Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2017/ Who Does Charity Serve?

Who Does Charity Serve?

I have many disagreements with effective altruists, but maybe we have some common ground. When I make a donation to some cause (effective or not) I invariably get some lavish praise in return.

All of charity (even effective altruism) works this way. We give time or money or effort and in return we get our egos stroked. This is true even when our contributions are piddly or actively unhelpful. If I volunteer at a garden and accidentally step in the beds, I will usually still get praised for coming out. If I give some trashy item to the thrift store that will never be sold, I will still be thanked for my generous contribution.

It is easy to see why this is the case. As soon as we make a contribution to a nonprofit, we identify ourselves as suckers (or in con-man speak, "marks"). By stroking our egos and making us feel good about ourselves, these charities want us to feel good about ourselves and feel good about the cause in question so that we are more inclined to give when they inevitably hit us up for further donations.

Is there a problem with this? Yes. Yes there is. Both worthwhile and non-worthwhile charities will stroke our egos, so we never get a good sense of whether the causes we support actually get anything done. (This is the effective altruism argument.) Even when our contributions are counterproductive we are praised for them.

Furthermore, charities spend so much time and energy chasing donations that they are inclined to neglect the people they are supposed to serve. Once again, those who have power and money come out on top, and those who are in need get whatever's left.

Humans are status monkeys. It is very likely true that status alone confers all kinds of benefits on those who possess it. If we spent as much time lavishing praise and status on the "needy" whom we are supposedly trying to help as we did to those who fund our endeavors, we might be much further ahead than we are now.