money?
- Which country’s people are the most charitable in terms of giving their time to help others?
- Which country’s government donates the most to international aid?
- Which country’s government donates the largest proportion of its budget to international aid?
One particular Guardian article by Aditya Chakraborrty has been running around in my mind since I read it earlier in the week. Whilst I have previously deplored our new Prime Minister’s (Theresa May) Cabinet choices, this article drew attention to one I’d overlooked. Priti Patel is the International Development Secretary. For those unfamiliar with British politics, she is known for her strident right-wing views and more importantly in this context, was highly critical of one of David Cameron’s most proud achievements: 70p in every £100 of taxpayers’ money is aid that is given to poorer countries.
We need to be careful about readily applauding apparent charitable aid from a country’s government. Much international development aid goes to what are known as Bric countries, a term that was coined by an economist with Goldman Sachs. It is an acronym that represents the economically developing countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Anyone who has visited any of these countries will be able to account for the extent of poverty within them. However, the money is not always used to support health, sanitary, education and emergency relief projects as the tax payer might expect, but more to support the economic growth of the country. It could be argued that a trickle down effect occurs, whereby the economic growth of the country enables it to develop its own systems that address poverty. But as recent history tells us, economic growth only creates an elite group of incredibly rich people whose power undermines democratic processes. Poverty can be readily witnessed in the UK, indeed a recent visit to a former home provided testament to that. Aid can also be argued to create dependency rather than confronting the issues that caused it. However, that suggests we need to consider the direction of the flow of aid and its use, rather than argue that it should be arrested.
The UK’s 0.7% of aid is being used for emergency relief for Syrians, funds education projects and healthcare for mothers and children where it is most needed. It would be a travesty if Patel were to consider undermining this political achievement.
How did you do with the questions?
According the CAF World Giving Index (2015), some of the world’s most generous countries are some of the most deprived. Myanmar ranked the most charitable. Sri Lanka ranks second in giving up time to help others. The US ranked first place for donating money in 2014, but this was only 0.19% of its national income. In 2015, it now ranks second place. The United Arab Emirates was the most generous as a percentage of its national income. Out of the G-20 countries, only 5 feature in the top 20 most generous.
The Social Nature of Humans
If we put the inequitable distribution aside, the figures show that there is a great deal of human will to help others in a variety of forms. Underlying the survey is the sense that human nature isn’t as negative as many philosophers in the past have argued.
There are two stories from events yesterday that illustrate this. In Italy, there has been an earthquake with a resultant death toll of nearly 250 and rising. One of the features of the coverage is the extent of help in uncovering trapped victims and the joy that is exhibited when someone is alive. This isn’t necessarily from the family and neighbours, but from complete strangers. In England, bystanders pulled victims of a rip tide from the water. Unfortunately, they were unable to help them.
Yesterday evening, my partner told me about a chapter in the book he is reading – an adventure biker’s autobiography, where after a very serious accident, complete strangers faced a potentially dangerous situation and also gave up all their water to help see him to a hospital. The accident happened in the Sahara. Another stranger provided him with accommodation to recuperate from his injuries. Another charged $70 dollars for a $500 repair to his bike.
You’ll probably be able to give many instances of your own and if we compiled them for an alien species to witness, their view of human nature might be more positive than the one we seem to hold of ourselves. The one where we believe are an aggressive, competitive, greedy and selfish species that needs controlling and policing to be kept in order.
How did this come to be?
It could be argued that it originated with the philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). Hobbes asserted that if we lived in a state of nature, i.e. without government, we would live in a state of war. Government is necessary to constrain human nature to secure peace which is more important than liberty. A succinct audio summary is provided below:
Similarly, John Locke (1632-1704) argued that humans have three essential rights – life, liberty and property. To protect these, we’ll happily enter into a social contract with the government to ensure our rights are protected, as human nature is essentially selfish. This contract means that we are duty bound to the government that secures these.
Further fuel was added to this pessimistic view of human nature by Charles Darwin (1859). He proposed:
“….the most potent force in the evolution of the animal world and of human societies is the struggle for existence within the species which procures the survival of the fittest and thus ensures the progress of the race.” Darwin cited in Riggenback (2011). Emphasis my own.
The culmination of this thinking has deprived us of the right to live in a state of nature. However, if you change your view of human nature, is government needed?
The anarchist thinker, Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921), (strangely missing from the BBC’s History of Political Thought and the UK’s Government and Politics curriculum) indeed challenged these assumptions.
Commencing his career as a geographer and zoologist, he claimed, although he looked for it, no evidence existed for animals struggling against each other within the same species. In fact, his findings suggested the opposite, evolutionary success is facilitated by mutual aid and mutual support. Likewise humans.
Humans are essentially social creatures. There is a large body of evidence in the field of psychology which shows that newborn infants demonstrate an attentional preference for human and human-like faces over other stimuli (at least under controlled laboratory conditions). There is also evidence of early mimicry of human facial expressions. This suggests a predisposition to sociality. This predisposition (if valid) would indicate that sociality is an important evolutionary trait that ensures human survival.
“No man is an island.”
If we could argue that humans in a state of nature are social, supportive and willing to provide mutual aid rather than steal from, fight and kill each other, then it is possible to propose that people don’t need to be protected from each other, they can live in complete freedom – without the constraints of government.
Developing Kropotkin’s ideas, the American anarchist thinker Murray Bookchin (1921- 2006) compared the evolution of societies to evolution in nature. Nature thrives best when not controlled, not interfered with and is left to evolve without constraint. Allan Savoury’s work (I’ve mentioned him before) has illustrated how allowing free grazing of animals has better helped the regeneration of the African plains than the culling of grazing animals. Bookchin believed this was also true for humans. Left alone, without the constraints of government they would flourish and progress.
“The ecologist, insofar as he is more than a technician, tends to reject the notion of “power over nature.” He speaks, instead, of “steering” his way through an ecological situation, of managing rather than recreating an ecosystem. The anarchist, in turn, speaks in terms of social spontaneity, of releasing the potentialities of people. Both, in their own way, regard authority as inhibitory, as a weight limiting the creative potential of a natural and social situation. Their object is not to rule a domain, but to release it.” Bookchin cited in Riggenbach (2011).
I recently watched a documentary based on an experimental community for the period of a year. Their intent merely to live more simply.
Whilst I didn’t find the documentary as satisfying as I hoped (I may provide a review later), I was struck with how the participants often reflected on the creativity they needed to solve both the physical and social problems they encountered. And they were not born into a community with an a-priori set of operational values and norms. Conflict resolution is what they strived for, not further antagonism. In an off-grid state, they worked hard to help, provide mutual aid and mutual support.
“If you want to help, no one will stop you.” Barbara Branden, cited in Riggenbach (2011)
But don’t you get the feeling that we’re constrained from giving meaningful help when governed?
Thank you for reading my rant and continued exploration of a political theory for the future.
The Statistics Portal (accessed 25-08-2016)
CAF World Giving Index (accessed 25-08-2016)