Monday, October 29, 2007

Recently Read: Pathways to Power, by Paul Farmer


Rats and roaches live by competition under the law of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy." – Wendell Berry


I recently read Pathways to Power by Paul Farmer. It qualifies for the well-populated category of "development/poverty/human rights book," but stands out in a couple ways.


Paul Farmer, a doctor who's been practicing for over 20 years in Haiti, writes about poverty and human rights, but does so non-abstractly (bringing lots of personal experience into his thesis); with the insight of being both a "practitioner" (doctor) and academic (anthropologist); and with the objective passion of a social prophet of sorts (it quickly becomes clear in his book that Farmer has a high and studied regard for Liberation Theology, its followers, its social grievances, and its methods)  


Farmer's main thrust is that the conception of human rights needs to be expanded beyond mere political and legal terms, and expanded to include and address injustices caused by "structural violence." These are more difficult and costly to address because they are social, cultural and economic in character, and naturally run counter to market-driven capitalist ideology and systems that runs the world today.


For example, you have a Haitian girl dying most immediately from AIDS. While the standard legal-political categories of human rights has no classification for such an abuse, a deeper analysis made according to Farmer's proffered stipulation of human rights would identify the many facets of structural violence that led to this girl's death—i.e. the material poverty and social casting that led to her contraction of HIV; her lack of economic resources that mitigated her ability to fight AIDS (with drugs and overall health). Because the girl's contraction of HIV involves Haiti's history of violence, national poverty, general prevalence/vulnerability to disease, a deeper analysis would also include Haitian history, U.S. policy towards the same, problems with the way that international Aid operates today.

Ryan Vroegindewey

PCV Benin 2007-2009