Bill Gates and Altruism

by | Oct 27, 1999

Altruism survives, in part, on its undeserved reputation as a “kind, benevolent” morality. Those who believe this would be surprised at the critical response to Bill Gates’ latest charitable offering, a $1 billion scholarship fund. It is a model of politically-correct altruism, targeting the underprivileged children of black, Hispanic, and American Indian minorities. Gates is […]

Altruism survives, in part, on its undeserved reputation as a “kind, benevolent” morality. Those who believe this would be surprised at the critical response to Bill Gates’ latest charitable offering, a $1 billion scholarship fund. It is a model of politically-correct altruism, targeting the underprivileged children of black, Hispanic, and American Indian minorities. Gates is now one of the leading altruists of all times, with $17 billion in his foundation, yet he remains a pariah in the culture, despite his pursuit of the culture’s leading values.

Within days of the announcement, the New York Times ran a half-page article containing suggestions of what he should do with his money. Written by the heads of various charity organizations, many (unsurprisingly) encouraged larger contributions to their own charities. The most vicious contribution, written by Geoffrey Canada, president of the Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families, actually blamed Gates’ technological revolution for making “it harder to give poor children a level playing field. Other critics have condemned the Gates for focusing on racial minorities, and not all the underprivileged. Still others protest that he does not give away more of his wealth.

Charity, it seems, is not for the charitable.

This reveals the psychological essence of altruism. Obedience, not kindness, is what drives altruism’s generals. This has been true throughout history, and it is inevitable given the nature of altruism. If a morality decrees that you are a slave fit only to sacrifice for others, then there must be someone who serves as master to collect such sacrifices.

Slavemasters live on obedience, not benevolence or kindness. Note that the leading advocates of altruism, Christianity and Immanuel Kant, issue their moral codes as Commandments and Categorical Imperatives. Mr. Gates may follow those orders, but when he does, he will find those orders have changed. For the pre-eminent practitioners of this altruist-slave morality, such as NAZI concentration camp guards, orders are to be obeyed for their own sake, not any higher, “nobler” purpose.

If Mr. Gates wonders at the unjust response, he should investigate more carefully the nature of the morality he has embraced.

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Andrew Lewis is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

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