Redefining Generosity

The rich-as-shit step up to the plate of global poverty...And TIME Magazine gobbles it up.

"For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are TIME's Persons of the Year" -- TIME Magazine, December 2005.

What is wrong with charity? What, more precisely, is wrong with celebrity charity? Am i just being cynical if i condemn it as being fatuous, mere hot air that does nothing to change the status quo and even can be said to preserve the very social structures that make charity possible in the first place?

"This was already a year that redefined generosity. Americans gave more money to tsunami relief, more than $1.6 billion, than to any overseas mission ever before. The Hurricane Season from Hell brought another outpouring of money and time and water bottles and socks and coats and offers of refuge, some $2.7 billion so far. The public failure of government to manage disaster became the political story of the year. But the private response of individuals, from every last lemonade stand to every mitten drive, is the human story of 2005." -- TIME Magazine

But can private responses resolve public problems, or are they structurally-necessary safety valves in an inhuman, dehumanizing political system? Can transnational responses to global poverty -- along the lines of what Bono et al advocate -- on the charity model be anything more than a refusal of historical responsibility: a twenty-first century version of the white man's burden, which seeks to bury the history of colonialism and imperialism that conditions the dismal present under a mythology of the "generosity" of western civilisation? Plus ├ža change, my friends: this is the real human story, that the charity-mania of media and pop mediocrities renders invisible.

Hey, look, i like to dance in my kitchen to "where the streets have no name," too. I've also pondered the sweet contradictions of "with or without you." I've got nothing against the constantly bespectacled Irish king of pop. As such. But Good Samaritans, no matter how cool, no matter how jazzy, no matter how rich, can't eradicate cruel systems: only the people can do that, together, for each other. And this means that people like Bono, actually, need to give up -- not gain -- power. "Apart from his music stardom, Bono is a busy capitalist (he's a named partner in a $2 billion private equity firm)..." reports the adulatory TIME article -- so he "spends several thousand dollars at a restaurant for a nice Pinot Noir" once in a while; so what? Doesn't he deserve a little break from redefining generosity?


Weeell, he might fancy himself a man of the people, but that nice Pinot Noir makes for a dark stain against Bono's prole cred. As does his bizarre on-again, off-again friendship with Liberal Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. But that's a sordid story for another day. The point is, TIME's Persons of the Year work their shit on the backs of the People of the World, even as they make self-congratulatory efforts to "rescue" us. Who is going blind soldering those circuit boards to run your buggy programs, Billy boy? Who is losing fingers -- and squandering their human possibility -- making those wrap-around shades for your mass-marketed-charity-king-cool, Bono baby? Those making poverty history bracelets produced by structurally empoverished, hyper-exploited Shenzhen workers -- what's the deal, Geldof? The point is, to be brief, that engaging in revolutionary politics requires making actual choices. One of them, if your gig is making poverty history, might be giving up the Pinot Noir... or at least giving it away. Now that's redefining generosity. Or at least putting your money where your mouth is.


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