It’s that time of year when the clatter of charity boxes fills the air as so many charities compete for our attention. Especially this year, when we can barely afford to feed ourselves, the charities seen especially sharp pricks to the conscience. Just when we were beginning to be comfortable with the idea of cutting back on superfluous expenditure – and that includes for the purposes of this discussion charity donations – than we are accosted by earnest young men called Tristan or Sebastien in floral tabards outside Sainsbury’s, anxious to explain the importance of the charity and why it should be particularly deserving of our support.
In case you ever need to know about providing proper treatment for traumatised donkeys (or it comes up as a question in the pub quiz) PTSD is rife amongst the retired donkey population.
And when questioned by Tristan about the lives of these donkeys, he paints (with the help of a folder filled with pictures of some very glum donkeys). I reach for a fiver in my pocket. He reacts like a Bateman cartoon, affronted that I should do something so vulgar. No, he wants me to sign up to pay a pound a month or whatever it is.
I’m happy to hand over a fiver to assuage my conscience but I balk at making a long-term commitment to Eeyore. Tristan doesn’t give up that easily. He assures me that I can cancel at any time. But then Sky said much the same and it’s taken me nearly a month to rid myself of the last vestiges of them and their satanic satellites. I reassure Tristan that I am interested in supporting these unhappy ungulates but I will need to check out some details first on their website. Apparently they don’t have a website. Peals of alarm bells ring out.
The same day I am approached by the Cats protection league (I didn’t know there was such a thing), a charity aiming to rehouse immigrant families down on their luck, one about rare childhood cancers, and the usual Injured Jockeys Association, Cure Parkinson’s and RNLI.
A total, including the nondigital donkeys, of seven charities in one day. So what do you do? A fiver to each (or at least those who will take your money)? Or should I give more to some than others? Who is the more deserving? And how could you even begin to decide?
Let’s have a go. Bottom of the pile is the Cats protection league. Well, and this should bring down the hate mail like lava from a volcano, I don’t give them a very high ranking. I should probably declare my hand here. I don’t like cats. Never have. Had it been dogs, that would be different. But cats go to the bottom of the pile. For the moment at least.
What comes next? I guess it has to be the donkeys. On the basis that we should probably put human charities above animals. Or should we? I have watched jockeys in action and not been impressed. Whipping animals bred purely for our pleasure as a vehicle for betting doesn’t seem to me to be something I would wish to support. I don’t wish injury on anyone but horses are relatives of donkeys and I feel the need to strike a blow for the donkeys. Sorry jockeys, wrong place at the wrong time. You are now nestling between the cats and the donkeys.
Okay, the next rung on the ladder of misery is probably the RNLI. I think really this harks back to our imperialist yearnings propped up by a long naval tradition. Don’t get me wrong – the RNLI does indeed do a wonderful job for those who need it. But how many actually do? How many people each year are rescued by lifeboats? It’s somewhere in the region of 400 lives (human) each year saved by the lifeboats. And some animals although I don’t have a breakdown for donkeys.
Parkinson’s? I can hardly be expected to answer that one. Yes, Parkinson’s is indeed rubbish. It’s no fun to have. So yes I would like to see a cure. That would prevent more than a thousand deaths each year. But is it more deserving somehow than the 400 saved by the lifeboats. Parkinson’s is, after all (and we can argue over the details as much as we like) still mainly a disease of old age, of people who have had some sort of life at least. I don’t know for a fact but I guess that most of those lives saved by lifeboats are probably younger people, adventurers given a second chance.
You have to factor in quality of life, duration of life saved and the whole bundle of other policy assessments that make for some very heavy mathematics. And if you go down that route, where do you put the rare childhood cancers? Many of those lives are snuffed out so early that it is impossible to assess what they might have become. But there are very few. Should I factor that into my calculations? I just wish I had paid more attention in bioethics class.
Humans and animals? It’s not really possible to answer these questions. Do you distribute your dosh proportionally, giving more to childhood cancer research than unwanted moggies? And what about those website-free donkeys? Or do we ignore distribution and simply give whatever we have in our pockets to whoever appears in front of us?
Don’t ask me. These are questions for God and gods.
In any case, I love cats. But I can never finish a whole one…