Thursday, 18 October 2012

Cynicism has a name. And it's Chelsea

No, not the football club. The human being, Chelsea Clinton. The little girl hounded and mocked by a disgusting rightwing press who has now become the poster girl for Liberal Interventionist Colonialism.

I've just watched an interview she gave to Newsnight about her charity work in Nigeria. 'What's wrong with that, you misanthropist bastard?' I hear you cry. 'She's very good, devoting her life to helping others.'

Here's what's wrong with that, in no particular order.

1. This isn't charity. It's self-help. It's an extended gap year designed to instil a degree of humility in rich, privileged Westerners.

2. This isn't charity. It's PR. It's an attempt to generate a dossier of 'caring' pictures to be used in an election campaign somewhere down the line. It's a shortcut, a simulation of struggle and of altruism. If aid work has a hyperreal component, Chelsea is it. Alongside any football player's charity work.

3. This isn't charity. It's zipless politics of the worst sort. Look caring without expressing the slightest opinion about anything. I guarantee that Chelsea Clinton will run for office in the United States of America before too long. She's never had a proper job and depends at least in part on her husband's income as an investment banker - one of the people making life worse for everybody, and she needs to build a public service profile. But if she got involved in poverty reduction, reproductive rights, social justice or anything like it, she'd be open to attack from the right as some kind of communist.

4. This isn't charity: it's image management. The Clinton Health Access organisation opposes maternal and child death. It's something nobody could oppose - and is therefore an easy way to appear virtuous. Being based in Nigeria seems - on the face of it - to be a nice safe bolt hole from political questions: the US hasn't invaded recently. Unfortunately, Nigeria is wracked by religious warfare and has been turned into one of the prime victims of Western oil interests. Despite being one of the world's largest oil exporters, Nigerians are desperately poor, governed by corrupt thieves, policed by Shell Oil's private armies and live in a dystopian wasteland of environmental degradation caused by reckless drilling. It's all our fault, and Chelsea Clinton's work with the Nigerian government is a cynical piece of PR by them and by her. They give her some charity work, pose for some photos and continue diverting money away from systematic healthcare and infrastructure into their own pockets.

5. This isn't charity: this is colonialism. We - and I very much mean you and I, not just Western states - have wrecked Nigeria, and we make ourselves feel better by donating a few quid to 'charity' rather than doing the right thing: paying for our oil, cleaning up the mess, apologising for and helping correct the consequences of imperialism. Charity is destructive: it makes us believe that Africans depend on us, that they're incapable of identifying and solving their problems, that they need us, that their problems aren't our fault.

Chelsea Clinton and her ilk are the human faces of celebrity politics. She is a diversion from fundamental issues. I'm sure she and her supporters think they're doing good, and they are on an individual level, but it's a distraction from structural problems. She'll get a good career in politics without having to do anything more strenuous than speak in air-conditioned boardrooms and appear on TV, while the roots and systems which generate global inequality and suffering go unexamined. This is worse than being ineffectual: like Mother Teresa, the activities of the Chelsea Clintons of this world actually perpetuate and justify continued injustice.

But she looks great on TV.


The Red Witch said...

@The Clinton Health Access organisation opposes maternal and child death. It's something nobody could oppose.

And yet startling numbers of people do in the U.S. and abroad.

The Plashing Vole said...

Actually, that's a very fair point.