Helping or Harming? Part 1 1/2

You can’t rush genius. I am learning this. My husband is working on a blog post about giving in a way that does not hurt but it is coming along slowly. So for the time being he sent some of his incomplete thoughts on the topic. Here they are, perhaps they can bloom into a discussion in place of a blogpost.

Some Random and Incomplete Thoughts on Helping and Not Hurting Culture

When attempting to help bring development to impoverished peoples, there

are two fundamental harms that can potentially be inflicted. The first
is development obstruction, where acts of charity actually hinder the
goal of the charity itself, to reduce poverty. This can be the result of
charities that dependencies and undermine existing structures that need
to thrive for self-succiency and long term growth. The second is danger
is destroying other aspects of a people’s existence while achieving the
goal of development, usually culture.

Effective, long-term development that truly benefits people must go
beyond surface level physical donations that only temporarily alleviate
suffering. This often requires fundamental improvements in the
infrastructure of society. Economic structures that provide a viable
infrastructure for quality of life that isn’t bombarded by hunger, lack
of clean drinking water, and disease requires effective education,
legitimate savings and credit systems, reasonable business
infrastructure, and law enforcement without unreasonable corruption.
Such changes are more involved than simple handouts. How is this
achieved without tangential casualities? How can we help people pursue
escape poverty without destroying their culture? It is indeed a complex
and narrow path to navigate.

Perspective on culture often has two extremes. The first extreme is that
other cultures have no value whatsoever. Such a view is actually usually
rooted in ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s own culture is right in
every regard, and other cultures are wrong. Such a view is obviously
quite stupid. However, people don’t usually arrive at ethnocentrism
consciously, it is natural outgrowth of growing up in a single culture.
You learn one way of doing things, there isn’t a strong reason to
question it, and when another culture acts differently, the instinct is
to consider alternate behavior as wrong. Normally, exposure to other
cultures helps alleviate this condition.

The second extreme is the view that every aspect of culture is good,
regardless of its impact. There are several problems with this naive
view. First, culture often is quite critical of itself. Culture is not
static, it is dynamic, constantly changing as society criticises its own
culture and grows. The only reason that we have such rich cultural
diversity in the world is because of the dynamic nature of a culture.
Static culture can’t diverge and generate diversity.

Real ethnic groups are not truly homogenous. Every ethnic group consists
of unique socia-economic divisions, each adapting unique sub-cultures
that in some way attempt to differentiate from perceived problems in
other sub-cultures in their midst. This demonstrates how cultures
themselves judge and value (or devalue) themselves.

Cultures can also incorporate characteristics that contradict valuing
cultural itself. Many societies are plagued with priviledged subclasses
that inflict oppression on the sub-cultures amongst them. The culture
implications of Nazi’s anti-semitism, Rwandan genocides, and other
oppressive cultural perspectives are incompatible and self-contradictory
with valuing the whole of every culture. There can be certain aspects of
oppression and injustice within a society that limit the ability of a
culture to reach its fullest. Culture is something to be celebrated and
enjoyed, but we must realize that sometimes are changed for culture to
accurately and beautifully reflect the true nature, geography, attitude,
and highest values of its constituents.


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