Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Small Universe

"Charity begins at home" is the impassioned slogan of today, with just that touch of special pleading that adds; "My 50 pence won't stop millions starving." How would you answer this remark? How could anyone answer such a remark!
Of course, these is the "reasonable" answer - the brick building idea; this suggests that If you take one brick and I take one brick and we all take one brick- well,  piled on top of one another,  in a very short apace of time, we would soon see before our very eyes a massive pyramid of a myriad bricks. And this is the essence of the argument that all the little pennies do add up to a large sum.
It is a good argument - yet, somehow, people fail to be impressed. Is it because we assume that people are too reasonable, and by that is meant easily conversant with abstract thought? For it would seem that our argument really is quite an abstract one - despite all the talk of a great mountain of money, there is no actual mound to be seen; unlike the imposing edifice of our pyramid of bricks, the money has to be imagined.
It is, therefore, quite definitely an acutely abstract abstraction - the more so since it is invisible even to our imaginations. We may pretend to know what a vast sum of money looks like, and we may picture many coins and plenty of pound notes all heaped in a vast pile; yet we have never actually seen such a pecuniary landscape, nor do we expect to ever come across one. Consequently, to ask people to give money on the basis of an argument concerning some abstract image which they do not believe has ever (or will ever) exist, is perhaps not a good approach.
Leaving aside the reasonable answer, it should be noticeable that the sort of person who makes remarks about charity (as above) is not prepared to be convinced by any argument; their pleading is simply an excuse not to give money, by use of a well-worn cliché and an argument that betrays their insensitivity to the issues which are involved. To be sure, they may be the best of people - "good, honest, decent, God-fearing citizens". And yet their vision is still too narrow, their universe too small. Mere humanitarianism will not overcome that poverty of imagination; and because of that no reply is adequate. What is needed is not an answer but an attitude, not to reach the pocket but to reach the person.

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