The Irish potato famine of the 1840s was a great tragedy in European history. A large part of Ireland’s population starved to death. A variety of factors caused the famine, such as crop disease, spread of cows and other livestock in Ireland who grazed on crops, dependency of the Irish on British absentee landlords, export of Irish grown food, and negligence, deliberate or not, by Britain. When the famine hit, a lot of people sent aid to Ireland in the form of money and food. Most famously, the Choctaw Indians sent 470 dollars. Many Irish also migrated to the United States. Yet, at the same time, the British response to the crisis was so bad that it elicited accusations of genocide. It has been suggested that Britain was inspired by Malthusian theory and so wanted the Irish to die so Ireland’s overpopulation could be controlled.
Yet, England was colonizing vast and sparsely populated areas of the world, such as Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Also, there were other parts of the world fully open for immigration, such as the United States. If England wanted to decrease Ireland’s population, why couldn’t she get the Irish to move to the abundant spaces of the planet which were available under British suzerainty? It would help Britain with the process of colonization. If Britain did not like the Irish, she could have sent them to Australia?
The main cause of the famine was that a disease known as potato blight had ravaged the potatoes in Ireland. The reason for this was that there were only four breeds of potatoes in Ireland and this lack of genetic diversity caused the Irish potatoes to succumb to disease. In the Andes Mountains, there were thousands of varieties of potatoes which were not yet introduced to the rest of the world. If they were all sent to be grown in Ireland, the famine would have completely stopped.
You give a man a fish and you feed him for an hour. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. It is simply amazing how we mindlessly repeat old, wise sayings without putting them into practice.
So, there are two approaches to charity and to humanitarianism. One is the Choctaw approach, giving fish, and the other is the Andes approach, teaching fishing. How much humanitarianism today is based upon former and how much on latter? How much can be achieved with teaching the world’s poor how to fish? If it would have worked so well with Ireland, isn’t teaching people to help themselves the correct solution to all of mankind’s problems?