Teach a Man to Fish

Recently, I came across two critiques of a common saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

One of those critiques was in the video below (hat tip to James McGrath and Ross McKenzie)

The other was in a post by Vu Le at Nonprofit With Balls that I linked to earlier:

The teach-a-man-to-fish paternalism. This philosophy, so ingrained in our culture, is patronizing and often ineffective, sometimes harmful. It assumes one person is a fount of knowledge while the other is an ignorant, empty vessel to be filled with wisdom. It ignores systems and environmental variables. We can teach someone to fish, but if they have no transportation to get to the pond, or if the pond is polluted, or if better-equipped corporations have been destroying aquaculture through over-fishing, then they’re still screwed while we feel good about ourselves. We see the same dynamics in funding via this belief that nonprofits can be self-sustaining if we just teach them to earn their revenues instead of constantly asking for free fish in the form of grants and donations.

Perhaps I’ll share my own thoughts on this later; there’s a lot that I could say about teach-a-man-to-fish colonialism. For now, I just want to share this video and this quote along with a quick comment.

The idea of teaching a man to fish often ends up looking like this: we who have the fish teaching the people from whom we took the fish how to work the systems that we designed to distribute the fish and ensure that we get to keep most of the fish. That’s deeply problematic. That’s an idea that we need to interrogate.

People I Read: James McGrath

In the early-ish days of blogging, it was normal to have a blogroll: a list of links to other (often more popular) blogs that the author was interested in. The blogroll would sit calmly in the sidebar and let readers browse their way to other blogs and other authors, discovering fresh ideas and insights. Now, nobody maintains a blogroll. The best hope you have of finding someone else is to follow a link in the body of a post or in a comment or in a link dump. Around here, they also show up in link posts that I share fairly frequently.

But the fact is that I kind of miss the blogroll, and I think that it’s worthwhile to share some of the blogs I read and a note one why I read them. So here’s a new series titled People I Read. I’ll try to put up one example every couple of weeks.

This post’s person I read is James McGrath from Exploring Our Matrix.

I’ve been reading Exploring Our Matrix for a long time, which makes sense since James – the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University in Indianapolis – has been writing there since February 2007 (when he started it as a ‘sequel’ to a previous blog). Professionally, he writes on early Christianity, Mandaeanism, and religion and science fiction. While those are all interesting subjects, I read him mostly for his work on mythicism.

Mythicism is the idea – popular in some corners of the internet – that Jesus never existed as a real, actual human being. Mythicists argue that Jesus was originally a mythic figure like Hercules or Perseus who was later imagined as a historical figure. James writes passionately and compellingly against this position. He also does an excellent job of linking to other authors making a similar case. If you’re interested in the case for the historical Jesus, Exploring Our Matrix is a great place to start.

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