Saturday, June 20, 2015

(Not So) Effective Altruism

A month or so ago, I got to see Australian moral philosopher, Peter Singer give a speech on effective altruism.

I've finally put my thoughts about his speech down.  Here goes:

The speech the Peter gave was interesting. He was very logical, and so I will talk about him in same terms. His logic was flawed.

His equation was essentially this:
If all human life is equal, and if it is easier to measure reduction of suffering than it is to measure happiness, then everyone should give as much money as possible to reduce suffering in others where one's money goes farthest.
By his calculations this would mean giving your donations exclusively to third world country charities, as our buying power there is much greater and simple solutions there would go a longer way than more complex solutions in the US.  Example product  (not mentioned in his talk): Money Maker Pumps

He then went on to say that there are some high wage earning people (CEOs, stock traders, etc), who donate most of their money to charities.  C
ompared to someone else in that position who would hold onto their money for themselves, that this is an incredibly effective way to do good. Take the high wage job, and give most of it away rather than work at a volunteer organization.



He then went on to say that donating to the arts and domestic programs was a essentially bad thing to do, as that money could be used more powerfully elsewhere.

And this is the main flaw in his logic:

There are people who in the past donated nothing to charity at all, but after a family member contracted cancer, they begin to donate to cancer research. 
When you factor in the variable of time and compare what we've done in the past to what we can do in the present, domestic donations are a totally valid way to give to charity.
Finally, he cannot factor in all variables, such as how domestic donations to cancer research may have an larger effect than just helping out people in first world countries. 

What he says may work really well for a lot of people, but he is so adamant that his way is the *only* right way to help people, that I take serious issue with his philosophy.There are many people, myself included, who want to do good in the world, but also do so from a stance of altruistic self interest. I want to help the whole world, but I especially want to help the areas that also effect my life and the lives of those around me. This may be somewhat selfish, but I do so without apology.

I currently donate artwork to Make a Wish's annual auction, and my Lodge serves breakfast bi weekly at a homeless shelter.

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