The politics of charity

Surprised that China and Russia are sending aid to Europe? Let’s try not to be.

“Beware the Greeks, even when bearing gifts.”

The corona crisis is truly global, and unlike other global crises, we’re presumably in it together. The enemy is not other countries or civilizations, it’s a virus – carrying no agency or ill intentions, just plain biology.

So we should all work together and trust each other, right?

We do on many levels, of course, with the WHO leading tremendous efforts, and scientists across the globe rushing to develop a vaccine, for instance.

On the other hand, you don’t need to look hard to uncover cracks in solidarity, and seeping mistrust.

Do you trust the giver?

There is the case of Italy, who had trouble receiving assistance from old friends in the EU, but then Russia stepped in with massive aid.

Or there is the ongoing debate about how to portray China – as hero or villain. There is no consensus yet, but apparently President Xi has had some success in improving relations to Trump, who had been shaming the Chinese in many of his remarks.

In Denmark, many were surprised by the news that Chinese billionaire Jack Ma donated substantial amounts of medical supplies. Comments on social media ranged from simple thankfulness to hostile suspicions to the intentions.

Why would someone from China or Russia send donations to Europe? What is their ulterior motive? For some, not reading politics into the situation is impossible. But there may be something else at play, too.

Helping the poor in order to feel rich

In rich Northern Europe, as well as the U.S, we have become so entrenched in a perception of reality where we are the masters of the universe – we are the strong and generous ones. When there is a disaster, we are the ones who send aid, not the ones who receive it.

The notion that China or Russia would have the capacity to help us out is a challenge to a world-view where we don’t need anybody’s help.

Which once again raises a question I have posed before: Do we give to the poor in order to feel rich?

The aid industry feeds on this notion, at least partly and often subconsciously. Whenever we donate to charity, we in effect pay for a feeling of having done something good. Often this comes with the added benefit of being able to say: Thank God it’s not me.

We’re all in it together

The problem with corona is, it is also me. It affects us all, and even hard-liners are waking up to this reality. Despite his rhetoric of maintaining control, Trump is now reaching out for assistance. The Italian foreign minister said of the Russian donation:

“There are no new geopolitical scenarios to trace, there is a country that needs help and other countries that are helping us.”

Let’s make sure we all remember that.

Cyclist Hell

Racing 08All eyes were on Denmark last week (well, some at least), as Copenhagen and Rudersdal hosted the UCI Cycling World Championships. The event itself went extremely well: huge amounts of spectators, interesting sporting moments, a well-organised affair, and great weather. Last Sunday, we went to Holte (just a 5K bike ride from our home) to watch part of the race and feel the excitement over such a big sporting event in little Denmark.

Of course, doing a road race in the middle of a big city is impossible without a certain hassle for its inhabitants. Major road closures changed the daily commute for the many people that usually rely on their car to take them into the city. But this is not what my title refers to. I ride the train everyday, and although last week saw an increase in the number of passengers, I was able to do pretty much the same as usual. And an event like this is great for the country in terms of tourist income and brand value.

Racing 02No, what I’m talking about is how you cannot go anywhere in Copenhagen (or its suburbs, for that matter) without being overwhelmed by people on bicycles. It’s easy, healthy, free, good for the environment, and what have you. For many Copenhageners and outsiders alike, that’s what they love about this city. Not me, though.

I don’t mind being able to get to the station quickly and inexpensively, especially when the weather is nice. But I do not subscribe to the prevailing sentiment that bicycles are oh, so good for a city.

Too many cyclists believe they own the place. They are a danger to themselves and others, not adhering to traffic rules, taking up space on trains, and terrorising innocent pedestrians and others who want a clean and safe city.

What if the police started actively enforcing traffic rules for bicycles? Not just running red lights (jayriding?), but also especially riding on sidewalks, pedestrian streets, and train platforms, parking in no-parking zones (towing should happen much more frequently), riding against traffic, and speeding (how about speed-cameras for bikes?). Most of this is illegal already, but seldom enforced.

I know cars take up a lot of space, but there are simply too many bicycles in Copenhagen. My solution? More public transit (trains, metro, trams/light rail, buses), pedestrian streets (free of bicycles, that is), and a limited number of cars where unavoidable (taxing visiting drivers in some form is fine by me).

Am I just becoming a grumpy old man? Possibly – I think many bloggers are. While we’re at it, we should prohibit dogs as well.