Tag Archives: philanthropy

Taylor Swift: History’s Greatest Monster

When I first heard that pop star Taylor Swift had paid off a fan’s student loans, I was honestly and truly impressed. The average student loan debt is around 30 thousand dollars, and can easily pass six digits for some folks, and knowing that struggle all too well myself, that kind of spontaneous kindness struck me as really neat. When Evan wrote about that on Friday, reporting the payment was less than 2 grand, it kinda took the wind out of my sails. Don’t get me wrong- I think Evan hit the nail on the dead in saying that anything good is good, but I still couldn’t help thinking:

“Is that it?”

Still, I decided to suspend my hostilities towards the woman and actually do some more research into her- fully prepared to be proven wrong, or to admit that my dislike stems purely from taste in music.

Still, it seemed the deeper I dug, the more I’d keep returning to that same question.

“Is that it?”

Now back in November, Evan had written another post trying to defend Swift, arguing that her music isn’t for everyone (no argument), plenty of other singers have cashed in on lost-love themes (also true), and at the end of the day, she’s just being herself.

Problem is- I believe that.

While it’s entirely possible that Swift’s just another interchangeable, committee-designed pop figure, I’m completely willing to believe that she’s being who she is. Only who she is isn’t all that good.

Let me break it down here. Continue reading

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Giving Money [Minus the Ice Bucket]

I’d say there’s no better time than right now to discuss what we do with our money in light of the hundreds upon thousands of Ice Bucket Challenge videos that have been taking up most of the internet the past few days [FYI, Emily Blunt’s is the best]. Just yesterday my youngest brother posted one to Facebook, so it’s gotten just about as close to home as it possibly can.

Now there’s been a lot of discussion about how this appears to be just the latest trend, which probably has a lot to do with the sheer number of celebrities who are getting in on this. What can’t be argued with, though, is the fact that in a very short time this challenge has resulted in over $50 million being donated for ALS, which is roughly 80% of what the organization raised last year. That’s big, that’s worth applauding. I’m going to end this paragraph on that note.

What else it is, though, is fun. It’s fun watching people like Bill Gates and Nick Offerman get soaked in frigid water and calling out their peers. It’s fun when our peers do it to us, and when we in turn choose to douse ourselves in glacial H2O. That makes it easier to give, I think, there’s this pervasive lightheartedness about it that makes us more inclined to reach into our wallets and give howevermany dollars towards ending Lou Gehrig’s Disease [an ailment I only very recently connected to these shenanigans]. Giving gets infinitely harder when there’s none of that fun involved.

Here’s my favourite scene from a pretty bad 2004 Jackie Chan movie [no offence to Steve Coogan, but we weren’t watching it for him]:

Continue reading

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.

Slacktivism, or: Elisa feels bad about saying that philanthropy might not always be awesome

This New York Times 2010 article, which I think ends rather too optimistically, discusses two instances of the Red Cross’ use of Twitter to help raise funds from the US after a typhoon in the Philippines and the following earthquake in Haiti a few months later. After the typhoon, the Red Cross’ toll-free donation number was a trending topic on Twitter; the article says that thousands of people were posting it and asking their followers to donate – but, in spite of all of the Twitter attention, there wasn’t any noticeable change in donations. After the Haiti earthquakes, the Red Cross launched a similar Twitter campaign, but instead of having to call a number, people could just text a single word to a certain number to donate $10. The Red Cross raised 3 million dollars in 48 hours.

Beyond the moral and ethical questions about slacktivism, simple practical issues interest me: how much people’s altruism increases in relation to its ease, if distanced giving lets us avoid the overwhelming sense of incompleteness and unending need that often comes from volunteering or working for charities in RL…

And yeah, social networking has done wonders for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to communicate or have a way to organize themselves – the election protests in Iran, for example. But I’m talking about things like the hunger site, where you go to their adful page and click a button to give “the value of 1.1 cups of food” to feed the hungry (also, now, to support education, veterans, abandoned pets, mammograms, the rainforest…), or care2.com, which has a similar “click once to give” thing as well as a “Petition Site” which literally has a “Today’s Hottest Petitions” link on their home page.

It seems like each separate out-of-borders emergency or consistently-in-need-of-funding-issue has a random YouTube video’s chance at viraldom to make it in to the public’s consciousness long enough for us to donate to it.

Yeah, every dollar that’s made via slacktivism, either the free advertiser-supported kind or the donate-easily-via-texting kind, does work. But the satisfied well-that’s-my-good-deed-for-the-week feeling that such distanced altruism gives is worrisome, because it instills a conclusive, complacent feeling that will ultimately be the death of any culture’s drive towards public service and philanthropy.