Charity Doesn’t Equal the Right to be Ignorant

In the “The Attitude of the Bourgeoisie towards the Proletariat” chapter of Friedrich Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England, there is a letter from a “Lady” in which she goes on a tirade about being forced to see the poverty stricken of England and how she is repulsed by it. The Lady goes on to mention that she, and the bourgeoisie, donates to the charities devoted to poverty causes; therefore she, and others of her rank, should not be forced to view evidence of its existence.

The letter seemed archaic in thought when I first read it, but the truth is that these kinds of opinions still run rampant through our society today. Those of us living in the West have become experts at funneling money into causes while turning a blind eye to the actual problem at the same time. The righteous feeling that comes with donating money to a good cause, such as poverty, should be packaged with the ability to neglect the actual issue. Excuses are often made in order to put the blame on the people in need and relieve ourselves of any sort of responsibility. Any resonating pressure can be absolved by simply throwing money at the issue. Of course, I am not saying that there should not be funds given to institutions and charities, I am simply stating that the ignorance that so many take refuge in needs to be lifted. By disregarding their problems, we are further deepening the segregation between the middle class and lower classes. Acting as though the poor of our cities are in our way or need to be avoided is a gross miscalculation of our own self-worth and a symptom of the overwhelming sense of entitlement that permeates Western society. The middle and upper classes are doing a disservice to those in need by looking the other way, not the other way around.

5 thoughts on “Charity Doesn’t Equal the Right to be Ignorant

  1. This is an interesting point to pick up on.

    Do you think that wealthy people intentionally avoid people and places that don’t fit into their specific worldview?

    For example: Gated communities with home owner’s associations that dictate who can live in neighbours and how those people/houses (etc.) should look.

    Is that ethically wrong? Or is it a freedom, to live where you want and how you want, of a neo-liberal capitalist society?

  2. Agreed, this is an interesting point for discussion. Here in Canada and the US, we tend to avoid eye contact with the poor and homeless. However, Europeans regard each other with a sense of acceptance and respect; they even treat local street bands and musicians and gypsies like actual people while Canadians simply go by their business while paying little regard for even famous musicians performing in the subway.

  3. The point you make is very interesting.

    Within most of the reflections on city plans that we’ve looked at there always seems to be a class division put into the plan. And that this plan for class division always seems to be emphasized because it always rights itself; i.e. the poor cannot move out of their area, and the upper class would not risk loosing social standing by an adventure out of their area of the city. However in today’s society with improved transportation, social media, and more class movement throughout the city the upper class tend to see more of the poor. Which results in the Lady’s opinion being more relevant now then in Engels time.

  4. So what other options are there? Not as a challenge, just a question. How do we involve the moneyed in the plight of the poor? You’ve done a fantastic job of outlining what they do to avoid it. I mean, apparently “they’re people too” hasn’t been enough of a reason for them to take notice.

    Obviously this is way more philosophical than anyone can answer, otherwise we’d have this fixed already. But it’s an interesting thought exercise, anyway.

  5. I think you said it very well. All too often in developed countries, the majority of people are more than willing to give money rather than investing themselves and truly trying to help the problem. Great thoughts!

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