This article originally appeared at WALReader.com, the website of our magazine.
Other than “they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, a supreme belief in the power and virtue of charity is the typical conservative response when confronted with socioeconomic problems that the state is attempting to solve.
The assertion that charity can – and should – address all social and economic ills (everything from drug rehabilitation to homelessness to medical bills) is noble in intent, but tragically short-sighted. You see, charity depends on there being well-off and poor people; the haves and the have nots. Charity often inadvertently reinforces class and social walls. Charity treats the symptoms, rather than curing the disease.
Now don’t get me wrong – in our present social state, charity is needed. We have a fever of inequality and desperation and until the disease can be cured, it is good to make the symptoms more bearable. But let’s be careful to make sure that we aren’t making the symptoms more bearable just to avoid the much, much more difficult work of egalitarian, systemic change.
Charity should be seen as a temporary method of treatment necessitated by the current system – not as some grand voluntary endgame.