Charities and Non Profits (That You Should Think Twice Before Donating To)

In this messy and complicated world there are very few things that you can feel unilaterally good or bad about, everything is just a mix of shades of grey. But there are a few things that are universally good, right? Like charity? There couldn’t be anything bad about a charity, could there?

Unfortunately it’s a bit more complicated than that. Precisely because people give so much leeway to someone “doing something for charity” people can use it as a banner for all sorts of stuff, not all of it good.

For instance:

Kony 2012

This March, in the space of a couple of days, everybody’s Facebook timeline was littered with people telling you to watch a video called Kony 2012. The goal of the video was to get International Criminal Court fugitive and Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony arrested by the end of this year, by raising awareness and “making Kony famous”.

Now, we should emphasise that we are entirely anti-war criminal here, but it wasn’t long before people started to suspect that not everything was hunky dory with the Kony 2012 campaign and not just because it sounded like a presidential campaign, or possibly some sort of Olympic event.

The Problem:

The first problem to arise was that plenty of commentators believed the film, made by the organisation Invisible Children, oversimplified the situation in Uganda. It also missed the fact that Joseph Kony hasn’t actually been in Uganda for over six years.

However, as awareness of the video grew and grew, more people went back into Invisible Children’s history, unearthing more about the organisation and Jason Russell, its creepily photogenic and charismatic leader.

Information started to be unearthed, such as the allegation that Invisible Children spends only a third of their budget actually in Africa, using the rest of the budget to make awesome youtube videos that “raise awareness” in the same way that your friend’s Facebook status “Child abuse is bad! Post this as your status or I’ll think you love child abuse!” is “raising awareness”.

Videos like “A Musical To Believe In” a High School Musical pastiche that includes the lyrics “We’re on a mission to put Uganda deep inside your mind/It needs attention and a dance to make it sparkle and shine” and contains a really strong message that you should join their mailing list.

Which goes down really well on Twitter and in American high schools apparently, but the first time Invisible Children attempted to screen their video in Uganda, for the people they’re trying help, it was met with rage and the throwing of rocks.

The 9/11 Quilt

Aside from being anti-war criminal, being pro-9/11 survivors is one of the most uncontroversial stands you can take, somewhere between “I like puppies” and “I’m ambivalent about peanut butter”.

Noticing this, Kevin Held had a vision. His vision was for a humungous 9/11 memorial quilt the size of 25 football fields. Quite how this would benefit either first responders, survivors or the grieving families and loved ones of those who died on 9/11 was… well a bit hazy at best. Maybe he thought they could all gather under the quilt to keep warm?

It was pretty vague.

The Problem

Oh? You thought that was the problem? That it was a charity to make a giant quilt? Noooooo!

The problem was that somehow Kevin Held persuaded people to donate $713,000 to his cause. Sadly, due to “tough economic times” the quilt was left incomplete. Now, “tough economic times” is the go to excuse in this day and age, and to be fair, times are tough. Not so tough however that Kevin wasn’t able to buy himself a $660,000 house, and then charge the charity £37,000 to rent office space in said house, while drawing a salary of $175,000 while his family drew salaries of $74,000 in total.

I want tough economic times like that.

Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights

Despite the efforts of certain politicians and tabloid papers, we still, on the whole, believe that “human rights” are a good thing. Likewise, I don’t think you’ll find many people who are flying the flag for “psychiatric abuse”. This is one fight where it shouldn’t be hard to pick a side. And indeed, the Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights actually has done some good in the world. They have successfully battled the use of electroshock therapy and have fought and won legislation putting clearer warning labels on medication.

Compared to “The campaign to raise money to make an awareness-raising version of High School Musical” and “I’ll use your money to fail to make a really big blanket” these guys seem like total saints!

The Problem

The thing is, the more you read their material, the more you start to get the impression that the part of “psychiatric abuse” they object to isn’t the “abuse” part. To the point where they’ve argued that the “drugs and conditioning techniques” used by psychiatry directly led to 9/11.

In fact it doesn’t take long to figure out that the CCHR is actually a front for Scientology, the cult/religion/sci-fi-fandom-gone-too-far that would very much like to abolish all psychiatry and replace it with their not-at-all-made-up technique of Dianetics (which my word processor still keeps trying to correct to “Diabetics”). The same people who, on seeing the misery and devastation caused by the Haiti disaster sent “Volunteer Ministers” who would try to heal people by touch.

So, next time you get sent a Facebook link or get stopped by someone with a clipboard in the street explaining how much good your money could do, take the time to perform a cursory Google search first, yeah?

Chris Farnell is a freelance writer who covers charity jobs, business and entertainment.

How Identity Thieves Justify Their Pursuits

Note: This is a summary of research done by Heith Copes and Lynne Vieraitis. I highly recommend reading the full paper at:  Identity Theft: Assessing Offenders’ Strategies and Perceptions of Risk

When you hear about crimes, you might think, “How can the criminal do that?” But did you know? Criminals justify their crimes. When a criminal decides to commit crime, he goes through a psychological process of sanitizing the conscience so that the crime can be accomplished. Offenders mentally rationalize their actions and neutralize the guilt associated with them before deciding to commit crime. And identity thieves are no exception to the rule.

Using linguistic devices to blunt the moral force of the law and to neutralize the guilt of criminal participation, the offenders make themselves believe that their actions are ‘acceptable’ if not ‘right’, thus protecting their self-image from serious damage. You tell us, what can social controls do to check or inhibit deviant motivational patterns in situations like these?

Of the offenders interviewed, nearly sixty-percent (n = 35) articulated at least one technique of neutralization and several (n=14) used multiple techniques. However, all the techniques were not mentioned and some techniques were used more frequently than others. The neutralization techniques used by offenders emerged naturally during conversations with no deliberate attempt made to elicit these responses.

It was found that there are many ways in which offenders justify or excuse their crime. Identity thieves, however, tend to rely on a few. In order of frequency, denial of injury, appeal to higher loyalties, denial of victim, and denial of responsibility are the most common excuses used by identity thieves.

Many identity thieves believe that stealing identities causes no real harm to victims because they think the credit damage can be repaired by the victim with a few calls and there is no direct financial loss in it for them.

Other identity thieves, however, do acknowledge the victims only to label them as large, face-less organizations like banks and corporations that deserve victimization (i.e., denial of the victim).

Likewise, individuals who work within an organization to carry out their crimes sometimes rely on the diffusion of responsibility to excuse themselves. Claiming that they only played a minimal role in the crime, they believe they should not be judged like the others. The evidence these individuals point to to prove that they “didn’t really do anything”? The small amount of money they made.

Noble intents, mostly helping people, is another excuse identity thieves use to make sense of and justify their crimes. Some said they did it for their children while others pointed to the fact they had done it just to help that random stranger they had met at a bus station.

Thus, it appears that neutralization is a technique that does not just initiate people into identity theft; it is also a technique identity thieves use to continue their current line of behavior.

New Insights Into The Psychology Of Gambling

If you think gambling is just for gamblers, think again! Most researchers have been using gambling as an important tool to find out how we take risks, make decisions and how our brain responds to personal gains and losses. And some researchers have even been using it to get deeper insights into the psychology of gambling itself! Here are two recent researches whose results are bound to take you by surprise.

First is the research conducted by Wellesley College psychologist Erik Schlicht and his colleagues which examined how our opponents’ faces influence the way we bet in poker. In the study, Schlicht had taken 14 adult participants who were mostly novices. They were asked to sit down at computers and on the screens could be seen the participant’s two-card starting hand, his computer opponent (any one of 100 digitally animated faces), and two poker chips representing each player’s bets. The participants had to decide whether to give up (fold) or play their hand (call). Giving up would make the participant lose 100 chips while calling would let him win or lose 5000 chips depending on whether he had the winning hand or not.

Different expressions were shown to the player in the game ranging from trustworthy to neutral while the values of his hands were kept equal to ensure that he took decisions based solely on his opponent’s face . And guess which expression was able to fool participants the most? The trustworthy expression! It forced people to take their time, make more mistakes and even fold frequently. So, the lesson to be learned here is that the next time you play poker, appear trustworthy! But, since this study was conducted taking novices, the fact that trustworthy expressions throw-off games cannot be taken as a certainty.

Likewise, another gambling study conducted by Josep Marco-Pallarés has also given some pretty shocking results. In the study, pairs of participants were set up in front of computers (one participant always served as the gambler while the other as a mere spectator) whose screens repeatedly displayed two numbers: 25 and 5. For each right number (among the two) picked by the gambler, he would win Euro cents corresponding to the number while the wrong number made him lose an amount equivalent to the number chosen.

With the help of electrode nets placed on the scalps of both gamblers and spectators, electroencephalography (EEG) were used to measure characteristic brain responses to applied stimuli. The active gamblers were expected to have, and did have, distinct brain responses to successful and unsuccessful wagers but it was the spectators’ responses that the experimenters wanted to study. So, different situations were imposed.

First, both the gambler and spectator lost or gained Euro cents together while the case was the opposite in the second situation (i.e. if the gambler lost, the spectator won and vice versa). And as anticipated, the brain responses of both in the first situation mirrored each other’s while they opposed in the second. However, what was surprising was that even though the spectators did not lose or gain anything in the third situation (despite knowing they would receive the maximum amount of bonus money irrespective of the gambler’s outcome), their brains reacted as though they had lost money too. Though unsure, Marco-Pallarés, suspects that it’s because of the emphatic system in us.

So, the lesson from this study: gambling addicts return to their old ways while watching others play because of the reactivation of the same neural systems that encoded their addiction in the first place and in a broader sense, even when we are mere spectators, our brains act as performers.