Altruism in Nepal

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake has devastated Nepal. Buildings, old and new, have crumbled. Older brick and wood homes are almost exclusively reduced to rubble.

In an interview with The Guardian, Bhaskar Gautam, a local sociologist, describes the situation: “Outside Kathmandu it’s the rural poor. But in the city it’s the people in the older precarious housing. It’s obvious: the wealthier you are, the stronger the house you have.” For years the Nepali people have tried to improve disaster preparedness and resilience, but too many are resource strapped.

Kshitiz Nyaupane, a Kathmandu local in his mid-20’s, is quoted in Time: “Our government is not strong enough to handle this. We must take care of it ourselves.” Nyaupane echoes the beliefs of many in the region. The Nepali political system has a decades long history of indecision, conflict and instability. To maintain the political class important issues, such as basic infrastructure needs, have been ignored.

Once again, disparity and asymmetrical power relations add to the severity of disaster.

Frustratingly, the very institutions that cause such disparity are who the populace must depend on for relief. As aid floods Nepal, victims continue to struggle to regain control over their lives. Meanwhile, decisions over the distribution of resources are made for them. The influx of aid pouring into the region will no doubt save lives, but many ravaged by the quake are having to wait days for food and shelter as government officials take pictures, avoid the public and leave.

The situation is so bad that Nepalese villagers are blocking trucks carrying supplies for earthquake victims. Protests are on the rise outside of Nepal’s Parliament. Locals are demanding more to help the tens of thousands now homeless and short of food and water.

So, what can be done? What can be done to close the wealth gap? What steps can be taken to ensure that the impoverished do not continue to be the hardest hit by disaster?

The answer may lie behind altruistic social forces in the region. In an interview with the Associated Press, a local talks of his frustration with the government, stating: “Only the other villagers who have also lost their homes are helping me. But we get nothing from the government.” In the wake of calamity there is no mass violence, no survival of the fittest mentality, but instead a beautiful mutualism. Altruism is alive and well, a part of human nature.

The Nepalese are huddling together at night to keep warm, sharing blankets, food, water and more. Scholarly research shows such selfless behavior is common after disaster. Often, it is the political authorities who are selfish. Fearing anarchy, power structures often work against altruistic behavior.

Never the less, the human condition prevails. In the wake of disaster there is always hope, generosity and solidarity. The basic libertarian principle of mutual aid shines through.

This of course fuels the fire against the ruling class. Even in calamity we build rich, cooperative networks. This serves as a reminder that vibrant social cooperation is intrinsic to the human condition. If we grasp it, if we confront disparity, if we strive for the permissive society, we will revel in the altruistic markets that emerge. We can alleviate human suffering, simply by advancing human liberty.

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