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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 767)...

    How can you be so cold-blooded as to oppose sending food to the starving peoples of Africa?

    ...and the response:

    To understand my answer, you have to understand the origins of starvation in Africa. For millennia (indeed for hundreds of millennia) starvation was UNKNOWN in Africa. There were no starving people there for the same reason that there were no starving lions, no starving zebras, no starving giraffes. Why? Because all these creatures (including humans) were living in balance with the resources of their environment.

    Here's how this balance comes about. As the population of every animate species grows, its food supply begins to diminish (as it must, since it's being consumed). As its food supply diminishes, the species' population diminishes as well (as it must, since less food is available to it). As the species' population diminishes, its food supply begins to recover. As its food supply recovers, its population again begins to grow. As its population grows, its food supply again begins to diminish. As its food supply diminishes, its population diminishes – and so on and on and on, for every animate species on this planet. Populations and food supply constantly balance each other in this way, and this explains why lions have neither overrun Africa nor disappeared from Africa, why kangaroos have neither overrun Australia nor disappeared from Australia. Each of these species lives in balance with the resources available to them in their environment. And so did the peoples of Africa for hundreds of millennia.

    And what happened to change this? We did. We moved into Africa in a big way in the nineteenth century and in an even bigger way in the twentieth. We were driven to this by one of the prime directives of our cultural mythology: "There is one right way for people to live -- our way -- and everyone in the world must be made to live our way." We told the people of Africa, "The way you're living is not the way humans were meant to live, like lions and giraffes. We'll show you how humans should live."

    The youngsters of the Peace Corps felt great about what they were doing, showing people how to take control of their resources, how to increase food production, how to defeat that feedback relationship that had kept African populations in balance with their resources for millennia. They no longer had to put up with a population cycle of growth and decline. Through improved agricultural techniques, decline was eliminated from the cycle. With the wisdom of these polite young visitors from another world, they were now free to just grow and grow and grow and grow, until for some strange, unimaginable reason . . . they were starving.

    For centuries there had been a constant, never broken working relationship between them and their resources. Now that relationship was gone. Their populations had grown to a point where their resources could not support them.

    And what did the great-hearted people of our culture say about this? Did they say, "We have foolishly helped these people destroy a way of living that worked well for them for millennia. We must let them return to living in balance with their resources, so that they will no longer be starving"? No, we said: "We must not let that happen. If we let that happen, it would cast doubt on the fact that ours is the one right way for people to live. If their own resources aren't enough to keep them alive, we'll graciously send them some of ours."

    The food we send doesn't stop them from starving. It just keeps them alive -- starving -- dependant on us for their lives -- year after year after year. And we congratulate ourselves for doing this. Having brought starvation to the people of Africa, we bless ourselves for keeping them alive, starving. And anyone who doesn't endorse keeping them alive and starving forever, is denounced as cold and heartless.


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