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December 2007

Subversive Improvements

Dura lex, sed lex.

Signal Fire: A blog for the arts of social change  on "subversive improvements," i.e., illegal action for the public good. Via David Bollier. If philanthropy were ruled illegal, as an unauthorized  interference in the market, and if that decision were upheld by the Supreme Court upon appeal, then I for one will cease and desist. The law is harsh, but it is the law.

Obedience Training from the TSA

Joseph Duemer after his wife's knitting needles are confiscated by the TSA screener:

But of course the point of the regulations is not, as in the nauseating cliché, to “keep us safe.” No, the TSA regulations are intended to keep us obedient. In the most recent entry in his NY Times weblog Jet Lagged, Patrick Smith comes as close as anyone in the media to laying this fact before the public. He does not quite draw the final political conclusion — that obeying the airport screeners is intended to be practice for obeying any absurd regulation — but he gets everything else exactly right. The purpose of having to take your shoes off & go through a search of your belongings is to teach you to swallow your rage. Try this thought experiment: Imagine the whole enterprise transfered to a psychology laboratory & all the passengers turned into rats.

Imagine a train and the TSA Agent asking you and your family to enter:  "You will be safer where you are going." Hope is a virtue too. We hope this is not going to be too bad. We hope they will back off soon. We hope there will not be another crisis, followed by God knows what crackdown now being scoped out in some think tank, and kept in reserve, just in case. Well, there is nothing we can do about it. The pacification of the population is the new normal.  Better to keep our heads down and mouths shut. A person could get hurt. Or on the wrong list. Things happen. Unless you have friends in high places it can be hard to get things straightened out. We all have heard stories of friends. It is better to just do as you are told.  You know, Lucy, the biggest philanthropy buzzword of 2007? You know what is was? Silence.

Of Those Wealthy Clients Who Having Often Been Corrected Do Not Amend

As a Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest,  I find this advice from The Rule of St. Benedict, helpful in working with my more incorrigible values-based planning clients. 

If a brother hath often been corrected and hath even been excommunicated for a fault and doth not amend, let a more severe correction be applied to him, namely, proceed against him with corporal punishment.

But if even then he doth not reform, or puffed up with pride, should perhaps, which God forbid, even defend his actions, then let the Abbot act like a prudent physician. After he hath applied soothing lotions, ointments of admonitions, medicaments of the Holy Scriptures, and if, as a last resource, he hath employed the caustic of excommunication and the blows of the lash, and seeth that even then his pains are of no avail, let him apply for that brother also what is more potent than all these measures: his own prayer and that of the brethren, that the Lord who is all-powerful may work a cure in that brother.

In any case, the good  Physician must adapt the prescription to the specific case. We are judged in this business by our measurable results. It is not enough to talk a good game, applying the ointments of admonition, thrashing a client, lopping off this or that limb, belting him into a straight-jacket, drilling holes in his head, praying for him, or even excommunicating the patient from the holy fellowship where nature meets culture in a gated community of conscience in Paradise Valley. The only true measure for a Moral Healer like me is whether the client actually repents and amends.  My own track record in that respect, I admit, is not good. But we must try, try again. Ms. Johnson! Come back here this instant! Excuse me. Another of my charges has broken loose again. 

Funding Heritance?

Maureen Ward Doyle at Heritance in a comment to an earlier post:

"Noocracy" is an enticing concept. Especially for the people who have the where-with-all to get people to lend them their ears. Thanks to the advent of the blog, articulate, self-assured, word slingers -- like the group who is commenting here-- can muster people's attention. It's important to remember, however, that it is capital (i.e. capital, cultural and otherwise) which greases the wheels of all "-acies" (noocracy, democracy, oligarchy, aristocracy... alike) by buying the dominant group the initial audience.

How does the outsider get a hearing? What for instance does the new non-profit do to gain the minds, hearts and cash of others so as to do if they don't have the capital? In particular, what does s/he do if the movement ultimately poses a threat to the existing world order?

This is not just a rhetorical question. I've founded a non-profit whose mission is to bring technical assistance and "best practices" to museums around the world. Our partner museums feature some of the poorest and most remote in the world. We do this work in part by borrowing resources (mostly "experts") from the wealthy part of the museum world (1%) and giving them to the needy (the remaining 99%). After 9 months of trials, we've got an effective product, positive outcomes, dozens of museums on various continents clamoring for our assistance and dozens of museum experts willing to participate. What we don't have, however, is money.

And here's the problem. The public is uninspired by museum development. When you can feed the hungry or nurse the sick, why give money for a community-based museum in Mpophomeni, South Africa or traveling Mayan textile exhibit in Chiapas, Mexico? And foundations are not enough moved by our story to award us a grant, at least not the foundations we have already approached. (Many seem to be on other routes to social good,which are remarkably like each others'.)

Furthermore, the story we tell is potentially off-putting to a category of potential donors, namely the art collector and museum patron. Since we favor the tearing down of the thick walls between the haves and have-nots of the museum world and the creation of numerous, small, decentralized community-based museums, our values are at odds with this group of potential donors.

The same could be said of potential corporate sponsors. Since we work in places that were exploited (or continue to be exploited) in part by greedy corporations, we are very slow to find compatible donors in this sector.

Laughable as it may seem for a broke non-profit to be thinking this way, we can only imagine accepting support from an organization or person whose values we endorse. In fact, I'd rather the organization die than sell out.

So the question arises: short of waking up one morning as wealthy as George Soros or charismatic as Christ, how is it possible to sell a new, somewhat controversial idea without selling your soul? Setting aside the question of stretching one's soul (albeit mine could use some stretching beyond its puritanical limits), how does one get heard if one isn't already recognized as worth being listened to and isn't of the Napoleonic self-crowning bent?

Maureen is asking excellent questions to which I do not have the answer. Do others have suggestions on how an organization like Heritance, doing good while challenging the status quo, might win attention and funders? 

Paris Hilton Gets Screwed Out of Her Inheritance

Well, $5 million is not bad, but I am sure Paris Hilton would have preferred the full $100 million.  Charity will benefit from the $2.3 billion going from her grandfather to charity.  This story will become a moral fable, I am sure, told over and over by philanthropic counselors to wealthy parents. I asked Missy Proctor, Senior Advisor to Heirs in Wealth Bondage, for her advice to her peers. "Wait to make the porno of yourself until after you get the old fart's money," she said, "or wear a mask like I do." Sounds like a prudent plan to me.