Hi there! This is the place to start if you’re new to or have never heard of effective altruism, as an understanding of most things in “General” and everything in “EA-Specific” is contingent on a comfortable knowledge of the concept and movement known as “effective altruism.” Stumbled across this page at random? Give my “About” page a look, then come back here.
Stated in simplistic terms, “effective altruism” – henceforth “EA” because I’d rather not type it out a million times – is a belief that we should maximize the amount of good we do in the world regardless of the means by which we do so. There are a lot of great explanations out there, so I’ll defer you to what I feel is a nice summation on the main EA website.
In the words of Good Done Better author Will MacAskill, the movement is “a big community of nerds who are trying to do as much good as they can.” That, of course, is quite vague-seeming, but the nebulousness is purposeful, as effective altruism, at least in its current state, takes a variety of forms depending on people’s beliefs and understandings of the state of the world. Some people think that we should prioritize helping those in absolute poverty, as their suffering is unparalleled in developed countries, and since we can do a lot to improve their lives with a simple vaccination or cash transfer, helping the world’s poorest people is cost-effective – that is, it produces a lot of wellbeing “bang” for the charitable buck. Others make the case for focusing on animals, noting the case to give moral value to their suffering as well, and in accepting that, seeing how much animal suffering exists and the small yet impactful things – such as eating fewer animal products – we can do to avert it. Others still focus on the wellbeing of people who will exist in the future or even far future, for even if we only expect to be able to minimally influence how the future turns out, we can expect there to be so many people who will could be affected by huge global natural and social catastrophes that it is worth our time and money to mitigate their potential harm. The breadth of this movement is unlike that of most social movements, something I believe is both a blessing and a burden when determining how to move forward and, more fundamentally, which direction “forward” is.
If you’ve given the link above a go you’re aware that cause agnosticism, as it may be called, is just one of many parts of the “world” of EA, and I encourage you, if your interest is at all piqued, to dig further via the resources on the EA website and elsewhere.
By virtue of our disproportionate well-educated and well-spoken composition, there is a lot of written material out there. A lot. We all seem to have something to say, and I guess it seems I feel that way, too, or I wouldn’t have this blog. I don’t think I have anything particularly new or innovative to add, as I don’t conduct research or run a charity or anything, but I have my perspective and my subjective experiences and think that I can, through honest reflection from the perspective of an admittedly naïve yet enthused college student, provide an outlet for safe discussion past the grips of the intimidatingly intelligent arguments of many other EAs. I’ll say things, many poorly reasoned or weakly understood, with the hopes of building community and conversation rather than adding much to the ever-growing body of knowledge, as I’m of the firm belief that a movement isn’t a movement without the movers.
That being said, welcome. I look forward to interacting with you, to receiving your questions and criticisms, and to working together to improve the way in which we look at and approach “doing good.”