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.  But if there is a trophy I'd take in silver it would be the one they give for philanthropy.  The Charities Aid Foundation reports that we've been beaten by Myanmar, and all I can say is good for us.  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 --  two things at which Myanmar failed spectacularly.  How much did they give?  More, according to the CAF, than everyone else.  Who did they give to?  Monks -- God's personal bums who drop out, don't work, and go door-to-door looking for handouts.  Somebody convinced the people of Myanmar that giving to monks was more profitable than giving to the grocer.  Giving to the latter?  Benefits both of you for the moment.  Giving to the former?   According to their religious experts, profitable for eternity.

Voltaire says in his Philosophical Dictionary that yesterday's Catholic monks were even guiltier than the Buddhists of Myanmar today.  The Benedictines, in fact, convincing everyone through Pope Urban II that they were the holiest of the holy, persuaded the world 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 too.  This tall tale 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 judicious about where we put our money.  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'd be much further behind  -- which really means we would be much further ahead.

What we're supposed to be doing by ranking the world is proving where the best people live.  What we 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 only in the business of taking. 

The problem with people like the Charities Aid Foundation 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 value 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,


  1. Brilliant observation: Practice what you preach, get a trophy. LOL.


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