Monday, March 14, 2005

Motivations for Charity

I've recently found myself trying to understand a strange phenomena that has occured over the last 6 months or so. Two horrible tragedies have struck the world during this time, the genocide in Darfur and the tsunami in south asia. The conundrum is this: why have ordinary people given such overwhelming support to the tsunami victims but virtually ignored the genocide in Darfur. I think I may have come up with a possible theory.

Tsunami's, earthquakes, and other natural disasters seem to have an almost supernatural quality to them. While we can predict some of these disasters, such as hurricanes, we have no way to stop them or even control them. In effect, natural disasters are almost percieved as acts of god. If an act of god kills hundreds of thousands of innocent people, what does this say about god? Therefore, an event like the tsunami strikes deep into the belief structure that most people hold about a god who is merciful, just, and rewards good people. So, the natural way for people to reaffirm their religious beliefs is to donate money and other forms of aid to help the victims of this tragedy.

In contrast, Darfur is a man-made disaster. The genocide perpetrated there is by evil men who have different faiths and ethnicities from the majority of the west. This tragedy in no way attacks the faith in god the way that natural disasters seem too. In fact, evil acts committed by people of different religions and ethnicities could merely reaffirm the beliefs of some westerns that their religion or beliefs are superior. In addition, sending in soldiers to dangerous areas where they could be killed is always a challenge, particularly in Africa and other places that westerners are not familiar with.

So, this is my highly cynical theory to the apathy of the American public to Darfur genocide in contrast to their overwhelming support for the tsunami disaster. It is probably a bit simplistic, but I'd love any comments/alternative theories from anyone out there.