Category Archive 'Public Charity'

22 Sep 2011

The Ineffably Annoying Conspicuous Philanthropy of the Haute Bourgeois

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Joe Queenan tells us he has had a bellyful of boasting about the rising generation’s resume-burnishing, do-good activities.

Joe is lucky that he doesn’t have to read the Yale Alumni Magazine.

Deep inside, everybody wants to talk about what a sensitive, caring, wonderful human being he is. But this is impossible when you work for a law firm that cold-calls Colombian drug dealers to see if they need any extra legal representation, when you’ve publicly boasted about cheating on your taxes, when everyone knows you’ve had an affair with an underage roadie for a Flock of Seagulls tribute band, when you’ve moved into a gated community to avoid even having to breathe the same air as minorities.

So instead, you tell people how jaw-droppingly great your children are. Britney is spending the summer working for Habitat for Humanity. So is Courtney. Dylan is in Burkina Faso, teaching local wretches how to make designer T-shirts out of organic mangoes. Aisha is interning at a company that designs noiseless, subterranean windmills. Yes, Kayla is getting a law degree, but only so she can help political prisoners from Darfur get green cards. And Caitlin and Skyler are spending junior year abroad participating in demonstrations against the governments in Athens, Damascus and Tehran, as course work for their degrees in Global Goodness Studies.

Wherever something truly wonderful is being done, these kids are at the epicenter of the action. They make the Little Sisters of the Poor look like thugs.

The upwardly moral children of the bourgeoisie are obsequiously, uncompromisingly virtuous. They ride bikes everywhere. They never eat meat. They refuse to watch television. They eat with wooden chopsticks. They only read books by authors named Jonathan who live in Brooklyn. They themselves are named Jonathan and live in Brooklyn. That is because everyone who is good and just and whip-smart and special in this society lives in Brooklyn. If you had good children like mine, you would know that. Your children probably live somewhere horrid, like Toledo, Ohio. And they’re probably named Susie or Fred.

As a mean-spirited, amoral crank who has labored mightily to raise reasonably insensitive kids, I find precociously virtuous children revolting. Luckily, I don’t have any. I don’t want my kids bailing out the faceless Trans-Caucasus masses or helping Jimmy Carter hammer nails in Detroit. I want them to be rich, so they can buy me a chalet in the Alps or at least cover my geriatric wisdom-teeth extractions. I grew up poor; I’m looking for payback.

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