Let me start by saying that I am a World Vision sponsor, and have been for years. This is not meant as a ‘diss’ to the organization. This is larger cultural issue that I want to talk about. For years, the NFL has donated the merchandise created for the losing Superbowl team to World Vision, which is then allowed to distribute the products outside of the country (not inside the United States, that’s part of the deal with the NFL).
A few things:
1. I’m all about reduce, reuse, recycle, and healthy environmental actions on all fronts. So I completely support not letting these products go to waste.
1a. However – what does it say about our experience of culture and consumption that there’s apparently no way to avoid this sort of excess production?
2. Also, I super like for people to have access to the things they need, like clothing. And food, and housing, and clean water, and clean air, and shoes, and education, and toys for kids and books for everyone – you know.
2b. That being said, it is hard for me to come to terms with shipping out our excessive excess to other countries as a charitable move. I’m prone to turn to Slavoj Žižek here (I know, I know) when he notes in Living in the End Times that charity is “one of the names (and practices) of non-love today” (117). The sorts of charity that don’t require us to challenge inequalities in the world pose a problem for me.
This is a short post, and one with one point. When charity is a part of a gift economy, where we (Americans) get to keep being the benevolent benefactors, it might be time to look at ways in which we can interrogate, intervene in, and ultimately change the way those structural inequalities necessitate aid in the first place.
(Dear World Vision: from what I know, I recognize that you work closely with communities to meet their needs in ways that mean they won’t always rely on you. You communicate directly with communities to collaboratively determine sustainable collective actions. I appreciate that. And I appreciate a lot of the work that you do.)
With that, I think it is important to look at the systemic ways in which charity can work to reinforce the need for charity and to find ways in which to change that system. Additionally, the ways in which our cultural cast-offs highlight problems of consumption and production should help to key us in to the systems of production that are themselves oppressive in many ways. (Think: issues of fair trade and fair pay all along the process of production.)