The term effective altruism is simply about asking the question:
“How can I do the most good, with the resources available to me?”
It’s non-dogmatic and it does not provide strict answers on how to go about this, unlike philosophies like libertarianism and secularism, which are answers to questions like, “How should we best govern?”
Any of the ideas commonly associated with the Effective Altruism social movement, like earning-to-give or focusing on reducing humanity’s risk of extinction, merely constitute best guesses, and are always subject to change based on new evidence and reasons.
But What if the Question is Wrong?
You only have to acknowledge that one state of affairs can be preferable to another, and by logical extrapolation, you can design states of affairs that are astronomically more preferable than others. Thus, the question of “How can I do the most good, with the resources available to me?” is fair.
Personally Arriving at Effective Altruism
The idea of maximizing impact has been a major focus in my life since I was about 17. I was googling around for ideas about life’s meaning such as “how can I do the most good”, eventually found Giving What We Can, and immediately felt like I had found my long-lost home with the ideas of effective altruism.
I soon discovered that I could reliably have an outstanding impact by donating to the most effective charities and thus prevent a lot of suffering throughout the course of my life. This gave me much more purpose and provided me with the will to carry on in the face of future challenges I faced.
Today, I feel an intense pressure to fulfill my potential and leave the world a better place. There is SO much value on the line, and frankly, I would hate to sacrifice my possible contribution by pursuing relatively dead-end, vain pursuits.
Ideas To Which I am Especially Sympathetic
- The long-term value thesis. The notion that the majority of our actions’ moral value will be derived from their consequences on the far future.
- -reducing existential risk
- Cause prioritization research: We still have considerable uncertainty about which causes will deliver the best results. The fact that many causes are likely vastly different from each other in expected impact implies its probably worth it to spend millions, if not billions more dollars on research in the meta-cause of deciding how to best distribute our resources on different causes.
- Designing safe artificial intelligence- While this sounds abstract, many great minds expect AI to hit us like a freight train if we are not very careful developing it.
- Improving human rationality and institutional decision making. Nothing but our own intelligence, careful reasoning, and diligent efforts are going to preserve the value of the future.
- Global poverty– Human suffering is still massive in scale and there are proven interventions that reduce DALYs for the price of a dinner out.
- Animal welfare- the suffering of animals is massive in scope, but reducing it is tractable.
- -Ending factory farming through food technology and moral advocacy.
- Doing important work that will not happen otherwise.
- “The secret to having a big impact on the world is to find something valuable you can do that won’t happen if you don’t do it. Because most jobs have multiple applicants, the impact you make through paid employment may not be as great as it first seems.
If this sounds dispiriting, it shouldn’t be. Not all jobs are like that. And even if the one you love is, don’t worry. You can always just give money. The same problem doesn’t apply to donations, because one person giving more doesn’t mean anyone else will give less.
It’s counterintuitive, but that surgeon who struggled to save lives by performing surgery might easily save hundreds, or even thousands of lives, by giving away 10% of their income to fund vaccinations that otherwise wouldn’t occur.”-Rob Wiblin
For employment in a market where someone else would fulfill your position, make sure your impact is above average, but know that you can only claim credit for the marginal impact you’ve made over the next person who is in line to fill your shoes.
How I Intend to Work in these Cause Areas
- Conduct Research. I am currently building up my programming and statistics knowledge, writing ability, and other research skills while keeping an eye on promising research topics.
- Earn to Give. I plan to pursue higher-paying jobs so I can donate more to top charities and promising think tanks. I also am interested in funding promising individual researchers who are outside of academia.
- Build up career capital to ensure I have a big impact down the road.
- Synthesize High-Value Ideas to Promote Understanding. Particularly, I want to break down my conception of utilitarianism and show how it is a powerful framework for acting in the world.
- Have Discussions. I want to keep the discussion going about the reality of suffering, how good things can get, and the incredible opportunities we have to do good. Where I am wrong about effective altruism, this also gives others a chance to steer me in the right direction.
EA Link List
- Effective Altruism Resources- A comprehensive list of resources from the Centre for Effective Altruism
- Global Priorities Institute Research Agenda-A detailed, formal account of progress that has been made in the field of cause prioritization.
- Essays on Reducing Suffering- A collection of essays by Brian Tomasik on perhaps the most morally pressing issue.
- nickbostrom.com– Nick is a brilliant Oxford Philosopher with dozens of fascinating essays on important topics. To my knowledge, he basically started the new field of study of existential risk.
- 80,000 Hours– In-depth guidance on making the right career choices to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.
- Effective Thesis- A collection of high-impact thesis topics that one could pursue.
- Foundational Research Institute– A think tank focusing on mitigating extreme far-future suffering. They are making real progress and their papers are extremely interesting.