Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Morning Soapbox: Why You Should Probably Give to Charity

In 2006 and 2007, Marvel Comics' event of choice was Civil War. It was a mess, with Tony Stark being a dick and Captain America trying to punch out legislation because the tactical genius who embodies American democracy couldn't think of a better way to overturn a law he didn't like. Like most events, a few unmissed characters died, important characters have since had their mean behavior explained away (extremis), and no one really talks much about it anymore.

We were promised an even-handed version of post-9/11 America, and got...well, a comic book treatise on post-9/11 America, with all of the subtlety that implies. We got a few words from 40-something white guys on how important standing up for freedom is, even when it's really, really hard and Captain America gave his dumbest speech since I started reading comics:
"Do not check yourself; wreck yourself."

In the end, Captain America gave up because the people (five "the people," technically) were against him and jesus, he didn't want his principled, uncompromising struggle to actually hurt anyone, especially anyone that wasn't Tony Stark's smug, bastard face.

But as slanted as it was, Stark was right. Stark believed that if he didn't do something to reign in superheroes and police his friends, someone else maybe someone with less incentive would do it. Tony went far, but he knew he'd never go too far.

I'll get back to that in a second.

So Stark also makes a clone cyborg Thor that malfunctions and kills a dude, puts heroes into a negative zone prison without trial, and recruits super-villains to round up heroes. He fucks up big time. Oh, he also puts a healthy portion of the super villains (and heroes) on a short leash, creates The Fifty-State Initiative that was key in repelling The Skrull Invasion, and stops the public's push to register super-heroes. Compare that with Cap, who got gut-shot by his brainwashed ex and didn't do much but rot for the next two years.

So what's the difference? Balls. Tony Stark believed in what he was doing. He fucked up. He had doubts. But he kept at it. He knew that getting everyone to register would be tough. He knew it would probably come to blows. He also knew that in stopping them that his behavior had to be above reproach; no going easy on anyone. Stark had confidence in himself. He had confidence that he'd learn from his mistakes. He had confidence that he had the integrity not to go too far.

Cap had the courage to stand up to the world and tell them they were wrong. Stark had to tell himself that he was right, and being a critic is infinitely easier than being a cheerleader. Both have elements of ego centrism, but one requires that you move forward and accept imperfections, that the good will outweigh the bad, the other demands you never move because you're afraid of curing the world's ill because you're cowed by the chance of shouldering even a fraction of the responsibility for it.

Most people fall into the second category. I think almost everyone would give to charity, if it weren't for a number of convenient excuses, "Not enough of it goes to helping people," "It's too complicated," "It's just a scam to make the people who run it rich," "That conflict has always existed and always will and we can't change that," "there isn't enough for everyone," "there are other, more important issues," "It could cause trouble for me later if the wrong people learned I helped that group," or "it doesn't make a difference if just one person gives a little money." Rationalizations like that are why more people don't want to get involved, help, or give.

As I meant to mention Friday (but apparently didn't, as I moved that part to today because--ha-ha--I was running long), Joseph Russel and Invisible Children are sketchy as hell. If you want to help, the best way to help is to--as it often is--to contact your congressmen and let them know this is a thing for you. If the fight for SOPA proves anything, it's that when enough people crack the whip, congress hops to, I'd think that any significant fraction of 85 million views is "enough people."

And that 85 million views is what really chaps my ass. A few people here and there don't make much of a difference, but when that many people realize there's something that needs fixing, you don't shut them down and give them an excuse to look away. You put a saddle on that sand worm and ride it. Don't give it an excuse to get away.

Tell them they can help. The number one reason that people don't try to make a difference is because they don't think they can make a difference. The issue has to be framed as a solvable one because all problems are solvable. They need to know that other people are on board, a movement needs to reach a critical ma--85 million.

Don't complicate it. Especially if you're dealing with people who are just getting into activism, don't clutter things up. Keep it simple and focus what people can do, what the goal is, and how it will be accomplished. The more work it takes for people to help--mental or physical--the fewer people are going to help. Getting $1,000 from a 100 lazy, well-intentioned morons is better than getting $100 from 10 MENSA members.

It's an Imperfect World, Deal With It. Ultimately, you may not like how much an organization pays it staff. You may not like what percentage of the money given actually goes towards helping a cause. If you want to do more than write a letter and let your government work on it, then maybe there's no alternative to an organization like that. Deal with it. Helping ineffectively is better than not helping at all. Howevercomma if that same organization, like Invisible Children, distorts facts and shies away from oversight or if it supports a course of action you find wrong, then it's a scuzzy place and you shouldn't give it a damned cent, but don't make obstructing progress--however imperfect you find it--your cause. If you still want to help, then proceed to the next step.

Do Something Else. There are a lot of important issues in the world. This place is a wreck that's being steadily sorted by the small, but determined, robot that is the milk of human kindness. Most of these problems are interconnected; you can't make one corner of the world perfect as a prerequisite to make another part of it not suck. On the other hand, if an issue is something you don't want a hand in, then just walk away. It may not be your cause, but whenever a day dawns where one piece of rubble anywhere is cleared away, no matter how small, your cause is benefited. Take comfort in that.

Oh, hey, here's a list of legit charities, most of which accept donations and have ways to volunteer on their website:
United Way - Educating people and help them reach financial stability.
The Red Cross - It's The Red Cross
Feed The Children - Self-explanatory.
The Task Force for Global Health - Providing health care for people around the globe.
Americares - Delivering relief supplies to crisis zones.
Aid Brazil's Children - In case you wanted to help some kids. In Brazil.
United States Memorial Holocaust Museum - Educating people about an important cause.
Wikipedia - Sharing information is the very basis of the internet.
Pedigree Foundation - Yup, helping animal shelters.
Child's Play - It provides video games to kids. Kids with diseases.

If you've got any additions, let me know.

1 comment:

VanVelding said...

In the aftermath of Newtown--a massive event in Connecticut that saw dozens of schoolchildren die--another way that Tony was right surfaces. Instead of bitching about the unfairness of the public backlash against the perceived cause of a tragedy, he hopped in front of the wave to make sure he could direct it, all while waiting for public sentiment to subside.