Suppose I am a reasonable but predictably chauvinistic male both attracted to the Miss Universe pageant and at the same time vaguely abashed by its obvious concentration on the physical attributes of its stunning contestants and only hypocritically concerned about their intelligence and humanitarian views on world peace.
If I have a deadline pending for an Op-Ed piece and no compelling topic to address, I might well be tempted to write something equally predictable (and designed to make me seem enlightened) that criticizes the pageant’s superficiality and demands that the money spent to promote cup size, well-placed curves, and unnaturally big eyes and lips instead be spent to promote brainy girls with big hearts who better represent the highly-evolved females of the species I know I am supposed to desire.
How in the world does that scenario relate to the Op-Ed “They Need Other Medicine Too“?
- The Miss Universe Pageant and the Polio Eradication effort are sexy.
- The Miss Universe Pageant and the Polio Eradication effort get funding because they’re sexy.
- Neither program does much to meet the needs of the unsexy 99% of people who have regular lives and get sick.
- Regular people tend to resent the amount of money lavished on the freakishly extraordinary.
- If the money that goes into the MUP or the PE effort were spent to solve broader social problems, worthwhile but ordinary people would benefit.
- It seems cruel and unjust to lavish resources on the already blessed and extraordinary when the rest of us have unmet needs.
- Therefore, I demand that funds that now support the Miss Universe pageant and the Polio Eradication program be diverted to provide: you name it (clean drinking water, science education, income equality, hate abatement).
The problem with this argument, of course, is that the money dries up when we remove the sexiness. The sponsors of the pageant (and the eradication) are under no obligation to spend their money at all, certainly not to spend it as <em>we</em> please.
“They Need Other Medicine Too”?
P1. Eradicating polio is difficult because the beneficiaries don’t really care about polio.
P2. More people die of diarrhea than polio, so they’d rather cure diarrhea.
P3. They don’t have health clinics, but they keep getting immunized against polio, which they’ve never seen.
P4. So parents of the immunized kids feel cheated because their polio-free kids are still getting sick.
P5. They even suspect there must be an ulterior motive to polio eradication since it has so little relevance to their lives.
P6. They start to resist polio eradication, demanding instead that PE money be spent on their perceived needs.
P7. Their resistance is understandable and reasonable.
P8. Therefore, global health organizations are wrong to take a fragmented approach and should try to solve all problems of general health for huge populations instead of attacking one problem at a time.
P9. But that sort of unified, overall effort is impossible since funding is earmarked to solve individual problems.
P10. The campaigns are only successful if they achieve narrow success.
P11. Polio efforts aren’t interested in malaria mitigation.
P12. These efforts attack individual targets chosen far from the countries and people they are supposed to benefit.
P13. The people they’re supposed to benefit aren’t asked to identify their particular needs. In fact, their needs are often ignored.
P14. The recipient countries are at fault because they accept the funding without directing how it will be spent. Instead, the countries should be soliciting help for their specific needs.
P15. PE campaigns blame local governments and civil resistance, but they should really blame themselves because their efforts don’t meet a recognized local need.
P16. Global health programs need to respond to the most urgent needs of local communities, not global health goals.
The author of “They Need Other Medicine Too” makes a good and reasonable argument almost all the way through. The compassion he expresses for the poor, sick, and under-represented in unhealthy countries is legitimate and well-placed. He’s completely correct that campaigns like the polio eradication effort don’t address the most critical, immediate needs of the local populations they administer to in their attempt to solve a global problem.
But he makes a critical Categorical error in P16. He asserts that global health programs should first respond to local health needs. He has earlier categorized the already sick residents of the target communities as “the people they want to help.”
That’s a categorical argument error. The people the global eradication efforts “want to help” are the entire human population of the future. They might incidentally and importantly also help a few hundred children from contracting polio right now, but that is their only obligation to those children in this effort.
The author of the article might as well say the Miss Universe Pageant should do more to promote the other essential human characteristics of its extraordinary contestants. But that of course misses the point of the pageant. And the author misunderstands the goals of the global initiative (though he might be correct about why it has so far failed).