Despite my extreme frustration with the Stanford housing process this summer, I am now realizing just how fortunate I was to land in a dorm on the central campus, with an awesome roommate (who has an awesome Jamaican accent to boot!), and with a theme revolving around global citizenship. The consequence? I happened upon a poster this morning by the watering hole (the bathroom) advertising a talk by Jeremy Weinstein… and just showed up, to a casual Q&A with one of the most lucid political thinkers I have ever heard.
A few thoughts:
-Washington makes people sound proud of the U.S. to the point of sounding elitist. However, this might just be the political scientist coming out. Stephen Krasner was certainly the same way in lecture, but then again, he was in Washington for even longer.
-I was surprised by how biased Weinstein was toward the White House vs. the State Department. In highlighting the shift in foreign aid responsibility from the White House to the State Dept., he essentially stated that the State Dept. is less capable of insulating foreign aid policy from foreign policy than the White House…which seems counterintuitive when the president’s main job is to watch out for US interests above all.
-I was not surprised to hear that US foreign aid and its associated bodies are largely ineffecient and ineffective. I was, however, surprised to hear Weinstein say that DFID is the best international aid agency (with the justification that it is not tied to the UK’s foreign service), and moreover that the MDC in the US is our best development body. Development in Weinstein’s sense seems more like mere charity, rather than as investment for large-scale, long-term growth… Is this the view of a jaded American political advisor, a naïve American, or of an academic who has watched too many aid darlings sparkle and then fade?
To say that I am a skeptic is an understatement. I don’t think that murdering a figurehead like Osama bin Laden will bring an end to extremism, nor that keeping a currency artificially high will bring the best results in the long run. The eternal New Yorker in me sees skepticism as a mode of survival, but in California this seems to work against me. The happy folks out here equate skepticism to pessimism, and pessimism to downright grouchiness.
Well, happy people, you are both right and wrong. A good friend, calling himself a humanist, lives by the motto that he can’t control others’ happiness, but can at least ensure that he does things to make himself happier. While I would never deny the benefits of an Epicurean lifestyle, there’s something to be said for empathy. People everywhere are struggling–not in deciding between two different cars or girlfriends–but to survive. And there’s beauty to the struggle, always. But to ignore it because it doesn’t fit neatly into the bubble lifestyle of VC funding and 401Ks is to ignore one’s roots… and forgetting our roots is the most common mistake we make as a species. So we continue to be amazed by the harshness and anonymity of war, the nostalgia for extinct species as we keep losing more, the scale of revolutions technological and political alike.
One step forward, two steps back.
I don’t think foreign aid is the answer to others’ struggles. Charity rarely is, mostly because it’s not sustainable and lacks an accountability mechanism (though it arguably needn’t have any). I don’t think stopping FDI inflow will prevent land grabs, nor do large-scale land acquisitions have to be inherently unwise. They just often are. Things are more complex than the media, the progressives, the conservatives, and the governments portray. So why not be skeptical?