Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

William Bunge

Personally, the rich are often beautiful people.  They are loyal to each other, often kindly, truly concerned with children and tremendously full of the humorous sense.  At my sister-in-law’s wedding in Milwaukee, I remember the bride’s father toasting the assembled bridesmaids and his daughter, all recent Smith graduates, as “the girls from Schmidt” which is a really fine joke in Milwaukee.  The rich love to give themselves personally: charity tutoring, saving the whooping crane, Charlotte Ford’s charm school in Harlem and blood.  In my home town the Junior League ran the blood bank.  Regular vampires!

But at the same time these “generous” people perpetuate a system that sucks the poor dry.  Their charities are designed to solve their consciences and them by contrast of their “lofty” status rather than to eliminate poverty.  The rich individualize their kindness and socialize their cruelty.  They balance small-scale acts of individual goodness against mass-produced social greed.

The poor are just the opposite.  They tend individually to be hard-pressed, touchy, tense and greedy, but socially open-hearted and generous.

– William Bunge, Fitzgerald: Geography of a Revolution (1971)

I do not completely agree with the above quote – how can you make such broad generalizations for each socioeconomic class? – but I still think Bunge makes a brilliant point:

The rich individualize their kindness and socialize their cruelty.

I would argue that this trait doesn’t only belong to the rich, but also the middle-class and the poor as well… actually to western civilization in general.

Instead of donating to charities, why don’t we all try to overhaul our lifestyles instead?  Pick something you’re passionate about and make the effort to go against the status quo.

Worried about the environment?  Stop driving and start biking.  Don’t eat shrimp.  Go on less overseas vacations.

Worried about workers’ rights in the Developing Countries and the race to the bottom?  Only buy from second-hand clothing stores, companies who make their clothes in North America (like my favourite dress store or companies that you’ve researched and are comfortable with their working conditions.  Buy less.  Yeah it takes some extra work and research on your part – but isn’t it worth it?  Don’t you want to socialize your kindness?

Plus a lot of people feel the same way as you.  There are more tools at your disposal than ever before, like this smartphone app:

Progressive western society has been demanding transparency and ethical business practises for decades, but now we finally have the technology to enable everyday people to act as whistleblowers and enforcers.

We have the power to spread information quickly.  Consequently, we also have the responsibility to inform ourselves and make conscious decisions regarding our lifestyles.

We’re global citizens whether we like it or not.  Our decisions affect others, even if we don’t have to deal with the consequences personally.

So that’s make informed choices.  Let’s both socialize and individualize our kindness.

If we need outlets for our cruelty, there are always internet comments sections.


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