My friend Laura sent around a call for donations to aid those killed, injured and / or left homeless by the recent earthquakes in China. This mass mailing went out to a lot of people, but as I have known Laura for quite some time I imagined what I might say to her if we had a conversation concerning her relief efforts. Of course, sentimentally, my heart goes out to all the victims. But, my imagined conversation led to callous realities. For the sake of our nation and my friendship with Laura, I’m just going to ignore her e-mail.
As caring and supposedly wealthy people, Americans often want to give and are always expected to provide disaster relief. This giving spirit reflects a belief in a human community. Yet, as culturists know, that community is often more illusory than real. When America stepped into stop violence in Rwanda, Somalia and the Balkans we backed and protected some unsavory people in the middle of torrential violence. In such cases, someone will always resent your helping the other side. We are yet to see gratitude for our supporting Muslims in the Balkans. When it comes to interfering in nations we know little about, my culturist instincts always lean towards caution.
In the case of major nations, how much of a sense of community is there? When Katrina happened, Japan sent us $500,000. That is not enough money to buy one condominium in New York. While it goes further in New Orleans, it verges on being an insult. How much money did China give us? If we were broke and had a disaster, how much relief would China send us? We already have a major trade deficit with them and in normal times they do not seem to mind playing hardball to increase that deficit. As it is, we send them a lot of money and they send much less back. They seem to think our nations are competitors. The trade deficit seems to confirm this impression.
Diversity exists. Myanmar refused to distribute the aid sent to them. The North Korean government regularly takes U.N. aid, puts it in bags labeled “North Korean government,” skims the bulk off for their military, and pretends like it is providing the relief. Whatever China spends in aiding its poor, they will not spend propping up the murderous regime in Sudan nor fueling their incredible and secretive military growth. As per my Western bias, I feel more akin to nations that promote democracy and rights and do not back terrorists. Even if it were eventually getting to the people, giving free money to China and Myanmar seems problematic.
Culturism does not put stock in abstractions. Rights, for example, only come from countries that believe in them and can afford them, not from a metaphysical reality. Even if we did consider all peoples one and looked past nationality and culture, we would still have limited resources to spend on the world. We currently have tremendous debts and deficits. Our very own infrastructure is old and collapsing. We have many homeless. And neither Katrina nor the World Trade Center has been rebuilt. While it might feel good to Americans to imagine the world shuttles money back and forth whenever there is a disaster, there are limits and one must prioritize.
I send those in China and Myanmar my condolences. I truly hope that their governments spend money on their people. I’ll be watching their governments and judging them accordingly. Laura might ask if I would not want other nations to give me money if I needed it. Certainly I will take all the free money I can get. But, in reality, the lion's share of help I'd get would come from my own government and my personal resources. And the money our government spends to help in disasters comes out of real American’s incomes. I do not resent that other nations do not take in refugees willingly or send other nations much money in times of need. I think they have their priorities straight. I truly hope China and Myanmar get relief to their people quickly.