Wednesday, July 30, 2008

but how do I make a difference?

The more I stay in school, the more screwed up I realize the world is. But the level of things wrong with the world is so massive that it is hard to wrap your mind around. Just to name a few problems: poverty, social inequality, structural violence, AIDS, pollution, the reliance on oil, and the US government (ok, that last one is kind of unfair: there are problems with plenty of governments, but I pick on the US because I live there and it is quite powerful). Looking at everything, you feel totally helpless and useless in the face of it. After all, I'm only one person. I can't single-handedly change the world. But it is quite apparent that doing nothing is not the answer. There are certainly ways in which individuals can make a difference. However, it is clear that you must pick your causes carefully. You can't, after all, help everything. Time and financial resources are limited. But how can you choose a cause? What should you give priority to? Not only that, but how should you choose to help? Unfortunately, any action intended to help may produce unintended consequences. No solution is guaranteed to not actually make things worse. So what do you do, as you attempt to be a decent, moral human being? What is your obligation?

For instance, say I chose to give a portion of my (nonexistent) income to a charity (this is just theoretical). Let's say I gave to an organization that gives food aid to a starving nation. It is certain my input, however meager, will matter in someone's life. However, what about the consequences of food aid? It can put local farmers out of business, encouraging them to stop farming. Then, more food aid is required. This is not a good solution - we can only give so much. It can make the people who receive it economically worse off than they were before. One thing that can happen is that people with more power and who don't need it get the food and then sell it to the people who can't afford it in the first place. Clearly, this is quite problematic.

That's just the problems with one thing - but again, how do I rank what's most important? What is most pertinent to me, or what will help the most amount of people?

Should I become a vegetarian, helping to stop animal cruelty and reduce the harm I do to the environment? Should I give to a charity (I am least inclined to do something like this)? Should I sponsor a child in Africa? Should I help raise money for cancer research? Should I volunteer at the animal shelter? Should I become a teacher, helping to educate people and encourage them to make a difference as well?

The more I learn about the problems with the world, the harder it is to feel like a decent human being who is doing all she can to help. I am not entirely satisfied with my current contribution to society. Of course, I can write it off as "I'm a student, I can help later." Sure, I have done a lot of volunteering throughout the course of my 20 years. But is it enough? How hard should I be on myself? All these questions are on my mind at the moment.

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