Monday, April 21, 2014

poverty and violence

book review - The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
by Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros

I like to think of myself as an optimist. I want to believe that people are generally good intentioned. If they do bad things, it might be in response to their environment or to some mental illness. But if truth be told, I'm really just a denier. I try to deny that evil exists. Maybe if I ignore it, evil will go away.

Reading this book has had the effect of dragging my head up from the sand by the hair and forcing me to confront possibly the greatest obstacle to human life second to environmental dangers. People can be bad, really bad. 

This book is an analysis of the impact of violence on poor people. In the 2000 Summit endorsing the UN Millennium Development Goals, violence against the poor is not mentioned. Yet the mounting evidence, including the 1999 study by the World Bank: Voices of the Poor, show that until violence against the poor is abated, all the food, medicine, and micro-loans is of no import. Violence can take all that away in moments.

"When we think of global poverty we readily think of hunger, disease, homelessness, illiteracy, dirty water, and a lack of education, but very few of us immediately think of the global poor's chronic vulnerability to violence -- the massive epidemic of sexual violence, forced labor, illegal detention, land theft, assault, police abuse, and oppression that lies hidden underneath the more visible deprivations of the poor. " (from the introduction)

Ok, my head is already spinning after the introduction. 

Why isn't violence addressed? Um, because, usually the rich (or someone just a bit richer) is profiting by the violence. Rich countries will happily assist poorer countries to address counter-terrorism or anti-money-laundering efforts, but not common violence against the poor.

Why do we continue to pour aid funds into remedies for poverty that often wind up in the hands of corrupt groups? Because we want to feel like we're doing something good, and it feels better to fund schools and health efforts than it does to acknowledge greed and bullying.

Why don't the poor have access to good criminal justice systems? One of the causes in former colonies of European countries is that the justice systems that were set up to protect the ruling elite from the poor, still exist. And they are still using those outdated structures, like insisting that courts use only the English language when the poor do not speak English.

The authors start with stories of individuals from cases taken up by their organization, International Justice Mission. They analyze these cases to provide a basis for discussing some of the factors behind common violence, gender-based violence, land-grabbing, slavery, illegal detention, corruption and dysfunctional justice systems. 

I had to take a few breaks from reading this at first because it was so disheartening. But it was also a compelling read (and the other book I was reading in tandem is The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, so taking a break wasn't really working to lift me up), so I kept at it, feeling that at some point, the authors were going to start giving readers a little of hope.

Fixing the multiple issues that allow violence against the poor is "costly, difficult, dangerous, and unlikely" (pg. 188), but the authors do start showing some examples of positive change. In some cases, the change comes from champions within the systems themselves, in some, due to the IJM model starting with Collaborative Casework, that follows and supports victims through their attempts for justice.

This is a game-changing book. It really enhanced my (minimal) understanding of what it means to be desperately poor. I will be reading more about this topic.

Some future reading inspired by this book:
Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Disposable People by Kevin Bales