Give!

This is the time of year when your mailboxes, both virtual and physical, get saturated by pleas for support from charitable organizations.  Colorful photos with a caption like, “Give or We Shoot the Dog!” or pathetic stick-insect thin children with flies on their eyelids.  No, not Amy Winehouse.

Not only is it the time of year when people, including Christians, are supposed to be feeling somewhat less unchristian than they do all year long and thus sufficiently guilty to part with a buck, but 12/31 is the deadline for when a 2010 charitable contribution can be deducted from your taxes.  When it comes to heartfelt generosity, Americans know their tax laws.

During lunch with a famous local blogger this week…..Wait.  That’s ambiguous and snarky in a way I didn’t intend.  Really.  I didn’t.  Look, I’ll make it over.  Ready?  During lunch this week with a famous local blogger…..see the difference?  And FIU told me I couldn’t enter its MFA program because I don’t have the prerequisite undergraduate credits.  Fuck them!

Right, where was I?  More important, where’s my drink?   Damn cats, if they……no, here it is.  Shit, it’s empty.  It was the cats, damn their rodent breath.  Or Christians.  Okay, reset….

Lunch with urk urk ooga ooga and the topic of charitable giving arose.  We discussed the pros and cons (if you’ll pardon the expression) of giving say, $100 to the local arts organization as opposed to the same amount to a charity like Oxfam that feeds blind crippled children in desperate third world cesspools governed by cruel maniacal dictators.  Like New Jersey.

My basic argument is you give your charitable dollars according to your interests.  You find a cause/mission/organization in which you believe, satisfy yourself that whoever is in charge is competent and effective, then write your check.  There’s no need to weigh cosmic issues here, because face it: there’s a world of hurt out there, and more good causes than there are dollars to support them.

But my companion wanted to find something universal, or at least larger in scope for a principle of charity than his own sphere of charitable interest.  Shouldn’t we think like utilitarians and try to do the greatest good for the greatest number? is his reasonable query.  What is the relative worth of your $100 to WLRN compared to $100 in plasma to Doctors Without Borders?  There’s cholera in Haiti – why am I buying Girl Scout cookies?

(I resist the urge to reply, “Because cholera is free.”)

Look – any first-year philosophy student – I was one once, and a grad student as well, even if FIU doesn’t think that’s worth a flaccid wet one — – can tell you all about how utilitarianism breaks down under analysis.  Fast easy example: you have 10 farmers with an acre each.  One acre isn’t quite enough to live on, but 1.1 acres is.  They all face ruin, but if they draw lots and the winner (actually loser) surrenders his land to be divided equally among the others, then they’ve maximized the good for 9, as opposed to no good at all.  The greatest good for the greatest number.

Other classroom examples use the minority populations of the United States (Blacks, Jews are the most popular scapegoats).  If you eliminate these small minorities and redistribute their wealth, a small number is, um, inconvenienced (HA!  “inconvenienced!  Ha HA!) to the benefit of the larger majority.  Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke: we the majority are into maximizing happiness here.  Utilitarianism has a blind spot in its fairness retina.

Great stuff for dorm debates, but really, in the real world you can get pretty far trying to do the most good, as opposed to taking the easy way out and sending your checks to the United Way or the Police Bedevilment Association or whoever bothers you most with veiled threats by phone.  But that’s not my point.

So at last, here’s where we’re heading: Where do YOU send your charitable dollars, and how do you decide who you’re supporting?  I await your insights – not without trepidation: I read the rot you post here – in the Comments section.

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9 Responses to Give!

  1. ya'gotta'guessit' says:

    We support Kiva (www.kiva.org), and anonymous cash gifts to people who have been blind-sided by life.

    We also send most-requested items via the Marines Care Package Project to marines in Iraq & Afghanistan.

  2. Frank of Oregon says:

    I send annual gifts to national environmental organizations, like Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Earth First, etc. I trust the large organizations more than the local ones, and I think in matters of environment, a global approach is the only one that makes sense.

    I totally ignore the letters of solicitation I get. They go straight into recycling, unopened, unread.

  3. Merkin Way says:

    I support the veterans. First of all, I am one–a lucky one that got out with his body in one piece and his head on straight. Too many didn’t, and what the enemy didn’t do to them, the government finished off. So I send support to disabled vets and other groups like that.

  4. Mr Schwinnckle says:

    Hmmm, you say that you discussed the pros and cons over lunch. So I guess you discussed one of Uncle Neils least favorite people and organizations. http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2010-12-06/news/fl-miramar-soliciting-ban-text-20101203_1_miramar-ban-law-bans-homeless-voice

    I always found it strange when we moved here in 1980 that people would stand in the middle of the street to hand you papers advertising everything, hauk newspapers, fruit, water, and beg for money. Never saw this up north. Now you cant even buy a paper on the street corner. Hell, why would you when you can read it for free online! Theres a novel idea! Paper isnt even worth buying, especially the Miami Hurled which should be printed in spanish, or the Scum Sentinel which gives only 1/2 assed stories missing important information. Great local papers!

    As for who we donate money to. 4 legged animals, humans can help themselves and get off their asses (or street corners) and get a job! Animals, they cant help themselves so we help them when we can.

    • Ted End says:

      Good for you, Mr Schwinkles! I support dum animals, too — that’s why I always put my recess money in the church poor box.

      • Mr Schwinnckle says:

        So do you fall into that catagory too of a “dum” animal? Rescued 3 today from Animal Control….

  5. Beardsley says:

    Aaaah, utilitarianism and the life boat cases — if the objective is to maximize good for the greatest number, do you toww over the 5th guy in the lifeboat so the other 4 will survive? Utilitarianism sounds like common sense, but there at the edge it gets hairy.

    Not to mention the problem of even defining “good” and “pleasure” and all the rest of the measuring sticks the theory takes for granted. Don’t forget the Mill/Bentham disagreement on the nature and quality of good, and Bentham;s “Pushpin is as pleasurable as poetry.” Great stuff for the classroom indeed.

    I give my dollars locally, to the arts, animal rescue, homeless, etc. I want to make my modest charitable efforts effective where I share my life, and can impact the outcome. When I give to the Salvation Army, it’s the one on Broward Blvd, not the international organization.

    But just the act of giving is itself good. Find a charity you want to support for whatever reason appeals to you. If your family lost members to cancer or heart disease, find a charity that helps those patients and their families. Etc. Just give.

  6. One Man's Opinion says:

    I too, like Beardsley, prefer to give to causes that are not only dear to me but close (geographicly) to me as well. Perhaps if I were a Buffet or Gates I would share my wealth more globally but with a very limited amount of discretionary spending I’m more likely to drop a dollar in the Salvation Army Christmas bucket outside of just about any Target, Walmart, or K-Mart or send $5 to the local food for the needy program. Also, I hope that everyone knows that money is not the only way to be philanthropic (?). Volunteering for animal shelters, nursing homes, soup kitchens, etc is as important and necessary to organizations as the money they get. So no one has any excuse for not sharing with those less fortunate (and there is always someone less fortunate than you) what ever you can, be it money, time or talent.

  7. Last Man on the Lifeboat says:

    *burp* Here! Here!

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