Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Charity and Justice

These days, it's supposed to be easy.  Watching Hulu?  No problem, just text whatever number comes up in an ad, and boom!  Before the next segment begins, you will have given to stop some poor child in Africa from dying.  Or perhaps, it's a New Yorker who is starving.  Or perhaps.  ...  Who knows who is advertising?  Who knows whether they are responsible people or organizations?  Who knows if this is a scam or a fraud?  Where does the money go?  What about the people?  Persistent pictures pleading for pity dehumanize their subjects.  Doesn't matter.  They are "victims," not, of course, of the media's campaigns, but of their circumstances, of each other, of tragedy, disaster ....

We almost never see behind the scenes and, if you aren't looking, it's easy not to focus a sharp lens.  The pitch is slick.  It's a thirty second break.  You don't want to have to work hard at it; charity is to be as reflexive as texting a friend about coffee.  It takes more work to make the damn coffee.

Every arts organization, dance company, not-for-profit I've ever had remote contact with wants money.  So do the local libraries, the theaters I've been in recently, the pool I swim in -- everyone wants money.

This is the ultimate NPR effect.  If you want a resource or believe in a resource, pay for it.  The liberal side of Bush's compassionate conservatism -- one where we give to compensate for the structural injustices of the world and then feel better.  After all, what can go wrong if we give?

Giving is important; we should all do it.  Often.  But.  And.

Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.  (Supposedly, this is Augustine, but ...)

As we move more and more into the age of KickStarter, Indiegogo, crowd sourcing, we create a world in which we depend more and more on private giving.  Perhaps that is OK for enterprise and innovation.  But it's not OK for the arts, and it is not OK for not-for profits.  It is not all right to assume that people will just step up if the project is good enough or worthy enough or, worse, if the people are deserving enough.  By participating in these campaigns, we may fund a friend's project.  Or even support a cool idea.  But we make also make the whole thing worse.  It's a long term-short term thing.

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