It is a never ending battle capitalism wages against our ability and more generally our desire to change anything that it sees as profitable. All the time we are bombarded with images, words and film, propaganda essentially to push us towards inaction. By inaction I mean killing our desire to do anything, or our belief that we can do anything. Constantly they bombard us with the ideology of selfishness, get what you can for yourself. Everywhere you turn in the media or the education system itself there’s something or other telling you to “compete” in order to survive, because logically there’s no other choice right?
However there are some things they cannot propagandize us away from. Horrors and inhumanities that even the most cynical opponents of radical change (or real change more specifically) cannot turn away from. There are events unfolding in our world that are so bad that we cannot simply look away from and return to our daily lives without thinking about them. It is these events or conditions of human life more precisely, that the ruling elite, the capitalist class, have the most difficulty getting us not to pay attention too. Think for a moment of war orphans, this brings images of little African children with missing limbs, or people (mostly children) digging through trash in the dumpsters on the street looking for food or something to sell. We also see a single parent, usually a mother, moulding some kind of food like a corn or wheat staple on some kind of plate usually made out of wood, desperately trying to make something to eat for her fatherless children. These are images that we cannot look away from, maybe we can change the channel and try and take our minds off it by watching orange faced buffoons behave like children on Jersey Shore or something like that. But really it doesn’t work, we always know these children, these people, are suffering every single day. Many people before we are born and many after we die. These images cannot be removed or ignored because they offend our sense of morality and our common sense of human connection too much. These are the effects of capitalism that the elite use charity as a placebo against real action.
It doesn’t require too much investigation to realize that all the horrors people suffer in the third world are a result of capitalism, or imperialism more generally. The lack of food because of disorganized “individualist production”, lack of education from a lack of schools because no one can pay money for them, a lack of medical care because no one can pay for them, the sparseness of population in Africa due to slavery etc.. In direct propaganda they will give us some free market excuse, say how trade is the only way out of these terrible conditions, while completely ignoring the fact you can’t have a viable trade if you have nothing to trade. Or that an illiterate person starving to death doesn’t even understand what market trade is, at least in a national sense. In indirect propaganda they will suggest (even openly) that the people suffering are unwilling to work, or that they are some how inferior through a kind of underhanded Social Darwinist expression. Maybe calling them stupid, they are a stupid people which is why they are always poor. This is generally the excuse given as to why somehow capitalism never brings up the third world, and in fact makes it worse. Usually these only work on people who are openly or not openly racist. That’s the greatness of capitalism, you can always pass off racist beliefs as being “objective”.
So being the clever fellows that the capitalist class are, they know you can never propagandize against every single inhumanity that they directly or indirectly cause. In these cases most of which are third world suffering, they need to use some kind of pressure release valve. They need some kind of placebo which can make those who are not monsters think that they are somehow contributing to the abolishment of such circumstances. They need this placebo so as not to let popular anger or sadness at these inhumanities be turned into popular resistance to capitalism itself. This is what charity in our really existing form is. It is a way of making us feel like we have done something, when in fact have not done anything productive.
We see a child suffering on television, and we are told that for the cost of a cup of coffee we can help change a child’s life and make it better. Really what they are doing is offering us a simple easy way out of really getting involved in what is causing the problem. We tell ourselves, “I give up a dollar a day, say I give up coffee and make a child’s life better.” In reality we have only affected one child’s life in a very temporary way, and we still have that cup of coffee regardless. The only thing that has changed is that we now feel as though we have done something to change the situation “over there” when we most certainly have not. The rampant poverty that causes these horrible situations has not had even the smallest dent put into it. This then protects their interests in perpetuating the poverty all for the sake of collecting their profits.
This concept of what I call “bourgeois charity” allows the capitalist class to take advantage of human nature and use it to protect their interests. Just about everyone in someway wants to do something about the suffering of children in the third world. However we ourselves are limited by the number of hours in the day in which to do something; we are also limited by the constraints put on us by the capitalist system. We can’t simply just run off and help these people in whatever way we see fit. We have to survive day to day to, and that means showing up for work to be exploited as well. If we see that our inability to create change in such terrible conditions is hampered by the same thing that causes those conditions; then we’ll come to the conclusion that the capitalist system has to go and make us become motivated to do so.
This “bourgeois charity” allows us to feel as though we’ve done something, thus taking the pressure to do something real off of us and allow us to resume our sedentary consumerist life. Once donating money to causes or supporting a child in the third world; we no longer feel that desire to do something. In fact we feel quite happy with ourselves and pat ourselves on the back for making a contribution regardless of how ineffective in the overall scheme it is.
The bourgeois are happy to let us do this, even promote it. They get us to take the action of placating ourselves and dissuade us from meaningful radical action. It not only keeps in the capitalist line, but it also makes us pay for own sedative against our own action. The bourgeois have lost nothing, they didn’t spend a cent and we get kept in line. On top of that, most of these charities are bourgeois owned and they make a profit off of our generosity! (Important here is to look up the difference between a “non-profit organization and a “not-for-profit organization”.)
This is also why free market fundamentalist ideology like the Mises Institute and other phony “libertarian” organizations think giving to charity is such a better idea than using economics to actually help people. It maintains the wealth of the elite and the capitalist system, while placating anyone among them who has a conscience and wants to do something.
I am not advocating that people stop giving to charity. I am advocating that people think about why they are giving to charity and to see if they are being placated by this mostly phony form of action. I want people to see that radical action against the capitalist system is what is actually going to turn the tide of human misery around. Take Venezuela for example, it is no longer classified as a third world country. It is a developing country or “second world” nation now. This has only happened as a result of socialist policy and the leadership of Hugo Chavez. Venezuela has always been a capitalist country and things only got worse, no matter how much people in the first world donated to them. Only when they took radical action against the capitalist system did they see any improvement.
I’m not saying give up charity, I’m saying commit to radical action and charity of you can. Radical action is the only way out of poverty.