Thursday, February 04, 2010

The problem with charity

I've written before that I hate charity, and yes I know how hypocritical that is being that I live on the kindness of internet strangers and their charitable acts. But this story may illustrate to you, my few dear readers, why charity is the worst way to solve society's problems.

My dear aunt lost her front tooth last week. We all suffer from abysmal teeth, likely to break if we even think of eating something as hard as a corn flake. Her front teeth were capped or crowned or something like that 30 years ago, and needed to be replaced 20 years ago. But she has no insurance or money, and there were always more important things like feeding children or paying utility bills that got in the way. So it wasn't a surprise when her front tooth broke off.

But it was painful, and even though we have been doing our best to reassure her that "it's not too noticeable" she is humiliated by the big hole where her tooth used to be and her new inability to pronounce f sounds like a grown up.

She goes to a free clinic to get medical care, and they gave her a prescription for antibiotics and set up an emergency appointment with a dentist who sometimes does work for the clinic for free.

She rushed off to the dentist with just a half an hour's notice. He could squeeze her in and she was so excited. She's been hiding her face behind her hand since the tooth broke. She was going to be fixed, or at least put on the path to being fixed, to being able to smile and talk and not hide.

4 hours later, she came home in tears, still gap toothed and humiliated, but now feeling much worse because the dentist's act of charity didn't come with human decency.

He didn't look at her medical history. He had assumed she was there so he could do a cheap and easy extraction with no plans to fix the problem. He jammed the needles in her mouth and cut up the roof of her mouth. When she complained that he was causing her pain he said "I don't have time to treat you like a human being".

I don't have time treat you like a human being.

That is what you get with charity sometimes, more often than sometimes even. You get half assed care that isn't what you actually need and you get treated like less than a human in the process. And you are supposed to be grateful for it, no complaining about rough treatment or unfairness. Just suck it up and be glad someone is willing to be in the same room with you. Your poverty makes you untouchable, and it is an act of charity just to tolerate your presence.

I have seen some amazing acts of kindness. I have had my ass saved by strangers and my kid fed by anonymous people in the ether of the internets. I have also seen some horrendous things done in the name of charity because the people on the receiving end are poor and desperate and not allowed to complain.

I would much rather live in a world where basic needs are not left to the whims of other people. You can still be kind, you can still be charitable, but no one's life or health should depend on whether someone has the "time to treat you like a human being".