Submitted by Charles Knighton
“Durant pleaded with individuals to reach out to those in need, and to those who are vulnerable and/or elderly. He said that outreach is an act of mercy, compassion, love and care and that Barbadians need to return this nation to the village way.” “Give; be your brother’s keeper” Aug. 27 Advocate, page 9
For some time articles in both sections of the press have implored Barbadians to emulate the good Samaritan of Bible lore. I have always been struck by the selfish attitude of many in the middle and upper class, many of whom can trace their present condition to some extent to the largesse of government, their communities or their friends and neighbours. Alas, the concept of giving back seems as foreign as does the concept of proper attire and proper decorum during Crop Over.
Utilitarian philosophy demands that the better off give away almost all their wealth, since the loss of well-being for one person who gives up a high-earning lifestyle is far outweighed by the gains of those who could move from extreme poverty to minimal comfort. While I am sure such a philosophy strikes most of us as excessively severe, it is no more than is commanded by the founder of the religion that is the moral basis of western society, who told those with two cloaks to keep just one and give the other to those who have none.
The most common rebuttal to this is to say that we actually help others better by looking after ourselves first, like a Bill Gates, leaving a huge legacy or making large donations in later life. But this is a justification for an ascetic, high-earning life, not the comfortable existence enjoyed by the Barbadian middle class.
Another objection is that just giving away money isn’t a very good way of helping people. But that is simply an argument for using wealth more smartly for altruistic ends, by, say, using it to fund a shelter for battered women or for the homeless.
Of course, utilitarians could be wrong. What they see as strictly obligatory others would claim is noble and to be encouraged, but morally optional. Nonetheless, their arguments draw attention to the fact that the kind of philanthropy most practice is little more than the sharing of leftovers, not something that requires us to give up anything we value. Much like the rich man in the Gospels, on being told just what is required to help others, we are likely to turn away sorrowful, for on any fair measure, the vast majority of Barbadians have great possessions.