PostHeaderIcon Bah Humbug

I participated extensively today on an interesting thread at the Secular Right Blog, regarding a study that claimed Secular Conservatives were the stingiest of givers to charity. This is a topic I hold some passion for, and among several rebuttals to challenges, I made the following three posts which I repeat here for posterity:

Oh my, so many thoughts on this subject… I could write an epistle on it; but will try to break it into separate comments.

First, Secular Conservatives, who to my mind are closet libertarians, are precisely the rational folks who understand the virtue of selfishness and the evil of altruism. One would hope that a Secular Conservative would not succumb to guilt, and allow their self-worth to be judged by the role models of the altruistic Robin Hoods of the Secular Left, or the altruistic Good Samaritans of the Christian Right.

Both exalt victimhood and demonize the industrious geese that lay the golden eggs, which they so enjoy redistributing as charity. All either is peddling is guilt; and I for one, am not buying it. I am not a serf or slave in a collective, and owe no one outside my household a living.

Yes, I acknowledge that I am totally selfish and immune to guilt over it. I posit that there is no such thing as an altruistic act. Those who think so, are ignoring the personal pleasure the giver takes from the giving. When I do someone a kindness, the good feeling I received exceeded the value of my charity. Otherwise, I would not have voluntarily done it. Could it be otherwise?

That said, those I regularly encounter around me, generally benefit from my selfish industry; be they employees, customers, or neighbors. One thing is sure; as a self-sufficient member of society, I am not a drain on their resources in the slightest. ◄Dave►

I wonder how much charity by the rationally selfish goes unreported. Mine certainly never is.

I rather enjoy being charitable, when I personally know the recipient, or otherwise can see for myself the positive effect of my act of charity. I never have a coin left in my pocket after walking past a Salvation Army kettle, and sometimes stuff a bill or two in one as well; but that is the only organized charity I ever contribute to.

I discovered long ago the immeasurable pleasure I could purchase for myself, by the simple act of giving a hundred dollar tip for a cup of coffee at this time of year. When I can see for myself the determination of a struggling young single mom to provide for her family, giving her a hand in making their Christmas special is incredibly satisfying. The utterly sincere gratitude I receive from another diligent human, who does not claim entitlement to my earnings, nor consider my gift coerced from me or extracted out of guilt, is just priceless.

I own a preschool, with an authentic Montessori education program second to none, and struggle to keep tuition rates affordable to average families in my community. Since we could easily double them and cater to the elite, as so many other Montessori schools do, that in itself is arguably an unreported act of charity.

Moreover, we always accept a few welfare subsidized students, for the diversity it provides in our environment, even though the paperwork this entails is onerous, and it is not uncommon for a parent to lose eligibility midyear and not be able to afford the tuition without it. Frequently when this happens, we will absorb the lost income for the sake of the child, if not the too often hopelessly screwed up parent. Since space in a classroom is all that we have to sell, this too represents thousands of dollars of unreported charity from a very selfish man.

Needless to say, I do it for the gratification of knowing I am making a difference in the life of a hapless child I personally know and have grown fond of. Color me selfish and proud of it; but at least I do it voluntarily, avoid the wasted overhead of a middleman, get to choose my own cause, and see the positive effect for myself. ◄Dave►

The best thing any individual can do to alleviate poverty is start a business and create jobs.

Agreed. Those who haven’t tried this, probably have no idea how many charity schemes exist, and why business people get an unjust reputation as being greedy and/or hardhearted. There are all manner of quasi-fraudulent organizations with elaborate schemes for organizing local charity events to raise money for one obscure cause or another, which consume 90% or more of what they collect in their own overhead, and they are constantly pestering small businesses to sponsor them.

Then, there are all the well-meaning, but just as irritating, locally concocted charity drives that expect every business to jump at the chance to donate something to their oh-so-worthy cause. Besides the churches and traditional benevolent societies, it seems that every social club in town feels a need to put on at least one charity event every year, to “give back to the community.” You might be amazed at the excuses people use to form such a club, for they are legion. My own Corvette club comes to mind; but egad, some will even form among owners of Mustangs! 🙂

The guys just want to play with their toys; but the wives always include a few civic minded ladies who insist that even a car show should have a charity raffle to justify the event. Then they hit up every business in town to be a sponsor or at least donate a prize for the raffle.

Most small businesses get from several to many calls every week from these people, and simply could not donate to all of them and still make payroll. Choices have to be made, and it is usually a no-win proposition. Trying to say, “no” often elicits the guilt card, implying one is selfish or not civic minded enough. Saying, “yes” is not considered virtuous, only expected. Then, those turned down out of necessity, are likely to tell their friends about the Scrooge. Talk about the world being unfair…

As a Christmas gift to the entrepreneurs hereabouts, allow me to share a surefire, yet polite, method for cutting these calls short, before the guilt card is ever played. I stop them mid-spiel with, “I’m sorry, our charity budget is already allocated for this year, perhaps you might apply earlier for consideration in next years budget.” This always works, and in hundreds of uses, I have only ever been asked once when the window for application is. The pros from out of town hang up immediately, to move on to greener pastures with their telemarketing time. The local amateurs lose the leverage of guilt, because I have acknowledged my “civic duty” to be charitable, and implied that I am even organized about it. Stymied, they usually just politely thank me for my time and hang up too. Try it; you will love the effect. ◄Dave►

As I said, I have a bee in my bonnet over the subject, and have made myself a nuisance to the sob sisters in my Corvette club; but I reckon my reasoning is sound, and business people get a really bad rap they do not deserve over it. ◄Dave►

4 Responses to “Bah Humbug”

  • I’m glad you posted this here. I was starting to think, “get a blog”.
    I’ve been battling to write more for my own many blogs than SR myself.

    It is aways interesting to see people write about their own lives after long being part of a more anonymous discussion. I never would have guessed you to be twice my age, or a preschool owner.

  • ◄Dave► says:

    Yeah, I enjoy writing; but I prefer discourse and debate to writing a book nobody would ever read. I’ll spend more time here once I corral enough articulate thinkers like you as commenters to make it interesting. 🙂

    Altruism vs. Selfishness is always a good topic for debate, so I probably got carried away today. I love challenging someone to think of an unselfish act, and then showing them how it is not. I have Tom currently working on it over here. 🙂

    I don’t know if you regard my age and current business as good or bad; but I have had a very full and varied life, which color my perspectives on many things. So, it is not surprising that I don’t sound like an old preschool owner, which I have only been for twelve years. Stick around, and I will eventually mention several diverse careers; from electronic engineer and computer programmer, through mercenary in Africa or commercial fisherman in Hawaii, to cattle rancher in California… and several more. I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up; but I am in no hurry to do so. 🙂

  • A good policy. I’ve yet to see any reason to grow up myself.

    I have a disarming habit of making neutral comments. I think it surprises people because they figure I’m always picky and opinionated. Your profession I simply never would have guessed. Your age surprised me mostly because you seem more up with the times than most people I know over the age of 35. On balance I suppose that makes it a good thing.

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