About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Monday, April 17, 2006
When it gets personal
Nonetheless, it is astounding to realize how little I actually know of some pretty important events, until my nose is rubbed into them. A current example is the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, and in the neighboring West African nation of Chad. Yes, I have read Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed pieces about Darfur in the New York Times, and – following Kristof’s advice -- contributed money to one of the charities that deal with that region (SaveDarfur.org, although see also the International Rescue Committee). I think it was safe to say that I knew (and in fact, even had done) more about Darfur than most Americans. I felt pretty good about myself, until last week.
What happened last week is that someone I care for went to aid the relief effort for the tens of thousands of refugees that crossed the border from Sudan into Chad. Given that now the problem had become personal, I started paying significantly more attention to the problem, learning more about the background of the situation, its history, geographical - political - economic underpinnings, all the while being glued to the United Nations’ web site on Chad for the latest news updates.
Most Americans don’t event know where Chad and Sudan actually are (south of Lybia and Egypt, north of the Central African Republic; why there is a problem (a complex mess caused by an ongoing ethnic strife in Sudan, pitching various Arab and African groups against each other, oil in Chad, a generally economically and culturally depressed area, assorted dictators and war lords, etc.); what the world is doing about it (not much, except for several Non-Governmental Organizations and the United Nations aiding the relief effort); how many people have already died as a consequence of it (more than 200,000 according to UN estimates); how many refuges are in precarious conditions in Chad (again about 200,000); or even, probably, that Darfur is a (vast) region, not a city.
So you see what happens when things get personal: people care more. This is natural, and I am certainly not suggesting that we should get personal about every disaster or problem affecting humanity: there are too many of them, and there is only so much emotional strain and financial or time effort any one individual can muster. But when things are on the scale of the Sudan/Chad calamity, it would be nice for us to celebrate Easter or Passover or the Spring festival or whatever by doing something more than engaging in egg hunts and overstuffing ourselves at the dinner table. Just a suggestion, nothing personal.