TWICE a week, I cycle through my local park. Near the middle is
an old bandstand. Every time I come to it, the old philosophical
conundrum of freewill and determinism pops into my over-stimulated
mind. Will I negotiate the bandstand by going clockwise or
anti-clockwise? My cogitation and calculation is so rapid in my
determination to demonstrate that my will is indeed free that I
have been known to wobble dangerously with indecision, although, to
date, I have not actually fallen off.
This week there was even greater
danger, because I was factoring in a new element, this time more
sociological than theological. What if the determinant factor was
This musing was prompted by a report
from the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) that the over-60s are now
more than twice as likely to give to charity as the under-30s.
Charities are worrying about the growth of a "donation deficit" as
the oldies die off. Half of all charity income now comes from the
The study offered an interesting
potted history of change. It covered four distinct groups: the
Inter-War Generation (born between 1925 and 1945), the Baby Boomers
(1945-66), Generation X (1965-81), and Generation Y (1982-99).
Those born between the wars grew up in
a world in which religion and wartime social solidarity were
dominant cohesive forces. Their children, born into ever-rising
affluence, developed a more individualist vision in which idealism
and altruism went hand in hand with a more self-focused vision of
life. But both religion and socialism, which offered easily
understood ways of talking about our interdependence and
responsibilities, have withered.
Previous CAF surveys have shown that
religious donors give twice as much as those without a faith. And
wealthy people give a smaller percentage of their income to charity
than the less well-off do. As any Christian Aid collector will
confirm, you often raise more money from poorer areas than affluent
The cultural perspectives and
political experiences that shaped Generation X were those of
change. The global energy crisis and recession of 1979 was followed
by the arrival of Margaret Thatcher. After the fall of the Berlin
Wall came economic boom. Greed was good. The self-interest embodied
in the market was announced as the only basis for growth, freedom,
and civilisation. In the "me" generation of the '80s it became
thinkable that there was "no such thing as society".
Generation Y are less maniacal, but,
as the first children to grow up taking modern technology for
granted, they are tech-savvy and gadget-mad. Their insatiable
thirst for the next generation of smartphone, netbook, and
virtual-reality feeds cycles of material dissatisfaction which
commercial pressure seems constantly to ratchet up.
Though they seem confident,
achievement-oriented, and ambitious, they feel a sense of
entitlement which has been thwarted by a dearth of good jobs, by
tuition fees, and by the ever-rising cost of getting on to the
housing ladder - not to mention the high cost of binge
Social togetherness and a sense of the
common good are in decline. Individualism, materialism, and a
rights culture are ascendant. The present Government had a phase of
loudly championing philanthropy, but ministers have stopped talking
about it now, after finding they were spitting in the wind.
Perhaps I am being a grumpy old man.
Maybe young people will reconnect with the notion of altruism and
social solidarity if charities can only find a way of tapping into
them through Twitter and other social media. Perhaps they need to
turn their bikes and start cycling widdershins.