Why are causes called causes?

Challenging the language of the third sector

In an era of austerity, and of multiple crises around the globe, more than ever we hear cries of ‘they’re doing it for the cause!’ This usually evokes imagery of some form of activism or a charitable endeavour – but what is ‘the cause’.

There are numerous causes that people fight for these days, what with governments squeezing the purse strings tighter and tighter; there are a multitude of ‘things’ that require recruitment of those willing to do something for free, in their own time. The ‘causes’ these admirable altruists are volunteering for, or donating to, are only causes as much as the trend is cause for concern.

They are not causes, they are the effects of a defunct government and a disillusioned society. If you are ‘doing it for the cause’ you are usually doing something that is due to the absolute error of another person, corporation, or elected official. Those people are the cause, your resultant activity is most definitely the effect – an effect desired and required by mainstream society which is suffering due to said entity making that mistake, and an effect that entity may even be grateful of, as it can often reduce the spotlight on the problem. When governments call for a rise in charitable giving, we must take that as a sign they are about to cause greater strife for the most vulnerable in society, and nip it in the bud before the symptoms arise.

Charities, non-governmental organisations, or not for profit organisations only exist to fill the gaps where the government and society fail the most vulnerable. They plug the gaps in policy, and in public empathy. Therefore the government and society should be outraged with the proliferation of the need for charitable organisations and their ‘causes’, when instead we see the rise in championing of such initiatives. The cause should be about getting those with the power, and the money, to take responsibility and ownership of their failures, not about getting on with it ourselves. Causes are symptoms, and so we must stop calling them causes, to make sure the blame lies in the right place, and that resultantly the correct action can be taken.

To think of it in crime speak, the government are the perpetrators, and those recipients of charities the victims. Now in the world of crime, it is strongly accepted that the best way forward is to implement preventative measures to stop victims becoming victims in the first place. In this context, this analysis translates into holding our government to account through direct action and activism to make them prevent the need for charitable organisations and their volunteers. Instead of preventing the need for charities through implementing socially (rather than economically) conscious policy, it too throws money at ‘the cause’ to be shown to be doing something. But it isn’t good enough.

The language around the third sector has always been different for those in it, and those whose failings facilitate its existence. Governments speak of ‘value added’, whilst we speak of our values. They speak of ‘investment’ whilst we speak of ‘donating’. They talk about ‘social capital’ whilst we talk about ‘humanity’. It is well known that language affects attitudes and behaviours, and nowhere is this more potentially dangerous than in the third sector – where life and death is an everyday reality. Another tricky term for the sector is ‘impact’. In a business sense this must be measurable quantifiably but in reality such measures are completely defunct when dealing with the intricacies of human life and experience. This then effects funding, but that is another issue for another article.

Activists, volunteers, clicktivists, and donators with belief in ‘the cause’ are in fact the enablers of change. In ‘doing it themselves’ they can draw attention to the oversights and ignorance of the elite class which in turn can start to have a negative effect on the reputation of those most closely involved. This inspiring group of altruists are seeing the symptoms, and trying to ease the pain of them, whilst hoping the cure will be found from the route cause – those in power.

Apparently it was world humanitarian day on 19th August but in reality that day is every day. Every single day, vast, unknown, immeasurable quantities of people devote their spare time and energy into dealing with these symptoms of a broken system and a broken political society. We must alter our language accordingly, and acknowledge they are working for the symptoms, not the cause.