Keeping Tabs on Effective Altruism: 21st Century Capitalism's Twisted Moral Compass

Discussion in 'theory, philosophy & history' started by eoin_k, Nov 19, 2015.

  1. eoin_k

    eoin_k Lawyer's fees, beetroot and music

    I couldn't find any posts on Effective Alturism, so I thought it deserved its own thread:
    Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and How You Can Make a Difference.

    This school of applied ethics, which emerged from Cambridge University (IIRC), seems to be getting a lot of media attention at the moment.

    For example, William MacAskill has recently written three pieces for the Guardian:

    His trust's website has further links to press coverage they've recieved:

    I haven't done any research, apart from following some reports in the media, but it seems to echo nineteenth-century, radical liberalism in twenty-first century garb. Jeremy Bentham gave us the panopticon, I wonder what delights this lot have to offer?.

    One of the founders has pledged to live off £20,000 a year, giving the rest of his earnings to good causes. Who among us had not lived on less than £20,000 a year? Sure, but most of us aren't Hedge Fund managers. This is supposedly an ethically-neutral means to make large sums of money, which can then be distributed to charities that will distribute them effectively (presumably based on neo-paretian welfare economics).

    There is no room for subjective solidarity with specific groups of other people (migrants, disaster victims, labour rights activists...) or any critique of capitalism, just a utilitarian calculus for working how to distribute personal wealth efficiently to maximise human well being, by for example distributing cheap anti-worming medicine.

    Can we see these pro-capitalists saints getting wheeled out more frequently as the world goes to hell in a hand cart? Lets find out...
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2015
    xslavearcx, frogwoman, Greebo and 2 others like this.
  2. Pickman's model

    Pickman's model Every man and every woman is a star

    can i altruistically suggest you edit the thread title?
    Greebo likes this.
  3. eoin_k

    eoin_k Lawyer's fees, beetroot and music


    By the way, did the previous title suggest to you that I was looking for a functional and public-spirited time piece?

    Or, perhaps advice on how I could get better at spotting good deeds?
    Greebo likes this.
  4. Pickman's model

    Pickman's model Every man and every woman is a star

    it suggested you were in a rush: altruism not alturism
    Greebo and Mation like this.
  5. eoin_k

    eoin_k Lawyer's fees, beetroot and music

    Pickman's model likes this.
  6. butchersapron

    butchersapron blood on the walls

    Very good piece in the LRB a few months back that revealed some very nasty logic in the 'movement':

    Stop the Robot Apocalypse

    That emphasis on ‘your’ is something that utilitarians often find conceptually mystifying, or at least a moral distraction. Here, for example, is MacAskill talking about his visit to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, and his later decision not to donate to its main charitable benefactor:

    I’d hugged the women who suffered from this condition, and they’d thanked me for visiting them. It had been an important experience for me: a vivid first-hand demonstration of the severity of the problems in the world. This was a cause I had a personal connection with. Should I have donated to the Fistula Foundation, even knowing I could do more to help people if I donated elsewhere? I do not think so. If I were to give to the Fistula Foundation rather than to charities I thought were more effective, I would be privileging the needs of some people over others for emotional rather than moral reasons. That would be unfair to those I could have helped more. If I’d visited some other shelter in Ethiopia, or in any other country, I would have had a different set of personal connections. It was arbitrary that I’d seen this particular problem at close quarters.

    That word ‘arbitrary’ is striking. It is indeed arbitrary that MacAskill went to this hospital and not another, in Ethiopia and not some other country, just as it is arbitrary that we have the family, friends, lovers and neighbours we do. But doesn’t such arbitrariness come to mean something else, ethically speaking, when it is constitutive of our personal experience: when it becomes embedded in the complex structure of commitments, affinities and understandings that comprise social life? We might even think that the arbitrariness of time and place is transformed into something else, ethically speaking, through the exchange of a fleeting hug or thanks. What’s more, MacAskill’s talk of fairness is too easy. It is no doubt unfair that some of the world’s worst off are helped while others aren’t. But isn’t it just as unfair that the Ethiopian women MacAskill met are victims of a debilitating condition that is too costly to be ‘worth’ funding? And what of the victims of austerity or rising inequality in the first world? MacAskill’s reminder that these people are still among the world’s richest is cold comfort (it also obscures what all those trampled by the ruling class everywhere may have in common).
  7. Mation

    Mation real life adventure worth more than pieces of gold

    Ah. I think this is related to the venture philanthropy bollocks one of the directors where I work came back enthused by having gone to a 'sharing innovative business ideas' type conference in New York.
  8. bimble

    bimble noisy but small

    Great article that in LRB. The do gooding industry is where I work, shuffling those qalys.
    frogwoman and Greebo like this.
  9. SpookyFrank

    SpookyFrank We kill the flame

    I was once told I should take 'personal responsibility' for the things I wanted to change by giving up activism, becoming a tax accountant and using my wages to pay someone else to do activist stuff for me.

    I tried to explain that this would be the exact opposite of taking personal responsibility, but my objections fell on deaf ears.
    gawkrodger, Mab, Yuwipi Woman and 3 others like this.
  10. J Ed

    J Ed Follow Back Pro Expropriation

    If you can't input what you're doing into an Excel spreadsheet then it's worthless to humanity
  11. purves grundy

    purves grundy ambient clown remix

    Peter Singer emerging as a bit of a player in all of this. Whereas he was once a mere bunny-obsessed utilitarian I had to yawn through doing Applied Ethics in my second year (ok, he was more than that - always been up there since Animal Liberation), he's now heading up his own metrics-laden 'movement'

    About Peter Singer - The Life You Can Save
  12. Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson Well-Known Member

  13. purves grundy

    purves grundy ambient clown remix

    I don't mean to offend or do him a disservice, obviously a very committed chap who did much for the animal liberation cause, but I hated his approach. All that applied ethics stuff is the most boring part of taught philosophy imho (or it was 20 years ago anyway - maybe it's been surpassed since).
    Mab likes this.
  14. bimble

    bimble noisy but small

    I've never been so cynical about the world as I am now I've had a chance to learn a bit about this industry, and its spreadsheets.
    Greebo likes this.
  15. purves grundy

    purves grundy ambient clown remix

  16. two sheds

    two sheds Least noticed poster 2007

    How would you rate that, say on a scale from 1 to 10?
    purves grundy and bimble like this.
  17. mather

    mather Well-Known Member

    You should, Singer is a complete cunt who advocates for infanticide. A nasty individual who in no way deserves to be considered an ethicist.
    NoXion, campanula and frogwoman like this.
  18. likesfish

    likesfish officaly hardest and most tooled up urbanite:)

    You could make an arguement if you could make shed loads of money being a tax accountant you could hire several activists to do activisting stuff for you.
    Although if your just advising big companys and the rich to avoid paying tax then do several more full time activists counter balance the loss of income to a goverment.
    If said goverement is going to splurge it on dammanation missiles possibly but now my head hurts
  19. SpookyFrank

    SpookyFrank We kill the flame

    This stuff all seems a bit like digging a hole forty feet deep to earn enough money for a six foot ladder tbh.
    purves grundy and likesfish like this.
  20. purves grundy

    purves grundy ambient clown remix

  21. purves grundy

    purves grundy ambient clown remix

    redsquirrel and Celyn like this.
  22. redsquirrel

    redsquirrel This Machine Kills Progressives

    How much cross-over is there between this and the type of crap Han Rosling and Steve Pinker peddle? Both very much arguments for liberalism as is.
    mather likes this.
  23. purves grundy

    purves grundy ambient clown remix

    The crossover as I see it is empiricism. An obsession with the quantitative, datasets, and associations between collections of observable atomistic objects means an inability to penetrate beneath the surface, a world exhausted by its appearance and defined by how we can come to know it. Hence these folk have no capacity to engage with the unobservable - most seriously, with social structures. From Pinker we learn nothing about what causes peace and stability, or conflict and instability (again, all defined according to observables - no possibility of structural violence), and without a causal explanation, no right to confidence that such a trend will continue anyway. From Singer and the EA crew, social change is restricted to doing actions that make a difference to the numbers and / or a technocratic expertise around 'analysis' of the numbers: no deeper understanding of why the world is the way it is and what would be necessary to transform it.
    mather, yield, seventh bullet and 2 others like this.

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