Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fun run participants - stop being so god damn smug

Suppose I were to present you with the following proposition:

"Next Sunday morning, I'm going to take a dump on your front lawn.  When I'm done, I'm then going to donate $15 to charity. You'll have no say in the matter - this is going to happen regardless of what you want.  When I'm done, I'm going to walk away and feel proud of how I helped out a good cause, and you should be honoured to be part of the charity process - in your case, the cleanup."

How persuaded would you be by this logic? Would the phrase 'not very' about sum it up?

I imagine the modal answer would be something like:

"Look, I'm glad you want to give to charity, but what the hell has that got to do with crapping on my lawn? It seems that taking a dump on someone's property is the actual point of the exercise, and the charity bit is mainly a fig leaf. The whole thing seems bizarre and contrived. Donate to charity if you want to, but leave my lawn out of it."

And that's exactly how I feel about fun runs.

A bunch of yuppie, SWPL women (and their herb boyfriends) decide to go for some charity run or other. The neighbourhood gets shut down. Local residents get the joy of having their house made inaccessible, and their streets closed down.

So if you happen to be (to pick an entirely hypothetical example) dropping someone at the airport as the run is being set up, and you had the misfortune to arrive back while it was in full swing, you might find yourself unable to get back to the street that your house is on. You might also, to extend our hypothetical, be unable to even park anywhere remotely close to your house, due to the bays all being taken by everyone trying to do the same thing, resulting in swarms of angry drivers doing police-enforced U-turns looking for parking and/or an open street. Hypothetically.

So why do these damn things keep happening? Simple - a sizable fraction of the participants find it fun to get to run in a big crowd along the road that's normally reserved for cars. Not all, of course - some are just giddy with the ability to ostentatiously give to charity, and the fun run gives them an excuse to tell their friends about their generosity in a way that writing a cheque doesn't.

But a large percentage just like the idea of doing an organised run along the streets, and don't think or care if they're inconveniencing a lot of people.

You know who else does that? A**holes like Critical Mass. Fun runs are basically just Critical Mass, but with a better PR department. At least the cyclists are honest enough to admit that they're going to piss you off, and don't care. Fun run participants convince themselves that they're actually doing you, and the world, a huge service.

In order to launder the guilt properly, there has to be the maddening two-step of blame-dodging. It's the charity that organises the run. The participants just say 'look, the run was already going ahead! It's not me blocking off your streets, I just happen to like taking part.' The charity either doesn't care (more likely), or explains it as 'look, these charity fun runs raise a lot of money because SWPLs like running on city streets. If we don't do it, someone else will.'

And so they go on.

I know exactly what response this kind of claim produces from the standard whiners - "They're doing so much for charity! Why don't you just put up with a small inconvenience for a good cause?"

This is totally bogus, and just muddies the two parts.

Nothing, nothing, is stopping these people just writing a cheque to whatever charity they're supporting. You think the charity won't take your money unless you've signed up to the fun run? Don't make me laugh. Donating directly would also have the added benefit that a) all the money goes to the cause, instead of most of it subsidising the recreation, and b) then it would have to be all made up of their own money, rather than hassling their friends.

And if they won't write the cheque unless they're allowed to do the fun run, what is that telling you? To me, it sounds exactly like the first hypothetical. I'm going to use this act of charity as moral blackmail in order to do something entirely unrelated that I want to do anyway.

The Talmud has a very different idea of charity:
Charity, ideally, should be given in secret so that the two parties, the giver and the receiver, do not know each other.
By this standard, modern charity can't be accomplished without the donors literally organising their own parade run to celebrate their generosity, and then using most of the proceeds to fund the parade itself.

You'll forgive me for not getting all misty-eyed.

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