Tag Archives: help me

Charity v Altruism: Now & the Medieval era

Straight-out, I’m totally taking a High Medieval module this term (which was fantastic btw and could only be improved with the addition of poor neglected Wace) and this came up during my research for my essay.

Whilst reading Aaron Hostetter’s article “Food, Sovereignty and Social Order in Havelock the Dane.” (The Journal of English and Germanic Philosophy, 2011, 53-77), I was struck by the economic model he describes. Lords live on surplus, and do not labour. The lower classes, slaves, peasants and the like, labour to produce a surplus yet only consume as much as they need to survive and work (and sometimes not even that much). This model he applies to the poem Havelok, a lovely story of the rise of a king from low class work, and specifically to Aethelwold, one of the kings, who “dines in a manner that enforces his claim to rule his nation, but with the happy result that they all have enough to eat,” (57) because out of the surplus he lives on, he sends out alms to the poor so they can eat.

Now, is it just me or does this seem ridiculous?

The power dynamics here are founded upon a circulation of food and wealth that relies upon a minority to be charitable and generous enough to send on the surplus they’ve gained back to the people who produced it in the first place. Very inefficient for mass survival but very good for constructing the minority’s power.

The same thing is still going. A majority work to eat, though our standards of necessities far exceed what we need to actually survive, and produce a surplus that oligarchs, magnates and corporations live off and distribute “charitably”. It’s really no wonder such a sense of cynicism surrounds these charitable acts, though the power now constructed is that of controlling consumer power/power over consumers.

But why? Wouldn’t it be better for those lower in the chain to distribute their wealth/food/all that they produce charitably to others and shorten the circular pass-the-parcel from low to high to low? And wouldn’t this in turn reduce any gap we currently see between the high and low, as the foundation of their power would be eradicated?

Obviously, it requires relying upon a lot more people to be charitable (as crowdfunding seems to prove is possible) and that seems unlikely, but it also seems illogical to rely on a minority of people to be as altruistic and yet.. it works, doesn’t it?

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Ad Hitlerum; ‘Prose-poetry’-only version

The people of said nations respond;

“But it’s your fault [the gov], we voted you in but its your fault these countries are like this you keep doing the wrong thing like you do to our doctors, you keep stealing what they need like you do with our students and firemen and police, and you keep taking for you and not helping these people to fix their country their countries are broken we employ you to fix them fix them fix us fix it.”

“You voted us in, we’re doing our best we don’t understand how to get them to stop we know it’s annoying but it’s like they can’t help it, we can help it here we don’t know why they can’t, please help us, we’re sinking we’re trying please help us.”

“You did this didn’t you on purpose didn’t you we knew it you bastards you always screw us screw them screw up, screw up for everyone but yourselves and we see you now and we’re going to hold cardboard made in factories in tAiwan shipped over by the Chinese in boats made in ‘africa’ running on oil from Iraq and Saudi Arabia which seems to be doing ok so it’s ok, and we’re going to write on this cardboard with pens made from hazardous material that will pollute the water earth air for generations to come that were made in China risking the lives of thousands so we can have pretty colours, and we’re going to hold these up above our heads these things we make to tell you you’re failing you’re doing it wrong.

But no.

We don’t know what else to do.

You do though right?

And that’s why we’ll tell you through petitions online made on computers that contain poisons and degrade over millions of years and we go through millions a year because that’s our life now because we can’t look at our own world because to look is depressing because death and destruction and we know we’re responsible but we don’t know how to fix it we don’t know where we went wrong please help us.

You can fix it right?”

Ironic marketing of the Full Piece