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During high school, the notion of charity outside of helping friends was not on my radar. During university, I began to contemplate donations of time and zakat, but I was still trying to figure out what was going on in the specific study of computer science and in the general arena of life. In every professional position I've held after university I've had the intention of performing charitable service, but I've repeatedly come up against the same two obstacles: 1) I needed to spend after hours recovering from work hours, and 2) predatory capitalist technocrats are not amenable to anything they perceive as a threat to profit. (Here I'm talking in particular about things that people unquestioningly and thus uncritically view as a threat to profit.)

In three separate jobs I've presented the idea of incorporating charitable service into the work week with no expense to the employer in the hope of engendering a charitable mindset into the office culture, for example by shifting my lunch hour to act as a recess monitor or crossing guard at a nearby public school. In all cases my first obligation has been to honour the contract between myself and my employer, and in this particular case shifting my lunch hour presented no conflict, as I was in an engineering role and the time of day at which I worked had no bearing on my output (meetings and on-call were also not a concern). In all cases however my employer stood rigid and refused to discuss my ideas. Not acceptable.

The reality is that we in the West live under the direct rule of capitalist democracy (while those elsewhere live at best under its indirect rule), and we must respect the influence of this structure on our lives. Often we must work as an apparatchik in an unsatisfying job in order to live. However, it is also incumbent upon us to determine at what point we can say that our wealth exceeds the limit of our material needs, and thus determine the point at which we can begin to look out for someone else's needs -- towards the end of empowerment, not mere entertainment or increase of wealth for the already over-privileged. "A gentleman gives to help the needy and not to maintain the rich in style." It's tough to be objective about this in an autocratic materialistic society, and to break the cycle of perform-mind-numbing-task-buy-ostentatious-amusement, for "he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more."

This problem must not be understated, and the issue at hand is not merely whether or not one has amassed enough capital to venture beyond the confines of day labour while continuing to operate as a capitalist. The significance of charity does not lie solely in its application, but in the recognition that the need for charity furnishes us with evidence of the human crisis born of elitist political policies. While charitable services are indispensable, we must understand that they have always been just a step in the march towards balance, and not a permanent solution. Equality in the context of modern day state-capitalist democracies works by bending social groups toward government policy, and presupposes that the primary problem is how best to integrate social groups into perfectible administrative systems. This does not permit deep solutions, as groups continue to be isolated by resource competition. There always remain groups outside of support structures, and as a result there is no economic or moral transformation for those inside or outside of the system.

The altruistic "very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor. But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible." The problem then is not how best to administer charity, but how to remove the need for charity; "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve."

Circumspect and effective forms of altruism seek to engender social liberty by developing individual capacity, and are incompatible with parasitic forms of governance and management. The extension of liberty therefore means the extension of universal freedom through systems of mutual aid, rather than the extension of unsustainable structures of economic detente that are intended to pacify competing social groups. The key recognition here is that "mutual aid, while sharing many properties of altruism, differs from the latter since altruism implies ... surrender of self in an egotistical milieu." The contemporary altruist-capitalist is thus a mildly enlightened version of homo-economicus who remains frustrated because their ideas are encumbered by irresponsible socioeconomic classifications and divisions. Minimal reflection on society dispels the myth of division, and reveals that our lives are not disconnected; every action that every person takes resonates interminably across the entire planet. "The ocean is made up of molecules of water; what you do, where you are, matters." In this way; "Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends." Let us consider then the future impacts of the choices we make today.


[ commentary :: capitalism, politics, the human condition ]

Last updated December 15, 2010