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Q: Is money the root of all evil, or is money the answer to all of our problems?

The pile of solicitations in the photo below suggests that money – your money and my money – when pooled together can achieve change for the better, save lives and create a healthier world. Unquestionably, the pleas for money are helping to save the U.S. Postal Service, which is an institution I think is worth saving – so maybe I should stop here. But I won’t, because this is ridiculous.

My Mom's MailAll of this mail arrived at my mother’s house over the course of six months, between the first of the year and my visit in early June. The pile perched on the corner of the box is the unsorted batch of just several days. The sorting on the floor is by organization, and the box is arranged by general category (wildlife, religious, political, etc.). Over the years, Mom has conscientiously opened this sort of mail and given many contributions. This project is aimed at lightening her load and preventing the entire house from looking like this, as the volume of solicitations escalates.

Mailing lists get shared and new groups write all the time. Then, too, as you have surely noticed, sending a check or making an online donation does not stop the flow even for a few months. Quite the opposite – two weeks later you will get a “Thank you and please give more” letter. No doubt many good people, busy and distracted as they are, do send more. I suppose if you can trick or cajole enough people into making 2, 3 or 4 “annual” donations, it’s worth sending out volumes of thick envelopes that will go directly into the recycle bin.

But it seems a waste. Especially in the case of political efforts, there cannot be much gained beyond the appearance of activity and the redirection of money from personal accounts to PACs. Because for every mom like mine who gets requests from progressive-leaning groups, someone else’s mom is getting the same volume of appeals from the opposing groups. In fact, with all the selling of lists between organizations, pretty soon everybody will be getting everything from everyone. So much for target marketing.

(And so much for the paperless society. I actually get snail mail solicitations for Google Ads.)

The point to keep in mind here is that the for-profit businesses that make the envelopes, print the letters, gather and sell the mailing lists, and contrive the little gifts of pads, pens and calendars typically have no preference or loyalty to the causes on either side. Like the corporate media that sells air time for political ads on radio and TV, they will do business with anyone, happily take everyone’s money, and thus they benefit from the problems and conflicts that inspire well-meaning groups to try to get our attention and donations. While companies get richer, individuals get poorer, and the problems persist. Plus, if one group’s problem is another group’s solution, then money is the deciding factor, and the group with the most money/donors wins. Which means we are basically spinning ourselves down the drain in a nonstop competition for feelings and funds, as though everything is a matter of popular opinion and there can be no objective assessment of our problems or concerted approach to resolving them.

This does not bode well for limiting agricultural and industrial pollution, improving worldwide nutrition and health, reducing violence, or protecting and educating children. Can we not agree on these few objectives, stop enabling the conflict-fueled corporate media, and start converting the pile of envelopes into substantive, positive change that benefits all of us? Not everything is open to opinion and interpretation, wishes and beliefs. If that were so, I could jump up into the air and fly away from all of this. But I’m stuck here like the rest of you – mortal, fallible, vulnerable to disease, death, heartache and hunger.

This pile of solicitations is not entirely without merit, and our charitable donations do make a difference to real people with real problems. But in an accumulation such as this we also see the limits and pitfalls of our “not-for-profit” model of selling causes. If words mean anything, then pollution is harmful, violence is deadly, prejudice diminishes opportunity, and ignorance is not a tool for survival… we need to have less of those things.

There, done! How much marketing did that take?

Grandma Sadie told me once, “Money isn’t anything unless you’re doing something with it.” Mom tries to do good with hers, as do these groups of the envelopes, presumably. All I can say is, we’re lucky money doesn’t grow on trees, because at this rate it won’t be long before there aren’t any trees left.

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