Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Comic Relief? Don't make me laugh.

So the other evening during dinner I'm watching the nightly news on my local ABC affiliate, WPVI-Philly, when all of a sudden the newscast turns into a mini-telethon soliciting contributions on behalf of Oprah's Big Give.

I almost choked on my linguine.

The episode rekindled some thoughts I've had for a long time now—things that have bothered me about the whole "benefit concert" genre that took life back in the mid-80s and survives in one form or another to this day.

First and foremost among those thoughts is this:

If they really want to end poverty and world hunger, why don't they just...end poverty and world hunger? They could do it, you know. Or come damn close. Without you and me.

Let's look at a few facts. Farm Aid has raised $30 million since 1985. Live Aid? $283 million. Then there are the various incarnations of Comic Relief, which most recently (2006) raised $4 million to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina.

OTOH we have, say, Bono, that all-purpose humanitarian and IoMG (Inducer of Mass Guilt). Bono belongs, of course, to a band called U2. U2 took in $154 million in 2006, earned $389 million on its last world tour alone, and was recently estimated to have an overall net worth of $900 million. (For those of you who took math at one of today's institutions of higher learning, that's just short of $1 billion.) Though the articles I read don't break out Bono's portion of that kingly sum*, it seems reasonable to assume that the guy is doing well enough. (Oh. And meanwhile, Bono has been accused of trying to dodge taxes. Taxes, you may know, are frequently used to fund the safety nets that keep the downtrodden from succumbing to genuine tragedy.)

Question: Why does Bono need to enlist me in his effort to "feed the poor"?

Just for the hell of it, here are some other 2007 celebrity salaries, courtesy of this past week's issue of Parade magazine:

Miley Cyrus took in $18.7 million—almost $1.25 million for each of her 15 years.
50 Cent: $33 million.
Dr. Phil: $90 million.
Spielberg: $110 million.
Oprah: $260 million.

Two-hundred-sixty-million. But my local ABC affiliate is soliciting money, in $10 and $20 increments, to help fund Big Give. (A tab on the show's site also solicits charitable contributions.)

I have an idea: I think crusading celebrities like Bono and Oprah should donate one year's earnings to the cause of "curing" world poverty. Maybe that sounds like a lot. But are you telling me that someone who's making $100 million, year after year, doesn't have enough socked away by now that s/he can coast for one single year on past earnings? Do you realize the income that $100 million is capable of self-generating? Even in a regular passbook savings account—where no stars in their right mind keep their money—and even at today's putrid interest rates, $100 million will produce around $3 million in new income. Passively. Just by sitting there. Oprah can't squeeze by on that? Even if she has to dip into her principal just a tiny bit to cover the shortfall, is that really such a sacrifice to ask a $260 million wage earner to make?

Ryan Seacrest is host of American Idol and MC of Idol's much-ballyhooed annual charity event, "Idol Gives Back." He earned $12 million last year, which is more than half of everything raised by the charity event itself. I have no doubt that Seacrest and Idol's three judges—just the four of them—could've matched the $22 million without having to apply for public assistance themselves. Hell, from what I hear, Simon Cowell alone could afford to drop $22 million at a roulette table at Harrah's and never look back.

In fact, what if, tomorrow, the top 1000 wealthiest entertainers in the world agreed to kick in $10 million apiece—which, I assure you, they wouldn't even miss. (Jim Carrey reportedly gets $20 million per film.) That's a fast $10 billion right there. I didn't bother researching what Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, the nation's foremost crusading comics, are worth, but I'm sure it's a hefty sum. For crissake, the $4 million Comic Relief raised for Katrina victims is tip money, to that trio.

Now, I realize that the two channels of funding—them and us—are not mutually exclusive. It is surely true that anti-poverty efforts would be that much more effective if celebrities and "just plain folk" joined forces, both groups giving as much as they could afford. I'm just bemused by the architecture of the benefit-concert structure, which strikes me as utterly Rube Golbergian. (The illustration, right, shows Goldberg's version of a potato peeler.) Why go through all the fuss and busywork of securing a concert venue, finding performers to perform, coordinating schedules, lining up sponsors, promoting the event, hiring all the gaffers and other hands-on workers, figuring out the precise allocation of proceeds, and on and on—all that overhead and complexity!—when soft-hearted celebrities could raise vast multiples of the contributions they've raised to date, with none of the associated hassle and bureaucracy, simply by reaching into their own pockets? And as much as I'm bemused by the architecture, I'm put off by the arrogance. Where do people like Bono and Oprah come off trying to make me feel guilty about "not doing my fair share"? Frankly put, where do they get the balls to chastise me for failing to kick in my paltry $10 or $50 or $100, when they've got literally millions upon millions sitting in their unnumbered Swiss or Cayman Islands accounts?

Or maybe it's just easier for them to sing songs and goof around on stage and pose at being oh-so-concerned about world hunger...while never having to sacrifice a single plate of Beluga or line of coke of their own.

Tell ya what, Bono. When you're ready to pony up, say, 100 million of your personal dollars, or at least pay your taxes, then you can come looking for me and my twenty bucks. In the meantime, please open your mouth only when you decide to sing me a song with no strings attached. If even then....

* and I'd be more than happy to hear from anyone who has a citation that pegs his personal income.

58 comments:

monique said...

And while the celebrities tackle the feeding of impoverished nations, sports stars could use their over-the-top earnings to improve the lives and wellbeing of people in the cities/states they play in. They could do a lot of good, too.

Steve Salerno said...

Absolutely, Monique. I know that "value" in our society is driven by "demand"...but every time I see a guy like Alex Rodriguez step up to the plate, and it occurs to me that he's earning something like $42,000 for that one at-bat...it's hard not to think things are out of whack.

sassy sasha said...

steve i resent the fact that you take every opportunity to slam college students, i dont know why you insist on doing that! i tell you this b/c i agree with everything you say here and everthing you say mostly, but it ruins it for me sometimes that you have to get in your shots at us. what is your problem???

Chad Hogg said...

I tend to agree, although I find the jet-setting global warming crusaders to be even worse. I have one question though: do you actually know whether Bono, Oprah, and the like do in fact donate large sums of their own fortunes to the charities they promote? I do not, but it seems likely that they do.

If so, then I can see these fundraising events in a different light. There may be some value in the idea that these events raise publicity for and awareness of the causes that they benefit. Certainly they induce some people to make donations other than those directly given through the event, to lobby their congress critters for governmental action, etc. I have no idea the magnitude of this indirect assistance. (Of course, it also produces immense publicity for and awareness of the celebrities involved, but I'll leave that conversation for another day.)

Steve Salerno said...

Oh, I'm quite sure they donate, Chadd (though I'm also sure they feel that they discharge a large part of their debt to society by donating their "time" and "talent"). But--and maybe I should've been clearer about this in the writing of the post--I meant what I said literally. If you're taking in $100 million per annum, and you're going to go out and do this big sell about "ending world hunger"--then put your money where your mouth is. Kick in $100 million. Don't tell me about how you're donating "x% of the proceeds from your next 100,000 CDs" or even that you're writing a check for $100,000. That's chicken-feed, in Bono terms. Write a check with eight or nine digits on it (before the decimal point) and then we'll talk.

Anonymous said...

There is no way to "end poverty". In America, "poverty" is pretty much middle class by european standards. Only dim-witted entertainers think they can end poverty with their begging. Do they honestly believe that if we all gave up a few hundred dollars that Utopia would be achieved? Hey Bono, you first.

One reason I like Bill (and Melinda) Gates is the amount of money he's donated to charity - Over $30 billion so far. He's walking the walk.

Chad Hogg said...

Oh, I agree. By "large sums" I meant something on the order of a year's earnings. My point was that I have no knowledge that they do not do so, and I wondered if you do.

By the way, this is the type of discussion where I would like to be able to say that many small donations from average people would be much more effective than a few large donations from the fabulously wealthy, but when 1% of the population controls 38% of the nation's wealth (according to wikipedia) it is simply not true. Something to think about.

Elizabeth said...

My sentiments exactly, Steve. I avoid watching those "charity" celeb pitches, because my response is usually an irritable "How dare they?"

But wait. I hear that tomorrow Oprah is going to show (teach) us, again, how we can cut back excessive consumption in our lives and start living responsibly, only on bare necessities.

The poor woman lacks the irony gene.

(Speaking of which, the verif word for my entry is, "mhmnot"... LOL.)

Anonymous said...

You should read April's edition of Portfolio magazine. It has a great article about this very subject. You do know "poor" people give more to charities than "rich" people? This has been proven in many studies. Poor people give more of their annual income than rich people.

Jim Thompson said...

I am glad that you complain about these things Steve. You are doing no small part to help people examine their insides instead of always washing the outside. Introspection is a lost art I guess. I always took it for granted like breathing. Which one can we go longer without? Sigh.

-J

Anonymous said...

All of this just underlines the need to promote an old fashioned idea which is to give anonymously. It is nobody's business what you give or don't give. When you insist on making your generosity public - it ends up making recipients feel obligated, other donors feel either manipulated into having to give more, or resentful for having given more than others. Being so public about one's charity extinguishes the spirit behind giving that makes the world a moer habitable place. It really clouds the issue, which is that many of us are much more fortunate than others, a great deal of it has to do with luck, and the world is a better place when we share without stoking needless controversy. There is just too much suffering in the world for these pointless debates about who gives enough.

I do think the criticism leveled at Bono regarding his taxes is another matter. Shame on him if it is true.

WC

roger o'keefe said...

So here I go again, putting myself on the unpopular side of another issue. This is the typical bank account envy that's at the heart of all that political nonsense about the two Americas. America is a nation of opportunity, and it's absurd to imply that those who have done well at life are then obliged to surrender the fruits of that success to people who haven't done as well. I know that isn't exactly how you frame it here in talking about the war on poverty, but that's really the end point of your argument.

Then what's the point of being successful? To be blunt, where do you come off telling somebody that they're only entitled to enjoy their wealth up to a certain point, and that they're supposed to "get by" on x-amount?

I'm not in Bono's category of wealth, and I don't even enjoy his music, what little I know of it. Still I defend his right or anyone else's right to spend or save their money the way they see fit. Whether you realize it or not, Steve, what you're arguing for here is a form of voluntary socialism. It will never fly and it shouldn't. Why should I break my back to become successful if at the end of it all I'm expected to share the proceeds with everyone else I climbed past on the ladder of success? That was the flaw that killed communism: if you take away the incentive to excel, no one ever gets rich in the first place.

Once again, you either have a free-market system which you're willing to defend, or you don't have a free-market system at all.

Steve Salerno said...

Roger, though there's much I could say here, I'm going to focus (for now) on the fact that I intended this post as more of a comment on the hypocrisy factor. I'm not suggesting that Bono et al give every dime, over and above a certain level of earnings, to charity. But let's not forget, THEY are the ones who went so loudly and visibly public with all that hand-wringing about Darfur and Ethiopia, etc. THEY are the ones who made a major issue of philanthropy and "our obligation to the less fortunate who share our world." I'm just saying here that if you're going to take that stance, then don't come after me and my $20 until you've demonstrated the depth of your own commitment, especially when you're someone who can personally make a difference in the prevalence of world hunger.

Elizabeth said...

Anon at 12:41 PM: In America, "poverty" is pretty much middle class by european standards.

How true. It's all relative. I recently listened to an interview with a famous American chef and heard him bemoan his poor upbringing, which, among other things, meant that he often had to eat Spam. Horrible, right? Especially for a budding chef.

But I had to laugh at that; when I was growing up, having Spam meant a really special holiday, because it was such a rare delicacy...

And yet our poverty was still a step up, I imagine, from that experienced in other parts of the world, in Asia and Africa.

However, it is my experience that in places where poverty (as in low standards of living) is the norm -- i.e. applies to a great majority of the population -- it's not such a big deal as long as the very basic sustenance needs are met. Other issues, such as access to education, for example, become more important than opportunities to get and accumulate money and things.

Imo, social inequality is a more jarring problem, in many respects, than poverty as such (again, given that the very basic sustenance needs should be met -- and that's not such a given a lot of times). So the charity drives, directed at alleviating poverty in places where low standards of living are the norm (in American eyes) may miss the point(s) altogether, their noble motives aside. (Unless the monies are directed to strengthen healthcare and education systems which benefit all.)

RevRon's Rants said...

I can't help but chuckle at the dichotomy of the "conservative" movement in this country today, perched upon ever higher soapboxes, proclaiming that this nation was founded upon principles, yet decrying the very principles that form the core of that ideology.

"Conservative" implies fiscal restraint, yet we see none of it. The ideology upon which our country was founded implies commitment to help "even the least of" our fellow humans, yet any suggestion that one share when they have more than they truly need is met with cries of "socialism." When one does deign to offer assistance, it is typically before an audience, reduced to a proclamation of the giver's magnanimous nature, rather than a purely compassionate act.

If we look closely at the historical success or failure of socialist experiments, we will see that the failures were the result of the unchecked appetites of the leaders, and the successes occurred when there was a genuine commitment to the well-being of the whole - much like the successes and failures of any other social structure.

I certainly don't favor a socialist form of government, but neither do I favor a social Darwinist approach. Ultimately, a society is judged not only by the wealth and power it achieves, but by the way it treats its citizens who have neither wealth nor power. As I've noted before, Hong Kong is a good example of a true free-market society, manifest as immeasurable abundance and luxury for the very few, countered by profound suffering of the many. Somehow, I doubt that the founders of this nation envisioned such a place, nor did the thousands who have died defending this country.

Back to the original topic... while there have been times I have wished I could do more for those who needed help, I can't say that the grand gestures of celebrities ever made me feel guilty. I figured that they were doing *something* about problems they saw, which is better than doing nothing. I just can't get my mind around being resentful of them for not doing *more* than they have, or for being public in their displays. It is, after all, what they do. Half empty / half full, I guess.

Melanie Gold said...

Steve, I'm glad you included "Idol Gives Back" in your post. But all this talk of celebrity hypocrisy and poverty serves to remind me that I *know* you're a funny guy and know how to have a laugh, even (or particularly) at your own expense.

So I'm tagging you...and asking you to "play" for a second. Find out the rules at my blog and there I blame the one who tagged me.

Melanie
http://melaniegold.blogspot.com/

Steve Salerno said...

Incidentally I meant to say, just briefly to Sasha, that I'm not "slamming" college students per se. Though I think that today's students, by and large, are something less than dedicated in their pursuit of knowledge, I also heap a fair portion of the blame on the colleges themselves, which set ludicrously low standards, dumb down much of the coursework (so as not to intimidate incoming freshmen or inflate the school's dropout rate), encourage students to regard college as a four-year descent into binge drinking and promiscuity, and arrogantly defend a system of curriculum-development that should've been discarded (or at least modernized) 20 years ago. I've written about the college dilemma quite often and for many years, so it's not like I just "have it in for" you and your contemporaries, Sasha.

(But truly...the math scores nowadays are dreadful.)

Elizabeth said...

RevRon:
"If we look closely at the historical success or failure of socialist experiments, we will see that the failures were the result of the unchecked appetites of the leaders, and the successes occurred when there was a genuine commitment to the well-being of the whole - much like the successes and failures of any other social structure."

Amen.

Elizabeth said...

One more comment to RevRon's post:
"When one does deign to offer assistance, it is typically before an audience, reduced to a proclamation of the giver's magnanimous nature, rather than a purely compassionate act."

This is one of the problems I have with this kind of "charity." But I also have an issue with charity itself, at least as understood by the conservative crowd, who elevate it to both a virtue and *the* way to alleviate poverty here (and elsewhere).

Yes, it is a "virtue" -- in the self-appraising eyes of the giver, who feels better and nobler in effect. But it is profoundly -- and I mean *profoundly* -- demeaning to the recipients of this "noble gesture." There is absolutely nothing positive and good in being on the receiving end of somebody's charity (personally, I'd rather die -- and I mean it literally). Being reduced to dependence on the charity of individuals (and I don't mean relatives and close friends in crisis situations) is one of the greatest blows to human dignity, imo. And it's an unforgivable one in rich countries that are able to modify their economic systems in a way that would eliminate the need for individual charity. And I mean the need, not the desire; because when there is no longer a need to "rescue" others from dire poverty and people still want to give to others, in however form they privately desire, then why not -- it's their personal business. But when we make it a conservative "virtue," and, even worse, consider it the method of pseudo-alleviating social inequalities, then we err severely in many ways.

Steve Salerno said...

Your outlook seems a bit extreme and Draconion, Elizabeth, as there are many types of charity (love, for example, has a strong charitable component--would you refuse that as well?), and even when it comes to our financial circumstances, much (if not all) of that is a byproduct of various accidents-of-birth, in my estimation. I don't see why one who's been unlucky should feel any qualms about voluntary assistance from those who've been luckier. But I've known many people like that, including my dad, whom I greatly respected (and loved), but who also had that stoic "Italian thing" about a Man being duty-bound to provide for his family. When he lost his job late in life and then got cancer and became unemployable, he felt diminished morally as well as physically, and that was a damn shame. He had enough to think about as it was.

Elizabeth said...

Steve, love aside, because it is a different bird altogether (imo), I was talking specifically about the conservative push to eliminate all public assistance (for example) and replacing it with voluntary charity. There are many highly educated people who seem to think this is a good thing, including my Harvard Ph.D. lawyer friend, who, being a staunch libertarian, believes this is the right way to go. I can't help but notice that making millions of $$ puts her out of the receiving category, likely ever, on the charity's end.

No, Steve, I stand by it, as someone who grew up very poor and had the misfortune to be a target of that kind of "charity" -- it's one of the greatest insults to human dignity (and has nothing to do with love). Memo to compassionate conservatives: Please keep your "charity" to yourself. It's not what this country -- or any country -- needs. And, btw, yes, there is a big difference in collecting unemployment checks from the government that provides fair assistance to its citizens down on their luck, and waiting for the "charity" of individuals to rescue you. A huge difference, and one that the conservative crowd either pooh-poohs or does not understand (or both).

And Steve, your dad knew things.

Steve Salerno said...

In all seriousness, Eliz--I'm not sure I see the difference that you think is so clear. To me you're putting a middleman in place so that the charity seems more indirect and, therefore, you don't have to feel as personally beholden (i.e. to a specific human being). It's kind of like the death penalty: We don't allow victims' families to go kill the person who murdered their loved one, but we have the death penalty in place to sanitize the process. What's really the difference? It's state-sponsored vengeance.

Charity is charity, isn't it? Whether it's federal charity or Bill Gates. Yes? No?

Elizabeth said...

The difference, in principle at least, Steve, is in upholding the ideals of fairness, justice, and respect for dignity of the individual human being. It is obvious to me -- so much so that I'm not sure why it is not obvious to you. LOL.

I don't have time now to go into details -- later perhaps, but hope also others (who get my point? LOL some more) will weigh in. (Hope does spring eternal, after all...)

RevRon's Rants said...

Elizabeth, I think that "pride" is the key word in describing the devastating effect of receiving charity. And I think that the false pride of expecting one's self to be fully autonomous bears a striking resemblance to the false self-esteem proffered by the SHAM industry.

This is not to say that I disagree with your assessment as to the preferred source of assistance, but rather that we would do well to try to understand our aversion to anything that diminishes our sense of pride in ourselves.

I grew up with the same sensibility that Steve's dad displayed, and have on a couple of occasions felt humiliated at being the recipient of another's charity. Circumstance, however, trumped pride on those occasions.

It took some time, but I ultimately saw both sides of the act of giving: the giver was blessed by the opportunity to help, and the recipient (myself) was forced to both acknowledge the kindness and taste the humility of interdependence.

The real touchy area in the exchange arises when both parties fail to realize that a gift isn't a gift until it is released. Too many times, one or the other party places conditions upon the gift, which results in hard feelings on one side or the other. Such is my main gripe with the "compassionate conservative" (and bleeding-heart liberal!) acts of charity; Acquiescence to my ideology and perspectives is expected in return for my contribution.

Steve Salerno said...

OK, but if somebody walks up to me on the street and hands me $10,000, that insults my dignity? Are you kidding? I'm a writer. ;)

Steve Salerno said...

P.S. I wrote the above comment before reading Ron's, but that basically covers it for me, too.

Elizabeth said...

LOL continuously now. When that happens, Steve, get the guy's address and phone number and forward both to me, OK?

Seriously, however -- and you too, please -- you would not take the money unless you were really sure there are no strings attached (at least I suspect so -- though I may be wrong ;).

So that speaks to Ron's observation, partially at least (on the strings attached in charity). And I'll try to write more later, if I have time.

Elizabeth said...

OK, this is unrelated, but could you, fellow bloggers, explain to me how you collapse those long URLs into one neat and short, blue-colored link?

Thanks in advance.

Akhetnu said...

Roger O'Keefe:

While America does offer opportunity, don't forget that any success comes through cooperation or assistance from others, be it coworkers you pass on the ladder or the humble low-wage earners in service and support. No man is truly 100% self made.

Even when there is money to be had by genuine effort (and luck), the initial capital comes from others: parental contributions (monetary safety net and emotional upbringing), loans from banks pooled by other people's money, benefactors, etc. I don't approve of penalizing effort or success, but I also believe that the truly rich man is he who needs the least and has "enough". It is a philosophy perfectly compatible with a free market; at most it only lowers demand.

I don't really think it is fair to compare voluntary giving to voluntary socialism either. Charity is a noble instinct in man, and it can coexist with his drive to support himself, especially when the little guy is remembered for his unsung contributions. Or when the giver humbly cognizant his advantages that the other may have lacked through no fault of his own.

Akhetnu said...

Charity is actually a bulwark against socialism. Even if one's fortunes were assisted and hence not fully one's own, it does not therefore mean that centralized bureaucrats should earmark it for pet projects either. Charity (official or unofficial, monetary or labor) enables one to give back and help others in ways that are theoretically less prone to corruption. These are not the kind of attitudes that should be forced and hence not genuine; they must be arrived at by our own conscience and introspection. One who works with those less fortunate does not commit any sin against the never-truly-free market, but rather he manifests the empathy that coexists with the instinct of personal survival.

P.S. Steve: Yeah, I think alot of these celebrities can do better with their own large contributions. I agree with the poster who said that the Gates' put their money where their mouths are. While concerts can raise publicity and awareness, they need not be so high-maintenance.

Elizabeth said...

WARNING: LONG POST.

Steve: "To me you're putting a middleman in place so that the charity seems more indirect and, therefore, you don't have to feel as personally beholden (i.e. to a specific human being)."

Which is one of the benefits here. That middleman, as you call it, removes the charity's sting -- and removes the charity altogether. The public assistance program for the downtrodden is a guaranteed and reliable means to ensure that when your luck runs out for whatever reason, your country won't let you and your family starve to death. It's not charity -- it's justice.

Charity, OTOH, is unpredictable, capricious and demeaning, depending on the "good will" or, more often, hubris of the giver. It may or may not come, and if it does, there are always strings attached, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, not the least of those the dubious "gratitude" owed to the charity giver. (As RevRon's already noted.)

That's one argument, of many, against it.

Optimally, creating employment opportunities that allow one decent pay and means of supporting him/herself and his/her family is the best course of action. But considering human life as it is, with its fair (or not) share of suffering and misery which often touch us when we least expect it, we have to have reliable ways to minimize the toxic effects of this suffering on individuals and society at large. I will argue that capricious individual charity is not among those means.

And among other unintended consequences of even "noble" charity, as exemplified by the Gates Foundation, is the havoc it wreaks on areas adjacent to those directly targeted by their beneficence. (If you show me how to make long URLs short and pretty blue, I'd send you relevant links.)

One could argue that without widespread and more fundamental systemic changes in the politics and economy of the affected countries giving money to certain causes not only does not help all that much, but also creates additional problems and, perhaps more importantly, impedes social progress. (Although at stake here is also the very tangible issue of individual human lives saved by the Gateses etc., so likely (and certainly from the POV of people whose lives were saved) their charity is (much, much) better than nothing. But perhaps their monies and good will could be directed differently and to a greater good. And perhaps not, I realize that.)

A disclaimer: I do respect what the Gates Foundation does and I have no doubt that they employ the best experts on the subjects they tackle. Just observing from the sidelines (an easy and somewhat shameful task, I know).

To RevRon: "And I think that the false pride of expecting one's self to be fully autonomous bears a striking resemblance to the false self-esteem proffered by the SHAM industry."

Ah, yes, pride. We all have it, don't we? And I certainly have it in (over)abundance, it appears. But before we start making distinctions between the true and false kind, I think we need to remember that in many circumstances, pride is the last safeguard of our dignity, even when everything else has been taken away from us. So I'm not too eager to judge someone's pride as false (other than my own) simply because they refuse to follow my ideas of what's good for them. I'm sure, RevRon, that you'd agree. :)

So, yes, pride plays a role in our views on charity. But again, what is wrong with that? I'm not talking about being taught to acknowledge our interdependence, because, in my judgment, that would and should be accomplished by sharing, motivated by love, which springs from our (genuine) relationships with others who know us -- our family and friends. The institutionalized charity -- as in the magnanimous rich giving to the helpless poor (read: handouts) -- is far from fostering "interdependence" and really helping others. (You know that saying about giving man fish instead of teaching him to fish -- so it's that, and then some.)

Just ask the rich how much in common they feel they have with the poor, other than discharging their obligation to give away to them some of their profits (and for various reasons, let's face it: tax write-offs, eternal salvation -- or their pastor says so, social acclaim and standing, etc.) Interdependence my behind (sorry).

P.S. I gotta say that I like my pride, more so than others' charity; but that's just me. :)

Reformed Smoker said...

Great post Steve, but I'm not sure your argument stands up. In fact I'm not sure your argument is valid at all, as it's based on an assumption.

The assumption being that "Bono et al" want to put an end to world poverty and hunger, you see I don't believe that's their aim at all, at least not directly.

They want to create a "machine" that will stand the test of time and span several generations. A machine that will keep donating monies on a regular basis. What "Bono et all" do not want to do is take ownership of the problem and that's exactly what they would be doing if they donated large amounts of money to the cause. Also the general public would feel less inclined to donate money if they thought that the rich and famous "have it covered".

It's a well thought out plan and that needs to be considered whilst we're "picking it to pieces".

Anonymous said...

Hi Elizabeth

I invite you to come and have a look at the Benefits society created by government handouts in the UK. There are households here with 5 generations who have never worked in their lives and don't see the need to start now. They feel an entitlement to the benefits they receive. They feel no embarresment about their life status and are very crafty about how they work the system to tehir own advantage.

Charity I think works better exactly for the "pride" issue. If you have to face the person that is giving you the money and you feel bad about having to take it - maybe it will spur you onto to doing something that will allow you not to need their charity any more.

I'm not talking about people who are genuinly unable to care for themselves - I'm talking about the loafers that ride the system.

I don't know why it works like this - but the evidence is very clear.

Londoner

Steve Salerno said...

Smoker, your point about creating a machine definitely has merit--and I hadn't thought of it that way. But I still say that if they literally followed my advice here by giving a year's income to the cause, the machine would be far less necessary on an ongoing basis. Wouldn't you at least give me that?

Elizabeth said...

Londoner, I see your point. Shame them to honesty by face-to-face giving, yes, there is merit to that (LOL).

I think, however, that there will always be those who abuse any assistance program, whether the government or individual charity based. Can you -- or anyone -- say with certainty that monies from individual charities are not misappropriated? Please note, again, that I have not been talking about personal help given by relatives and friends, which is the typical instance of face-to-face giving. I am talking about the anonymous rich bestowing their monies on the poor, needy masses. I think that counting on pride and shame as the safeguard of honesty here will not work so well (beginning with those overseeing the distribution of the money).

A decent public assistance program should have built-in disincentives to excessive use and provide [good] alternatives to staying in the program (i.e. decently paying jobs, most obviously). But that's another big issue.

Now, the story of Muhammad Yunus and his microcredit initiative shows that there are workable alternatives to charity toward the poor, ones that support human dignity and foster independence. Yunus set out to lend small amounts of money to large numbers of poor women (since he learned quickly enough that women used the monies to help their families and communities, and to start businesses, while men spent them on themselves) and created a kind of revolution in Bangladesh and beyond. One could justifiably compare his model of helping the poor with that of the celebrities' giveaways and see the clear difference (I think).

You can do any search on Yunus and get more info (I can't master those blue links).

Elizabeth said...

An aside plug (but one relevant to the subjects of celebrity and hypocrisy) from SHAMblog's own Self-Help in the News panel:

A snarky look at the Oprah/Tolle enterprise/cult:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,351545,00.html

The Crack Emcee said...

Hey Y'all,

First, I agree with Roger, about "bank account envy" - and U2's dreadful music. Let's not lose the plot of what we Americans have done/are doing: capitalism - it's the only way to go.

Second, Steve's point about the celebrities being the one's asking for an accounting is correct: they should put up or shut up. And Oprah, especially, should just shut up. Or be shut up. (I'm definitely in favor of the latter.)

Third, whenever I hear liberals declaring what conservatives should be, like they care about, or understand, conservatism, I have to laugh. Unlike liberalism, conservatism isn't an unwavering ideology but one of flexability, so what a liberal may see as an abandonment of principles is, more then likely, a necessary move to advance an over-arching cause in conservatism's favor - a behavior that's totally rational - so, consequently, totally alien to the liberal mindset. Put another way, "It's a conservative thing: you wouldn't understand."

"Today's students, by and large, are something less than dedicated in their pursuit of knowledge."

That was my forth point, Sassy Sasha. College students, today, are shameless in their loud-mouthed ignorance and being resentful of people saying so is only going to add to the perception they're spoiled whiners whose parents should've saved their money and beat their kids more.

Last, but not least, I have a donate button on my blog and anybody that wants to give (anonymously or not) is more than welcome to do so, without having to worry themselves silly about hurting my pride, because, as my last comment proves, I have none. (LOL)

CMC

RevRon's Rants said...

Sigh... Just to be clear, I have nothing whatever against conservatism, per se, any more than I have anything against liberalism. Both have a place in a civilized culture. What I *do* object to is people who preen and posture, claiming to be one or the other, yet whose actions are completely out of sync with the ideology they claim to follow. And they're easy to spot - at least, to anyone who hasn't been drinking the same kool-aid.

Elizabeth said...

CMC, you say tomato... Let's have some fun with words. Can't resist, y'know.;)

Whenever I hear mis..., er, some people declaring what feminists should be, like they care about, or understand, feminism, I have to laugh. Unlike misogyny, feminism isn't an unwavering bias-based ideology but one of flexibility, so what a misogynist may see as an abandonment of principles and insult to nature is, more than likely, a necessary move to advance an over-arching cause in feminism's favor - a behavior that's totally rational and justifiable - so, consequently, totally alien to the misogynist mindset. Put another way, "It's a feminist thing: you wouldn't understand."

LOL.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz, see, this is where I think all advocacy efforts (that seek to bring about "equality") are misguided and ultimately go awry. In the very act of naming it a "feminist" enterprise (or a "black studies" program, or a "Jewish anti-defamation league," or "the sons of Italy," or whatever the hell you want to call it), you are in effect perpetuating the very ill that you seek to correct. If women felt they were being treated unjustly in society, the answer was not to band together as women--but to seek to have ALL people band together to correct the problem universally. In other words, the response to being told "women can't vote" is not, in my view, to organize other women and insist that "women must have the right to vote!", but rather to try to band together with everyone and have a law passed that says "ALL humans have the right to vote." It's a subtle difference but a very important one.

This is the same absurdity that handicaps all of the current racial initiatives; you cannot, I repeat, cannot possibly have a colorblind society in which we're constantly tracking and micromanaging the progress of one particular color. Every time someone says "black is beautiful," s/he is giving an opponent the license to say "black is ugly." The only real way out is to say "there's no such thing as black" (or white, or whatever).

Elizabeth said...

No time now, so very briefly:
You say, "ALL humans have the right to vote."

This is the main principle of feminism. If you look at history of the movement, you'll see the convergence with abolitionism and, in general, with the human rights movement. Underscoring the distinctions is only necessary when faced, well, with misogyny. :)

And, btw, my post was a nudge to CMC (us feminists have a sense of humor, sometimes;), not an advocacy attempt -- to show how the words and thoughts we use can deceive us. (Because your objections, Steve, should also apply to conservatism, liberalism, and other -isms we use to distinguish ourselves from each other.)

Hope it makes sense? If not, I'll try to expand on it later.

Elizabeth said...

P.S. Steve:
"In other words, the response to being told "women can't vote" is not, in my view, to organize other women and insist that "women must have the right to vote!", but rather to try to band together with everyone and have a law passed that says "ALL humans have the right to vote."

Ok, I'm confused a bit about this one now that I read it again. What other groups of people were politically disenfranchised as long as women?

Women were the last ones to get the right to vote, so it just would not make sense, logically speaking, for them to advocate that "ALL people should have the right to vote," while ALL OTHER PEOPLE, except women, already had that right.

Elizabeth said...

Before the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870, a large chunk of the women suffrage movement was connected with the abolitionist movement, and women campaigned on the "ALL people should have the right to vote" platform. (And what a struggle that was.)

But then, in 1870, it turned out that yes, all people, *except women*, would get that right. Somehow women were still not human enough to deserve it. It was a major blow to the suffrage movement and it caused a rift between formerly friendly abolitionists and feminists.

So what were women to do, really? Still repeat that ALL people had the right to vote, while, in fact, they were the only ones left out, outrageously so, for another 50 years?

I get your egalitarian sentiment, Steve, but, you know, it's not applicable here, from the POV of history and logic.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz, no need to obsess over this. I'm not sure we're going to agree in the end anyway. My basic point is that any effort at "equality" that begins by underscoring differences between people (or dividing people into blocs sorted by self-interest) is inherently a catch-22.

Steve Salerno said...

OK, I hadn't realized that you posted other comments on the same theme, so let me just respond to your comment of 12:55 here.

From my POV, you are making my point. You're not supposed to just seek out other disenfranchised people. That very act--seeking out and/or banding together with other people who are similarly situated--creates a killing "defect" in the march toward equality. By definition.

Elizabeth said...

Not obsessing, just 'splaning, yanno.
(And done, btw.:))

RockitQueen said...

Thank you for posting this, Steve! Every time one of these self-serving events comes on TV, it makes me hate Hollywood just a little bit more.

Unless, of course, it includes "You'll Never Walk Alone."

Steve Salerno said...

Rockit: Yes, I had you pegged for a Jerry Lewis fan. Also, Wayne Newton, the Hoff, Donnie & Marie...did I leave anyone out? ;)

The Crack Emcee said...

Steve and Elizabeth,

This has been one of my pet peeves for a long time:

When we had the Civil Rights Movement - think MLK's legacy - everyone did band together (as Steve said) but that jump to "Black Power", "Feminism", and "Gay Rights", etc., just shot a hole through the whole thing - and I want nothing to do with any of 'em. I'm not alone, as a "black" person, in becoming resentful of how women, gays, Mexicans - whoever - exploit it for their own ends, without a care for the black people who opened everything up. Mind you, as you know, I'm just as hard on "blacks", for the original sin of the "Black Power" movement, but (and I'll admit I might be wrong in feeling this way) with black education levels being what they are, I excuse it, to a certain extent. But everybody else on the bandwagon, I think, should be ashamed for their cynicism and self-interested calculating.

It's been extremely damaging to everything that was accomplished.

RevRon's Rants said...

I must've wandered into the Twilight Zone, because I find myself pretty much agreeing with crack here. :-)

In the 30's and 40's, Andy Hardy would frequently have the brilliant idea to put on a show. In the60's and beyond, damn near every subgroup of humanity had the brilliant idea to put on a "movement." Even if the initial motivation was borne of a hunger for progress, most devolved into little more than justifications for dragging out the soapboxes and bullhorns. The noble causes seemed to disappear, overshadowed by the scramble of personalities seeking the limelight.

I won't say that nothing good came of the "movements." Public awareness was focused upon some things that had been either hidden or not discussed, and there were some positive results, such as the end of the Vietnam war and the acknowledgment of individual's rights. The movements themselves, however, seemed to dwindle out, and most of the "leaders" of those movements either got real jobs or figured out how to make careers in front of the media, actually hurting the "movement" in the process.

Steve Salerno said...

Rev: I find myself pretty much agreeing with crack here. :-)

I actually think I need to retire the blog right here and now, or at least suspend it for a while, so that we can savor this moment....

RevRon's Rants said...

Well, when he's (not too far) right, he's right, and I wanted to acknowledge it. :-)

I'm certain we'd strongly disagree as to the effects that came out of some of those movements - not to mention, the motivations of some of the "leaders" - but the deterioration of virtually every big movement into either a personality parade or a ridiculous demand for entitlements is pretty obvious.

And now, we return to our regularly scheduled knife fight... :-)

The Crack Emcee said...

Wow - I'm speechless.

mikecane2008 said...

>>>One reason I like Bill (and Melinda) Gates is the amount of money he's donated to charity - Over $30 billion so far. He's walking the walk.

Uh, no. He's vying for a Nobel Prize.

And got all that "giveaway money" by basically sucking the life out of companies that threatened what he believed was "rightfully" his -- which is to *everything*.

mikecane2008 said...

Hey, Steve, you know what's even *more* bitterly funny than celebs asking *us* for money?

*Corporations* asking us to donate funds to restore *their* movies. Oh, AMC was famous for wagging its tush at its viewers and asking them if they wanted a piece of that.

Meanwhile, should you grab one of those films in an authorized digital manner, they companies will prosecute your tush under the DMCA.

Hey, maybe McdDonald's is missing an opportunity here. With the price of wheat so high, why not hold an "Adopt A Cow" telethon?

Anonymous said...

Tell you what: Any one of these celebrities (or hundreds of others) are more than welcome to toss, say, $100 million, or $10 million or $1 million or even $100, my way anytime. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, are you listening?!

Anonymous said...

Bill Gates here -

Sorry, anonymous. we tried to throw a couple of million your way, but didn't know who you are or how to contact you. That Internet anonymity thing is a 2-edged sword, isn't it? :-)

hehe...
the Rev

Elizabeth said...

Thank you, the Rev! (LMAO. And nodding head.)