Why do I do the things I do on behalf of others? It is important to take moments of self-reflection weighing one’s personal motivations for a particular endeavor. My own desire for the maximum amount of people, especially those in poverty and Black Americans, to experience freedom and human flourishing on the surface is admirable. I mean who would object?
Benevolent activity to improve the situation of others is certainly celebrated in many parts of the world. Even the most hardened leaders believe what they are accomplishing on behalf of others is benevolent, charitable, and works to achieve some greater good. But upon further reflection the quality of my actions depends upon the outcomes.
George Orwell was challenged by this when he reflected on the actions of those “charitable” persons who announced their activities and vision for the future was for the sake of the poor and downtrodden.
Now Mr. Orwell was a democratic socialist. No one is perfect. As a democratic socialist he supported the necessity of the government to provide certain programs which would produce some degree of equity in society. Now this would require the financial support of citizens who were the producers in society but nonetheless, he advocated government style programs. What he warned against was the forms of government which included totalitarian, fascist, or communist type systems. Sadly we know how those turned out.
So he produced this work titled, “Road to Wigan Pier.” In the second part of Mr. Orwell’s work he wrote a searing critique against socialists who claimed to be on the side of the “other.”
“It may be said, however, that even if the theoretical book-trained Socialist is not a working man himself, at least he is actuated by a love of the working class. He is endeavoring to shed his bourgeois status and fight on the side of the proletariat—that, obviously, must be his motive. But is it? Sometimes I look at a Socialist—the intellectual, tract-writing type of Socialist, with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxian quotation—and wonder what the devil his motive really is. It is often difficult to believe that it is a love of anybody, especially of the working class, from whom he is of all people the furthest removed.
The truth is that, to many people calling themselves Socialists, revolution does not mean a movement of the masses with which they hope to associate themselves; it means a set of reforms which ‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose upon ‘them’, the Lower Orders. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to regard the book-trained Socialist as a bloodless creature entirely incapable of emotion. Though seldom giving much evidence of affection for the exploited, he is perfectly capable of displaying hatred—a sort of queer, theoretical, in vacua hatred—against the exploiters. Hence the grand old Socialist sport of denouncing the bourgeoisie. It is strange how easily almost any Socialist writer can lash himself into frenzies of rage against the class to which, by birth or by adoption, he himself invariably belongs” (Orwell, Road to Wigan Pier, Part II).
What does Mr. George Orwell, the democratic socialist teach me about what is going on today concerning racism, statues, and other things related to the Black experience in America? First, he reminds me to check my motivations. I don’t want to be a book learned theoretician only. I want to be a practitioner which necessitates putting my whole person in the face of others with whom I will have disagreement. This reason to be in the face of those who control the levers of power, craft policy, or are landlords, are the people. I am counted among the “bourgeois.” I have way too much education, leadership experience due to military and nonprofits, and access to persons of influence. Thus to fight on the side of the “people” for sake of freedom requires finding opportunities to identify with these men and women.
Are you doing the same for Black Americans?
The second lesson I take from Mr. Orwell requires a deep dive into the necessity of including the “masses” into reform. Mr. Orwell reflects the “clever ones” will simply unseat one group of people from power so they can assume those seats and exercise power as they see fit. And who suffers? The masses. The men and women who supposedly the “clever ones” were speaking for in the halls of power.
Are you working for reform which includes Black Americans speaking or are you simply pursuing power and prestige because you did something?
The final lesson I take from Mr. Orwell is an emotive lesson. How do I feel in this work and to whom are my emotions directed? I can direct emotions of rage, vitriol, and disgust towards those who are considered the “oppressor.” I can be consumed with “sticking it to the man,” and making sure certain people are not re-elected. In doing so, am I really motivated to secure freedom and human flourishing for others? Or do I keep in front of me the affection, relationships, and experiences of men and women looking for support?
I am stuck on this question and I hope you will wrestle with it yourself.
Why are you doing what you are doing on behalf of others?
Hopefully you are not a socialist.