An inescapable network of mutuality

So Franklin Graham says that churches, rather than governments, are responsible for meeting the needs of the poor. Either one or the other, zero-sum, in competition, etc.

This is not the view of most Christians or of most Christian churches. Nor is it an easy view to reconcile with the Christian Bible, which is full of admonitions to both the community of believers and to those in government that they are responsible for caring for the poor, the powerless, widows, orphans, strangers, aliens, victims, the sick, the naked and “those who do not know their right hand from their left.” This is presented as a responsibility for everyone — for kings, priests and prophets, for the nation and for the blessed community, individuals and groups. All groups and all individuals.

So, for example, when a deadly tornado devastates a town, who is responsible to help?

Well, among others, you are. Me too, of course. And not just us — everybody.

Responsibility — ethical obligation — is boundless and universal. All are responsible for all. No one is exempt.

Now, if that were all we had to say or all that we could know, we would likely be paralyzed, overwhelmed by an amorphous, undifferentiated ocean of need. We would be unable to respond effectively, specifically or appropriately to any particular dilemma. And we would come to feel powerless and incapable, thus becoming less likely to even try.

But that’s not all that we can know or all that we have to say.

We are all responsible, but we are not all responsible in the same way. We each and all have roles to play, but we do not all have the same role to play, and we do not each play the same role all the time.

Relationship, proximity, office, ability, means, calling and many other factors all shape our particular individual and differentiated responsibilities in any given case. In every given case. Circumstance and pure chance also play a role, sometimes a very large role, as when you alone are walking by the pond where the drowning stranger calls for help, or when you alone are walking on the road to Jericho when you encounter the stranger who has fallen among thieves.

Different circumstances and different relationships and different proximities entail different responsibilities, but no matter what those differences may be, all are always responsible. Sometimes we may be responsible to act or to give, to lift or to carry directly. Sometimes indirectly. Sometimes our responsibility may be extremely indirect — helping to create the context for the proper functioning of those institutions that, in turn, create the context that allows those most directly and immediately responsible to respond effectively. (Sometimes our indirect responsibility involves giving what we can to the Red Cross or other such organizations to help the victims of a disaster.)

But what Martin Luther King Jr. called this “inescapable network of mutuality” is like the Kevin Bacon game and none of us is ever more than six degrees separate from any direct responsibility. If we fail to fulfill our indirect responsibilities, then those more directly responsible will have a harder time fulfilling their roles. (And that, in turn, will make things more difficult for us in our own direct contexts, because that’s how mutuality works.)

What I’m describing, yet again, is subsidiarity. That’s the Catholic term for it, but it’s not exclusively a Catholic idea or even exclusively a Christian idea. It is, rather, an idea that is shared by everyone in every free society. It is part of what makes free societies possible — a prerequisite for democracy, for free markets, for human rights.

The only alternatives — various forms of tribalism or the brutish “war of all against all” of Hobbes or Ayn Rand — are not attractive. Nor are they compatible with human freedom. Hobbes knew this. Unlike Rand, he was not foolish enough to confuse a free-for-all with freedom for all.

(But doesn’t freedom have to mean the freedom to accept or to deny such mutuality, the freedom to deny any and all responsibility? Freedom can accommodate a certain amount of such irresponsibility, but beyond a certain threshhold or tipping point, the denial of this differentiated, but boundless and universal mutuality begins to leave power unchecked. And that power — political, clerical, financial, corporatist — will exploit its irresponsible freedom to deny freedom to the powerless. Orwell’s vision of a “boot stamping on a human face — forever” isn’t concerned with whether that’s a government boot or a corporate or ecclesiastical boot.)

And but so my point here is that responsibility to meet the needs of those in need is never an either-or situation. This responsibility is never exclusive. Yes, “Let the churches do it.” The churches must do it. It’s part of their job. But not only the churches. And let the government do it. The government(s) must do it. It’s part of their job. But not only the government(s). If either of those actors were left to handle this alone, they would be forced to go beyond their capacity, their competence and their proper bounds.

None of which is saying anything new or innovative or anything other than what the majority of Christians have believed for centuries. That neither Franklin Graham nor Marvin Olasky understands this is troubling. That they fail to understand this and yet are still treated as influential and respected spokespeople on this subject is even more so.

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  • Science

    “But doesn’t freedom have to mean the freedom to accept or to deny such mutuality, the freedom to deny any and all responsibility?”

    Ah, this is why I’ve enjoyed in the past when you describe mutuality as a law of nature. You have the freedom to deny mutuality just as much as you have the freedom to deny gravity as you step off the roof of a tall building — but to deny reality is to guarantee the eventual results will be disastrous.

  • Matri

    but to deny reality is to guarantee the eventual results will be disastrous.

    Sadly, because they haven’t hit the ground yet and gone splat, they see it as them being right and try their darn-est to convince everyone to follow them off the roof.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    Sadly, because they haven’t hit the ground yet and gone splat, they see it as them being right and try their darn-est to convince everyone to follow them off the roof.

    “15 floors down, and so far, so good!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Orwell’s vision of a “boot stamping on a human face — forever” isn’t concerned with whether that’s a government boot or a corporate or ecclesiastical boot.

    Unfortunately, quite a few right-wingers seem to find that vision comforting and appealing — as long as the boot belongs to a corporation or a priest, rather than a government.

  • Matri

    Unfortunately, quite a few right-wingers seem to find that vision
    comforting and appealing — as long as the boot belongs to a corporation
    or a priest, rather than a government.

    And as long as the face isn’t theirs.

  • Anonymous

    And as long as the face isn’t theirs.

    And the boot is.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Orwell’s vision of a “boot stamping on a human face — forever” isn’t concerned with whether that’s a government boot or a corporate or ecclesiastical boot.

    Unfortunately, quite a few right-wingers seem to find that vision comforting and appealing — as long as the boot belongs to a corporation or a priest, rather than a government.

    The thing is, the right-wingers think that they will be members of The Party.  That boot will be stamping on someone else’s face, and they will be the ones to benefit.  At least the money funding that movement seems to think so.  The rest of them are angry proles, the willing slaves to it. 

  • hapax

    Thank you, Fred, for posting those links.  I would remind all those who are financially able and moved to help our neighbors, that rebuilding in Joplin will take a long time, probably years.

    As will recovering from the tornados that rampaged across the Southern U.S.A. last month, and the earthquake that devastated parts of Japan even earlier.

    Please remember also the people of Haiti, where so many are still without food, water, homes, health care, and schools after two years; and the victims of Hurricane Katrina, still trying to rebuild their communities after five years…

    I find it so easy to be generous in the immediate aftermath of disaster.  But I also find myself getting impatient and weary after weeks and months and years have gone by:  “Are they STILL asking me for help?  Aren’t we all over that by now?”

    This year I’ve instituted a new rule of thumb — for every dollar I give to an immediate crisis, I send an additional dollar to the *last* recovery effort I contributed to, or to a general disaster relief fund. 

    Maybe it’s a little less to the current victims (I try not to, but I’m all too human).  But at least it helps keep the rest of my indirect responsibilities from being forgotten.

    (I’m sorry.  I’m afraid that got a little preachy.  But it’s important enough that I think I’ll let it stand)

  • http://joshbarkey.blogspot.com/ josh barkey

    Me likey. What I also don’t get is how they (the nutjobs) come to think that when the government helps solve a problem it somehow means they’re not allowed to, themselves. 

    People come to the government in a lot of situations because they know something is likely to get done. If conservative Christian churches actually had a wide-spread reputation for something more than fake smiles and oversized buildings, perhaps they’d be struggling with the opposite problem from what they have today – declining numbers everywhere. Unfortunately, the message most of these churches give off is that people with problems aren’t welcome… just one more bit of evidence that “Christian” is a bit of a misnomer, and that a lot of these people are seriously delusional about their own spiritual wellness. We’re all kind of effups – the only ones with a prayer for health are those who’ll actually admit it. 

  • ako

     Some of them resent the loss of power, I think.  Obviously, you get
    people who like having power over other out of sadism in religious
    organizations, and people who like power over others for its own sake. 
    You also get the well-intentioned desire for power – it’s really
    frustrating when you’re trying to help people and they won’t go along
    with what you think is best for them.  Adding in religious certainty and
    a strong emotional state (“If you get them to go along with this
    solution, they’ll be set for eternity!  If not, they’ll suffer
    unimaginable torments forever!”) makes high-pressure tactics feel more
    justified.  And when people get less-coercive alternatives, far fewer
    will attend the high-pressure outreach programs.   It’s hard to push
    their agenda.  They lose their power.

    Some people, I think, are happy for the excuse.  Not helping means more
    money to spend on making the building look nice, and running retreats
    and other fun and easy things.  Saying that the government takes away
    their ability to do charity makes it easy for them to just stop.

    Some people have real concerns about resource limitations.  I think
    those concerns are often based on mistaken ideas of how money works and
    what does the most good (such as the assumption that more taxes
    always involves less money available in the economy
    for other things), but I can definitely respect the intention.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    From what I can tell, people think that taxes just disappear because clearly the government doesn’t actually do anything with them, like employ people.  And even those people they employ don’t do anything, like lower the pollution their children breathe,  research cancer cures, or reduce the amount of petroleum we import from overseas. And once those government employees have money, they certainly don’t spend it in their local economy by buying from local businesses or farmers markets.  No, they just put it in a pile and burn it….

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I suspect also many people have no concept of how much it costs to do many of the things that government does. For example, I am a high income earner (thanks, free education!) and I have no kids or financial offsets like property, so I pay a relatively high amount of income tax. If you focus on frontline service, my *entire* annual tax contribution pays for a few weeks’ support for a person with profound disability who needs round-the-clock care, or a few days for someone in an acute care ward of a hospital. Granted, these examples are at the more intensive end of the finance spectrum, but they’re also things that almost everyone (in my country) accepts as essential services.

  • P J Evans

    They think that money spent on space exploration is leaving the planet, the way they talk about it leaving the economy. Really, money only leaves the economy if it’s physically destroyed. Spending it on things (even things you don’t believe in) means it’s going to businesses and their employees and their suppliers and their employees, and on and on.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    They think that money spent on space exploration is leaving the planet, the way they talk about it leaving the economy. Really, money only leaves the economy if it’s physically destroyed. Spending it on things (even things you don’t believe in) means it’s going to businesses and their employees and their suppliers and their employees, and on and on.

    From what I can tell, the politicians and the money sources that fund them actually do understand this, but they argue in bad faith to get the common people desperate for money on their side.  This allows those companies with a literally invested interest in maintaining the economic status quo to do so without fear that the government will step in as referee and give free-shots to the other teams. 

  • Anonymous

    I have never understood how to balance the responsibility to all with having any sort of life beyond that responsibility.  To me, it is a crushing weight, period. Nothing is ever enough, nothing will ever fix everything, there will always be starving children and people suffering, and being aware of any of it enough to even give money slowly destroys me.  I’m beginning to think that the only way to stay sane in a world with so much bad is to just decide to be a horrible, selfish person.

  • Anonymous

    What works for me is the understanding that I might not be able to alleviate all suffering everywhere, but I can do a little here and a little there, and I can do my level best to keep myself from suffering because fuck knows I can’t count on anyone else (I mean, I can, but let’s all just hope my debts are paid and I’m living on my own before my parents find out I’m bi). Ranking myself high on my personal priority list isn’t being selfish, because giving all my food money to the soup kitchen and then needing the services of the soup kitchen myself is not exactly reducing the world’s net suffering, and if I spend money now on my education instead of on Doctors Without Borders, later I’ll earn enough more to be able to make up for it.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    Indeed.  I think living in a way that makes the world a better place, even if it doesn’t directly alleviate suffering, is extremely important.  It doesn’t matter how much money we give to help clean up after these natural disasters, if we don’t have the meteorologists to help people get out beforehand and the doctors to take care of people afterwards, all of the money in the world can’t solve the problem.  I think the best way to approach it is to ask yourself, “What is my passion?” and “How can I help people?” and see where those two areas intersect.

  • Anonymous

    I change my view on this rather often, and I’ve yet to find an answer that seems to fit quite right, but here’s what I can offer:

    We are flawed beings. I don’t mean in a spiritual sense, I’m an atheist, but from the point of view of my morality it’s pretty plain. We start off handicapped with respect to being truly, perfectly, good. There is no reason why, say, a computer program given a certain set of morals (a Herculean task in-and-of itself) would not, from the stance of those morals, be angelic.

    But we are not automata. We are piles of meat. Indeed, we are piles of meat sculpted into our current form by a force that is short-sighted and without any plan. Evolution selected for those mammals that could care about others, but also for those that cared about their own self-interest. Then the circuitry got cross-wired so that often doing something in our own self-interest, at the cost of others, seems like it is helping others (and sometimes vice-versa).

    In short: We start with a massive handicap, and the simple fact that we can look at the world, say that suffering is wrong, and work to correct it shows that we have far more moral fortitude that we give ourselves credit for.

    We can either accept that we are flawed but can still do some good, or we can try to be what we physically are not. The trick is to know where to draw the line between what it is reasonable to expect a person to do and what is impossible for a person to do. Draw it too low and you do less good than you might. Draw it too high and you burn out, doing less good than you might’ve with more time. The star that shines twice as bright burns for one-eighth as long, providing less light than it might have. While the one that glows twice as dim fails to illuminate anything, for all that it burns for eight times longer.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    We are flawed beings. I don’t mean in a spiritual sense, I’m an atheist, but from the point of view of my morality it’s pretty plain. We start off handicapped with respect to being truly, perfectly, good. There is no reason why, say, a computer program given a certain set of morals (a Herculean task in-and-of itself) would not, from the stance of those morals, be angelic.

    But we are not automata. We are piles of meat. Indeed, we are piles of meat sculpted into our current form by a force that is short-sighted and without any plan. Evolution selected for those mammals that could care about others, but also for those that cared about their own self-interest. Then the circuitry got cross-wired so that often doing something in our own self-interest, at the cost of others, seems like it is helping others (and sometimes vice-versa).

    That is one of the big reasons why I support transhumanism.  A lot of people just think of it as being about extending lifespans and adding senses, but I think that we can use it to become more perfect automata, we can program a certain set of high morals, we can escape the trap of self-interest.  Uploading our own memories, downloading the perspectives of others, careful regulation of neurotransmitters.  Done right, self-interest will lose any meaning.

  • hf

    Perhaps I should link to this after all.

    Before you program automata to do what you consider good, think very carefully about how you define “good”.

    To put it another way: do you really have the right to run roughshod over Tyler Durden’s desires? If that kind of self-interest literally lost all meaning, then the analogous self-interest of other would lose meaning, and then what reason could you give for caring about others? Don’t your own principles forbid you from hurting Tyler? (Shows a picture of sad Tyler holding a sad puppy.)

    But yes, I agree with much of what you say.

    I should probably also point out here that while Tyler or the unconscious has its own “master” in the form of its evolution, a particular evolution seems a lot dumber and easier to ‘fool’ than Tyler. Your evolution only told Tyler to do what used to maximize reproductive success in a particular environment. Not only did Tyler’s boss lack knowledge of condoms, it didn’t know about nation-states the size of America or technology that lets you see people on the far side of the world (without even feeling battle frenzy). So it seems quite possible in theory for Tyler to care about someone else, enough to sacrifice reproductive potential, provided that the real internal process by which Tyler came to care would have favored reproductive success at one point.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Perhaps I should link to this after all.Before you program automata to do what you consider good, think very carefully about how you define “good”.

    In this case, it seems like the most logical course is to alter the mind so that U no longer carries significant influence over C.  As for defining good, I tend to think that the perpetual upload/download of perspective should be able to allow that without a concrete definition.  Essentially it is a kind of ultimate mindfulness, a way of delivering empathy directly, a method by which people can genuinely understand the point of view of others in a near literal way.  It is not so much a matter of enslaving Tyler Durden’s desires, but it will be a way of allowing Tyler to understand what effect his actions will have on others, and conversely allow others to understand and sympathize with Tyler’s desires. 

    Perhaps it would be better to say that this is the kind of thing that should replace U in the linked example, something that alters why criterial C bases its rationalizations and decisions on.  A collective unconsciousness, if you will. 

  • http://twitter.com/anatman jerry anning

    brilliant work fred, even by your impressive standards. a hua-yen buddhist might call this ‘living in the net of indra’.

  • http://trogholm.panshin.net/ Cory Panshin

    Your post raises another question — which is that if everybody has an obligation to do what they can, it’s not just the government, religious bodies, and individuals who are called upon.  It also has to be the corporations, who control so much of the wealth in our society.  But give or take the occasional self-serving corporate sponsorship of some civic event, I don’t see a lot of corporate giving out there.  In fact, they’re actively prohibited from doing anything that might decrease the return to their shareholders.

    I suspect this leaves our society with what might be called a charity deficit, with government and charitable groups both scrambling to fill a hole larger than the available resources can handle.  If — to suggest something that will never happen — corporations were expected to tithe to the needy out of their before-tax profits, I’m sure we’d all be amazed at how much could actually be accomplished.

  • http://trogholm.panshin.net/ Cory Panshin

    Your post raises another question — which is that if everybody has an obligation to do what they can, it’s not just the government, religious bodies, and individuals who are called upon.  It also has to be the corporations, who control so much of the wealth in our society.  But give or take the occasional self-serving corporate sponsorship of some civic event, I don’t see a lot of corporate giving out there.  In fact, they’re actively prohibited from doing anything that might decrease the return to their shareholders.

    I suspect this leaves our society with what might be called a charity deficit, with government and charitable groups both scrambling to fill a hole larger than the available resources can handle.  If — to suggest something that will never happen — corporations were expected to tithe to the needy out of their before-tax profits, I’m sure we’d all be amazed at how much could actually be accomplished.

  • Anonymous

    Pepsi Refresh Project. But yeah. Especially since PepsiCo apparently made over a billion in profit last quarter and the Pepsi Refresh Project maxes its quarterly giving at just over a third of a billion.

    How would we mandate corporate giving, though? How would we enforce it? How would we prioritize, or would we cross our fingers that the corporations would rank New Orleans Habitat for Humanity over a new community center for the local white-flight suburb?

  • http://semperfiona.livejournal.com Semperfiona

    We could start with making corporations pay their share of taxes and letting our duly elected representatives do the prioritization of needs.

    Oops, I think I just advocated government. ;-)

  • Anonymous

    We could start with making corporations pay their share of taxes and
    letting our duly elected representatives do the prioritization of needs.

    My thought was that you could threaten to *make* them pay their full share of taxes unless they give a certain percentage of their profits to charity.

  • Anonymous

    Which still doesn’t fix the infrastructure.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    Pepsi Refresh Project. I’m actually not a fan of this style of charitable giving, because it makes explicit the idea that charity is a competitive zero sum game – in order for your community to get the park it needs, this other community must forgo the library it needs. If Pepsi Co said “we made billions in profits in these communities, we will divert some of those profits to serve the communities which have made us rich,” that would be better. Ideally, government (at some level), could say “you have become rich; we will tax you to improve the communities which made you rich,” and Pepsi Co could say, “yes, that seems fair,” instead of fussing about it…

  • Daughter

    I’m a grant writer for  nonprofit, and the zero-sum game is true of government or foundation grantmaking also–for every grant they give out, they’ve probably turned down dozens or even hundreds of requests.

    And there are a couple of really cool aspects of the Pepsi Refresh Project.  First, if you didn’t win a grant in any given month, you could re-apply in every subsequent month until you either win or give up.  That’s very different from most grantmaking, in which you can generally only apply once a year.

    Second, the Pepsi project put applicants in the driver’s seat in terms of getting votes, and therefore winning a grant.  Believe me, grant seekers usually don’t have this much control.  The town where I live won a large Pepsi Refresh Grant for a new library and playground, after about six straight months of applying and not winning.  Here’s how they did it:  at the town holiday party/Christmas Tree lighting, people were stationed at the front door with laptops.  They stopped everyone over 13 who walked through the door, signed them up to be Pepsi Refresh voters, as well as for daily reminder emails.  And it worked–we won in January.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    re: Pepsi Refresh Project

    You bring a different perspective to the issue. I guess what I’m objecting to is the theme that charity ought to be competitive. The “vibe” I get when my grants are denied (and I’ve had a couple) is a sense of resignation on the part of the grantgiver – “we wish we had enough money to fund all of the applicants, but we don’t,” and that’s not the vibe I get off of the Pepsi (and many many other) sites. There, it feels more like a popularity contest; like charity as Survivor. “You didn’t get the money because you couldn’t convince enough people that your project didn’t suck. Would you like another chance to debase yourself? Maybe everyone else will suck more this time…” Again, this is purely a feeling I get from the project, it’s not necessarily based in anything concrete.

    My further objection is that this seems like a fairly blatant grab for an authority we had previously granted to governments (at various levels). Ideally, the municipal government should know best what the municipality needs (although, I note that this is not always the case), and should be able to appeal fairly quickly and efficiently to a state and/or federal government to meet those needs. Pepsi (and other corporations) take that authority away, and scatter the decision making process to, well, everyone. Does the local community get a chance to cast votes – sure. But they already had a chance to cast votes – in their municipal election. 

    And, further, where does this end? (Which, I know, slippery slope, but…) Here in New York, the governor has just announced that the State Universities will compete for a (smaller than previously allocated) pool of funding money. In return, they get “freedom” to decide how they spend it (although, as the amount shrinks, the freedom becomes illusory, because the money will be needed to cover certain inevitable costs, and thus cannot be used to cover new projects…). Will we see this model applied to public schools, or to hospitals, or to police stations? “I’m sorry you’re dying of a preventable illness – your neighbors just didn’t vote often or hard enough to get the hospital you need.” Ok. That’s absurd – but we’re creating the idea that this is how funding should and ought to be allocated, and that bothers me.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    B Lab (http://www.bcorporation.net/) is trying to create a new corporation that would be much closer to this model, where they would be required to take all stakeholders into account, not just shareholders.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ron.biggs Ron Biggs

    I worked for an online company one time that was heavily staffed by
    people of the predominant and virtuous religion of the region. The
    people of this company were genuinely trying to do their jobs well, but
    “well” seemed to include employing slight-of-hand and morally
    questionable practices for attracting and tricking people into parting
    with their cash and stashing that parting into unrecognized renewing
    autopilot.

    I questioned one of the elders of the company who had an equal status
    in his church why their religious strictures did not apply in business.
    His answer was astonishing: they were unrelated. Personal life was
    personal; business was business.

    All this to say that the business of business is to make money. The humanity of the business (in that it has to be staffed by humans with their human concerns) is not there, except where a business (as stated in their Community Involvement blurbs) attempts to garner warm fuzzy feelings with which to clothe its brand identity. (Skeptic much?!)

    But you touch on another point.  Recently the US Supreme Court recognized corporations as having free speech and also, in a separate action, lifted restrictions on political donations to candidates (as tho it were an actual voting entity, like you and me), although it did say that, unlike individual humans, corporations have no “right to privacy.” (weird).

    I mention this because it occurs to me that, with “rights” as citizen constituents, comes the responsibility pointed out in this post.

    Oh man, more govt intrusion on big business and the free market to accomplish wealth re-distribution (or “the Nanny State”).

  • Lori

     We could start with making corporations pay their share of taxes and letting our duly elected representatives do the prioritization of needs.  

    I had a grad school class where we looked extensively at corporate giving programs and corporate policy as a way to improve global conditions via market forces. What I learned is that once you’ve looked at the data it’s difficult to argue for any focus on “good corporate citizenship”. Corporations aren’t set up to do that and they’re bad at it. 

    Also, corporate giving is incredibly wasteful. It’s completely normal for a corporate to give $X to charity and spend 2-3 times $X on PR touting those donations. If the money goes to a charity with high overhead (which is sadly common) the money spent on actual charity work is a relative pittance and very little good is done. 

    The idea that government programs are uniquely wasteful or more wasteful than private giving is simply not supported by the data. Activists don’t continue to push for corporate responsibility because it’s the most effective way of getting the job done. They continue to use it because it’s so often the only policy that “sells” and it is better than nothing. 

  • Lori

     We could start with making corporations pay their share of taxes and letting our duly elected representatives do the prioritization of needs.  

    I had a grad school class where we looked extensively at corporate giving programs and corporate policy as a way to improve global conditions via market forces. What I learned is that once you’ve looked at the data it’s difficult to argue for any focus on “good corporate citizenship”. Corporations aren’t set up to do that and they’re bad at it. 

    Also, corporate giving is incredibly wasteful. It’s completely normal for a corporate to give $X to charity and spend 2-3 times $X on PR touting those donations. If the money goes to a charity with high overhead (which is sadly common) the money spent on actual charity work is a relative pittance and very little good is done. 

    The idea that government programs are uniquely wasteful or more wasteful than private giving is simply not supported by the data. Activists don’t continue to push for corporate responsibility because it’s the most effective way of getting the job done. They continue to use it because it’s so often the only policy that “sells” and it is better than nothing. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/wayofcats Pamela Merritt

    I find it both sad and inexplicable that Franklin Graham seems to be a mere malignant shadow of his father. Those who only know of Billy Graham in his later incarnation as Evangelist Emeritus are missing the sweetness and selflessness of the young Billy Graham of the immediate post-war years.

    Not for the first time, right wingers know very well what they are doing; keeping all the money for themselves.

  • Anonymous

    And the situation in Joplin raises another wrinkle to the “let the churches handle it!” platform. What happens if the church or churches get destroyed in the disaster? That means no shelter, no soup kitchens, and any fundraising will be spent on rebuilding the church itself. Other churches might pitch in, but they might be just as committed to being “self sufficent” and have no money to spare, or wish to give.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    The real reason behind “let the churches handle it” is so that atheists, and people belonging to less popular religions, and people the big churches just don’t like (e.g. gays) don’t get helped at all.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The real reason behind “let the churches handle it” is so that atheists, and people belonging to less popular religions, and people the big churches just don’t like (e.g. gays) don’t get helped at all.

    Or if they do need help, they will be forced to give up their wicked ways and accept Christ as their Savior (which helps them for eternety, yay!)  :p

  • Tms14geo

    I apologize for bringing up a week or topic, but here is another Armageddon song I really like:

    http://ccmixter.org/files/admiralbob77/31948

    Cool site too.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Thank you Fred for describing succinctly the interconnectedness of all components in the engine. 

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Thank you Fred for describing succinctly the interconnectedness of all components in the engine. 

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Thank you Fred for describing succinctly the interconnectedness of all components in the engine. 

  • Anonymous

    lots of thoughts here…

    first: this is one place where i think the Muslims get it REALLY right – technically, every Muslim is required [by their religious law] to donate 10% of their earnings “to the poor”. [and, btw, that’s the ENTIRE injuntion – not “to poor Muslims” or “to poor GOOD Muslims” – just “to the poor”] and they do it in lots of different ways – i know the richest in Saudi Arabia build or expand hospitals [that then give free treatment to most who enter]

    but… at least in Britain and here in the US, the history of religous aid is… bad. being forced to convert [or forced to pretend to convert, more like] is bad – but there’s a hospital in London that was opened and paid for by the City’s newspapers – because the churches, and the church-sponsored hospitals, only helped the *WORTHY* poor – so a streetwalker with NO other means of support would be left to die, because she wasn’t “worthy”.

    i know it’s happened here in the US, too.

    and that US government aid used to be VERY much of the “worthy poor” model – every single form of “welfare” that we have  – from TANF to WiC to foodstamps – was created to help [white] widows with children, and for a looooooong time – til the 60s or later, depending on the program – ONLY people in those STRICT circumstances could get aid [unmarried but unwidowed mother? no aid! get married! widowed father? no aid! get a new wife to care for the kids and go back to work! and etc]

    the government has taken some steps forward on that [and are now trying to walk backwards, sigh] as have some churches – but not all. and i know that *I*, personally, would rather starve in the street than accept aid from, for example, the Salvation Army, with their anti-gay campaigns and etc. one of the local pagan groups has a local charity that they built with a local UU [because a group of pagans is never really big – and i was shocked that they have 50 some-odd members, that’s HUGE for a pagan group!] that doesn’t even mention it’s religious, let alone it’s affiliation – i’m waiting for more of these to pop up.

    even still… while most Christians “tithe”, and consider that their “charity” [i can’t find that study… i’ll look for it more later] that money pretty much always stays in the church, and it doesn’t help anyone outside the church [hell, some of them don’t help people IN the church!]. what’s really needed is for churches, which aren’t normally set up [anymore] to DO things needed, to take that money and create places like the local group i’m talking about did. do the Good Works, in the spirit they were told to give them [to anyone in need]. and… i’m not seeing the far-right conservative fundamentalist churches doing that.

    which leaves it to the government, because those churches WON’T do it. and then the churches complaining that the government “steals” their mandate, because they weren’t fulfilling said mandate to begin with…

    i guess i just don’t understand churches?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    i’m not seeing the far-right conservative fundamentalist churches doing that…i guess i just don’t understand churches

    As long as you’re clear that far-right conservative fundamentalist churches =/= all churches, or even the majority. And that being the case, may I propose that the disconnect is with far-right conservative fundamentalism?

  • Anonymous

    i appologize – at somepoint between wordpad and the comment box, i dropped the word “those” – as in, “i don’t understand THOSE churches”. and earlier “leaves those churches complaining”, although the “those” is in the sentence preceeding, so i think i left it off there because it would seem redundant.

    i was not – and will not! – attempt to paint with a brush that broad; if nothing else, it would ignore the churches i HAVE worked with/for [soup kitchen, a small DV shelter in GA, etc] that were in no way definable as “far right” or “fundamentalist”

    i’m sorry that my imprecision was confusing! and i agree – the disconnect *is* with those specific churches that fall under the umbrella of “far-right conservative fundamentalism”.

  • P J Evans

     For Muslims, I understand that that 10 percent is after necessary living expenses – it works out to about 2 or 3 percent of their gross income, what with taxes and all.

  • ako

    which leaves it to the government, because those churches WON’T do
    it. and then the churches complaining that the government “steals” their
    mandate, because they weren’t fulfilling said mandate to begin with…

    As I said, I think a lot of the fundamentalist churches are concerned that they have less ability to make people be ‘good’.  Fundamentalist churches tend to push “Believe the exact right thing or burn forever!” theology, which makes it easy to think of feeding people without preaching at them as a wasted opportunity (or even ‘worse’, the dreaded works righteousness).  The government programs leave them less able to starve people Christian (or to get that oh-so-appealing thrill of self-righteously condemning the people they consider immortal – getting to participate in a group hate with enough of a moral gloss to avoid guilt can feel really good).  That’s what’s being taken away from them.

  • Anonymous

    all i can say to that is, if that’s what they want, they DESERVE to have it taken from them.

    i don’t mind mild prolestysizing [i did NOT spell that right. sorry, sigh] – i mind “convert to our way NOW or starve”.

    didn’t Jesus say some stuff about “not judging”? and didn’t he eat with people who were “sinners”? i sometimes wonder if this specific breed of “Christians” even READ the words that Jesus said – do they just skip the Gospels?

  • Anonymous

    Here is what Jezus said:

    Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s

  • nirrti

    Why does “Let the churches handle it” sound so much like “Let the states handle it”?

    Hmmm. And why do they both keep coming up every time conservatives try to opt out of anything that brings them into the 21st century (racial equality, women’s rights, glbt rights)?

    Because they know neither the states or the churches will do jack.

  • nirrti

    -Posted too early…

    And how do they expect localized groups to take on nation-sized problems? Last I checked, unemployment, poverty, and homelessness was a nation-wide issue. Yet they insist that the “states” and “churches” take all the responsibility?

  • http://www.facebook.com/wayofcats Pamela Merritt

    In a sense, we are already “programmed.” A properly function human being has an Empathy system that makes us feel guilty when we bop a sibling on the head; sad when our dog dies; eager to help a friend in trouble; driven to lend a hand when someone we love is sick or injured.

    The impulse to be cruel and greedy for power stem from dysfunction. Sadly, having this crippling mental illness makes it more likely that the person will accumulate wealth and power, because they don’t do anything else. Then, demon-driven in a way; they have a self-interest in making that the New Normal.

  • hagsrus

    Ala. town hit by tornadoes bans FEMA trailers

    http://tinyurl.com/3qvvbpf

     

  • Anonymous

    WTF

  • Rikalous

    [Mayor Jack] Scott has heard all the complaints, and he
    isn’t apologizing. He said he doesn’t want run-down mobile homes parked
    all over town years from now.

    So, the hypothetical appearance of the city in a few years takes precedence over people, you know, having homes right now?

    To make matters
    worse, he said, the city is imposing a mean double standard when it
    refuses to let residents live in FEMA trailers but is using a nearly
    identical structure for police headquarters.
    Scott said the city can use small trailers because it’s for the common good.

    “It’s temporary and we know it’s temporary,” said the mayor. “We’re trying to provide services for everyone.”

    Now, I’m no expert, but isn’t people having shelter conducive to the common good?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    Now, I’m no expert, but isn’t people having shelter conducive to the common good?

    And the asshole says his conscience is clear.  Most likely his conscience is clear, and he sleeps like a baby, comfortable in knowing that he’s worked to make his neighbors homeless.

  • Lori

    And the asshole says his conscience is clear.  Most likely his conscience is clear, and he sleeps like a baby, comfortable in knowing that he’s worked to make his neighbors homeless.

    It sounds like his conscience isn’t so much clear as absent. I can only hope that after the next election he’ll be out of a job.

  • Mau de Katt

    Another example of the political Right Wing, zero-sum “compassion” in regards to the tornado victims:  “If you want The Gubmint to help those people, you gotta take the money away from *other* people.

    I think the Republican party turned to the Dark Side a long time ago.  I really do consider them (or at least the philosophy they embody and actively try to implement) to be truly evil.

  • Anonymous

    Hah, I was actually thinking of Less Wrong when I wrote my post (mostly about how writing a morality system for a computer is something we currently haven’t the faintest idea how to do, and the number of good ideas that end up leading to disaster is staggering). But yes, I don’t think we’ll be able to make morally perfect agents at any point in the near future. (For no other reason than our inability to define such an agent).

    My point was more that we are clearly not morally perfect agents, or even as close to those as one can theoretically be, so any attempt by us to be morally perfect involves climbing uphill first.

  • hf

    A collective unconsciousness, if you will.

    Haha, nice.

  • Caravelle

    Off-topic yet INCREDIBLY COOL : the world’s oldest museum :
    http://io9.com/5805358/the-story-behind-the-worlds-oldest-museum-built-by-a-babylonian-princess-2500-years-ago

    They’re not kidding when they call that country “the cradle of civilization”. They’re so old, they had archeologists digging up the place 2500 years ago.

  • Caravelle

    Off-topic yet INCREDIBLY COOL : the world’s oldest museum :
    http://io9.com/5805358/the-story-behind-the-worlds-oldest-museum-built-by-a-babylonian-princess-2500-years-ago

    They’re not kidding when they call that country “the cradle of civilization”. They’re so old, they had archeologists digging up the place 2500 years ago.

  • Anonymous

    SHINY. (And it was a woman running the show! *is gleeful*)

  • MaryKaye

    Daughter wrote:

    The town where I
    live won a large Pepsi Refresh Grant for a new library and playground,
    after about six straight months of applying and not winning.  Here’s how
    they did it:  at the town holiday party/Christmas Tree lighting, people
    were stationed at the front door with laptops.  They stopped everyone
    over 13 who walked through the door, signed them up to be Pepsi Refresh
    voters, as well as for daily reminder emails.  And it worked–we won in
    January.

    I am not sure this is a good thing.  Grant writing (I do it as a scientist) is already a huge drain of time and effort.  Rewarding persistence sounds like a great thing until you look at the pragmatics–six months of applying and failing, followed by a huge volunteer effort, that’s a lot of work away from your core mission.  My community center just got new windows by this route–ballot box stuffing–and we did really need the windows, but we were dunning people to log on daily and jump through hoops, and that is not what we ought to be doing.

    It’s like coupons.  Coupons can save you money, but they represent spending your time and effort doing administrative tasks that do not benefit anyone.  A company that gives you a good price for the asking is doing you more good than a company that gives you a not-so-good price and offers a rebate or coupon to get you down to the good price, because you end up spending time and effort on makework.

    I don’t think grants can be avoided because when resources are limited the money-giver needs information in order to allocate them well.  But I dislike anything that trends toward applying over and over, or requiring a lot of relatively non-informative efforts from the grantee.  I guess the ballot-stuffing is supposed to measure support, but yeesh, it’s somehow not a very clean way to do so.

  • Daughter

    I’m a grant writer too, so I understand time concerns.  The Pepsi Refresh grant doesn’t take more time than the normal grant–at least not to develop the grant itself; once you submit it the first time, you can resubmit the same grant month after month.  You’re right, though; the extra work is that of rallying people to vote for your cause.

  • Lori

    This weekend I read a book that had some things to say that seem relevant to this discussion. The book is  The Heart and The Fist by Eric Greitens.

    Greirtens was a public policy major as an undergrad and took maximum advantage of some opportunities that were presented to him to spend summers doing humanitarian work. On one trip he helped a former professor who had gone to work for UNHCR monitoring aid to victims of the Rwandan genocide. Greitens spent part of his time in a large refugee camp across the border in Zaire. Many of the workers in the camp were American evangelicals and he talks about the mixed feelings he had watching them work.

    At their worst, the evangelicals seemed indifferent to the feelings or experiences of the men and women around them. One day I was photographing an outdoor church service in Goma. Karen stood up to preach, and a refugee translated as she spoke. Karen explained to the crowd of genocide survivors sitting on rocks under the high son, “If you do not make Jesus Christ your personal savior, you will go to hell.” She pulled a book from her chair to demonstrate, “It is a law, like the law of gravity.” She held the book out with a straight arm and then let it fall. It thudded on the platform.

    “It is like the law of gravity. It is the law. Accept Jesus, or spend eternity in hell.”  

    After Karen spoke, I asked a man what he thought of her sermon. His answer came back
    to me through a friendly translator” “She had a beautiful message.”

    I said, “Tell me what she said.”

    “She said that we cannot always carry everything on our own,” the man explained through the interpreter. “If we try, we will drop things. We must ask for God’s help to carry our burdens.” Apparently Karen’s translator had taken some liberties with her sermon.

    But if Karen and some of her friends were sometimes out of touch, they also rose every day with the sun and spent hours tending to the needs of sick children, ordering supplies, distributing food, tracing children and reuniting families. They may have been culturally clumsy but every day I came to admire them more for one simple reason: They were in Rwanda. They were working. I was visiting for weeks. They were working for months.

    The
    Heart and The Fist, pages 81-82

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    “She said that we cannot always carry everything on our own,” the man explained through the interpreter. “If we try, we will drop things. We must ask for God’s help to carry our burdens.” Apparently Karen’s translator had taken some liberties with her sermon.

    It seems like the translator “got” Christ’s message better than Karen did. 

  • Lori

    That was my thought. I suspect that the evangelical group owed much of their welcome in the camp to translators like that one. 


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