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charlie, computer cat

March 2019



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charlie, computer cat

Woe is me, oh woe

I am a rich person. It looks weird to write it out like that, and to be honest, it's weird to think it but it's true. I'm sitting in the garden right now, on the decking, watching TV on my tablet computer because I feel too hot to watch it inside. I went to a flower show last weekend to splash out on some plants to beautify this 'room' even further (they're looking good, by the way). Alex and I built this garden and the rooms that front on to it not with our own labour but with our earned capital and that of our parents. We've chosen not to have children and so we have disposable income instead.

The question I find myself contemplating is this - should I feel guilty about being wealthy? I don't deserve the money particularly - it was a combination of right place, right time and coming from a middle class background that got me where I am today, assets wise. No-one, I think, could argue that we need the luxury that we currently have. So should I be giving it away? The thought that haunts me is yes I should. If I was really as liberal and egalitarian as I claim, I would live an aesetic existence and give the surplus to Oxfam. I don't. I like to be comfortable, our lifestyle makes me genuinely happy. Do I have a right to that? Does my ability to provide another drop in the ocean mean that I shouldn't avail myself of that? I feel like it's disingenuous to call this middle class guilt - after all, we're hardly middle income.

I did a whole bunch of reading about equitable resource distribution as part of my philosophy course and I feel like I'm still nowhere knowing what I think about this. What I have is ridiculous, exhorbitant by the standards of a huge proportion of the world's population. What is there to do about that?


There are various things

Without giving up having a comfortable lifestyle, you can do some stuff to ameliorate the problems of the world. Lyndsey signed up for this, for instance, which you could also do; there's also Kiva microloans and other kinds of charitable giving.

Or there are impermanent forms of asceticism: AFAIK Ramadan is intended to focus the mind and remind you what hard times are like when your own life is not necessarily as hard as other people's. You probably don't want to fast per se given that you won't have a structure of other people doing the same around you, but people give stuff up for Lent and things like that.

FWIW I think that if you're well off, as you are and as we are (less so now), at the least you should be mindful and appreciative, you should give back, you should try not to be evil with it (but you might like to consider that I'd class speculation on the stock market as pretty dodgy and you'll make different choices I'm sure).

Further than that, I do think that there is a moral imperative that you should do some stuff to help change the world or your bit of it, to make it more equitable. You have lots of different kinds of privilege - white privilege, class privilege, education privilege, and money privilege. I do think you have to do something with it or yes, otherwise you damn well should feel guilty for being wealthy. It's not the being wealthy, it's being wealthy and not giving enough of a damn to actually *do* anything that would be worth getting guilty over.

But no, I don't think there's a moral imperative to give away all your surplus and live uncomfortably. You paid good money to extend your house - where did that go to? Did it go to a big company and eventually into a multinational, or to a local builder who will send that money round in this area? Where else does your money go, and what are the most ethical choices you can make that will satisfy what you were going to do anyway? Also, what are the ethical choices you can make that will perhaps make you a bit less comfortable, be less convenient for you, or otherwise stretch you to some extent, and be a step in the direction of a more ethical distribution of wealth? Even, can you organise political activity and try to get rid of this awful government?

Re: There are various things

Thank you for such a detailed reply. I doa selection of charitable giving but theta always more to look into. I have dabbled in micro loans and I'm really curious about what the impact is vs money given in other ways - I keep meaning to look for research on it (the one time I asked a micro loans enthusiast about evidence he really blew up in me, which kind of put me off).

Funnily enough, I've been asked to stand as a city councillor next year so maybe politics is the next place to go!

you're also paying it back as you work in the public sector and volunteer

Whenever I feel like this I check for any new charity standing orders I should be setting up, or up my existing ones -- it doesn't need to be by much, even a tiny increase accrues spectacularly over time.

Re: you're also paying it back as you work in the public sector and volunteer

True, and when I'm more rational, I remember that channelling a regular small funding stream is probably better then chucking it all to be monk like, I just get overwhelmed by the strangeness sometimes.
I feel the same way a lot of the time and contemplate many of the same issues. I don't have the answers any more than you do.

Like cleanskies says, little things count. I can't possibly solve the problems of global resource distribution. But I can give a little bit of money to cause I believe needs the resources when I get the opportunity. And I can volunteer when I have the time and emotional resources. And I can pursue work in sectors that I feel are making some sort of small contribution towards moving in the right direction on these issues.

Is that enough? Am I morally obligated to do more? Probably. But a little is better than nothing.

Your post prompted me to flesh out some of my thoughts about ethical consumer choices and the political framework around that, which I just put up on my own LJ/DW.
I guess the problem is that the things I do feel small when compared to the scale of the inequity. What I have to remember is to try to compare to the scale of available contributions I can reasonably make.