I Donated $1000 to American Idol. But You, You’re Trash.
See Peter Singer's response to this post, here! I donated $1000 to “Idol Gives Back” the other night. Check it out, here’s the charge on my Mastercard. Trans Date: 04/28/2007 Post Date: 04/30/2007 Description: IDOL GIVES BACK(Other) Transaction Number: 25536067120000001175409 … Read More
See Peter Singer's response to this post, here!
I donated $1000 to “Idol Gives Back” the other night. Check it out, here’s the charge on my Mastercard.
I don't want to say this makes me a better, classier person than you, but…well, who are we kidding? A thousand dollars is a buttload of money! And remind me again how much you gave?
When I first learned that the One campaign and American Idol were opening an ambitious new front in the war against extreme poverty, I thought I'd give $250. Then I considered that half the money goes to the most impoverished children in this country (in Appalachia and downtown Los Angeles, where children are undernourished and have little access to education), and the other half to the most impoverished on the planet (in sub-Saharan Africa, where the mortality rate for children under five exceeds 33% in some countries). So I decided to give $500. And still I felt unsatisfied.
How did I became so charitable, so deeply decent? I don't have an answer for you. Was it my quality upbringing? The well-developed social consciousness that came with my fine education? Or have I just been blessed with a natural empathy, that instinctive sensitivity to suffering that seems so essential a part of my nature? I suspect it's a combination of all these things and more. Regardless, I donated $1000. More than all of you combined, I'm sure.
Do you find all this self-satisfaction nauseating? Of course you do. I don't like it either. We encounter arrogance and self-promotion all the time, but it's jarring to hear someone even discuss the dollar value of their charitable contributions, much less boast about it. How could it be otherwise, when we've been indoctrinated with all that insufferable Judeo-Christian twaddle about good deeds being noblest when done quietly, without public display or recognition? It's Jesus's favorite talking point. The Pharisees couldn't walk an old lady across the Cardo without sending the Lamb of God off on another tiresome rant about the hypocrisy of good deeds done for public display.
And it wasn't just Jesus. In the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides broke charity down into eight forms, and the more selfless your intentions, the more noble the charity.
It's all a bunch of destructive hippy-dippy bullshit. The real hero is the person who gives, and then struts and preens in public like they just fucked the prom queen.
Because yep, verily, the highest form of charity is that which is given in the spirit of smug one-upmanship. The future of the planet will be vastly better if only we can learn to properly exploit the insatiable status hunger of people like us.
In Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen marveled at the middle-class's indefatigable clamoring for signifiers of class and status. So intense was the desire to improve in social standing relative to one's peers that Veblen thought it almost spiritual in nature. No bauble was too useless, no gizmo too costly, if it helped accomplish this. He called this "conspicuous consumption."
And that spiritual drive for status, Jewcers, is the way and the path. Unlike Jesus or Maimonides (or Marx), we live at at time when vast quantities of disposable capital have accrued among middle-class social climbers. So if we wish to end the most grievous injustices on the planet–say, the annual death of six million children from severe malnutrition and associated opportunistic infections–we have three options: We can pray for human nature to change such that self-sacrifice is more natural than self-seeking; we can fantasize about a revolutionary reordering of the global economy; or we can harness our status anxiety in the service of humanitarianism.
When charitable giving becomes a form of conspicuous consumption, when saving the life of a child confers half the social status of, say, a cute pair of shoes, human history will be forever transformed. Another world is possible, and middle-class status anxiety can get us there.
So forget Maimonides' antiquated "levels of charity." Ignore Jesus's tired rants against hypocrisy. We need more Pharisees, and fewer saints. Whether we like it or not, the most effective charity is that which is accompanied by a sneer at the lowly neighbours. Everything else is tied for last.
See Peter Singer's response to this post, here!
[The author futzed around a bit with this post since it was first published, including to make the satire of the opening section more explicit.]