Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Audacity of Organization, II

Unlike many of her 'liberal' cohorts, Pretty Lady thinks that Mr. Obama's faith-based initiative is a splendid idea:
Much of his emphasis is better coordination, training and evaluation, not money. It's worth remembering that the bulk of Obama's work as a community organizer wasn't drawing together national groups in grandiose efforts or lobbying drives. It was connecting one church to another, a dozen residents of a project here with a dozen over there. In that sense, he is more like an early 1960s liberal (the sort who focused on fighting poverty through local community organizing) than he is a 1970s liberal (which emphasized large scale national programs). Or, more accurately, he is a hybrid of the two that we're just beginning to understand.
Much is made, in 'conservative' circles, about the essential selfishness of human nature. Helping others is Unnatural; thus when the Evil Socialist Government tries to force it on people, disaster ensues.

However, it is Pretty Lady's observation that people, in general, are thrilled with opportunities to help others, as long as 1) they are not completely drained by doing so, and 2) the help actually helps. Her own conservative parents would never leave a stranger to bleed or starve to death on their front lawn; their political position that it is fine to let people bleed or starve to death in their own far-away neighborhoods was based on a sense of the impossibility of doing otherwise, rather than an actual animus toward the bleeding and starving.

(Pretty Lady has noticed that some extreme right-wingers do express vocal, continuous, personal, knee-jerk animus toward those less fortunate than themselves, but she chalks this up to pathological deficiencies in their own personalities, not their political philosophies.)

This brings us to the central, vital role played by a bit of common-sense organization, in implementing any sort of plan to Help People Help Others. Efficiency is the golden rule.

For example: Pretty Lady heard tell of an organization which was given a miniscule grant to educate the African-American community about breast cancer prevention. After considering a number of dismal options, such as standing on street corners handing out leaflets, and attempting to get hard-working women to stay a few hours after church for a breast cancer seminar, an elegant solution was hit upon. They simply trained the local hairdressers in breast cancer prevention theory. The local ladies visited with their hairdressers for upwards of four hours per week already, getting their hair braided; they trusted their hairdressers; one's hairdresser is one's mother-confessor. Breast-cancer education in this neighborhood proceeded apace, without a single budget increase.

Similarly, any religious organization which does not have community service outreach already in place is a piss-poor excuse for a religious organization. It makes sense for any public policy targeted toward helping the poor to acknowledge, enhance and assist this outreach, not compete with it.


Chris Rywalt said...

P.J. O'Rourke -- who is something of a liberal conservative, I guess, or something like that -- once worked out that the world spends enough money fighting poverty to give everyone on the planet a standard of living above the poverty line in America. And yet there are still poor people. From which he drew this paradox: You can't eliminate poverty by giving people money.

Eliminating poverty is all about efficiency. Bucky Fuller said the same thing, only he was talking about engineering efficiency -- but it comes down to the same thing. It's all about doing more with less.

[Note: I don't have the P.J. book handy so don't quote me on the poverty thing. It may have been money spent fighting poverty in America, or just in Africa, and my idea is almost certainly inexact.]

Pretty Lady said...

I think that was probably 'Eat the Rich,' but I gave my copy to somebody or other, too.

No, you can't eliminate poverty by giving people money--you do it by empowering them, whatever that takes. Usually it takes connections, access to resources, and some ineffable sense that effort is not futile. Despair creates more poverty than anything else.