Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Feed the world, make it a better place?

Charity is tricky.
I'm not a fan of chuggers, believing them to be not just an irritation on the already hard to negotiate streets of London but also frequently the sort of person that I would be reluctant to talk to at a party for fear that their nauseating cheeriness and expectant faces might cause me to reconsider the virtues of violence as a cure of the world's ills.
Clicking on this infamous site, however, is a much less painful experience. All it takes is a little click, just 30 seconds out of the working day if you click on all the colours.
The site owners describe the site as "a leader in online activism". But how active is it to click on this site? It costs little in time and nothing in money, it requires the minimum intellectual engagement, it requires no research no analysis no engagement with the issues.
This is, of course, the main reason for the site's success, with the campaigning extending to funding free mammograms and books, to alleviating child poverty and saving the rain forest. But the point of charity should be stepping towards a more equitable society — if no sacrifice is made then little benefit is gained either.
Obviously on a literal level this is wrong - despite the neutral impact that clicking has on me, somebody, somewhere (if the site is to be believed) is being fed or educated. But on another level, the fact that sites such as this exist — not to introduce people to the delights of oysters but to keep them alive with staple foods, not to provide treatment of breast cancer but to fund its discovery - allows some people to feel good about themselves but does not change the world and makes it less likely that the world will be changed because the status quo is improved marginally, making more extensive or long lasting rebellion or revolution more difficult to create. This is, I appreciate, an old Marxist 'opium' argument.
Charity is not BAD. Many charities and volunteers do immense amounts of good around the world to improve the lives of people, animals and, erm, trees. But it's very difficult, for me anyway, to give selflessly. This is not to say that I want something back - recognition or a warm feeling 'inside'. But I want control over who gets the food, what food they get, which books are disseminated. I don't want poor people to live solely on rice and Shakespeare, and I'm concerned that such simplified charitable gestures as the hunger site ask too few questions and have imperialist overtones. I'm concerned because I haven't heard of America's Second Harvest or Mercy Corps and I'm instinctively wary of a hunger site that gives 30pc of its proceeds to the US, the richest country in the world.
While the charity of individuals can and often is worthwhile, charity, far from beginning at home, is often too individualistic and small-scale. Much of the work of charities - providing free mammograms is a good example - should be done by the state, or some broader national or international organisations. Charity can never be apolitical, so the way to avoid bias is to have a range of opinions compassed or to advertise the bias so that people can withhold their money.
Hmm, maybe the kind of organisation I'm thinking of could be called a meta-governmental philanthropic fund. Or an apolitical alms collection and distribution service.
Or maybe we should just call it a charity.


Blogger Grill said...

Is it sad that the word "mammogram" makes me titter?

America's wotsit is a Americas-only food supply organisation - Mercy Corps is a bit better, being a worldwide organisation.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Pudsk said...

I think if they were called breastyrayz it would make a few doctors smile as well. Until they had to tell the owner of the breasts that they were cancerous of course. I enjoyed A Day In The Life btw.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Grill said...

Oh, ta. I should write more on there I guess. :)

8:46 AM  

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