Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Outrage, Tom Paine and Trade Aid.

News: Whittakers to launch Fair Trade Chocolate, after public outcry.

I shall probably get hate mail for saying this, but I have no intention of eating Fair Trade chocolate.

I've got a whole email storm demanding my signature on petitions to Cadbury, petitions to Whittakers, petitions to end Child Labour, petitions to ask the government to condemn child soldiery in Uganda, and solve world poverty ten minutes ago.

I'm suffering from outrage fatigue. And to be honest, the whole thing seems a tiny bit---fake.

I don't question the good intentions of all kinds of campaigners for justice overseas. I will sign Amnesty petitions, and sponsor children. Anything that will do real, and Christian good, I'm down wid', as they say in the hood.

But I can't shake the feeling that the cornucopia of outrage about Various Things our government couldn't change even if it wanted to is a rather ersatz substitute for real charity.

It's easy to raise your fist in the air for Chocolate/ Africa/Asia/AIDS/Global Warming/Patagonian Goatfish.

It's harder to do anything constructive about them.

And hardest of all to be charitable not in the abstract, but to your annoying neighbour, your brattish brother, and the slightly odd man on the bus.

Tom Paine (curses upon his shade) once wrote that:

"Mankind is my country, and good is my religion," anticipating by centuries the mentality of people who shop at Trade Aid.

Goodness to mankind means getting wildly indignant over the Millennium Development Goals, and the lack of health access in some obscure Third World country, shopping at Trade Aid, and demanding the government issue a Statement condemning child soldiers (like any sane government is actually in favour of them).

Real goodness is harder. It involves asking for real sacrifice, from yourself, not demanding someone else do it for you. I have an obscure sense of unease about activism--it's too easy. It's too cheap. It's not deep enough.



Anonymous said...

Thank you Swift.
My blinkered, ill-considered sensibilities are suitably challenged.
Thanks for your two cents worth.
Keep writing.

SubversNZ said...

I entirely agree with, "Real goodness is harder. It involves asking for real sacrifice, from yourself, not demanding someone else do it for you..."

But, I think that buying fair-trade products is a real sacrifice - if it were not, more people would do it.

Of course, being welcoming and friendly to one's African neighbours may be a little harder, so probably less people do it.