Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Principle of Charity

or: I am forever stuck in the middle class

In Canada, the class system is invisible. People here will tell you that there is no class system. Yet, they tell you this as you pass by the millionaire politician giving a two dollar hand out to the beggar on the street. In fact, if you care to look around, you can see that the class structure is as plain as my mug holds coffee. We simply do not acknowledge it; but not only that, we co-exist with members of the other classes. The difference of people among the different classes is often one of attitude. This difference governs behaviour as much as it governs what possessions one might own.

An individual on Welfare makes more money than the average minimum wage worker. Minimum wage is at (more or less) $9per hour and most companies will not hire a worker for more than 30 hour per week (it saves them money on taxes &c by not hiring full time employees). Yet they say, in this city a family must have a total of 60 hours a week at, at least $15per hour to make the basics: food, rent, clothing, and transportation. The basics do not include things like car maintenance or television. On Welfare one can make a bit more than that, depending on ones situation.

Given these conditions, one might wonder why one should work at all. People do work, despite the fact that they must beg for donations of food from charity just to get from pay check to pay check.


I have been homeless and hungry in two countries – neither of them Canada. Unlike here, neither country had food banks or sleep shelters or any social structure in place to care for the less fortunate. Somehow, because of my experience, I have lost my sympathy for the down-and-out who live here.


The Principle of Charity is an academic’s tool where one considers the authors intent in the context that the author wrote it – giving the author the benefit of the doubt when the meaning of the text is unclear or ambiguous. This is very seldom practiced in philosophy classes these days, and even less in my daily life.

I know I am critical of others (I have been told this on many occasions). But, I am more critical of myself. At different times, I have lived the life styles of all but the most upper class. I know which one I prefer to live. I doubt I’ll ever get there.

It is hard to remember sometimes, that the dirty faced individual putting a needle full of drugs in his arm in the doorway of an abandoned building that I pass every morning on my way to work – it is hard for me to remember that he is just a person. As a person, he has made and must make his own choices. But how much freedom does he really have? How much of his life is damaged by the invisible social structure that surrounds us?

2 comments:

EmmA...er...Pamela said...

this is only semi-related but i am always thinking about these celebrities that want to be charitable... it's like, they want to stay the richest of the rich and be in control of the distribution by being philanthropic but they at the end of the day never want to see an economic reform that really solves the problem.... they just want to be charitable and be heroes.

anyway, the charity issue is hard. last night i had a discussion with a nepali guy who asked me to pay for another kid's schooling... i already am responsible for a handful of kids... we were in the presence of a lot of nepali people who live/work overseas, so i asked the guy why he would ask me to pay for the child just because i am white when there were tons of nepalese- who in my mind should be just as if not more concerned for children in poverty and despair- rather than asking them when they make just as much money (actually more since i am a student) than me.

that's random. anyway, my sari is posted. :)

Mica said...

I agree, of course here in the US, there's no question of that! No need to put on a front of invisibility, I suppose it's something you have to some to except.
I started reading the book, The Client by John Grisham. It really brings to attention the people that don't care, or think about the thousands of homeless people. I think people just think about themselves and making money. It makes me mad to see rich people spend their money carelessly, and treat the poor like they don't even matter.

Anyway, thnx for the comment, & I hope I can start knitting my socks soon! Mica