The Role of the Virtuous.

When is the last time you helped somebody?

Marguerite Waller brings up important questions about the role of virtue in development and neoliberal policies aimed at globalization in her article Addicted to Virtue: The Globalization Policy-Maker. Waller refers to this issue as “Imperial virtue”, which can be seen all over the spectrum starting from ordinary citizens who post on social media promoting themselves as noble for helping donate to third-world countries to the higher ends of the spectrum which involve the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. It is easy to fall into this state of imperial virtue because often times we fail to address the actual needs are of the person in “distress”. We must work together to understand poverty outside of monetary development and develop a language that aims at building relationships and conversations that take into consideration the real needs of those who need help.

In the documentary Life and Debt, the role played by the IMF and the World Bank in the increase of poverty in Jamaica are examined. The search for growth in the Jamaican economic structure lead to its imprisonment in debt because Jamaica was launched into a competitive world market where their exports were greatly devalued and the farmers could no longer grow food to feed the Jamaican people. Neoliberal policies allowed for their currency to be devalued to the point where imported food became cheaper than local foods and well paying jobs were scarce. The IMF’s imperial virtue clouded their policies which had been aimed at helping develop Jamaica. After their independence, Jamaica needed funds to help build a concrete infrastructure which included good education and health systems. However, the IMF thought that the best way to help was to develop their economic structure. Ultimately, this only exasperated their poverty and perpetuated their state of debt.

Again we see this problem with NGO’s. For example, in the book Killing with Kindness by Mark Schuller, Haiti was flooded with aid from other countries after their devastating earthquake, which you would think would have been a very helpful thing. However, many of this money could not go through the government to help rebuild Haiti's infrastructure, instead it went to NGO’s which often times situated themselves and identified for themselves what issues were the most pressing instead of actually speaking with those who they sought to help and their needs. So, again, money is spent on resources that aren’t the most pressing to the families and citizens devastated by the earthquake because the imperial virtue of the NGO’s makes it so that they feel that their actions, money, and their programs will be helpful even if they haven't consulted with the government, population, or citizens on their needs.

Ultimately, we must learn to break out of our addictions to this imperial virtue that commands us to relentlessly give. We must take a step back and understand the complexities of poverty and culture to better administer aid, and appropriate aid at best. It begins by identifying the space of the virtuous in contrast to those seen as impoverished and learn to recognize these differences as more than just a place to push aid towards or advertise.