The contradictions of charity

Written By: - Date published: 1:44 pm, September 14th, 2010 - 23 comments
Categories: capitalism - Tags:

Continental Philosopher Slavoj Zizek talks about ethical buying and charity and the contradictions they entail. I’m not sure I agree with him (I often don’t) but it’s certainly worth thinking about.

23 comments on “The contradictions of charity”

  1. Fools Gold 1

    I was just thinking of this very concept today, while cleaning my girlfriends flat. I cleaned the bath room and shower, it was grimey and was unsightly. There was a little bit of mould. There was disgusting soap scum. I use that space I want it to be clean, because in my mind it should be clean.

    So I filled a bucket, I used her Eco-Store cleaning products to clean that bathroom. I used some recycled Earth Care paper towels to tidy up some mess I wanted to dry. When I was finished I threw away the paper towel into the bin, the bin was full so I took the plastic bag out, it is made from bio-degradable plastic and put it in the big bin, in there I put in a large trash sack of bio-degradable plastic. I looked at the shelf in the kitchen where the rest of the flat stores its stuff. The bin liners they had bought to replace that were the cheap nasty kinds, I looked at the cleaners they bought, again the cheap and nasty kind. I thought why? They are all well paid for what they do, they are not poor, they are in their early 30’s with good incomes and no dependants why does my partner buy these things? I fully support her in this decision. They can do this. I looked in the fridge, non free range eggs, non free range pork and chicken. I am disgusted and perplexed. I am privileged. I have this income this lifestyle and I want to make it clear that I want to keep it. I also want to fix what is wrong with it.

    I wish I could make drastic changes to affect those aspects but in my life I cannot. I cannot become totally removed from the capitalist system, it simply cannot happen. I do not buy these products to satiate my guilt of the cost of my life, I choose to do so because it is my movement towards a new life style. One which is more efficient and humane and which looks at the TRUE costs of my lifestyle. The benefit of buying from these guys http://www.ecostore.co.nz/index.html is not so I can sleep soundly that I have done my bit. The benefit is I show there is demand to live in a society where efficiency and impacting the least on the world is my preferred choice. Fuck Starbucks, but I will not say fuck you to the farmer. That farmer might be still stuck in the shit because I prop up the capitalist system, but a life is still a life. Making their lives a little better (by giving them fair wages for their product) is more human than choosing to boycott them.

    I feel this is the most complex issue surrounding ethical consumption and perhaps it is all bunk but answer me this in an age where people cannot be bothered to read the ingredients in their food where is this radical social change going to come from? If the market is truly strained or pushed and real changes happen wouldn’t we rather have the mass demand a change towards ethical consumption or refinement and continuation of our current devil may care market?

  2. rich 2

    Should I be seeing a link, or is Opera bugging out??

    [lprent: What version of opera and what OS? WordPress is using a new video embed system that I’m not a 100% confident in. ]

    • Blighty 2.1

      there’s a youtube embed

      • rich 2.1.1

        How ironic. You do know that embedded video uses a million times as much energy as is needed to convey the same information as text?

        • Lanthanide 2.1.1.1

          I find your claim of “a million times as much” to be unlikely. Citation, please.

          • Rich 2.1.1.1.1

            Ok, I’m out by a bit.

            A 5 minute video typically contains as much content as a 400 word text article. The latter uses about 2000 bytes, the former maybe 50M (10M a minute, depending on the codec). So a factor of 25,000. I’d suggest that the power requirements of server and network increase linearly with bandwidth, so videos use 25,000 times as much energy to impart the same information.

            If you want the actual figure in kw/h, this 2006 paper suggests 9-16kw/h per GB. For a 50M file, that’s 0.6kw/h. which seems very high (equivalent to running a 60w bulb all day). More recent numbers would be welcome.

        • NickS 2.1.1.2

          pffffffffftttttt…

          No, it wouldn’t, as it’s a static image, and thus the processing requirements to display it are rather low, on top of energy costs associated with powering your monitor/space heater CRT (*cough* my LCD’s stuffed *cough*). So really, even not bothering to calculate it I’d say with some serious conviction that your claim is off by 10^6 or for the non-maths people, it’s fractally wrong.

          • Ari 2.1.1.2.1

            Umm, Rich is talking purely about bandwidth and not display. Any extra energy on your monitor’s behalf to display the video as compared to the text would be in addition to the .6kw/h that the bandwidth necessitated.

    • Rich 2.2

      It was on my Android. I don’t have Flash enabled (I’m not sure that Opera Mini even supports it – the default browser does). I can’t afford video downloads over Vodafone!

  3. Bill 3

    I’m so sure that any contradiction is involved.

    Charity is and was only ever meant to deal with immediate situations and not ever meant to challenge underlying dynamics or assumptions. He does make it clear that he is not advocating the withdrawal of charity in preference for immiseration somehow prompting more fundamental action.

    Seems to me, Zizek is saying that there is this thing (charity) and that we need this plus more fundamental actions if we are serious about eradicating rather than merely temporarily or selectively alleviating want and poverty.

  4. B 4

    I have to say i’m over 30 something tossers who buy eco-products. Some suggestions for alleviating actual human suffering: volunteer at your local womens refuge, buy lots of cheap non-organic food and give it to the food bank, stop buying ecofriendly, freerange bullshit and sponsor a child with the money you save.

    • Lanthanide 4.1

      I agree, B.

      Also, the best thing you can do to save the planet is not have children. No amount of greenwashed products will save as much CO2 and other waste creation as avoiding creating an entire new human life.

      • Bill 4.1.1

        “Also, the best thing you can do to save the planet is not have children.”

        What complete and utter bullshit! How many Pakistani lives would it take to equate to just your carbon footprint? 5? 16? And how many Pakistanis or Cote de Ivory people would it take to equate to your or some frequent flyer’s carbon footprint? Or what about in relation to some super yacht cruising prick like Tiger Woods? Think about it.

        The way to save our collective arse (not the planet..it doesn’t need saving) is to dump our stupid market dependent industrial b/s and all it’s attendant activities. But you can’t face that and so dump on the poorest of the poor instead and blame them for jeopardising your crap existence instead of acknowledging that your relative yet vacuous wealth is built on the back of, and the cause of, their absolute poverty.

        • Ari 4.1.1.1

          Bill- even rural agrarian communities emit CO2, so a complete reversion just to feeding ourselves wouldn’t completely eliminate the problem. There are four useful strategies for cutting down on greenhouse emissions:

          1) Efficiency, using less to do more on a purely mechanical level.

          2) Conservation, eliminating wasted energy and encouraging environmentally friendly behaviour.

          3) Demand reduction, by simplifying our lifestyles and delaying or simply not choosing parenthood.

          4) Addressing poverty, if we could find a good comprehensive way to reduce or eliminate poverty it would reduce status anxiety, improve social conditions, and reduce the birthrate globally, with the result of a great indirect demand reduction.

          None of them are the only way, and any of the four will have some effect if applied in the places where CO2 emission is highest per capita- like say, New Zealand or the USA. If you’re going to argue that one of them is more effective than the other, I want detailed modeling. 😛

    • Fools Gold 4.2

      Obviously didn’t watch the clip. He argues all charity is bad in essence and that conscious consumption is in that league. Firstly I don’t agree with you on 2 points:

      1) That is no value in buy a product that is friendlier to the environment. Well no shit using a cleaner is going to cause pollution but it causes less. Also and this is more important it tells producers people do give a toss about what goes in their products.

      2) That free range and organic are bullshit. Well tell that to the chickens, again if I could I would remove myself from the system but I can’t I live in a city and I like eggs. I don’t care about organic being healthier or tastier but I do care about companies like Monsanto patenting life. Besides industrialized food production is horrible when you think about it.

      Your dismissal speaks volumes though. I think there is value in both charity and ethical consumption not because it vindicates any guilt I have about consumption but because at the moment for me there is no third way.

      • B 4.2.1

        Firstly, if you are worried about the environment use baking soda and vinegar and put the money you save to some good use.
        Second – sure its sad for the chickens. But how much sadder is it that humans – who have the ability to fully appreciate the horrors of their situation – are subjected to hunger, abuse, torture and rape. And this is in New Zealand. There are some things more important than chickens.

    • Bill 4.3

      How is sponsoring a child any different to buying (say) buying fair trade coffee that gives a family an income that allows them to provide some basic necessities for their child/children? Apart from being ‘one step removed’ paternalism?

      How does volunteering at women’s refuge alleviate poverty ( a root of much suffering)?

      Maybe you’d advocate resurrecting the old 10% tithe but argue that it goes to ‘good deeds’ rather than the church?

      Everything you have advocated is exactly what Zizek is arguing is a complete waste of time and counter productive if those things are to be seen as the be all and end all.

      • B 4.3.1

        Its more cost effective and less hypocritical.

        Volunteering at a womens refuge helps women and their children leave homes in which they are suffering. There are never enough volunteers and there is never enough funding.

        I would advocate giving away everything above the level of a decent standard of living.

        Yes there obviously is a limit to what individuals can achieve given the selfishness of human nature.

        • Bill 4.3.1.1

          Putting aside the obvious gender issues that surround volunteering at women’s refuge…what do you consider it is that defines a ‘decent standard of living’?

          Is this an absolute measure or a relative measure?

          If the latter, then what of the billions who live elsewhere who could never even dream of approaching our relative poverty levels in absolute terms? And if the former, then how do you propose it be measured?

          And as for the selfishness of human nature, how do you measure that? And is it intrinsic and definable in terms independent of various relative cultural/political/religious norms or are it’s levels (both in intensity and importance) dependent upon and defined by particular cultural/political/religious norms?

          edit And what has ‘cost effectiveness’ got to do with anything outside of a market dominated discourse? You forgetting that our financial arrangements are a root cause of the things you want to see eliminated?

          • B 4.3.1.1.1

            Well to me having enough to eat, a roof over my head and being able to pay my bills constitutes a decent standard of living.

            I’m not sure why you think I need to measure the selfishness of human nature…

            And by cost effective I mean – when buying a fairtrade coffee -say $4 – how much of the price goes to the farmer?

            Whereas if you put that $4 directly towards sponsoring children (or the foodbank or womens refuge ) – all that money is going directly towards alleviating suffering- Its not just a feel good bonus you get with your latte which might translate to a few cents that trickle down to a coffee growing family somewhere .

            • Bill 4.3.1.1.1.1

              You have completely missed the point B.

              Running Zizek’s argument on women’s refuge, then we would say that supporting women’s refuge is a worthy, but ultimately pointless thing to do unless you aim to smash patriarchy.

              And that’s his point across all charity. That in and of itself it’s leading people nowhere and serves to excuse, and therefore preserve, the status quo that is giving rise to the need for charity in the first place.

              How you deliver that charity is kind of beside the point,no? The point is that if you are serious about getting rid of poverty then you need to look at charity as a necessary but insufficient action…n the same way that reform is necessary, but that reform in and of itself is incapable of delivering the environments we desire; ie that reform preserves and perpetuates the essential components of our contemporary environment and therefore must be supplemented by more fundamental action.

              • jbanks

                the status quo that is giving rise to the need for charity in the first place.

                No. Unstable governments/political systems are the main cause of starvation/poverty in third-world countries. It doesn’t matter what aid any developed nation gives, if that country can’t firstly help itself.

              • B

                @ Bill: Sure. But until that happens I think there is a clear moral obligation to share the surplus income we recieve as beneficiaries of the capitalist system with the victims of it.

                What do you suggest?

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    Kia ora, Aotearoa. It’s that magical time of year. Te Wiki o te Reo Māori. In English, the week that frightens talk radio. As you probably know by now, all your favourite media outlets are participating, some more successfully than others. Stuff has changed its name to Puna for the ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Will Horizons act on climate change?
    Local body elections are coming up next month. And it looks like all Palmerston North candidates for Horizons (the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council) want to take action on climate change:Climate change is set to be a key issue in Palmerston North for the next three years if those wanting to get ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • BORA reform is stalled
    Eighteen months ago, the government promised to strengthen the Bill of Rights Act, by explicitly affirming the power of the courts to issue declarations of inconsistency and requiring Parliament to formally respond to them. So how's that going? I was curious, so I asked for all advice about the proposal. ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Corbyn and Brexit
    As the Brexit saga staggers on, the focus is naturally enough on the Prime Minister and his attempts to achieve Brexit “do or die”. But the role played by the Leader of the Opposition is of almost equal interest and complexity. The first problem for Jeremy Corbyn is that he ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    1 week ago
  • A ditch for him to die in
    Last week, English Prime Minister Boris Johnson boldly declared that he would rather die be dead in a ditch than delay Brexit. Unfortunately for him, the UK parliament accepted the challenge, and promptly dug one for him. The "rebellion bill" requires him to ask for and secure yet another temporary ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Warning! Warning! Danger Jacinda Ardern! Danger Marama Davidson! Warning!
    Lost In Political Space: The most important takeaway from this latest Labour sexual assault scandal, which (if I may paraphrase Nixon’s White House counsel’s, John Dean’s, infamous description of Watergate) is “growing like a cancer” on the premiership, is the Labour Party organisation’s extraordinary professional paralysis in the face of ...
    1 week ago
  • Union solidarity with Ihumatao land occupation
    by Daphna Whitmore Every Sunday for the past two months unionists from First Union, with supporters from other unions, have set out to the Ihumatao land protest, put up gazebos and gas barbeques, and cooked food for a few hundred locals and supporters who have come from across the country. ...
    RedlineBy Daphna
    1 week ago
  • Climate Change: The wrong kind of trees?
    Newsroom today has an excellent, in-depth article on pine trees as carbon sinks. The TL;DR is that pine is really good at soaking up carbon, but people prefer far-less efficient native forests instead. Which is understandable, but there's two problems: firstly, we've pissed about so long on this problem that ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • No freedom of speech in Turkey
    Canan Kaftancioglu is a Turkish politician and member of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Like most modern politicians, she tweets, and uses the platform to criticise the Turkish government. She has criticised them over the death of a 14-year-old boy who was hit by a tear gas grenade during ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Speaker: Tadhg Stopford: Why I’m standing for the ADHB
    Hi there, just call me Tim.We face tough problems, and I’d like to help, because there are solutions.An Auckand District Health Board member has nominated me for as a candidate for the ADHB, because her MS-related pain and fatigue is reduced with hemp products from Rotorua.  Nothing else helped her. If I ...
    1 week ago
  • Good little vassals
    The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has published their report on whether the SIS and GCSB had any complicity in American torture. And its damning. The pull quote is this:The Inquiry found both agencies, but to a much greater degree, the NZSIS, received many intelligence reports obtained from detainees who, ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Who Shall We Turn To When God, And Uncle Sam, Cease To Defend New Zealand?
    Bewhiskered Cassandra? Professor Hugh White’s chilling suggestion, advanced to select collections of academic, military and diplomatic Kiwi experts over the course of the past week, is that the assumptions upon which Australia and New Zealand have built their foreign affairs and defence policies for practically their entire histories – are ...
    1 week ago
  • The Politics of Opposition
    For most of the time I was a British MP, my party was out of government – these were the Thatcher years, when it was hard for anyone else to get a look-in. As a front-bencher and shadow minister, I became familiar with the strategies required in a parliamentary democracy ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    1 week ago
  • More expert comments on the Canadian fluoride-IQ paper
    The Green et al (2019) fluoride/IQ is certainly controversial – as would be expected from its subject (see If at first you don’t succeed . . . statistical manipulation might help and Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear). Anti-fluoride campaigners have been actively promoting it ...
    1 week ago
  • The return to guerrilla war in Colombia
    by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh On August 29th a video in which veteran FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) commander Iván Márquez announced that they had taken up arms again was released. There was no delay in the reaction to it, from longtime Liberal Party figure and former president Uribe, for ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    1 week ago
  • Air New Zealand identifies this enormous plot of unused land as possible second airport site
    Air New Zealand couldn’t believe its luck that this seemingly ideal piece of real estate had so far gone entirely unnoticed. Air New Zealand’s search for a site to build a second Auckland Airport may have made a breakthrough this afternoon, after employees scanning Google satellite imagery spotted a huge, ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Redline on the Labour Party
    No-one on the anti-capitalist left in this country today puts forward a case that Labour is on the side of the working class.  There are certainly people who call themselves ‘socialist’ who do, but they are essentially liberals with vested interests in Labourism – often for career reasons. Nevertheless, there ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago
  • New Fisk
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour’s failure
    When National was in government and fucking over the poor for the benefit of the rich, foodbanks were a growth industry. And now Labour is in charge, nothing has changed: A huge demand for emergency food parcels means the Auckland City Mission is struggling to prepare for the impending arrival ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Ardern attempts to vaccinate Clarke Gayford live on television to prove that it’s safe
    Gayford, pictured here on The Project, before things got wildly out of control. A bold public relations move by the Government to encourage parents to vaccinate their children has gone horribly wrong. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared on tonight’s episode of Three’s The Project, where the plan was for her ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Has Mr. Whippy gone too far by parking on our front lawns?
    Mr. Whippy’s business model has driven it down a dark road of intimidation. Residents in major centres around the country are becoming disgruntled by the increasingly aggressive actions of purported ice cream company Mr. Whippy, who have taken to parking on people’s front lawns and doorsteps in a desperate attempt ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Cleaning up the water
    Today the government released its Action Plan for Healthy Waterways, aimed at cleaning up our lakes and rivers. Its actually quite good. There will be protection for wetlands, better standards for swimming spots, a requirement for continuous improvement, and better standards for wastewater and stormwater. But most importantly, there's a ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Fronting up
    Today I appeared before the Environment Committee to give an oral submission on the Zero Carbon Bill. Over 1,500 people have asked to appear in person, so they've divided into subcommittees and are off touring the country, giving people a five minute slot each. The other submitters were a mixed ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
    Anti-fluoride activists have some wealthy backers – they are erecting billboards misrepresenting the Canadian study on many New Zealand cities – and local authorities are ordering their removal because of their scaremongering. Many New Zealanders ...
    2 weeks ago

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