Places like Little Dog Coffee Shop are filled with a certain kind of person. A young person who enjoys the outdoors, supports local businesses, and is devoted to using his or her experience in a poor region to do something more. These people want to save the world, and their enthusiasm can convince you that it is possible.
The hip service ethos of these patrons has a refreshing moral tone to it. Their perspective of the world is both positive and idealistic. They have been raised in an atmosphere where the common good is emphasized, and the option of a six-figure salary does not satisfy their need for personal assurance that their work has done good.
These people bring an inspiring, educated, and un-cynical view of the world, in hopes that their faith in the good of humanity can help those whom cannot help themselves.
While their view is exhilarating, the service religion of these young idealists is not without dangers. Their belief in service entrepreneurship on a broader scale comes in an effort to rise above the domestic political system. For this set of people, lobbying senators in Washington and working within the American government is associated exclusively with self-interested action and corrupt gridlock.
Their perception of what affects change rises above domestic politics, and focuses on broader issues.Their sense of duty does not address itself to domestic issues, but instead draws attention to issues in third-world nations. Certainly. those countries are worthy of our attention, but the activists' faith in moral action and their ignorance toward the evil in corrupt authoritarian rule that such projects ignore is misplaced.
In states where the rule of law is absent and the power elites are corrupt, non-governmental organizations will do little to mitigate the horrible living conditions and prerogatives of authority.
This brings an important point with it. Without a healthy political process that can resolve disputes in third world nations, conflict and competition take precedent. Social progress cannot come without political progress, and these idealists fail to scheme on a level that includes the political systems of the region.
Furthermore, these activists fail to recognize the presence of disorder within society. Their belief in compassion and access to resources as building blocks to peace and opportunity ignores that human history is defined by war and bloodshed.
Stable society is maintained not by a moral faith that humanity will do good, but instead on a social structure that assures equal opportunity and resolves conflicts. Yet these idealists overlook the more boring but effective issues—such as honest jurisprudence and standards of behavior—and choose to focus on issues like sustainable agriculture, issues which allow them to avoid political involvement.
It seems that our coffee shop idealists need to come to a realization. There is only so much good you can do unless you are willing to confront the darker sides of humanity.
To be able to do good, one must first be able to accept the bad, and understand how to manipulate it towards a cause.
This prevailing ethos needs to recognize the faults of society, and work within the political system to attempt to fix it.
For example, the Lesotho Highlands water project (which aimed to divert fresh water from the mountains for sale in South Africa) failed miserably, because its creators did not account for the resulting sharp rise in electricity costs in a poor region.
The failure to involve authorities in many small aid projects is a problem, and our idealists must realize that it is donors and authorities, not citizens, that determine civil society's agenda. A sense of moral realism will help supplement our idealist's service mentality with some tough love and willingness to work with less idealist types.
This is what contemporary Washington and the third world needs.
These "do-gooders" ought to consider what effect their social entrepreneurship will have if it doesn't attempt to collaborate with other forms of order and organization within society, but instead works to supplant them in order to affect change.
Sage Santangelo is a member of the Class of 2012.