Soup lines at Thanksgiving and Christmas, donating to the ACLU and always dreaming of joining the Peace Corps are all among the pangs that come with first-world privilege. I mean, shouldn’t we all give a little to those that have nothing? That pang deep inside of us to help could be an innate altruistic instinct. Almost of all us can agree that we share, if anything at all, the urge to philanthropically engage the world’s many dire social struggles in a meaningful, effective manner. Many of us even take it a step further and assume some kind of universal morality that is pervasive pan-culturally. This assumption leads down a dangerous path, punctuated by religious zeal, shame, guilt and a compulsion to act out against those who break the code. It’s become readily clear now that both beliefs are potentially dangerous and highly susceptible to predatory, ulterior motives. Yet, few discuss or even conceptualize properly why “charity” and “non-profit” are manipulative, divisive forms of doublespeak.
What’s wrong with donating when we can and volunteering at the local non-profit? The problem is that we don’t think to stop and question the charitable foundations’ purposes and/or intent. We leave the bureaucratic apparatus that violently defines them to deceive us in a way that is existentially crushing and difficult to accept. I’ve put together a cursory timeline of non-profit organizations to hopefully illuminate the dangers I mentioned earlier.
Foundations, the given term to non-profit and charitable organizations, crashed into our worldview in the mid-1800s to wipe governmental interests from private organizations focused on social, religious and economic challenges out of the equation. Non-profits were born, and were intended (ostensibly), to regulate the government’s influence on dictating the direction of social services. Fundamentally, foundations are purported to be non-governmental (nonprofits aren’t always NGOs [non-governmental organizations], but NGOs are always non-profit) allowing any individual to champion a social cause of their inclination with the support of a functioning, funded institution. Ideally, this is all in line with the goal of limiting governmental influence upon the progress of the people idealistically, financially and culturally. Unfortunately, non-profits have always been conduits for the wealthy to avoid taxation, in principle.
The 20th Century clumsily allowed despots and dictators to flourish as industrialization and globalization reformed the globe. Altruism became chic among the upper tier, not only because it lauded philanthropy, but primarily due to the complex involved with the non-profit systems and its benefits to accrual of wealth/power. Tax breaks for the wealthy, charitable donations allowed to be written off on private income tax filings, an opportunity for the pharmaceutical companies to ensure consistent consumers, the academic industrial complex and the ability to control and manage dissent rather than the alternative. Then came Reagan…1967, Reagan defunds mental health entirely in our country. As a result, those without the means to privately fund a stay in a mental health center (or treatment in any capacity) were left to fend for their own. Homelessness increased in droves and private citizens were left to rely upon fee-for-service Medicaid funding (all services require justification and can be rendered ineffective at any time by any fat cat sitting on a board) all while bolstering the non-profit industrial complex in a privatized monopoly. Reagan’s reasoning: the government won’t care for you anymore, but isn’t that what you wanted? Feed the poor, destitute and marginalized to the oligarchs. They consume enough wealth; let them get their vitamins from the bones of abused children.
If that sounds like typical paranoia from an aging punk kid, then consider for a second that non-profits were widely known, in their original inception, as tax shelters. Do the wealthy really need refuge from the very backbone of our society? Oligarchs hoard money with the knowledge that it is the only true currency in power and control. Don’t forget that oligarchs, industrialists, and post-colonialists need the capitalistic system in order to maintain their coffers. They also need the inherent trust of the populace, creating an air and an environment in which the corporatists are popularly perceived as democratic, progressive and committed to forward social movement. Thus, their genius creation of a system that allows progressives and socially conscious citizens to feel as if they are contributing through the usage of their own philanthropic paradigm. Unfortunately, the liberalist framework subsumes any paradigm shifting and tempers leaders to believe their decisions are their own, effectively de-radicalizing movements that believe their very existence substantiates their radicalism. Sadly, it subverts said ideologies and allows privately selected board members to manage and control popular dissent and civic disobedience.
I’ve watched the complex at work in my own work experience. Just recently, dozens of employees were fired at the non-profit at which I am employed. They had been promised raises one month before. All we were told was that the previous CEO had “mismanaged” finances for too many years. Who suffered at the hands of a frivolous fat cat? Not him, his family, his peers or anyone that had any direct contact with our population. Nope, just those that work 60-hour weeks to barely afford their skyrocketing rent prices and costs of living.
I’ve included further resources for you to do your own digging as well as articles posted in the past year about non-profits that have summarily been shut down with no legitimate reason (mismanagement of finances again…. when the loophole closes, the wealthy close up shop) in the Denver area where I currently live and work. The references made in this article are also listed below as well.
The book “The Revolution will not be funded” is an excellent place to start, providing an overview of why “charity” and “non-profit” are misnomers.
In the coming weeks, I will be sharing personal stories from the mental health field as well as discussions on effective altruism and “leadership development” (referring to the sterilization and de-radicalization of movements such as the Black Panthers and ACORN). I will also discuss why NGOs should be referred to as what they really are, GOs.
- RESOURCES AND REFERENCES: