I recently added some advertising for a few charities to this site. One of the charities is the Grameen Foundation, a microlending institution. I have a BA in International Studies, and much of what I did to earn that degree was learning about various save-the-world plans and their pros and cons. After four years, I pretty much knew why the world would never be saved, because pretty much every save-the-world plan has some major problems. Except the Grameen Bank.

The Grameen Bank gives small amounts of money to people in developing regions, which they then invest in what they need to sustain themselves, and pay back the money. Just like any loan, not everyone pays back the money, but it's not a lot of money, so no big deal. And those who do pay back the money gain both capital and experience helping themselves, which is ultimately much more valuable. It's generally an excellent program, and you can contribute to it via the Grameen Foundation.

Today Seth Godin pointed to Kiva, which does the same kind of micro-lending as the Grameen Bank, only without the bank. Rather than give your money to the Grammen Foundation, you give it directly to the people who need it. I have mixed feelings about this.

At first glance, it appears this direct connection primarily benefits donors, who get to know exactly where the money is going. I also imagine this system requires more overhead than Grameen. But it's also more transparent, which is something all non-profits should strive for. And even if it does primarily benefit donors, that should bring in more donors and ultimately benefit recipients. I think I'll give Kiva a little more time to establish a history before giving it my coveted banner ad endorsement, but it's nice to see new activity in microlending.

 

At first I didn't like the results Google recently started inserting for searches I maybe should have made instead of what I actually searched for. I'm pretty smart, you see, and I don't need to be bothered by Google treating me like a fool, assuming I don't know what I'm looking for.

And that was basically my thinking up until I searched for something unfamiliar and wasn't entirely clear what I was looking for, and Google gave me some results for what I would have been searching for if I knew what I was doing. At that point I found the functionality very useful.

 

My profile identifies me as existentialist, and I've discovered over the years that this means many different things to many different people. Yesterday I was thinking about criticisms I've read of the Red Cross and about how such criticisms might give some cause to not donate blood. Personally, I don't donate blood because I was told not to. But I was thinking about people who have no reason not to give other than perceived problems with the Red Cross, and about how such people are very unlikely to give anywhere other than the Red Cross, and about how I make similarly cynical choices of inaction.

As I was thinking about this, I think I came up with a pretty good summary of what I mean when I call myself existentialist: All choices in life should be made between (at least) two courses of action. One should never choose between action and inaction because inaction is just too tempting, and almost always the wrong choice.

There are exceptions, I'm sure, and some rare people may have enough discipline to consider them. But just like we don't offer children the option of cotton candy for dinner, I think we shouldn't offer ourselves the option of doing nothing. We exist, so we should do something.

Indeed we can't help it, as even doing nothing is an action, and that choice makes up who we are like any other. But now I'm straying away from my simple summary. What I mean to say is, we are what we do and if we don't do anything, we aren't. No, that's not quite right ... it's really hard to talk about existentialism without sounding like Strong Sad. Well, I tried anyway, and I guess that's the point.