Africa…

I had a talk with my friend few minutes ago. She’s in Africa right now. It was when I suddenly remembered those three photos that completely changed my perception about Africa. Every time I see them I can’t help myself but think how useless I am. . . and wish I could help… I know these photos were taken two decades ago, but as hard it is to believe it’s still a very common picture in these countries…

Mike Wells, 1980, Uganda, World Press Photo of the Year

Child in Uganda holding hands with a missionary. The stark contrast between the two people serves as a reminder of the gulf in wealth between developed and developing countries. Mike Wells, the photographer, took this picture to show the extent of starvation in Africa. He took it for a magazine, and when they went 5 months without printing it, he decided to enter it into a competition. However, Wells has stated that he is against winning a compeition with a picture of a starving boy.

Kevin Carter, southern Sudan, 1994

In March 1993, photographer Kevin Carter made a trip to southern Sudan, where he took now iconic photo of a starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture. It is a horrific picture that gave people a true look at the dire condition in Sub-Saharan Africa. Carter said he waited about 20 minutes, hoping that the vulture would spread its wings. It didn’t. Carter snapped the haunting photograph and chased the vulture away. The parents of the girl were busy taking food from the same UN plane Carter took to Ayod.

The photograph was sold to The New York Times where it appeared for the first time on March 26, 1993 as ‘metaphor for Africa’s despair’. Practically overnight hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask whether the child had survived, leading the newspaper to run an unusual special editor’s note saying the girl had enough strength to walk away from the vulture, but that her ultimate fate was unknown. Journalists in the Sudan were told not to touch the famine victims, because of the risk of transmitting disease, but Carter came under criticism for not helping the girl.

Carter eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for this photo, but he couldn’t enjoy it. Two months after receiving his Pulitzer, Carter would be dead of carbon-monoxide poisoning in Johannesburg, a suicide at 33. His red pickup truck was parked near a small river where he used to play as a child; a green garden hose attached to the vehicle’s exhaust funneled the fumes inside. “I’m really, really sorry,” he explained in a note left on the passenger seat beneath a knapsack. “The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist.”

James Nachtwey, Somalia, 1992

A mother carries her dead child to the grave, after wrapping it in a shroud according to local custom. A bad drought coupled with the effects of civil war caused a terrible famine in Somalia which claimed the lives of between one and two million people over a period of two years, more than 200 a day in the worst affected areas. The international airlift of relief supplies which started in July was hampered by heavily armed gangs of clansmen who looted food storage centers and slowed down the distribution of the supplies by aid organizations.

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Politics of Obedience

I was reading stuff about collective memories and conflicts the other day, when suddenly the issue of civil obedience came to my mind. After some research I got convinced I am not the first person interested in it.

It was about 1550 that a young Frenchman named Etienne de La Boetie, about 20 years old, posed what Murray Rothbard would later describe as “the central problem of political philosophy: the mystery of civil obedience. Why do people, in all times and places, obey the commands of the government, which always constitutes a small minority of the society?”. (read full research here) Rothbard wrote, that

every tyranny must necessarily be grounded upon general popular acceptance. In short, the bulk of the people themselves, for whatever reason, acquiesce in their own subjection. If this were not the case, no tyranny, indeed no governmental rule, could long endure. Hence, a government does not have to be popularly elected to enjoy general public support; for general public support is in the very nature of all governments that endure, including the most oppressive of tyrannies. The tyrant is but one person, and could scarcely command the obedience of another person, much less of an entire country, if most of the subjects did not grant their obedience by their own consent. (footnote)

This, then, becomes for La Boétie the central problem of political theory: why in the world do people consent to their own enslavement?

In the ferment of his law school days at Orléans, Étienne de La Boétie composed his brief but profound and deeply radical Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (Discours de la Servitude Volontaire). Continue reading

The heroine of the wrong century…

I am more and more convinced that this world has become a place where everything moral has become imoral, everything right – wrong, everything wrong – right, valuable – invaluable, no simpathy to another human being, everything permitted and forgiven in advance!!…
Perhaps, this world always has been like this, maybe its just about me?! or maybe I was born in the wrong decade?!. The heroine of the wrong century?!… I guess Kundera had the same concerns back in his times when he wrote: “…the profound moral perversity of a world that rests essentially on the nonexistence of return, for in this world everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything cynically permitted.