If you want proof that we don’t really care about people you need look only as far as the most recent natural disaster. At the time of this writing that would be the Typhoon Yolanda (Filipino name) or Haiyan (Japanese name) as it is also known). But, there are millions of people giving hard earned dollars to support relief efforts. Governments and corporations are adding in more millions of dollars plus manpower and equipment from their armed forces to provide relief. That means people care right? Not really. The motivation here is about self-perception. When we look at our selves we want to seem like the kind of generous people that would give large amounts money to people who really need it, and if there’s anyone who really needs short term help it’s people who have been the victims of a natural disaster. The United States government is sending military personnel because we need to support an important regional military allie, and because doing this sort of thing makes us look like the good guys. It’s also good training.
That’s not to say we don’t have altruistic motives personally and collectively for helping others. We probably do. But let me as you this, what was preventing the hospital ships from providing life saving medical care in the Philippines before the Typhoon? Where’s the moral imperative to help people when it’s not a disaster? We concern ourselves with dire poverty during the holidays and it’s great that we have special donations for food and toys to share. It doesn’t help that at the same time we have entire holidays dedicated to guilt-free gluttony. We spare little effort or thought for the difficult systemic issues related to poverty such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure. Consider Haiti. It’s main population centers were devastated by an earthquake leading to great loss of life. It’s main problem though isn’t a lack of volunteers from the United States or other aide organizations its political corruption, environmental devastation, and other forms of dire poverty that left their entire country little more than a shanty town. The earthquake wasn’t even that large, just well placed. Has the United States or any other world body spent any time trying to address building a prosperous Haiti? Not really. It’s enough that we feel good about ourselves with the help we do provide.
Whether the problems are domestic or global we have no interest in really helping people outside of our immediate self-interest. Such a thing would require long term political engagement, accumulation of resources, oversight and it would be complex. It would be boring. I mean hospital ships are great but if you really want to save lives you have to spend years and billions of dollars building roads. After that you’d built a water pipelines. Yeah not sexy, but here I thought we were trying to help people. Unless great care is taken, charity is merely a form of pious self-indulgence. The only true form of altruism is politics and we hate that