The Necessary Futility of Charity

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Charity work is essential to modern day society, in pretty much every part of the world. Helping people in miserable situations when they are struggling to help themselves is often a life saver, and charitable giving undeniably supports millions of people in the world.

However, despite the dominant view of charity, which sees it as almost automatically ‘good’ because of its nature, looking at it from another angle we can see that perhaps the existence of charity actually stifles people’s ability to bring about the changes necessary to live in a just world.

Lets take an example of charities working in Africa like Comic Relief. While of course it is better that a child has some medicine or a mosquito net instead of not having them and it is better that a village has clean water/a school/ a clinic instead of not having these things, by simply providing them for these communities can this really be described as a ‘good’ thing? After all, those people will now continue to live in poverty but with new mosquito nets to sleep under, or a clinic nearby.

Isn’t it strange that rather than trying to focus on the root cause of what is causing poverty, charities seem intent on merely analysing and treating the symptoms?

As Zizek points out in the video below, surely the proper focus should be on reconstructing society so that poverty and its associated range of miseries cannot exist, rather than covering up our consciences and the symptoms with measures which do not seek to eradicate poverty?

It is clear that the mainstream focus of international development is not to see the end of poverty, the World Bank’s loans are packaged as ‘Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers’ (PRSPs). They are only designed to reduce, not eradicate poverty.

So why is this the case? I would like to put forward the argument that charity in its current existence is merely an accomplice to the system of exploitation that leaves people in the impoverished situations in which they find themselves. In fact it is a legitimisation of that system of exploitation.

Neoliberalism relies on large scale poverty in order to profit from it, think of the cheap labour used to manufacture swathes of consumer goods across the world. Think of the workers on plantations and down mines, working for next to nothing to produce the natural resources from which these goods are made and from which the rich multi-national companies profit.

In order to break free from poverty, people need to break free from the system which results in the rich’s domination over the poor, on national and global levels and this can’t be achieved with the idea of charity as we know it. We need to change a system which forces people to rely on the ‘market’ for their livelihood, rather than patch up the misery that system causes with simple handouts.