Skepticon IV just kicked off last night, and in what I thought was a fairly unusual and unexpected way. There was a film screening of a documentary called “Give A Damn?” about 3 American guys who traveled across the eastern half of the US, Europe, and Africa on a very limited budget in an attempt to see and experience the poverty that a very large portion of the world’s population lives in every day. I the film was very well done, even though I have a few criticisms, and that you should go out and see it when you get a chance.

What I liked:

  • Picture of an unapologetic atheist and a couple of evangelical Christians working together to try to do something about a real world problem.
  • The idea that some fairly ordinary people can try to make a difference in the world.
  • I liked how Rob displayed how a traumatic experience can be dealt with and overcome without religious supports. (I am not saying what happened here…you have to watch the film to find out.)

What I didn’t like:

  • Even though there was an out atheist in the group, this is still a pretty explicitly Christian film. They rely on missionary contacts to get into each of the places in Africa that they visit and join them in their church services. I don’t recall from seeing the film last night if Rob (the atheist) sat in the back in any of the churches or just sat out that part or what.
  • Like just about every film about raising consciousness about extreme poverty (or whatever) that I have ever seen, I am still left with a slight feeling of “what now?” I can do the same as what I have always done before, as in give some money to a reputable charity online or participate in the micro-loan program mentioned in the Q&A. But what actually changes now?
  • I didn’t really see or learn anything in the film about third-world poverty that I was totally unaware of before.

A few neutral observations:

There was someone interviewed in the film that pointed out that these fairly rich and privileged Americans would not be able to truly experience third-world poverty because of their backgrounds. This comes out in the scenes where they realize in Europe that they will not be able to hitchhike from where they are and decide to remove “transportation” from their constraint of living on $1.25 a day and take a train. Clearly, that would not be possible if they were really living in poverty on $1.25 a day.

Also, I saw a lot in the film about how wonderfully happy and joyful the poor people in Africa and Europe are compared to the wealthy but miserable people in the United States. When I was watching Christian missionary film and reading books growing up this was a common theme, but I think it is not a fair comparison. The types of difficult life situations being faced by these people are not the same as the ones being faced by the typical American. One probably does get not get too anxious about their purpose in life and personal fulfillment when they are barely getting what they need to survive. And we know clearly that it takes more than having money and possessions to be happy–in the case of many if not most Americans that money comes at the cost of a great deal of work stress and other sorts of difficulties. You also have to take into account that the poor people in these villages were having a really unusual day or couple of days when these foreign visitors came by their village–this visit after all could be a sign of hope that their situation could change. I have to wonder what are their cultural mores regarding the display of emotion, especially to outsiders? What goes on in the village when there is not a camera present?

My thought is that if these people really were so happy the way that they are, why would we want to “improve” their situation–so that they can become miserable like us rich Americans? Of course, that is clearly a gross distortion of what is actually happening here. What I see in the film is people who could surely work their way out of their impoverished situation if only they where only provided the tools and education to be able to do so. Those of us in American would not be able to do it on our own either, but we benefit from a vast system of infrastructure and a stable economy and free education which we take entirely for granted if we are not careful. What I want to know is, what would it take to provide the same all over the world?

Film Website here: