Charity – The Fig Leaf of Capitalism

January 2, 2013 12:00 pm

It all started when I heard a knock at the door. It was just after 6.30pm and it was a cold, rainy night. Some young guy in sportswear stood there; neat hair, ready smile and an ID tag around his neck.

“I’m not trying to sell you anything,” he said, “but, if you can just spare a few minutes to listen to me, I’ve been asking your neighbours the same things.” Already, he was trying to hook me with that old ‘Keep up with the Joneses’ shtick. As if I gave a shit about what my neighbours were doing, as long as they weren’t ‘Saviling’ my pet Labrador (I just invented that expression for the hell of it – ‘Saviling’, it’s topical).

Poor Kids

He held up a small plastic bottle of something. There was some black liquid inside, swilling about. Is that what he was selling? A plastic bottle half full of black water? “Were you aware that millions of children across the globe drink water like this every day?” He held the bottle aloft for me to see.

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve been to Thailand and not in the tourist areas either, in the back of beyond. I’ve stayed in a village and had a go with one of those oxens ploughing a paddy field, y’know. I’ve seen kids with Down Syndrome in rags, begging on the streets, and I’ve been held at gunpoint by a soldier in the Golden Triangle.”

If I had said, ‘I’ve fought in the war, y’know’,  the sentiment would have been complete. I think he caught my drift. He wasn’t talking to any arsehole. I’d been around. I was a man of the world, one who wanted to hurry this thing along as I had to set the recorder for my wife because Alfie Boe was on the ‘One Show’, for Christ’s sake. I looked at my watch. His ‘few minutes to listen’ were ticking away. So I listened to his spiel. Then, I didn’t listen, because I was already listening to what I was going to say.

Feeling the pinch

“Listen, mate,” I said. “I appreciate your efforts in what you’re trying to do, but I’m in a crappy, low-paid job. My wife is in two crappy, low-paid jobs. We both got made redundant last year and it halved our joint income…”

“I realise people are feeling the pinch…”, he started to say.

Mechanical grab

“The pinch?” I said. “More like the mechanical grab. I’m living on my overdraft from the middle of the month. I already give to one charity.”

“Can I ask which charity you give to?”

Dogs’ Trust,” I said, in a low voice. Already, I knew what he’d be thinking. ‘So you put dogs before children?’

Fuck you, I thought, in case he was thinking that, I’ll give to whichever charity I want to. Twenty minutes to go until Alfie Boe was on.

“Sorry?” He leaned forward.

“The Dogs’ Trust,” I said, louder and (now) prouder.

“Oh,” he said. “That’sa good charity.”

“Anyway,” I said, beginning to close the door. “I’ll have to dash now, things to do. Can you close the gate on the way out? Cheers.”

Using guilt to extort money

Guilt Finger

He started to say something, but I didn’t catch it as the solid oak door was now between us and I was already walking back to the welcoming warmth of the living room and the caress of our Christmas tree lights. “Fucking chuggers”, I grumbled to myself. “Using guilt to extort money from people.” My black Labrador raised his head and tilted it to one side, looking at me.

I’d forgotten to mention a whole lot of other stuff I could have said like – ‘give to charity, mate? I work for one, and another one made me redundant last year. Bastards. All that while the chief executives take a £120K cut per year.’

How long has Bob Geldof  been at it? Since ’84, ’85? And still we see those terrible news reports of starving children with flies walking across their eyes. How many times do we see items of big business people, Lord this, that and the other and their ‘charitable works’ – we know they get tax breaks for their donations, so who’s fooling who? All those millions ‘donated’ by the rich, wealthy and famous, and the many more millions raised by ordinary people on things like ‘Children in Need’ coupled together by our government’s overseas development funds. Does all this money actually find its way to all those who actually need it? Or does some portion of it find its way into the Swiss bank accounts of the local military police dictatorship?

A new imperialism

Let’s not kid ourselves, all this charity and aid do their bit to foster business contacts in certain countries. In some ways, overseas aid and charity works have been handmaidens to ‘new imperialism’, beating new pathways to new markets and profits. We’ve all heard of the likes of Nike and others who set up factories in the so-called Third World, where they can get away with rock bottom wages made easy by a de-unionised workforce, some of those sweatshops staffed by children.

Yes, ‘new imperialism’, but the same old capitalism—anything for a quick buck. It was ‘old imperialism’ that started the whole mess in the first place. We, the Western powers, carved up the world between us, usually by force, maintained by force, exploited by force, aided and abetted by local leaders who went along for the ride.

Once the old imperialism was in retreat—following the end of WWII—the new imperial style arrived wearing the labels of the UN, the World Bank, the IMF. The new hymn sheet they sang from was: ‘You give us advantageous deals and we’ll give you just enough for your people to survive on, but the local elites can send their children to Oxford, Harvard or the Sorbonne’. Unfair trading (i.e. rock bottom prices for raw materials and foodstuffs) Rhodes Imperialismhelped to underwrite the great Western postwar boom 1950 – 1973 and beyond. In return, the ‘Third World’ provided cheap labour and acres of land that could have helped families subsist but, instead, were given over to cash crops like tea, cotton, coffee for lucrative sales to the West. Crops that inevitably exhausted the soil of vital nutrients, that might have nurtured more crops. The combination of this, and their local (Western-backed) gangster cliques enriching themselves, inevitably produced impoverishment, political oppression and man-made famine that launched a thousand charity events, rattled a million collection buckets – and for what? To salve our collective conscience? What have we to feel guilty about? Ordinary people did not cause these conditions, the capitalist system did that, just as it caused the present state of our economies, and weare the ones being asked to pay for it. That’s why I sometimes feel ‘charity’ (and especially ‘charitable companies’) is a mere fig leaf for the capitalist system.

We need to rid ourselves of this rapacious economic system, both here and abroad. In that real, concrete sense, I feel a much closer solidarity with people overseas and at home, rather than throwing coins at them. Maybe the money and support should go to those who wish to organise and actually do something to bring an end to the tyranny of capital itself: those fighting for democracy, or for the right to form unions and strike for better wages and conditions…

Oh, bugger. I missed Alfie Boe, how was I going to explain that one to the missus?

%d bloggers like this: