I Refuse


The world is large and it’s full of wonder, but it’s also an obstacle course of nasty.  This is the stuff that we know is unfair, stuff we know is a scam, stuff that insults our intelligence and our integrity.  In general, we just have to put up with this crap– or spend our entire lives cultivating an apoplectic ulcer.  However, there is one way to survive without being totally pissed off all the time: that’s to stop, take three deep breaths and refuse to participate.  Here are just a few things I refuse to do.  (Some of them are more serious than others.)

I refuse to use Gillette products – A while ago, the multinational boys at Gillette made a video that called me (and every other man) a bad friend, a bad father/brother/uncle, a bad role model, a bad mentor, generally a bad person, certainly a sexist and quite possibly a … anyway … you get the idea.  Their only purpose, as far as I can see, was to cash in on trending “toxic masculinity.”  So be it.  Well, I’ve been called a lot of names over the years, but I’ve never paid anybody for the privilege – and I’m certainly not going to start now.

I refuse to wear short pants – I know it’s uber-fashionable, but in ten years, we’re all going to laugh ourselves stupid at the photographs.  Here’s the deal.  Unless you’re a swimmer, a diver, a runner, a pole vaulter or an ice hockey player (think about it!) there is no logical reason for a grown man in the northern hemisphere to wear shorts to work.  Just sayin’!

I refuse to Tweet – My only mission in life is to communicate, and Twitter is the poster child of communication in the 21st century.  So what’s the problem?  Quite simply, Twitter is the meanest, nastiest, most judgemental, disrespectful, petty form of communication since Grog the Caveman grunted obscenities at the Neanderthals down the road.  History is going to look at our time and conclude most of our problems came from the horrible way we talked to each other – and I’m not willing to be part of that.

I refuse to eat liver – I have no philosophical quarrel with liver, but I ain’t going to eat it.  (This is my mother’s fault.)

I refuse to give money to charity — Sounds hard-hearted and it is, but in my defence, I’ve donated tons of clothing, furniture and food over the years.  I’ve recorded radio programs for the blind, cooked pancake breakfasts, swept floors, washed dishes, picked up garbage, sold raffle tickets and taught public speaking in a federal prison – all gratis.  When I get to the Gates of Valhalla, I’m not going to have anything to be ashamed of in the good works department.  My problem with giving cold hard cash to charity is there’s always a middleman somewhere, and no one is ever willing to tell me how much he’s taking off the top.

And finally

I refuse to be lectured by teenagers – I’ve always worked on the premise that the ideas of young people are fresh.  They look at the world with an untrained eye, which gives them a lot of latitude — and that’s a good thing.  However, I’m not interested in being berated for my many failures by someone whose biggest accomplishment so far is mastering puberty.  The notion that kids bring just as much to the table as the experts who’ve studied the problem for years is ludicrous.  Here’s how it works: if your kitchen is flooded, who are you going to call to fix the water pipes – some child fresh out of middle school or a professional plumber?  The choice is yours, but I’m going with the plumber.

Voluntourism: Another Do-Good Blunder

volunteer2Apparently, for the last several years, in the upper reaches of Western society, the elite among us have been moiling away doing good works.  This is not new: the crème de la crème have always shared their largesse with the rest of us, but in the old days it was kinda ad hoc, and, therefore manageable.  These days, however, volunteerism has become a multinational business (like the oh-so- evil Walmart) and it’s getting out of hand.  I realize calling down charity is like attacking a unicorn — nobody’s going give me a thumbs up on this one — but when something becomes a destructive force, what am I supposed to do?

So, ladies and gentleman, I give you the latest in a series of do-gooder blunders: voluntourism.  This little puppy is so wrong — on so many levels — I don’t even know where to start — perhaps, a definition?

In essence, voluntourism is a thinly disguised guilt-free vacation.  Rich people can indulge themselves, eat up tons of fossil fuels and other resources and justify it by “giving back” (a vague feel good term that means absolutely nothing.)  The vast majority of voluntourists are well-meaning high school and college kids who can afford to “give back” because they don’t have to sling burgers or mochaccinos on a daily basis to pay for their education.  The voluntourism experience looks good on a CV; thus giving the voluntourist a rung up on the education and career ladders over their poor bugger peers (who couldn’t afford a semester off in sub Saharan Gabrungi.)  Plus, it gives them something to brag about until the first child goes to preppie preschool.  Everybody’s happy — except some of us are a little happier than others.

At the other end of this libero-colonial adventure, the target destinations either adapt to their newfound benefactors or they go under.  I can’t think of a better way to screw up a struggling local economy than introducing a pool of high quality unpaid labour into the mix.  Suddenly, the neighbourhood workforce (in pretty much every area except aid administration) is facing stiff competition from a gang of gungho kids from Indiana.  These boys and girls have resources at their disposal that the local folks can only dream about, and they’re undercutting shipping, handling, materials and labour by 100%.  Think about it: how long volunteer5would even a mighty Mcdonald’s franchise last if I opened a burger joint down the block that gave away Happy Meals for free?  Even when the voluntourists actually work with the locals, they’re still stealing jobs.  These are jobs that an embryonic micro-economy can’t afford to lose.

The only defence against this economic genocide is, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  Many local institutions have had to become part of the Western charity food chain in order to survive.  Frankly, there’s no advantage to solving problems and flying right if the minute you do, the voluntourists move on, the money dries up and you’re left worse off than when you started.  In fact, there are some very clear advantages to not poking your head above the poverty line.  So when the voluntourists show up and want to build yet another school, your best bet is to shut up and let them do it.  If nothing else, some local somebody is going to make a shekel or two feeding, housing and looking after these contemporary bwanas.  Besides, they might tell their friends what a good time they had sorting out the natives, and next season’s crop of Lady Bountifuls will be assured.  “It’s the Circle of Life/And it moves us all.”

I’m not against charity, volunteerism or giving my fellow human beings a helping hand.  I just can’t abide a bunch of people blundering around the world paving the local roads to hell with their good intentions.  The grinding poverty on our planet doesn’t need charity; it needs jobs — local jobs that feed the local economy.  Those people who want to help the downtrodden places in our world need to commit to more than just a vacation full.  They need to bring business with them when they come, open a local volunteer6bank for microloans, or start an export clothing business, a bicycle repair shop, or just a simple bed and breakfast.  Unfortunately, these things take time and commitment, and the positive results need years to take root.  Voluntourists have to get back to their own lives.  They have things to do that don’t include slogging it out in a minor village in Cambodia or Rwanda for five, ten or twenty years.

I don’t care how you slice it: voluntourists are tourists; that’s all they are.  The interesting thing is, since tourism adds a lot of dollars to any local economy, everybody would be a lot better off, if they just acted like it.