9 Following


Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader - Paul Farmer, Haun Saussy, Tracy Kidder This book is life-changing, in that it has changed the way I think about poor countries and rich countries. Before I read this, I considered people in rich countries to be very fortunate, and our job was to extend the same blessings to people in poor countries, to help them develop themselves the way we had developed ourselves in earlier centuries. I saw us as primarily separate societies, though of course linked by living in one world, and by the bonds of kinship in our human family.

But this book showed me that today's situation can't really be seen as separate from the social and economic history of the world. The last few centuries have seen the colonial powers (largely the same as the rich world today) pillage their colonies (largely the same as the poor world today) transacting a massive redistribution of wealth from poor to rich. The global economic powers today continue that redistribution, and the gap between rich and poor is getting wider all the time. I know that I right now, regardless of how unwittingly, am the direct beneficiary of that historical and ongoing grand theft. My relative wealth (I have clean water, food, a roof, dry bedding, indoor plumbing, electricity, internet) is not independent of their poverty, but it's part of the fabric of the same social and economic history. The wealth of rich countries didn't spring into being on its own, but was helped by innumerable interactions over a long period of time that were mostly tainted by slavery, racism, gender-inequality, class divisions, and historical and hereditary distributions of wealth and education.

In addition to the moral arguments, to the tale told again and again in the Book of Mormon, for instance, of inequality being evil in itself, of the wealthy wearing fine clothes and looking down their noses to those who can't afford them, of pride always going before the fall. In addition to the fact that we are all one human family, we're cousins to each other in very recent history, as genetics shows (our latest common ancestor living only about three thousand years ago). Totally apart from the fact that Christ tells us flat out that if we aren't one we aren't His. That King Benjamin exhorts us to give of our substance to the poor, and not to say "he brought on his own problems so I won't help him". In addition to all these things, we need to see that our wealth was in part stolen from those very poor whose fate we now hold in our hands.

I can't divorce a poor woman dying in childbirth because of a lack of the sort of care I take for granted from me sitting in a theater in my 3D glasses being entertained by the latest amusing spectacle at $15 a pop. These two seemingly separate things are part of one whole. We share one world, one society, one global economy, one human history. We're connected.

It's not like this is exactly a new idea, of course, but I wonder why I've been able to put it at the back of my mind for so long. It's odd how we can come to look on the horrible suffering of others as something we can't change and basically have little or nothing to do with, how we can separate it from our daily lives, and put these things into discrete mental compartments.

This is all about my reaction to this book, and very little about the book itself, which is a fascinating compilation of writings over 30 years about the problems of delivering health care to the poor, and analysis of the context in which these epidemics of treatable infectious disease have occurred. It's about structural violence, and how ideas kept in separate boxes are really part of the same whole, how economic and social rights are the most important human rights. About how it is nice to have a voice in government, the right not to be tortured, the right to be free from indefinite detention without charges, and so on, but those things are largely meaningless if one is dying of malnutrition, MDR-TB, or AIDS.

So what will I do? How will this change the way I live? Other than devoting a bigger chunk of my resources to supporting organizations like Partners in Health, I mean? I think I'm being called to devote my life's work to the cause of ending poverty. No other work or play could be more joyful or rewarding, not even watching on screen as beautiful people struggle for justice in 3D.