Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Charity 3.0

Long before Target Corporation donated money to an outside group supporting Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, I often found myself pondering their charitable giving programs, like the money they give to schools. I thought, "Well, wouldn't it be nice if they didn't have to do that, perhaps by advocating for better public policy that would benefit schools over the long term?" This random thought came into higher relief when the "Minnesota Forward" news broke, and I severed my ties to the retail chain.

People kept saying things like, "But they do so many good things," and I kept coming back to, "Sure, but they are supporting political candidates who, in my mind, are not crafting policy that could make substantive, long term, positive impact on public problems. So, they must be doing it only for the tax breaks and good public relations, and are possibly perpetuating the necessity for their charitable intervention, for the foreseeable future, as schools come to rely on this sort of intervention to make ends meet.

I want substantive change.

This keeps coming up. Recently, I read an article in which the world's richest man said that the only thing that will help people is employment. Charity begets charity. And while I don't agree with many of his sentiments (the World's Richest Man can say just about anything because, well, he has a crap load of money to back him up), it's an interesting proposition. This was brought into further relief when a colleague forwarded me this video:

First as Charity, Then as Farce

Aside from being a really nifty piece of work from a creative and technological standpoint, Slavoj Zizek raises some interesting issues about charity, bringing in a critique of "cultural capitalism," in which "doing good" becomes a part of the transaction. In this model of capitalism, "through the consumerist act, you buy your redemption from being only a consumerist," he says.

It's what I do all the time. I have to buy stuff to live, so I might as well buy stuff and make myself feel good at the same time. But if  "the proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that [insert social ill here] will be impossible," how do we do that? Can we do both? Where do companies like Target fit into that mix? Does capitalism necessitate and perpetuate charity, and is it possible to use to tools of capitalism to change social ills, or is capitalism antithetical to positive social change?

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