So nice

Written in December 2013

Today I was driving a few of my friends and I downtown for some Korean food, and, when stopped at a stoplight, handed a snack bar to a homeless veteran on the sidewalk. “You’re so nice!” they crowed. “My parents always just tell me to turn away.”

So nice? I’m driving a car that travels a whopping 17 miles per gallon, costing about $10 for a round trip, for Korean food that cost me $7.62, in clothes that fortunately cost me little (mostly thrift shop) but cost someone else a fair bit, in a car that cost a couple thousand, from a home that cost hundreds of times that, and I’m… so nice? For handing him a snack bar out the window? Here we effective altruists are, parading how important it is to make sure our charity does the most it can in lieu of our moral obligation to help those most in need when most of the developed world considers charity at all “so nice.”

“When I was little, I really wanted to make documentaries about the homeless,”  my TED talk starts. Sure, it was weird for a little girl to want to do and perhaps ineffective marketing but right about now it doesn’t sound too ridiculous. I bet that homeless veteran understands the trade-off between a $7.62 Korean meal and food for a week, or two malaria nets, or 14 NTD vaccines. I bet he bypasses the just-world phenomenon and understands that not all poor people are getting what they deserve or rich people are deserving of what they got. I bet he understands that giving to charity and helping the poor is not “so nice” but instead so necessary. Sure, I want to help people see that effectiveness in helping others is crucial, but how can we do that when most people don’t even view helping others as crucial?