Archives for posts with tag: charity

You gotta love charity, right? I know it’s my favourite. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You know that feeling? I get to feel, deep down, that I’ve helped some miserable wretch. These people certainly can’t help themselves, so it is up to me to wander in and solve their problems for them! I’m better than them, and I am graciously spreading my goodness, not to necessarily elevate anybody, but to alleviate suffering. Temporarily, of course, because eliminating the problem so that nobody needs any kind of condescending “help” would mean sacrificing some of my own privileges. I could never do that, because then how would I know that I’m better than other people?


One above, one below. The very image of giving to a homeless person belies the hierarchy the act places each into.

That warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from being charitable appears to be unique among traditionally moral behaviours. Telling the truth, for instance, kinda sucks. It sucks when it’s a moral action, that is. If someone asks you about the weather, and you answer truthfully, it’s not really a moral action. If someone were to lie in that situation, it would invoke concerns of pathology. Telling the truth is moral when it generates personal consequences. You tell the truth when you leave a note with your information on the windshield of a parked car you dinged. You tell the truth when you slip after a few years of sobriety and call your parents to admit your transgression. Kant’s killer at the door is a test of morality because it calls into question one’s commitment to their own values.

It is not just honesty. Loyalty really only matters when temptation is present. Temperance only counts when anger is deserved. Forgiveness only makes sense when there is something to forgive. Jesus told his followers to turn the other cheek only after the first had been struck. The entire point of morality is to regulate relationships and situations that might otherwise escalate wildly. It’s not to feel great about how swell of a human being you might be.


Moral temperance would be recognizing the context that leads to violence, but choosing an alternative. Even if the violence would end up being hilarious.

Which brings us back to charity. Giving a few dollars to a local non-profit is about the equivalent of telling someone that it’s raining when it’s raining. In short, it is not a moral action. What would be the charitable equivalent to telling your girlfriend the truth about how her butt looks in those pants?

There is the Peter Singer option, to start. Singer invites us to imagine having just bought a $100 pair of shoes. We’re walking home in our new shoes, and we see a small child struggling to stay afloat in a pond. The child goes under the water. What do we do? Singer suggests that there are few people who would even hesitate to jump into the pond to rescue the child, the status of their shoes be damned. If most people would save a child, despite the loss of their purchase, then why is it that the status of our charity is so pitiable? Singer wants charity to take on a much more extreme role, where individuals donate all their income minus enough for their own basic needs, and argues that this is our basic human drive anyway based on how we would approach these life or death situations if we were ever faced with them in person.


Do you offer a receipt for tax purposes?

Redistribution of wealth is certainly one way to address poverty, but it is not the only way. Another might be to restructure the current system that stratifies people into class hierarchies into one that allows people to take care of themselves (such as through communal ownership of property), which eliminates the need for charity entirely. If everyone has their basic needs met, then poverty will have become inconsequential.

There are probably more moral ways to address poverty, but charity certainly isn’t one of them. From my arguments, you can join the fight to implement social policies that will help the working class, or you can start a revolution. Neither of them will give you any warm fuzzies, in fact, they’ll require great sacrifice, but at least you’ll be behaving ethically.

Recently people have been heaping all sorts of praise on me. Mostly that I’m good, or noble, or similar attributes. They are alluding to the fact that I volunteer weekly at a recovery house for people suffering from addictions, or when I helped organize and subsequently volunteered at a charity barbecue to raise money for Battered Women’s Support Services. When I was taking my old electronics on the bus to be recycled, a woman complimented me on being a good person, compared to all the folks in her building who just chucked everything into the dumpster, up to and including a broken toilet.

Now, I’ve also been called greedy, selfish, and one time even batshit crazy, but those people are assholes, so their opinions are irrelevant.

I want to take a look at the accolades rather than the criticisms, however. To be “noble” is to literally be elite; the nobles are the upper echelon of society. To be “good” means to be better. These titles are exclusive, and maybe rightly so.

But why is exuding a basic amount of compassion and recognizing fundamental human dignity an element of a superior person? Why do we raise it above the average? Why does caring for other human beings make me an elitist? I am not a good person because I refuse to believe that these characteristics are unnatural to the ordinary person. I refuse to acknowledge that the only prerequisite for moral mediocrity is to refrain from actively murdering somebody.

When we make these traits exclusive, we create excuses. If we raise those who dedicate more than just a passing thought to taking care of their community into a higher rank of person, then we exonerate the rest who content themselves with apathy and inaction. No one needs to care about others because most of us recognize ourselves as regular people, and we can just leave compassion to our betters.

So here I am saying that I am not a good person. I am probably a little batshit crazy, but that’s because I am a human being, and know what? Human beings care for each other.

What the Internet, and social media especially, has allowed us to do is to market ourselves more thoroughly than we’ve ever before been capable. This allows entrepreneurs to simply make a Facebook page, and all of a sudden they now have a free advertising space where they can post random shit about whatever it is that they do. Maybe they make aprons? Who knows. Anyway, it’s a sweet deal, let’s be honest. But what Facebook and other social media also does is turn individuals into brands. Not just the products and services that participate on social media, but people themselves sell their Self as a sociable human being. Have you ever lamented being tagged in a bad photograph? It’s bad publicity. I read an article that spoke about the implications of only seeing the happy, fun, exciting things that everybody seems to be doing on Facebook, and how that lie influenced people. We all have problems, and when we see how awesome everybody else’s life seems to be, we feel even worse. This is a bit of a tangent, but the relevance of the article is that everyone wants to project an image of themselves that is successful, fun, and adventurous, and hide any sort of distasteful aspects of themselves. We sell ourselves to the public, and we want them to buy into us.

When we realize that this is who we are in a social media setting, we realize that any sort of activism rings just as hollow as a mega-corporation donating a few bucks to a charity for the tax write-off. We are projecting the image of activism for the sake of our branding, and this leads to is what is sardonically called Slacktivism. Slacktivism is people who may genuinely care about things, but can’t actually be bothered to do anything tangible about them. So reposting a status update, or changing your profile picture for a day, or pretty much anything to do with “raising awareness” would fall under the blanket of Slacktivism. As you might be able to tell, this accomplishes nothing, but does give off airs of humanism to those who might be paying attention.

That isn’t to say the activism doesn’t sometimes sneak through every once in a while, but when it does, it is packaged in such a way as any other form of mass media drivel. Successful activism today must fit the same criteria as a Jimmy Fallon bit: easily digestible, bitesize, palatable content that is inoffensive and safe. It is activism you might find on a Buzzfeed page with a catchy title. This is the kind of activism where the gimmick is more popular than the cause. One such example is my most favourite thing in the world: Movember, but the most recent explosion of gimmicky activism is, of course, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Don’t get me wrong. Having a charity drive for something other than the cancer of a private part is so God damned refreshing. And the number of lives that will be saved because of the millions upon millions of dollars being raised for an admittedly worthy cause is incalculable. So what am I griping about?

Let’s look at the Ice Bucket Challenge. Its success doesn’t come from the fact that Lou Gehrig’s Disease is a particularly prominent condition, as it is heart disease that afflicts most people in North America. Nor does its popularity stem from any kind of advertising campaign based on what ALS is:  its causes, its symptoms,  its treatments, or anything actually relevant to the disease itself. Its success comes from the fact that the gimmick associated with it is “fun”, its process is incredibly public, and celebrities are doing it. The cause itself is also a safe one, as no cultural norms need to be upheaved in order to cure a disease. It is a safe disease even, as heart disease would mean admitting that there is an epidemic of over-consumption in our culture.

Is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge about ALS, or is it about the person who is dumping ice water on themselves? Does it promote the cure for the disease, or the “charitable” nature of the the person participating in it? The cause or the brand?

Do the ends justify the means? Regardless of the method of raising money, there has been a significant charity drive for ALS. I’m sure a sufferer of this condition couldn’t give a fuck about what I think about the Ice Bucket Challenge, and honestly, more power to them. But what the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge means is that those causes that have a bit of an edge to them, that can’t fit into an easily-digestible 30 second video clip; those become even more difficult to market, as the market shifts towards the Social Media paradigm of harmless activism and status updates.

Were genuine, hard-hitting causes to show up in a Facebook newsfeed, not only would they be seen in the context of cute cat memes and travel pictures, but they would also be in the company of slacktivism and gimmicks that degrade the nature of progress.