Capitalism has created an unprecedented wake of destruction in its path. While charity tries to quell this destruction, it will never truly remedy of the evils of capitalism because it does not change the ruthless system itself. Charity today provides a temporary Band-Aid solution to a larger, deep-seated problem – the perverted economic system of capitalism has caused immense environmental degradation, mass displacement of peoples, socioeconomic inequality, internal civil strife, violence, and war, and further feeds on such traits as greed, deceit, manipulation and selfishness. Charities prevent the opportunity for systemic change – the donors keep the impoverished alive by donating the bare minimum, just breadcrumbs to the poor, while the donors continue to enjoy living in excess and feel good while doing it. Systemic change can only be possible when the rich and privileged have their wealth taken away. We cannot possibly “save the world” if society continues functioning under capitalist conditions. Philanthropy under capitalism is a façade; it will not offset the incredible devastation that has been perpetrated around the globe.
The 5-day “Live Below the Line” campaign aims at raising awareness and money for a myriad of sponsored organizations that work towards fighting extreme poverty. It challenges individuals and communities around the globe to eat and drink on less than $1.50 a day to “experience” what it’s really like to live in poverty. Poverty is felt in every aspect of someone’s life – from their housing to their wages. There is no escape from it. Further, it is not the short-term effects of poverty, but the long-term effects that create life-changing problems. Poverty is not something that you can simply “experience” for a week. It’s not a game; it’s peoples’ lives.
The “Earth Hour” campaign is a global movement organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which takes place on the last Saturday of every March. On that night, people across the globe are urged to turn off their lights for one hour. Turning off light bulbs for one hour a year will not change much as energy consumption consists not only of light bulbs, but heating, cooking, transportation, etc.
Adbusters’ “Buy Nothing Day” campaign is no different. It is a day of symbolic protest where participants refrain from making purchases in order to protest consumption and commercialization. There is no real inconvenience in not engaging in consumerism for one day. It is no different from mainstream feel-good campaigns under capitalism that it criticizes so heavily. The same hypocrisy is there.
The charitable endeavors listed above are only a few examples of the pervasive feel-good campaigns that exist today.
It is far more convenient to engage in charitable optimism rather than attempt to restructure a society. The effort it takes to actually change the world requires honest self-reflection and critical thinking– it is necessary to question these charitable practices and perhaps start entertaining other ways to create meaningful change. It is not surprising that people are moved by the devastating poverty and starvation in the world, but the circumstances that created this immense inequality is the system itself, and change cannot occur in a system that is inherently unjust. Wilde states that this is a case of simply ‘keeping the poor alive’ – it is a way to amuse the poor without actually changing anything.
Abridged and adapted from an article by Rozali Telbis on the Dissident Voice website