So last weekend I did the annual Dublin fun run. It was my fourth Dublin event, and ninth overall. I’ve often been asked when doing such events as to whether I’m running for charity. While I did do so once, I usually run as a hobby, and as an escape from daily annoyances and fatigue. I think that if I were to raise money for charity any time I did a run or cycle or other event, I’d be forever pestering friends, family, and colleagues with fundraisers. Besides, as I said, this is one of my hobbies. I might as well ask for charity donations every time I go watch a band. Or maybe every time I shave my head (every 2-3 days. Not a hobby, but a necessity).
There are many people doing great work for charities of course. The great pity is, in this day and age with enough resources to feed, house, clothe, employ, educate, and care for every single person on the planet, that charities still exist. We live in a world where eight people hold as much wealth as the rest of the seven and a half billion of us put together. How much money do these people need? How much more do they need to exploit from the people who actually make them rich? Of course many of the uber-rich set up trusts or donate to charities. Some of them are genuine, but let’s not forget that this is a way of writing off tax too. Can’t they just pay their bloody tax instead? Instead of paying teams of unscrupulous accountants to find every way possible of avoiding doing so, and then forking out more on charity as a good-PR-generating further tax write-off?
But away from the faux-philanthropists, there is a type of charity ‘work’ that gets on my nerves. And it is that of those who volunteer to go to poorer countries to build houses. This smacks of white Western hubris and self-satisfaction, and attention seeking. What does a gap-year literature student know about construction? What do these people actually achieve? They go abroad for a few months, condescendingly to help out those poor people who can’t help themselves. What are they really doing? Working for free and putting local labourers out of work. It probably gets a lot of attention on Instagram though. And of what quality are these constructions, having not been built by actual builders? Similarly, clothes donations shipped off to developing countries help to put local clothes producers out of business. Or how cheap fruit and vegetables exported from the EU end up driving Senegalese farmers out of business, making many of them take the life-threatening trip across the Mediterranean, to often end up as farmhands on the very same mega-farms in Murcia that destroyed their livelihood.
So while charity does a lot of good, it is important to look more at the causes of the problems that charities are trying to alleviate. And also ask in some cases of whether the charity is working, or in fact making the situation worse. And avoid giving money to the kind of arsehole that wants you to pay for their holiday to Machu Picchu, because they are ‘doing it for charity’. Don’t lie to us. You want us to pay for your trip under the pretence of being virtuous. You’re doing this for yourself.
The misanthropic judge in Three Colours: Red asks the saviour of his wounded dog whether she rescued the dog for the sake of the dog, or because in doing so she would feel better about herself. When I think of those hiking the Andes or building bungalows in Tanzania, I think of the same question.