The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 54.0°F | A Few Clouds

Balance humanitarianism and political concerns

To the Editor:

"The most affirmative men often are also the most gullible." -- Jonathan Swift

I particularly enjoyed wandering through Simson Garfinkel's article ["Famine uproar hides issues," March 22], the genuineness of which instantly promoted Alice in Wonderland to the world of realistic literature.

Actually, I was first appealed by the clear-cut headline "Famine uproar hides issues" and I hoped that the author's self-claimed and implicit understanding of the drama would provide us, passive and uninvolved observers, with some more insight into specific aspects which the current media hammering might have overshadowed.

For a while, though, skepticism mixed with my sympathy as I went through the article. According to Garfinkel, there are more pressing issues facing the United States today, and our attention should especially focus on the danger of nuclear extermination.

Fortunately, my mistrust soon vanished as I thought I had grasped the essence of the author's mind -- yes, Garfinkel is extremely "sorry for these people," and what had appeared to be a sheer cynical development was just a pragmatic adaptation of a religious call to solidarity into a "help yourself and let others help themselves."

Furthermore, how could one resist to S. Garfinkel's phlegmatic sense of humour: he is simply fed up with starving people's problems. I would have probably kept dreaming since, I must confess it, my mind is biased toward sweet dreams -- But when he asked: "What difference does it make if 10 thousand or 10 million Afri-<>


cans die of starvation in 1983 if our planet is destroyed by nuclear hellfire in 1990," the carnival came to its end.

Let us not give too much consideration to Garfinkel's article: he surely does not deserve that. It is the merit of democracy to grant anyone with the freedom of speech; when misused, this right has unexpected results and those willing to spread out their ideas should be concerned with the soundness of their arguments.

I really would like to give Garfinkel a credit, but I am faced with an intricate task. Does his aritcle reflect an immature thought process, a juvenile unconsciousness, or simply a blatant racism? I will leave it up to him to decide since, as French emperor Napoleon put it, "The fool has a tremendous advantage over the finest mind: he is always complacent."

I would make a couple of qualifications and one comment. First, as an African, I have been particularly concerned with Garfinkel's article. But the real debate does not refer to geographic boundaries, but rather to how a human problem should be put into perspective by observers around the world.

Second, I do not suggest that the spectre of war is a minor problem. What I claim is that no one should feel entitled to decide on our behalf on what our priority should be. Were I sure, like S. Garfinkel, that we should only be concerned with the Geneva talks, I would then wonder why people spontaneously contributed to help Ethiopia. From cold war time to d'etente, arm negotiations have been sustained with self-defeating propositions, the outcome of which has been a nuclear esca-<>


lation that we do not control.

The famine in Ethiopia, on the other hand, gives everyone, for good or for bad, the possibility to influence the destiny of mankind by their own personal decisions. This is, I believe, a far more important debate, and Garfinkel's article, with its pitiful candidness, advocates that the power of criticism should be scrapped.

As far as I am concerned, my intellectual position favors if not Plato, at least Socrates but no<>


way Aristotle.

What Garfinkel could have done (and that is what I anticipated from the premise of the article) was to raise the following question: what level of responsibility do the African statesmen bear in the current problems of their countries and in this light what should the attitude of an American citizen be?

I am afraid that balancing humanitarian and political considerations was too painful a headache for Garfinkel's simplistically<>


dichotomic thought process to prompt a more constructive approach.

I will not end up this article by asking people not to write about famine in Africa; I simply believe that anyone should consider any topic to which they believe they should contribute.

Moyo Kamgaing G->

(Editor's note: Moyo Kamgaing is a first-year graduate student at the Sloan School of Management.