A Quick Introduction To Effective Altruism

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Effective altruism is a movement whose core idea is that if one were to choose to spend their energy in doing good, this energy should be focused on solutions which maximize the positive impact they can make. In monetary terms, the principle may be analogized to stretching a dollar as far as possible in an attempt to allocate the resources in the most suitable way, thus achieving the highest possible positive impact.

This movement likely appeals to many, especially since in the last couples of decades the world of non-profit and charity has been shrouded in the horrible reputation of inefficiency, providing only temporary relief, and, at its worst, doing more harm than good.

The effective altruism movement takes a holistic approach, focusing on looking at a problem from multiple angles and choosing the solutions with the highest impact. For example, if the issue at hand was the suffering and abuse of animals in factories, it might make more sense to the effective altruist to focus on passing legislation to prevent any future suffering of animals in similar conditions, rather than focusing on rehabilitating traumatized animals. For those inclined towards a utilitarian outlook, effective altruism may prove particularly appealing.

Many social enterprises can be seen as stretching themselves thin by providing both immediate aid and trying to create profit simultaneously; to the effective altruist, a better option may be to focus their efforts wholly in maximising income or profit in the private sector, and to subsequently donate all proceeds to effective altruist organisations.

Working in an attempt to maximise the positive impact one is able to effectuate, a direct impact can be seen on the problems which one chooses to engage with; the solutions to some issues may naturally produce a greater positive impact than the solutions to rarer, or less pervasive, issues. However, pure effective altruism, or converting all charities and social enterprises into effective altruistically-based cultures, may not be the necessary, nor the most moral, solution. To return to the example of animal suffering and place this within a more human context, we may consider the issue of human trafficking. Whilst changing our legislative and security departments may have a greater positive impact in terms of a comprehensive and forward-facing outlook, and we may hope to one day reach a point where human trafficking is a problem of the past, many will feel uncomfortable with the idea of not providing any help to current individuals who are victims of human trafficking. To many, it would be immoral to effectively sacrifice current individuals in dire circumstances so as to allocate all resources to the prevention of the same circumstances in the future.

For those who want to do good, but feel stuck and don’t know where to start, effective altruism may seem more familiar or comprehensible. I believe that the handicap many individuals experience in practicing altruism stems from the belief that helping others is a matter exclusive to the heart, and which excludes the mind. To this effect, effective altruism gives the brain a central role in doing good, providing a more logical approach to performing positive or selfless acts in lieu of a more emotionally-founded method.

Now for those who are convinced of the concept of effective altruism and want to start doing good, you must place yourself in the right mindset: efficiency, willingness to fail, and innovation are not, and should not be, factors exclusive to the private sector – effective altruism is the proof of that.

Author: Lea Dambreville 

Edited by: Chloe Lee