The love of the common people is a broadly distributed psychological condition.
I know many people, even some of my dearest friends and family, who suffer dearly from it. While we often debate the various merits of the best uses of our time as it pertains to commoners, particularly the more useless classes,i whether its helping them to access “essential” health and educational services that they might better themselves, their children, and their communities, or crushing their heads underfoot that they might let the eagles of destiny soar with as little friction as possible, it’s not at all clear to me that either of us is ever likely to ever convince the other that working from causes as opposed to working towards purposes is the indisputably superior approach. Only time and effort can settle this score with certainty.
In the interim, however, there’s nothing to say that the organisations the Causists and the Purposists choose to support won’t be one and the same. There’s nothing to say that there aren’t two sides to a coin that we both see value in, albeit from differing vantage points. Let’s say you take the beaver on the Canadian nickel to be more comely and I say that I’m more partial to the Queen. So what of it ? We can still both agree that beneath the surface rests a fine specimen of specie that we both trust to whatever degree.
Much of the same could be said for, to pick a salient example, the Salvation Army. You see, the Salvation Army in Edmonton owns a vacant building just across the street from the provincial court houses downtown. On the court house side of the street, all is well ; there’s the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Citadel Theatre,ii Churchill Square, City Hall, and as much semblance of civility as you’ll find for a hundred miles in any direction.
On the Salvation Army side of the street, however, the neighbourhood has fallen on rough times. On the wrong side of the tracks, as it were – the tracks being 97th Street, in this case – rest social service drop-in centres, several bars and liquor stores, an old folks home for the Chinese community, a couple gravel-covered surface parking lots, and the downtown police station. With “amenities” such as this, it’s little wonder that, for the last 50 years, this area of downtown Edmonton has been about as desirable as eyeball warts. But times, they are achangin’, and the areas both north and east of the defunct Salvation Army building are revitalising with the kind of deadline-driven vigour you’d scarcely believe existed unless you’d lived in this boom-and-bust prone, oil-driven economy.
Today, the Army would quite like to renovate the derelict space, reinvigorating it as a hub for the homeless and the haggard. The surrounding property developers and owners, however, aren’t quite so keen are the idea and are actively opposing these efforts as a result. As such, the Army’s recent appeal for a City Development Permit was denied. Because NIMBYism. So there the building sits : unused and unproductive.
The fear of the nearby property developers and owners is that a functioning support centre for drug-addled hookers and various other street urchins will ultimately depress real estate values. While I’m sympathetic to this argument, reading George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘Major Barbara’ neatly twists their very conventional and very narrow perspective. Even if billionaireiii Undershaft is being cheeky with Greek professor Cusins, the staunch and unflinching capitalist makes a hell of a point :
CUSINS: Take care! Barbaraiv is in love with the common people. So am I. Have you never felt the romance of that love?
UNDERSHAFT: Have you ever been in love with Poverty, like St Francis? Have you ever been in love with Dirt, like St Simeon? Have you ever been in love with disease and suffering, like our nurses and philanthropists? Such passions are not virtues, but the most unnatural of all the vices. This love of the common people may please an earl’s granddaughter and a university professor; but I have been a common man and a poor man; and it has no romance for me. Leave it to the poor to pretend that poverty is a blessing: leave it to the coward to make a religion of his cowardice by preaching humility: we know better than that. We three must stand together above the common people: how else can we help their children to climb up beside us? Barbara must belong to us, not to the Salvation Army.
CUSINS: Well, I can only say that if you think you will get her away from the Salvation Army by talking to her as you have been talking to me, you don’t know Barbara.
UNDERSHAFT: My friend: I never ask for what I can buy.
CUSINS: Do I understand you to imply that you can buy Barbara?
UNDERSHAFT. No; but I can buy the Salvation Army.
CUSINS: Quite impossible.
UNDERSHAFT: You shall see. All religious organizations exist by selling themselves to the rich.v
CUSINS: Not the Army. That is the Church of the poor.
UNDERSHAFT: All the more reason for buying it.
CUSINS. I don’t think you quite know what the Army does for the poor.
UNDERSHAFT. Oh yes I do. It draws their teeth: that is enough for me–as a man of business–
CUSINS. Nonsense! It makes them sober–
UNDERSHAFT: I prefer sober workmen. The profits are larger.
UNDERSHAFT: Honest workmen are the most economical.
CUSINS: –attached to their homes–
UNDERSHAFT: So much the better: they will put up with anything sooner than change their shop.
UNDERSHAFT: An invaluable safeguard against revolution.
UNDERSHAFT: Indifferent to their own interests, which suits me exactly.
CUSINS: –with their thoughts on heavenly things–
UNDERSHAFT: And not on Trade Unionism nor Socialism.
CUSINS: You really are an infernal old rascal.
I suppose this doesn’t particularly address the location of the non-profit organisation, mending all the world’s broken souls and turning them into productive assets (and doing it better than the state ever could, might I add), but it does give a lovely spin on the work of the selfless folks at the Salvation Army.vi Besides, why locate your labour any further away from your industry than strictly necessary ?
Lovers of the common people might have a few screws loose, but that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally find a nut. And with the Salvation Army in downtown Edmonton, I’m inclined to say they’ve done just that.
As with the darkened idiots, we may as well make the most of it !
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- Is “useless classes” derogatory ? Hm. Let’s have a look : “Useless” means simply having no use, so if you’re addicted to crack and have no marketable skills, this is you and that’s strike one. “Class” is perhaps a tautology in this case, but it simply describes a group of people whose parents were like them. Since this must biologically be that case to a significant degree, even if the particularly place and time you happen to inhabit fails to recognise that parents are anything other than a legally enslaved babysitters, and even if one is able to extract oneself from their former station and hop a notch up or a notch down in their lifetimes, the relationship stands. Strike 2. You’re out. This isn’t baseball. Not that classes are written in stone, ’tis just a matter of odds.
- Where I took in the splendid Avenue Q not long ago. [↩]
- What else do you call a “millionaire” from 100 years ago so that he sounds equivalently wealthy ? Hell, give it a few years and we’ll be using “trillionaire” to get this point across. Not like the Turkish Lira did things the USD can’t and won’t.
- Barbara is Cusin’s fiancée and Undershaft’s daughter. Barbara works as a Major (an official) at the West Ham Shelter of the Salvation Army in London. [↩]
- All religious organisations are, after all, businesses. And like any business that intends to stay in business for the long-term, yes, they must sell themselves to the rich.
- Even if there’s no such thing as work that only benefits others anymore than there’s work that only benefits you. [↩]