Sympathy for the long-standing plight of Palestinians is insufficient to explain the support for Hamas expressed on the streets of various Western countries and among their elites. Unpacking contributing factors is critical, particularly for South Africa.
Western woke elites who support Hamas downplay priorities, tradeoffs and solutions. They rather judge. Those that don’t validate such elites by echoing their views are outsiders and thus targets of their judging, particularly if they are affluent and white.
Yet, as most elites who immediately condemned Israel are white and vastly more affluent than Gazans, criticising 7 October victims spotlighted woke’s open hostility toward facts and logic. The responses by many university and media elites to Jews being massacred has spurred a backlash.
Getting to the crux
Such high-volume high-profile support for Hamas encourages them to provoke Israel to defend its citizens in ways which will surely sacrifice Palestinians. Meanwhile, exploring the roots of woke-ism among influential university and media voices is important, but it distracts from getting to the crux of the issues.
Among the reasons South Africans are particularly well positioned to appreciate the core disconnects is that the only countries in the world which have been grappling with higher youth unemployment than Gaza are Djibouti, a country of one million amidst a war-torn region, and South Africa.
If positioning the next generation for broad prosperity is the core metric for assessing results, and it is, Hamas and the ANC direct what are easily among the world’s least effective governments.
The controversies surrounding support for Hamas by learned people focuses on the learned people, not Hamas. At the same time, Cyril Ramaphosa, Naledi Pandor and other senior ANC office holders routinely scold the West, often at high profile international gatherings, notwithstanding their party’s objectively dismal governance. Yet, there has been meagre pushback by Western political leaders of Hamas’s wide support by intellectuals or the ANC’s blatantly anti-Western words and deeds. Why?
Globally renowned ethicist
The 7 October atrocities have triggered historical references as diverse as the 1973 Yom Kippur attacks and how that era’s philosophical indulgences helped spur today’s woke beliefs. To more fully explore why Western leaders and commentators resist criticising Hamas’s, or the ANC’s, governance, we should consider a highly influential paper published by globally renowned ethicist Peter Singer in 1972.
Singer persuasively asserted that affluent people and societies had a moral obligation to donate resources to poor people. As wealthy societies then became wealthier and global poverty plummeted, the political path of least resistance increasingly favoured giving.
As poverty receded, patterns revealed themselves. Prospects for some African nations are encouraging, yet trends suggest that within a decade nearly 90% of the world’s extreme poverty will be in Africa.
As epitomised by the Congo, abundant resource wealth frequently entrenches rampant poverty. Being landlocked is also a common feature of poor countries. Yet neither characteristic, nor even both combined, need determine a nation’s fate. Botswana and Zimbabwe are very different despite both being resource-endowed and landlocked.
Two hundred years ago, nearly 90% of the world’s population was extremely poor versus less than 10% today. A highly predictive trait of countries which have not purged poverty is poor governance.
Singer’s 1972 paper, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” was one of the most effective criticisms of how Western culture tended to blame poverty on the poor, but it was hardly the only one. Then, Western voters and their nations’ policies increasingly embraced benevolence.
The trick was to use foreign aid to not just feed the poor but to encourage high-growth policies. Successes mixed with setbacks while institutional capacities expanded unevenly.
The sharp decline in global poverty over the past four decades was mostly about having workers in low-income countries integrate into global supply chains by adding value to goods and services. This was much harder in the many landlocked African countries that lack navigable rivers leading to ocean harbours.
The politics of resource wealth often posed even greater political impediments as it encouraged tribal-aligned patronage while discouraging value-added exporting. South Africa is one of many such examples in Africa. The ANC never exhibited a genuine interest in pursuing full employment and broad upliftment, as this required competing to carve out myriad niches in global supply chains. Its current “localisation” policies epitomise its disregard for this era’s proven high-volume upliftment path, global integration.
Globalisation has become central to economic growth, as, due to plunging communication and transport costs, low-income workers can be linked with high-income customers. By simultaneously diffusing the latest industry skills and knowledge, workers can then become vastly more productive leading to a burgeoning middle class. Unfortunately, the ANC and Hamas disdain this model – despite it having uplifted hundreds of millions of workers in other high-poverty nations.
The deep disconnect which continues to entrench much poverty is that it is very difficult to reconcile altruistic efforts by wealthy nations with those of patronage-focused politicians who exploit the victimhood narratives which their policies fuel. Hamas is now testing the willingness of Western politics to combine altruistic pretensions with willful ignorance.
It was as if the lauding of Nelson Mandela urged the ANC to take this path. More recently, their leaders have been encouraged by the woke crowd to stoke poverty while milking victimhood.
After declaring a no-limits partnership with his Chinese counterpart, Vladimir Putin initiated a new cold war when Russia invaded Ukraine. Last weekend he met with representatives from Hamas and Iran. They won’t focus on the safety or prosperity of Palestinians. Rather, they want to make the world safe for authoritarian regimes hostile to freedom and individual rights.
Whereas autocrats are consistently seeking to advance their self-serving interests, a motley mix of Western actors want to simultaneously indulge the pleasure of giving while seeking to encourage good governance. The limits of this approach have been exposed by despots like Robert Mugabe who ruthlessly exploit their people and those who seek to aid them.
Meanwhile, the ANC leans increasingly away from the West and toward Russia, China and Iran. Yet, unlike various Western nations, none of these countries is in a position to spur high-volume job creation in South Africa. Whether the “altruism” is funded from distant nations or our national government, sub-subsistence basic grants are not substitutes for productive jobs.
Peter Singer, currently a professor focused on human values at Princeton University, has developed profound insights over many decades. Younger minds, whether from the likes of Princeton, Palestine or Pretoria, must now prioritise productive solutions.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR
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