Our civilization could be doing so much good if it were more confident.

Reporting by Vox writer Dylan Matthews makes me sad for the greater good we could be doing.  In brief, a study found that simply increasing the treatment of drinking water around the world would produce huge gains in health and well-being.  Such actions fall under the umbrella of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs, which improve parts of life that most of us in the West simply take for granted.

The problem is, however, that it’s not as simple as treating water, just as addressing hunger and poverty is not as simple as giving food and money.  We might imagine that it would be relatively inexpensive just to skim off some of the surplus wealth of the world in order to feed people, but feeding somebody in a backwater dictatorship is not as inexpensive as feeding somebody in your suburban Rhode Island community.  There’s shipping, preservation, storage, and (don’t forget) corruption.

That is, the solution isn’t just the public service, it’s a way of thinking about the individual and organizing government, and incredibly, it’s fashionable in the West to cast the spread of civilization as colonization.

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