Teaching the Hungry to Fish
Many good people in America are willing to share what they have with others who are less fortunate than they. A very large number of nonprofits work to make life easier for persons in Africa and Asia as well as in South America. Others are trying to help out undocumented immigrants in the US whose persecution is even more violent today than under the previous president. There are many projects to save children—often children of color or Native American-- that are at risk of ending up as addicts or as prisoners.
The many millions of people who support these different nonprofits, often challenging and ingenious projects, deserve great praise for their dedication to the well-being of everyone on this globe.
It is a favorite cliché among members and supporters of nonprofits that it is better to teach people how to fish than to give them fish to eat. The handy sayings suggests that rather than giving suffering people direct support, we should enable them to improve their own situation by overcoming the causes of their suffering. But they must know them if they are to remove the causes of their suffering,. (They often do.) And so must we if we are going to help them.
While talk about teaching people how to fish is popular, few people who are generous in their support of people suffering around the globe are interested in the causes of that suffering. The reason for that is clear. The United States, as the most powerful country in the world, is involved in the condition of almost all people in the world and frequently contributes to their misery.
Recent newspaper stories report hundreds of Libyans drowning in their panicked flight from their country. A few years ago they were ruled by a bloodthirsty dictator. We decided to unseat him with a harsh bombing campaign. Now they have several governments; parts of the country are controlled but not really governed by militias. The standard of living is deplorable. The number of civilians killed is rising. The flights and the drownings are in part the result of our intervening in their country. The United States is complicit in the misery of Libya.
The same is true in Syria where we have meddled in situations we did not understand. We have supported different oppositional groups, not having learned our lesson in Libya that overthrowing a bloodthirsty dictator rarely improves the lives of the people. We have contributed to an unbelievably destructive Civil War and to the hundreds of thousands of refugees all over Europe. We had taken in about 10,000 of those by the time Pres. Trump closed our borders to all of them. He does not understand about complicity or taking responsibility.
Our government has always believed that one of its major foreign policy objectives should be to ease the entry of American corporations into foreign countries. For instance through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) we have opened Mexico to importation of American corn, subsidized by the US government, and produced on huge farms more cheaply than Mexican farmers could produce their corn. We put small Mexican farmers out of business and they moved to the city where life was really harsh. They came to the US, undocumented, to earn some money for their families.
Our government accuses them of breaking our immigration laws and sends them back. They don’t ask why these immigrants are trying to find their way through the hot desert, leaving their families behind. Why would anybody do that?
Washington has always supported big business, right-wing interests and authoritarian governments in Latin America. For the common people there was no hope and so they joined the long, hard and dangerous road to North America only to find as did many previous generations of immigrants that our streets are not paved with gold. (They only have a lot of potholes.)
Many children in communities of color exist under very difficult conditions. We tend to blame the black family structure or other mythologies. We – white people – do not look at ourselves in the mirror and see the people who keep perpetuating racial injustice and oppression and who are therefore complicit in the hard lives of many children. In similar ways we—white people-- are responsible for the problems of children in Native American families.
We cannot remove the causes of misery around the world and in our own cities and rural areas without taking responsibility for the damage we do to people in many different places and working hard to end our destructive policies. Giving aid, being generous in giving fish to hungry people is not good enough. We need to be aware of the damage we have done for centuries, are still doing and stop doing it.