Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Not Charity

So, Auckland had a 2.9 quake, and then Melbourne had a 4.4 - sort of. An area 120km out of Melbourne had a 4.4, really. Now, these are pretty unusual, and obviously people were taken by surprise and startled. And then, obviously, some people from Christchurch expressed the sentiment that perhaps people who were genuinely upset about these quakes should "harden up". In response there came a rush of criticism, all of which invoked the spectre of financial donations towards earthquake recovery.

In essence, it boiled down to, "How dare you mock us - we gave you money!" or "Don't you dare mock us or we won't give you any more money."

That is possibly fair enough, except when you actually think about the Christchurch point of view - not just over the last few days, either. The quakes here have been devastating. Aside from losing possessions, this is a small city, and most people at the least probably know someone who knew someone who died, even with the high number of those being foreign students. Then there's the property loss and the security loss - fears of looting as well as the knowledge that your home (if it's still livable) isn't safe anymore. In fact, no where is safe, and you can't control it. The financial damage is huge, but so is the emotional damage. People here can technically be diagnosed with PTSD already (one of the diagnostic factors is the time since the traumatic event, and while it's still ongoing I'm fairly certain they'd measure that from February 22) and many of them are genuinely traumatised. While people react differently, I know from experience that one reaction involves irrational anger at those who aren't affected for being able to live normal lives without thinking, constantly, about the earthquakes, even at the same time as you're deliberately trying to do something to get away from the earthquakes. It's utterly illogical, but it's there. And when we see people reacting so much to something that happens every day here, of course some people are going to scoff a bit.

So at this point, it's a bit of a stalemate - it's understandable to react to the little wobbles when you're not used to them, and it's understandable for Cantabrians to think you're being completely stupid about it.

But what of this other part, the implied threat to funding? Let's not forget, also, that the rest of the country hasn't been entirely saints about that to start with. There have been many heated arguments over the last few months started over someone saying we should just abandon Christchurch, that they don't want their taxes going up over the cost to rebuild (let's not get into the cost of relocating an entire city, of course). I have not heard many, if any, Cantabrians saying that - they have all been from the North Island. Now they're responding to a completely understandable emotional reaction with more of the same.

Never mind that inequality hurts everyone (except the extremely rich). Never mind that we have a social responsibility towards those in need. To these people, it's all about their feelings. They feel good about giving to charity, but being told they're over-reacting ridiculously hurts their feelings and they don't feel good anymore, and because of that, we all deserve to suffer. Not just the few people on Twitter who told them to harden up, everyone. They, apparently, would be completely fine with people living in their damp, damaged houses, with power bills they can't afford if they try to actually stay warm over winter, with reduced incomes and increased costs, no money for doctors so health problems that start small quickly grow (which is why we have rheumatic fever in Northland, and I will continue to use that as evidence of the shocking poverty present in New Zealand), meaning productivity will be slashed, not just in the short term, but for years and years as young people's growth is badly affected. Eventually many people will end up getting emergency treatment, but in every case this will be more drastic and more expensive than the preventative care that would have prevented it. Some will qualify for benefits, and those whose health is damaged might end up on a permanent invalid's benefit, but they won't be working, and in the minds of most people working is the only way to contribute to society. And that's not even touching on the emotional affects those conditions have, emotional affects that can echo down through generations.

Apparently none of that is worth considering, because a few people from Christchurch were mean.

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