Monday, January 05, 2015

"Giving": we're going in different directions on this, with some Heisenberg uncertainty


Sunday, at a potluck after the service at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, we had a nice little conversation about increasing individualism and accompanying insularity.  On a personal level, people often don’t have a lot of compassion.  But the increasing culture of “self-reliance” online is making it harder for a lot of people to making a living the way they used to, and adding to social tensions.  At the same time, the Internet and social media have drawn people together for specific causes, sometimes with a lot of emotion and coercion.  Look at how the “Ice Bucket Challenge” worked.
  
There is a lot of pressure on most young people to become “socialized”, but many families and religious cultures teach kids and teens to “look after their own” (such as younger siblings and parents) before others outside the family and community.  Globalization changes all of this and presents people with moral paradoxes. 
  
I can flash backward to 1974, at a Sunday night talk group at the Ninth Street Center, when I brought up the subject of “giving” as if it were something separate from what I really experience.
Early Sunday, I thought I saw a Vox media tweet and story on the idea that people really shouldn’t do their charitable donations alone, but in some kind of social context.  The story seems to have disappeared.  I can’t find it now. 
  

Vox has some other articles about charitable giving and how it makes a difference.  There is one on Dec. 22, about how to make the “choice”, by Dylan Matthews, here. There is a lot of discussion of overseas and developing world needs, and an argument that simple cash is often the most effective.  He mentions GiveWell  (link )  and GiveDirectly (link ) which sends money to the extreme poor. 
   
 This is a bit eye opening. I manage mine through a bank, and do it from a regularly set-up script with specific accounts at specific charities and causes, some of them legacy from my mother.  Many of the appeals and telemarketing calls would duplicate what I am already doing with someone else. Vox CEPR panel has an article “Excusing selfishness in charitable giving: the role of risk”, link here.
    
Vox (the main site again) has a stinging article from Nov. 3 by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, “Giving money away makes us happy.  Then why do so few of us do it?”, link here.  The article has a sting.  It links hyperindividualism to “ungenerosity” and says that a lot of people “imagine other people as restrictions on their autonomy.”  True, but this has more to do with giving time and personal attention than just money. 
  
As we noted, a younger generation looks at the idea “it’s none of your business” differently than mine does.  There is more interest in communitarianism and some more openness to intimacy (as in the Belize film clips I’ve mentioned before).  I dislike the bureaucracy that has come to be connected to charity and to volunteer supervision – but yet I can see that it’s existence, and the idea that people can be pressured to participate, gives the less “lucky” some home and reason to believe in the system – so that promotes stability and sustainability, but possibly with a brake on some individual initiative.  Even more critical is the idea that someone can still find love after a downturn.  
  

There’s another topic lurking behind this:  how an individual, especially one who is “different”, should behave when he or she knows that the “purposes” of the “society” above, demanding loyalty, are at least morally questionable.  I could develop that topic with my own actions with regard to the draft during the Vietnam war (and it is nuanced).  Furthermore, how does one behave when living in an authoritarian state?  Like it or not, societies develop “ideologies” regarding the “common good” and “future” of its “people” (whether ethnic, national, or religious) and politicians and religious leaders love to exploit this for their own power, while pretending to own the topic of morality. 


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