Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why we don't care

Fine! I'll bite! William Easterly, we don't care about Afghanistan. It's not that Afghanistan doesn't deserve our care--it likely does. We're just tired.

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We just don't care.

Here's the short story: We're tired of it. We don't know anything about them, and they can't be helped anyways.

After the 9/11 attacks eight years, news for a long time covered the several Arab leads of the culprits. A lot of time and energy was invested in learning about the region, and we were bombarded with pundits, news, even movies trying to explain to us what things are like in the Middle East and how to better understand their mindsets. When we started war in Iraq and Afghanistan some time later, we were bombarded with nightly updates on the situation. Despite all of this, we have learned little, but it's a safe bet that the majority of Americans, asked to describe any of the involved countries or surrounding, would tell you that it's a war-torn place with no progress. Many, I'm sure, mix up Iran and Iraq. Many would lump all the "stans" together. Many would say that we're in (any of) those countries just for the oil. Pakistan isn't any better. What, specifically, is going on in Afghanistan? Few could say. It's just another one of those countries. Certainly, conflict in the Middle East has been going on for centuries.

What's more, we've been bombarded with this sort of thing for over eight years. Multiply information overload over eight years, and no one knows what's going on. How can we be expected to care anymore? Sure they need help--that's partially why we have troops there--but they're just like any other war-torn country that needs our help. We've been "trying to help" for over eight years, and what has come from it? Caring about Afghanistan specifically is a lot to ask.

Compare this with Africa. While parts of Africa are still affected by war, we're pretty insulated from it. There seems to be less war, confined to individual warlords who rape and pillage. That's all. The bigger problem in Africa is poverty, and being cut off from the rest of the world. You can't easily truck goods from sub-Saharan Africa to anywhere important like you can in the Middle East. Africans don't even have roads! Poverty is something we can try to help with. Fighting among your own people? That's your own problem.

The term "sub-Saharan Africa" is probably to specific a term to mean anything to most Americans, actually. Many probably don't even know what it means. Regardless, people have more recently seen progress in Africa. Maybe it can be saved! Jeff Sachs said so in a book! They have cell phones in Africa now, they've become tech-savvy! Angelina Jolie is adopting children from there and helping them, so they must be getting better!

Do you see the difference here? What does Afghanistan have going for it? We barely get photographs showing us how things are in the Middle East, much less any information. And, when we do, we certainly can't distinguish what country it's from (whereas Africa gets lumped into one big area deserving of our help). I'm sure there are other issues too. The significance of cultural differences, the bad stereotype of Arabs, and so on. I don't see Americans caring about Afghanistan any time soon without some large, unexpected shock.

Do you see, Dr. Easterly? Why we don't care about Afghanistan? We should, probably, but it's a really tough situation there, and we can't do anything about it.

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