There’s a new column on on philanthropy ( The up-side of this column and its focus and purpose is that it, hopefully, will help to cultivate an awareness of the human suffering we are not addressing but can, of others who are stepping up and contributing to solutions, and of the amount of money increasingly put into circulation to do so. The down-side is that it continues to reinforce a vision of addressing our deep structural problems through a slight diversion of the surplus produced by the status quo, accompanied by a continued failure to consider how to alter the status quo in systemic ways to more substantially address those deep structural problems.

The author discusses three myths that motivate our current widespread lack of investment in positive social change through philanthropy: That there’s not enough money to go around, that more money makes one better, and that the injustices and suffering in the world is just the way it is. Similar myths, on a deeper level, motivate our widespread lack of commitment to fomenting positive systemic social change: Our political economic system cannot be fundamentally improved upon in ways that won’t hurt those who are currently faring well; the current distribution of wealth and welfare in the world is fair because those who have it deserve it and those who don’t don’t; and making significant headway on solving the world’s problems is an unrealistic Utopian dream.

It’s been said that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, and can as well be said that those who don’t understand history are doomed to be blind to its implications. We have a social movement in America that reveres a mythologized Constitution as a sacred document, that considers the country as it was established to be the perfection of political form. Yet those who understand history recognize these events as moments on a continuum, sequential developments built on previous ones. It is a lesson in the reality of progress, and a strong suggestion that there is further progress yet to be achieved, not only in terms of what is done within the political context we have created, but also what is done to refine and build upon the political context we have created.

The same holds true in economics: The development of “capitalism,” of our complex modern market economy, is a marvel of diffuse, evolutionary human genius. But it has been developing from time immemorial, and continues to develop today, and those developments are affected by conscious choices with conscious goals in mind. The notion that we can’t take this engine of wealth production and continue to refine it so that it becomes both more sustainable and more equitable is another variation of the ahistorical belief that what is is what must forever be, or that some marvelous product of history can’t be improved upon, when, in fact, what is has never remained what would be in the future, and every marvelous product of history that has preceded us has indeed been improved upon, and was itself the product of earlier improvements of earlier forms.

As I’ve written in several other posts (The Politics of Consciousness; Information and Energy), human history is an evolutionary process, an accumulation of innovations that create accelerating progressions in our social institutional, technological, and cognitive landscapes. The notion that this dynamical systemic logic somehow does not apply to the improvement of our world on the dimensions of humanity and sustainability is arbitrary and absurd. Just as we do not live in Oliver Twist’s Victorian England, future generations can and will live in circumstances different from, and hopefully better than, ours. The form and degree of those differences depend on our commitment to ushering them in, just as our transcendence of past deficiencies depended on the efforts of past visionaries.

Yes, we need more philanthropy and philanthropic spirit. But we also need more optimism, more compassion, more commitment to doing better as a society. And we need to believe that we can do far more than merely toss the peasants a coin from time to time.

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