Saturday, August 21, 2021

Sympathy is a Poor Way of Distributing Charity!

If you want charity money, be sure to have a good press agent.

A reader writes:

The topic of some of your recent posts; the story that just keeps on giving. It's quite ridiculous, really:
I am curious too as to what he will do with it. Nothing good, I assure you. I have a sister-in-law that can't help but give $10 or $20 to every "homeless" person she sees and cannot understand that she is only contributing to the problem.

This illustrates a problem with charity - all kinds of charity - in this country.  We give money to causes and people we think are sympathetic - or pathetic - instead of giving money based on real needs.  So someone who has a "go fund me" page gets a million bucks, such as the bus attendant in Rochester who was mocked by kids one day - and now is retired with a million bucks as a result.  Is that a fair way of dispersing charity?

Or take the shoeless beggar.  A great gag - no shoes!  But it turns out he has shoes, and an apartment, and government assistance and so on - because in America, even the homeless have a cell phone and a Facebook page.   But at Christmas time, it made for a heart-warming story, and the clueless plebes throw money at him.   Meanwhile, some homeless child, beaten and abused by his own parents, isn't given squat, because his backstory isn't heartwarming, it's horrifying.

Or take the two homeless women living in a tent near Union Station in DC.  They had an advocate set up a go-fund-me page and voila! - they have a pile of dough now.   But how to spend it?

Badly, I suspect, which is why their advocate isn't just handing them a pile of $20 bills, but rather trying to use the money to get them an apartment and otherwise control their lives.  And that's what you have to do with a lot of feral humans - control their lives - because they basically can't control themselves.

How will things turn out for our Hobbit dude?  Well, if the movie Reversal of Fortune is any indication, the money may be long-gone in a matter of months.  Like lottery winners, people who are handed large sums of money, who have no experience or poor skills in handling money, tend to spend it rather quickly.   Most people are this way, which is why we get our money in tiny paychecks instead of one lump sum.  It's for the best, really.

But the Charity Effect doesn't just apply to individuals, but to causes and programs.  Diseases that have sympathetic poster-children (and children, not some old fuck with one foot in the grave) get money for research. "Jerry's Kids" had their own telethon, and while it is a good cause, there are likely dozens, if not hundreds of other diseases that deserve research and a cure, that don't get at much attention.  We all love to hear the story about the kid who has his "dream wish" come true and is visited by Batman while he undergoes Chemo.  But how many thousands, tens of thousands, nay millions of children here in the US and worldwide don't get such wishes?   We are selective with our charity and give to those we perceive to be weak and helpless, which is a natural instinct.

Speaking of which, make sure if you are donating to charity, that it is a legit charity.  A friend of mine gave me a car blanket to use in the car (Mr. See gets cold) that she bought at a garage sale for ten cents.  It said "Child Wish Network" or something like that on it, and I googled it, and it turns out these folks have been a nightmare for the real Make-A-Wish foundation, by soliciting for money from people by using similar names to the legit charity.   And this sort of thing goes on - a lot - all the time, and often it isn't even illegal.  So you throw money at a trendy-sounding charity, only to realize you just made a payment on someone else's Porsche.

Even "legit" charities, such as United Way, have had their shares of scandals, tainting the reputation of the entire organization.  Fortunately, that guy went to jail.  Others, well, they get away with it.

So what is the answer?  Beats me.  Only that perhaps giving money to individual people based on their sob story of how awful their lives are, is probably the worst way to go about it.   Because people lie - like a rug - particularly if they are mentally ill, drug addicts, or both.  And such people are not heartwarming - they are as dangerous, or can be, as a rabid dog.  Taking a homeless person into your home is a recipe for disaster, perhaps even your demise.

Pity and feeling sorry for someone is a dangerous emotion.  And donating money based on emotional reactions is probably a sign you are donating money to the wrong person.  Yet, every charity, even the legitimate ones, use photos of scrawny children with dirt-smeared faces to get you to whip out that checkbook.  They're baiting you.  And baiting should not be a means of generating charity.

But they all do it.  The politcos send me e-mails making the argument that unless I donate $10 before midnight tonight they are going to lose the 2022 election, which is more than a year away.  Unless I donate $25 before Tuesday, the Republicans will overturn election laws in 11 States!  I am not sure how $25 is going to change that - I doubt you could lobby those same Republicans and get them to change their minds much.  It's a done deal, really, and they are using these current events to get us to donate, using fear as a motivator.  Same shit, different day - using emotional arguments to get us to open our wallets.

Maybe that is the underlying factor in all of this - and neatly ties it in with the subject of this blog.  Any financial transaction that you enter into because of emotional factors, is probably a shitty transaction.  If people can get you to think emotionally, they can get you to stop thinking.  It is said that the poor and lower classes donate more to charity than the wealthy.  And if you think about this for a second, it makes sense.  The poor tend to think emotionally, or more precisely, people who think emotionally end up poor because they are easily manipulated and make poor choices.

You can sell a car to a poor person by putting racing stripes and a loud muffler on it and telling them it is a the "sporty" model and will make them more macho.  Or jack up a pickup truck and put big tires on poorly-made Chinese rims, and lower-class men will buy them in droves (and park them on the sidewalk in front of the Library of Congress).  The poor don't lack money - it just passes through their hands in large amounts.  They cannot hang on to any of it because they are easily swayed by emotions.

So it's not just charities - real or fake - that harvest money from the poor, it is everyone.  But what about this "Planatir" guy?  Surely he's rich, right?  He should be more logical in his thinking!  He should donate to a homeless shelter or something, right?  Well, it turns out, he is thinking logically.  By donating what is a trivial sum to him, he gets far more than that in free publicity. Far more.   Now people think he is a cool dude, and when he goes all Jeff Bezos on us, he can trot out his charitable works as an example of why he is a benevolent Billionaire.

It goes back to the problem with charity, as noted by Oscar Wilde - a few capitalists handing out shiny dimes to orphans (as Rockefeller did) doesn't make up for the sharp practice of those same capitalists who exploit labor and run their competitors into the ground.

The problem is, of course, that Mr. Wilde's solution to this problem was socialism - nationalize charity so that efficiently-run government agencies can hand out your money to worthy causes and people in a value-neutral manner.  Sounds great, other than government can be inefficient at times, and often unfair in how they do business. And even in socialist countries, there are always beggars and panhandlers and charities - and charity scammers.  So I am not sure that is an answer, either.

For me, personally, I just get suspicious of anyone whose heart-tugging story is told in the press, because they often tell only one side of the story.  It seems to me also that Social Media makes this all the worse.  In addition to making these stories go viral, they use the techniques of damning and shaming to get everyone on-board to be sympathetic to the character in question and not to ask questions about whether it is appropriate to intervene in what is, essentially, a local matter that we don't know the details of.

The reader's sister-in-law must have a lot of money to hand out $20 bills like that.  Sadly, as the reader notes, this ends up adding to the problem.  We recently went to the beach and there was a small lobster shack at the beach selling fried clams and french fries.  They had a big sign explaining why feeding seagulls was a bad idea - they will get aggressive and steal your food.   But like clockwork, one grandpa decided to dump his french fries on the sand so his grandchildren could see the disease-infested flying rats up close. "Let's feed the birds!  They need our help!"

Within 20 minutes, the beach was swarmed with gulls, shitting on people's beach blankets and in three instances I could see near me, taking food right out of the hands of screaming women and children.  It was like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

Sadly, humans are no different, and they will "swarm" to wherever they figure they can live for free and get handouts.   You relax laws about vagrancy, as they have in California, and you end up with people living in tents and shitting on the sidewalk.   It isn't the "high price of housing" that is keeping these folks in tents, it is the easy money made begging or stealing and the availability of drugs.

So what is the answer?  Again, beats me.  There are things in this world which defy simple solutions - which are usually always the wrong answers to complex problems.  I think on a personal level, it pays to be astute and pull at the threads of these stories before you send off your hard-earned money to someone who may - but likely may not - deserve it.  After all, if you give away all your money, aren't you just creating another person in need?

I hope the reader's sister-in-law doesn't fall into that trap.  I've seen it happen - people ending up poor in retirement not only because they spent large, but because they gave away huge sums of money to charity or churches or people, oftentimes for the worst reasons imaginable - to aggrandize themselves as being "better than other people" because they care and you don't.

Yes, the motivations of altruism are often more evil than the woes of the world that altruism is supposedly going to fix.

I am not too worried about Hobbit dude - he's a grown-up, for chrissakes, and 20 years older than I am.  When you are grown-up, you are expected to take care of yourself - and make rational choices.  If you don't, no one will feel sorry for you.  Well, that is, unless you have a gofundme page!