Cup your ear, kind reader, and listen with me to the sounds of the fall semester – the shuffling of feet, the achingly bored recitation of syllabi, the crack of spines and wallets giving way under piles of hardbound textbooks. And above all, the sound we must brace ourselves to hear a couple thousand times this year,
“Excuse me, do you have a minute to answer a couple of questions?”
It’s the sound of petition-totting volunteers as they ambush unwitting students-in- transit. On any given day, the quad is a veritable buffet of social ills, all jockeying for a tug at our middleclass heartstrings.
No matter what your taste, there is a cause tailored to your sense of self-importance. Love animals? The environment? Want to show your disapproval of cancer? Decided where you’re at on the whole fetus thing? There are people with clipboards, just busting to get your name and number.
But here’s where you must exercise restraint, friends. No matter how good it will look on a resume, or how impressed everyone will be as you discreetly slip it into every conversation you have for the next three years, you must resist the urge to join any charities, grassroots political movements or student organizations.
To put it plainly, altruism is stupid.
If the last 50 years has taught us anything, it’s that the impulse to give something back and make a difference has led more students into lifetimes of thankless anonimity than those lost to this country’s philosophy and creative writing departments combined.
For decades, the grim specter of progressivism has been gobbling up the nation’s brightest young talent and sticking them in ignored picket lines, unwatched PBS documentaries, and political think-tanks for candidates that didn’t quite make it on the local ballot this year.
You see, it’s become pretty clear that most Americans only like “The Giving Tree” for the pictures. The majority of us are all a bit too cynical, lazy, stupid, or busy to be moved by the plight of the embattled unpronounceables of the world, so we choose to politely ignore them, thus limiting aid organizations to pledge drives, benefit concerts, and various -a-thons.
Which (going by the number of cancers cured, genocides stopped, and reform candidates elected) are all gigantic wastes of time. This is not to say we can’t feel really great about ourselves for participating in these well-meaning but entirely useless events; that aura of deluded righteousness is what keeps Bono going, after all.
Part of the problem is that limited resources means limited appeal. We have multi-million dollar corporations falling all over themselves to entertain us. Car-chases, bank robberies, Flavor Flav, you name it, primetime has it. If all your charity is bringing to the table is images of starving villagers, a pledge to end the suffering, and a phone number, I’m sorry, but that’s three strikes right there, sir. The fact that I can’t even watch the famine in hi-def only furthers the insult.
This is America; the defining grass roots movement of our generation was when Haley Joel Osment got stabbed in that one movie. If charities want a slice of the pie, they’re going to have to dance for it. Possibly with the stars.
So if approached this semester by someone busking an admirable cause, remember, no one went anywhere in life by helping people and caring about things.
Ryan Nowell is a junior English major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.