Philosophical “do-goodism” is simply hypocrisy


One of the Biblical stories surrounding the birth of Jesus tells about his family being told there was no room for them. The fact that it is added in the Advent tale about the birth of a Messiah raises concerns about whether there was really no room or no room for them.  

Minnesota is infamous for being a place in which when bad things happen or social problems are ignored, no one is the bad guy, everyone has good intentions or, as the leader of a developer company said recently, most are philosophically interested in doing the right thing. But good intentions, it has been said, pave the road to hell.

The Minneapolis City Council passed a new housing policy requiring those developing apartment buildings with 20 or more units to meet certain criteria. They must make for 20 years, 4-8% of their units available to people who make certain amounts below the area median income. Or, if they commit to making 20% of their units affordable for 30 years, they can apply for financial assistance from the City.

The City also allowed developers the option not to build affordable housing units in their new buildings if they create or preserve them nearby, or they can pay a fee or donate land to the City.

Kelly Doran of Doran Cos was quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune responding to the measure. “There’s nobody in the industry that is philosophically against this. There’s nobody that says, ‘We don’t want those people.’ That doesn’t exist. It’s about… money.”

Doran is right; nobody will publicly say they do not want “those” people.

And who are “those” people?  Those people go to work every day, they catch the bus or the train to work, or drive a car that they hope doesn’t break down cause they can’t afford the repairs. They pray that they or their children don’t get sick because they might not be able to afford the co-payments and some simply don’t have insurance because they don’t make enough to afford it, but make too much to take advantage of programs for those with low income.

Those people serve us our food, stock our shelves, make our beds, drive the buses and trains, teach our children, care for our children and fix our cars.

He may also be referring to those people who don’t look like him or don’t share his gender and aren’t making the money they should because of their skin tone or their sex.

Though those people go to work every day, they cannot afford the $1,500 to $1,800 asking price for just a studio in one of the newer developments in downtown, near downtown or uptown Minneapolis. A young hipster making $20 an hour would pay more than half his wages for little more than 577 sq. feet.

But Doran is not catering to those people, he is catering to those who make upward of $60,000 because, as he said, it is about the math—the numbers that add up to big profits. And despite his protestations about not being philosophically opposed, he is opposed in reality and that makes him a hypocrite because he is saying one thing and doing another: the real American way.

Unfortunately, when it comes to doing the right thing or what needs to be done to alleviate human suffering and pain, there is a short supply of will.

And the people affected most by these problems are those people that the rich developers don’t want to take less in profit to house.

The MinnPost wrote an article about the effect of inclusionary zoning and demonstrated that it was a good idea. Yet there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth by the “but we have the right to make large profits at the expense of our fellow man” crowd and the “I worked hard to afford these expensive places why can’t they?!” folks. “Why should society tolerate anyone trying to “maximize their investment” on something as fundamental to human well-being as housing? Why should anyone agree that this is a good thing?

As we enter the holiday season in the Twin Cities and speak philosophically about giving to others while giving to those close to us, a few issues continue to haunt us: homelessness, lack of affordable housing, public safety in transportation, public safety officers acting recklessly and the haunting inability of the Twin Cities to close the gap in disparities between White folks and just about everybody else, but especially Black people. They are all interconnected.

When Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum sought to address the problem of safety on the light rail she told more truth than she likely meant when she wrote, “They are the result of complex factors, including inadequate funding for human services, education, structural inequality.”

She added, “An affordable-housing shortage has led to an increase in homelessness; the opioid epidemic and the burdens of addiction continue to grip countless families, and resources for those suffering from mental illness are stretched.

“These social issues all have contributed to significant human-services challenges for our region.” Unfortunately, our transit system bears a significant impact from these issues.”

She notes that the problems on the green line light rail are at bottom social and economic problems, primarily resulting from social and structural inequality as well as the failure of this society to provide a safety net for human beings who, through no fault of their own, are physically or mentally handicapped, and the spiritually defeated.

Yet McCollum concluded that the issue had to be solved by more law enforcement.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said at an event on homelessness in Minneapolis, “It is completely unacceptable to the governor and to me that anyone is sleeping outside, especially at this time of year.”

Wanting to do the right thing and doing the right thing are not the same, as many seek to celebrate this holiday season that focuses on giving, we should focus on ways in which our society gives to people on a regular what they need to enjoy life to the fullest, along with liberty, and hopefully, the pursuit of a bit of happiness.