The Radio 702 and Sun International CEO SleepOut simulated poverty challenge was heavily criticized in a recent Thought Leader column by University of Cape Town students Natasha Skoryk and Caitlin Spring. The column, using the authors’ own choice of emotive language, is simply put, offensive.

The column starts with the common condescension of a Critical Theory follower of this generation of “clicktivists”. We raise awareness and champion issues we hold dear, yet, we “rarely” follow through with “tangible action”. This is the accusation. What Skorky and Spring fail to take into account is that our generation is the first generation of the information age. The levels of awareness we are raising at the click of a button is unprecedented. The awareness itself is perfectly tangible and the internet and its associated clicktivism should be attributed much of the praise for the success of many poverty-combating initiatives across the world.

We are treated next to this statement which I quote in full:

“Simply put, no. While physical bodies (with open wallets) in spaces are important, events like #CEOSleepOut actually do more harm than good. And as civil society we need to be more critical, and pressure industry to do better.”

More harm than good? So, by doing nothing, rather than doing something, like making massive lump-sum donations and showing a level of concern for your community, you will be doing ‘more’? Further, industry must do better? No. The government must do less. The homeless and unemployed which they later mention are homeless and unemployed for two perfectly related reasons: historic government intervention (in the form of Apartheid), and current government intervention (in the form of Transformation). Historically, the job reservation laws, the group area laws and the Industrial Conciliation Acts, among others, artificially created a mass of poor persons in this country. Currently, minimum wage laws and excessive regulation on industry (called labor “protection”) are keeping those same poor persons unemployed. The solution to South Africa’s poverty problems, quite ironically for me to say as a libertarian, lies not with the private sector (they are acting perfectly naturally and as they should), but lies with the government. The government must remove itself as a third party in the labor market, and must secondly remove itself gradually from the economy. Before it does this, there’s no solving these issues.

Moving on, the authors criticize the event for being “extremely disingenuous” (read: Critical Race Theory-type “condescension”). Referring to the CEOs as “the primary perpetrators of mass capitalism and the gross inequality in South Africa”, Skorky and Spring accuse the CEOs of playing a publicity game, rather than genuinely caring. They have the highest wages in their companies with fat bonuses to boot, but throw small change at their employees. Why are they putting on a show of sympathy for the cameras while paying their workers meager wages?

The issue here is, as is often the case when debating a social democrat, that some a priori principles have been skipped over. The authors threw the words “perpetrators”, “mass capitalism” and “gross inequality” into the mix without further elaboration. The assumption seems to be that capitalism and inequality are bad things and therefore anything that contributes to them is a perpetrator – a word which means “someone who has committed a crime.” Of course, neither capitalism nor inequality are bad things. In fact, capitalism is a great thing: independently minded entrepreneurs creating wealth which, whether it is intended or not, is shared among all the members of the community. Further, inequality is a natural thing without a “good” or “bad” value. Inequality exists between myself as a member of the middle class and the upper echelons of the upper class. Inequality exists between a homeless pauper and a person who possesses a shack in a township. Inequality is what happens when people are free to make choices, and obviously, the choices one makes often cause ripple effects throughout society. Your choices will contribute to the inequality between others and their choices will contribute to the inequality between you and others. This is not an injustice. This is called life. Life is dynamic. Inequality is natural.

The previous paragraph, while philosophical, is an essential part of any assertion or argument. It is intellectually dishonest to skip a priori principles and thus, as the popular saying of Christopher Hitchens goes, ‘that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without reason.’ Calling the CEOs “perpetrators” of “mass capitalism” and “gross inequality” is meaningless. Tell us why this is a problem, otherwise, that entire paragraph of theirs may as well not exist.

Moving on to the next theme in their column: it is offensive. The fact that these CEOs are acting like they are poor for two days, complete with cellphone chargers, blankets, security guards and food, is an insult toward the homeless and poor of South Africa. The authors ask whether the homeless were consulted about this “hijacking” of their “lived experiences”.

This is the most common occurrence among those who espouse the values of Critical Race Theory, Black Consciousness and generally, racialism. Taking offense at something is now encouraged. Being offended by something is now desirable. Transformation, as our state ideology, has as one of its cornerstones the value of victimhood. In South Africa, you seemingly do have a right not to be offended.

Offensiveness is perhaps the most subjective trait of an individual’s character. I, myself, get offended quite easily. This has contributed to my stress levels considerably. When someone calls me a “white” person, I am offended (because my entire argument is reduced to something I cannot change). When a beggar follows me even after I told him I have no spare change, I am offended (because my power to say ‘no’, which is perhaps the most important ability which any human being has, is being ignored). When someone farts and laughs about it, I am offended. But I don’t write about it. I don’t talk about it. I don’t moan about it. Why? Because offensiveness is perhaps the most subjective trait of an individual’s character. Understand this: it doesn’t matter that I, or you, or they, are offended. It doesn’t matter because they may as well not be offended, and many of them probably are. Being offended is not an argument. Being offended is not a defense. Being offended is not a rebuttal. Being offended is irrelevant.

They conclude their article with the following:

“Instead of hailing those CEOs as heroes, South Africans need to think deeper. We need to look at the structural and ideological reasons that allow these inequalities to exist, that allow many people’s humanity to be denied as we roll up our windows and lock our car doors at traffic lights. What these CEOs did was nothing compared to the struggles many South Africans go through every day, those are the real heroes in this story.”

This is quite disturbing. The platform Skorky and Spring are using to spread their drivel, Thought Leader, is an initiative of the Mail & Guardian, which is owned partly by their current CEO, millionaire Trevor Ncube. The computers they are using to write this drivel, probably with either Intel or AMD processors and a Windows 7 or 8 suite running, are products of some of the richest companies with the richest CEOs in the world. The fact that they are not working the fields around the Cape Fort while their husbands are hunting beyond the walls, is due to the ingenuity and private initiative (commonly known as capitalism) of some pretty greedy people. The CEOs are the heroes, whether they intended to be or not. As Adam Smith once said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.” This is how life actually works, and it does work. The only structural and ideological reason which underlies poverty in South Africa is “African socialism” (ala Transformation, ala uBuntu, ala nanny State). What we need is free market capitalism.

Martin is a final year law student at the University of Pretoria and the Academic Programs Director for Students For Liberty in Southern Africa (www.studentsforliberty.org/africa/). He is a co-founder and editor of the Rational Standard and the Editor-in-Chief of Being Libertarian (www.beinglibertarian.com).

You can find him on Facebook or contact him via email at [email protected]