THE SELFISH ALTRUIST By Tony Vaux
Relief work in famine and war
The author was, for many years, Oxfams co-ordinator of global emergency programmes. In this book he goes into what motivates people to sacrifice time, energy, money and personal comfort to help others in distress. Is there not an element of self-satisfaction, desire for glory or power in this work? And hes talking with a background of vast experience. As one reviewer has said: Tony Vaux undertakes (sensitively)a deeply personalyet objective reflection on the motives and ethics of (his) humanitarian efforts.
There are those who believe that human nature is basically selfish and that you cant change it. Even seemingly selfless actions give us self-satisfaction they will tell you.. I usually reply that theres nothing wrong with that sort of selfishness as it has positive results.
The author asks if there is an agreed moral basis for modern humanitarianism. He also raises the vital question of hypocrasy, governments claiming to act out of humanitarian principles but really to serve their own perceived interests. I sometimes wonder, he muses, if all idealism is a myth or a mistake. We should note, however, that he makes it clear that his middle class and somewhat academic experience has helped to shape his views on this matter.
He describes in some detail his activities all over the world: Ethiopia, Sudan, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Somalia and many other areas. He writes of impartiality and self-respect, the relationship between pride and principle and how the emotions become involved and, sometimes, entangled.
In a final chapter, he seems to contrast the attitude and motivations of governments, when they intervene (and give their help) in the affairs of other countries, with those of individuals and charitable organisations. The reader must judge the merits of this approach by reading this most valuable examination of a neglected aspect of our efforts to help those, all over the world, who desperately need that help.