Notes from Chris Tiffin and Helen Gilbert, ‘Introduction: What's Wrong with Benevolence?

’ in Helen Gilbert and Chris Tiffin (eds), Burden or Benefit? Imperial Benevolence and Its Legacies (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2008)
p. 1 It bespeaks goodwill, but it also speaks inequality; it involves the willingness and power to give, but it also involves demands and obligations that are sometimes complicated and unwelcome. "Benevolence," like "peace" or "freedom," is a quality that seems axiomatically positive and unexceptionable. To wish for the well-being of others, to desire their happiness, is manifestly preferable to its antithesis.

the relationship between benevolence and self-interest. a suspicion about self-interest has lingered, and genuine benevolence has been thought to exclude donor gain, to overlap with, if not be identical to, altruism. Benevolence thus has some inherent ambivalence as a concept, but the real problems emerge only when we look at its practical implementation. The practice of benevolence is all-important, for we know benevolence not directly but by its consequences. Benevolence is essentially a disposition or attitude, but it manifests itself in practical relationships and actions, and it is only through those actions that the "good" of the benevolent attitude can be assessed.6 Often when we speak of "benevolence" we are actually discussing "beneficence"—not willing well, but doing well. The major complexity comes with the consideration of the recipient of the benevolent action. It is useful, as David H. Smith has done, to consider benevolence within the economy of the gift.7 Smith notes three levels of exchange, one a clear market transaction in which a good or service is offered in exchange for another (or a pecuniary sum), a second in which a gift is offered in expectation of a reciprocal offering within the social structure at some time in the future, and a third in which a gift is offered with no expectation that any reciprocal offering of any sort will be made. creating a deliberate imbalance by extravagant giving is a way of claiming or demonstrating one's higher status. Moreover, in a gift-exchange culture, exchanges may be, and often are, nonsimultaneous. One may offer a gift now in expectation of a reciprocal benefit sometime in the future. Religiously motivated giving can be seen as an extension of the exchange system. Formal religious gifting such as Christians tithing or Muslims paying zakat can be understood as involving an exchange in which a proportion of material wealth is sacrificed regularly for the promise of postmortem rewards. In Western societies, public appeals and benefactions constitute a variation of this exchange system. The fact that only a very small percentage of donations are made anonymously suggests that public acknowledgment of donations (and hence enhanced social prestige) is a good that the benefactor receives in return for the donation. (Another interpretation of the desire to gift publicly, however, is that the public acknowledgment itself constitutes a further "donation" because it encourages others to contribute also.)1 0 Just as public giving enhances prestige in some groups, so failure to give can incur censure and loss of prestige

Thus another type of return in a gift exchange is simply that of avoiding a negative result—that is. even purely "altruistic" donations demonstrate forms of reciprocity in that the donor requires (or at least expects) certain behaviors of the recipient.(being branded as miserly). . However. not being stigmatized as an ungenerous member of the group.

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