You’re doing what? Why?

You’re doing what? Why?

I like to swim in my down-time, I enjoy the cinema, socializing with friends, my small garden and the many DIY projects generated by my lovely home and its state of mild dilapidation. I’ve also got a more unusual hobby I should mention – I’m obsessed with a desire to radically decentralize public administration and put real, constructive power back in the hands of ordinary citizens. I know! Isn’t it funny?

But I‘m serious. I’ve teamed up with my eldest son, who has an aptitude for unpacking and re-packing systems which in any other context might drive the people around him nuts. We’re developing an internet platform to support peer-to-peer governance. Yep. We actually live in a world where it’s possible for very ordinary people to do this. With very ordinary amounts of money. When I say ‘developing’, I mean he’s writing code and I’m ‘head of vision. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Sometimes people say ”You’re doing what? Why? And you don’t get paid? And you’re funding this yourselves? And you really think it’s going to work?” As if we must be completely out of our minds. I can only tell you that we’re not. We’re in our right minds, we know exactly what we’re doing, and any negativity I encounter bounces right off because the whole damn thing inspires me to the point of delirium.

I’m blogging, time is short, I’ll have to be succinct. Here’s one small thing, one aspect of the way things are (and there are loads more of them) that persuades me radical ground-up change has to come as quickly as possible. Charitable giving and the rise of ‘big-charity’ – wtf.

Over the course of the last 150 years, the developed ‘West’, which includes us, has made strenuous attempts on many fronts to manage, ameliorate, quantify, explain and package all the things that catastrophically don’t work in a societal model we all want to call ‘civilized’. We’ve relied on what we know as the virtue of ‘charity’ to do this. It’s a christian concept: ‘Charity’ – Christian love of one’s fellows – from old french charite, from Latin caritas, from carus ‘dear’ (Oxford English Dictionary). A great deal of this effort has been, and still is, very sincerely intentioned but along the way making publicly obvious efforts to address dire social and economic problems has become one of the quickest ways onto the marketing moral highground. It has become lazy PR, a justification for less attractive practices, and the hollow feel-good it generates obscures some fairly rotten economic and social back-sliding.

I’m a very ordinary person and over the years I’ve been involved in a small way with a number of charitable organizations from Oxfam to the World Wildlife Fund. Once upon a time I would’ve found this very difficult to explain, I would’ve worried about seeming to be ‘a bad person’ but, for me, there has always been something suspect about ‘big-charity’.

No argument of course that it’s necessary, and that many (too many – way, way too many) charities do enormously beneficial work which otherwise would remain undone, but I’m periodically overtaken by a creeping suspicion that we now have embedded institutions, attitudes and processes that depend on the continued deprivation of others in order to justify and reward their own existence. Social enterprises building their success on the back of promises to give homeless people meals along the way, or selling alchohol while using the provision of clean water to otherwise deprived 3rd world communities as a promotional tool, make me thoroughly sick. Wouldn’t we all rather work towards a world, or if that’s too big an ambition, a society, heck even an immediate neighbourhood, that needs no charity? Shouldn’t charity really be about what we do for one another on an individual level to foster a sense of trust and security? A do-as-you-would-be-done-by offer of mutual aid? On-going?

If you’re going to have a business, have an honest one, pay employees fairly and care about them, pay your taxes without reservation, don’t pollute, use renewable energy, be transparent, make good money and reinvest it in your own growth so that the world is increasingly full of good businesses. Don’t piggy-back off the suffering of the marginalised, the disenfranchised, the poor and powerless to con everybody out here who’s troubled by the serious shortcomings of the world we live in into buying your beer to feel better.

So what instead? The workable alternatives seem really, really obvious to me, yet they’re only just beginning to gain ground. We can connect with one another more easily now than at any time in human history. We can do this from our homes, from the street, at our desks, on our phones. We can all contribute, in seconds, we can all engage. We can build the social support networks we know we need within our own communities without recourse to national or local government advice, permission or funding. We can do it quickly and easily and without politics. The potential cost savings are truly immense. The only thing missing is that we haven’t yet properly looked in this direction and decided to do it.

But we will.

We have previously suggested that philanthropy combines genuine pity with the display of power and that the latter element explains why the powerful are more inclined to be generous than to grant social justice. Rheinhold Niebur ‘Moral Man and Immoral Society’ 1932