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Starving Children - Away She Goes

I hate the argument that you cannot let a child starve, that it is some sort of moral imperative.

It is a logical fallacy.

If you really believed that it is impossible, immoral and unacceptable to turn your back on a starving child, you wouldn’t be doing it constantly, millions of times over.  You would be selling all your stuff and feeding the millions of starving children all over the world with the money.  But we don’t, because that isn’t efficient, and that isn’t effective. What confuses me is that on a micro level, people suddenly see it as the only option.  Perhaps exploring other options, and fully examining the potential foibles and pitfalls of food aid is in order, rather than leaping into it.

Feeding starving people is an emotionally driven action.  It’s personally satisfying, which is nice for you.  It provides a great hero moment; it makes you feel nice about reducing human suffering.  But are you actually reducing human suffering?  What about inciting food riots, putting locals out of business, or creating dependence?  To be clear, I’m not arguing for inaction.  I’m arguing in favor of thoughtfulness, of consideration, of logical decision making.  I agree that hunger is heartbreaking, and theoretically unacceptable.  But I don’t think the best way to stop it is to hand out cheeseburgers and sacks of American-grown corn all over the world, either.

People always tell me they, “couldn’t sleep at night,” if they ignored that hungry child.  But that makes it about us, the outside observers, rather than about the child, and what they really need.  And who says the child is really starving?  Sometimes everything is as it seems, but people who work the streets know how to prey on Western emotions and senses of propriety.  We’ve all seen Slumdog Millionaire, I don’t think I need to explain how giving to a begging child doesn’t always go where you think it does, and the child isn’t always as they seem.

And why is it that a starving child is worse?  Because they’re helpless?  Saying that inherently contains a fault on the part of the parents.  It means that on some level, the speaker holds the parents responsible for their hunger, whereas children share no such burden.  This is not only rather not reflective of many of the cultures in which the word’s poorest live, but it applies a set of imaginary conditions in which a person is given a fair chance at making money and accessing and preparing an adequate amount of healthy food that they would choose to eat.  Food insecurity is such a complex subject, and I don’t see how we as individuals, especially if (like me) you don’t specialize in food insecurity, we can presume to step in and do good.

I don’t think there are really that many people in the world who vote in favor of children remaining hungry, so I would love to hear more honest discussions of food aid, with less righteous indignation.  Please consider the other issues at play such as those previously mentioned.  And what about equality?  Why does that ONE street child get your food, help or attention, and not the others?

For those foaming at the mouth that I could ever think of not feeding a starving child, please consider that as offended as you are when I don’t want to give food aid, I am equally offended by your assuaged conscience, by your ability to feed the child in front of you and ignore the others, and by your need to eradicate your own guilt.  The “I’m sorry, I guess I just care too much [unlike you],” line is getting a little old. I love that some people, like John Wood and this great tumblr, don’t believe in poverty porn.

And to those who discuss food insecurity and aid with intelligence, grace and level heads, I do apologize.  But lately this discussion seems inescapable, and I am continually shocked that otherwise brilliant people act as though there is only one possible correct answer to a very complex problem, and that all who disagree must be heartless.

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