I Call Dibs on the Guy Under the Flattened House

March 11th, 2010

Haiti Effort Marred by Competition?

Yesterday I read an interesting article about Haiti. The relief teams that are working there are competing with each other, not just to provide the best aid, but to get the most money, attention, and control. The article cited an organization that ran another organization off, even though the second outfit had essential equipment the first one lacked. Nice. I’m sure the people who died as a result of the turf squabble would be glad to know the first group didn’t lose its spot in the limelight.

It said two “competing” doctors got in a verbal altercation on a flight leaving the US.

If I understood the article correctly, aid organizations or their branches get funding based largely on the turf they’re able to carve out. So if you can set your clinic up in Port au Prince before the next guy can do it, you can keep him out and get more money for your work next year.

Nothing is as evil as bureaucracy. Satan started his career as a civil servant, after all. The Nazis and Soviets were bureaucrats who killed people in the name of efficiency and order. The Chicoms are bureaucrats.

Bureaucrats are driven not by the express missions of their organizations, but by the desire to enlarge and secure their own power. The guy who dies with the biggest cubicle and best parking space wins. If that means a few people who rely on you have to suffer, no problem.

One of the wonders of America is that we keep so much power out of the hands of bureaucrats. That’s the purpose of the Bill of Rights and the Tenth Amendment. Some parts of the Bill of Rights still function pretty well. The Tenth Amendment is more like a whale’s vestigial pelvis. It’s there, but it’s not clear what it does.

Bureaucracy is like idolatry. Sometimes, it is idolatry. It distracts you from the purpose you were intended to serve, and it causes you to hinder that purpose by serving another one. Either you’re trying your best to dig earthquake victims out of the rubble, or you’re diverting some of your strength to venal pursuits such as attracting media attention and increased funding. When you divert your strength from your stated mission, you’re working against it.

I hope Aaron will forgive me for quoting an email he sent me yesterday. It applies:

That “progressives” seek to eradicate poverty flies in the face of scripture which asserts that there will always be some poor people. That becomes a challenge to those better off, but even then there is a hierarchy of what should be done. Among the following levels of “tzedakah”, none include the legislative threat of fine or incarceration for the wealthy to not adhere to an unfair progressive taxation policy. Rambam organized the different levels of tzedakah (charity) into a list from the least to the most honorable.

8. When donations are given grudgingly.
7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.
6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.
5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.
4. When the recipient is aware of the donor’s identity, but the donor does not know the identity of the recipient.
3. When the donor is aware of the recipient’s identity, but the recipient is unaware of the source.
2. When the donor and recipient are unknown to each other.
1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

If you reverse this thinking, you may also conclude that one of the worst evils is to do charity poorly because you subvert the goal of easing suffering in order to gain admiration and wealth. When you do that, you unnecessarily increase the suffering of others–greatly–in order to bring yourself a trivial benefit which is, ultimately, a curse.

If you travel to Haiti and you work hard, but you’re extremely concerned with the attention you get, and you find yourself blunting other people’s efforts in the process of glorifying and financing your own, what have you really achieved for God? Almost nothing. You’re working to bless yourself and your buddies. Heathens do that. For that matter, many non-believers work more selflessly than you do.

Whatever you’re doing for God, you’re certainly doing nothing to improve yourself. If you’re not improving yourself when you do a thing, you’re doing evil. People say life is a test. That’s wrong. Life is a school. If it were a test, you could finish it in a day, like the SAT. It takes decades because it’s a long process of positive change.

The actual test will only take a day. That day has already been named. We call it Judgment Day.

This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed the subtle venality beneath the surface of some of the relief efforts, but I haven’t made a point of writing about it. I don’t want to stir up trouble pointlessly. It’s good that people are getting help, even if a lot of that help is ego-driven. But it’s very ugly to see this kind of suffering used to build careers and draw ratings. And I’m sure it discourages good people from getting involved. This kind of behavior is the reason I vet charities before I do anything for them. You have to be sure you’re paying for rice and bandages instead of Bentleys and hookers. Nonprofits, including churches, have made a lot of carnal people rich.

Nonprofits shouldn’t be glorifying themselves when they help Haitians. They should glorify God. For Christian nonprofits, this should be obvious. If you’re in Haiti, God put you there and gave you every penny and every item you have, and if you succeed in helping, the glory is his. That means you should never even consider getting in the way of another relief worker. The glory isn’t yours to begin with, so competing for it is a type of theft. When you have to explain yourself on the day of judgment, you’ll be told you’re a worker of iniquity. No one will care how many TV channels aired your story. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”

We’re reaching the long-foreseen stage when the attention is cooling down and the public is getting bored. The glory hounds will probably lose interest soon, because the glory will be elsewhere. As relief workers dribble out of Haiti, hopefully, they will leave a residue of people who are humbler and more sincere. I can’t help but think that over the long haul, those people will do Haiti more lasting good, because they will rebuild souls as well as bodies. Ultimately, Haiti’s problems are spiritual, not physical, so spiritual people will do more good than well-financed attention gluttons.

2 Responses to “I Call Dibs on the Guy Under the Flattened House”

  1. Rick C Says:

    “Bureaucrats are driven not by the express missions of their organizations, but by the desire to enlarge and secure their own power. The guy who dies with the biggest cubicle and best parking space wins. If that means a few people who rely on you have to suffer, no problem.”

    Whenever anyone tells me how much we need government health care, I remind them of this, only in slightly pithier terms (“Just think how great it will be when the nice stonewalling lady from the DMV is running health care.”)

  2. Steve B Says:

    Mat 6:1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.