Even as flames still burned the Notre Dame Cathedral (pictured above before the fire) to the ground, money started flowing in from all over the world to fund rebuilding efforts. This gesture of goodwill and love for a historical building was heart warming…that is until ethical altruism reared its ugly head.
Ethical altruism is an increasingly popular notion that philanthropy should only be conducted in a way that will result in the most effective change. Why give to the homeless person on the street when you could be giving to combat the roots of homelessness? Why donate to a GoFundMe page set up to help someone with medical expenses when you could be funding advocacy groups that advocate for health care reform?
And, in this scenario, why give to rebuild Notre Dame when there are so many more efficient and hile causes to be found?
This philosophy is detrimental to civil society as we know it. America runs on passion driven philanthropy. Even with an ever-increasing government, it is community ed and emotionally motivated efforts from everyday individuals, specifically attached to dollars, that result in the most change.
Americans give to their churches. They give to the needy around them. They give to community efforts. They give to what they’re passionate about. What if all of that changed?
If Americans bought into the ideas that ethical altruism presents, the foundations of civil society would begin to crumble. No longer would the country churches, community theatres, local homeless shelters, and PTA bake sales attract the kind and concerned community members who want to give to things they care about. Instead, only the institutions that can “prove” their efforts on a large scale would be funded.
In addition to its desire to disrupt the everyday generosity of ordinary Americans, ethical altruism is chilling in its emphasis the big picture over the individual. Only major solutions to social problems matter in the grand scheme of things under this paradigm. The homeless person, struggling single mother, members of the little country church are useless in the end.
This is not how civil society was established, and it certainly is not how it should progress in the future. America thrives when communities knit together and individuals open their hands to give to the causes and people that tug at their hearts. They don’t spend hours and hours researching causes – they give to what they’re passionate about, and that results in a far greater buy-in. Asking them to end or reconsider their giving patterns would be disruptive to the very heart of America as we know it.
So leave people who want to donate to the Notre Dame rebuilding fund alone; what matters most is people giving to things they care about, not what is deemed most effective. If it isn’t your money being given, don’t try to criticize its effectiveness.