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Exploring effective altruism

I recently completed an 8-week introductory class in effective altruism offered by the Effective Altruism organization. The programs are free and ongoing:

Effective altruism is both a philosophy and social movement that seeks to maximize the positive impact of one’s actions to help others, particularly those suffering the most. It involves using evidence and reason to identify the most effective ways to improve the world and taking action based on that evidence.

The purpose of the Effective Altruism organization is to promote this philosophy and help people become more effective in their altruistic endeavors. They do this by providing resources and information to help people make better decisions about where to donate their money or time and by encouraging people to pursue careers with the greatest positive impact.

Effective altruism emphasizes the importance of using evidence and reason to identify the most effective ways to improve the world. This means that resources are directed toward the most impactful and cost-effective interventions rather than those that may be popular or emotionally appealing but have little evidence to support their effectiveness. By focusing on high-impact areas, effective altruists believe they can achieve the most good with their resources and efforts. Effective altruism encourages individuals to take personal responsibility for making a positive difference. Individuals are encouraged to use their time, talents, and resources most effectively to help others and consider their actions’ global impact.

I loved my weekly discussion group, which included people from six countries. It’s a lot of reading, but the materials are provided free of charge, and the online syllabus is easy to follow. Our group discussions were always thought-provoking. They got me thinking about choosing the most effective giving strategies and separating the emotional component that often drives decision-making. I will acknowledge that EA has a reputation problem at the moment partly because one of its high-profile proponents is under house arrest, accused of fraud and, most recently, for allegedly trying to bribe a foreign government. The sessions did include a discussion of the potential problems with an EA approach.

I don’t subscribe to all EA tenants. Healthy skepticism and critique are, well, healthy! Some of the top criticisms of effective altruism include the following:

  • Narrow focus: Some argue that EA emphasizes causes that can be quantified and measured at the expense of other important issues.
  • Lack of diversity: The effective altruism movement is not diverse enough and seems to be dominated by a particular demographic–white men from wealthy backgrounds– and this lack of diversity could limit its effectiveness.
  • Problems with utilitarianism: EA is often associated with utilitarianism, a philosophical approach that seeks to maximize overall happiness or well-being. This approach ignores individual rights and values and may lead to unjust or unfair outcomes.

I recommend the introductory training if you are interested in this type of exchange. Reach out to me if you would like to hear more about it.

Photo by J W on Unsplash