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December 2011

When the Rich Secede

Rich enough, you can secede into communities not only gated but with a moat, or on an island, accessible only by private jet. You can have your own schools, your own banks, your own polo team, your own chefs, servants, dancing master, voice coach, life coach, police, bodyguards, private health care, private government, and private army. You can have your own ballet, opera, painters and poets. In Rome, the highest and the mightiest had Lucian, Juvenal, Martial, and Horace, much as they had a slave stand behind them in their triumphal chariot whispering, "Remember Caesar, you are mortal." In festivals like Lupercal, the richest changed roles with the poorest and ran naked through the streets, whipping each other, in goathish debauch, to purify the city and ensure fertility. May we see such times again, when to be a Fool was as honest a profession as lawyer or MBA is today. If we need a scapegoat, let us pick him or her by lot, rather than defaulting as usual to yours truly. Come Lupercal, let me whip you for a change.

Breakaway Wealth

The Washington Post on "Breakaway Wealth," how wealth gaps are increasing, and with them a growing alliance between wealth and political power, to the detriment in my opinion of all concerned. Chile under Pinochet, Russia under the Oligarchs, these were the result of Chicago Economics, operating with words like Freedom, to mean laizzez faire capitalism. I do not want to live in such a country, nor do most wealthy people. I have noticed that increasingly popular topics for wealth planning conferences are kidnap Insurance and personal protection services, like bodyguards and bullet proof cars. Is this the good life as we imagine it?

To My Social Justice Fundraising Friends on Raising Money from the Rich

The King of Thebes passed by Diogenes's Dumpster. Hearing a great clatter, he looked in. Diogenes was tossing human bones about. "What are you doing?," asked the King. "I am trying to sort your father's bones from mine," replied Diogenes, also known as "the mad Socrates."

Rich and poor, left and right, high and low, them and us, labor and management, plaintiff's bar and defense attorney, Republican and Democrat, 1% and 99%,  these are largely self serving distinctions via which we justify our identity and enforce our leadership. To polarize and hang in effigy is a proven political ploy. "We will save you from them!"

The basis for solidarity between rich and poor is written into every sacred text, our orginal Constitution (before we honored it more in the breach) and much of the classical tradition. We are all born in blood, as St. Augustine said, "between feces and urine." We are all carrion. Worms will eat us all. "Remember man that thou art dust and into dust thou shalt return."

The Pharisee kneeling said, "Thank you God for making me better than the 1%." That is sin, the sin of pride, and it afflicts all of us, rich and poor alike.We cannot be morally superior to all of the 1%, just because we are broke and stand in solidarity with our own kind? Let us model moral imagination, if we expect it from others. Begin by dealing with the beam in our own eye.

On Receiving Wanted and Unwanted Charity

Miss Shuganah:

A year ago, I wrote Kid O Is CPed, or How Crippling Language and Sentimentality Dehumanizes Disabled Children and Adults in response to a Twitter conversation and blog post by Ira Socol about Dickens's portrayal of Tiny Tim. When Tiny Tim says to his father that he hopes people will notice him in church, he does not wish to be seen as a pitiful cripple. Instead he wants people to remember how wonderful and loving God is.

She goes on to discuss Maimonides's ladder of giving, the highest form of which is partnership with the recipient, presumed to be the agent of his or her own destiny. 

The Modern Courtier: The Morals of Tacitus Concerning Flattery

Via personal email a certain learned doctor suggests this ancient wisdom for those philanthopic advisors inculcating Discernment in their hyperagent clients. Without vision mere wealth and power are blind. With flattery all things are possible. Your Highness, the Occupiers have reached the Winter Palace! Only you can save CapitalismWhether flattery of the rich is for an advisor (a) immoral, (b) moral, unseemly, and self-serving, (c) a job responsbility, or (d) just good business I leave an open question until I have read and assimilated the Tacitus. As a pragmatist, or utilitartarian, I lean towards the view that whatever works is good enough, whether it be philanthropy, duress, the rule of law, revolution, or philanthropic advisement. A better world must be had by all, by whatever means necessary. With the resources available, and in the conditions under which we find ourselves, we must measure, build, and manage equity on behalf of.... That is the part where I get stuck, Sire. On behalf of your Vision, for The World We Want, Sire? Got it. I will issue a Proclamation to the People.

The Lucy Parsons Project

With class tensions rising it is seems unfortunate that some would reawaken the memory of Lucy Parson and the Haymarket Affair of 1886. Learn the use of explosives, she counseled the tramps of her day. This led only to slaughter. Lucy's own husband was tried, sentenced, and hung. Instead of class war, which can only end badly for all concerned, let us make common cause. Let us find new ways to help the super-rich who could if they chose, and liked us and cared about us, and saw a way to profit from it, do so much to help us. They give us jobs, or could. At least they give those of us jobs who work at the going third world rates. We merely give them tax breaks. Surely, if we gave them more tax breaks, and eliminated all regulation of their companies, and gave them personally unlimited liabiilty, and bailed them out when they failed, they would do even more for us than they already have? It is true that they have more and more as we have less and less as they get more and more tax breaks, but that is because we have not given them enough tax breaks fast enough yet. Zero is a good rate on capital gains. 12.5 for companies would bring money back from overseas. This is not a matter of politics. It is common courtesy. It is the least we can do for those who do so much for us, or could, if they liked us more.

Singing Nun Takes on Wall Street

Sister lucy
We hear a lot about the Protest Chaplains at Occupy Wall Street and the Carnvelesque tradition, but very little about Sister Lucy, the Singing Protest Nun. You know, we must be the change we seek in the world. Until we overcome our own gender biases, mere redistribution of wealth will not make for a just society. Let us join The Working People's Choral Group for Justice and World Peace with Sister Lucy, a Rockefeller heiress who, after a fabulous and fabled run as a Debauched Debutante, took a vow of poverty and gave up partying, other these protests. Sweet Sister Lucy, may your efforts prosper.  

Philanthropcapitalism: Point Counterpoint

A revealing debate at Stanford Social Enterprise Review.  Kavita Ramdas devastates the triumphalist philanthrocapitalist mindset. Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, in the best Oxbridge style attacks the way Kavita expresses her critique rather than the critique itself. I learned that at Oxford too, as did Bill Clinton. ("It all depends on what the meaning of is is.") What is striking is that the point counterpoint gives equal time to social change philanthropy. Bravo to Stanford Social Enterprise Review for that. That saving capitalism by means of philanthropy is not an unmixed good seems to stagger the imagination of Mathew and Michael, rendering them not speechless but contentless. Next time SSR needs a spirited defense of Wealth Bondage, I do hope they call me. I can come up with countless arguments acceptable to my boss, our stockholders, and her board. I have been doing it for years. I even won a prize for it back in the day. Hack of the month, in January of 2007, nosing out some very well known think tank thinkers, some of whom appear on all the best talk shows. Have Mathew and Michael won any comparable honors? I find it ungrateful to bite the hand that feeds me scraps. I have always done better to fawn. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If social change and a real meritocracy means I can no longer be the editor of Gifthub I am no more likely to support it than would Mathew if change deprived him of his gilded cage at the Economist. (Truth: In linking to Mathew's Philanthrocapitalism's website, I found it blocked by Norton as a "known malicious site." Probably some phishing scam. I don't blame Mathew for that, though I do think the "philanthropy saving capitalism" meme is pernicious. It implies, falsely! that Wealth Bondage is less than perfect and needs saving. That is like saying that markets are not God! Hegemonic, all encompassing, and indestructible. What needs saving? Appearances. Hence philanthropy? It all depends on what the meaning of justice is, I guess.

Tipping Point Fund

Tracy's Gary's Tipping Point year end gift recommendations are out. Glad to see that Interfaith Worker Justice made the list.  Can we speak of a market in philanthropy? Let's not. Can we speak of a community of funders and nonprofits committed to social justice? No. What we can speak of are niches, covens, clavens, and cohorts, operating within their own bubbles. The tipping point will come when Tracy's tipping point orgs, her funders, Occupy Wall Street Protest Chaplains, and the COF initiative for Social Justice and Peace get in one room together and form as a movement. I have proposed that in various venues. Hunnnh? So we continue as fragments of a whole, scattered sparks, no blaze.

The real tipping point is this: David Koch won the 2011 $250,000 William Simon Prize for philanthropic leadership in support of, well, you know, the deregulated market based mess we are in. The $250,000 prize goes to the charity of the recipient's choice. I doubt Interfaith Worker Justice will make David Koch's short list. More likely it will be Citizens United or the like, in subversion of labor, environmental protection, and the people's sovereignty and in support of family dynasty, corporate hegemony, and ever more concentrated wealth.

Tracy too comes from a family dynasty. The difference is class, as in culture and the moral imperative to consider the well being of all. The connection with faith, with philosophers like John Rawls, and with the founding traditions of democracy, that is the social justice movement's greatest strength, an arch above and a foundation below, yet we remain fragments. Wiser are the children of darkness.