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Philosophy Cafe - Cafe Philosophique Message Board › Your Last Word on CHARITY

Your Last Word on CHARITY

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 79
Here's what I pulled from the concept map I was updating for most of our discussion. Feel free to write your own, though.

• When one gives, is there an obligation to keep on giving? If so, where does it come from? Should there be a public scorecard for giving, say, to create role models, or should we incentivize charity in other ways?
• Sometimes panhandling carries connotations of extortion (try getting a parking space in North Beach on a weekend). Explore this provocative equivalence.
• Are motives or results more important? Should we approve of giving (others' or our own) because of why they give, or because of the consequences for donor, recipient, or society? Sticky cases might include drug dealers who are pillars of their community and corporations that burnish their images with good works.
• Given we cannot precisely determine the worthiness of a charity recipient, how much "benefit of the doubt" is justified? Does it arise from the difficulty of the calculation or from the charitable act itself?
• How crucial is the relationship between giver and recipient? Why might we praise anonymous giving more highly than open giving? Why not? Similarly, what problems are created or solved by not knowing who one is giving to?
• Investigate the delicate social dynamics of letting someone know of your needs: a job reference, a ride, a meal.
• Given that charity is "non-reciprocal," how can one establish "purity of motive" in their giving? Should we try?
• Should our giving be modulated by perceived efficacy? That is, should we give where it works, or solely based on need?
• Some street people have an aversion to public shelters; others might accept food–but only if it's organic. How much of the act of charity is "negotiable"?
• Charitable activity toward one's society, community, or even family might be regarded as social investment. Is gratitude a reasonable expectation then? Should adopted or foster children feel more grateful than natural offspring?
• Is public assistance ("welfare") a good vehicle for charity? Who are "The Poor"? Lots of connections here to other questions: anonymity, voluntary participation, consequentialism, efficacy, qualification of recipients.
• Google pays their janitors to spend time with employees who teach them English so they can work the day shift. If this seems like an especially laudable arrangement, which are the important reasons? If not, why not?
• Assume (perhaps provocatively) that there are persons who have skilled themselves in "professional begging." (I didn't say it was a lucrative profession.) What makes them essentially different from other professionals?
• Take it down to the raw psychology. What goes on in a panhandler's psyche? Does it hurt them to ask? What goes in the passerby's psyche? Does it hurt them to give, or even to respond negatively? Where does the script come from? Can it be changed?
• How do we explain differences in charitable behavior? Empathy? Reasoning? Experience? Social pressure?
user 5618101
Group Organizer
Berkeley, CA
Post #: 143
Seems apt here to list Maimonides' eight levels of charity, from least to most honorable:

8. When donations are given grudgingly.

7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.

6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.

5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.

4. When the recipient is aware of the donor's identity, but the donor does not know the identity of the recipient.

3. When the donor is aware of the recipient's identity, but the recipient is unaware of the source.

2. When the donor and recipient are unknown to each other.

1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 85
• Take it down to the raw psychology. What goes on in a panhandler's psyche? Does it hurt them to ask? What goes on in the passerby's psyche? Does it hurt them to give, or even to decline to give? Where does the script come from? Can it be changed?

Giving comes naturally to children. So does taking. Hence a child's joy when he learns the exchange sequence of giving and taking a single object, perhaps many times over. There seems to be equal joy in each half of the transaction, though perhaps not the same joy. Who doesn't thrill at being selected to receive a gift? And surprising someone with a gift is, well, priceless. What reason could be found for this game, beyond entertainment? To enter-tain is to "hold between": each party holds the other nearby, between a giving and a taking. This is a foundation of sociability, and why the passerby's first instinct is to give something to the panhandler. Except he does not want to be held. Like an adult trapped in a game of passing a ball back and forth to a small child, his eyes are scanning the horizon for a way out. Anything to distract the child. Someone to take his place in the dyad. "Why me?" he asks, knowing perfectly well the rejoinder is "why not you?" He shares with the panhandler, then, at least the sense of unfairness. I imagine that the panhandler also knows the same silent rejoinder confronts his symmetric plea, though he is far ahead of the passerby in accepting it, to have come to the point of putting his palm out. The panhandler in this respect resembles the initiator of a divorce, in being the party prepared for an uncomfortable encounter. The panhandler also knows what to expect, this not being his first time. The passerby senses his own inferior preparation; moreover, he knows his resolve–he's unsure if he has one–is no match for the other's physical need. As the underdog, his challenge is to get away clean. The panhandler's challenge is to be seen. Like the dissatisfied spouse, he has determined the only way to be seen is to leave. Like the plaintive child, though, he has nowhere to go. He throws the ball to the man. The ball bounces off the man while he checks his watch. Or...the man catches the ball, which obliges him to return it, which obliges him to see the child. Which comes to pass? It depends on the throwing: a child throws a ball to an unfamiliar child on a playground. If the child perceives the ball as a throw at him, their relation is otherness, opposition; if the child perceives the ball's flight as a toss to him, a pass he is meant to catch, then their relation constitutes a team. Similarly, a spouse may deliver an indictment, or express concern for the rejected. The passerby and the panhandler become a team more easily if there is a third party–a child in need, a common foe, or a date. But mostly it comes down to how the "pass" feels to the passerby, for the feeling is what instantly adds context: is this volley part of a series, or is it cheap shot? So many accidents can affect this perception, including those in the passerby's history. And it may be that each circumstance becomes associated with what the passerby's resulting perception turns out to be, gradually eliminating ambiguity–the ambiguity that stretches the time in which the panhandler might be seen. None of this instantaneous determination of a relation must align with one's conscious appraisal of right action. So yes, it can hurt to see oneself letting the ball drop.
user 34964582
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 4
WOW! You do know how to put us on both sides. Wonderful essay. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 87
• Google pays their janitors to spend time with employees who teach them English so they can work the day shift. If this seems like an especially laudable arrangement, which are the important reasons? If not, why not?

Every interaction demands a story. If it is initiated by one party, then the other party faces a choice of accepting the story begun by the initiator, or creating a new story. Tension can arise from the strong tendency to create stories that make ourselves look good, because it's less common that one story makes everybody look good. After all, we gotta have our heroes and villains. An archetypal example of this difficulty is charity. The story could be as simple as "A gives X to B", but that is a puzzling story in a culture that prizes ownership: why would A part with something of value, X? We can make the story into a transaction by inventing an "implicit" giving from B to A, perhaps via a third party, C, but then it doesn't look like charity. A more popular approach is to focus on conservation (equal inflow and outflow) for A, and assume that B is going to happy with a freebie: yet some Y is still being created from nothing (to be given to A so that he doesn't "lose"), and B may resent receiving without giving (it put him "in debt," or lowers his status, etc.) This has all the difficulties of adding an implicit transaction–times two, in fact, because both A and B need to be balanced. Plus there remains the intuition that whatever Y A is receiving (or will receive, say, in the afterlife), and whatever Z B is giving (or has given, or had taken from him) should balance anyway, which is to say it all looks like a shell game and no one is really fooled. Not to mention that introducing more parties (to give Y and receive Z) just replicates the mess, especially if those new parties–I'll stop recruiting letters now–are collectives, like economic classes. And for almost-forgotten A and B themselves, what comfort is it, really, to know that "overall" everything balances out? Intellectual comfort, that's all. The only configuration that can achieve emotional balance will involve A and B alone. It cannot be a transaction because B has nothing with a price on it, certainly nothing he can afford to part with. If there absolutely must be a transaction going on (say, to assign a value for tax purposes), then A and B must be on the same side of it, functioning as a team. A team is a unit within which we don't demand accounting, or at least we don't balance accounts at the end of every day. Members of a team can still have distinct roles: A could be the teacher and B the student. Members of a team do have to have a common goal: A and B share the objective of B learning a language, say. A and B are not face-to-face, but instead back-to-back, together pursuing and defending their investment in a mutual project. That it will add economic value only to B is part of an altogether different story, one that might involve tax deductions and employer reputation. We might say the ever-present temptation to regard their interaction as a transaction is thwarted because both parties are putting in more work than benefit they could extract from the other party (the excess value going into their "product.") A and B are a team because they cannot succeed without each other: the janitor will work to learn English because otherwise the employee will feel like he is wasting his time, and the employee will engage with the janitor because it is an opportunity–likely a rare one between a professional and a janitor–to produce a positive result with another human being, to point at something and say, "yeah, we did that." Each of them is working on a story that makes the other look good: that's a practical definition of teamwork. And good for the bottom line.
A former member
Post #: 212
I have panhandled a little, and found it very annoying and frustrating, and try to make shure I will never have to do it again. Usualy it was only for bus fare or something like that. However, I did spend a lot of time beeing broke and fed by others.
Perhaps because of this experiance, I realy enjoy giving food to others. I prefer not to pay for it, because I'm poor, but sometimes I will. I like being a coduite for free food, taking food that would be discarded and giving it to the hungry.
Giving cash is a much less clean transaction, in my view, because you don't know what it will be spent on. I used to respond to panhandlers with "how about if I buy you some food" and so often got a negative response, even if they said they wanted it for food. It made me very distrustful.
Recently I saw a woman holding a sighn that read "I need money for seizure medicine." Having no way to know if it was true, I ingnored it and went into a cafe. I was sipping my tea when I saw another woman (also homeless) hold p the same sighn in the window. Because I trust her, I walked out and gave her a dollar, and she gave it, I believe, to a woman who realy did need seizure medication.
Now, I have to add that I am on public assistance, out of, I belive, necesity, much of which goes for neccesitys, but some of it doesn't. None of it goes for drugs or booze anymore, but in the past, a lot of it did. Am I a hypocrite? Who knows.
Nietzsche said "begging should be outlawed. It annoys me to give to them, and it annoys me not to give to them."
And I do think that this is the jist of the matter. We don't like panhandlers, even non agressive, non-threatening ones, because they force us to think about all of the issues we have raised, and most of the time we prefer not to.
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