Home Meta-good vs. Charity: The Showdown

Throughout the process of life we experience or encounter happenings, emotions, or people that we could categorize as "good," and others that we could categorize as "bad." People may live their lives claiming to be glass-half-full kind of people, looking for the positive in every set of circumstances, but it would be unrealistic and unwise to say or imagine that life could be lived without both the good and bad. Once we escape the feel-good morality common in our time we can begin to see all things as they are—we can adopt a world-view that is all-encompassing, that does away with arbitrary moral classifications. We can stop seeing things simply as good or bad and then look at how everything fits into the "big picture." This is what some call "meta-good."

The feel-good, emotionally influenced morality already mentioned will cause someone to wince and shriek in terror at things that are completely natural because they might think of them as "bad." The thought of a pack of wolves feasting on the carcass of a fawn, for instance, is horrifying to many. People don't want to see a helpless, harmless animal like a young deer torn apart by vicious carnivorous dogs, but love it or loathe it, this is Nature's way. Wolves need prey to survive; populations of animals that are preyed upon must also be regulated, or else plant life, and therefore the life of other species, will be put at risk. The way the natural world operates includes meta-good.

Meta-good is, in essence, stability and balance. Without things like death—the ultimate "bad"—living would be worry free, and everyone could go about their days with a smile on their face, knowing that every day would be a fine day and that life was good. Murderers would no longer walk among us, those wolves would no longer eat baby animals, and poor and starving people would live forever. This new death-free world would also disrupt the natural balance that all life depends on, of course. People would soon be piling on top of one another, starving and sick, with nowhere to go and no one to help them get any better. Animals, too, would be running around unrestrained, spreading even more diseases and filth, and competition would be seen in ways never before imagined. All carnivorous beings would cease to exist, leaving only their "vegan" counterparts, who would in turn smother all plant life (growing in what little room there is left), putting the members of its species and others in danger. The earth would be in the most chaotic state imaginable, and this simply would not do. Nature depends upon order.

Meta-good is contemplating the health of a system, or the long-term consequences of any thing before deciding if that thing is "good" or "bad." But humans today are seemingly incapable of thinking long-term. We seek immediate gratification. We seek immediate results. Why should we care about the Natural Order? I don't like the woods anyways—there are bugs and stuff, and bugs are icky. This failure to think on a larger scale of history may prove detrimental.

It's forgivable in many instances, at the level of the individual. Throughout human history we have adapted to worry first about the immediate future. In our more primitive days we had to worry about finding shelter, keeping ourselves and our families safe from predators, worry about rival tribes, and so on. Today we have similar, although perhaps not as extreme worries that occupy our mind and keep us in the present.

At the societal level, however, short-term thinking is incredibly unwise. Unfortunately most modern regimes seem to be stuck in this mode of thought. Perhaps governing bodies have never thought centuries or millenia ahead of time, but in today's world it is completely necessary. Pollution and destruction of our natural world is at a level never before seen. The rate of extinction for species world-wide is unprecedented as well. Even so, the population of human beings, who it must be noted consume more resources more rapidly than any other species on the planet, is quickly approaching seven billion—nearly five-and-a-half billion in just the last century—and figures estimate that we'll quickly be at nine, continually growing until we "stabilize" somewhere around ten or twelve billion within the next few centuries.

Stabilize? The very use of the word implies that the earth is only capable of supporting so many living organisms at one time. That we will "stabilize" shows that we will hit the carrying capacity; at that time nobody knows what will happen, but chances are it will not be pretty. It's worth mentioning again: Maybe our ancestors never thought ahead hundreds or thousands of years, but if we had been living and "progressing" this whole time with some idea of what the future might hold (besides unlimited resources and Heaven on Earth) the world probably wouldn't be in this state of despair in the first place. Now is the time for action. New societies, healthier than the last, must be constructed with long-term aims, and these societies must be more sustainable for longer. Or we could not do anything. We could continue on the path we are on until the planet gets so crowded and dirty that living for every breathing thing becomes miserable.

An interesting topic to put it all into perspective is that of charity, especially in the form of foreign aid. Charity is good, right? Helping the less fortunate is morally commendable under practically every system of ethics. People are starving and dying; they need help.

I disagree, and I will put this very plainly: Charity increases poverty, prolongs suffering, creates new forms of slavery, and accelerates our journey towards complete and total destruction. For many, this is a shocking point of view. It's inhuman, completely unethical/morally repugnant, devoid of any sympathy or empathy, sadistic. Without a doubt, this statement requires explanation.

Few of us truly wish death, pain, or suffering on any of our fellow humans. If we are not sadists, masochists, psychopaths, or bizarre sexual-deviants, we generally don't enjoy watching others suffer or die. Thus, it seems only natural that we generally think helping people is good. By extension, charity is almost universally thought of as "good," and people accept this without the blink of an eye. But when an ecosystem, our earth in this case, reaches a state of utter disrepair and chaos (as we are currently seeing), some transformation is required to again reach a state of stability. While it's not the only factor to the equation, a very sizeable chunk of the blame falls on our global population. The global population must be, and it will be, decreased to once again make room for sustainable living. I'm not going to lie to myself and think I'm actually "helping" by donating X percent of my paycheck to Y charity every month.

Below lies a case study, the subject of which will be the African continent.

At the turn of the twentieth century it's estimated that the population of humans in Africa was about 130 million. As a comparison, the population of North America was somewhere around 80 million. Current estimates place the population of Africa at almost 890 million—more than a 650% increase in just one hundred years. North America has also increased its numbers, to about 330 million, but next to African numbers we see that the population boom is vastly disproportionate.

Not surprisingly, a lot of very "bad" things are going on in Africa right now. Deforestation has disrupted the natural habitat and is constantly rendering species extinct. Overpopulation has created scarcity, leaving millions without food and clean drinking water every single day. Disease is also rampant; AIDS is now considered an epidemic, with a third of all AIDS deaths occuring in sub-Saharan Africa. Many consider what is happening in Sudan to be a genocide, where entire villages have been wiped out, and many demand foreign intervention. However it is we, the industrialized world, that have armed the African people.

People weren't always starving to death or being wiped out by armed militants, nor was a single disease claiming the lives of several million people each year. Most Africans were living in stable, autonomous tribal societies. Modernization has caused them to multiply, and as they multiplied problems started to sprout up everywhere. People in Africa aren't suffering from their lack of technology and health care—they're suffering because of it. Yet we, the industrialized world, hope to stop all of this by sending them food in airplanes and providing them with air-conditioners and shoes. We hope to help them "develop" into First World nations so that all of their problems will be solved and life will be just as peachy there as it is here.


"It sucks that we're in this shitty situation, but now that we are we might as well help the ones that we can." The Africans are suffering, remember? They're starving and dying from AIDS. But do sexually transmitted diseases that kill and a lack of food and drinking water come from nowhere? Of course not. Charity doesn't address the cause of the suffering; it attempts to put a band-aid on a much larger wound. Charity is feel-good morality manifested.

By saving lives because every human is precious and none of them can die, we create the possibility for certainty of prolonged poverty and suffering. It's very likely that natural causes like famine, disease, competition/war would do their part, working out most, if not all, of the problems on the African continent within just a few generations if we were to halt all foreign aid. The situation would again be stable and the African people could either return to their tribal lifestyles or use their new "modern" knowledge and "develop" intelligently. Feel-good morality doesn't allow this possibility, though. It means that millions upon millions of people will die, and death is horrible—it can't be allowed. However, if the death and suffering doesn't occur now, it's certain to occur later, people being miserable all the while. The poor, starving, impoverished people of today will breed (the spread of AIDS is evidence), creating the poor, starving, impoverished people of tomorrow. Misery is multiplied, and when the time comes for our population to "stabilize," it means even more suffering. Even by secular "least harm" ethical codes charity is hypocritical.

Not only is the moral ground for charity rocky at best, but industrialization of Africa (and other "Third World" areas) essentially places them at the bottom of an already present system of slavery and is a de facto way of saying "You/your way of life is inferior." Why must people of tribal societies be introduced into our "advanced" way of life? It's not for their benefit, but for ours. Any aid from the industrialized world—food, money, medicine, etc.—does three things simultaneously: it increases the Third World dependence on industry, decreases their ability to be self-sufficient, and it increases the profit of the exploiter(s). No longer will they be able to take care of themselves, but they will always turn to others for everything, much as we see here in the West—everything is purchased.

And what of the forests? The deforestation is already out of control; turning the continent into another North America or Europe is out of the question. China is bad enough. If African nations are industrialized it's essentially a guarantee that all plant and animal life will be eliminated. Anything for the sake of progress—nobody knows for sure what all this carbon in the air is doing, anyways.

Sometimes being anti-charity will draw allegations of being racist, fascist, Satanist, etc.

"You're being a racist. Just because they're not white doesn't mean they don't deserve a high standard of living?" Racist? No, this is flawed logic. If anything, suggesting that a tribal lifestyle somehow results in a "low standard of living" is insensitive. Even so, it has nothing to do with race.

"But people are dying! Suggesting that we don't help them is inhumane!" Perhaps it is, but at least it's not insane. Besides, people die every day; I'm not so unrealistic to think that I could stop it. I wouldn't want to, anyways. See the "least harm" argument above and everything pertaining to meta-good above that.

"You're still denying them a good life. Not helping them out is only going to hold them back." Holding them back from what? An insane world ruled by colored paper and shiny pieces of round metal? (Hell, hardly even that anymore—just a number that supposedly represents it.) Absolutely. In fact, not wanting to "develop" or "help" is an act of good will in itself; I don't wish for anyone to live as unhealthily and detached as moderns do.

People of tribal and "primitive" cultures think people living in the "developed" world are crazy—and maybe it's because we are. We live in jungles like they do, but our jungles are made of concrete and iron, not a tree in sight. We don't hunt like they do, battle like they do, build like they do, but we purchase everything from strange people who are dressed strangely and control every aspect of our life from a control room, or over a magic box that teleports words. In almost every aspect of life we are completely different than the species we evolved into; the techniques we've adapted to our world are useless and the form we've taken is turning from lean and efficient to plump and ugly.

Simplified, feel-good morality also creates these binary reactions to what must be good and what must be bad. It discourages deep thought or critical analysis, so instead people automatically condemn or herald every person and every act as if it is infinitely positive or negative. Knee-jerk reactions and unfit allegations are a sign of this. In order to see what is truly beneficial you need to look at complex cause-effect relationships and look at the world as if good and evil did not exist. One must not fall for dogma.

And so we return to where we started:

Throughout the process of life we experience or encounter happenings, emotions, or people that we could categorize as "good," and others that we could categorize as "bad." People may live their lives claiming to be glass-half-full kind of people, looking for the positive in every set of circumstances, but it would be unrealistic and unwise to say or imagine that life could be lived without both the good and bad. Once we escape the feel-good morality common in our time we can begin to examine an all-encompassing idea that does away with arbitrary moral classifications and begin looking at life's characteristics in a more objective fashion. This is wisdom; this is meta-good.

January 9, 2008

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