For Brooks, Trigg's approach presents several pitfalls. The first is that, whatever his selfless intentions, he's bound to be shaped by his work environment. "You will become more hedge fund, less malaria," Brooks warns. Another objection, perhaps most consistent with Brooks's (tame by Republican standards) conservatism, is that Trigg may make himself "a machine for the redistribution of wealth" or "a fiscal policy." Since Trigg would be redistributing his own wealth voluntarily, what the problem is isn't clear, even after Brooks explains what he means about a person turning himself into "a means rather than an end." It seems to come down to choosing a career because you value the work itself, not as a means to a distant end. "Taking a job just to make money," no matter what you mean to do with the money, "is probably going to be corrosive," leaving you "a specialist without spirit." If Trigg is really concerned with fighting malaria in Africa, Brooks suggests, he should go to Africa and do hands-on work. "I'd think you would be more likely to cultivate a deep soul if you put yourself in the middle of the things that engaged you most seriously," he writes.
Brooks claims to be most concerned about Trigg's "deep soul," but his most interesting (or revealing) criticism of Trigg's philanthropy is that it might invert "the natural order of affections." Trigg's apparent devotion to Peter Singer may have rung an alarm bell in Brooks's mind. The columnist seems to have an issue with utilitarianism. To Brooks, it views the world "on a strictly intellectual level," treating "a child in Pakistan or Zambia [as] just as valuable as your own child." Where might that lead?
If you choose a profession that doesn’t arouse your everyday passion for the sake of serving instead some abstract faraway good, you might end up as a person who values the far over the near. You might become one of those people who loves humanity in general but not the particular humans immediately around. You might end up enlarging the faculties we use to perceive the far — rationality — and eclipsing the faculties we use to interact with those closest around — affection, the capacity for vulnerability and dependence. Instead of seeing yourself as one person deeply embedded in a particular community, you may end up coolly looking across humanity as a detached god.
These criticisms and suspicions are not new. In Victorian times Charles Dickens -- not exactly an uncompassionate soul -- used the character of Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House to chide people grown obsessed with helping the needy in distant lands at the expense of the needy at home. Utilitarian detachment from the particular or individual often disturbs people who worry that utilitarians value people as interchangeable units rather than as irreplaceable individuals. Why Trigg's modest aspiration should inspire such anxiety is unclear. What usually bugs people about utilitarians is the fear that "the greatest good for the greatest number" might authorize the sacrifice of individuals for an abstract common good. Perhaps Brooks worries that people who practice philanthropy at a distance, as Trigg does, grow distant from people near and far alike. He doesn't object to Trigg helping Africans, but thinks everyone will be better off if he does it in Africa. I'm not sure if that follows, but in the end it's Brooks's anxiety, not Trigg's philanthropy, that intrigues me -- and requires more of an explanation.