Sunday, 2 March 2008


Until very recently I have been working as a charity fundraiser. I took the job wanting to do something moral in order to support myself before going to study Philosophy at university.

Unfortunately, life always seems to be a lot harder when you start thinking, and as fundraising is a pretty boring job, I found myself doing quite a bit of Philosophising on company time, (it was a company, as I worked for an agency), and came to the following conclusions:

Charity merely legitimises the cause of the problems it attempts to battle, while only reducing the severity and effect of these problems by a minor amount, causing much more harm in the long run by supporting the framework that will allow these problems to continue to exist in the future (the framework being corporate greed.)

It is important here to note the difference between a “charity” and a “pressure group”.

Christian Aid is a “charity”, as it does not address the cause of the situation it attempts to right. Christian Aid merely brings a small amount of relief to those being crushed by a huge Third World Debt, unwillingly forced on them through dealings between Western-backed dictators and Western businessmen. The effect (but possibly not the intention) of this small amount of relief is to appease public opinion; images of starving families gratefully drinking clean water from a well that Christian Aid has set up for them are sent back to the West and people feel good about themselves: they contributed to a charity that helped these terribly impoverished people. The reasons for these people being in such a dire situation are never addressed by Christian Aid, and there are no calls for boycott of certain goods or protests outside any government buildings. Therefore, Christian Aid gains charitable status, and can apply for gift aid and other comfortable benefits.

Greenpeace, however, is a “Pressure Group” and is not recognised as a charity, and therefore receives no government funding - not that any serious pressure group would ever accept funding (and the resulting dependence) from any governmental organisation – and has no access to any kind of charitable benefit (whereas Eton enjoys all of these). The reason being that Greenpeace makes itself a problem for the government, criticising environmental policies, staging protests and chasing whaling ships through the Arctic. In other words, Greenpeace aims to
prevent the problems it attempts to battle, instead of meagrely lessening them, and it does this by making trouble for those directly responsible for them.

Taking cue from Plato, I have developed an analogy for the two approaches:

If a man climbs over a barbed wire fence everyday and scratches himself each time, he can take two approaches: the first being to put a plaster over his scratches, meaning the severity of the cut is reduced, but the cut is still there, causing pain, and more cuts will come. The other option is to take the fence down.

The first course of action falsely accepts the fence (read here: massive and disgusting inequalities in life) as an unavoidable and unfortunate fact that we can do nothing about. This is a fallacy that all charities are guilty of. Mild apoligism.

Obviously this is a very simple analogy that fails to point out the fact that there are certain people who benefit from the inequalities that the “fence” represents: those that are already hugely rich - heads of business, debt collectors and land owners. You could expand the analogy to include a fence making company who has a vested interest in keeping the fence there. Needless to say, if these people were not in a profitable position from other people's misery and hardship these problems would never have come about in the first place.

Charity workers are just another tool (albeit, most likely, an inadvertently crafted tool, as I don't believe many people realise what charity is) to appease public opinion and mask the cause of the problem. Once people give a donation their conscience will leave them alone, and they can, ironically, feel good about the world.