Colombo Telegraph

The Politics Of Giving

By Arjuna Seneviratne –

Arjuna Seneviratne

In the previous post, I reflected on what giving should be. In this, I will reflect on what giving has become. Both I think should be read in tandem. Enjoy…*winks*

The conventional meanings assigned to the term aid are a) help, assist, or support (someone or something) in the achievement of something, b) assisting a person or persons overcome their own stated problems and minimize the their own stated  threats and c) support for acts on the part of a person or persons to overcome their own stated problems and minimize their own stated threats.The term does not imply the following: a) assistance in overcoming problems perceived to be so on the part of the Samaritan regardless of whether or not the person or persons being assisted think them to be so, b) assistance in overcoming problems real or imagined that are fashionable to address and c) assistance that provides the Samaritan with a return on his investment of time, resources and effort. These types of assistance can be rightly called disgusting,dangerous and dumb.And yet, over the last 70 years or so, current global understanding of the word “aid” has systematically distanced itself from its natural meaning and become increasingly aligned with the disgusting, the dangerous and the dumb. In that process of transmogrification from a human good that is both just and natural into a human failing that is vicious and manipulative, there has evolved an interesting lexicon and phraseology that has both shocked and amused me by its semantic incongruity, its basic idiocy and its inherent indecency.

Here are a few:

  • Aid effectiveness: Holy freaking cow! Have we so far lost our heads as to believe that giving should only be done if that giving is effective? Asinine.
  • Aid market: Eh? You gotta be kidding me here man. Giving as a business? With people competing with each other to give and people competing with each other to get? Blah!
  • Aid industry: Yeow! you mean, there are actually a buncha people around who earn a living by industriously engaging in the giving and receiving of help?!
  • Aid chain: A full 40% of the “aid” never reaches the people that it is supposed to assist. Instead, it gets pocketed by tiered ranks of middle men and  women. Read, bilateral and multilateral aid agencies, civil society organizations in rich countries, facilitating civil organizations in poor countries, corrupt governments, enforcement agencies and line agencies. Whoa!
  • Conditional aid: mmm? Giving that is based on the receivers fulfilling the givers conditions means that the givers are more interested in achieving their perceived outcomes than responding to the real requirements of the people that they are helping. Disgusting.
  • Tied aid: Tied, eh? If its tied to the giver it was never given. Period.
So, here we are, inconveniently living life in a world full of imbalance where the attempts at rectifying it seem, in fact to be more selfish than selfless. More self-serving than self-giving. Dramatically so. Geometrically so. Almost, almost, completely so. So bought into these ideas of giving are the affluent members of the human race that they have almost completely forgotten why human beings give. Therefore, one can safely assume that they are either becoming rapidly dehumanized or, are already inhuman.Conclusion? The affluent are better off keeping their money and their materials and their technologies and their various other what-have-you’s than engage in this nonsense that any reasonable man will have little trouble labeling as nonsense. But they don’t keep their moolah in their pockets and have done with this whole misbegotten mess.Apart from a few exemplary exceptions, they Won’t. They, importantly … can’t. Why?

Because, in this day and age of cheap communications, they are terrified that at some point, the yawning disparity between those who have and those who have not would reach catastrophic proportions, resulting in a spontaneous combustion of social forces and desperation fuels that… basically…explode in their faces…in various Tiananmenish or Tahriristic squares across the world with a rather messy, inconvenient loss of both affluence and power for the super-heeled of the world.

So, one part of their thinking goes something like this: A few  handouts tossed at the mangy scavenging dogs around the world, framed within conditions, insured through tying, facilitated by industry, auctioned through the market and encouraged by effectiveness  would keep these mongrels relatively not unhappy, relatively not unfed, relatively not undeveloped so that they can’t really make  much of their situations but, more importantly, they don’t reach that critical mass of desperation required to threaten our situations.

The other part of their thinking goes something like this: We got the dough so, what sort of ways are there for us to use it to gain something more than money.. such as say… political bargaining space…capture of strategic geographies…votes in the UN…expansion of our businesses…jobs for are hundreds of thousands of NGO workers, laborers, consultants, researchers, technicians.

For some of these people I feel sorry. The ones I feel sorry for are those slotted in at the middle level inside aid agencies and civil organizations. They are, for most part, pleasant and gentle human beings who actually believe that they are doing some good in the world. I just wish that they had managed to revisit the basics of what constitutes a human being before they embarked on their various crusades across the planet.

For some of these people I do not feel sorry. The ones I do not feel sorry for are the manipulatively affluent at every level of the “aid chain” raking and skimming so that each lower level gets a “handout” that keeps them relatively not unhappy.

What is the upshot of this insanity? Obviously, nothing wholesome. Poverty production in the name of poverty reduction. Conflict escalation in the name of conflict mitigation. Marginalization in the name of empowerment. Destruction in the name of construction. A planet destabilized in the name of stabilization. This, none can escape. Not the affluent. Not the middle-makers. Not the iffy governments. Not the corrupt rulers.

The people at the lower end of the spectrum already know this is true. It is time that those at the upper end realize this. For when there is a personal agenda driving anything couched within the broad term “giving”, that’s what one will get. And I mean get.

*Arjuna Seneviratne’s can be found at

Related posts;

The Spirit Of Giving

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