"To wipe all tears from off all faces is a task too hard for mortals; but to alleviate misfortunes is often within the most limited power" - Samuel Johnson: The Rambler Number 107
Poverty has caused an uproar in my condominium. Our building has been ticketed for littering by the sanitation department, after a trash bag was opened by a vagrant during the night, and the unwanted contents strewn all over the footpath. It’s the second citation we’ve picked up for something that happens throughout the city every garbage day, and my neighbours are disgusted at the injustice - of the ticket, of course, not of a situation that incentivises individuals to rummage through refuse in the hope of finding... ?
In so many places, misfortune looks you in the eye every day and asks for relief. It’s hard for the most worldly among us not to feel a bit like Young Buddah when he discovered age, sickness and death in the countryside surrounding his palace. YB was stunned to learn that these things happen to everyone. No less difficult to comprehend is that penury could happen to anyone. For those not blessed with caring and fiscally liquid support networks, an accident, illness or sudden job loss is all it takes for the wheel of fortune to steer you from the highway into an irrigation ditch. From the point of view of a more fortunate individual, it seems that both anything and nothing will help, and so energy must be devoted into formulating a strategy.
America’s most popular export is the myth that anyone can succeed through hard work and effort. The other side of this coin is that those who fail are also enjoying the fruits of their own labours. Given the cockroach-like ability of this perception to survive the most nuclear of contrary proofs, I’m pleased to say that I have never witnessed any bums being berated for ‘bringing it on themselves.’
Unfortunately, an almost more sinister attitude prevails. It’s the result of philanthropy being uprooted from the soil of its religious origins and transplanted into a decorative pot to be plopped in the main square of the capitalist citadel. For charitable individuals of bygone times, say a Rockerfeller or a Carnegie, charity was a benevolent reaction to the fear inspired by the biblical parallel drawn between the rich man’s chances of getting into heaven and the camel’s hope of squeezing through the eye of a needle. In Carnegie’s essay Wealth he asserts that “the man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” Now, the idea of charity for charity’s sake, and even charity for the sake of embarrassment has fallen victim to the same rhetoric of efficiency, outcome, supply and demand used in the manufacture and distribution of products. This filters into the general population through a preference for giving alms to those who ‘earn’ their charity dollar or give best bang for the philanthropic buck. This is a Dadactic gauge, used empirically and unwittingly by everyone including yours truly to the relief of absolutely no one. My own prejudice was for a good story, and those of you who read my last blog will have sensed my intrigue at the way subway stories seem to have organically assumed a form as rigid and effective as that of an elevator pitch. The solicitor has to tell a story sufficiently brief and emotive to not only encourage donations, but allow him (usually him) enough time to collect them from passengers before the train reaches its next stop. I gave generously to a man who claimed to have spent twenty-six years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and to both individuals who followed quick on each others heels with the same story of being dismissed from the armed services after testing positive for HIV. It was only when I met a man who began to mime-reenact the homicide he allegedly committed that I worried that I was confusing my charitable intentions with my desire for entertainment, and obliging the destitute to spend serious time learning stagecraft purely to offer ‘value’ to their auditors.
My current technique has been gleaned off a public health student at Columbia University, whose method of relieving poverty seems to best replicate the vagaries of the fate that caused it. She carries a fixed amount of change in her purse every day, which she parcels out to those who ask on a first come, first served basis. She then apologises to those who approach her after she’s run out. It’s not perfect - the amount could probably be more, and the early beggar becomes as privileged as the early bird, but I think it is morally superior for not asking or expecting any ‘return’ on the ‘investment.’
 Note to self: Great movie concept. Discover the whereabouts of Yahoo Serious immediately.
 Metrics Mania:The Growing Corporatization of U.S. Philanthropy by AlisonR.Bernstein
quoting Carnegie, Wealth.
PROFIT & DELIGHT
What I'm thinking about what I'm doing. This blog aspires to a more profound definition of 'profit' and the bog-standard sense of 'delight'.