Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Paul Theroux

Philanthropy – the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel?

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday October 8 2014.

I am not sure who originally came up with the phrase “Philanthropy – the last refuge of the scoundrel”. I first encountered it in an article published in October 2012 by the novelist Howard Jacobson on the subject of Jimmy Savile. Savile used his reputation as a philanthropist to sexually abuse children. I recently encountered a use of the phrase in a book by James O’Toole: Creating the Good Life: Applying Aristotle’s Wisdom to Find Meaning and Happiness, published in 2005. James O’Toole is the Daniels Distinguished Professor of Business Ethics at the University of Denver. O’Toole shows how a range of people embarked on quests that led them closer to achieving a good life based on awareness and values rather than riches and fame.

Aristotle: “To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”

 

I recently became embroiled in an argument on Facebook about Otara and Odels. Someone who thought he was supporting my point of view wrote that Otara should be spending her philanthropic funds on people rather than dogs. Compassion is not a zero-sum commodity. Anyone who loves animals is likely to have empathy for people. People who are cruel to animals – GW Bush, Jeffrey Dahmer, Fred West, Prabhakaran- are likely to be cruel to people. A friend of mine who is engaged in practical hands-on animal welfare was sceptical when Otara embarked upon Embark, predicting that it was a publicity stunt. I chided her for her cynicism but there has been criticism of how Embark operated. We will see how it goes now that Otara has more time to personally supervise it.

 

Noisy Philanthropy

 

I do have issues with celebrity philanthropy. The late Paul Newman raised $150m for various good causes. He explained a dilemma: “One thing that bothers me is what I call ‘noisy philanthropy’. Philanthropy ought to be anonymous but in order for it to be effective, you have to be noisy. Because when a shopper walks up to the shelf and says, ‘shall I take this one or that one?’ you’ve got to let her know that the money goes to a good purpose. So there goes all your anonymity and the whole thing you really cherish”.

 

Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics

When I was working with my cynical friend on an animal welfare campaign, her daughter had the brilliant idea of approaching ethical philosopher Peter Singer for support. Peter Singer has a motto: “make a difference”. He certainly made a difference to the way I live my life. Way back in the 1970s, I read articles by Singer in the New York Review of Books that made me see things in a radical new light. His subsequent books Practical Ethics and Animal Liberation reinforced the message of the articles. Singer argued that the boundary between human and “animal” is arbitrary. He popularized the term “speciesism”, to describe the practice of privileging humans over other animals. I was rather disappointed when Singer asked me to remove his name from my mailing list. He was not interested in giving painless direct help for the welfare of animals by simply lending his name.

Outsourcing Compassion

In “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, Singer argued that it is morally indefensible that some people enjoy surplus abundance while others starve. When one is already living comfortably, a further purchase to increase comfort will not have the same moral weight as saving another person’s life. Singer claims to donate 25% of his salary to Oxfam and UNICEF. He acknowledges that there are problems with ensuring that charitable donations are effectively spent.

In Joseph O’Neill’s latest novel, The Dog, the main character, X, is concerned about the working conditions of construction workers in Dubai. He deals with his concern by paying 37% of his gross salary to Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch. This sounds like a big sacrifice but it is a comfortable way for X to delegate his conscience. O’Neill makes blatant the bad faith of Singer’s thinking. Singer’s method of giving means that it does not matter whether the money does anything to relieve suffering or poverty but it certainly boosts the giver.

 

Bono – Mrs. Jellyby in a Ten-Gallon hat

Novelist Paul Theroux has noted the similarity between the secular saint known as Bono and the philanthropic Mrs. Jellyby in Dickens’s Bleak House. Mrs. Jellyby tries to save starving Africans by financing coffee growing, making pianoforte legs for export and bullying people to give her money for those purposes. Theroux wrote in the New York Times on December 15 2005: “There are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can’t think of one at the moment.”

Bono says at U2 concerts, “We don’t want your money, just your voice.” Bono wants you to give the government your money in taxes and spend it for him. Bono’s ONE organisation wants Western governments to spend tax dollars on development and aid programmes. Many voices, those of William Easterly and Dambisa Moyo the most eloquent among them, have argued that aid does more harm than good to the countries receiving it.

Theroux taught in Malawi as a volunteer Peace Corps teacher 45 years ago and knows the country well. Despite large amounts of financial aid, Malawi “has declined from a country with promise to a failed state.” “I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for – and this never happens.”

In 2008, Bono’s ONE Campaign raised $14,993,873 in public donations — of which only $184,732 (or just over one percent) was distributed to charities. More than $8 million went to salaries for executives and employees at ONE.

In 2008, New Internationalist readers chose Bono as their Artful Dodger of the year. For many years, Bono’s home country of Ireland had not taxed the income of “artists”. Then the Government decided to set a cap of $200,000 a year – a fortune for most artists, but not for U2. Ireland is still a corporate tax haven and Bono would have done well enough had he decided to stay home. The Netherlands offered a more attractive deal, because of its link with offshore tax-havens in the Antilles. It seems that Bono wants ordinary people to pay through their taxes for his causes but does not want to pay tax himself.

Geldof

 

I was one of those caught up in the mass hysteria generated by Live Aid in 1985. I responded to Bob Geldof’s exhortations to pay up to save the starving Ethiopians. Live Aid turned Geldof from a has-been pop performer into a global charity superstar. Not everybody was impressed. World Music champion Andy Kershaw wrote of the Wembley concert: “It became clear that this was another parade of the same old rock aristocracy in a concert for Africa, organised by someone who, while advertising his concern for, and sympathy with, the continent didn’t see fit to celebrate or dignify the place by including on the Live Aid bill a single African performer.”

Alex de Waal estimates that the relief effort may have cut the death toll by between a quarter and a half. However, critics say that NGOs were complicit in the Ethiopian government’s “resettlement” of 600,000 people from the north while enforcing the “villagisation” of three million others. Donor governments and mainstream relief NGOs turned a blind eye while government officials raided refugee camps. This was a totalitarian scheme masquerading as a humanitarian effort. The conservative estimate of those dying en route is 50,000. MSF’s (Médecins Sans Frontières) estimate is double that. Asked about allegations that 100,000 had died in the transfers, Geldof said, “in the context [of such a famine], these numbers don’t shock me.”

Ethiopia remains one of Africa’s poorest countries. Whilst making a fortune for charity Geldof has also shown an aptitude for making himself rich. One of his companies, Ten Alps Communications is Britain’s fastest growing media, entertainment and marketing company. The company deals with some unsavoury allies, creating “branded environments” for BP, Glaxo Smithkline and Microsoft, and even the British Foreign Office. When Geldof tried to relive Live Aid with Live8, Nestlé, BAE Systems and Rio Tinto sponsored some of the concerts. Nestlé has been accused of benefiting from the HIV/Aids epidemic in Africa by selling more milk substitute products; Rio Tinto, the world’s largest mining corporation, has been condemned for human rights and environmental abuses; BAE Systems, according to Mike Lewis of the UK’s Campaign against Arms Trade, is “fuelling conflicts across Africa”.

Many people involved in the Make Poverty History (MPH) campaign were not happy with Geldof. He chose to hold Live 8, without consulting the MPH organisers, on the same day in 2005 as the main MPH demonstration in Edinburgh, stealing most of the media coverage. Geldof praised Tony Blair and GW Bush for saving millions of African lives and promoted the Washington Consensus of free trade, foreign direct investment and privatisation.

 

 As with Live Aid in 1985, Geldof was criticised for not including any African musicians. At the final press conference that concluded the G8 summit in Gleneagles, the South African activist Kumi Naidoo acted as spokesperson for Make Poverty History gave the coalition’s verdict that: “The world has roared, but the G8 has responded with a whisper.” Geldof turned on Naidoo in front of the assembled media, attacking his statement as “a disgrace”. African civil society representatives went on television afterwards to make public statements dissociating themselves from Geldof’s remarks.
Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was a practical philanthropist. He knew how to make money and he knew how to use it effectively. Carnegie established charitable organisations that are still active nearly a century after his death and he set the template for other philanthropists through his well-written thoughts on the theory and practice of charity. Carnegie urged the wealthy to provide for themselves and their dependents and then make it their “duty” to use the rest of their funds for their communities. He warned successful men who failed to help others that “the man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” Modern day rich givers like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have expressed a Carnegie-like wish to divest themselves of their wealth.

 

This echoes The Buddha’s aphorism about the wealthy man who enjoys his riches without sharing, digging his own grave. Those of us who are not wealthy would be advised to give directly to those in need rather than outsourcing to huge corporations or overweening rock stars. Make a difference to the poor not to the rich.

 

Cuzco – the Navel of the World

This is an extended version of an article that appears in the March 2014 issue of Echelon magazine.

 

Sacred valley at the top of the world with great clubs and restaurants.

Cuscoatnight

Peru has had a violent history even until recently. There continues to be a divide between indigenous people and the descendants of the Spanish conquerors.

Getting There

There are flights to Cuzco from Lima but there are dangers to health because of altitude sickness; the ancient capital of the Incas is 3,400 metres above sea level. Paul Theroux told a story, probably apocryphal, of a tourist’s teeth exploding. I became distinctly dizzy in Huancavelica (3,660 metres).  It is advisable to make a gradual progress by road or rail to Cuzco, in order to acclimatise yourself gradually to the altitude.

Garcilaso

I bought a fascinating book in Cuzco written by one of the city’s native sons. Garcilaso de la Vega’s Comentarios Reales de los Incas, was published in 1609. Garcilaso’s dual heritage enabled him to provide a subtle critique of Spanish colonialism and the sufferings of native Andeans. Garcilaso’s mother was an Inca princess, and his father was a Spanish conquistador. Garcilaso unsuccessfully argued for a colonial regime led by men who could harmoniously reconcile Spanish and Incan traditions. That kind of harmony is still lacking today. He based his accounts of Inca life and the conquest on stories heard from his Inca relatives when he was a child in Cuzco.  He portrays the Inca as benevolent rulers who governed a country where everybody was well-fed and happy.

Inca_Garcilaso_de_la_Vega

The Incas carried out human sacrifices and used slave labour. The conquistadors employed great cruelty to extract precious resources to sustain Spain and its Empire. The Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path Maoist terrorists) were brutal, purportedly in pursuit of social justice, as were the peasant groups formed to oppose them in the face of government indifference. When the Peruvian army did take an interest, they slaughtered innocent villagers as well as revolutionaries. The army captured the last surviving Sendero leader as recently as 2011.

Shining Path

In January 2014, the shrunken figure of Abimael Guzmán, the  philosophy professor who founded  Sendero Luminoso, appeared in a Lima court to face charges of killing 25 people and injuring more than 150 in 1992 with two car bombs in Miraflores neighbourhood of the capital. I stayed in that neighbourhood. I also stayed in the Andean town of Huancavelica, where I registered at the local police station. Sendero Luminoso blew up that police station the day after I was in it. In August of 2003, Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee stated that upwards of 69,000 people died in the struggle between Sendero and government security forces. A major Sendero tactic was the mass slaughter of the indigenous people it claimed to be fighting for in order to goad the authorities into matching savagery.

guzman

Today, not everything is perfect but there is relative peace in Peru. Cuzco epitomises a Peru where foreigners can come to enjoy historical monuments and incredible scenery, eat and shop well and party. Travelling high up in the Andes, I witnessed grinding poverty among the indigenous people. A citizen of Lima earns 21 times what a resident of the interior earns. In one small town, drunken Indians were rolling in the gutter and rats disturbed my sleep in the “hotel”. Even in coastal areas, life seemed hard. In one seaside village, we were hungry and disgruntled at the lack of food in what passed for restaurants. I later realised, to my shame, that the large fish they managed to find for us was probably intended to feed the whole village.

peasant

Eating

Peruvians have been eating guinea pigs for millennia. I tried it twice myself while in Cuzco. The first time was in a rather swish restaurant called Cicciolina. I swear that I did not know what cuy was until after I had swallowed it. This was a minute cube of meat, rather like liver, which went down in one swallow. The second occasion was at lunch in a more downmarket restaurant where the creature was  splayed whole out on the plate allowing no room for doubt that it was a guinea pig. Although, I knew that it was rodent rather than porcine, it did taste like pork crackling. I am afraid the creature died in vain because I could not eat much of it. I did not like the way it was looking at me.

Cuy_Guinea_Pig_Dish_SG

Trip Advisor reviews 368 restaurants in Cuzco. After travelling in the altiplano and surviving on dishwater and dog soup served in cracked plastic bowls, it was very heaven to be in Cuzco.

Cicciolina-1

On the second floor of a lofty colonial courtyard mansion, Cicciolina is eclectic and international – as well as guinea pig or alpaca you can eat crisp polenta squares with cured rabbit, duck carpaccio and tender lamb. The service is impeccable as well as amiable. The restaurant provides haute versions of cuzqueño classics like anticuchos (beef skewers),

anticuchosrocoto relleno (stuffed red peppers), rocoto relleno

sopa de gallina (chicken soup) and chairo (beef and lamb soup) served in a clay pot.

chairo

The humble potato came from Peru before Sir Walter Raleigh took it to his stolen land in County Cork. Peruvian potatoes come in many varieties – and colours.

potatoes

Where to Stay

When I travelled around Peru, I experienced some very basic accommodation. However, Cuzco has a wide range of hotels to suit every budget. The Loki Hostel caters for backpackers and partygoers.

loki hostal

There are many two-star hotels. Hostal Qorikilla is possibly the cheapest. It is practically falling apart, but the kind, unassuming staff make it a favorite.

At the other end of the scale is the Palacio del Inka, an opulent colonial mansion built on Inca foundations, with parts of the building dating back to the 16th century, when Francisco Pizarro was an occupant.

libertador-palacio-del-inka-hotel-cusco-exterior.5

Multi-layered Navel

The name “Cuzco” means “the navel” – the centre of the Inca Empire and therefore the world.  It lays claim to being the oldest continually inhabited city in the western hemisphere. Cuzco is a many-layered city – beginning with a culture dating back a thousand years before Christ, through the Incas, via the Spanish conquistadors to, in 2014, nightclubs, designer boutiques and restaurants run by celebrity chefs.  After the conquest, the Spaniards used the stones of the Inca buildings to build a new town. Most of the buildings in post-conquest Cuzco were rebuilt after an earthquake in 1650. There was another earthquake in 1950, after which the buildings were faithfully restored using pink or grey stone often using material from Inca buildings.

Night Life

cuzco-street-night

Modern Cuzco is a lively place with attractions for young people as well as those interested in historic monuments and trekking. Cuzco is a party place with an unlimited range in bars and clubs spread out all over town. As Cuzco has become increasingly important for the backpack industry, many hotels and hostels have organised pub-crawls, theme nights and live performances around town. Paddy Flaherty’s must be the (in the altitude sense) highest Irish Pub in the world.  If you wish to travel to the capital of the Inca empire to drink proper Guinness on draught, mix with Europeans watching British sports on the big screen, this could be the place for you.

paddy's

The dance clubs don’t get going until around midnight or one in the morning and you can stay out  until dawn.

mama_africa_cusco

Armchair Travel

You can enjoy Cuzco vicariously from your armchair. Michael Palin visited Cuzco in 1997 for the BBC. You can watch this on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQLX3AjHF_s

Palin visited the most famous relic of the Inca Empire: the lost city of Machu Picchu. Palin wrote about Pongo de Mainique, the portal to the afterlife of the Machiguenga Indians and home to the Spectacled Bear among other animals.  “Nothing I have read or fantasized about has prepared me for this place. It’s an enchanted world.” If you get to Cuzco, you can take a trip to Pongo. http://www.tikatrek.com/en/program/116/pongo-de-mainique.

In December 1980, the BBC broadcast a programme called “Three Miles High” in the series Great Railway Journeys of the World in which the late lamented Miles Kington travelled from Lima through the Andes via Punto Ferroviario, Huancato by steam train to Huancavelica, by bus to Cuzco & Macchu Picchu to Ayaviri and Lake Titicaca to Bolivia.

Sites to See

The Inca fortress of Sacsaywamán is less than a 2km trek uphill from the Plaza de Armas. In 1536, the fort was the site of one of the bitterest battles of the Spanish conquest. More than two years after Pizarro’s entry into Cuzco, the Incas recaptured Sacsaywamán and used it as a base to lay siege to the conquistadors in Cuzco. Thousands of dead littered the site after the Incas’ defeat, attracting swarms of carrion-eating condors.

Sacsayhuaman_Inca

manco inca

Resource Curse

revolting peasants

Peru was blighted by the resource curse in the 16th Century and is blighted still in the 21st. Huancavelica, 200 miles from Cuzco,  was founded in 1572 for the purpose of mining mercury, which was essential to extract silver from ore.  Today Peru still has an impoverished indigenous population prey to the extractive industries, this time run by multi-nationals rather than the Spanish Empire. Today illegal gold mining in Peru is causing deforestation and serious mercury contamination of the food chain.

cerro-de-pasco

The Peruvian economy is heavily dependent on the export of copper, gold, oil and gas, often located on indigenous lands. A new law offers some hope to the indigenous communities. Extractive projects will require prior consultation. The government will have to listen to the concerns of indigenous communities and try to balance their needs with the desires of multi-national corporations given a free hand by previous administrations. The current government seems committed to the idea that all Peruvians should benefit from the nation’s natural resources. A new tax on the mining industry is expected to bring in additional government revenue of more than $1 bn, which will be used for social programmes.

hiram

Let us not forget that tourism is itself an extractive industry. In my dreams of visiting magical sites such as the Taj Mahal and Venice, I imagined myself all alone. Macchu Picchu, like those places, is always full of people. Machu Picchu was completed around  1450 at the height of the Incan empire.  The Incas abandoned it less than 100 years after its foundation, following the Spanish conquest of Peru.  Macchu Picchu was unknown to the outside world before the American historian Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911. The removal of cultural artefacts by the Bingham expeditions gave rise to a long-term dispute between the government of Peru and Yale University. As well as natural phenomena like earthquakes and weather systems, sheer volume of tourists threatens Macchu Picchu.

macchu

Tourism in Peru has expanded faster than all other sectors. In 2005, the World Tourism Organization stated that Peru had the second largest tourism growth, 28.6%,  in Latin America. There have been problems, such as seasonal unemployment, a rise in sexual abuse and sexually transmitted diseases, poor urban planning, a lack of residential regulations, and destruction of the environment. Before the tourism boom of the last decade, Cuzco supplied a vast majority of the agricultural products for Peru but now former farmers rely on tourism. During the off-season, many people struggle to live.

pizarro

Spanish conquistadors in America destroyed all the settlements in their path and returned from their wanderings to starve, because there was nothing left to loot. Now the emphasis on economic growth and tourism could have the same effect.

Julie MacLusky

- Author and Blogger -

HoaxEye

A fake image is worth zero words

Poet's Corner

Poems, poets, poetry, writing, poetry challenges

Casual, But Smart

Pop Culture From An Old Soul

PN Review Blog

‘The most engaged, challenging and serious-minded of all the UK’s poetry magazines’ - Simon Armitage

The Manchester Review

The Manchester Review

Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Stephen Jones: a blog

Daoism—lives—language—performance. And jokes

Minal Dalal

Spreading resources for potential living.