The Darker Side of Philanthropy

I tend to get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I think of philanthropy. It’s sometimes the only succor to society’s pain. For example, in this current political climate, absolutely no progress would be made toward a greener environment if it weren’t for charitable giving to worthy causes.

In addition, those of us who feel the pain the most are most likely to support social causes. It’s not hard to find articles like this one, which says, in part:

“In an article in The Atlantic this month, author Ken Stern details the charitable divide between the income classes. The author of “With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give,” writes that in 2011, Americans with earnings in the top 20% of income levels contributed, on average, 1.3% of their income to charity. Those at the bottom 20% donated 3.2% of their cash to charity—more than double of what their more-wealthy counterparts donated.

What’s more, Stern says those at the bottom income levels often do not itemize their tax returns, so they aren’t taking advantage of the charitable tax deduction.”

I suspect that the lower classes give more generously because their motivations are more pure. They genuinely want to help various causes. They are less likely to have another agenda.

The rich, on the other hand, quite often do have their reasons. Here are some:

Public Relations. Often, the super-rich obtain their wealth in less than ethical ways, and making donations to charities is one way to whitewash their reputations.

Political motivations. The rich tend to be socially liberal but economically conservative. They’re all for supporting same sex marriage or reduced carbon emissions, but they definitely do not want their taxes raised. So rather than give the money to the government, which would allow we, the people (also known as the unwashed masses), to set the agenda (theoretically) as to how that money gets spent, they prefer to pick and choose their causes themselves with zero oversight and all the power to set the policy.

“No wonder so many prefer philanthropy over taxation. In philanthropy, you can do whatever you want, no matter how misguided you are, no matter what other people think. Taxation, unfortunately for certain rich people, is a collective enterprise in which we make decisions together.” –Anand Giridharadas, American writer, former columnist for the New York Times

“We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” -Leona Helmsley

Talk about setting policy. According to this podcast from the Religion and Ethics Report, Charles Koch, of Koch brothers fame, donated 1 ½ million dollars to Florida State University, but it came with strings attached. He wanted some control over their hiring and firing, and he wanted them to teach his free market libertarian agenda and downplay climate change.

Hiding Your Agenda. Unfortunately, there are a lot of anonymous donations floating around. This is often played off as a humble donor trying to avoid praise, which might be the case sometimes, but there are also a lot of nefarious nonprofit organizations that rely on philanthropy. This article discusses three different foundations that the Southern Poverty Law Center deems to be white supremacist hate groups. Who donates to them? It’s hard to say.

We Know Best. Rich people also have an annoying tendency to be dismissive of the grass roots community. They want to throw money at causes without knowing what works or does not in certain places. According to this article, in the aftermath of a hurricane, one philanthropist wanted to give money for solar panels, when the people still did not have roofs on which to put them. That’s a problem.

I can understand the instinct to give to causes that you’re personally interested in, but this means that the opera tends to receive funding long before the local soup kitchen does. This desire to avoid estate taxes by delving into philanthropy allows rich people to shape society in any way that they see fit. They want to be in control of what we learn, what laws are made, how our environment is looked after, and how our criminal justice system is managed. These are realms that all members of a democratic society should have some influence over. But that’s not how we roll.

Just something to think about the next time you’re praising the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Free-Floating Fury

Right around the time that Trump got elected, I noticed that I was using the “angry” icon in response to a lot of my friend’s Facebook posts about what was happening. I don’t think of myself as an angry person in general, but so many outrageous things are going on in the world these days that it’s hard not to react with a bit of ire. At the time, though, I thought I could afford to be angry.

This situation is an anomaly, right? Surely it won’t last long. Surely our collective anger will force politicians to act with more integrity, even if it isn’t sincere on their parts. And if anger is what it takes to get me up and moving and protesting and trying to improve things, then so be it.

But very recently, I’ve noticed a shift within me. I’m not using the “angry” icon as much. Now I’m using the “sad” icon. I’m tired. I’m starting to get cynical. I’m starting to think we can’t force people to do the right thing. They have an agenda that is not going to budge, in spite of its destructive insanity. I think I underestimated just how immovable this evil force would be.

So now my anger comes out in other ways. In the privacy of my car, I find myself cursing at stupid drivers. I am suffering fools even less gladly than in days of yore. I’m fidgeting more. I’m eating more pizza and ice cream. None of these things are positive shifts, but I’m frankly feeling powerless and bitter. It feels like the bad guys are winning.

I know now that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and one should pace oneself, but I’m running out of ideas, energy, and optimism. I don’t know what to do anymore. And that’s what they want. So maybe I really should go back to being angry.

It’s hard to live in a world where “sad” and “angry” seem to be your only two choices. I need more “like”, “love”, “ha ha”, and “wow” in my world.

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Relentless Compassion

It’s for your own good. Tough love. This is a last resort. Mother knows best.

It sounds good, in theory. Like someone has your best interests at heart, and is establishing firm boundaries. It’s about time, some would say. Strong leadership! Yeah!

But even the slightest scratch to the surface of this theory reveals its many flaws.

First of all, who made you the Decider? How do you know if your way is the best way? What if I disagree?

Second, how is it that you’re the one person on the planet who wouldn’t allow this power to go to your head? Forcing people to do things, or live a certain way, or preventing certain behaviors, is the tip of a very large and corrupt iceberg.

And most importantly, what if you have a hidden agenda? What if you really don’t have my best interests at heart? What if you’re manipulating me to get what you want, and to hell with everyone else?

Relentless compassion is not a good look. Not for parents, or employers, or politicians. Especially politicians who are callous, narcissistic, racist, misogynistic, semi-literate, and completely out of touch with reality. For example, the idiot in the meme below.

I don’t want these types of people controlling, legislating, judging or defunding my life. I will resist them every chance I get. Just sayin’.

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A Different Breed of Ladies’ Man

The other night I had dinner with a friend who was just passing through. His work takes him all over the country. He fascinates me because we couldn’t be more different. But in a good way.

I have to admit that normally extroverts get on my nerves. But his is a pure, clean, distilled form of extroversion. He’s not attention seeking. He’s not aggressive or loud. He’s not in your face. He just genuinely and truly likes people. He likes meeting them, talking to them, interacting with them. Especially women. He has this affinity for women.

I’m not quite sure how he manages it, but he’s drawn to women without any perverted intent whatsoever. He genuinely seems to respect them and isn’t trying to get anything from them. He’s not on the hunt. He doesn’t have an agenda. It’s refreshing.

At dinner he made it a point to learn the name of the waitress, and whenever she stopped by to check on us, he included her in our conversation and asked her opinion. As the restaurant was crowded, we sat at the bar. Throughout the night he’d also turn and chat to the much older lady sitting next to us. He helped her get ketchup out of the bottle. He recommended the smoked sea salt. The cherries with our salmon were so delicious that he said to her, “You’ve got to try this,” and put a cherry on her plate. I was charmed. By the end of the night he knew where she was from and what she was doing here.

Don’t get me wrong. I doubt he lacks for female intimacy. I even contemplated making a move myself once or twice as we enjoyed our salmon. (Well, not at that exact place and time, but… you get the picture.) And even if he had rejected it, I’m quite confident that he’d have done so with aplomb and would have allowed me to maintain my pride and dignity.

But (and this is unusual in a man), I strongly suspect that he prefers a certain level of connection before he goes to that place, or else it would be as hollow and unsatisfying for him as it would be for the other person. I thought to myself, “This is a rare creature, indeed.” I think I’ll just appreciate the fact that he’s on the planet, roaming free, and look forward to future opportunities to interact with him in his natural habitat. Because it’s a delightful, friendly place indeed.

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[Image credit: choosetodanceintherain.com]