In this day and age, what does it mean to be a virtuous person? Despite his ruthless business practices, his cruel treatment of his employees, his association with known pedophiles, and his less-than-gentlemanly propriety with women, Bill Gates had, for a time, the answer. Be a humanitarian. Virtue is not a way to live your life with a relentless focus on reigning in your own personal, selfish desires. Virtue is not treating well the people who are right in front of you: your family, your friends, your employees. No, virtue is a sentiment to do good for the downtrodden. It is doing good for people far away. The farther, the better.
Bill Gates is a symbol of our age. A vicious person in his everyday life who built a stellar reputation with the worldwide establishment by constantly displaying his sentimental humanitarianism. The Gates Foundation, the global headquarters of sentimental humanitarianism, has little interest in philanthropic causes in the United States. Sure, they will throw a little money at a few charter schools in the U.S. to help “poor and minority” students. But their real focus of the Foundation is on the most downtrodden, African farmers and other serfs who need mosquito nets. They have a deep desire to improve healthcare in Burkina Faso. They signal their virtue by “helping” people they do not know.
They are a “nonprofit fighting poverty, disease and inequity around the world.” Their virtue does not come from treating their neighbors with respect, but rather because they have, for more than 20 years, “committed to tackling the greatest inequities in the world.” Their philanthropy is spread out over 130 countries in the world. Why help people near you when you can help people far, far away? Be kind to your wife who is standing right in front of you? No, that is too hard. Instead, write a check and send it to sub-Saharan Africa. In our time, the true understanding of virtue is gone; all that remains is the ersatz virtue of the sentimental humanitarian.