Christopher Neitzert
4 min readMar 17, 2024

The Alchemy of Morality: Modern-Day Indulgences

ChatGPT's illustration of this opinion peice

In the swirling nebulous electric fog of our flesh and digital existence, at the place where data is worshipped like a modern deity and the future is a commodity traded as fiercely as bitcoin and rare earth metals, Effective Altruism (EA) emerges as a peculiar creature. It's cloaked in the guise of rationality and scientific precision, offering a path of secular redemption in its own techno utopian future. Yet, peering through the lens of history, it's hard not to see a shadow of the Dark Ages, with its priests’ selling salvation to the highest bidder and best lackey.

Just as the Dark Ages birthed the indulgence market, a spiritual Ponzi scheme on a scale greater than NFT, today's EA movement echoes this in the heart of Silicon Valley. The wealthy are now offered a chance to buy moral superiority, turning altruism into another line item for tax deductions made to charities they themselves operate. It's a slick transformation, converting the ethereal essence of human kindness into a quantifiable, tax deductible, and highly marketable commodity; the claim of moral superiority.

The New Clergy of Data, in times past, the clergy dictated truths. Now, the class affected with the ravenous soul sucking affliction of hoarding wealth that have attached themselves to EA have established their own priesthood of data analysts and statisticians, reading the future in statistical models like soothsayers of old. Their language is one of probabilities and calculated outcomes, their holy texts peer-reviewed studies. But the question looms large: where does the cold predictability of algorithmic morality collide with the creative chaos associated with people, and to what end?

Much like the medieval church, this New Clergy assumes the role of moral arbiter. It algorithmically decides which causes are noble, which lives are valuable, answering these profound questions with the certainty once reserved for divine decrees. Yet, in this new moral landscape, the criteria for such judgments often remain as elusive and arbitrary as the divine will once was.

Behind the philanthropic facade, both the historical church and these modern-day New Clergy are driven by a ravenous soul devouring hunger to wield influence and flex wealth. While EA dresses its aims in the noble attire of charity, we must question who truly benefits from it. Power and legacy, it seems, are temptations as old as time, yet the motive may remain the same, the methods have changed, for now.

In the fervent fixation on what lies ahead, both the medieval church and today's Effective Altruism movement share a common oversight in their promise for the bulk of their effort and investment. ...the present moment. The church, in its bygone days, preached about the rewards of the afterlife, often at the expense of addressing the earthly struggles faced by their congregations. Similarly, EA, with its gaze locked on a utopian future, risks neglecting the raw and immediate realities of human existence for the indulgences they take from their efforts. It's as if they're so captivated by the horizon that they overlook the ground beneath their feet. In this forward-looking zeal, the urgent needs of the now, the pain, the suffering, the tangible aspects of human life that demand attention now - risk being overshadowed by grand visions of a distant future. This preoccupation with what's to come, while noble in its intentions, raises a critical question: In our pursuit of a better tomorrow, are we forsaking the vital needs of today?

Belief in the Unseen: Data as Dogma And so, we arrive at a new kind of faith. Like the faithful of old who trusted the man in the funny hat who chanted in an exotic language reserved for the wealthy, Latin, about unseen mysteries, EA asks us to place our faith in their algorithms, their projections, and their future shaped by the unseen forces of data. Yet, as the mysteries of faith were not to be questioned, so too does this same collection of self-serving interests often place its models beyond the realm of critique.

With Effective Altruism, we find not a revolutionary approach to philanthropy, but an ancient narrative reimagined. The players have changed – the priests and their scriptures replaced by analysts and their algorithms – yet the fundamental game remains. It’s a cosmic irony, a mirage of moral precision in a universe that defies our attempts to distil human compassion into numbers and increase the power, authority, and wealth of that New Clergy.

In conclusion, let us remember: In our quest to do good, there is no algorithm and no formula that can quantify human creativity or empathy. As we emerge from this latest hall of mirrors, we are left to ponder – in our rich's noble effort to save the future, we are required to ask ourselves, are we risking the loss of something fundamentally human in the present?"

Christopher Neitzert - Human, Hacker, Technologist, Occasional Artist. Aude sapere, audacia necessaria!