Oscar Wilde on the problems of charityJanuary 1, 2012
This is an excellent quote by the Irish socialist and author Oscar Wilde, from his essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism.” Its an excellent quote, as the philosopher Slavoj Zizek explains in the video posted below the excerpt, given the pervasive appeal to charity throughout modern capitalist culture. I’d also add that it’s relevant given the pervasiveness of nonprofit activism and “charitable”-style institutions, especially in Detroit, which seek to, as Wilde puts it, keep “the poor alive” rather than struggling to reconstruct society to make poverty impossible in the first place.
“[People] find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence…It is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.
They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor.
But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it…Charity degrades and demoralizes…Charity creates a multitude of sins.
…It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property.” – Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism.”