Tag Archives: double dipping

Let’s Quit Overthinking Philanthropy

The reason I didn’t want to talk about donating to charity, especially during the Christmas season, is because it’s so often portrayed and spoken of as a thought-free, morally spotless, warm-fuzzy inducing act. A no-brainer. Nothing to fret over. It’s also often one of those things we try to exchange for middle-class guilt; we donate $50 to charity in order to feel free to spend hundreds (thousands) on ourselves and our family and friends without qualms.

The act of donating to charity is a pit of postmodern angst: it’s cliché, it breeds self-righteousness, it can make a student go crazy with self-consciousness and infinite reevaluations of our “real motivations,” and it can instill in us (alternately) a false sense of optimism or a nihilistic feeling of despair and ultimate uselessness (when the realization of the ratio between our donations and our own frivolous personal expenses sets in). It is not, by any means, a no-brainer.

Another problem with donating is that charities are confusing and sometimes we don’t agree with how they operate. We can look up budget reports all day and still not ever really know how charities and government organizations decide which families get turkeys. Also, religious NGOs may direct finances towards pro-life or anti-gay-rights legislation; secular charitable organizations might fund birth control distribution, military support, or homosexual rights. Odds are, you’re going to disagree with some practice of whatever organization you choose.

What I’m worried about is when the confusing details and qualms prevent or inhibit action; we discuss donating to charities, argue about different ones, donate less than we could, and then feel guilty about our own prosperity – the whole process becomes so unpleasantly self-conscious that we begin to avoid it. A lot of us went through a period as children when we got excited about giving money to the poor; then we realized that the hole we’re trying to fill is bottomless. And yeah: social service is like that. It’s bottomless. Need is never ending. Because of this, if we donate to charity with the idea of fixing things permanently, or to assuage some sense of guilt, our worry and shame in this case will only compound upon themselves. And the poor can’t fill their children’s stockings with middle-class guilt.

But seriously. Yes, it feels stupid to think that your two dollars will “make a difference in someone’s life”. Yes, even the bother of donating something is enough to keep our money in our pockets. Yes, it’s a little paralyzing to think of how much we’re giving versus how much we’re keeping and receiving. But seriously. Seriously – just stop analyzing your intentions and donate something. Suck up your self-conscious selves, do some research and deposit some money into your community. Something is better than nothing, but nothing will ever be enough, so don’t feel useless for donating a small amount and don’t feel too satisfied for donating a large amount. And don’t think you have to defend your decision not to donate anything, or fear that you donated less than you think other people think you could or should have, or avoid donating because of your qualms about your possibly selfish motivations — either write a check or don’t, and stop fretting about it so much.The reason I didn’t want to talk about donating to charity, especially during the Christmas season, is because it’s so often portrayed and spoken of as a thought-free, morally spotless, warm-fuzzy inducing act. A no-brainer. Nothing to fret over. It’s also often one of those things we try to exchange for middle-class guilt; we donate $50 to charity in order to feel free to spend hundreds (thousands) on ourselves and our family and friends without qualms.

The act of donating to charity is a pit of postmodern angst: it’s cliché, it breeds self-righteousness, it can make a student go crazy with self-consciousness and infinite reevaluations of our “real motivations,” and it can instill in us (alternately) a false sense of optimism or a nihilistic feeling of despair and ultimate uselessness (when the realization of the ratio between our donations and our own frivolous personal expenses sets in). It is not, by any means, a no-brainer.

Another problem with donating is that charities are confusing and sometimes we don’t agree with how they operate. We can look up budget reports all day and still not ever really know how charities and government organizations decide which families get turkeys. Also, religious NGOs may direct finances towards pro-life or anti-gay-rights legislation; secular charitable organizations might fund birth control distribution, military support, or homosexual rights. Odds are, you’re going to disagree with some practice of whatever organization you choose.

What I’m worried about is when the confusing details and qualms prevent or inhibit action; we discuss donating to charities, argue about different ones, donate less than we could, and then feel guilty about our own prosperity – the whole process becomes so unpleasantly self-conscious that we begin to avoid it. A lot of us went through a period as children when we got excited about giving money to the poor; then we realized that the hole we’re trying to fill is bottomless. And yeah: social service is like that. It’s bottomless. Need is never ending. Because of this, if we donate to charity with the idea of fixing things permanently, or to assuage some sense of guilt, our worry and shame in this case will only compound upon themselves. And the poor can’t fill their children’s stockings with middle-class guilt.

But seriously. Yes, it feels stupid to think that your two dollars will “make a difference in someone’s life”. Yes, even the bother of donating something is enough to keep our money in our pockets. Yes, it’s a little paralyzing to think of how much we’re giving versus how much we’re keeping and receiving. But seriously. Seriously – just stop analyzing your intentions and donate something. Suck up your self-conscious selves, do some research and deposit some money into your community. Something is better than nothing, but nothing will ever be enough, so don’t feel useless for donating a small amount and don’t feel too satisfied for donating a large amount. And don’t think you have to defend your decision not to donate anything, or fear that you donated less than you think other people think you could or should have, or avoid donating because of your qualms about your possibly selfish motivations — either write a check or don’t, and stop fretting about it so much.

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Social Service and the 2012 Election

I was sitting at a meeting reviewing cases of indicted abusers – I intern at a social services office near my college, in the second poorest county in New York – and one case involved a man who had served a few months’ probation for abuse and then, upon release, committed a horridly violent act against the same victim. “We failed this kid,” an officer at the meeting said of the victim.

I like working in social services because it simultaneously disenchants and inspires me in regards to the mechanisms of helping people. I work in an office that gives legal and practical assistance to domestic violence victims, houses a women’s shelter, and runs a food pantry.

Many of our clients tell us that they don’t know what they would do without us, that we were their last chance, etc. After these cases, there is a sense that our tax dollars are being put to good use, as it were – that the social service is doing what a social service is supposed to do. But some clients aren’t as easily rewarding. Some are demanding and abrasive; their accounts of incidences don’t match police reports and they tell scattered and narcissistic stories, the verity of which crumble when anyone asks them to repeat a statement. We get people in our office who are clearly victims, but we also get the conniving, the liars, and people who file abuse complaints just to be vindictive. Our services are alternately treasured and taken advantage of.

Whatever the makeup of social service is, it is definitely not black and white; working with the logistics of public service enforces the fact that there are no clear cut cases, and that every policy is going to, at some point, meet an exception of the rule. Sometimes these exceptions are people; sometimes they are failed by the system. Sometimes (oftentimes) people seek to suck as many resources out of the public sphere as they are legally allotted. A general sense of entitlement pervades the population, which often means that public resources are given out at a competitive, first-come-first-serve basis.

But does the fact that the system is occasionally cheated discount the help it provides others? This is a question that must be asked in regards to every public service.

Charity is not so simple as shelling out money to the poor – though money helps, the uncomfortable truth is that anyone (of any class) who receives money will often not use it to their long term benefit or to that of society. The other danger of charity is the possibility of using monetary donation to excuse ourselves from any personal discomfort or investment. If we consider money the thing that solves the problem (and, believe me, it does help), we can ignore the ugly logistics of how and when and why to distribute it.

This is why any candidate who proposes “simple” tax plans (Herman Cainn, Rick Perry) ends up looking kind of foolish. Perry recently called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and called for the privatization of the whole thing. While basically everyone says that Social Security is pretty screwed up, much of Perry’s criticism of SS seems to be driven by a fad-like propensity for drastic calls for smaller Federal government, and the implications of such a trend on social services is worrisome.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, does have the advantage of actually sticking to his guns on the issues, it seems – but I can’t believe that his defense of less government in regard to social issues – that “increasing federal funding leaves fewer resources available for the voluntary provision of social services” – is practical at all. Calls for smaller federal government often cite the support of the power of state governments instead, but the basic philosophy seems like it would call for less state governments as well as federal.

Policy change is what is really effective. The problem is that there is no one policy change that will fix everything; social programs need to be constantly restructured to adapt to a changing society. This makes policy changes less flashy and more complicated than large donations or huge influxes of funding, and so they receive less public and political attention than they should. The logistics of helping people can be terribly complicated, and a perfect policy will never be implemented, but public assistance is still a noble, if not a glamorous, necessity for society.

Christians, Sex, and Marriage, part 2(ish)

A while ago Evan wrote “Christians, Sex and Marriage”, in which he discussed the culture of sex among Christian young adults. Most of them, it was assumed, would be “saving themselves” for marriage, which is (on the surface) a fairly safe assumption, and applicable to a fair amount of Christian students. The culture of silence about sex, however, and the nervous giggles that attend any discussion of it, and the lack of admission that respected, smiling young Christian couples could possibly be doing anything but kissing chastely behind the dormitories makes me want to shout from the rooftops:

Lots of Christian students are having sex. What’s more worrisome is that lots of Christian students are professionals at alternately justifying and denying it.

Even more students are doing everything they possibly can with each other as often as possible without having the kind of sex that potentially impregnates women—and yeah, I think that the long list of not-actually-that-kind-of-sex possibilities is significantly different from the real deal. I also think that it’s sex. I’m pretty sure it would be as defined by our commandment-following-12-year-old selves, at least.

The problem with sex (for nervous promise-ringed young adults) is that it’s a good thing. The other commandments have translated pretty well into a social behavioral code, because one could argue that stealing, lying, murder, etc. are basically destructive things; sex, however, out of all of the commandments, is not.

So sex is super important, is my point, and an essentially good thing. It is one of the most creative things humans can do. It’s taught to us, however, with all the other Evangelical commandments: Don’t be drunk, Don’t do drugs, Don’t have sex. It’s treated, largely, as a thing to be avoided, feared, or even dismissed (“I Love My Future Wife, And I haven’t Even Met Her Yet” shirts, I’m looking at you). Our sex drives, in a vestigial Gnosticism in the contemporary church that saddens me, are seen as shameful things to be suppressed or ignored.

This attitude works fine until we are actually with someone. The main reason to remain celibate was often, basically, “Because the Bible says so,” an argument which weakens palpably the moment you’re alone with an attractive human being who’s attracted to you too. Most of the sex—including the sex leading up to the “real” sex, which, yes, is very different and which, yes, I’m going to continue to assert is still a big deal (commandment-breaking, I would posit, if you’re concerned about such things)—is wrapped up in substantial layers of vague guilt and shame and self-berating.

To assuage our guilt, we also end up deciding upon arbitrary Ultimate Borders of Virginity (which tend towards frequent revision), e.g., “We’re going to keep on all our clothes.” We then realize, e.g., how much one (I guess two) can actually accomplish while remaining clothed. Rinse and repeat with almost any “line” with which we decide to define Purity. I have never seen any line, like “hands above the waist,” work for a couple. Ever. And yet, sadly, it seems to be one of the main strategies of the inhabitants of steamy cars (or, for the carless: stairways, practice rooms, lean-tos, lobbies, cafeteria booths, parking lots, closets, or lawns).

So what we do is immerse ourselves in cycles of guilt and denial and more guilt. This, needless to say, isn’t super healthy. We start to talk about how it’s basically impossible to find a consistent definition of “adultery” as it’s used in the Old Testament. We find out that “fornication” often only applied to women and commandments against it are preceded by things like “don’t marry your dead husband’s brother.” We reassure ourselves that “sexual immorality” in the New Testament, when you come down to it, is pretty vague. The subject of our “Virginity Rocks” t-shirts becomes somewhat more complex than perhaps we once thought, and these newfound nuances conveniently complement our recently emerged interests.

This quick justification, while rather impressive in its ability to persuade even the previously prudest new couples (our argumentative skills and ability to think outside the box can probably be attributed to a strong liberal arts education), is seriously unhealthy. We are taught from an early age to regard sex as plainly Bad, down there with murder and lying and stealing, and so when we realize that it isn’t quite so terrible, it’s pretty easy to renege on our former simplistic convictions. This—not the sex itself, but the quick way in which we flip from “Obviously Not” to “well maybe just a little bit”—is worrisome.

Christian students are deprived of practical conversation about sex. It seems that the contemporary Christian church doesn’t really know what to do with sex besides tell young people to avoid it. Unless the goal is to leave young people confused and ridden with guilt, unless the goal is to communicate an attitude of oversimplified fear and denial when it comes to sex, and unless we prefer a confused silence to more risky and constructive dissenting discourse, the attitude with which sex is approached throughout young Christians’ lives needs to change.

Guilt in The Congo and the Koprulu Sector

Fairly spoilery.
                                                                                                                                                                      

No matter the medium, there have always been dominant themes in literature. Whether it be the theme of adulthood in About a Boy or the exploration of childhood in Calvin and Hobbes, writers have long voiced their opinions in their work, stating their viewpoints on universal experience. This can clearly be seen in the real time strategy game StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and the novel The Poisonwood Bible. Though [literally] worlds apart in format and subject matter,  the two are bound together beneath the overarching theme of guilt.

Wings of Liberty‘s Jim Raynor is a man haunted by the ghosts of his past. The sector’s current tyrant, Emperor Mengsk, rules with an iron fist and sits proudly upon his throne due to the former-marshal’s aid in the first war. This despot betrayed Raynor’s love, Sarah Kerrigan, by ordering her to place a device on the capital planet which would lure in the voracious Zerg like moths to a flame, and then abandoning her to them. The Zerg would later transform Kerrigan into a creature known far and wide as the Queen of Blades, a malicious killing machine who would later terrorize the sector and kill Raynor’s closest Protoss ally and friend.

Four years later Raynor is taking steps to topple the government he helped establish. His band of rebels is working to right the wrong that is the Terran Dominion, but even in spite of this the loss of Kerrigan and his guilt over her abandonment remain. These feelings are exacerbated when his old friend Tychus Findlay walks back into his life. Years earlier Tychus took the blame for both of them and was incarcerated for nine years. His reappearance in Raynor’s life brings back countless memories of the good ol’ days, and Raynor is forced to constantly defend his friend against the suspicions and accusations of his crew.

As victories accumulate an opportunity arises, a chance to reclaim the Queen of Blades and restore Sarah Kerrigan to her former self arises. However, the source of the offer is Mengsk’s son, bringing him dangerously close to the man he wants dead. The gripping conclusion of the first chapter of the StarCraft II trilogy involves Raynor having to choose between two regrets, two immense sources of guilt, and his decision holds the fate of their world in its hands.

The Poisonwood Bible is the story of the Prices, a Baptist family who moves from Georgia to the unfamiliar wilds of the Congo. Narrated by the five women of the family, the tale is seen and told through the eyes of Orleanna, wife of preacher Nathan Price, and their daughters, Rachel, the eldest, Leah and Adah, the diametric twins, and Ruth May, the youngest. Originally planning on only staying for a year, their missionary tenure in the village of Kilanga is set awry by political upsets, many of which are caused by their own government.

The Prices do not adjust well to life in Africa, and the strain of life in an unfamiliar land is evident in their interactions with one another. While guilt is not present in their lives from the get-go, things take a sharp downhill turn once Nathan Price begins to force Christianity upon the villagers in a manner which borders on antagonistic. Their lives are placed in danger when political unrest begins to encroach on the borders of their existence in Kilanga and natural disasters such as a drought and the resulting famine cause many of them to wish they had never travelled to the Congo in the first place. Guilt’s immense weight finally falls, however, at the death of one of the Price daughters. None of the narrators are exempt from this event, and all are bowed beneath its burden as they move on with their lives, never quite leaving the past behind them.

The second wave of guilt is felt only by some, and it directly involves the once-hopeful nation of the Congo. America’s desire for cheap diamonds and cobalt leads to a scheme that will put the leader they want in charge of the country, a plan which will overthrow the newly-elected Patrice Lumumba, voice of the Congolese. Western guilt lies leaden on the shoulders of most (but not all) of the Price women, the actions of the Belgians in the colonial era and the actions of their own American countrymen in the post-colonial. Lives and hopes lost at the hands of their Western brethren force them to reconsider who they are as people, and to try their best to come to some sort of reconciliation.

Jim Raynor and Orleanna Price both have lines which, while appearing simple on the surface, speak volumes about who they are and what they’ve done with their lives. Facing his final decision Raynor says, “We are who we choose to be,” a line almost stupidly simple at first glance. In it, however, these seven words manage to encompass his decision to turn away from a life of crime to become a marshal, and then a rebel freedom fighter, a path Tychus looks upon scornfully. These words contain within them his choice to set aside revenge for closure, to save lives instead of sit back, and, finally, his decision to choose between what appears just and what could be redemption.

Orleanna, in the first few pages of the book, tells the reader, “One has only a life of one’s own.” This straightforward statement means more and more as the narrative progresses, yet from the beginning it reveals that she does not really feel needed or loved, and thus has only herself as company. As the novel goes on Orleanna makes her own pivotal decision, one that directly affects her remaining daughters and their lives to come. Opting to set aside her weak-willed self and to put on strength and intensity, she becomes a woman motivated by the eventual safety of what family she has left.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and The Poisonwood Bible both feature protagonists who are riddled with guilt and yet seek freedom from it, who are forced to face it and move on, and who make their largest decisions in the midst of disaster, panic, and betrayal. Both have lived lives full of regrets, yet firmly choose to make one less mistake, for the sake of others and not for themselves.

Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. New York: Harper Flamingo, 1998. Print.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. V 1.0.1.16195. 31 July 2010. Blizzard Entertainment. 31 July 2010.

The Representation of East Asian Characters in Two Popular Western Comic Strips

Familiar to almost anyone who grew up in America, Archie Comics has told the stories of a fairly interesting group of teenagers living in the town of Riverdale for decades. First established in 1939 these comics are still published today, 72 years of panels featuring that insipid redhead Archie Andrews and his friends [who I actually don’t mind]. The comic strip Zits, on the other hand, was first published in 1997, and has for 14 years chronicled the misadventures of much-more-modern teenager Jeremy Duncan and his own group of eclectic young people.

It’s not difficult to see how the two [a single strip and all those created by an entire company] are similar to one another. Both are about American teenagers and their day-to-day lives, albeit living in very different eras. Having originated in the late 30s Archie and his friends have moved forward generation after generation, yet stick to a much lighter tone in regards to issues that teenagers have to face. Zits, starting at the turn of the 20th century, has a more realistic view of the high school years, addressing such topics as the disconnect between teenagers and their parents, the short attention span of today’s youth, and so on.

What I would like to explore and elaborate upon is the representation of Asian characters, specifically those of East Asian descent. Both of these comics are [or, at the very least, have been] immensely popular, and as a result their content is in part representative of what the West [in this case Canada and America] is familiar and comfortable with. Continue reading

In Defense of Gender Inclusive Language

I used to not care about gender exclusive language at all. I would get a little annoyed when people pushed for gender inclusive language – switching pronouns was confusing, “he/she” was unattractive, “he or she” was cumbersome to the eye, etc. I said that I wanted an equal paycheck before I would ever care about pronouns.

Then, I was at a college art show reading an artist’s statement describing how the artist intended the viewer to experience his painting. He used only female pronouns. I read it and felt, for the first time in my life, included into the default. Included into the hypothetical viewer. When I read hypothetical male-only pronouns, I understand intellectually that the writing is referring to any hypothetical person. But when I read the artist’s statement with female pronouns, for the first time I felt like it could be talking about me.

One of my friends and I had a long discussion about this topic. He had just used the word “man” to refer to all people, and I asked him to use gender inclusive language if he was in fact including both genders in his statement – to which he responded that he never really paid attention to such admonishments of gender exclusivity (exclusiveness?) because even though he was saying the word “man”, he meant “all people”. We had a long discussion, and part of what I told him about was my own experience with how much gender exclusive language affects the experience and thought of the reader, regardless of the intent behind the exclusive words. I also mentioned that in academia, gender exclusive language is not longer considered acceptable in published works at all. Because of that point, he stated that he would try to change his language because I had made a good case about how it can offend women and make them feel excluded from things that are supposedly referring to all people.

And I told him that that wasn’t enough for me. Yes, I think it’s fine to change one’s language to gender inclusive because one earnestly wants to avoid offending people, but I didn’t call him out just because his language offended me; I called him out because he was speaking inaccurately. I think that most people will eventually change their language because gender exclusivity will continue to be considered more and more offensive, and therefore less acceptable in more and more social circles. But if that was the only reason that anyone ever changed the way they spoke, then nothing would have ever changed in the first place.

During the conversation, one of my other friends pointed out to me that women’s rights (from a USA point of view) have come a huge way in just the 90 years since the suffrage movement. Sure. I am grateful for the rights I have, especially the rights that I wouldn’t have had just a century ago. But I’m not calling you out on gender-exclusive language because I’m upset about society being unfair – I’m calling you out because you’re being inaccurate.

I’m not insisting that all of society change right now – I’m insisting that individuals that I speak to speak accurately, and refrain from saying that they “mean” men and women when they only say the word for men. Because you can’t get past that. No matter what you say the words “man” or “he” etc. mean when you say them, you cannot get past the fact that the words themselves are referring to males only. Speaking with gender inclusive language isn’t something you owe to women or hippies or those annoying there-are-no-differences-between-men-and-women-at-all people; it’s something you will want to do if you have any desire to communicate accurately.