A cultured friend with a deep grounding in the liberal arts, including the arts of healing, and also a deep grounding in the ways of finance and financial institutions, writes me, asking of philanthropy, "Where is the real gold?" By that she asks, where are we to locate virtue in relationship to giving? Is it just math? Giving is good. The more given the better? Double bottom line, single bottom line, it is all about virtue, and the more the better? Here is my response, pending hers.
- The key (sez I) is human flourishing, sometimes translated from the Greek as happiness
- Per Aristotle's Ethics, we are sociable creatures as a species; we flourish as a polis or community, or perish as outcasts. (Crusoe is a barbarian; as is Economic Man. The Economic Actor of Milton Friedman is a psychopath. That he mistakes the market for the hidden hand of God is not suprising given his level of moral development. Even now I know educated people in philanthropy who mistake it for a capital market.)
- Civic virtues are key. Of those philanthropy, munificence, magnanimity, largeness of soul, kindness are all virtues in Aristotle's sense of excellences. (Each of which can be taken to extremes, or perverted so as to become a vice or disfigurement.)
- The key civic virtue, the virtue of the polis itself, is justice.
- Against the Aristotelian strand, which is aristocratic, we inherit a Christian strand. "Faith, hope and charity and the greatest of these is charity." Peer to peer human kindness with our brothers in sisters in Christ, one body. Peasant to peasant if not peer to peer. Love as the sweep of the Holy Spirit through us, the all creating spirit, the wind that blows through the wind chimes in Romantic poetry, or speaks to a mad King in the hurricane or tornado.
In my sense of it, we are sick as a society and as individuals. What we are suffering from will not be cured by Prozac nor by therapy. Those are ways of reconciling the prisoner to her cell, to her solitary confinement within a life denying, community denying ideology of market materialism. Of that disease we are dying spiritually, psychologically, culturally, and now really are in danger of dying back as a species. As with obesity, or addiction, or high blood pressure, or cancer, we feel fine for the most part and spit from our mouths any cure unless covered in candy. That (curing what is sickest in us) is the role of art, to be that candy, or was considered the role of art and philosophy in the Hellenic tradition. Emetics also come into that conception, as does the clyster, and leeches, and hot irons to produce blisters - in other words, satire is the cure, if anything is, for moral distemper. But only a Fool would say so, and many a Fool has, if only to provoke a hearty laugh from the Wise who have always known better, from Oedipus to Lear on down to the Wise and the Just who lead us today to our doom. Philanthropy in my own sense of it is one of the Muses, or Graces. What will save us if anything does is love, inspiration, the "force that through the green fuse drives the flower." Art is how we heal ourselves, and I experience giving as an art (techne plus inspiration). This is not in any way to deny what is dark and invidious in art - in Frost, in Milton, in Nietzsche, in Rimbaud, and one and on. We raven down our proper bane. The cure is homeopathic: the pharmakon, both cure and poison. "We have art so as not to die of the truth," Nietzsche. (And the dark sister of art is propaganda, branding, gilded lies. That is art too, in a way. It too is medicine, given to keep us sick with worldly desires by false healers who are sick themselves with materialism. Hence, "Physician heal thyself." There is not great corruption than for those with a healing gift, of art or reason, to use that gift of the Holy Spirit to corrupt and enslave. Yet, for what else are we paid? We knowledge workers in Wealth Bondage?)
Philanthropy no less than art, sexual love, war, or eloquence is a basic human expression, an excellence, but riven to its core (as are the other excellences) by vanity, will to power, ruthlessness. In the underworld from which inspiration springs, the thing and its opposite are one in strife, as you know from Shakespeare, Jung, Yeats, Joseph Conrad, Dostoyevsky, or William Blake. Even the Holy Spirit, the love of Christ, to what does it compel the Christian in the arena? Better not even to contemplate what the force within us asks of us. Sacrifice does not end with the money. We have philanthropy so as not to die of injustice, but it is the expression of a power imbalance and confirms the very thing it ameliorates. War for peace. Philanthropy for justice. Self sacrifice for eternal life, for the life that flows through the genes, spirit, cultural traditions. The Dalai Lama now in Tibet. Is that not philanthropy of the highest sort? In philanthropy of the usual sort, the market tosses and turns trying to awaken itself from madness, though, as Freud said, the reason we have nightmares is to keep us asleep.
So where is the real gold buried? In the straw that the princess spins, under the watchful eye of the dancing and malicious Rumpelstiltskin, presumably. Or, maybe in Privy of Midas himself? "Bring me the stone the builders rejected," said Jesus, in the Apochryphal Gospels, "for that is the keystone." It is unlikely that philanthropy will be found among the wealthy. Nor did Jesus even seem to have considered that a possibility. He sought caritas among thieves, prostitutes, tax-collectors, enlisted men, and fisherman. The healing he provided, curing blindness, deafness, lameness and raising the dead, was maybe the fulfillment of that whole healing tradition in Hellenic philosophic thought. He helps us find eternal life, by helping us see that our crucifixion under the laws administered by Pilate or whomever is appointed above us by the temporal powers that be, is a small gift to pay forward for what we have been given, for what courses through us. To see the true gold in coin or markets or personal virtue, or in metrics to be managed, or in preferment, or in recognition or fame is to be very much in need of healing. But a Fool like me has not got that touch. Yet, why not spit on my fingers and give it a shot? If not Christ as a model, then bend over: Rabelais was a Doctor too. Not all communion is consecrated, but the holy wine, even if stolen, has a kick. "Come let us drink!" as Rabelais would say, dressing as a King or Philanthropist, and rucking up his robes to show his buttocks, to the saturnalian laughter of the peasants beating their tankards on the table. "There is the real gold!," cries he, letting lose a stream of urine, to rival Pantagruel himself. "Dear God, giving back is such a blessed relief! I just couldn't hold it anymore - I mean the laughter." Unless, indeed, we laugh at sober virtue we will burst.
The Feast of Fools (aka Feast of the Circumcision) is not on my company calendar, though I work in philanthropy. Maybe, though, I can take it as personal holiday? Whether we can stage Carnival at Council of Foundations, or in the Private Bank of Wealth Bondage, I seriously doubt. We are not allowed to wear masks, there nor go naked for that matter. We are all on our honor to strut about in propria persona dressed as Real People. So, for serious fun, we will have to make do in the Dumpster, dressed in whatever second hand clothes the Real People cast off. Maybe if we rummage in the pockets, or rip out the linings, we will find that gold.
What say you?