Why We Need the Third World


Who begs whom?

Charity is so in right now. Ask one of the more ambitious 20-somethings you know. He has a vision of building a charity. And if he does want to start a company or make money, it’s only so that he can eventually build a charity. This is what you would expect in a world that saw money as selfish and possessions as materialistic. We grew up watching Captain Planet, so giving back has become high fashion.

But as our obsession with charity has risen in the past 20 years, we’ve become less obsessed with the outcome. When charities, like Heifer International for example, talk about their results, it’s always in the short-term. I scoured their website, and these were the two most goal-directed sentences I found.

Heifer International is deepening its work in Haiti this month, with a visit by its President and CEO, Pierre Ferrari, and the opening of a new goat-breeding center. The $30,000 breeding center will house about 100 animals, which will be used to fortify local goat stock. [source]

Great, but did this decrease poverty or increase life expectancy? This is when charity guy’s eyes dart back and forth and he tells you about how good it feels to give cows to a tribe in Angola. If Heifer International had concrete objectives it has reached, they would be right there in the masthead of the site. But they don’t, so there aren’t.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just my arrogant conjecture talking. Poverty has actually increased and life expectancy has decreased in Sub-Saharan Africa over the past 20 years. Things are looking better for other parts of the third world, such as South America and Southeast Asia, but their improvement can be explained through globalization—ie capitalism.

Of course, if giving to Africa worked, then giving to your deadbeat brother-in-law would work, too. Africa’s actually a lot like a deadbeat brother-in-law—we know deep down there’s nothing we can do to help them, but we’ll at least try because other people buy into the same illusion that giving helps them. And since giving makes us look magnanimous in the eyes of others, all the better.

The ineffectiveness yet perceived magnanimity of charities indicates a deeper motivation: We only start charities to have sex. They’ve become the peacock’s tail of the 2010s. Think about it. The best way to turn a girl into a friend is to go on and on about your job, the company you’ve started, or your academic work. The best way to turn a girl into all kinds of hot and bothered is to tell her about your charity work, especially the look on a brown child’s face when he first saw clean drinking water. He knew that everything was going to be all right from that moment on. And {consults The Shins song} that made everything all right in your soul from that moment on.

To compound the vaginal-lubrication effects of charity work, helping out the third world involves travel. And travel is almost as cool as charity. When thinking is seen as too egocentric, looking naturally fills the void: “Oh, you saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? That makes you cooler now for some reason. But wait, you also have an opinion on the three main causes of the Renaissance? Boooooring!” I’m sure Captain Planet has something to do with this trend, too.

Charities have also become the peacock’s tail of choice because they’re a creative way to be lazy. Let’s say you’re passionate about music. In 1952, you’d start a company that would create instruments for the novice musician. They’d be inexpensive and low-quality, but they’d work well enough to get a kid started in music. Most likely, you’d become a popular vendor for public high schools. But this would involve learning about instruments, seeing where you could cut corners without affecting the instrument’s quality too much. Watch out, this may involve learning chemistry. Then you’d have to borrow money, build a factory, hire workers, all of which would require that you write a business plan. And writing a business plan has never helped anybody meet girls in the history of the Universe.

But now, 60 years later, if you like music, then you want every child in Africa to have a musical instrument. Of course, Africans have plenty of musical instruments already, but you watched Captain Planet. So instead of joining a world that demands results, you call high schools and music shops and ask them to donate their old instruments to charity. This takes no salesmanship on your part. In fact, it makes you soft because throwing around the world “charity” would get a rape victim to re-sex her attacker. Then once you have the instruments, you get together a group of other Captain Planet disciples, make a few phone calls to Richard Branson, and you’re set. A few kids in Africa will get trombones, and you’ll increase your likelihood of dropping panties. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

All things considered, it’s totally natural that charity hurts Africa. Deep down, we want to keep Africa down. They’re the last bastion of wretchedness on earth, and if they develop at least to the level of India or Southeast Asia, how would we get laid? Well, we’d have to develop a vibrant personality and value the profit motive, and we’re way passed the Rubicon of Captain Planet watching for that.

CultureMark Derian