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.