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Musings on Different Meanings of Charities, and the Komen Foundation - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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February 5th, 2012


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02:20 am - Musings on Different Meanings of Charities, and the Komen Foundation
Like many other people, I'd only known of the Susan G. Komen foundation as one of several major cancer charities and thought they were mostly a force for good. Their ceasing to work with Planned Parenthood (until public pressure caused them to rethink this decision) is clearly deeply problematic, but from what I've since read about them, it's actually (to me at least) not the most problematic thing about them.

Instead, the fact that they work to block government funded alternatives to their charity is to me far worse, because it goes directly against what should be their goal, increasing the availability of breast cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. Instead, here's one of a number of articles that has come out about how the Komen foundation has actively lobbied against government funding for women's health, including for breast cancer screening and treatment because "Komen felt that treatment for uninsured breast cancer patients should be funded through private donations, like the pink ribbon race."

Obviously, one reason for this sort of lobbying is financial – they're an organization with a great deal of money and influence that would decline if government funded healthcare because more widely available. However, I think more than just greed is involved (although I'm also certain that greed plays a role). These actions remind me of a discussion I once had on a mailing list, where several people openly opposed the idea of an adequate government funded social safety net, because it took away from the ability of wealthy people to do good in the world by giving the charity.
My reading of this statement is what I think is exactly what such people feel (but which at least some of them, including the people on the message board, are not willing to admit) – that the ability of the wealthy (and in the case of the Komen foundation, of the people running it) to feel good about how they are helping others is to people who believe this way more important than actually helping people. This is a view that I unsurprisingly find completely reprehensible and utterly indefensible. I also suspect that for at least some libertarians and other conservatives it's not an uncommon view. In addition, from my readings of various articles from the Victorian Era, it’s clear that more than a few wealthy people back then felt the same way. Of course, I also rather expect that many of these people (both now and in the past) haven't looked at what this statement means all that carefully.

In any case, I think some combination of that attitude and the sort of entrenched institutionalization where an organization becomes far more important to the people running it than its stated goal are what is happening here, and the clear and obvious response is for people to keep up the pressure on this organization until it either changes drastically or goes out of business, since it seems to me that as a whole it's doing a great deal of harm.

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From:alobar
Date:February 5th, 2012 10:26 am (UTC)
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We sure agree about the Komen Foundation!
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:February 5th, 2012 01:31 pm (UTC)
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"These actions remind me of a discussion I once had on a mailing list, where several people openly opposed the idea of an adequate government funded social safety net, because it took away from the ability of wealthy people to do good in the world by giving the charity."

This is illogical, even from the wealthy person's point of view. There will always be more than enough opportunities for wealthy people to give to charity. Even if everyone in America had every need met, there are still plenty of poor foreign countries in dire need of aid. It is also far more fashionable in some circles to be seen helping the poor overseas than it is to be seen helping the poor in America.eor

I have my own theory about why some of these people choose to oppose the safety net: control. Those who depend on others for help have to do what the others say in order to receive that help. If the government is able to help others, the foundation's control over the lives of others decreases.
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From:pendelook
Date:February 5th, 2012 01:42 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I think that's the motivation too. Even though (as kitten_goddess points out) it won't really mean the wealthy don't have the opportunity to do good, realizing that requires more conscious and logical thought than people who feel that way ever really give to it. If you're a rich person who feels good about your wealth by giving to charities, you probably convince yourself that you really want to do good, and you don't critically examine whether you secretly want it for selfish reasons... and then, of course you don't use facts and reason on the topic in order to come to conclusions like "but I can still do it anyway!" Besides, if the government became the sponsor of healthcare that most people notice and think of, then rich people won't be able to feel as good about charity as they do when they view themselves as the sole saviours of the needy.

The whole thing is a buried cycle of selfishness that would completely collapse if any of these people dug up what they really feel, mean, and want. To be fair, if they didn't have this feel-good cycle going, they probably wouldn't bother to donate much at all. Because they do it for the warm fuzzies in the first place, and if you take away their ability to be warm and fuzzy about it, their motive for doing it suddenly stops. So... to an extent, it's probably the reason they donate at all. But it's problematic when they're also the ones controlling whether poor people are in dire straits in the first place. Passively allow people to really suffer, so that when you rescue them with your generosity, you can feel all the better! It's obviously disturbing, but only if they allow themselves to admit that that's why they donate, as opposed to the idea that they're really such kind, giving people who want to do good in the world.
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From:darkoshi
Date:February 5th, 2012 07:51 pm (UTC)
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"Komen felt that treatment for uninsured breast cancer patients should be funded through private donations, like the pink ribbon race."

This sounds like a typical conservative anti-government healthcare stance. I think it is less about rich people wanting to feel good from their donations, and more about them having control over who gets their money and how it is used. If they don't like one organization, or the things it is involved in, they can choose to withhold their money from that organization and donate instead to some other organization. But if healthcare is funded by government taxes, they no longer have choice and control (in terms of how their taxes are used).
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From:nadyalec
Date:February 6th, 2012 01:01 am (UTC)
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I think it's worth dusting off Ehrenreich's wonderful critique of the pink teddy bear bright-sideism of Konen Foundation and similar organizations here: http://www.barbaraehrenreich.com/cancerland.htm

xoxo

N
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From:xuenay
Date:February 6th, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC)
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"These actions remind me of a discussion I once had on a mailing list, where several people openly opposed the idea of an adequate government funded social safety net, because it took away from the ability of wealthy people to do good in the world by giving the charity."

This claim sounds so obviously nonsensical that it feels like it just has to be rationalization, while the real reason is something else.
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From:chiashurb
Date:February 6th, 2012 11:58 pm (UTC)
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There is also a definite article of faith among conservatives and libertarians (many of whom tend to be wealthy) that private charity is just better at it than government. In some cases they're right: government was worse than useless in helping New Orleans weather and recover from Hurricane Katrina, and private charity picked up the slack.

Sometimes they're wrong: private charity was distinctly absent from Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, despite being hit just as badly as NOLA. And private charity has never been sufficient to provide legal services for the poor. Not that government's doing a great job of that either, but they're doing more than the bar ever did on its own.
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From:rjgrady
Date:February 9th, 2012 06:12 pm (UTC)
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I think the major force is that many elites enjoy the power to inject Victorian moralism ininto social policity. I'm a real hipster; I've hated Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for years, I even tried to talk Alison out of attending their race. In other bad news, HRC is a bunch of douche-bags, and I hate them... mostly they represent the grimier side of Clintonian liberal-corporate-progressivism, along with a gay-flavored form of appropriation by elites very similar to the Komen entanglements.

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