Good people care about those in need. So when need arises suddenly, good people share the basics: food, shelter, clothing and medical care. This kind of aid is relatively easy to provide, is direct, and people are nearly always ready to accept it. Call this first-order aid. There will always be a need for this type of aid, because some needs arise due to natural disasters or people being mistreated by their governments, for instance.
The next logical step after providing first-order aid is to help the recipients become responsible for meeting their own needs. If they are accustomed to doing this, and have the technology and resources, this will happen on its own. (Otherwise, this will be problematic.) Instead of giving men fish, it will involve teaching them to fish, build their own homes, produce their own medicines, and in general, raising them up to where they can provide their own first-order aid the next time a sudden or severe need arises. Call this stage, where those in need are helped to take responsibility for themselves, second-order aid. Thus the goals of second-order aid are to reduce the need for outside first-order aid, and to grow people in maturity and responsibility.
Beyond second-order aid is the need to strategize how to avoid crises in the first place, and to figure out how to most effectively render second-order aid. This is third-order aid.
A few observations, in no particular order:
– First-order aid is appropriate immediately after a crisis, but should not be the long-term solution to the problem of need. Simply handing out the basic needs on a continual basis is what we do for our pets and livestock. With people, we can expect more because they can do better. It is actually a moral disservice to them to leave them with only first-order aid.
– There are many reasons why some needy people/nations/societies never progress beyond merely receiving first-order aid (and no, I can’t solve these problems):
Someone (such as their own government) may be subjugating them, stealing and selling donated food or medicine, and so on.
Those needing help may have cultural norms that prevent them from lifting themselves up, or allowing an outsider to help them. They may not even see their need as anything unusual to be escaped, or they may reject technology.
Dependence is easier than independence: It takes less effort, less maturity, and can be less stressful for the one needing the aid. (And handouts are demonstrably good for buying for votes.)
– Although I wish it were not so, there are charitable organizations and government agencies, who, in order to ensure their own survival, intentionally fail to provide higher orders of help to those they serve. It is only human nature that this happens, but an incalculable disservice to those in need.
– The only thing worse than an arrogant needy person (or group) is the person who judges you for pointing out that there should be a wiser way of helping people.
– The real and present danger of charities that take money (and governments that redistribute tax revenue as welfare) is that people will feel that once they have donated (or paid their taxes), their obligation to help the less fortunate is done. This allows the need to persist, because contributors are not watching how the money is being used.
– Whether it’s getting people to vote for higher taxes to fund welfare or just getting people to contribute, the emotional appeal is quite effective. Just remember that the most successful emotional manipulation ends with the voter/contributor believing that he made up his mind on his own. (The right way to persuade someone is to appeal to their intellect, and trust that they will do the right thing.) Manipulation is coercion through deception.
It pains us to see images of people lacking basic necessities. It should pain us more to see people never trained in helping themselves, or worse yet, refusing to learn to take care of themselves. Beyond that, we should detect that something bigger is wrong when the same crisis repeats, such that first-order help is continually needed.