Stories and altruism
post by email@example.com
I recently asked the Giving What We Can Community Facebook Group, “Are there any works e.g. movies, books or music that inspire you to be altruistic?”
I believe this is important because stories we have taken to our hearts can fundamentally influence our choices. In the documentary ‘The Final Year’ President Obama explains this influence as follows: “Sometimes we think people are motivated only by money, or they’re only motivated by power, these very concrete incentives. But, people are also inspired by stories…So it’s worthwhile to listen to other people and ask them questions about the stories that are important to them”.
Trying to use our resources to help others the most can give rise to frequent moments of doubt, guilt, and emotional and physical fatigue and it’s valuable to have such stories to help you see through these times. In turn, these stories offer further motivation, conviction and inspiration when our efforts are being rewarded.
I hope some of the items listed below can give rise to these effects for you and please accept this list as a gift from my heart to yours <3
Also, please feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments for the good of all EAs 😊
You Are My Sister- Antony and The Johnsons
Goodbye Goodbye- M-Ziq
O Magnum Mysterium- Morten Lauridsen
Concerning Hobbits- Howard Shore
Gandalf’s Fall- Howard Shore
Nimrod (Enigma Variations)- Edward Elgar
Land of Hope and Glory- Edward Elgar
God Moving Over the Face of the Waters- Moby
When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die- Moby
Always Returning- Brian Eno
Cavalleria Rusticana: Intermezzo- Pietro Mascagni
Parsifal: Prelude to Act 1- Richard Wagner
Parsifal: Act 3: “Hochsten Heiles Wunder!”- “Erlosung dem Erloser”- Richard Wagner
Lohengrin: Prelude to Act 1- Richard Wagner
2/2- Brian Eno
Prayer of Compassion- Michael Fitzpatrick
Untitled #4- Gas
A Change is Gonna Come- Sam Cooke
Nella Fantasia- Jackie Evancho
Bridge Over Troubled Water- Simon and Garfunkel
Gymnopedie No 1- Erik Satie
Ave Maria, Opera 52 No 6- Franz Schubert
Comforting Sounds- Mew
Sleep- Eric Whitacre
Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity- Gustav Holst
He Named Me Malala (available on Netflix)
The Strange Life and Death of Dr Turing
Man on Wire
Elgar: Portrait of a Composer
TS Eliot- Arena
City of Joy (available on Netflix)
The Story of Us
JRR Tolkien ‘1892-1973’ – A Study Of The Maker Of Middle-Earth
Human, All Too Human – Nietzsche
Winston Churchill: A Giant in The Century
Aung San Suu Kyi: Lady of No Fear
(Tuesdays with) Morrie Schwartz: Lessons on Living
The Lord of The Rings
A Christmas Carol
The Green Mile
The Shawshank Redemption
Long Road to Freedom
The Thin Red Line
The Act of Killing
The Lord of The Rings- JRR Tolkien
Winnie the Pooh- A.A. Milne
The Wind in the Willows- Kenneth Grahame
Three Worlds Collide- Eliezer Yudkowsky [LW · GW]
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality- Eliezer Yudkowsky
Cloud Atlas- David Mitchell
Turtles All The Way Down- John Green
The Fault In Our Stars- John Green
Unsong- Scott Alexander
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet- Becky Chambers
A Closed and Common Orbit- Becky Chambers
Walden or Life in the Woods- Henry David Thoreau
The Street Lawyer- John Grisham
Meditations- Marcus Aurelius
On the Shortness of Life- Seneca The Younger
An Easter Greeting- Lewis Carroll
Tuesdays With Morrie- Mitch Albom
If- Rudyard Kipling
Invictus- William Ernest Henley
Those Winter Sundays- Robert Hayden
Desiderata- Max Ehrmann
For Katrina’s Sun Dial- Henry Van Dyke
Turn Again to Life- Mary Lee Hall
The Laughing Heart- Charles Bukowski
If You’re Going To Try, Go All the Way- Charles Bukowski
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The Summer Day- Mary Oliver
Comments sorted by top scores.
comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) ·
2019-05-21T05:39:22.719Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Seeing Life in a Day changed the way I see the world, and was a key step in preparing me to be interested in effective altruism when I first heard about it (roughly a year later).
The film shows hundreds of snippets of ordinary life around the world, creating an overwhelming effect of "everyone is basically the same and matters equally" (at least for me). The notion of caring more about people from, say, my own city no longer made any sense to me after the film ended.
comment by Jemma ·
2019-05-22T10:50:53.472Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Perhaps not EA-related, but as a refreshing change from the apparent focus on villains in both "literary" and "genre" fiction, I'd recommend Anna Funder's 'All That I Am' and 'Stasiland'. They are based on the stories of resistors to the Nazi regime and the East German GDR regime, respectively. 'Stasiland' is non-fiction (long-form journalism) and also includes stories from informers/ex-Stasi police, but most of the focus is on the resistors. 'All That I Am' is based on the life of a person whom the author, Anna Funder, knew personally.
comment by Ben Millwood (BenMillwood) ·
2019-05-20T09:17:49.597Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I like the idea here a great deal, but I expect there's going to be a lot of variation in what creates what effect in whom. I wonder if there's better ways to come up with aggregate recommendations, so we can find out what seems to be consistent in its EA appeal, vs. what's idiosyncratic
Replies from: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
↑ comment by firstname.lastname@example.org ·
2019-05-20T09:50:50.434Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Hi Ben, sorry for the double-reply.
It just occurred to me that I could make a survey in something like SurveyMonkey and link to it in the post, then periodically update the rankings in here if a decent number of people have voted.
↑ comment by email@example.com ·
2019-05-20T09:38:25.524Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Hi Ben, thanks for your comment.
I love your idea of aggregate recommendations and would be very interested in doing a version where that kind of functionality is possible. Off the top of my head, I can only think of posting each item in the list as an individual comment in here so people can upvote their favourites. I'm sure there must be a less clunky way to do this, though. Can I check if you have any ideas, please?Replies from: aarongertler
↑ comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) ·
2019-05-21T05:37:11.816Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Creating a spreadsheet? You can have two columns (media title and a number) and ask people to increment the number by one if they found something helpful. This could be better than a survey -- it's faster to go through and easier to update.Replies from: Ramiro
↑ comment by Ramiro ·
2019-12-27T21:51:57.415Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Did the spreadsheet idea survive? Because maybe we should add another column with the total number of people who saw each movie/book; this would be useful to distinguish works that correlate with being an EA (e.g., TLYCS book) from things everyone saw, but we associate with our feelings (like LOTR).Replies from: aarongertler
comment by Jonathan_Michel ·
2020-11-28T13:04:49.565Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks a lot for writing this.
One thing I started recently is collecting instances of people acting altruistic and courageous and reading about these when I need motivation (their Wikipedia articles or a text I wrote myself etc.). These examples can go from very small acts to big ones. Reading about actual examples of people standing up to the social norms or laws of their time to do the right thing gives me a lot of motivation to keep pursuing an altruistic path even in the face of difficulty. One example I came across recently is a farther who supported his daughter when she refused to marry a man who raped her (a so called “rehabilitating marriage” which was the custom (and law!) in mid 20th century Sicily). He did so although their town ostracised them and even burned down their farm.
Also there is a good amount of great blog posts which I find really motivating. The ones I can think of from the top of my head are:
comment by Eli Rose (reallyeli) ·
2019-05-25T05:09:55.912Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks for posting about this! The experiences I've had with art feel like a big part of what motivates my altruism.
One of the ways art can encourage altruism is by rendering real the life of another person, making you experience their suffering or joy as your own. Many pieces of art have this effect on me, too many to name -- indeed I think of it as a defining quality of good art.
Another way art can encourage altruism is by taking a zoomed-out perspective and engaging with moral ideals in the abstract. This you might call "humanistic". I've listed mostly these below, as art of the other type is too numerous to name.
- The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin is very meaningful to me as a vision of what a society where we cared "sufficiently" about others might look like.
- All Kurt Vonnegut, a very humanistic writer. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is explicitly about a philosophically-minded billionaire who decides to give his wealth away to the poor, and the consequences of that decision.
- George Saunders, another very humanistic writer. Tenth of December is great. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/10/15/the-semplica-girl-diaries is a great one of his about the banality of evil.
- https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/08/11/trouble-poem-matthew-dickman (Content warning: suicide)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Jackson_Heights (a long, quiet, slice-of-life documentary that jumps between people)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_by_Hanging (the Japanese police botch an execution, causing the criminal to lose all his memories of the crime; the police, panicking, try to jog his memory so they can execute him like they're supposed to)