Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Monday, February 15, 2016

A note on the generosity of Myanmar

Dear Hannah,

I refuse to accept that Americans can be second-place in anything -- even in obesity.  It just means we haven't given it our best.  We've all seen our southerners, and if the Mexicans can beat us in gluttony they can beat us in anything.  There is however one trophy I'll accept in silver, and it happens to be the one we got for philanthropy.  The Charities Aid Foundation reports that we've been beaten by Myanmar, and nothing makes me happier than concession.  The only reason Myanmar ranked higher is because the people of Myanmar are dumber.  The only way we could be better at philanthropy is if the CAF ranked us worse.



I say this because there are really two questions more important than how much we give, and they're who we give to and why we do it.  And the reason Myanmar beat us wasn't because they were curing cancer; it's because in a horrible stroke of irony they were promoting it.  For instance, there are few people in the world more useless than monks, because monks are the kinds of people who refuse to do the things we need to do to support people.  And monks are primarily where Myanmar's donations are going, because somebody convinced the people of Myanmar that giving to monks was more profitable than giving to the grocer.  Giving to the latter may enrich you for a moment.  Giving to the former is (allegedly) profitable for eternity.

Voltaire relates in his Philosophical Dictionary that yesterday's Catholic monks were even guiltier than the Buddhists of Myanmar today.  The Benedictines in particular, convincing everyone through Pope Urban II that they were the holiest of monks, persuaded the world that they weren't only entitled to heaven just by joining the order and dying on Monte Cassino, but that people who gave them money were likely to get into heaven as well.  This naturally resulted in an influx of wealth, leading kings such as Charlemagne to ask what terms like renouncing the world meant when the monks were most usually engaged in buying it.

In both of these stories lies a moral for the ages.  The tendency for religious orders to swindle the faithful isn't only eternal, but universal -- which is why we have to be irreligiously scrutinous of our religious organizations, and careful of where we place our praise.  Swindling happens where people are easily swindled.  It's why we're second place.  Our televangelists are swindling the sick and the poor with promises not even of heaven, but of earthly prosperity.  Our non-profits are making the wildest of profits.  Our winning at philanthropy isn't even philanthropy.  Many times it's the opposite of philanthropy.  Many times it's our poor giving to the rich.  Get rid of the swindling, and we would be much further behind  -- which really means we would be much further ahead.

What we are supposed to be doing by ranking the world recklessly is proving where the best people live.  What we have actually proved is where the worst thinkers think.   Almost nobody who celebrated Myanmar's supremacy has questioned the value of Myanmar's policy.  Almost nobody has asked why so many great people live in such a horrible country.  We've gotten so caught up in getting the answer, that we've forgotten the importance of questioning the question.

America may be the most giving country in history, but it isn't ranked first place because the world doesn't appreciate our method of giving.  Our own grandparents called it Indian-giving when we blessed someone and expected a blessing back.  But a biologist would call the state of mutual sustainability symbiosis.  A good economist would call the giving of symbiosis capitalism.  A bad economist would call it greediness.  A bad economist would dare to ask a business to give back to the community, as if the entire time our businessmen had been in the business of only taking. 

The problem with people like the CAF is that they don't appreciate our givers getting.  They can't praise the idea of a man sitting up all night wondering how to take care of his neighbor, if in the process of taking care of his neighbor he's also going to take care of himself.  The world is against capitalism because it's against our most sustainable givers.  Leftism is popular because they would rather see the most beneficial men in the universe sitting in rags.  Our moralists are immoral because they don't know how to consider the value of symbiosis.  They pretend that being good means always giving and never getting.  We should demand that the people who preach it live by it -- and hand them each a trophy when they starve themselves to death.

Your father,
-J

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