Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Wrist banned


Oscar has been contemplating placing the Make Poverty History banner on this site as a kind of make-do for the absence of a white MPH on his wrist. The 'scandal' about their manufacture hardly helped the cause. Nor did this comment by 10-year-old Merlin Evans in today's Grauniad::
"I wear the bands because they are cool. I've got the most in my class. My favourite is the anti-racism one - it's the most famous, every single person in my whole school is trying to get one. They are banned in school but we still wear them."
Still, when your parents have christened you Merlin, your judgement is entitled to be a little off the mark.

No, what troubles me about the whole wristband/ribbon/badge/white poppy (or even red poppy) trend is the sheer smugness of it, the sense that you've joined the Virtuous Club by means of sticking something onto your person. Surely the act of charity itself is the virtue, and not something you necessarily need to publicise? I could more readily accept that there would be a point to such a gesture if one could see a massive groundswell of spontaneous support for a cause (like the orange motif in Ukraine - if, indeed, that was spontaneous).

In the same Grauniad article, the philosopher Julian Baggini wonders if there is something contradictory about being embarrassed about having given to charity. "The idea that philanthropy only counts if it hurts," as he describes it. But he's missing the point. Philanthropy doesn't need to involve self-flagellation, it doesn't need to involve good old middle-class liberal guilt. It can afford, however, to be discreet, sincere and virtuous for its own sake.

Perhaps this point is missed not only by posturing middle-class liberals like myself, but also by the conservative (small 'c') traditionalists who won't let people appear live on TV in early November unless they're wearing a red poppy, as though the nation were being submitted to some kind of compulsory act of commemoration (anyone remember Jonathan Ross's CGI poppy? How pathetic is that?).

Surely virtue should be an act of altruism alone, and not motivated by personal glory, guilt, or subtle coercion? Am I expecting too much?

(I might put the banner up anyway, just to annoy pompous bores like Stephen Pollard.)

EDIT: As you will see, Dear Reader(s), after (not) much agonising I have gone ahead. People should have the right to go to the MPH site and decide on the merit of the campaign for themselves.


Blogger Kay Ballard said...

Great pun; great post! An interesting perspective regarding bracelets and other philanthropy trinkets.

You ask if you are asking too much? I think so. I think there is room for virtuous acts with elements of self interest.

3:07 pm  
Blogger CuriousHamster said...

It is a thorny subject. I think the thing with the wrist bands is that it raises awareness. It's a cliche, but probably still vaild. There is undoubtedly a self congratulatory element to it as well.

On a similar subject, Chicken Yoghurt has an interesting post up about altruism and the Live8 performers. Certainly worth a read.

10:01 pm  

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