Dunbar Philantropy

Apparently there is a drought in East Africa. I know this because the media dedicates a big chunk of time showing images of hungry African kids with sad expressions on their hollow-eyed little faces, followed by a plea to donate money to Giro 555, a Dutch joint venture of NGO’s.

Now I am mildly surprised, because as far as I knew we had already donated billions and billions of dollars to African countries. For instance, Ethiopia, a country afflicted by the current drought, has according to that source received 3.5 billion dollars of developmental aid in 2013 alone, of which 147 million dollars was allocated for water supply. In 1 year! With napkin math I reason that Ethiopians have in 10 years time received 1 billion dollars specifically to prepare for droughts. But fast-forward and today there is a massive drought which Ethiopia apparently stands helpless against. Send more money! You’da thunk development aid would have helped the Africans prepare for exactly the kind of drought they are experiencing right now, but apparently it has not.

This pattern of charity money not doing what it is supposed to is nothing new: even in progressive circles it is accepted as fact that African aid money might as well have been thrown into a black hole. On the surface it seems simple: something bad happens and good white people want to help. But our help does not work. We have an altruism industry working around the clock, but it is completely defective. What is up?

The problem is you can’t go around Dunbar’s number. People are evolutionary wired to care first and foremost about their tribe. This goes for the givers and the receivers of aid. I recall a story of a Doctor Without Borders who trained Africans in Western medicine for a year. When he returned some time later he discovered to his shock no one was using the Western medicine and his trainees were in fact referring the sick to the local Voodoo man. ‘This is how we do’ was the explanation offered, which is of course the same explanation offered shoulder-shruggingly by corrupt warlords who buy cocaine and golden AK47’s with money donated by UNICEF. This is how we do in our tribe.

On the aid giver’s end, our end, dead children on tv are sad because we imagine it happening to us and our tribe. But we lack the wiring to give anything but a superfluous shit about other people’s tribe. While the ad runs we are all sympathy but once the ad is over we simply forget because we have enough worries in our own life.

The reason people care about [insert hip charity] is because people care about status signalling towards other people in their tribe. I am a good person, I care. Do you care as much as I care? This is not to say virtue signalling is by definition bad (for my part Bill Gates really does want to rid the world of malaria), but it is to say that the actual outcome of the aid is secondary to the feelz! invoked by charity status signalling. Essentially charity is people roleplaying that more people belong to their tribe than actually do.

This is why so many Dutch youngsters flock to Africa for a 3-month internship digging waterholes and teaching English to dem keedz, of which the long-term effect is comparable to getting a pig to fly. But that’s ok because the point was never to actually help Africans, the point was to make Dutch youngsters feel good about themselves so they can post pictures with blacks on Facebook and tell people how much they’ve learned being around less privileged people. The East African Drought Drive is simply the watered down version of this.

So you could make the case that charity is inherently stupid: the idea of charity is to do something good for people outside your tribe, but Dunbar philantrophy tells us you are wired to care only if it benefits your standing within your tribe.

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