Infective Maltruism


Is charity still charity when it is performed for uncharitable reasons?

Looking beyond the “aw, neat, what a great person” façade of “effective altruism,” (see here, with a grain of salt… ) one clearly finds a level of narcissistic cynicism and a will to the permanent power that financial immortality affords that is only matched by the level of the funds being dispersed.

The gifts offered by today’s billionaires – the Silicon Valley crowd, – all sound great(ish), but to discount the obvious underlying reason is to fail to grasp the insidious nature of their beneficence.

In the past, the rich tended to fund things – museums, schools, libraries, parks – when they gave their money away. These things were meant to accomplish two goals – keep the name alive so future generations would “look them up” and to generally uplift society. The masses were given museums not as a monolithic lump but as discrete individuals who could choose – except for fourth-graders on field trips - to take advantage of them or not.

In other words, the edifices to their greatness left by the plutocrat past were generally made of stone and could be loved or ignored as people saw fit. You could go to Vanderbilt or not, wander into the Frick or not, and on and on.

Today, the emphasis is on the funding of causes and organizations that promote your personal worldview. Remember – if a cause you support ever does anything you don’t care for, you can simply turn off the money spigot and that’s it for them. You can’t simply take a library back and move in if they happen to carry a book you don’t like.

What the majority of Gilded Age – which we are seeing a modern version of now - giving involved, again, was stuff. Of course the wives of nabobs set up settlement houses and worked to directly improve – they believed - the lives of the poor, but the notoriety such efforts gained was simply not on the same scale.

The current fad of the financially fabulous is Effective Altruism, which essentially involves promising to give your money while you are still alive to causes and organizations that “do good,” while simultaneously tethering them to your whims through financial dependence. A very specific example of this is the massive money going to barely-surviving but purportedly legit media organizations (or you can just buy the Washington Post.) You get good press when you own it.

This is the key to the difference between now and then: now, the donor is working to ordain permanent social and governmental changes they desire, that serves their purpose through overpowering amounts of money.

Giving in this manner must, by definition, come with viewing the public in a very distinct manner. The “walk on by” option of the library is obliterated by a vapor trail of zeroes making their way into institutions that plan to be around forever, controlling the global levers of power, controlling you.

This view necessitates seeing the masses as a monolithic block that can be manipulated and controlled through your on-going "good works" well after you have shuffled off this mortal coil (the idea tracks very closely with the Silicon Valley obsession with actual physical immortality - )

Just as the Ford and Rockefeller foundations eventually morphed into, this new form of giving involves the creation of perpetual motion machines to shovel funds not to where it is actually most needed – say, poor people, for example, but to “social economy spaces “ populated by upper-middle class do-gooders who get to live comfortably and think very highly of themselves because they work for a non-profit.

This in turn perpetuates the “lives” of the donor by being able to forever control politics and policies and culture. This also becomes a form of eternal nepotism, as it has the side benefit of really really helping their individual descendants keep at the center of power and finance (the “Smith Initiative” will always hire a Smith, will always have a Smith on its board.)

A key aspect of this “maltruism” its ability to extend control through soft-sounding enterprises – how can something with “open” and “democracy” and “save” in its name – and be a “non-partisan - non-profit” entity to boot - be anything but good?

Read the rest of this piece at The Point.

Thomas Buckley is the former Mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at You can read more of his work at

Image: courtesy The Point.