Archive for the ‘charity’ Category

The charity pharmakon

November 16, 2009

File_Plumpy'nut_wrapper“The Plumpy’nut product is a high protein and high energy peanut-based paste in a foil wrapper. It tastes slightly sweeter than peanut butter. It is categorized by the WHO as a Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). Plumpy’nut requires no water preparation or refrigeration and has a 2 year shelf life making it easy to deploy in difficult conditions to treat severe acute malnutrition. It is distributed under medical supervision, predominantly to parents of malnourished children where the nutritional status of the children has been assessed by a doctor or a nutritionist. The product was inspired by the popular Nutella spread” (from Wikipedia)

Take ‘Plumpy’nut’ as an example of the capitalism/charity absurdity. It is a product inspired by Nutella, which has been banned from advertising on UK television under the banner of ‘balanced breakfast’. The tag line is that starting the day with a covering of Nutella on your bagel and bread is a healthy way to start the day, obviously as part of a ‘calorie controlled diet’ It was not, however, banned in the US. What does healthy mean any more if this can be propagated as healthy? Well-being is thus shown to be the paradigm of enjoyment: less is more, and more is bad, yet more if sold as less thus more jouissance for you. Thus a product which no doubt has helped many person to tip the scales into the red is the perfect medical supplement. What was born as a decadent consumer product can now be used to feed starving children. Plumpy’nut has more unsaturated fats which are easier to digest than Nutella, as each sachet packing in 500 calories and 22 different minerals and vitamins, yet there is a strong bond between the two in terms for nutritional concentration. The irony of this is that the tag line for Nutella is right, it can be good for your diet. Nutella could thus be said to be a pharmakon: poison becomes remedy, remedy becomes poison. Just as nuclear weapons are ironically the guarantors of peace (according to realist paradigms of International Relations), a product genetically close to Nutella seems to be the guarantor of life.

It seems that what we have now in the terms of the very poorest and most needing of stability and peace, such as those of warring African states, the people are turning into, as Agamben would say, homo sacer, the undead that are at the threshold limit of life and death and so can be killed with impunity, or brought back to life in a glorious act of redemption by charitable saviors. It is through the neglect and exploitation of the other that we can sit in our capitalist guilt ridden consumer ‘paradise’ deep behind the barricades our affluent national palace. All the while cynically engaging in a culture of ‘stitch and bitch’ towards the ready flow of celebrity media effluence and cerebral smoke screens that plunge us into the habits of idle chatter. Charity does not patch up the cracks, but is the excuse to keep an asymmetrical distance to the other, a minimal gesture to counter act the guilt and systemic inequalities of consumer capitalsim. “Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation.” (Zizek in ‘Violence’, p.22). Western-liberal charity gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

Although this post has a polemical tone, I will update this post further with some more reflection of charity and capitalism  which will flesh out the ‘business of charity and its contradictory relation to philanthropists such as Bill Gates.