The Benefits of Effective Altruism
AwN | Effective Altruism is a new term to me, but the idea is pretty basic to the thoughtful human. The idea is that we should contribute a certain portion of our wealth or income to highly effective charities. Not charities that sell us on an image or idea, but doesn't actually contribute to the life, health, or well-being in any real way, but a charity that can actually effect life over death for people of a certain class or crisis.
The article below talks about Make-a-Wish as compared to Against Malaria Foundation. While Make-a-Wish may spend 7,500 dollars turning a child into 'batkid' for a night, it only succeeds in making that child happy for a couple hours or days, while the same level of donation could save the lives of three children or more with the use of mosquitto netting in malaria infested countries. Clearly anyone can recognize that the temporary happiness of one child is not in way comparable to the lives of three. Likewise not a single parent enlisting the help of Make-a-Wish would not save their childs life for the same sum.
The difference is that most people are distanced from the suffering of children lacking malaria protection, while the child becoming 'batkid' is front and center in our lives through media etc. So the idea of effective altruism is that we need to divorce ourselves from the emotion of images, and protect ourselves against valuing what is close to us too highly and what is distant less so. Instead we should use available information and our own rational thought to figure out how to give money in the most effective way.
My Discrepancy with Effective Altruism
My problem after reading the article is that it is entirely focused on money. The author takes the position that one should obtain the most amount of money they possibly can so that they can contribute to many lives. I have said on this blog and elsewhere that I do not believe in this mode of thinking. I believe the inherent flaw here is that it is money which causes much of the difficulty on the earth. Not money itself, as a simple medium of exchange, more exactly I mean the economy. If you are Bill Gates and you have accrued say 2 billion dollars, then that means you have paid maybe 750 million in taxes. Those tax dollars have been used to destroy nations abroad, undermine their economies and their rights, etc. Moving past the issue of taxes there is the question of the job that paid the salary. Going back to Bill Gates we have someone that hocked a bunch of devices containing concentrated chemicals which are now polluting land and water all over the world.
Money can be gained in a truly altruistic way, a way that doesn't harm the earth, but this article doesn't seem to be advocating that. What this article seems to be saying is that a person should find the way to make the most money possible. I can't agree with that wholly. I think it is extremely hard to live such that you don't ruin the planet. Burdening the earth with your cash income, and your importation of needed goods (food, water, energy etc.) doesn't become unimportant simply because you find the most effective way to release back some of that cash in an effective way.
I do however think it is a good start. I think it is a way for people to justify their lives and lessen their negative effects on the planet, but it is not foolproof. If you create the destruction of the planet and then find the most effective way to ease the suffering created you have done more than most for sure, but you have not exactly contributed to a better future. So when it comes down to it I think the article goes a step too far. I could do without all the justification for why "effective altruists" want to earn the most money possible. Not only do I disagree with the premise, I also question the motive, but to be fair the article states that they are not refering to people who would consider themselves saints.
I often say that I am not perfect, that no one is, but I do believe in striving for perfection. I believe effective altruism is an great way for people to learn how to give back in the best way possible, but I also believe people need to be cautious when using economy to fix the planet rather than just fixing the planet. I personally believe strongly that the best thing we can do is to provide for our own needs, but effective alrtuism is certainly a good thing to understand and engage in.
How You Can Do the Most Good: It's Not as Simple as You Think
"Does that give you a warm glow? It gives me one, even though I know there is another side to this feel-good story. Make-A-Wish would not say how much it cost to fulfill Scott’s wish, but it did say that the average cost of making a child’s wish come true is $7,500. Effective altruists would, like anyone else, feel emotionally drawn toward making the wishes of sick children come true, but they would also know that $7,500 could, by protecting families from malaria, save the lives of at least three children and maybe many more. Saving a child’s life has to be better than fulfilling a child’s wish to be Batkid. If Scott’s parents had been offered that choice—Batkid for a day or a complete cure for their son’s leukemia—they surely would have chosen the cure. When more than one child’s life can be saved, the choice is even clearer. Why then do so many people give to Make-A-Wish, when they could do more good by donating to the Against Malaria Foundation, which is a highly effective provider of bed nets to families in malaria-prone regions? The answer lies in part in the emotional pull of knowing that you are helping this child, one whose face you can see on television, rather than the unknown and unknowable children who would have died from malaria if your donation had not provided the nets under which they sleep. It also lies in part in the fact that Make-A-Wish appeals to Americans, and Scott is an American child.
Effective altruists will feel the pull of helping an identifiable child from their own nation, region, or ethnic group but will then ask themselves if that is the best thing to do. They know that saving a life is better than making a wish come true and that saving three lives is better than saving one. So they don’t give to whatever cause tugs strongest at their heartstrings. They give to the cause that will do the most good, given the abilities, time, and money they have."
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