Thursday, August 19, 2010
The title is my translation into Latin of the sentence: Thus passes the prestige of the givers. If you see signs of rust, feel welcome to correct me or offer a better translation.
Although I expected to see something like this sooner or later, based on the influence of the abject altruism of Immanuel Kant in our culture, I am still amazed at how quickly and thoroughly Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have been tarred and feathered in the aftermath of their drive to raise $600 billion for charity from the world's wealthiest, which they call the "Giving Pledge."
The first bile spilled, predictably, from Germany. But now, the American website Slate has published a three-pager loaded with insults for Gates and Buffett, along with a suggested remedy for their not emptying their pockets out fast or thoroughly enough for the satisfaction of one Ron Rosenbaum.
[T]o make the "Giving Pledge" more than a vague promise to do good, billionaires should be asked to put an audited 50 percent of their net worth on the table for charitable use now, when it can make a difference to people starving today, not later, after they've worked up a heart attack from their third wife on their fourth yacht. Look at how the Forbes list changes, how many billionaires lose their fortunes and drop off it from year to year. Gates and Buffett are right to use the Forbes list as a symbolic target, but let's get these big-talking "givers" to give now, when they've still got it.This screed also approvingly (and with great gall) quotes Honoré de Balzac on wealth -- "Behind every great fortune there lies a great crime." (!) It ends with a "friendly" threat to vandalize the yachts of any who don't comply with his -- Rosenbaum's -- plans for their property. But I guess preemptively calling potential philanthropists hypocrites, equating achievement with crime, and making mealy-mouthed threats are all okay because Rosembaum "cares."
A commenter here yesterday raised an excellent point about those who permit others to bully them through a desire for approval:
Most people can remember some kid in high school who was visibly desperate to fit in with and be regarded as being part of the allegedly cool, trendy set - and the harder he tried the more pathetic he looked to everybody, most especially those whose approval he was trying to win over.The moral currency of altruism is exactly nothing except such prestige. To the degree Gates and Buffett buy into it, they richly deserve such treatment. Otherwise, they should proudly stand up and say something to the effect of, "It's my own damned money, and I'll donate it or not as I please."
In the world, there are genuinely benevolent people, and there are doormats. The former will stand up for themselves in the face of those who would take advantage of them. The latter will announce their hunger for prestige and invite the filthy feet of Rosenbaum and his ilk, and they will happily run roughshod all over them.