Feeling Good vs Doing Good


It seems these days I’m often pissing off friends and family for suggesting something that, frankly, is pretty obvious.     Most of what passes as “doing good” these days are activities that make the feel-gooders feel good about themselves, their community, and life in general (that’s fine of course), but don’t do much to make the world a better place.    It’s fine to engage in things that you enjoy that do not contribute to the greater good, but it is very important to recognize the difference, and not to conflate feel-good stuff with actual do-good stuff.

Real good comes in many forms, and thank goodness their are a LOT of people doing real good all around us.  Friends and neighbors working and volunteering in health care, teaching, law enforcement, and hundreds of other public service jobs,  NGOs  building schools all over,  Church groups teaching, etc, etc.    Many of the folks doing that stuff are heroic, braving all kinds of bad conditions to bring health care, education, food, and good will to those who need it most.

But without even pointing out those obvious ‘feel good’ activities I’m going to hope we make better progress than we seem to be *re-defining* what it means to “do good”.

Those of us in the middle and up classes here in the USA enjoy historically unprecedented standards of living, and even those on welfare here in the USA live well by any reasonable global standards.    Bringing this higher *standard of living* to the small numbers in the US and the huge numbers in other countries who do not benefit from our system is the greatest moral challenge of our time, yet I can’t help but think that the many “feel gooders” (and even worse – the political spenders on both sides of the political aisle) are distracting us and redirecting resources very inefficiently to projects that will have little significant positive impact.

As always, hoping folks chime in with their views about this, and for what it’s worse I’d agree that blogging is probably NOT an example of doing much if any good!     Maybe I’m my own best example of the problem?

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About JoeDuck

Internet Travel Guy, Father of 2, small town Oregon life. BS Botany from UW Madison Wisconsin, MS Social Sciences from Southern Oregon. Top interests outside of my family's well being are: Internet Technology, Online Travel, Globalization, China, Table Tennis, Real Estate, The Singularity.
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5 Responses to Feeling Good vs Doing Good

  1. kathy holden says:

    JoeDuck, Could you please give 5 examples of “feel gooders”‘
    activities which you put into this category (that which do not DO GOOD, but which only make the “feel gooders” FEEL GOOD? It is difficult to discuss this without you giving any examples of what you’re talking about.

  2. JoeDuck says:

    Hey, thanks for checking in! You sound familiar – hey, do you by any chance know my wife?

    Fair question but … it’ll tick people off (as usual!)

    1. Most Global Warming Activism

    2. Most Tea Party Activism

    3. The “buy local” movements that usually (to me) simply replace mass production efficiency with very labor and energy intensive alternatives. e.g. making your own salt, small plot farming, organics in general.

    4. Big ticket, one person charities that help a single person with large donations rather than looking at the spectacular return on Charity money and time invested when you give to health and education *infrastructure* rather than help ONE person with a massive need.

    5. And the winner in the “you gotta be kidding to call this a good deed?!” giving category are donations to elite US Universities and US Hospitals, which I’d argue strongly are massively inefficient mechanisms for spreading good since the costs are so high and they have huge endowments already.
    You can *build* a health clinic in other parts of the world for less than what you’d pay to remodel a hospital room in the USA. How can anybody consider this a worthwhile use of charity funding unless they don’t do any math?

  3. horatiox says:

    Real good comes in many forms, and thank goodness their are a LOT of people doing real good all around us.

    And to do Good, one must know what Goodness consists in, or how else can one be sure that one’s presumed Good act really brings about something chockful of Goodness itself? :\

    Serio, I sort of agree, Sir Duck, tho’ I think some organic, homegrown activities–such as growing your own vegetables, ethanol stills, homebrew, homegrown, recycling, slaughtering chicken or goats if need be–are not wholly bad (thus partly… Good), at least for those who have the time.

    • JoeDuck says:

      Horatiox – yes it is kind of presumptuous of me to think I can tell which “good things” are “worthier” than others, but I think almost all of us would agree that building a shelter for homeless children is worthier than funding luxury dog clothes for strays – even though both are a form of “charity”. I’d argue quite strongly that we pour incredible resources into the second category without regard to the relative returns on investment. I think this is a natural thing but not an optimal condition. Our brains are designed to focus fairly intently and selfishly on certain activities as an adaptive device (tracking down dinner, building shelter, socializing with the tribe, etc, etc.)
      However, when we try to address broader needs of society as a whole this approach is tragically inappropriate, so we squander big money solving little problems while big problems persist.

      Totally agree that veggie farming and homebrewing are fun and worthy projects. My beef is that they are *usually* more expensive and less efficient than the mass production alternatives. e.g. I’ve *never* heard anybody bother to review the energy costs of driving to their favorite organic produce market vs shopping at the nearer big box store. They have every right to shop however they choose, but it’s probably foolish to think you can drive extra miles and then have a *lower* impact on the environment compared to the amazingly efficient system of trucking fruits and vegetables from CA and Mexico to the local grocery store.

  4. horatiox says:

    Of course you can do good, or try to, the…New Worlds way: by babbling incoherently (like this moron, Byronia) about what one takes to be the correct political course of action. Really the liberal (or pseudo-liberal) do-gooder may be just as confused as the Tea Party do-gooder—tho’ I think that happened with the rise of the d-Kos sort of hysteria cases, and reliance on pathos. “Old school” Harry Truman Demos did not engage in the endless pathos.

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