Yesterday, I was listening to Marion Finucane on the wireless as she interviewed with approval a bloke, a professional comic, who was an active volunteer with Blood Bike East. These chaps - they are mostly chaps - take up some of the slack in the Health Service Executive HSE by delivering blood, blood products, breast-milk and X-rays between hospitals out of office hours. That is on the face of it a worthy and commendable aim and all of Finucane's guests thought it was excellent idea. Except that, if BBE didn't exist, this work would be carried out by taxi-drivers or couriers. That means that there are some taxi-drivers and couriers who are on the dole because there isn't enough work to employ them. People on the dole are more likely to get heart-attacks, depression and a rake of other maladies up to and including suicide. Each of us may do the utilitarian math, like I did on Cryptosporidium, and quite probably come up with different answers.
Now, I'm a teacher (a label I'm getting more comfortable with after more than a year at The Institute) as well as an evolutionary biologist (in which suit I've been pretty comfortable for a long time) and I'm not in it for the money. I work on my teaching all the hours I have available after The Blob; baking bread and flapjacks; bottle-feeding lambs; scything the 3 acre; splitting wood for next winter and getting drunk on cheap red wine. I was joking about the last - it is impossible to get cheap red wine in Ireland. So when I was asked to teach on a course at another institution a while ago, I was willing enough to share my expertise in that way. But I didn't think I should do it for free, because the other place was charging the students whom I was teaching some thousands of €€€ for the education they were providing. Sorry, who was
This has been brought into focus for me because of a report on Metafilter pointing at a quite angry piece-to-camera about the Rise of the Voluntariat. Read it before you volunteer next. The coinage is a deliberate echo of the proletariat of Marx. The labour of both groupiats is exploited by Capital to amass profit for directors and shareholders. Geoff Shullenberger the author has some thoughtful things to say about unpaid externs, the on-line educator Coursera, and volunteer translators. "We should continue to expose the expanding extraction of profit from labor forms premised on “intrinsic rewards.” I love my job, it's great fun. I don't need to be incentivised to do it by (more) money. The Institute is, however, charging students or their parents or the government on behalf of the students a chunk of money to get access to the classes I and others facilitate, so they should, and do, pay me.
When I was in America, I saw a sign on the back of a plumber's pick-up saying "Please don't ask to borrow my tools, they are my living". Helping your neighbours is a great thing, it lifts the spirit even as the barn is being raised. But I'm not so happy to ask my friends-and-relations to do me a favour in a matter of their core business. When one of our trees needs surgery, I am right happy that Chris del Bosque can find time to deal with it; it's absurd to think that he should do the work for free. Next time either of is need to replastic a polytunnel, however, I know we'll be there for each other happy to work all day for dinner and a couple of beers.
Heck, if it was easy I wouldn't be blobbing about it.