The World’s Suffering ‘Nobodies’

Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor<br> By Paul Farmer. | University of California Press. $27.50.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


In this age of affluence and technological mastery, we face a grim truth about the quality of life on the planet: For many millions around the globe, the most basic human right — the right to survive — simply cannot be guaranteed. The dreadfulness of the situation — in his fine foreword, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen notes that the median age at death in sub-Saharan Africa is under five — can lead even the most committed humanitarian to despair.

The temptation to reach for theatrical metaphors (human tragedy) or existential ones (cruel fate) is one that Paul Farmer resists at every turn. A physician-anthropologist at Harvard, he is resolutely political in his approach. Farmer argues that mass suffering is not, as some would have it, a fact of life, but rather a matter of choice. It’s the product of what he calls “structural violence” — the inequities produced by man-made institutions that sustain “an undeclared war on the poor.”

Farmer’s first priority is to awaken us to the suffering of the world’s “nobodies.” To this end, he vividly narrates his experiences treating HIV in Haiti and confronting the tuberculosis epidemic in Russia’s prisons. For Farmer, of course, merely bearing witness to suffering is inadequate; we also need solutions. He looks to liberation theology for the ideals to guide his demanding program of international ethics, one that insists on forging active solidarity with the most vulnerable citizens of our world, while declaring “health rights” to be an essential human right.

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

THE TRUTH IS...

what drives Mother Jones' team of 50-plus journalists. The truth is powerful, as evidenced by how hard those with something to hide, or profit to gain, seek to discredit it. The truth, stated boldly and reported meticulously, is what draws so many readers to Mother Jones.

And the truth is, going into the final 4 days of the year we still needed to raise $TK to hit our $350,000 goal and start 2021 on track. It's nerve-wracking, wondering if the big spike we normally see at the end of December is going to be another thing that doesn't go as planned in 2020, or worse, if, now that Donald Trump is set to leave the White House (for longer than a taxpayer-funded golf trip to a property he owns), folks might be pulling back from fighting for the truth and a democracy and think the hard work is done.

It's not, and if you can right now, please consider a year-end donation to support our team's fearless nonprofit journalism so we can close that big fundraising gap and finish the year strong, ready for all that's ahead in 2021. Whether you can give $5 or $500, it all matters in keeping us charging hard, and we'd be grateful.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate