Monday, November 20, 2006

Ignorant bliss?

Today I had one of those, moments of clarity, as alcoholics call them although I've never actually heard an alcoholic use the term and I've known a few in my short life (emphasis on the short as its nearly another birthday, plus its the one that my ex said is when everything that used to be fun becomes immature!). I was walking towards the underpass that takes me out of college thinking about my brother who is trying to raise money for a volunteer project he and his lovely girlfriend are going to work on next year in an Ugandan orphanage. My revelation was not a new thought, indeed it was one made famous by one of those ye olde philosophers, Socrates to be precise (thanks Mr Whitty). It was simply an awareness of my ignorance.

As a student of International Relations and Development Studies (don't get me started on the problematic nature of the term development) I am surrounded by a lot of middle class 20 year olds who 'took their gap year' in some distant country with the honorable aim of helping people less fortunate than themselves and getting greater objective self awareness thrown into the bargain. I have become incredibly skeptical about the beneficial nature of such ventures as they embody all the ideas of 'Western' superiority. The idea that we as the youth of well off nations are needed to effect change in the rest of the economically poorer and socially struggling world stinks of self gain and reinforces the concepts of the helpless poor and the knowledgeable rich. Despite all this my attitude to my brother's trip is completely different and I have rationalized to myself that it is not just because I know and love him. The difference between these students (admittedly not all of them) and my brother, is that I know how active and dedicated he is to social change in Britain. As someone who worked hard to raise awareness and support for the Make Poverty History campaign, his trip to Uganda is not being undertaken in the arrogant assumption that you can spend 6 months abroad and then settle into a nice comfortable consumer life happy in the knowledge that you've done your bit.

But what I was thinking is that I really don't know what the individual motives of these students are and nor do I understand how the human relationships developed in such volunteer situations might actually improve the will for social change in the UK. I was struck by my own arrogance and most importantly my own ignorance, in that moment I saw how much I have to learn and if Socrates was right then this means I'm actually getting wiser! Lets hope so.