07 May 2010

Et tu, Amnesty?

Innumerable government agencies, churches, universities, trade unions, and now the - formerly - very best-intentioned non-governmental organisations: all are susceptible to sacrificing their ideals on the altar of self-perpetuation. Theodore Dalrymple discusses Amnesty International, originally formed to support prisoners of conscious. It has recently taken on two further causes: a reduction in the disparity of maternal mortality rates in the US, and the elimination of the death penalty, where it is applied. Of the first, Dr Dalrymple comments
This is a tragedy for all concerned. In other words, while the disparity is indicative of a problem, it is not itself the problem. The infringement of human rights has nothing to do with it. Mission Creep Causes Amnesty International to Lose Focus, Theodore Dalrymple, 3 May
And of the second:
Now there are, of course, strong arguments for the abolition of the death penalty (the strongest of which, in my opinion, is the occurrence of judicial error even in the most scrupulous of jurisdictions). But there are also arguments in favor of the death penalty, and it is possible, and perhaps even likely, that the majority of the human race accept these arguments. Be that as it may, a murderer awaiting execution in the United States is hardly to be equated with a prisoner of conscience, even if it is cruel and unusual punishment to keep such a murderer on death row for years.
It's hardly surprising. Organizations do a lot of good work, but as they grow they become less focused on their original aims and more on the survival and growth of the organization itself. When these organizations become too influential, as big business and government have, then we are in trouble. The difference between the ideals and aspirations of the individuals who work in them, and the direction the organization actually takes, is often stark.

Social Policy Bonds would bring about a new type of organization: one whose existence, funding, structure and activities would all be aimed at achieving society's objectives. The organization would, in other words, be subordinate to social and environmental goals. People's loyalty would be to the goals, rather than the institution.

And Amnesty?
It is as if Amnesty grew bored with its original purpose and now seems to suffer from what one might call the not-a-sparrow-falls-but-it-is-our-moral-concern syndrome, itself a result of believing that virtue is proportionate to the number of good causes that one espouses. Therefore, one must spread one’s moral wings and fly off into the ethical stratosphere.
In this sort of mission creep, it's no better or worse than most of the other organizations supposedly aimed at achieving social and environmental goals.

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