The hoary Marxist term, “commodity fetishism,” long ago was dropped in the dung heap of history. Marxism, as opposed to Marx the man, has made no revival in recent years. Yet a favorite Marxist term seems wholly appropriate for a failed attempt by some French do-gooders to place putative orphans from Darfur with families living in Europe. As the BBC reports today, nine French citizens have been arrested in Chad over an alleged plan to fly more than 100 children out of the central African country, which borders the Darfur region of Sudan. The BBC reports that families in Europe paid as much or more than $1.4 million to arrange to receive one of the children. At this point, no one knows for sure where the children are actually from. The appetite for these children is more certain. When concern for human rights becomes synonymous with “ethical consumption,” the purchase of Darfurians is a logical outgrowth of internationalism. The commodification of human-rights victims thus becomes the end-game for humanitarian aid.
An absurd reification of discarded Marxist categories? Listen to the ring-leader of the aid group who admits to organizing the scheme: “There has never – I repeat – never been any question of us being an adoption agency,” she said. “These children were not intended for adoption. Our motives were simple: we just wanted to rescue them from death.”Â
In a global economy, rescue itself becomes a transaction, and the goods in question are irrelevant so long as the motives of the brokers are only misguided but not malevolent.