Friday, September 23, 2005

Katrina and the Waves (of charitable donations)

Okay, so I should be ashamed of myself for submitting to the temptation to make such an obviously god-awful pun BUT... I do have a point.

Everywhere I go, especially on the Georgetown campus it seems, I'm getting some good-doer, guilt-trippingly trying to part me from the few dollars in my already very slim wallet.

Example #1. As I am buying a cup of tea.....

Coffee Shop Person, pointing at a small container of notes and change: "For every dollar you donate The Corp (American equivalent of the SU) will donate two."
Me: "Oh right. Umm. Okay. Where's the milk?" (Shuffles away, looking at my shoes, feeling every bit the tight, miserly bastard that the glare she is giving me indicates that she thinks I am.)

Example #2. As I am walking back to my room from class.

Typically preppy Georgetown girl, smiling gormlessly: Would you like to buy some beads for the victims of Hurricane Katrina?
Me: No.

Her stare practically burns burns through my back as I continue on and she presumably imagines me to have no soul, a heart of stone and to probably be a combination of Pol Pot, Scrooge and Lucifer himself.

There are numerous other instances of this type of event. There's always some sap sat out in the square trying to sell t-shirts or baseball tickets or brownies with half the proceeds apparently going to the Red Cross or some such organization.

Now, while you may suspect otherwise, it's not that I am the evil creature that these people whose advances I reject out of hand believe me to be. I have every sympathy for anyone caught up in this horrific disaster I really do. It must be horrific to have lost, not just everything you own, but relatives and friends as well.

However, America is supposed to be the wealthiest, most advanced country in the world and if George Bush and his evil crony bastards can source the millions/billions/trillions of dollars to invade any country it feels like on a whim, killing 2000+ American citizens and countless numbers of "liberated" Iraqis along the way, they sure as hell better be able to stump up the cash to look after the people of New Orleans and put their city back to together. Why should it be the responsibility of the American citizen to provide the cash out of his/her own pocket?

Having said that, I would be a fool to ignore the fact that Congress has indeed come up with many billions of $$$$$$$ for the relief effort. Is it enough? I have no idea. What does a city cost these days?

I'm not quite sure what the problem is. It may well come back to the historical American fear and mistrust of big, centralized rule (which itself, if my historical understanding is even close to accurate, stems from the dislike that they have of being governed by a powerful distant ruler and hence was partly why they kicked us Brits out in seventeen-seventy-something and can also be blamed for the Civil Way of eighteen-sixty-something), that don't have much faith in the Federal Government's ability to sort things out and believe that the funds will be lost/slowed down by the buraucratic process and the people that need it won't actually get it. Legitimate concern I spose. Giving to a recognized charitable organization I guess bypasses this.

Alternatively it could be that there is an inherent good spirit in the hearts of Americans and they have a need to feel like they're actually doing something tanglible and good themselves.

While this is very nice to see it still seems somewhat difficult to overcome the fact that it takes a big event like this to stimulate a one-off generosity in the people but when it comes to consistent backing of a social welfare system, the wealthy American elite are remarkably disinclined to support it. Higher taxes to fund social security, unemployment programs, healthcare? You've got to be kidding right? Why should they share their hard-earned wages with the useless, lazy, lower echelons of society?

I dunno, maybe I just resent being seen as an embodiment of evil but there are some things that just don't seem to fit. Poverty exists in America whether there's been a natural disaster or not. Giving to charity is not a long-term way of addressing the imbalance, even if it's a short-term way of addressing your guilt.


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Mary said...

oh my gosh, i know exactly what you mean. at least they're finally toning this whole thing down now. grrr, it's so annoying