Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Drawing The Line

Last week I mentioned to a friend that charity fundraisers who badger you by phone (who I consider to be a pain in the arse) are not obliged to do such work. Specifically I said they don't have a gun in their backs. She pointed out to me that desperation (need for income) is a gun, in a way.

It's not the first time I've had this pointed out to me. Needs must, and all that. Even those Nigerian scammers have families to feed. I've been told. Needs must.

But that phrase isn't complete, is it? In full, it's "needs must when the devil drives". Now I'm not into devils, but this term goes waaay back, and is an idiom in any case, and it means quite simply "necessity compels".

People do all sorts of things to earn a crust. And I've supported them for this in all sorts of ways. I stand up for the prostitutes and strippers. They are feeding a family. I've even stood up for thieves, on a small scale. Shoplifters who are absolutely desperate.

We feel sorry for Aladdin and all manner of sympatheic characters in fiction who are just trying to survive. The entire story of Les Miserables hinges on a man who stole once in desperation, and was then forgiven when he stole a second time out of sheer temptation. And we all root for him.

And there's a song, isn't there....

So, I suppose it comes down to this. Where do you draw the line?

If you've missed it, my personal system of ethics is based around harm. Where's the harm. Who is harmed. How much harm. Comparison of harms.

So, are these different? Working online to scam stupid rich foreigners or holding them up at knifepoint in a dark alley and taking their wallet?

Food for thought. You could argue that the former is not afraid for his life, and he walks right into the trap due to his own stupidity. But if an elderly person is scammed we cry foul, and who's to say that the stupid rich foreigner is not also compromised by age, health issues, or whatever?

Similarly perhaps the person walking in a dark alley was pretty stupid to be there.

In fact anyone who suffers fear or loss at the hands of another, and is told that it's his own fault, is experiencing that whole "blame the victim" response that our society loves so much. When in fact if people did not scam or rob, there'd be no issue. Where do we draw the line there then?

Have I ever said "serves you right" to a victim? No, of course not, but I'll be honest, I've thought it. More than once. I knew a lady who got taken for $2,000 by a scammer she met in a chatroom. It is totally inconceivable to me that anyone would fall for these things, but she did. She thought she was having an online romance. Here's where the status of victim becomes clearer. He knew EVERYTHING about her, because she told him. Therefore he knew she was not a rich woman, and in fact that money was her entire bank account. I daresay if she'd had more, he'd have sought more.

On the other hand, she knew nothing about him, because he lied to her. We don't know if he was poor and desperate, or if he was doing really well out of his "career" of scamming credulous ladies online. My guess is the latter, and I actually feel sorry for her. But I still think she's a fool.

So, going back to the non-criminal versions, the high pressure salesmen online, is that an honest way to earn a living or not? Honest, maybe, honourable, no. Would I ever do it? No. Hell no. No way, no how. I've sold many things in my time, but no pressure. It goes against who I am.

I hate the hard sell, hate it with a passion. I resist it too, and if a sales clerk even begins to try to talk me into things, I will leave a store. I hate haggling too (and the irony is, I'm good at it). I don't want to waste time like that. There are goods. These are the prices. Do I want it? I have choices. We're good. Each to their own, some people love a game when shopping, and please, if you enjoy that, go for it. Count me out.

So what about charities. They need money. If they sit back and just wait for it, will they get as much? Maybe not. So they beg instead. I despise begging. I also despise the need for begging. I think it's the fact that begging is necessary that drives my hatred of it. I certainly don't despise people in need. But charity telemarketers are not usually those in need, they are just people doing a job, which, yes, they may well need desperately, so why do I hang up on them?

I am not a great fan of charities at all. I choose where I donate very carefully. I check things like this:


I much prefer one on one help, done discreetly or even anonymously. Not for tax breaks. And I support socialist ideals. Sorry to all my conservative friends, but this should be no shock to you. I personally believe the best way to distribute money is via taxes, which doesn't mean they do it right. No, they don't, but they often have a better track record than charities.

Because it's not just the percentage of money that actually reaches those in need that matters to me. Is begging necessary? How do you obtain assistance if you need it? Do you just fill out a form, or make a phone call? I've seen how keen some charities are to hand over money to those in need. Sometimes a LOT of begging involved. Sometimes they are great. So anyone who says charities are better than authorities or vice versa is being too simplistic. At least with authorities if you are entitled to it, you usually get it. I do stress usually. Because in fact neither system is perfect. More's the pity.

If poverty forces you to do a job that takes money from other people in a persuasive but non-violent way, I will give you a break but only in the short-term. If, in the course of doing this job, you irritate people and they react accordingly, just suck it up. You may be the call that came after the debt collector, now who's desperate?


  1. Maybe I'm wrong. If so, I'm also open to other ideas, but I see evidence that supports my belief that there is no need for us, any longer, to live with evils like starvation-level hunger and poverty. But the situation won't change until we can all accept that every one of us has a degree of responsibility to every other person. We shouldn't take more than we need, but we shouldn't have to endure need.

  2. The people who call to get donations are often so rude. Once a long time ago someone called wanting me to donate to some police organization that I don't even know if it were real or not. When I said no he threatened to have me arrested if I didn't donate. So now I normally just hang up or not answer numbers I don't recognize. A couple of months ago the university I graduated from called me wanting donations. I do not know how they got my phone number as I didn't have a cell phone when I graduated. They wouldn't take no for an answer. So I hung up after trying to be polite about it. Then they called me twice a day for a month. And I never answered again. The university I attended used to be nice and affordable, but now they have 24 hours gyms and wifi centers and activity centers and a cafe instead of a cafeteria and to support all of those they raised tuition so high no one can afford to attend so they call for donations for scholarships instead of realizing people would rather have an education than a fancy gym and big lion statues all over campus.