Sunday, 28 April 2013
"But there are starving children in Africa!"
Hello there, folks. Today I'd like to address a particularly silly piece of rhetoric known to me as "but there are starving children in Africa!" I don't know whether it's just the circles I swim in, but I seem to be bumping into this a lot lately, and it's just about as good a topic as any other for a post.
First, an example of "but there are starving children in Africa!" in action:
Person A: We should do something about the local poor. I'm going to see if I can't round up some interested parties from our community to set up a soup kitchen and job center.
Person B: But there are starving children in Africa! Don't they deserve to be fed more than the local poor, who at least have junk food to tide them over? Are they your responsibility? If not, then aren't you a hypocrite for wanting to feed the local poor but not the starving African children?
Therefore, we see the gist of the rhetoric - person B claims that since there is a bigger, similar problem and if person A's solution does not turn their attention to it as well, then they are hypocrites and person A's solution, or desire to fix things is unfounded and wrong. Or to sum it up in three words: first world problems.
So far, I've come up with three ways to deal with this particular stupidity:
Firstly, point out any false equivalency present. This is usually easy, because most idiots who resort to this rhetorical device aren't very stringent in picking out their analogies. Hence, person A could easily point out that while starving children in Africa are indeed a concern, starving people locally are more of a concern because they directly impact local living in terms of crime and other forms of local unrest. Hence, the two are not equivalent and it would be not hypocritical to solve the problems of the local hungry first before turning outward to starving children in Africa. Once the analogy crumbles, so do their pretty words.
Secondly, you can point out that there are limited resources to which problems can be dealt with, and that some resources are better suited to certain tasks - making it more of a net benefit to spend these resources on a smaller problem than a bigger problem they are not optimal for. Hence, it would make more sense to focus on the local hungry, whose status you have more ability to change and get feedback on. You can turn a homeless man's life around by your intervention and see the results directly; the most you can do for a starving child in Africa that is reasonably within most peoples' reach is passing a couple boxes of canned food across a counter and never seeing where they end up, be it in the hands of an actual starving African child, a warlord, or rotting away in some dingy warehouse. You can try and influence local politics, something you can't do with African politics (unless you're African).
Finally, and I prefer this the most, is to follow where that inane line of reasoning leads to its very end. So it's hypocritical to want to feed the local poor without feeding a starving African child? Then isn't it hypocritical to want to feed a starving African child without feeding a starving African child in a war zone? Then isn't it hypocritical to...and you get my drift.
A problem is a problem is a problem, no matter how small or insignificant one might think it, and all problems can be addressed. There will always be a bigger problem than the one being currently addressed, and if one demands that the smaller problem be dropped in favour of the larger, then nothing will get done and anyone who even tries to do good work will be hypocrites.
And that is just plain stupid.