Richard Elliott: There is nothing charitable about being guilt-tripped for money by someone who is anti-charity themselves
The renewed debate about foreign aid, and the concept of ‘charity’ at the international, or macrocosmic level, gives one warrant to take another look at charity at the level of the microscopic in one of its most abrasive forms; namely, the phenomenon of the ‘charity mugger’. You may be unfamiliar with this term, but you are almost certainly well acquainted with their sort, particularly if you live in a town or anywhere near a city. The high-viz, upbeat young person on the high street, who, raising a smile in your direction, shouts at you, “Excuse me madam, can I have thirty seconds of your time to tell you about the three-eared Siberian leopard pig?” or “Sir, I work for the Berkshire Trust for Domestically Abused Guinea Fowl”, or something similar. Now the alarm bells are ringing about who I’m referring to when I say ‘charity mugger’.
Once successfully deconstructing the behaviour of the charity mugger, one can fully appreciate the sinister modus operandi of these people. They have a tendency to discriminate between the ‘stronger’ looking passers-by from the weaker ones, then choose to direct their onslaught of beckons and calls at those who appear less disposed to disincline their invitation to hear about the cause they are working for. Whereas someone with stronger willpower might tell a charity mugger to get stuffed, the old dear with the faint voice is less likely to do so.
The charity mugger also engages in tactics to target his victim; they line themselves up like a Roman cavalry, three or four fellow workers from their organisation in a single column, blockading the same side of the high street. This creates a form of assault course, a veritable ‘It’s a Knockout’ of dodging these imbeciles with their clipboards and faux enthusiasm. That is not to mention the build-up of psychological guilt that the charity muggers manage to project at you by making you have to ignore or disincline more than one of their kind.
All this is bad enough. But the worst thing about these charity muggers is the myth, indeed the cleverly constructed lie, that what they are doing is in any way noble, or indeed ‘charitable’.
This past week, on a trip to the city of Winchester, I sent a charity mugger packing, only for him to shout at me, in the middle of a busy high street, “Don’t you care about anyone else but yourself?!”. Needless to say, I amazed myself with how quickly the flash of fury prompted by this personal attack inspired me to generate a knock-down argument to this fellow. I didn’t resort to mentioning the numerous acts of selflessness for good causes I’ve involved myself in of recent, as that would have been improper. Instead, I propositioned this charity mugger with a question; if you are being paid by a particular charity to stand here and proselytise, aren’t you being anti-charity by definition?
For goodness sake, this fool, taking a wage from a charity, trying to tell me how to be charitable! And no doubt many other charity muggers have tried the same trick with you. I cannot be the only person to have noticed the rank hypocrisy of some fool being paid by the hour to preach the supposed charitable morals which they do not themselves practice. This is not to mention the gross percentages of the funds raised by charities which often never go towards the causes they raise money for in practical terms, all the more likely lining the pockets of their CEO’s, and indeed paying those idiots who harass you on the high street, telling you how you should morally spend your own money. (To give you an idea of how much we’re talking about, the chief executive of British Red Cross, Sir Nick Young, earned a cool £184,000 for his efforts in 2012. How charitable of him. These figures are not uncommon; a Google search on Save the Children, Christian Aid, Oxfam, and many other leading charities will lead to similar hypocrisies)
There is often a trope of folk who argue that under a libertarian worldview, most acts of charity would disappear. I would invert this; charity in its truest sense can only exist when it is non-coercive; when there is no compulsion into giving your money away. How can anyone possibly claim that thieving away your money is in any way charitable? Apply it to the argument about taxation rates: aren’t you being so charitable to give your tax money to the work-shy of Britain, or to the African despot who lets his own people starve?
A word of advice: don’t be made to feel guilty for not being charitable by anyone who are themselves being anti-charity. These people do not practice what they preach, and, like the idiot I had the misfortune to come across, you can often deliver a knock-down argument to a charity mugger, in a form reminiscent of the one I’ve presented here, and save yourselves several minutes and even a lecture you do not want to hear.
You can only truly be your brother’s keeper if you do so willingly and consensually.