Against Movember

When awareness for particular health issues is raised in such a nebulous way as is the case with Movember, it serves to chip away at awareness of the need for a decent and adeq
uately funded public system of health care.

Charity is nearly always uncontroversial because it doesn’t require you to demonstrate commitment to a particular political programme. Whilst many employers will approve of Movember as something that gives the workplace a zany and yet caring atmosphere, it is hard to escape the conclusion that a widespread initiative, for instance, to grow lambchop sideburns specifically against cuts to public healthcare would be frowned on, and perhaps even prohibited on pain of disciplinary action.

Last year, my dad got treatment for prostate cancer on the NHS  – it was detected and dealt with in good time, and he didn’t pay a cent for treatment. But a health service subjected to gradual privatisation and outsourcing, and a fragmented workforce subjected to the same norms that prevail in profit-making enterprises would have disastrous consequences for many prostate cancer sufferers, especially poor ones. But none of this appears in the purview of those growing zany handlebar moustaches, or those who celebrate them for it.

Charity seldom requires conflict with the established order. In many cases, charitable organisations serve to reinforce the established order. They dignify the rich, and the way the rich make their money, whilst condemning those people who end up having to depend on charity to a subaltern status.

In Ireland, oligarchs and their flunkies use charities as a way of flouting the benevolence of the rich and browbeating people into ceasing their demands that their social and political rights be vindicated. This was most luridly in evidence in the Haven ads posted around the country in recent months, which told Irish people that they should stop objecting to household taxes -imposed as part of a right-wing political programme that targets the poor on the whole whilst assures a bountiful tax regime for the rich- because people in Haiti are far worse off. Never mind the fact they are far worse off not least because of the ultra-neoliberal programmes -the flipside of ultra-charitable billionaires- imposed on them.

Then there are the cases where flamboyant charitable activities are a front for the most vicious abuse whilst the people involved are celebrated as heroes and held up as a model for the kind of society that ought to exist: no rights, just charity, as happened with Jimmy Savile under the Thatcher regime.

Of course, people growing moustaches for Movember are not like Jimmy Savile. They are just having fun and being sociable, for the most part: nice people doing something they believe to be helpful and humorous.

But charity, as Oscar Wilde noted, paraphrasing St Peter, creates a multitude of sins:

‘The people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good; and at last we have had the spectacle of men who have really studied the problem and know the life – educated men who live in the East End – coming forward and imploring the community to restrain its altruistic impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on the ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are perfectly right. Charity creates a multitude of sins.’

And a moustache can cover a multitude of sins too.

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