Helping Others, An American's 'Inalienable Right'?

    For Americans, helping others is an inalienable right. Photo by: Ed Yourdon / CC BY-SA 2.0 Ed YourdonCC BY-SA 2.0

    In a “Tales from the Hood” blog post that is sure to raise eyebrows, a self-declared aid expert suggests that certain people are inherently altruistic.

    For Americans, there “definitely exists” a notion that helping others is their “inalienable right,” according to the author of the blog, who says he has worked in international aid, relief and development since 1991.

    “We have come to believe that helping others, whether those others are the homeless living under an overpass just a few miles away, or the faceless ‘poor’ on the other side of the planet, is our inalienable right,” says the blog’s author.

    Inalienable rights are those that do not hinge on laws, customs, or beliefs of a particular society or polity. Such inalienable rights include “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as penned by Thomas Jefferson in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

    Then there are also legal rights, also known as civil rights, that are conveyed by a particular polity and codified by legislature.

    The blog author says: “Like the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Or, even more poignantly for Americans, like the right to bear arms, helping others is also our right. It’s ironic, but like our guns and for better or worse, we will give up ‘helping’ others only when you pry it from our cold, dead hearts.”

    Looking at the data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the the U.S. government had the largest net official development assistance among members of OECD’s Development Assistance Committee in 2009, followed by France, with roughly USD15 billion. 

    The ratio of the U.S.’s 2009 net ODA to the country’s gross national income is 0.20 percent. Among the DAC members, Sweden has the highest ODA-GNI ratio for 2009 at 1.12 percent.   

    In terms of charity contributions, Americans gave more than USD307.65 billion in 2008, according to Giving USA, a report compiled annually by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel. Of this amount, 75 percent or USD229.28 billion came from individuals or household donors. The National Philanthropic Trust said Americans gave USD314 billion in charitable contributions in 2007, adding that per capita giving among Americans amounts to USD1,620 each year.

    The author also argues that Americans have invested “culturally and emotionally” in the issue of rights that “somewhere, deep in our psyche we have crossed the blurry lines between what we feel compelled to do and what we feel obligated to do, and then between what we feel obligated to do and what it is simply our unquestionable right to do.”

    The author further says that the U.S. culture is “deeply rooted” in the concept of individual rights, adding that “we value and attempt to guarantee individual rights to a degree that people from other places sometimes find absurd.”

    The author did not discuss the altruism of other countries.

    The author, who goes by the name J., says he currently provides technical support to emergency responses in Asia and the Middle East. His first stint in the development sector was as a communication officer for an international non-governmental organization in Thailand.

    Of course, many nations contribute to international development. Is altruism intrinsic to certain nations or people - what do you think?

    About the author

    • Dsc05567

      Ma. Rizza Leonzon

      As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.