Charity as dignity bestowing

I don’t think soooo!

There’s an Opinion piece at The Jerusalem post entitled, Why give money to beggars on the street, By one Shmuley Boteach. It starts out with:

I recently got into a debate with one of my producers on the set of Shalom in the Home. A subscriber to the extreme capitalism and “greed is good” values of social philosopher Ayn Rand [emphasis mine], he said that he would never give money to a beggar on the street.

“It encourages them to be dependent, and in that sense it hurts them and it hurts society. We get these lazy, unproductive people whom we have to support.”

The author then recounts some of the reasons often given for not giving to beggars this way and then states (his or her – I’m not sure which) reasons for supporting, and practicing, such charity:

My own opinion, and practice, is that we must give to those who ask of us. I am well aware that the people in question can abuse the money we give them. But there is an even more important consideration that must be taken into account: human dignity.

I believe that our primary obligation on God’s Earth is to bestow dignity on all of God’s children and, indeed, on all of God’s creatures. To bestow dignity is to make someone feel he matters, to make him feel important [emphasis mine].

So if we make someone “feel” that they matter, “feel” important, that’s what counts – no matter whether or not, in fact, it’s true. This is just a setup to make the charity bestower “feel” that he matters, “feel” that he is important – it’s about making the giver “feel” better by easing his conscience because of what he has – and is in doubt that he properly earned on merit. It goes on (and on), but that was enough for me. You can read it through the link if you’d like, but I saw no reason to.

Anyway, There were quite a few comments and maybe a half dozen were from Objectivists and/or Ayn rand admirers and two of these were from Dr. Harry Binswanger of HBL, which I’ll post here (Harry has it right):

Comment #35 – Ayn Rand error-corrected – Ayn Rand’s position on charity has been misstated by both sides. The issue is whether the giving involves self-sacrifice–as the code of altruism demands. E.g., she wrote: “It is altruism that has corrupted and perverted human benevolence by regarding the giver as an object of immolation, and the receiver as a helplessly miserable object of pity who holds a mortgage on the lives of others–a doctrine that is extremely offensive to both parties.” (see my book, The Ayn Rand Lexicon, p.69)

Then comment #36 – Ayn Rand the IDF – Ayn Rand, by the way, strongly supported Israel against the Arabs. One of the few times she *did* give to charity was to the UJA during the ’67 war.

Things like this are such a soul drain and I usually avoid them. This one came through in a Google Alert for Ayn Rand. My interest increased when I found Dr. Binswanger correcting and clarifying the case (against self-sacrifice and for what constitutes benevolence) in his Comments. Other defenders of objectivity and Ayn Rand had good comments also, but Binswanger’s got to the crux of it.

I left these comments (Two, so as not to be outdone by Dr. Binswanger, a master at defending the truth):

Comment #43 – Bestowing dignity – You cannot “bestow dignity” on anyone, anymore than you can bestow self-esteem, or self respect. These things by their very definition, must be earned. Do your homework, check your dictionary, and quit trying to redefine concepts – they’re there for a purpose.

Comment #44 – self sacrifice – Beware those advocating self-sacrifice… it’s never their sacrifice of themselves to you they advocate.


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