“If you think a weakness can be turned into a strength, I hate to tell you this, but that’s another weakness” – Jack Handy, Saturday Night Live
if you do this ONE act you will then be perceived as a saint. if you care for the poor then society will be better, if you feed a man a meal he will be fed for a day, but if you teach him a skill, he will be fed for a lifetime. i think there is something deeply wrong with good deeds and the perverse assumptions that follow after the wake of philanthropy.
but lets start somewhere before an act takes place. let’s start with the idea itself: good deeds.
the good in good deeds assumes also that bad deeds can exist, not just that, to have good deeds there must be bad deeds. but what is good? who gets to define for us ‘what is good?’
is it something benevolent? does it speak of the state of the person or the event occurring? for good to be true of itself something bad must have had to occur prior to the eruption of good. good isn’t something that just happens. it relies upon something former. a catastrophe. essentially, the good disrupts THAT catastrophe. by being what though? by being the opposite of bad? i think that premise does not account for the violence of good acts.
in fact it stereotypes the world into dualistic categories that promotes the shelves and compartments by which we interpret reality and relationships. it is not that good acts are bad in and of themselves but the way in which we interpret them and they in turn interpret us will determine the direction of our society.
this is not some childish overstated case, once we figure out good deeds maybe we can actually participate in the better world that the intention of good deeds might have initially wished for. but if the world is categorically cut into pieces (you are a girl, you live over there, she is a farmer, god is up there, satan is down there, brothers, sisters, black, white and etc.) then all we do is continue the distance in the name of philanthropy. we do nothing more than attempt to embrace the other all the while pushing them further into their self-fulfilled prophecies.
we are all familiar with the story of the pastor who takes some of his congregation on a mission trip out the african bush to do some philanthropic work with some tribes. by the time they leave they have built an outhouse for the tribe to use. when the team returns the following year they are stunned to find that there beloved outhouse has been turned into a storage facility. although, this story represents good intentions, what is good about it? it has taught a tribe to generalize that westerners will do whatever the hell they want just as long as it gives them a chemical high and some pictures to show their local congregation. it also demonstrates that as westerners we think happiness comes in the form of commodities, in the perverse form of having things. it also paints a violent picture that what is useful to me must be useful to you. it obscenely universalises hegemony but hides these acts within a title that seems to convey itself as spirit of well-being.
and then acts, what of acts? what are they?
an action is a form of movement or response. it is the exploitation of time in a moment of nothingness. it is the undertaking of a performance based response. it is the demand that something must be done. something must be ACTed upon.
in the move clip above steve martin’s character attempts to inspire michael caine’s character into a form of what most would deem as a bad act, which in this case, is the exploitatiion of the opposite sex. his act emerges out of a defense that women’s money should be taken. his argument, albeit flimsy is enough to encourage michael caine’s character into a career as a con artist. but do you see what happens.
the act itself has to be inspired by something, it can’t emerge on its own, so the whole claim that someone has pure motives cannot be true. and this is not a bad thing, for purpose can be used for great aims. but we must be willing to push the boundaries further on the violence of good deeds if we are to take seriously the horizon of philanthropy.
good deeds do not equal contextual awareness
this is the same for good acts, for a bad event must occur before the perceived good act to arrive on the scene. sometimes good deeds provides this idealistic notion that once the act is performed all will be well, this also happens with the christian ideology behind prayer, that somehow once the prayer (‘a good deed’?) is enacted then only goodness can emerge, and we all know this just isn’t true.
the predominant narrative behind good acts throughout history also has a thread running through it, it is the thread of the bourgeois. although some of us might not think of ourselves in this way, i am using this term in the purist marxist sense possible. more specifically, in terms of trying to globalize everything in our path, trying to make everything so overtly accessible and similar that in the end no distinction is even alive.
no, this might not be the intention of globalization, but it sure is the aftermath. it relies upon some context where globalization must emerge from. and good deeds rely upon the same.
the good act exploits a need and attempt to convince the receiver it must have this object (sound familiar? watch a commercial) and after receiving it their need will be met. i think one response is also sustainability, which i think something like micro-financing promises, which is a step in the right direction because the receiver has to work for the object of desire and then create enough revenue to assist another. for me this is a sacred notion. good is however is not, it is a violent notion fueled by the ultimate question: how does this act help me?
again, i am not speaking of intentions here, as they old overused maxim says: actions speak louder than words. as good and noble as intentions might be (a la christian mission trips, international development agencies that thrive on the philanthropic model and etc.) they do not account for the context, in fact, they eradicate the context and the people in it. it is not that they simple sustain the status of the ‘other’, they imply that the ‘other’ is so much the ‘other’ that their opinions do not matter, nor does their voice, history, culture and context. for they are nothing more than a fiction that must be disregarded…