This post is an investigation of a perplexing case concerning how a young person and I can work together as well as an invitation to a young person who would like to. If the following scenario applies to you and you’d like to get in touch with me, you can do so through the Contact Form of my main website.
I begin first by setting up the puzzle.
The Puzzle of Proper Generosity
It’s not uncommon for me to speak with a young person who would like to have some philosophical conversations with me but who would not be able to offer much, if anything, in order to meet my material needs. He would like to be more generous if he were so able, yet as things stand being properly generous would prove to be a financial burden for him. Indeed, were he to offer more than he should, it could soon be impossible for him to care for what matters most, to care properly for himself.
Now, proper generosity requires that each see to the other without putting one in another’s (bad) debt. In the scenario above, however, proper generosity is held to be desirable yet appears to be impossible. Either something will have to give, or something novel will have to be introduced.
In what follows, I want to consider the introduction of A Third. What further could be introduced in order to bring about proper generosity?
Let us specify first. This young person (let’s say) would like to speak with me once every two weeks for a season (3 or 4 months). Let us also say that we are both committed to an immanent aim: namely, putting him or her on the path to transforming his or her life.
How would it be possible for this person to speak with me 6-8 times in order to set forth on that path?
One could look to crowdfunding. Here, two immediate problems arise. The first is that the ‘genre’ of crowdfunding is the project, not the project of self-cultivation. Crowdfunding is about getting something or other done, not about caring for the state of the self.
Secondly, crowdfunding builds into its design the free-rider problem: most will look on, some would be willing to use whatever the project intends to complete, but few will actually chip in. This is to say that most won’t care or care enough that this thing (or person) come into being. Better: most won’t care so much that they would feel impelled to help make it possible for this thing to come into being.
Rule out crowdfunding, then. Another approach would be to find a patron who cares about the project of self-cultivation. The objection, though, is clear: although this patron may care about the project of self-cultivation, he may not care that this person be so transformed. Who is this person to him? the skeptic might ask.
The inadequacies of the first two approaches enjoin us to think more about how we could specify more narrowly what sort of funding model we are after. We can say at least two things:
First, that whoever is to support this young person (call this ‘whoever is to support’ The Third) must not only know him and care about him but also care that he be so transformed.
Second, that The Third must also not feel that supporting this young person’s project of self-cultivation for 3-4 months would be onerous.
A Couple of Clues
1. The reconsideration of the concept of collateral in microfinance provides one clue. Someone who wishes to start a business but who has no collateral may get assistance from a group of community members who would serve as guarantors.
2. Rites of Passage: When someone is going on a journey, he may be paired up with an elder who may (while in the background) hold him to account.
The Answer: Three Small Patrons
The answer to the puzzle lies in the young person’s seeking out and securing (say) three small patrons who already know him, care about him, and care that he transform himself into a more excellent human being. Each patron would provide a small contribution that altogether would count as ‘proper generosity.’ No patron would find himself burdened not least because generosity would be ‘spread over’ the three. (We are imagining a number between The One (the single patron) and the Demos (the crowd).)
To each patron, the young person would have to ‘render an account’ at the end of each month in order to show that he or she is on the path to becoming a more excellent human being. During our philosophical conversations, the young person and I would go through directed inquiries to ensure that the questions continue to lead to answers he is living by. That is, we would have a clearly laid-out path.
At the end of the 3 or 4 months, the young person would have to show that his practice of living can ‘manifest’ itself in some artistic way. That is, he would have to provide evidence (a self-portrait? a spoken word performance? a night of hosting friends?) that demonstrates that he is transforming his vision of the world.
The Invitation Re-Issued
If you fit this profile and wish to get in touch with me about ‘3 months, 3 small patrons, 1 life transformed,’ you can write to me on my Contact Form.