Oscar Wilde: Velgørenhed er tidsspilde

Den britiske premierminister David Cameron ønsker at nedlægge det sociale system og skabe et “Big Society”, hvor velstanden deles gennem privat velgørenhed. Han har helt paradoksalt lagt ud med at lancere et katalog af besparelser, der formentlig vil trække tæppet væk under nogle af landets største velgørende organisationer og gøre det svært for dem at fortsætte med at lappe på det sociale systems og sundhedsvæsnets kolossale huller. Han har tydeligvis heller ikke læst Oscar Wildes “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”:

The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody. In fact, scarcely anyone at all escapes.

(…) The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism—are forced, indeed, so to spoil them. They find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence; and, as I pointed out some time ago in an article on the function of criticism, it is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.

They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor.

But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim.

Privat velgørenhed er tidsspilde, mente Wilde, fordi den blot gør de fattiges fattigdom en smule mere tålelig og derved får dem til at affinde sig med dem, samtidig med, at den får ikke-fattige mennesker til at spilde tiden med velgørenhed, når de kunne have brugt den til at hellige sig videnskab eller kunst.

Løsningen på den iøjnespringende fattigdom, som hærger de fleste lande i dag – herunder naturligvis England og i mindre, men stigende grad, Danmark – er altså ikke at lappe på tingenes tilstand ved velgørenhed. Den er at ændre tingenes tilstand ved reformer eller revolution, så materiel og åndelig fattigdom og den dermed forbundne nød ganske enkelt bliver en umulighed.

Under Socialism all this will, of course, be altered. There will be no people living in fetid dens and fetid rags, and bringing up unhealthy, hunger-pinched children in the midst of impossible and absolutely repulsive surroundings. The security of society will not depend, as it does now, on the state of the weather. If a frost comes we shall not have a hundred thousand men out of work, tramping about the streets in a state of disgusting misery, or whining to their neighbours for alms, or crowding round the doors of loathsome shelters to try and secure a hunch of bread and a night’s unclean lodging. Each member of the society will share in the general prosperity and happiness of the society, and if a frost comes no one will practically be anything the worse.

Men er det ikke antiliberalt alt sammen? Vil en sådan socialisme ikke knuse den enkeltes frihed?

Ikke ifølge Wilde. De reformer, han taler om, vil ikke gøre det enkelte individ mindre frit, det vil gøre det mere frit ved at gøre det langt mere om til den enkelte, hvad han eller hun vælger at beskæftige sig med:

Socialism itself will be of value simply because it will lead to Individualism.

Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material well-being of each member of the community. It will, in fact, give Life its proper basis and its proper environment. But for the full development of Life to its highest mode of perfection, something more is needed. What is needed is Individualism.

Ødelæggende ved velgørenheden er også den implicitte forestilling om, at de fattige skal være glade og taknemmelige for den “støtte”, de får, når deres fattigdom i virkeligheden kun er en konsekvens af samfundets grundlæggende uretfærdighed:

We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it. As for being discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such surroundings and such a low mode of life would be a perfect brute. Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Sometimes the poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less. For a town or country labourer to practise thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man should not be ready to show that he can live like a badly-fed animal. He should decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing. As for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than to beg. No: a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty, discontented, and rebellious, is probably a real personality, and has much in him. He is at any rate a healthy protest. As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them. They have made private terms with the enemy, and sold their birthright for very bad pottage. They must also be extraordinarily stupid. I can quite understand a man accepting laws that protect private property, and admit of its accumulation, as long as he himself is able under those conditions to realise some form of beautiful and intellectual life. But it is almost incredible to me how a man whose life is marred and made hideous by such laws can possibly acquiesce in their continuance.

Dette indlæg var egentlig inspireret af et indlæg i The Observer af Nick Cohen, der med rette bruger Wilde til at påpege hulheden i David Camerons “Big Society”-strategi. Wildes argument er ikke skudsikkert – der kan virkelig siges gode ting om folk, der bruger deres liv på at afhjælpe andres nød. Men i sidste ende er det sundt og helt rigtigt se: Lad os dog ikke spilde tiden på at lappe på et uretfærdigt samfund og derved holde det i live ud over salgsdatoen, når løsningen er – gennem reformer eller revolution – at gøre det så retfærdigt, at fattigdom ikke længere kan eksistere.

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