Freedom for the Millennial Generation (some historical truths)

The revival of George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara at the National in early 2008 endorses the view that money is civilization. It represents health, strength, honour, generosity and beauty as conspicuously and undeniably as the want of it represents illness, weakness, disgrace, meanness and ugliness. With Major Barbara, wrote Fintan O'Toole in the Guardian (16/2/08), GBS launched an attack on his usual allies the middle class reformers, who think that money is vulgar.

Shaw forensically dissects charity (whether individual or institutional) as the playground of vulgarians. He ridiculed Dickensian idealism that suggested 'money can't buy happiness.'

A second article attached below notes that youngsters are steering clear of charity for several reasons, including fear from freaky state over control of "helpers" such as club or boy scout leaders.

Major Barbara misses the point that to work for a charity, even if its work is mostly ineffective, can become a lifestyle choice within a bogus, unnecessary organisation.
Given this, it is good to hear that she discovered young people were too busy looking out for number one, an admirable aim, given that oldies are trying to bundle failures of the last 60 years on to their tax burdened shoulders.

Twentieth Century Charity is not unselfish. It is all part of the ramshackle economic structure and oldie bad-economists' smokescreen which hides failure to create a level economic paying field with equal freedom within capitalism for all players, not just oldie favourites.
The advantaged wealthy instead of being levelled by fair play are encouraged to give loudly and spectacularly - often getting back more in special favours via their lobbyists and political contacts who are enabled by their clients' "big giving and generosity". Thus the arts "great and good" especially within galleries and museums are admonishing the meanness of a Chancellor who wishes to charge non-doms £ 30,000 per year for the privilege of income and other tax exemption.

UK resident citizens, if given the freedom to choose, would also opt into using their incomes free of tax to benefit their families and institutions freely chosen, rather than having it laundered through bureaucrats and wasted by the billions.
So the "arts sector", encouraged by shameless sycophants like Nicholas Ferguson, Chairman of Courtaulds and the Institute for Philanthropy, thickens the smokescreen and never give a second's thought to the millions excluded by high taxes from exercising their free choice. If only they too were allowed to hang on to their collective hundreds of billions. Clearly Ferguson and his ilk are irresistibly drawn to the bogus glamour and biased taste of the billionaires.
The word "charity" entered the English language through the Old French word "charite" which was derived from the Latin "caritas". Originally in Latin the word caritas meant preciousness, dearness, high price. From this, in Christian theology, caritas became the standard Latin translation for the Greek word agape, meaning an unlimited loving-kindness to all others, such as the love of God. This much wider concept is the meaning of the word charity in the Christian triplet "faith, hope and charity", as used by the King James Version of the Bible in its translation of St Paul's Letter to the Corinthians. However the English word more generally used for this concept, both before and since, is the more direct love.

St Paul's agape was not primarily about good works and giving to the poor (And though I feed the poor with all my goods, and though I give my body, that I be burned, and have not love [agape], it profiteth me nothing - 1 Cor 13:3, Geneva translation, 1560), although in English the word "charity" has steadily acquired this as its primary meaning, wherein it was first used in Old French at least since the year 1200 A.D. (Wikepedia definition)



How would Shaw himself react to this contemporary oldie point of view?

Based on an article by Alison Wolf' (professor of management at
King's College, London)
in The Observer, Sunday May 25 2008.
I asked a group of students, mostly in their late 20s, whether any of them did regular work for a charity. There were blank stares. How about regular giving then - not just 50p in a collecting tin, but standing orders or long-term memberships? Near-total silence there too. This was not a freakish group. On the contrary, they were typical of 21st-century Britain.

'Charity,' says The Oxford English Dictionary, is, 'benevolence, especially to the poor' or 'an institution for the benefit of others, especially the poor and helpless'. Britain today is far wealthier than it has ever been, but not benevolent. As a share of GDP, giving to charity has fallen by a quarter since 1992. In real terms, according to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), individual donations grew by just 8% between 2000 and 2006, a period when the economy was registering a 20% growth. Only 54% of the population as a whole, and 65% of top earners, report giving on a regular basis.

And what we give is derisory. The median is just £ 10 a month - £ 2.50 a week - in a society where the average household has a disposable income of £ 500 a week, or £ 26,000 a year, and, in the case of those top earners, more than £ 40,000.

A trip down the high street, past the Oxfam and Shelter shops, might suggest otherwise and, at first sight, the statistics back this counter-view up. The Charity Commission lists no fewer than 167,000 registered charities and the government's citizenship surveys report high levels of volunteering. But charities include sports clubs, amateur choirs, tiny arts groups and the National Trust as well as 'general' charities of the traditional kind. Many of the latter are now effectively subcontractors of government, delivering public services.

In citizenship surveys, you are 'volunteering' if you feed the neighbour's pet or even give 'advice to someone'. Better information depends not on anecdotal evidence given to polling companies, but on getting people to keep detailed diaries of what they do.
Such diaries show that the average time that we devote to helping others is four minutes a day. Not a lot of charity and benevolence there.
It is hardly that the need has vanished. The welfare state is hitting its limits. In many areas, only the most acutely disabled now get help at home through social services. Ending child poverty is a tougher proposition than Labour expected a decade ago; family break-up, falling birth rates and increased life expectancy spell a looming crisis for the elderly. In a recent YouGov poll, again for NCVO, 88% of respondents agreed that there was a social divide in the UK and 63% thought it would be still greater in five years' time. Yet only 6% - yes, 6 - thought it very likely that they would get involved in their community and help the poorest. It didn't used to be like this.

One thing that has certainly changed is the arrival of modern regulation. Here's a simple thought. Imagine there are no Scouts or Guides and a latter day Baden-Powell appears. Could he move from a small camp for 20 boys to a rally of 10,000 Boy Scouts two years later and a tripling of membership in the following two, all based on local volunteers? It's a stupid question. Today, you need Criminal Record Bureau clearance and specialist training to do pretty much anything with under-16s.

The same is true of 'vulnerable adults', which by now covers pretty much anybody receiving regular medication, let alone reaching retirement. No wonder there has been a sharp drop in people willing to join the committees of voluntary organisations. We could, in theory, do something about the regulatory burden, though I am not holding my breath.

Two social changes with profound implications for Britain's charitable sector are beyond the influence of any modern government. One is the decline in organised religion. The other is the transformation in the lives of women.

Modern Britain "Doesn't do God" and so links between religion and charity are not readily acknowledged, certainly not among atheists. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argues against the idea that morality needs religion, doubting whether believers are, in practice, any more likely to behave well than non-believers. Yet a surprising number of our best-known charities have a link to organised religion.

This is not just a Victorian inheritance, as with Barnardo's and the NSPCC, it is also true of newer, post-war domestic charities. They are rarely overtly religious, but many were founded by clergymen or draw much of their active support from religious groups. The Samaritans is one example, but so are several of the high-profile homeless charities, such as Crisis, which developed in response to an absence of state support.

People who are actively religious are almost twice as likely as their peers to volunteer. This must be partly because all the world's major religions enjoin their members to help others, but it is also, surely, something structural. Churches (broadly defined) are 'about' worship, so they exist independently of any particular charitable activity they support. That also means they are there, with their networks in place, in a crisis. No one needs to set them up. Alastair Murray of Christian homelessness charity Housing Justice argues that the churches are, if anything, more activist than ever and have the huge advantage of being outside government bureaucracy and target-setting, able to respond to local need.

People generally get involved in community activities because they are buttonholed by others they know, such as fellow church members, and find it hard to refuse. So whether or not they have now bottomed out, recent precipitous declines in church membership have a knock-on effect for domestic charities.

Even more profound has been the transformation of women's lives. Women at home, and especially middle-class women at home, were for centuries the mainstay of charitable activity. They opened nurseries, delivered meals, ran adult education classes; this from benevolence and also from boredom. Their daughters and granddaughters don't do good works. Instead they work. We have forgotten the sheer scale of this charitable activity. Historian Frank Prochaska estimates that, 100 years ago, Britain had almost 200,000 volunteer district visitors.

They are long vanished. So, too, are the values which so many women signed up to, believing that 'duty' and service to others must be central to their lives. Though a carry-over from religion, it was believed and acted on by many who had no active faith. No doubt it had elements of false consciousness; if the only activities open to middle-class women were 'caring' ones, it suited everyone to see them as a vocation. But for many, that sense of vocation was real and the results were concrete enough. Barred from finance, boardrooms and most of the professions, generations of able women poured energy and dedication into charities.

Not any more. Women are now in every kind of workplace, religion is in decline, the poor and helpless are a concern for the state. Few hanker after a past when rulers chose their subjects' religion, landowners insisted on their tenants' church attendance and observance was necessary to business and social success. Because we no longer waste the talents of half the population, we can afford a welfare state that, for all its limitations, offers help and security on an unprecedented scale.

But charity, as our ancestors knew it, may be dying in the process; its passing, as Matthew Arnold once wrote of faith, is a 'melancholy, long, withdrawing roar'.