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152 CHAPTER FIVE The Consequences of Avoiding Certain Universals of Human Nature In 1899, when he was twenty-five, Winston Churchill ruminated about colonialism in his account of the reconquest of the Sudan by the British in the 1896–98 “River War,” during which he served as a cavalry officer under Lord Kitchener: What enterprise that an enlightened community may attempt is more noble and more profitable than the reclamation from barbarism of fertile regions and large populations? To give peace to warring tribes, to administer justice where all was violence, to strike the chains off the slave, to draw the richness from the soil, to plant the earliest seeds of commerce and learning, to increase in whole peoples, their capacities for pleasure and diminish their chances of pain—what more beautiful ideal or more valuable reward can inspire human effort? The act is virtuous , the exercise invigorating, and the result often extremely profitable. Yet as the mind turns from the wonderful cloudland of aspiration to the ugly scaffolding of attempt and achievement, a succession of opposite ideas arises. Industrious races are displayed stinted and starved for the sake of an expensive imperialism which they can only enjoy if they are well fed. Wild peoples, ignorant of their barbarism, callous of suffering, careless of life but tenacious of liberty, are seen to resist with fury the philanthropic invaders, and to perish in thousands before they are convinced of their mistake. The inevitable gap between conquest and dominion becomes filled with the figures of the greedy trader, the inopportune missionary, the ambitious soldier, and the lying speculator, who disquiet the minds of the conquered and excite the sordid appetites of the conquerors. And as the eye of thought rests on these sinister features, it hardly seems possible for us to believe that any fair prospect is approached by so foul a path.”1 I am reluctant to label the development assistance industry “neocolonialist ,” but if we try to help others when they have not asked for it, are we in our own way “philanthropic invaders”? And what if these others want our help and do ask for it? Are we then off the hook? Helping others, whether they ask for it or not, seems always to be morally and psychologically problematic . At best, helping is a delicate matter; at worst, it puts us on Churchill’s “foul path.” Most human beings, both those who offer help and 1. Winston S. Churchill, The River War (New York: NEL Books, 1973), 13. those who receive it, seem intuitively to know this and thus feel some ambivalence about helping or being helped. The Hidden Fear of Creating Dependency Most of us have an instinct to help others. Mundane opportunities to do so are before us often, as when we pass a homeless man holding out a cup. But we squirm and twist momentarily, consciously or not, caged as we are in our jaded time: “Is this the right thing to do?” “Will it really help?” “Am I being ‘soft’?” “What about the next homeless person over there?” Even, “Does he deserve it?” And if we let them, these kinds of questions escalate: “Will my help last?” “Can the homeless man change?” “Whose fault is it that he is there, anyway ?” “Am I being foolish for giving?” “Am I being foolish for not giving?” Questions like the above often mask a fear that one is doing more harm than good. One way of reconciling that fear is to employ the convenient mask of “self-help,” and that has often been done in dealings with the poor, and not just in our own era. Here is Henry Mayhew, writing on the poor of London in 1861: “Philanthropists always seek to do too much, and in this is to be found the main cause of their repeated failures. The poor are expected to become angels in an instant, and the consequence is, they are merely made hypocrites. . . . It would seem, too, that this overweening disposition to play the part of pedagogues (I use the word in its literal sense) to the poor, proceeds rather from a love of power than from a sincere regard for the people. Let the rich become the advisers and assistants of the poor, giving them the benefit of their superior education and means—but leaving the people to act for themselves—and they will do a great good.”2 The idea of self-help was invoked by Henry...


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