The New Clarion

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September 16th, 2009 by Jim May · 8 Comments · Uncategorized

By now, everyone’s heard of the takedown of ACORN by two undercover conservative activists, enough to spur the Senate to vote 83-7 to defund them.

Among those seven votes supporting ACORN was junior New York senator Kirsten Gillebrand:

“While Senator Gillibrand finds the actions of certain ACORN employees to be reprehensible and will ask ACORN leaders for a full investigation and plan to prevent any further abuse, the truth remains that thousands of New York families who are facing foreclosure depend on charitable organizations like ACORN for assistance.”

As always, altruism is the great whitewash, the ultimate shield for evil of any size.  “But they help people!” is the whine of ACORN’s apologists everywhere.  This isn’t new.

The real story here is the wider pattern of which ACORN is merely a small part: how altruism deters and disarms our culture’s moral immune system.

Observe, for example, the mainstream media, who have been pilloried again and again in the conservative blogosphere for ignoring this story.  It’s easy to see this as mere MSM leftward bias, and that undoubtedly exists… but the political aspect is a mere surface manifestation of a much deeper problem: the altruist bias of the entire culture.

It is not only politics which steers most reporters clear of targets like ACORN; as altruists themselves, they are reluctant to sink to such depths of “cynicism” as to question the motives of those who are “just trying to help people”.  Altruism makes even the hardest heads go soft.

As for those few with sufficient integrity to forge ahead, there is the derision and ostracism to be expected from their altruistic colleagues, and from altruistic readers, even should they turn out to be right (let alone if they turn out to be even slightly wrong.)

I have every reason to believe that Charles Gibson of ABC really did have no knowledge of the story; he didn’t dare look, lest he see. Who’s an altruist going to believe — ACORN, or his lying eyes?

Journalists are supposed to be the eyes and ears of a free society; what good are they when they refuse to see or listen?

Many are aghast at the willingness of how comfortable the ACORN workers were with the idea of aiding and abetting the “pimp and prostitute”.  Much has been made of the idea that the workers just went along with it all as if this was something they did every day…  but what I saw was the openness of those who see little or no risk in what they are doing.

Even the fact of ACORN’s demise is problematic; they were only brought down because of their political ideology.  That gave their conservative enemies the “get-out-of-altruism-free card” they needed to dismiss ACORN’s altruistic activity as merely a front to hide their real agenda.

What they certainly do not grasp is that this is the entire point of altruism — to provide moral cover and justification for immorality.  Altruism works very well for this purpose, because that IS it’s purpose.  That’s what it is for.

It is a dead certainty that there are hundreds and thousands of organizations and individuals like ACORN, that mainstream media is equally reluctant to question  — not only Leftist ones, but religious conservative ones too, all of them relying on altruism as a weapon to disarm their victims, and as a shield to deter suspicion.  Even the most cynical of potential investigators will see their resolve weaken, even when in possession of substantial evidence(or even proof) of wrongdoing, when faced with an individual or organization that is well cloaked in the mantle of altruism.

Other ACORN-like groups might take the warning, but few will bother, or need they… in particular the non-partisan ones that lack the political vulnerability.  The gap ACORN leaves behind will be quickly filled by others, now forewarned, while the media continues to not look, and not see.

O’Keefe and Giles have indeed whacked themselves a big altruist mole, but unfortunately that’s all they did.

8 Comments so far ↓

  • Mike N

    “Altruism makes even the hardest heads go soft.”

    It’s amazing how many reporters, editors even some bloggers retract their claws, close their eyes and ears, and give a free pass to anyone who says “It’s not for me but for others I do this”.

  • Mike

    I have a question for the more experienced Objectivists in the room, raised by this post and especially Mike N’s on-point quote “It’s not for me but for others I do this.” This quote is essentially altruism’s game-day jersey.

    Like many who learn from Rand, I have found the literature of Victor Hugo to be phenomenally enjoyable. Les Miserables was an amazing read, and Atlas Shrugged itself clearly seems to bear the fingerprints of Hugo and Les Mis in many respects. However, there is one aspect of the story I could not reconcile. From the Bishop of Digne to Jean Valjean himself, Hugo demonstrates the “goodness” of the good characters by showing how altruistic they are, and how much they abnegate themselves for the benefit of whomever. It is a critical plot point, too, because Valjean attracts the attention of the Thenardiers by appearing to be an easy mark philanthropist. My question is: Am I missing the point somewhere? Or is this an issue where Hugo just plain differs on the epistemology of liberty?

    I’m certainly not one to criticize voluntary charity, but it seems that the Bishop and Valjean saw it as a duty and not a choice. In that light, I don’t understand how it can be lionized.

  • Richard

    Like Christopher Hitchens says, it goes to show you just how much anyone with the title of Preacher can get away with. The reason they’re allowed to get away with so many corrupt activities is thanks to the mask of altruism. Sure they may get some flack for stealing funds or sex scandals but it’s short lived and tempered by a new assurance of their dedication to God’s service (altruism).

  • Galileo Blogs

    Very astute commentary, Jim. There are many ACORNs everywhere. A couple years ago in New York it was revealed that millions of dollars of city grants went to local “charities” who actually used much of their money to help re-elect city officials. Everyone was ultimately given a pass, despite the obvious corruption of the shenanigans. They got a pass because the groups were all altruistic charities. It was apparently sufficient just to have an ostensive charitable purpose. Even if much of your (stolen taxpayers’) money did not go for your stated goal (instead it went towards re-electing your benefactors), the mere existence of an altruistic goal was enough.

    The councilmen probably should have gone to jail for such corruption, along with their recipients. Nothing happened, as far as I know. Altruism is the ultimate “get out of jail free” card.

    Isn’t this the same pass that the entire welfare-state apparatus gets, despite the obvious harm it inflicts even on its own recipients? Despite their obvious failures, government keeps pouring money into public schools, public housing, etc.


    On a separate note, in response to Mike’s comment regarding Les Miserables. It is also one of my top favorite books, but it is not because of the altruist morality of the characters. As for Ayn Rand, she admired Hugo as a writer, but not the altruist morality he subscribed to. He was a superb Romantic writer. His characters had clear motives; his plots dramatized clear themes. The conflicts were clashes of principled characters, and were incredibly exciting. She admired him for accomplishing this as a Romantic writer. She classified her own writing style as Romantic, so you are correct that the writing techniques you see in Les Mis informed Atlas Shrugged and her other novels.

    In sum, Ayn Rand admired Hugo as a writer, but not as a philosopher.

  • C.T.

    I suspect that Gibson was actually perfectly aware of the ACORN story. I base this on one observation: If you listen to the audio of “Don” asking him why the story wasn’t being reported upon, Gibson’s very first response is to laugh. And not just a chuckle, but a loud guffaw. Very awkward and out of place. I have to ask: Why would he burst forth in laughter like that? There was no attempt at humor in the question.

    I think it’s because he knows perfectly well how preposterous it is for him to claim he knows nothing about it, but he did some quick calculus about the matter, and I think he would rather risk the embarrassment of appearing to be completely uninformed than to admit, publicly, that he knew perfectly well of the story but chose not to report on it, thereby betraying whatever credibility he might have. Either way, he looks the idiot, but he didn’t dare admit his bias. Just a theory.

  • Jim May

    C.T. A plausible hypothesis.

    However, an explanation that would fit your take *and* mine, is that Gibson knew that there was something going on with a conservative expose on ACORN, but carefully avoided learning any more details.

    After all, if you’re going to avoid a story, you need to know just enough to recognize it.

  • Chuck

    “I’m certainly not one to criticize voluntary charity, but it seems that the Bishop and Valjean saw it as a duty and not a choice. In that light, I don’t understand how it can be lionized.”

    Mike, Ayn Rand specifically said (if I remember correctly) she wished she had written the scene in which the Bishop tells the police, after they caught Valjean with the stolen candlesticks, that he had given them to him. She admired because the Bishop was acting in perfect accord with his principles, namely altrusim, turning the other cheek, etc.

    As Galileo Blogs said, she admired Hugo’s Romanticism, that his characters acted volitionally, and always had strong value conflicts.

  • EdMcGon

    Great post Jim! I can’t add anything to what you said. Flawless.