Pitching "effective altruism"?

post by Peter_Hurford · 2013-09-03T04:00:39.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW · Legacy · None comments

I’m interested in an idea called "effective altruism" which is about not just doing things to make the world a better place, but about thinking about what can do to make their helping go the furthest. For example, if I could spend an hour and help a person cross the street that would be cool, but if I could spend an hour and cure blindness in three different people, that would be even cooler.

Generally, it seems like people either immediately get “effective altruism” or they don’t. Evidence from Giving What We Can member surveys plus other anecdotal evidence seems to support this. But as the “effective altruism” movement is going to grows, we’ll eventually run out of those who find the idea intuitive and we’ll need to start pitching to people who find the idea unintuitive. How do we do this?

Two days ago, I went on a volunteering trip with some fellow college students to a local non-profit organization. We arrived at their building and proceeded to help them clean their air vents, tables, chairs, walls, and ceiling fans. And then we left.

There were seven of us and we were all there cleaning for an hour each. However, imagine that, instead of volunteering ourselves, we paid a janitor minimum wage to do the cleaning instead. I suspect that the janitor would accomplish our tasks in less than seven hours given that the janitor is more trained and will require less oversight and explanation of the task from the management. Hiring a janitor is simply much more efficient than continuing to get confused college students to do the volunteering.

The work for the Salvation Army probably wasn’t “effective” by this definition. But it was interesting to see how people who aren’t interested in “effective altruism” (or haven’t considered the idea) think about the topic. I didn’t confront anyone with my views, but I asked them a little bit about what they thought.

The other people who were there seemed to believe that…

These believes seem somewhat incorrect, mistaken, or incomplete to me. Moreover, the fact that these beliefs are incomplete is obvious to me. But I think that even I believed all of these things at some point in my life. They’re just… intuitive.

Crossposted from Everyday Utilitarian

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