Aug 112015

My July 29th Forbes column is available: “Genuine Charity Requires Freedom“.

I discuss the case of the amazingly generous man James Harrison, whose voluntary charity has helped save the lives of 2 million Australian babies. In Harrison’s case, he literally gave of himself to help others in the form of over 1,100 voluntary blood donations.

I then discuss the nature of charity, why it requires freedom, and how compulsory “giving” destroy the morality of charity.

For more details, read the full text of “Genuine Charity Requires Freedom“.


The Illusion of Karma

 Posted by on 16 October 2013 at 10:00 am  Benevolence, Charity, Ethics, Metaphysics
Oct 162013

Many people imagine that the universe doles out good fortune or bad fortune to people via some mysterious and even mystical process. The truth is far simpler. Much of the time, people create their own future circumstances — for better or worse — via their own choices, including choices to associate with some people rather than others.

Often, people receive what they give to others — magnified — if their benevolence is well-placed. Yet it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to know precisely where to invest your generosity in advance. Many promising people turn out to be disappointments in the end, while gems are found in unexpected corners. Casting a wide net via small acts of generosity can be an effective and rewarding way to find those hidden gems.

This moving short video shows that phenomena in action:

Help Miranda Barzey Become a Costume Designer!

 Posted by on 10 June 2013 at 10:00 am  Career, Charity
Jun 102013

Y’all might remember my interview with Miranda Barzey last June on “Why Style Matters.” If you enjoyed that — and you’d like to help an ambitious, capable, and awesome young woman in her career ambitions, check out her IndieGoGo campaign: Help Me Become a Costume Designer. She’s raising money for self-directed study, and she’s offering contributors various awesome benefits.

(Paul and I contributed, of course… I don’t ask people to donate money to a cause unless I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.)

In case you’ve not yet heard it, check out last year’s interview with Miranda:

For more details and links and such, check out the episode’s archive page.

Again, you can find details about her plans and contribute to her IndieGoGo campaign here: Help Me Become a Costume Designer. It has just a few days left… so don’t delay!

May 082013

NPR recently ran a fascinating story on the origins of social prejudice: What Does Modern Prejudice Look Like? The article discusses a new book — Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (kindle) by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald — on how people tend to render assistance to strangers based on some kind of value-connection, thus inadvertently entrenching social boundaries and biases.

Here’s a story from the article that illustrates the power of such value-connections with strangers:

In the book, Banaji writes that Kaplan once had a terrible kitchen accident. “She was washing a big crystal bowl in her kitchen,” Banaji says. “It slipped and it cut her hand quite severely.” The gash went from Kaplan’s palm to her wrist. She raced over to Yale-New Haven Hospital. Pretty much the first thing she told the ER doctor was that she was a quilter. She was worried about her hand. The doctor reassured her and started to stitch her up. He was doing a perfectly competent job, she says.

But at this moment someone spotted Kaplan. It was a student, who was a volunteer at the hospital. “The student saw her, recognized her, and said, ‘Professor Kaplan, what are you doing here?’ ” Banaji says. The ER doctor froze. He looked at Kaplan. He asked the bleeding young woman if she was a Yale faculty member. Kaplan told him she was. Everything changed in an instant. The hospital tracked down the best-known hand specialist in New England. They brought in a whole team of doctors. They operated for hours and tried to save practically every last nerve.

Banaji says she and Kaplan asked themselves later why the doctor had not called in the specialist right away. “Somehow,” Banaji says, “it must be that the doctor was not moved, did not feel compelled by the quilter story in the same way as he was compelled by a two-word phrase, ‘Yale professor.’”

Kaplan told Banaji that she was able to go back to quilting, but that she still occasionally feels a twinge in the hand. And it made her wonder what might have happened if she hadn’t received the best treatment.

Basically, the authors argue that much prejudice in the modern society is not the product of overt hatred, but rather patterns of favoritism. The article explains:

The insidious thing about favoritism is that it doesn’t feel icky in any way, Banaji says. We feel like a great friend when we give a buddy a foot in the door to a job interview at our workplace. We feel like good parents when we arrange a class trip for our daughter’s class to our place of work. We feel like generous people when we give our neighbors extra tickets to a sports game or a show.

In each case, however, Banaji, Greenwald and DiTomaso might argue, we strengthen existing patterns of advantage and disadvantage because our friends, neighbors and children’s classmates are overwhelmingly likely to share our own racial, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. When we help someone from one of these in-groups, we don’t stop to ask: Whom are we not helping?

Now, I don’t think that such forms of benevolence should be regarded as “biased” or “wrong” in any way. People should exercise their benevolence and charity on causes and people that matter to them! However, I’d add that people should think hard about the importance of their values, as some make a better basis for generosity than others.

The fact that someone lives near your childhood home, for example, doesn’t reveal anything special about that person. That the person is a friend of a friend is more instructive, provided that you choose your friends well. Similarly, if you want to be a decent doctor, you don’t ignore the patient when she tells you that her hand function really matters to her, but then pull out all the stops when you learn that she’s a Yale professor.

That being said, for a person to deliberately aim to help worthy but “underserved” people is not altruism. By doing that, your generosity gets more bang for the buck — and that might easily outweigh any tenuous value-connection. Personally, that’s how I tend to direct my non-activist charitable dollars: I don’t give to causes that everyone posts about on Facebook, but rather to the less-popular cases in which help is desperately needed.

Here’s another example: Many dogs are waiting to be adopted, but large black dogs often languish for months or years longer than others. Personally, I don’t care much about the color of my dog, although I’m passionate about rescue. So why not look for that fabulous large black dog that others have overlooked? That seems like a win-win to me!

Back to the NPR article… the book definitely looks interesting to me, as I want to think more deeply about issues of charity and generosity. (I expect that I’ll disagree with aspects of it, of course.) The book is Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald. It’s available in hardcover or kindle.


As I mentioned on Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio, Joshua Lipana’s cancer has returned, and his power to fight it depends on whether fellow lovers of liberty contribute to his fund for medical expenses.

For those who don’t know Joshua, he’s been a tireless advocate for liberty for many years, and he’s worked as a writer and assistant editor of The Objective Standard for the last few years too. You can check out his TOS articles, and blog posts.

Craig Biddle has more details in this blog post: Joshua Lipana’s Cancer Has Relapsed and He Needs Our Help.

You can directly contribute via this link. Also, Craig says, “If you’d like to donate directly to Joshua’s PayPal account, you can do so by sending money to joshualipana (atsign) yahoo (dot) com. If you’d prefer to mail a check, please make it out to “The Objective Standard,” write “Donation for Joshua” on the memo line, and mail the check to: The Objective Standard, P.O. Box 5274, Glen Allen, VA 23058.” (Because we’ve made sizable contributions, we’ve sent money directly via PayPal. The fees are less that way.)

Also, if you donate more than $25, you’ll get get free cookies shipped to your door! (It’s $30 for paleo cookies!) That’s over at Tough Cookies vs. Cancer, thanks to Brittney and Ashley.

Please, if you value liberty and those that are fighting tirelessly for it, contribute to this fund. If you can’t afford to contribute, please help spread the word about it!


Joshua Lipana is one of the assistant editors for The Objective Standard blog, and a hard-working advocate for reason and free markets.

Unfortunately, he was recently diagnosed at age 20 with cancer (specifically, a T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma).

TOS editor Craig Biddle has spearheaded an online fundraiser to help Joshua and his family cover some of the medical expenses.  Diana and I have already contributed, but we’d like to spread the word.

Craig has a nice update on Joshua’s condition in this August 6, 2012 post, “Help Joshua Lipana Fight Cancer—Update“.  Craig discusses how he met Joshua, highlights some of his many achievements, and tells us a little bit more about his background.

Basically, the treatments seem to be working.  But he needs our help.  Craig notes:

To date we’ve raised $13,642 (that’s $2,000 more than GoFundMe shows because one couple generously made a direct donation of $2,000 to Joshua’s PayPal account). But we still have a long way to go to reach our goal of $25,000.

If you’d like to donate, you can do so through this GoFundMe page.

You can also donate via PayPal to joshualipana (atsign) yahoo (dot) com.

Or if you’d prefer to mail a check, please make it out to “The Objective Standard” and write on the Memo line: “Donation for Joshua”  and send it to:

The Objective Standard P.O. Box 5274 Glen Allen, VA 23058

Thank you for helping out in this good cause for a good man.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha