Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Justice or benevolence?

Dan of Poser or Prophet has an important text on the problem involved when charitable organization accept money from big corporations.

Dan, who is involved with work with homeless youth, writes:

By licking the boots of executives from Canadian banks, we ensure that kids stay on the streets, and that families stay in poverty, while also providing the powers with the assurance that they're actually running good and moral institutions.

Read it all.


Looney said...

It looks like he sees a big problem, but is confused. Giving money to the addict doesn't help, but he does need something. All the justice in the world isn't going to cure his drug addiction either. Businessmen and governments (and some churches) both have the same instinct to use mass production, globalization and out-sourcing concepts for performing charity in bulk. The problem is that it is a one-by-one enterprise where each needy person is unique and requires individual attention.

dan said...


I'm not sure where it is that you think I'm confused (and, for the record, I think giving money to addicts does help, so I guess that shows where I stand in that particular discussion about enabling). Care to enlighten me?

Furthermore, although the application of justice will not cure all drug addicts (although, you must admit, it would do a lot of good for at least some of them), it would go a long way towards preventing people from becoming addicts in the first place.

Most homeless people do not become homeless because of their addictions. Addictions are usually something that comes after a person is already in a place of socio-economic marginalisation. Most addicts become addicts after becoming homeless. For example, I start doing speed to stay awake at night so I don't get robbed or beaten up... and then I turn into a "speed-freak". I start doing crack because it makes me more alert and less afraid... and then I turn into a "crackhead". Addictions begin as as something people do to survive the streets, and then turns into something that keeps people on the street. Thus, if we were addressing such justice issues as poverty, abandonment, marginalisation, etc., many people would never need to turn to drugs in the first place.

Of course, none of what I say takes away from the need to address each individual person as a person. However, that argument is too often used to ignore the larger systemic issues.

I imagine I may have similar thoughts to the ones you have re: mass production, performing charity in bulk, and out-sourcing. I actually wrote a post about that topic entitled "Charity as the Exchange of Consumer Goods and the Commodification of Homeless Youth". You can read it here:


Thanks for the shout-out. I'm sure that you've more than doubled the number of people that read that post considering about two people read my blog while untold thousands read yours.

Grace and peace to both of you.

Looney said...

Thanks Dan,

Reading what you have to say makes me wish I could drop in for awhile.

I guess my main gripe is that "justice" is too broad a term, ranging from the most harrowing abuse to petty grievances. As a political term in the hands of a politician, I am especially wary of it. This isn't to say that you don't see some real concerns that are under the heading of "justice". Perhaps some clarification would help.

dan said...


I absolutely share your skepticism about the way in which the word "justice" is employed within the North American context. Having learned well from people like Hauerwas, Lindbeck, and Wittgenstein, I am absolutely convinced that the Church in the West needs to move beyond the language of human rights and justice (Richard Hays, in his book The Moral Vision of the New Testament, has a section called "Why Love and Liberation are not Enough" and that's what first introduced me to this way of thinking).

However, having said that, I am just a little more open to liberation theologians from Latin America, and Palestine, using the language of "justice" because that notion has not yet been co-opted in those places to the degree that it has in the self-indulgent West. However, I do think that liberation theologians, by adopting a lot of Enlightenment style rhetoric, values, and ideals, leave themselves open to this trajectory.

Interestingly, another person who has been aware of how Western powers corrupt the language of justice is none other than Ani DiFranco! Allow me to quote a few lines from her:

Your basic average superstar is singing about justice, and peace and love.
And I am glaring at the radio, swearing, saying that's what I was afraid of.
The system gives you just enough.
To make you think that you see change.
They will sing you right to sleep.
And then they'll screw you just the same.

Amen. Sing it sister.

Patrik said...

Dan, I assure you my visitor come much closer to two than thousand, allthough things have been a bit crazy here the last few days...

Love that diFranco quote, BTW.

hewson said...

Lots of blog talk about the poor and the marginalized = less time actually working for justice or enabling. I've long been skeptical of those who spend all their time preaching and blogging with privileged people over the need for justice and action. The true Christians working for justice, in my opinion, spend far less time blogging--and even less time on self-promotion--(he must I increase!) because they are actually working with the poor. It's so reminiscent of Marx spending just too much time in industrial London hollering at capitalists instead of helping the undertrod.

But I'm sure even more opportunities to work with the lesser brethern will be squandered in order to reserve time to write a response to my critique. "Let us love in deed."