Recently, Rose McGowan has come under attack for calling gay men misogynists. The specifics involved LGBT groups’ boycott of the Sultan of Brunei’s hotels due to the mistreatment of gays in his country. In particular, McGowan was upset by LGBT groups agitating for LGBT concerns here, yet ignoring the oppression of women in Brunei. How could they be so selfish?
This goes to an old problem with supposedly philanthropic people or organizations I call the Michael J. Fox problem. As you may be aware, Michael J. Fox is one of the world’s leading philanthropists when it comes to Parkinson’s Disease. He has his own foundation and can’t make a TV appearance without bringing his condition up. He has raised countless millions to the cause of Parkinson’s, and raised awareness globally.
Yet, not one little bit of this is anything but naked self-interest. Absolutely none of this is philanthropic and, in my opinion, not one dime of his personal contributions should be tax-deductible. Because, you see, the only reason why he is doing any of this is because he personally has Parkinson’s and he wants a cure. And, we can reasonably assume, he would be first in line for a cure if one ever came about.
But this requires bolding: self-interest is not bad. Otherwise, we would all be villains. Almost every action, almost every dollar spent by any plebian like you or me is in the service of self-interest, or in the interests of our immediate family, as opposed to humanity at large. We go to work to get paid. We buy food for ourselves so we don’t go hungry. We spend money on entertainment to amuse ourselves. We study to enrich ourselves and make ourselves better prospects for employers. All of this is in the service of self-interest and is not “good” in the way we normally understand it. On the other hand, it is not “evil” in terms of wanting to reach out and hurt others, either. It’s just neutral.
And that word — neutral — applies to what Fox is doing with his philanthropy. He wants his Parkinson’s cured just as you or I would if we had the condition, and his level of money and fame. Fox would not have cared one jot about the disease if he didn’t have it, and would never have donated a dime. Or if he did, perhaps a couple hundred or something in response to a pledge drive, but certainly nothing on the scale as his own foundation that has claimed to have funneled over $400 million to research so far. Similarly, Christopher Reeves only started caring about spinal injury after he became a quadriplegic. You can’t fault them for suddenly caring more about a disease after they came down with it — but you can’t really call them heroes, either.
And so we have with LGBT people caring about LGBT interests, and straight women like McGowan only caring about women’s interests. That doesn’t exactly make them paragons of virtue, does it?
So it’s pretty annoying when one of them like McGowan goes on her moral high horse to accuse gay men of the exact same thing she herself is guilty of — self-interest. Her charge can be turned right back around: Why wasn’t she caring about LGBT interests? Because she isn’t gay, yes?
You want to see some real philanthropists? Why not start with Doctors Without Borders. Most do not have direct ties to the third-world countries they serve. They generally do not have a profit motive. It really is selfless behavior. It doesn’t mean these doctors and nurses are without fault, of course. But it does mean that St. Peter might put them up a bit higher on the Pearly Gates guest list than people who only care about causes that they are already directly affected by.
So, yes Ms. McGowan, I’m sure you’ve run into a lot of self-interested gay men in your life. But how are you any different?