Goodness by proxy

Goodness by proxy 1

We Westerners have always wanted to help. Kindness is our strength, and our weakness.

Like the Duchess of Sutherland, in that unusually accurate article article by Karl Marx; she was deeply troubled by the treatment of slaves on the other side of the globe, while forcing farmers on her own land to move and burning their houses.

The desire to do good gained momentum with the industrial revolution, when the gap between peoples, classes and countries became more pronounced. Sure, there were gaps before, but now so many more people were able to climb the career ladder. Perhaps the newly rich were a little embarrassed, slightly ashamed of their money, and wanted to do the right thing. Not so much for the sake of the poor, but for their own.

And it has almost become a cult, a cleansing bath to save one’s soul. Doing good is probably the highest thing there is. At least in the abstract world of thought.

We donate money to various charities and activists; we even give a penny to the professional gang of beggars outside the grocery store. But knocking on our neighbour’s door and asking how they are doing is not as easy. It’s often a case of goodness by proxy. Where the agent takes a very large slice of the pie for themselves. It costs money to give. Giving has become a big business.

Even large companies donate huge amounts to many worthy causes, often to support minorities, diversity, the climate, etc., obviously to make themselves look better. While they lay off their employees en masse because they are losing market shares. I wonder if the two things are connected?

Why do we have to help all the time? Surely most people can sort themselves out? Isn’t it degrading to assume that someone needs your help all the time? And it is often the others who need our Western enlightened help. The ones who are far away, the ones you rarely see. Those you might not even want to meet.

Being the one who helps gives social points, and maybe even a ticket to heaven? Helping the poor was an important part of Christianity. And charity has survived secularisation and the watering down and dismantling of religion. The only thing left of our faith is the desire to be good.

But the Bible does not talk about abstract goodness at a distance. Self-help is the real Christian message. Do not give the poor a fish, but give him a net, says Jesus. The idea is that the help should contribute to something, and not just be life-sustaining. To help in such a way that the person concerned can then manage on their own.

It can be about helping someone find a job or the knowledge and skills to earn a living, a piece of land, a roof over their head, or maybe just brotherly support. Giving pennies so that you can make it to the next donation is not real help, but instead risks passivising the person in question. Like a pet just waiting for the next portion of food. Or a slave.

It sounds bad, I know, but there is some truth in it. When will we see through the kindness scam? Giving – just to make yourself look better – or worse, forcing others to give and taking the credit. This is what happens with tax money and company profits, where people put in many hours of work, and see their labour go to things they would not have chosen themselves. Goodness?