Flat White

Stop this volunteering nonsense now II

9 January 2018

8:17 AM

9 January 2018

8:17 AM

Federal MP Tim Wilson has labelled this article by Catherine Walsh from Friday’s Sydney Morning Herald, “peak stupid” on Twitter. And it’s not hard to see why.

There’s a reason I cancelled my Fairfax subscription. There’s a reason they keep whining and emailing me to see if, for half price, I would sign up again. Frankly, I wouldn’t sign up again if they paid me. The Herald, along with Melbourne’s The Age, is the epitome of activist leftist journalism, full of self-righteous progressive posturing. Rant, foam, grumble, etc.

Catherine Walsh, according to the byline is a Sydney writer and teacher. Her article is an edited version of a presentation she gave at the Australian Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement. Phew, at least we didn’t get the non-edited version. Maybe most of the really stupid stuff has been cut out.

Or maybe not.

First problem with volunteerism: Unhealthy food. Yep, all of those snags in white bread. Of course, as a Sydney writer and teacher, those two food staples of the outer suburbs are the biggest sin around. That and fizzy drink. Walsh writes:

Most school events involve sausages on white bread and fizzy drinks, which is not recommended as a healthy diet. Chocolates are sold in staff rooms to raise money for the children’s hospital. Rubber wristbands are sold by charities to raise awareness of illnesses. A fundraiser for the environment can sell unhealthy food one week, and a fundraiser for health can damage the environment the next. This is inefficient. Any effort to help one system should not be feeding into the brokenness of another. In order to be helpful we need to factor in all systems at once.

Will the evil never end? Where is the quinoa at the tuck shop? Where is the Greek Salad being sold outside Bunnings?

And, of course, the problems of volunteerism are only exacerbated when we add in the evil Christians. For as Walsh notes:

The definition of a good charity is one that solves a problem and puts itself out of business. In Australia in 2014 there were 54,000 registered charities, all trying to attract our donations. Many government services are now outsourced to church-run charities, which win contracts due to their tax concessions and tax donation status – and rely on the work of volunteers. They are exempt from anti-discrimination laws. It is not in their interest to solve problems.

Church-run charities doing the work of governments. And shock, horror, there are those terrible discriminating organisations again. Here we see just another string in the progressive bow, the grinding down of all organisations that won’t sign up, won’t sign up to whatever we’re all required to sign up to these days. I wonder what forms of discrimination she has in mind.


But that last line. That last line! “It is not in their interest to solve problems.” Of course not. Charity organisations that deal with the fall out from the social and sexual experiments of a culture in turmoil, – turmoil often created by the very social structures the likes of Walsh espouse -, church financial organisations that help those being run over by debt, they all just LOVE all that brokenness. They can think of nothing better to do than sit with smelly or angry or drug-addled people who have fallen to the bottom of the pile.

Maybe from the lofty position from where Catherine Walsh sits (Vaucluse perhaps?) all of those little matters look solvable if we just pay our taxes. But that ain’t happening. Stubbornly so. The fact is, if she’d done any reading or research around this matter, volunteerism has gone into free-fall in the Western world in the past forty years. Read Robert Putnam. Read Hugh Mackay. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures in Australia in 2015 showed a five percent drop to 31 per cent in just five years.

Now I checked out the Australian Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement’s site and here’s a screenshot of their front page:

With nary a white sarny with a cheap Coles sausage in sight. But I guess it’s only those into non-feminist mothering, as opposed to “feminist mothering”, whatever that is, who eat them, or worse, feed them to their four kids, right?

They state that their membership is primarily composed of scholars, but if you suit the agenda you’re in. Just the sort of people who young Tanya with a violent partner (another one), five young kids and no education is likely to turn to in times of trouble. Just the sort of shoulders to cry on. Just the sort of groups to give her a bed for the night. Just the sort to open a door at 10.00 pm when it’s inconvenient, everyone’s asleep, but help is needed.

Walsh says this in her article, non-ironically:

The volunteering that has greatest impact is done upstream and has a measurable outcome. Volunteering works when the aim is to change a broken system, to change a law or policy. This law or policy could be one that sees a requirement for volunteers, fundraising and charities abandoned, so there will be no expectation that the next generation will keep inefficient systems. It could be a change to policy about homelessness or refugees or international aid, or school funding or hospital funding or reducing environmental damage. It doesn’t create waste or waste time. Raising awareness is what happens along the way.

We don’t call that volunteerism. We call that the well-paid careers of the corporate lawyer, highflying academic or businessperson who, having made their pile and secured their future, wants “to put back”. And why not, if it costs nothing and makes you feel good? What’s not to like? More importantly, it keeps you away from grubby people who share needles with others, but don’t share your values. You get the impression that such earthy volunteerism is just a little too gauche for those far more enlightened.

In his novel from a few years back, The Fire Gospel, Michael Faber has a character who finds himself, although middle class, having fallen through the cracks. His plan to upend Christian certainty with the discovery of a gospel that undermines all of Christianity’s central tenets comes unstuck when forces even more pernicious than he get hold of it. He is crushed.

Faber, as an atheist, does something brave in the story. His hero is rescued from the gutter in London by an old West Indian Christian man who takes him home and bathes his wounds. In an interview about the book, Faber himself said that, despite his philosophical position, he knows that if he were in the gutter, it would not be the fellow atheist who would help him in that costly way, it would be the Christian.

Why? Because the Catherine Walshs of this world, when they walk past the man beaten and robbed on the way to Jericho, don’t see themselves in that man. They don’t see their desperate need of grace, so they don’t offer grace. They don’t see their own desperate need.

But perhaps her biggest problem is that volunteerism is useless on your resume. As Walsh says:

Volunteering is not valued. If volunteering was valued we would have a separate resume for it, at parties people would ask each other about their volunteering, and hours worked would contribute to superannuation.

I guess in a world of resumes and cocktail parties and superannuation figures volunteerism is a dirty word. But in a jobless world, a world of drug cocktails and Centrelink queues, it’s a lifeline for many. Maybe Catherine Walsh needs to get out more. Or at least into the outer suburbs. I’d volunteer to drive her around to show her.

Peak stupid by January 5. Lucky it’s not a leap year.

Don’t miss Part I of Stop this volunteering nonsense now here.

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