The idea of altruism conveys notions of selflessness, charity and universal benevolence to the collective imagination. Globalized and modernized, altruism has become a fetish, one that offers a religious or moral validation of the International Aid System, making it almost unquestionable. Represented by the (familiar to all) images of international workers altruistically saving crying women and dying children, the architecture of the international aid system is effectively approved by all but accountable to none. This evocation of pathos has become one of the most successful marketing operations in the world, effectively mobilizing billions of dollars and a multitude of agents who in turn affect - positively or negatively- the lives of millions of people. Yet, organizations in the international aid system are plagued by contradictions, trapped between the instinct for institutional survival and the commitment to eradicate the circumstances warranting their existence. Helping the others might have, in fact, become a business wherein we corrupt the very values that justify our right to act.
Maria D. Bermudez is a visiting researcher at UCI. She holds a PhD in International Relations by SciencesPo, Paris, France and brings 16 years of experience working with international cooperation in the field of Human Movements, Forced Migration and Refugees, Human Rights, Post-conflict Institution Building and Rule of Law, in more than 20 conflict or post-conflict countries, for different organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), or the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).