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.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


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.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight 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

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.