Oh the good I could do with millions of dollars! Never mind how I get them. If I had them, then I would…
Just a few short centuries before the great time change, Aeschylus (525-456 BCE) gave us one of our more venal terms: “Philanthropy”.
“For he, thy choice flower stealing, the bright glory
Of fire that all arts spring from, hath bestowed it
On mortal men. And so for fault like this
He now must pay the Gods due penalty,
That he may learn to bear the sovereign rule
Of Zeus, and cease from his philanthropy.”
Prometheus Bound (lines 6-11)
Ironic, don’t you think, that the first use of philanthropos tropos in literature is associated with a chained Titan hero being punished by the gods for loving humanity too much? Prometheus, having given humanity the divine utility of fire thereby unleashing civilization and the arts, was bound in chains and riveted to a rock so that an eagle could feast on his liver each day (the liver would magically regrow through the night for the eagle’s next chomping).
Following the well-trodden path of metaphysical catechist annexation, Judaism (tzedakah), Islam (Zakat), Christianity (charity), Hindu (dāna) all promoted the importance of using material wealth as a means of evidencing concern for “others”. The principle of charity as a means of manifesting social justice in the present and prima facie evidence of goodness in the great beyond has been a fixture in cultures for thousands of years. In the over 1.5 million “charitable organizations” in the U.S. alone over $2 trillion dollars are parked awaiting deployment. Pope Benedict XVI in his Papal Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, quite carefully articulated the centrality of charity as a means of evidencing and transcending social justice in genuine expressions of love for humanity. Carefully reading his exposition, you see a recapitulation to the Pope Paul VI Encyclical Populorum Progressio view which states that a globalized society, “makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers.” Benedict and Paul conclude that it’s the gods who are responsible for making us genuinely care. So there’s a paradox: deities punish a hero for loving humanity too much and the same deities are the only pathway to evidence philanthropy!
I was around a lot of money in the last several weeks. Loads of it! And I was struck by two seemingly disparate issues expressed by the people who had it. First, they were really upset that they don’t know how on earth to invest it to make more of it. Do you put it in Treasuries, gold, equities, real estate? What’s going to be the best hedge against Black Swans, irrational exuberance, and other metaphoric specters? How do I know that I’m not having my pocket picked by my wealth managers who are prop trading against my portfolio? And second, they didn’t know how to give it away. NGOs, charities, random acts of… well, randomness?
One of the most desperate communities needing philanthropy – and I mean a genuine sense of the love of humanity – is philanthropists!
Now the title of the post, “The Golden Lure”, is meant to be what at least a few of you “caught” when you first read it. We know the reciprocal ethic of, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” referred to by many as the Golden Rule. But through the prism of materialistic charity (the myopia attending disproportionate monetary wealth) the reciprocity is missing. In a world of “benefactor” and “beneficiary”, the ‘factors’ are seen for what they have – not who they are – and the ‘ficiaries’ are seen for what they lack – not who they are. The more mournful the caricature of lack (think children and puppies here), the greater the lure. Tragically, the currency utilized to satiate the endless cycle of futile charity is held in disproportion most often because the impoverished were unseen prior to predatory endeavors. Had we engaged resource stewards with suitable honor, we wouldn’t have the IMF and World Bank’s much ballyhooed “resources curse”, for example. We’d have less billionaires but we’d also have less sex slavery, human trafficking, and permanently dislocated refugees “needing our charity”.
Philanthropists, like their mythical progenitor, are riveted to the golden rock of their enslavement only to have their livers pecked out by each tale of woe born of monetary resource asymmetry.
So here’s an idea. Why don’t We the People wake up from this 2,500 year trance? If we are in possession of excess in one dimension of wealth – money for example – why don’t we examine where we failed to fairly price the contributions of others and seek to remedy that imbalance? Maybe it’s with our money. Maybe it’s with our time, communities, technologies, knowledge or any of the other Integral Accounting dimensions. Rather than relying on the morning eagle’s feeding torment to rob us of our joyful engagement with humanity, why don’t we enlist humanity to chip away at the rock thereby reducing its anchoring qualities? Then one day, when the eagle comes, we can teach it to fish and it can eat for a lifetime.