Juliet Hutchings

Juliet Hutchings (World Peasants and Indigenous Organization - WPIO): Juliet’s passion for telling stories through film and video took her to the NGO Veronica’s Story, and then to Ethiopia where she documented how the international community is working to eradicate the AIDS virus and help orphans find safe, healthy homes. She worked on several documentaries during her undergraduate studies at Northeastern University in Boston. Juliet has also made an historical film about how children perceived the Communist regime in 1950s Central Europe, in Prague, Czech Republic. She has also made a short film about the nonprofit organization HIPS, Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive. At the time of her fellowship, Juliet was in her final year of an MFA program in film & electronic media at American University in Washington, DC. After her fellowship, Juliet wrote: “There are always benefits to these community connections: time and again, no matter who I talk with about my experiences in Africa, I hear the refrain, “It’s people like you who are helping people like me, one at a time, to understand what the world is like, and that there is a group out there (the pygmies) who are in deep danger and need assistance.”

A Variation on a theme: Selfishness vs. Altruism

21 Jul

Annelieke is finally in Uganda. She is a Dutch Fellow with The Advocacy Project. Her first blog is here.

Annelieke’s presence has truly given me a shot in the arm. She and I have had some great conversations since her arrival, late Friday evening. I feel an upsurge of creativity now that we’re sharing our stories and zinging each other with our respective infectious energy. Her blog and our talks have reflected a common thought among human rights activists: do we dare express the very true sentiment that we really want to get something out of this ourselves?

I am currently reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, and found this great quote that directly relates to my thoughts today:

“The aim of life is self-development. To realise one’s nature perfectly–that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of duties, the duty one owes to one’s self. Of course they are charitable. They feed the hungry, and clothe the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion–these are the two things that govern us. And yet…I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream–I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of mediaevailsm, and return to the Hellenic ideal…But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself” (Wilde 25).

I am enamored of this passage (and, yes, I am fully aware of its irony in the context of this novel). At face value, though, it is a quite privileged and exciting thought. Only those who are free can really practice this way of life without external recrimination. So, are Annelieke and I, and any other Fellow, truly wrong to want to achieve selfish goals? Does my desire to conquer my fear of living in Africa diminish the aid that I provide to the WPIO? The fact that I must see a wild elephant before I leave–does that mar the integrity of the website I am building for the WPIO? I still want to help the WPIO and bring basic rights to the peasants, pygmies and indigenous tribes of central and eastern Africa, but I also want to get something out of it for me. To be wildly successful at the end of this trip will be to have achieved my own goals as well as those of Freddy and Pascal. Even Freddy and Pascal derive personal joy out of the small triumphs they experience in Congo when their 10 for 1 Peace campaign actually sets someone free from slavery. It gives them personal hope that they may return, undeterred, to their homes and revel in the human rights they seek for themselves.

Freddy says that if his death were to ensure the freedom of 1000 pygmies, then it would be worth the loss of life. I viscerally disagree. He does this human rights work not entirely unselfishly. He pines for his homeland and wants to bring rights to everyone. If he dies and that provides rights to others, is that really successful? I find myself arguing with Freddy on his stance. I don’t think martyrdom (which is, in its own right, a form of selfishness) will provide the pygmies with their freedom. I don’t think he takes into account his valid, selfish needs: to find freedom in his lifetime. What he is doing now, alive, is what will bring them relief. And, that will bring him joy.

So, what do you think? Is it really possible to be truly altruistic? Isn’t altruism inherently selfish (I believe we do it, in part, because it makes us feel all warm and good inside)? Like I mentioned in my blog, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs must be met if we are to ever be of use to anyone but ourselves. To be selfish, I believe, is an imperative human trait.

Posted By Juliet Hutchings

Posted Jul 21st, 2008


  • Thomas

    July 21, 2008


    Well, since you asked: the French philosopher Jacque Derrida did *a lot* of thinking about this question, and basically concluded that we could never be truly altruistic. Because every choice we make precludes infinite other choices (his example is that every time he feeds his cat he denies food to a starving wild cat, or even human, somewhere), we can never be really responsible. So we should live in the world, recognize our own needs, try to make ethical choices, and be cognizant of our infinite ethical culpability. (See “The Gift of Death” for more about all of this, or you can talk to me about it when you get back to the States.)

  • Herbert Parsons

    July 22, 2008


    To be totally honest with you, Juliet, I think the Dorian Gray philosophizing–for me, though not necessarily for anyone else–is b.s. and a waste of time. In my better moments I try to do the best I can, the best I’m fit for, with whatever I’m about, whether that’s making art, teaching, or picking up trash on my street. Beyond that, I’m better suited to not thinking too much!
    Re your blog: I was disappointed not to see at least one striking photo of the poo pile. (And what a benevolent word for such an aggressive substance.) Visceral, lady, visceral!

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