Thursday, July 13, 2017

Dictates of Conscience and the Humanitarian System

From my forthcoming review essay for Humanity of two recent books on humanitarian action, Hugo Slim's Humanitarian Ethics and Liisa Malkki's The Need to Help:

"Like its charitable precursors in previous eras, today’s humanitarianism is born of a privileged asymmetry of resources. Then as now, the compassionate own the terms of assistance: they determine who deserves what, when and how. Program design, financial accountability and ownership are all largely extrinsic to the disasters where humanitarians intervene. While aid agencies may not explicitly pursue political empire or capitalist expansion, the self-justifying rationale that compassion and solidarity are universal goods is born neither of consent nor dialog with afflicted populations.

Researchers across the spectrum—political scientists to anthropologists—have in the last thirty years begun scrutinizing humanitarian action as an expression of the West’s moral universalism, revealing its asymmetries, Eurocentric projections, and neo-colonial qualities. This field of critique includes many aid veterans and current practitioners, and is in no way a purely scholastic exercise. Yet defenders of humanitarianism appear in print less often than critics because as field practitioners their performance metrics do not involve the peer-review publications common to academia."

Reclaiming Adventure in the Kenai Fjords

New article out in Ocean Paddler #59, Britain's best glossy mag devoted to sea kayaking.

"Rising early for our put-in at Seward, I checked the forecast for 30-knot winds and 6-foot swells. Frothy whitecaps and promising winds were building. Yes, the real Alaska was on its way. But only hours later, pulling on drysuits and ferrying loaded boats to the waterline, the throbbing seas had gone flat, the wind-blasted treetops motionless. It was rejection, the rebuke of a lover, and my mind scrambled in denial. I didn’t come for this. Calm seas and postcard-perfect scenery would get boring fast. 

One pristine, clear day led to the next. Where was my Alaskan adventure? While I ruminated, moody and petulant, Kenai’s incandescent beauty surpassed itself daily. Caves, rock arches and pour-overs were common at the base of high cliffs, and riding incoming swell as it fired into narrow slots required total absorption in body, boat and blade. On open water and in rocky coves, surprise encounters with marine life were frequent. Sea lions, seals and otters, each with bright personalities reminiscent of Archie BunkerSanford and Son; the gambit of 70s sitcoms."