Oct 21, 2006

Philosophy and Philanthropy

When I was sixteen I took a philosophy class called "The Theory of Knowledge." One day, our teacher asked each of his students to tell him out loud and on the spot what was wrong with the world and how we would fix it.

The other kids covered war, hunger, and the like. When it was my turn I said there was nothing wrong with the world because the mix of war, hunger, suffering, peace, joy, and comfort was just right. Before I could get to the second part of his question the teacher abruptly called me a Nihilist and moved to the next student.

Later, I had to look up 'Nihilist' to find out that in this ethical and moral discussion he was using it in a somewhat derogatory way to accuse me of rejecting morality outright. Philosophically speaking, I was. Nevertheless, he didn't let me get to the second part of the question which was more important and dealt with how we kids saw ourselves putting effort into making the world better.

Isn't it possible for someone to philosophize that no individual concept is any more meaningful than another yet still feel strongly about doing their part to make the world a better place? When people use philosophy as an excuse to avoid the effort and argue their way into a weak and selfish existence—that's when they become a fleshy waste of space.

Anyway, it's been sixteen years, so let me take a shot at this answer. Maybe my approach to philanthropy does stem from this so-called Nihilistic idea that no one action is truly preferable to another—a significant percentage of our yearly household income is donated to a diverse portfolio of charitable organizations.

We give to seventeen organizations which mostly seek individually to help humans, animals, and the environment. It seems my approach to making the world better is holistic. The Earth is our home and all the beings on it are fellow earthlings so the money and volunteer time Livy and I spend goes toward that concept.

Volunteer-wise Livy is the master and she works a lot with wildlife—her chosen career since moving to California. I've recently become affiliated with a cultural organization that seeks to strengthen ties between the US and India in a way that hopefully will result in fuller lives for people in the world's biggest democracy as well as the world's richest democracy.

The key with volunteer work seems to be aligning yourself in such a way with organizations so that your interests and talents can really be valuable. Volunteering is also great if you don't have any money but not so great if you're not committed to putting in real effort. When donating money, you have to stay educated about the programs you're getting involved in—just like you would when investing for profit.

Well, that's what I came up with today while I walked home with groceries and remembered that particular class in high school. Maybe my whole theory is flawed but so what—I can blog whatever I want!


Ohad said...

I like it.
even though lots of charity organizations today are a tad corrupted - the money goes into the wheels that run the system instead of into the system. so actually giving your money directly to someone or volunteering for a direct cause is the most preferable option, to my opinion.

Biz said...

Ohad, you are so right. That's why the organizations that we give our money to these days are small and focused. We learned that the hard way.

andy said...

This post reminds me of a F Scott Fitzgerald quote. He said: "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise."