Saturday, June 16, 2007

Self-Determination and the Nature of Aid

Voltaire is credited for articulating one of the greatest principles of humanity: 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'* Surely this is the ultimate embodiment of the right to freedom of expression.

Even beyond the right to express oneself freely should be the human right to self-determination. An individual should have the right to create his own path in life, whether it leads to life or death, heaven or hell. The right to self-determination should be considered an inalienable human right, above and beyond any other. In pursuance of this, I admire some one like Dr. Kevorkian, who is willing to sacrifice his own freedom to guarantee another the right to die when life becomes unendurable.

There is something terribly wrong with a government that purports to enshrine principles of liberty and protection of the rights of the individual but yet presumes to dictate where suicide is concerned. It is blatant hypocrisy, moreover, when it is a government that has no hesitation whatsoever in initiating wars of conquest throughout the globe, deciding arbitrarily who should live and who should die, who should prosper and who should not.

St. Thomas Aquinas considered self-determination to be the intrinsic manifestion of life itself, stating that: 'The highest manifestation of life consists in this: that a being governs its own actions. A thing which is always subject to the direction of another is somewhat of a dead thing.'

The human desire to control others and the universe itself is at the foundation of most of our 'interference' in the lives of others, whether that interference be positive or negative. I do believe that human beings have an actual duty to help others, but that help should not be combined with active interference in the destiny of the recipient. Too often, people place conditions on their aid, especially where money is concerned.

What is the duty of a friend to another in terms of financial aid? Is it to give freely and unconditionally, or is there a duty to dictate the ultimate use of those resources? People often import the principles of contractual law into their acts of friendship. 'I will give you the money to pay the rent' is one example. Does the friend give the money on condition that the recipient use it to pay the rent or does he/she give it unconditionally in order to improve the life of the recipient, whatever form that improvement ultimately takes?

The reason this came to mind was not personal but political. I was thinking about the concept of 'foreign aid' and how so often, nations use it in order to control the actions and policies of the recipients. This is entirely at odds with the right to self-determination. Desperation often forces the recipient to agree to unconscionable terms. It even could be argued that an overwhelming need for aid invalidates any conditions attached by the giver as any agreement made as to the use of that money could be considered a promise made under duress.

U.S. foreign aid almost always has conditions attached to it. These conditions are created in order to control the actions and policies of the recipients. It may be a trifling matter compared to the weightier crimes against humanity that are committed by the U.S. daily, but it nonetheless demonstrates that the 'gift' of U.S. aid is anything but an act of generosity or compassion. It is the act of a bully who uses the desperation and helplessness of others as a means by which to further his/her own desires and goals.

General David M. Shoup wrote: 'I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar-soaked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own -- and if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the 'haves' refuse to share with the 'have-nots' by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don't want and above all don't want crammed down their throats by Americans.'

Reflecting on the natural of foreign aid caused me to assess my own attitudes towards personal aid. In future, I shall try to remember that an unconditional gift is the only gift worth giving. Whether the homeless guy sitting in front of the post office begging for money intends to squander it on drugs or will use it to buy food is none of my business. Giving alms should not be associated with control.

John Locke wrote: 'The Care therefore of every man's Soul belongs unto himself, and is to be left unto himself. But what if he neglect the Care of his Soul? I answer, What if he neglects the Care of his Health, or of his Estate, which things are nearlier related to the Government of the Magistrate than the other? Will the magistrate provide by an express Law, That such an one shall not become poor or sick? Laws provide, as much as is possible, that the Goods and Health of Subjects be not injured by the Fraud and Violence of others; they do not guard them from the Negligence or Ill-husbandry of the Possessors themselves.'

Taking that argument to its conclusion, an individual should not be forced to have his welfare defined or enforced by the will of others. Aid like alms should be given unconditionally.

* Whether Voltaire himself said it or Claude Arien Helvetius declared it on the occasion of the burning of one of Voltaire's books really is beside the point.

1 comment:

Fleming said...

A well thought-out essay. Your unusual ability to refer to varied sources, with quotations, is most impressive.

While I agree that aid on any level should not be used to interfere with another person's self-determination, it seems understandable that when one gives financial aid on a personal level -- as to a friend or a beggar -- that the giver often feels (often accurately) that there is something faulty in the receiver's behaviour which has put him in need of aid in the first place. Thus the giver's desire to attach conditions which will help put the recipient on a better path, a path of self-sufficiency. On the other hand, when a beggar in England approached me and said, "I'm an alcoholic; would you please give me some money to buy a drink?" I was so impressed with his honesty that I gave him enough for a bottle and told him to enjoy it.

You wrote, "The human desire to control others and the universe itself is at the foundation of most of our 'interference' in the lives of others." Excellent. I had just about decided that greed is at the root of most problems which we put in the broad category "political", but now you've brought back "control" as a major contender for that honour.
There is a natural innate human desire to control in order to enhance one's possibilities of survival and growth. But beyond that is the lust for power, a desire to control for control's sake, which inexcusably interferes with the lives of others.

I recall that Nietzsche wrote something like, "Each atom aspires to rule the universe." I wish I had your skill at recalling quotations and where they came from!