Letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail

November 3, 2006

My letter to the editor published today in the Globe and Mail was triggered by the eye-popping irrationality of yesterday’s Facts & Arguments essay. In summary, the offending essay observes that homeless people are the unhappy product of their own “choices”, and that a proportion of homeless people sometimes spend their hard-begged money to buy themselves fancy lattes. The author declares: “Whether right or wrong, misinformed or wishful, this is the inescapable conclusion that keeps me, and many others as well, walking right past those cardboard “Spare Change? Need Food” signs without a second thought.”

Is moral blindness a choice?

4 Responses to “Letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail”

  1. […] Is moral blindness a choice? My opinion is that this post should be rememberedLink to original article […]

  2. Micah Cowan Says:

    Thanks for saying what needs to be said.

    I’d like to point out, though, that although everything you’ve said is completely true, it would nevertheless offend the average giver if, just after having contributed some money to a “panhandler”, they were to see the recipient head immediately into a Starbucks and drop $3-5 on a coffee. And the knowledge that an homeless person who makes poor economic choices may not be capable of differentiating them from good choices, does little to alleviate the feeling of having wasted any money given to such a person.

    These reasons, combined with the existence of those who /are/ fraudsters (the sort of people that Tony talked about having to protect the homeless’ reputation against), help prevent people from contributing to those that need it.

    Not that there’d have to be an ounce of truth behind the reasoning anyway: it’s not as if the average “potential contributor” actually bothers to check up on whether these things are actually the case a significant portion of the time; it’s just the sort of rationale that jumps into one’s mind as a justification for one to keep hold of one’s money, and not have to take responsibility for a calloused attitude.

    The real mistake people make, is, after deciding that it’s too risky or whatever to give money to those who claim to be in need, is not to bother to seek alternative methods for helping the person out, or to help address the general problem. One not-too-difficult proposal is, if someone’s asking for money for food, buy them food (same for gas, diapers, whatever). It’s a bit of extra effort, but you have a nearly 100% certainty that the money you spent actually goes to the claimed need. My dad, as a pastor (a people group that is very frequently approached with fraudulent claims for needs), implemented this approach pretty strictly.

    Of course, many people are too busy to take even a few minutes to actually purchase something for someone else right on the spot. So between the “I don’t want my money to be wasted” and “I don’t have time to do it properly”, nothing at all ends up being what gets done.

    Never mind that there are still alternative solutions, such as being already prepared with commonly needed items, such as sandwiches, bottles of water or food gift certificates, or volunteering time and/or money to truly effective organizations which have the ability to do the things you yourself haven’t time to accomplish, and which stand a chance of doing more than just maintain a homeless person’s status quo of continuing to survive in a homeless, perpetually needy state. People whose hearts haven’t been struck by the depth and the reality of the need that exists, only think about the needy at the moment they are forced to encounter them. If they haven’t the money, will, or time to deal with that particular person at that particular moment, no further thought (or action) will take place on the matter.

  3. Micah — My response is best encapsulated in your own words: “everything you’ve said is completely true.” It seems that you and I share a moral and psychological universe.

    IMO, the first step is to shift public attitudes. The shift I/we seek is towards a natural/instinctive recognition of self in n the eyes of those we disdain or disregard.

    Over time, this will create a political reality, which will fuel the creation/implementation of more or less suitable policy.

    Momentum so gained offers our world ‘the best crack’ at a society that is at once pragmatic and gives a shit, i.e., that functions and is humane.

    Both Tony’s blog and your considered comments are, I submit, in pursuit of this vision.


    Philip – philip [at] sternthinking.com

  4. MySpace Friend Adder Says:

    Very well thought out and informative. I’m sure many others enjoy reading this too, but are just a little scared to post – anyway – thanks again!

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