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Chapter 1. Economy 
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Genius


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Well, seeing as how we're on the topic of HIV and Africa, how do you hold with some of the documents online that say the 'Missionaries' actually started the HIV virus when they were 'experimenting' with polio vaccine?

I don't have any links right now - read through them a long long time ago.



Fri Sep 05, 2008 6:04 am
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This discussion on his views about philanthropy opens broad questions about Thoreau's views on morality and ethics. His opposition to philanthropy seems curmudgeonly and wrong at first sight, since it looks obvious to any compassionate person that helping people in need is a good thing. However, reality is more complex, as when we look at the consequences of compassion the story becomes more difficult. The terrible problem of HIV/AIDS in Africa illustrates this well.

Consider the following hypothetical options, path A and path B.

In path A, the path of compassion, the focus is to reduce the suffering of people living with HIV/AIDS. Considerable philanthropic resources are devoted to provision of anti retroviral treatment in order to prolong the lives of those who carry the virus.

In path B, those who have HIV/AIDS are allowed to die.

The real dilemma here arises when we consider what the likely consequences of these two extremes will be in terms of public health outcomes, cultural effects and moral incentives. Under path A, HIV is seen as a treatable condition. Under path B, HIV is seen as a deadly terror. With path A, promiscuity is morally acceptable because the consequences are manageable. With path B, promiscuity is seen as a highly dangerous and even repugnant practice because of the massive risk of early death. Path A normalises the practice of multiple sexual partners which spreads the epidemic while path B signals that this practice is unacceptable.

Much of the moral debate around HIV has been led by the public health community and by people living with HIV/AIDS, and has been premised on the assumption that moral condemnation is useless as a way to change behaviour, so PLWHAs promote ARTs while public health professionals promote condom use, as twin pillars of care and prevention. Promotion of abstinence is condemned as heartless, useless and stupid. Roman Catholic doctrine is set within an obsolete dogmatic framework and is easily dismissed by anyone sensible to the last few centuries of human thought. Yet I am left wondering if anything other than behaviour change resulting from material incentives will slow this remorseless insidious bug as it eats the heart out of Africa.

Thoreau, in his jarring counter-cultural way, seems to be asking with his comments on philanthropy if the sentiment of compassion produces the stated and intended results. It is a good question.



Last edited by Robert Tulip on Fri Sep 05, 2008 7:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Fri Sep 05, 2008 4:52 pm
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Thank you Robert. A very helpful summing up.

It clarifies the thinking, even if the options are a complete dilemma.

To strengthen the human race, it is sensible and 'scientific?' to let the weak or diseased die. But there is that other part of us which feels it necessary to treat all human life as valuable. If we don't, then our own lives are devalued.

I, personally, feel that we must err on the side of love for our fellow man and forgiveness....but I do understand those who take the opposite view. A strongly disagree with them, however, because I can remember Hitler and his idea of creating a master race.

I think the ultimate question is:-

Is the strengthening and continuation of the human race the most important ideal

or

Is it more important to grow in understanding and compassion. Will compassion be the death of us? I would choose this path...but I could never blame those who disagree.


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Only those become weary of angling who bring nothing to it but the idea of catching fish.

He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad....

Rafael Sabatini


Fri Sep 05, 2008 5:53 pm
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1.108 I would not subtract anything from the praise that is due to philanthropy, but merely demand justice for all who by their lives and works are a blessing to mankind. I do not value chiefly a man's uprightness and benevolence, which are, as it were, his stem and leaves.

It might be a good idea to keep in mind that Thoreau does not issue any blanket condemnation of philanthropy. He does roundly criticize aspects of it and makes it clear that he never wants to be a recipient of it. But, for all that, it is a general discussion. We do not know what he would think of dire situations such as AIDS in Africa. Furthermore, the AIDS example is a huge one, but it is not the only disease, by any means, whose reduction is a focus of philanthropy. Several infectious diseases--malaria, for instance--are still effective killers. There is no humane rationale for not treating malaria sufferers. Reducing populations clearly is not a humane goal.
DWill



Fri Sep 05, 2008 7:58 pm
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DWill wrote:
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There is no humane rationale for not treating malaria sufferers. Reducing populations clearly is not a humane goal.
DWill



You have eloquently and intelligently responded to a series of posts that I have found very troubling. Thank you for your comment.

Saffron



Fri Sep 05, 2008 8:06 pm
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And yet, there are major inhumane reasons for not treating malaria sufferers. Foremost, pharmaceutical companies cannot make money from them because most malaria sufferers are poor. Second, some philanthropical organisations find it much easier to raise funds for work on cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS than malaria, so funding is directed by the emotions of the givers rather than the evidence of burden of disease or effective strategy. I think this was the nub of Thoreau's criticism - that philanthropy has a tendency to distort action to favour things which tug the heartstrings rather than those which produce best results. An excellent article on the current shambolic results of sentiment-driven policy is here. Please don't get me wrong - my aim in this discussion is to promote coordinated and effective responses, and not a retreat into selfishness, which is the risk of any criticism of charity.



Fri Sep 05, 2008 8:45 pm
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Something not yet said, Robert, is that, if philanthropy is considered to be the activity carried out by foundations or NGOs, we need a label for the efforts of governmental bodies doing more or less the same things. And if we examine those efforts, what kind of evaluation results, compared to that of the NGOs? I can't know the answer to this question, but of course the popular opinion is that government leads the most inefficient operations of all. Going back to the success rate of the NGOs, is what we have simply a problem of an imperfect world, or is that too glib?
DWill



Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:47 am
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I guess it's too late now, but I'm wondering if the 'philanthropy' topic, which includes the treatment of disease, aids, etal, shouldn't have had a separate thread.

The posts here are intriguing, certainly not boring, but it's way off the chapter's 'economy' theme.



Mon Sep 08, 2008 11:30 am
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