Monday, March 2, 2009

War Child-Heroes Vol. 1

Just released in February: Heroes, vol. 1 by War Child International, a charity that works to help children across the world affected by war. From the War Child Website:

War Child was founded upon a fundamental goal: to advance the cause of peace through investing hope in the lives of children caught up in the horrors of war. Our aims:
•To alleviate the suffering of children by bringing material aid into war zones
•To support those children who have been evacuated into refugee camps.
•To initiate rehabilitation programmes once children return safely to their homes.
•To be instrumental in healing the psychological damage caused to children by their experiences of war.
One of the ways that War Child promotes their cause is through the release of compilation albums by famous artists. (This is not to be confused with the Jethro Tull album of the same name.) The latest album is called Heroes, Vol. 1. According to the website,
The concept of “Heroes” is that the biggest legends in music, including Sir Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Brian Wilson and The Clash, select one of the classic tracks from their own songwriting canon, and nominate an artist from the next generation to create a modern reworking of that classic song.

Anything that gives children a fair shake in life is potentially a worthy goal, but there is one bit on the website that makes me slightly wary. War Child claims that it "stands on twin beliefs: • that we're not free to ignore an innocent victim's plea for help and • that children are the seedcorn of society, its future hope.
Now, I may be an Objectivist, but being Objectivist doesn't mean being a heartless bastard. I am not a heartless bastard, and I do believe that to ignore an innocent victim's plea for help is pretty heartless. But the wording of the "belief" leaves something to be desired, it is so vague and philosophically open to mean many things. Too often the plight of children is used as a shield for the erosion of civil liberties in other ways. But it's not just children, but "innocent victims," or the "concept of innocent victims," that is used as well. "A hungry man is never free" is one such slogan used to justify the Soviet dictatorship. And usually organizations such as this (as well as some of the "punky" left-leaning musicians) are anti-capitalist. But it's capitalism that provides the best opportunities for children, not a socialist dictatorship.
Ayn Rand addressed many of these issues of "the ethics of emergencies," such as in her essay, um..."The Ethics of Emergencies." And Rand herself could be considered a "war child," having escaped from the Soviet Union in her teens. As such a survivor, she asks us to consider the implications of the approach of defining ethics in emergencies by the standard of the "victim."
If a man accepts the ethics of altruism, the suffers the following consequences (in proportion to the degree of his acceptance):

1. Lack of self-esteem-since his first concern in the realm of values is not how to live his life, but how to sacrifice it.
2. Lack of respect for others-since he regards mankind as a herd of doomed beggars crying for someone's help.
3. A nightmare view of existence-since he believes that men are trapped in a "malevolent universe" where disasters are the constant and primary concern of their lives.
The issues above are certainly more complicated when it comes to victimized children, but the principle still stands. When someone claims they just want to "help the children," it's always important to ask "How? By what means? By what standard?" And if that answer includes "sacrifice," you can probably be sure that the real motive is not "the children" at all, but a grab for power. And when the word "hero" is involved, you can bet that the hero is expected to "sacrifice" himself for the greater good. Or, the other possibility is that the one who wants to play "hero" really wants to use guilt to force others to make the sacrifice, which is the case of the "benevolent dictator." Again, there is a difference between callow indifference and rational selfishness. I agree with Rand that "the principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency and to turn the misfortune of some into a first mortgage on the lives of others."

If you really want to "help the children," spread the message of reason, liberty, free, voluntary co-operation, and the uncompromised American ideal of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

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