"Existential choice," that phrase in Paris after the WWII had meaning, as people thought back to the Occupation and how they had handled themselves as bystanders, soldiers, collaborators, resistance fighters. The question was, "Do we make decisions that stem from our character? Or, do we create ourselves, our character and our identity, through the life determining choices we make?" Sartre said that our choices, even if made unthinkingly, even if made in bad faith, determine who we are. We might say then that philanthropic consulting at its highest works with a donor, or donor family, not only to express character, values and identity, but to forge same in the heat of public action. I see the work of H. Peter Karoff in this light.
But there is more, as the political element in the discussion above suggests. The most important choices for a society are not individual. Will Paris resist? Will my editor resist or cave? Will my neighbors support me or turn me in? Can I assume that the walls have ears? Will I be taken off the street and tortured? Will I betray my friends? Group choice largely trumps personal choice. The choices we have as a society and a nation go beyond choices of brands, parties, or personal paths through a maze set up by those above us. We have a collective choice about what we as a nation are becoming. Sleepwalkers or a free people? That for example and the choice of whether to constrain ourselves and govern ourselves for a sustainable future. That for example. Likewise we have choices around the rule of law, transparency of government, wiretapping, torture, martial law, detention centers, propaganda, think tanks, punditry, regulation/deregulation, and the concentration of power in the hands of the few. To accept these as given is a personal choice. To change the decision matrix within which personal choices are made can only be a collective choice, a choice offered by no party or candidate you could find in the voting booth. The world we want is not sold in stores. The world we want is not on the ballot in any given November. We cannot create it one by one, only when many act in concert.
We can make collective choice as cows do, turning their hindquarters to face the wind, or as birds or schools of fish do, taking their cue from one another in flocks. We can make decisions as consumers do, responding to brand signals, and the smiling faces in the ads, or as party members do, mouthing the sound-bites and the slogans. We can respond to which end is up, as defined by those above in a position to reward or punish. Or, we can come to consciousness through philosophy, the arts, history, reliable news, and small group conversation in which we winnow the good from the bad, the true from the false, and art from spin.
Are we talking political theory? Philanthropy? Grassroots organizing? Media reform? The arts? Blogging as consciousness raising? Game theory? The theory and practice of eloquence? Heroism? Reform of the operating systems of capitalism? I want to say for better or worse that at Gifthub we are talking about all this as one conversation. We are talking about each of us personally and we collectively snapping out of our fog and becoming conscious of where we are in history, finding shared stories and language, creating rallying points, and once again taking responsibility for the fate of our society and the earth. Philanthropy as currently practiced may be a small part of it, but love of humankind, the root meaning of philanthropy, is of the essence. I am going to ask my boss and distinguished patron, Candidia Cruikshanks, if it is ok to be a citizen. You wait here. I will be right back and tell you what she says.