Clementia: Goddess of Compassion

Simple humanitarianism to those who need it most. Voluntarily giving help to those in need. An act of kindness. The gift of giving. A donation to the less fortunate. A support package to soften the impact of troubled times. In short, charity.

It’s an indispensable part of humanity before humanity was even called humanity. Islam’s Zakat and Christianity’s unceasing crusade of welfare have long been contributors to a well-intentioned societal attitude towards those stagnant in unfairly unfavorable odds. The act itself can also provide financial benefits in addition to the pure ecstasy of being on a sort of moral high ground. Thousands, if not millions, if not billions of lives have been saved because of the generosity of others. 

Anarchy: The only word that could describe the phenomenon that would happen if charity had never spread to the scale it has now. Truly, it would not be so farfetched to claim that the world today would be far more desolate if unconditional aid had never infected the human psyche. 

More Than Meets The Eye

However, to view something as solely philanthropic or righteous can be and has been a fatal error. History has shown us, time and time again, that even the most upstanding virtuous individuals and organizations can be a mask for their nefariously sinister underbellies. Just as Wanda Pierce said and BoJack Horseman popularized, red flags look like regular flags when viewed with rose-tinted glasses. 

Not much is known of the lore surrounding the Roman Goddess of Compassion other than the word “clemency” was based on her. She was defined as a celebrated attribute of Julius Caesar, who was famed for his forbearance, especially after an unpopular civil war with Pompey. A temple was consecrated to her by the Roman Senate, theorized to be at his instigation as he was keen to demonstrate that he had virtue. Keeping in mind that a literal place of worship was built around her, it’s odd that hardly any information on her believers and their beliefs have been uprooted. This leads many historians to believe that her existence was less of a religious figure and more of a personification of good morals. 

In more ways than one, heralding honest integrity behind a figure no one truly believes is the precursor of an unstoppable disaster. Charity, as we’ll later learn, can turn into this disastrous cocktail with very few ever finding out.

A Villain’s Cowl

Philanthropy is described as “the act of promoting the welfare of others, expressed especially by private initiatives for the public good through programs and financial donations.” You, me, and most of the world have done it to varying degrees. It doesn’t have to be worth thousands. Even something seemingly insignificant like handing some pocket change to the random homeless person by the side of the road counts as a sort of philanthropy. 

Not to discredit the small efforts, but they hardly ever get published. They’re not the ones who the media is talking about; aggrandizing their ethical superiority. Dropping a few hundred every now and then will probably only ever get recognized by the giver, who they tell, and who received their initial donation. In the end, the recipients at the end associate their deliverance with the foundations and independent benefactors. 

For the overwhelming majority, not only is this fact blatant but also welcomed. After all, if their goal was to become famous, they could have done it a million other ways. The problem becomes the big people that donate big to get even bigger. Business magnates, public figures, celebrities. These are the people that you first think about when it comes to giving large sums of cash or undertaking massive welfare initiatives. 

In no way are good actions directed towards good causes a net negative. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly easy to see why someone, particularly the societal elites, would want to engage in philanthropy; Starting off with the hyper-rich.

On the 25th of January, 2021, a group of the wealthiest billionaires and political movers convened through their screen for the World Economic Forum, also known as “Davos.” If there was ever an event that relayed the strength of the connection between cash and power, this would be it. Across the span of 4 days, thought leaders, politicians, and billionaires discussed how they believed the world should work, and to put those ideas into action. Davos is just one of the many conferences that focus on philanthropic “do-gooding” in the class of our corporate, political, and social overlords. And at first glance, it’s a great initiative for real ways to solve real problems. More money, more fixing, right?

As issues like poverty, wealth inequality, climate change, and so on continue to ravage the lives of millions, the high society is beginning to realize that hoarding all the money in the world isn’t what you call a good look. 

What resulted is a metric deluge of high-profile “cash-throwing” in recent years. Sometimes, it’s almost as if they’re trying to outcompete each other in donations: Musk began a $100 million prize competition to award whoever makes the best carbon capture technology in the next 4 years. Gates got together his billionaire boys club and rallied a billion dollars venture fund that invests in fringe environmental ventures. Bezos is giving away $10 billion in grants to nonprofit and for-profit organizations for the next 10 years. 

Numbers as big as these sound like a hail-mary, but the math shows otherwise. Considering Musk’s wealth, $100 million is like $23 to someone who earns $40,000 a month. Obviously better than nothing, but less than major. $10 billion is definitely a bigger number, but factoring that Bezos is the 2nd richest human on the planet, distributing that sum of money over 10 years is like a drop of water in a 40-foot pool. Bearing into mind US tax laws, this can be nothing more than a small investment for huge returns. 

And huge returns do get the form, if not in the form of capital, their long-term survival, and influence. This is where even celebrities and public figures can relate to the people “that have it all.” It’s through these “nice deeds” and “desire to just help out the less fortunate” that create a perfect charade for moral pandering. 

One of the most present is the indisputable whitewashing of character. This is the turning point when altruism turns into self-preservation. It assures that they won’t go down without someone outside of their empire making a fuss. But perhaps the most deceptive part is that it can be used as a shield against actual crimes or unethical cities they could knowingly pursue. 

Going back to Bezos and Musk for a moment. Remember how they’re literally the roof when it comes to individual wealth? Yeah, well, they could very easily make the working conditions of their employees better than sweatshop workers. Amazon’s founding dictator can quite literally give every single one of his employees, down to the very janitors, over $100 million in bonuses and still maintain the same wealth he did before the pandemic. But no, he and Musk alike have the people on the lowest level fainting, pissing in bottles, and dying on the floor of the very factories

Even more ironic are sins when it comes to celebrities, musicians, and popular people in general. David Bowie, the singer we all know and love, has donated to causes like “Keep a Child Alive, War Child, and Save the Children.”Funny seeing as he raped a 14-year-old and drugged and raped another 15-year old. But nope, he’s just the cool singer from some time ago, right? More recently Ellen DeGeneres, self-identifying as “the nice lady from tv” was outed to be a complete a-hole to most of her staff. I guess you can act like a ruthlessly cold uncaring trash bag as long as you throw away a couple of dozen trips to the Bahamas huh?

I don’t think most people would have a problem with taking credit for actions that are purely for the well-being of others; anyone can relate to the ugly feeling of being thankless for great undertakings. What I and many others don’t like is when charities are used as a mask for their villain-like transgressions. 

Constricting Necessity 

Charity is not always good. It’s another truth that conveniently goes unheard. Sure, for the short-term a little pick-me-up or shelter to brave the storm is an amazing thing to do. As for a long-term solution though, it can do more harm than good.

Not many people consider it during the moment, but pollution derived from charitable relief can have impacts that last much longer than the aid provided. For example, landing on an earthquake-ravaged site in a poverty-stricken country and feeding everyone with disposable containers is a horrendous idea unless you’re prepared to deal with those containers. Because if you don’t, with zero trash collection infrastructure and poor education, those containers will end up getting thrown in the river, creating gigantic health and environmental hazards, very realistically causing deaths of more people than you thought you helped (via disease and contaminated water).

What better way to express this sentiment than by examining the charity’s favorite child, Africa. You’ve seen the ads. You’ve seen the memes. You’ve probably even been asked to aid in the war on hunger, conflict, and poverty for the Children of Senegal west. Nowhere is charity consolidated more than in Africa. 

Karl Polanyi in his 2002 study, argues that in the case of the West, foreign aid was treated as a means of self-help, in which an emphasis on property rights, social mobility, and the improvement of the free market. These ideologies, according to him, further industrialized the West and enabled them to take advantage of Neoliberalism, which is defined by Thorsen and Lie (2010) as the belief that nations should avoid intervening in the economy and instead enable people to dictate their participation in a free-market state. In other words, Africa gets a few benevolent care packages every now and then with the catch being the adoption of neo-liberalism and minor capitalism. Other than that, they had full reign. 

Long story short, it did not go according to the West’s plan. Through cultural incompatibilities, rife local and international corruption, and a series of unexpected catastrophes, Africa had forcefully become dependent on a lifeline of foreign aid akin to a man addicted to cocaine. Charity, which was rhetorically viewed with such naive passion as a speedy agent of development for ending human suffering caused by both man-made and natural disasters, plunged the nation into a state of a conceivably everlasting cycle of poverty. Most needed those loot boxes of fortune to survive, but it’s through that subservience do they end up jeopardizing their future. Charity in Africa has become nothing more than Morphine is to a dying soldier; his limbs won’t magically reattach, but it does make death feel a hell of a lot more forgiving.

A Few Bad Apples Don’t Ruin The Harvest

In the case of charity, I take pleasure in the fact that, for the most part, most of them do work for virtue and genuinely care about the positive effects they have on the lives of many; which makes it all the more important to search for the wolves hiding among the sheep. While it does no one any good to be stuck in cynicism and assume that all things have some ulterior motive, blind optimism takes more lives than bullets and bombs combined. I’m not saying we should be rife with paranoia and demonize everyone and anyone that tries to help, far from it. The reason why this article exists is to make sure that the people and organizations that rant or even do “good things” on the surface receive that same scrutiny as you would with politics. There is no singularity in justice and injustice, only a spectrum. Not all that appears good is good and not all that looks evil is evil. Through that way, and that way only, can a truly charitable charity can exist. 

-Juan Sixto