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hugefish1234 t1_itpvh0e wrote

I think this article presents a reasonable oversight of Singer's ethics, but goes farther than is warranted.

The author seems to treat the decision as one between giving a lot to charity or working toward systemic change. It's true that charitable giving doesn't do much to solve systemic problems and this is an issue with Singer's work. That being said, giving to charity can be done at the same time as working toward systemic change. We can try to eradicate the disease while also treating the symptoms. Thus, it seems that the author sets up a false dichotomy.


NobleOceanAlleyCat t1_itpxwim wrote

Totally agree. Singer is politically very much on the left. I think the authors confuse Singer’s pessimism about systemic change with a lack of desire for it.


NapClub t1_itr5krm wrote

There are charities that work toward systemic change so it's just a false dichotomy.


Vytral t1_itpy8au wrote

It is true that they are logically consistent, but there seems to be a practical tension between the two. By praising billionaires for their charity work, you legitimize deep systemic inequalities. The billionaires that love to do charity are the same ones that lobby against progressive taxation, anti-trust policies, safety and environmental protection...


WarrenHarding t1_itq0q93 wrote

The way billionaires donate to charity operates in a whole other world than how we do though. It is not really “charity” in a genuine or fair sense at all. Billionaires donate specifically because there are laws in place that relieve huge amounts of taxes for people who donate large amounts to charity. In theory it’s supposed to work 1-to-1, but it doesn’t, they end up having to pay way less money out than they’d typically have to. Also, they set up their own fake charities so when they “donate” they aren’t really, they’re funneling it right back into their pockets.

In essence, this sort of charity we say is opposed to change is opposed because it quite simply isn’t charity. It’s a way for the wealthy to sneakily get even wealthier, while simply calling it charity. Real charity, the contribution to real individuals who need help, and organizations that are truly set on helping others, is not at all opposed to systemic change.


Tinac4 t1_itq5jrg wrote

I can buy that some billionaire philanthropy uses charity as a front for tax evasion, but I'm not convinced that's true for all of it. For example, as far as I know, money that gets put into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can't just be taken back out and spent on a superyacht--it's not really Gates' money anymore, and there are rules regarding what he can do with it. Gates doesn't have to pay taxes on the money that he puts in, sure, but he's certainly not making any money for doing this (especially when the donated money is in the form of stock shares that he doesn't have to pay taxes on in the first place). Is the BMGF really turning a profit for Gates, and if so, can I have a source proving this?

Again, I'm not saying that there aren't charities out there that are just fronts for tax evasion--there very plausibly are--and I’m also not saying that billionaires are beyond criticism or that we shouldn't raise taxes on them, but I do think that a decent chunk of billionaire philanthropy is actually philanthropy. Plus, the BMGF is a very salient example of billionaire philanthropy, so if the BMGF isn't a tax evasion scheme I'd be wary of painting with as wide a brush as you are.


WarrenHarding t1_itqg546 wrote

Yes, The Gates Foundation has the best PR out of any charity right now. I'm sure many would have said the same about Red Cross about 20 years ago. But let me ask you this - with Bill Gates' charity giving away billions of dollars constantly, how does he continue to make more and more money every single year? That's a hint that being charitable isn't really doing the same thing for him as it does for you and me. For example, if you look up where he's sending it, do you think he's putting it all directly in the hands of those who need it? Because the charity has also donated billions to other companies, and hundreds of millions to those they have stocks and bonds in. That's tons of money that could have gone into public infrastructure but is essentially being reinvested through the charity. I'm not saying *none* of the money has helped anyone, that would be particularly egregious. What I'm really saying is that with the laws we have in place, charity on a scale like this stops being "charity" as we know it. If a billionaire was truly charitable they would stop being a billionaire, simple as that.


Tinac4 t1_itqsl92 wrote

>But let me ask you this - with Bill Gates' charity giving away billions of dollars constantly, how does he continue to make more and more money every single year?

None of the money he's getting comes from the BMGF, so presumably it's because he owns a huge amount of stock in one of the largest (and still-growing) tech companies in the world.

>For example, if you look up where he's sending it, do you think he's putting it all directly in the hands of those who need it?

Yes, I think so. The foundation doesn't have a 100% perfect track record in every area, but it's pretty darn good, especially regarding vaccine campaigns in developing countries.

>Because the charity has also donated billions to other companies, and hundreds of millions to those they have stocks and bonds in.

Which other companies, specifically, and what amount of that isn't just the BMGF investing its funds in the long term (which is a good choice if they can't spend everything on short notice)? How does Gates get any of this money back, and how does the overall amount invested compare to the ~$20 billion donated to global health causes?


Michaelstanto t1_itr5md4 wrote

You are operating on a massive assumption that the public good is best served by government spending via taxation. The Gates foundation, by any measure, has way more bang-for-buck than equivalent public programs. Viewing wealth as antithetical to charity is a depressing view since the government you love so much has several orders of magnitude more wealth than Gates yet floundered with similar projects. I would much rather polio be eradicated by Gates foundation than wasting that money in a federal pit.


flamableozone t1_itsb9vd wrote

Social security saved more people from poverty than private charity ever did or ever will. The federal government's actually pretty good at it.


Rayden117 t1_itsf7tb wrote

The Gates foundation is a tough one which is why I’m happy to dig in. The Gates foundation in more than one instance has taken public money from counties to create limited research which supports the dismantling of public education in support of charter schools or less efficacious alternatives. This is a big deal. Often county or public money from locally partisan communities is responsible for funding these projects and the research has been repeatedly called into question. The foundation has tremendous PR though with Gates at the helm talking about philanthropic utilitarianism while avoiding talking about our variant of capitalism.

Taking on the comments further below. Charities categorically are catastrophic at dealing with social problems. It’s important to note I didn’t say individually but categorically, non-government organizations and non-profits can be added to the above statement in degrees. IE looking at Christian charities as an easy example but personally many charities in general can be problematic. It’s even more problematic with Publix or McDonalds when they became corporate tax write offs asking for public donations. They do not supplant social programs.

Further: Part of the problem of diffusing charity by 100 entities vs 1 is that much of the wealth no matter how large in magnitude is spent on overhead and that wealth is not necessarily easily regeneratable. Look at the Red Cross as an example of overhead and effective out reach. Many charities are not this effective.

3rdly, the idea that charities or independent organizations are better at independently managing societal problems from an ecological standpoint than say the government is an ideological position and is a wrongful assumption.

The government is evidently better, by virtue of so many effective social programs throughout the world, even for business development. Even social programs decried such as the the UK National Health Service don’t compare to the millions of Americans without access to healthcare; even with insurance and agreements between companies it’s unbelievably difficult to get the treatment appropriately paid for for many people.

And this is true even for charities, the scope of their social outreach is inherently incapable of solving the problems they address in society. Charities are a form of prevarication from the many and destitution for all.


Tinac4 t1_ittnxm7 wrote

I think you’re conflating the Gates foundation in with a lot of other flawed charities that aren’t much like it. For example:

  • “Catastrophic at dealing with social problems”: Outside of some controversies regarding US education, the BMGF doesn’t seem to have caused much harm, while undoubtedly accomplishing a lot of good in global health. Some other charities are useless or counterproductive, but I don’t think that applies here, certainly not on net.
  • Overhead: Unlike the Red Cross, BMGF is one of the charities that accomplishes a lot of good without wasting everything on overhead. I feel comfortable saying this without citation; you can look up their vaccination programs if you want. Moreover, it’s overall effectiveness, not overhead, that matters in the end (and I’m not aware of the BMGF having excessive overhead anyway).
  • The BMGF is not intended as a substitute for government, nor does it substitute for it in practice. Most of its global health programs are done in countries that lack healthcare or social safety nets due to a combination of poverty and corruption; this is unlikely to change if the BMGF disappears. It’s an organization that focuses on improving some short-term aspects of health and well-being, and most of its long-term aspects (I think) revolve around eradicating diseases rather than large-scale economic development.

Regardless of what the BMGF has sometimes done wrong (any sufficiently large and complicated charity will screw up somewhere), they’ve very plausibly saved tens of millions of lives so far. Most of the above criticisms fall flat after taking this into account.


ilolvu t1_ittiknz wrote

>it's not really Gates' money anymore, and there are rules regarding what he can do with it.

It's 100% still his money. He controls what is done with it.


Tinac4 t1_ittmfx9 wrote

I don’t think that’s quite right. Gates does control the Foundation, but as a nonprofit, he can’t just spend its money on anything he wants—I’m pretty sure that it does have to get spent on charity in some way instead of yachts or mansions. (I’d like a source if you disagree.)


2xstuffed_oreos_suck t1_itqgbr7 wrote

A billionaire who donates money to a charitable organization (assuming they do not own the organization) will never be wealthier or better off than they had been if they chose not to donate.

Donations to charitable causes reduce your taxable income as well as your post-tax income.


WarrenHarding t1_itqhow1 wrote

most of the billionaires, the ones we are "praising" for charity who are simultaneously against systemic change, DO in fact own their organizations. Let's bring this back to the original point - are charity and systemic changed opposed? What I'm saying is charity is not opposed to systemic change in an example like yours here, where they theoretically don't own the organization, but in many cases they APPEAR opposed, because of the phony definition of "charity" that these billionaires who own their charities use. When someone that rich uses their own charity to get richer, which indeed happens with at least a few of them, then that's where this appearance of opposition between charity and systemic change appears, an opposition that is ultimately faulty because it's not real charity being pitted against here. I'm sure that there are plenty of rich people who both donate to charity AND believe in systemic change to a significant degree (probably not billionaires because it usually takes a special level of greed to become and stay a billionaire, since the realistic needs of money in any given person's life are never that high). I'm not arguing that a rich person donating to charity and losing money can't exist, or that someone can't do that and also be for systemic change. I'm simply saying that when that joke of a system we also call "charity" because of the mask it puts up, the one fueled by billionaires, when that system is used by someone, then indeed there becomes an opposition between this and the idea of radical change, because like I already stated they're operating in "a whole other world" than us, and what they're doing is not charity.


ddrcrono t1_ittxwmk wrote

To me this whole article would better be written as a "Singer, pay more attention to the details, these aren't real charities," than "Your whole philosophy is the problem." I feel like the central message is just off here.


hugefish1234 t1_itpz1f8 wrote

Yeah, personally, I'm not sure what I would do about billionaires. Praising them definitely rubs me the wrong way and helps entrench systemic issues. But sometimes it's worth dealing with the devil for their power.


NobleOceanAlleyCat t1_itr54u7 wrote

My guess is that Singer knows he’d alienate these billionaires if he came off as too socialist. Given his pessimism about systemic political change, he probably sees the choice as between:

(A) Billionaires donate large sums of money to aid organizations to help worst off + No systemic political change


(B) Billionaires don’t donate their money + No systemic political change.

Perhaps his pessimism is unwarranted and he should reject both (A) and (B) as the only options. But until he’s convinced of another option, (A) is obviously the better choice, and it’s the choice that Singer is making, by not being too critical of billionaires.


ddrcrono t1_ittxzbm wrote

Given this he could also choose a more neutral or mildly critical approach. That would also be a better focus for an article critiquing him here.


SalmonApplecream t1_itrdr9k wrote

How do people like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates lobby against those things?


kgbking t1_its9p2f wrote

Bill Gates literally got taken to court by the US government for actively monopolizing Microsoft and lost.


SalmonApplecream t1_ittkug3 wrote

How do you monopolise your own company?

Also, how is this relevant? Microsoft isn’t saving anyone’s lives?


kgbking t1_ittscke wrote

You can look up the case on google. It is public.


InnateAnarchy t1_itsksxm wrote

While this is true, almost every big company gets monopoly lawsuits both nationally and internationally. Just part of being the head of the industry.


kgbking t1_itslb01 wrote

I agree that greed, attempted monopolization, and ruthless business practices are part of industry


InnateAnarchy t1_itsmgkj wrote

Covid made things so much worse in that regard. Forced all the smaller business to shut down while letting the bigger ones stay open.

Ppp loans galore to the biggest companies.

An absurd amount of mom and pop + smaller franchises shut down.

In other words, the governments of the world basically ensured everything is monopolized.


kgbking t1_itswzfi wrote

It seems we have some disagreements.

>Forced all the smaller business to shut down while letting the bigger ones stay open.

I take it that you perceive the Covid restrictions to have been pretty awful government policy because it benefited some businesses while harming other. Myself, on the other hand, believe that the Covid restrictions were a necessary enactment for the safety of the population, regardless of which businesses did or did not benefit from it. If so businesses benefited more than others during this temporary period of Covid regulation, then so be it.

>the governments of the world basically ensured everything is monopolized.

However, as a general statement, I believe this to be 100% correct. By governments implementing a liberal social organization, governments definitely contribute to the monopolization of industry. This is how capital and capitalism work, the unending movement towards monopolization.


InnateAnarchy t1_itt1x8d wrote

I’m sorry in advance that I’m not sure how to format as well as you.

I did not mean to imply any value judgment on the covid restrictions, merely stating they heavily favored the Titans of the industries and Greatly hindered the smaller companies.

You mentioned capital and capitalism as an unending movement toward monopolization. Are you implying that inherently fiat money and capitilsm always end at a monopoly? If so can you elaborate as to why you think that?

I really enjoy this discussion so I apologize if you’re picking up a negative tone but if I understood correctly, I don’t think I agree with this.

We use fiat money along with changing rates to control both the supply and the worth.

As for capitalism, ultimately there hasn’t been any company that’s infallible through time. Even something like Amazon isn’t infallible. So on the side of the companies, I don’t think theres any proof of a company that’s lasted long enough to accumulate to the point of true monopolization.

Id be much more inclined to agree if there was a finite amount of money.


kgbking t1_itts9pd wrote

> they heavily favored the Titans of the industries and Greatly hindered the smaller companies.

Yes I am in agreement with you. The large corporations definitely benefited while the small businesses suffered.

>I did not mean to imply any value judgment on the covid restrictions,

Alright, my apologies. I wrongly ascribed a normative judgement to you. I believe I ascribed that judgement because during the pandemic I met a lot of people who advocated lifting all restrictions due to the restrictions harming some businesses while benefiting others.

>As for capitalism, ultimately there hasn’t been any company that’s infallible through time. Even something like Amazon isn’t infallible. So on the side of the companies, I don’t think theres any proof of a company that’s lasted long enough to accumulate to the point of true monopolization.

Yes, I agree. I think 'monopolization' is too strong a word for what I was trying to convey. The phenomena I was attempting to describe was merely the decreasing competition and increasing oligopolic market structure. The global market structure is increasingly taking the form of an oligopoly where a fewer number of firms disproportionally capture the majority of the market share. I think capitalism naturally moves in this direction.


Orngog t1_ittu6oi wrote

>while the small businesses suffered

So be it.


C64SUTH t1_itsgmth wrote

I’m not sure about lobbying but Buffett invests in a lot of businesses that aren’t exactly benign (e.g. Coke, body armor, a trailer park that traps the tenants with terrible deals), as well as the companies Berkshire owns. And he basically only pays lip service to income redistribution.


ilolvu t1_itthslr wrote

I think you need to do some digging into why we don't have open source covid vaccines.

(Hint: It's because of Bill's 'charity'.)


SalmonApplecream t1_ittk4q6 wrote

Idrk what you mean by an “open source vaccine,” but Astra Zeneca was open source, no?


ctoph t1_itr1kqh wrote

The problem with a statement like . . .you legitimize systemic inequalities, is how can you measure that result. Even if you could, If you want change you need to justify it within a framework that is congruent with reality, in order to create a theory that will resonate with people and change their mind. This means you must deal with the reality that some billionaires seem to legitimately do things for purely philanthropic reasons. However, that truth should be understood against the role of billionaires inside a system that results in deep and unfair inequalities. After all there are perhaps reasons why concentration of wealth in hands of a coordinated group be it a person Corp or government could potentially be beneficial, but the likelihood that they will use it for good is the critical factor. So that some do good proves nothing, unless we think random billionaires are going to use a given sum for a more beneficial purpose than the government (spoilers they won't).


ddrcrono t1_ittxs9z wrote

If one were to make this criticism, rather than saying that Singer's philosophy is the problem, I would say that his problem is poor judgment in who he endorses. These are completely separable things.


sandcastlesofstone t1_itti3do wrote

We should also note that a lot of the "charity" is really just power imposing its will. Gates spent a lot for "education" in Washington state, but it was to install his version of school choice. It counts as charity, but it's really just cramming a rich guy's vision down everyone else's throat. u/SalmonApplecream this is related to your question below.


SalmonApplecream t1_ittk8di wrote

Sure, and he’s also donating an insane amount to fight malaria and other preventable diseases which is THE most effective way to save lives at the moment


ddrcrono t1_ittxjrn wrote

This succinctly gets at one of the biggest problems, but I want to flesh out the depths of how unsatisfying this critique is a little more:

A big problem here is that Singer's critic isn't offering any details on what the alternative is to Singer's advice to us. What does "solving systemic problems" entail for me, the regular working class person? Talking on social media about injustice? Dedicating my life to working for NPOs?

What exactly is the alternative, and spell out to me exactly how, in tangible terms, that's going to help people more than donating a significant portion of my income to causes that help people?

If you're going to engage in a critique of a consequentialist, you need to be able to spell out what they should be doing and how it better maximizes utility than their current plan.

To me this article almost feels like a hit piece on a good person who's actually trying actively to do something about the problem by someone who's only capable of pointing out the flaws without themselves offering a better plan by people who just want to talk big without actually putting their money where their mouths are.

Also, if you understand Singer as a philosopher from the consequentialist tradition, you know that, ultimately, if you showed him a demonstrably better way of using your time, money and effort, he'd be like "Good point, that does better maximize utility," and would himself make those changes. I'm pretty sure Singer is all for systemic change, but is trying to be realistic about giving the relatively few people who read him tangible, practical advice about actually making a difference. Even if he doesn't advocate for trying to make bigger picture changes, he's most certainly in favour of them if they're possible, and his advice is not, as the above commentor has pointed out, mutually exclusive with that.


ilolvu t1_ittj2ih wrote

>That being said, giving to charity can be done at the same time as working toward systemic change.

Singer doesn't encourage people to do so. His focus is entirely (or close to it) on charity.

Has he ever gone after a systemic problem with the same vigour as animal cruelty? I don't think so.


ddrcrono t1_itty360 wrote

I think if I were Singer one thing I would be concerned about would be politicizing my philosophy too much. So if he solidly aligns too much with <obviously left-wing party social policy plank> he stands to alienate half or more than half of his readers. From his point of view, it may be better to only advocate for voluntary of your own free will charity and hope that people get the hint on the systemic change side of things. Also, considering this stuff came up in the 70s, there's probably a bit of calculation going on regarding that political climate. (Thatcher and Reagan were just around the corner so maybe that relates)


icarusrising9 t1_itpyj8y wrote

Usually a fan of Jacobin's stuff, but this is a joke. There are valid critiques of effective altruism, sure, but this goes way too far. Of course there are structural, material causes of poverty and suffering. If I have $1,000 in my pocket, though, it's not particularly clear how I can help address those issues other than helping people on a smaller scale. At the end of the day, providing an answer that helps save a couple of lives (who may themselves go on to affect structural change!) is better than endless leftist infighting that likely brings about no positive change at all.

Of course I, like most of Jacobin's readers, would prefer that Singer were explicitly anti-capitalist. However, his call that we bring a more analytical viewpoint to how we seek to bring about maximal good is, I think, a valuable one. I suspect that some critiques of his philosophy are oftentimes subconsciously motivated by a desire to evade the guilt at how much better we Westerners are than the vast majority of the people on this planet. It's easier to pat ourselves on the back for social media posts than it is to donate the majority of our incomes to charities.


InJaaaammmmm t1_itqa2pm wrote

Singer makes people uncomfortable because he puts his money where his mouth is. It's easy to sit around arguing/writing books about dismantling the system, whilst you have some cushy job at a University.


SvenOdinsblade t1_itqbj07 wrote

That never made me uncomfortable...the beastiality comments did.


InJaaaammmmm t1_itqcpme wrote

It's definitely not the place of philosophy to make arguments for things people may find uncomfortable. /s


MrPezevenk t1_itqdq9g wrote

But it is also easy to "put your money where your mouth is" when you have said job.


icarusrising9 t1_itqg5jt wrote

I dunno, he donates most of his income and seems to live as minimalist a life as he can. I don't think he makes it too easy on himself.


MrPezevenk t1_itqh2fw wrote

Me and you can't really know where he lives. But most people live a very "minimalist" life, except they don't chose to, and they have far more precarious jobs. Singer can chose what level of living he is happy with, stay there and be assured he will never be poor.


punninglinguist t1_itqnl9s wrote

Isn't that kind of Singer's argument, though? That people who are well-off should choose to give away most of their assets in ways that benefit the poor.?


MrPezevenk t1_itqnthk wrote

I didn't say it isn't. I said it's kind of a cop out to say "hey well he puts his money where his mouth is, other people have it easy because they have cushy jobs". Yeah he does too, and he can put his money where his mouth is because of that. Most other people can't do that.


Tinac4 t1_itqrkxy wrote

Sure, but he still goes further than 99.something% of people in his income bracket. 40% is a pretty substantial chunk of income even if he's making (say) 200k/year. As for why he doesn't donate more:

>"I just accept that I'm not a saint. There are people in my book who are better than I am, people who've donated a kidney to a stranger. I still have two kidneys. And I could certainly live more parsimoniously and donate more as a result."


>"On the other hand, maybe it's the people like you who aren't giving – or who are working their way up to giving 1 per cent – who make me feel, 'Look, I'm not such a bad guy, I'm giving more than most.'"


MrPezevenk t1_itqyu46 wrote

Dude, I'm not saying he should be giving more or less or whatever. I'm saying that it's not an argument for one or the other thing. This percentage thing is also weird because if I make 100k per month and I give away 90%, I still live awesome. If I make 1k and give away 90%, I'm fucked. And what's more, the impact I make is 100 times smaller. If that's how we're judging people then rich people are the only ones who even have the luxury of being moral I guess.


Fumquat t1_itqwfsv wrote

Strange to think of it in percents, as if there isn’t, in the first world, a standard of living floor below which one requires rather than owes charity.

If I’ve lived on 10% of Singers net income, how can my better-or-less-than moral status then depend on how much more I earn that I then can give from? It doesn’t feel right as a calculation.


punninglinguist t1_itqysdf wrote

Singer's not posing his argument to most people, though. He's posing it to affluent people in developed countries. I think he'd agree with you that, say, a working class single mom, who sometimes has to choose between groceries and prescriptions, should not be expected to give away any wealth.


MrPezevenk t1_itqzboq wrote

Yes but I'm not talking about Singer, I'm talking about how people in this thread talk about Singer and his charity.


punninglinguist t1_itrd4zw wrote

It seemed clear to me from context that people were comparing Singer to other affluent westerners and/or other philosophers who write about inequality. Again, not to the sort who lack disposable assets.


WellReadDuck t1_itr91kg wrote

“I suspect that some critiques of his philosophy are oftentimes subconsciously motivated by a desire to evade the guilt at how much better we Westerners are than the vast majority of the people on this planet. It's easier to pat ourselves on the back for social media posts than it is to donate the majority of our incomes to charities.”

100% this. The Singer solution to world hunger causes a lot of cognitive dissonance in us well-to-do Westerners. Most of us see ourselves as good, unselfish people, but the truth that we aren’t doing nearly as much as we ought as individuals leads to much psychological discomfort. The easiest way to dispel that discomfort is by attacking rejecting Singer’s solution.


NdGaM t1_itqi6yk wrote

I tend to agree that the article is a clown-fiesta past the introduction, but I think it sets the stage for more reasonable criticisms. Questions like:

  1. Is effective altruism too quick to rush to the immediate aid of people? That is to say, by chasing success in short-term numbers is it missing opportunities for greater long-term improvement of the human condition, which would fall in-line with its own foundational objective?
  2. Is Singer’s viewpoint too inclined towards resignation? How do you set valid and sustainable boundaries between pipe dream objectives and meeting people’s immediate needs?

There’s more to be said, but TL;DR I think there are valid criticisms nested inside this biased and off-the-rails article.


colinmhayes2 t1_itsb66z wrote

X-risk analysis and prevention is the biggest cause area in effective altruism other than global health. How anyone could claim that ea is too quick to rush to the immediate aid of people is beyond me when they’re actually far too quick to rush to the aid of people who do not yet exist.


NdGaM t1_iu0ore0 wrote

I’m not sure I understand your post. Could you clarify a few questions for me?

  1. Are you making a case for or against EA?
  2. Is there information I’m missing that shows EA supporting a population that doesn’t exist? As an American that phrasing immediately makes me think about abortion but I suspect you might mean something else that I’m misinterpreting.
  3. I don’t understand what you mean by x-risk analysis in this context, particularly because I’m not sure if “biggest cause area” is a typo or not. I apologize if that was rude but it would help me if you offered an example of how risk analysis ties in, per your understanding. In my mind the equation is set up one way, but I am uncertain whether or not your understanding conflicts with mine.

colinmhayes2 t1_iu0p1mv wrote

  1. I’m not really making a case for or against ea, just saying that you seem to misunderstand their cause prioritization.

  2. Some effective altruists are very concerned for the potentially trillions of people who will exist in the future. You see this in their extensive work on nuclear non proliferation, ai safety, biohazard safety, climate change, and more in the long term as well as political action in the medium term. X risk stands for existential risk, people who care about x risk work to ensure the survival of humanity over the next thousand plus years.

Givewell tends to focus on short term welfare because it’s easier to convince people to donate to lower risk causes, but the community spends a huge amount of time working to ensure future welfare too.


icarusrising9 t1_itqtu2a wrote

Sure! I think another criticism that's really good emerges when one looks at how corrupt lots of poverty-stricken countries are; how much money donated is actually being pocketed by dictators and bureaucrats? And one could argue that even the money that reaches it's goal just enables the corrupt machine to keep chugging on...

But ya like you said, it's unfortunate the article went way too far and ended up being a parody of much better criticisms.


NobleOceanAlleyCat t1_itr7a29 wrote

That’s why Singer stresses the importance of donating to particular organizations, like, which measures the effectiveness of various charities and ranks them according to their impact. He has never advocated just giving to any old charity.


icarusrising9 t1_itsdcic wrote

The calculus GiveWell uses is necessarily focused on short-term tangible benefits. For example, there's no way their method could or would result in donating to an organization or political movement trying to bring about large-scale systemic change.

This isn't a full-throated attack on effective altruism, I actually think Singer and GiveWell are brilliant, but it definitely is something to keep in mind.


NdGaM t1_iu0nuab wrote

Icarus said it well, but I just wanted to clarify that I think GiveWell is quite responsible in acting in line with its mission. It just isn’t designed to invoke systematic change from the top-down, which I would say is a valid criticism even when accounting for all the unsettled debate on whether top-down or bottom-up efforts are more practical, expedient, effective, etc.


ddrcrono t1_ittyb4h wrote

Nailed it. The guilt cope is real.

Also he may try to keep his advice apolitical because, from a utility-maximizing point of view, if you can appeal to the moral conscience of people across the spectrum, rather than primarily to those with one political affiliation, the good you will in turn encourage will be greater.

(And let's suppose that there are good people who vote for any given party, and that those are the only people he's concerned with talking to to begin with. There are plenty of left-wing people, as you point out, who are all talk).


Mkwdr t1_itpjoyu wrote

It sometimes seems easier to say ‘something must be done’ than come up with concrete individual actions. It’s arguable whether throwing soup at a painting has more practical effect than helping others through charity. Obviously it sends what specific problems you seek to alleviate. And saying that is not the equivalent of saying we should do nothing.

The problem with ‘overthrow the whole system and put in my ideologically pure alternative’ is that it tends to be undemocratic ( but for their own good because they are too stupid, evil or brainwashed to know what good for them of course) and all ideologies tend to have unintended consequences when faced with real life that may be worse than the one overthrown (and often the intended methods are morally suspect.) We undoubtedly should be far more sceptical about capitalism and no doubt there is much that should be done to reform it, but we should treat exhortations to overthrow it with the same scepticism.

Also I’d point out that Singer claiming human nature is not as pliable as Marx believed doesn’t seem to be the same as saying it’s entirely fixed so his argument for manageable personal action is not really contradictory in substance despite the mention of fashion. He seems to be saying that you can’t successfully change a whole economic system in a way that clashes with human nature but you might be able to work within in it to alleviate the problems.


glass_superman t1_itpthts wrote

>He seems to be saying that you can’t successfully change a whole economic system in a way that clashes with human nature but you might be able to work within in it to alleviate the problems.

It is kind of a ridiculous way of thinking on Singer's part, though. He suggests that our current system of capitalism can't be changed, though it's only 250 years old and came into being exactly as a change in economic system that no one thought could change.

So he suggests instead charity, which has been around for thousands of years and has yet to solve poverty.

If anything, a change in the economic system is more frequent (a few times in recorded history) than charity's ability to solve poverty (thousands of years, still no success). Yet he claims that the latter is more likely to work?


Tinac4 t1_itpw3yy wrote

Singer doesn't advocate for giving to charity because he thinks it'll miraculously solve poverty--he advocates for it because it simply makes the world a better place. If you lived in a hypothetical world where you knew that you couldn't personally accomplish any political changes, and you saw a child drowning in a nearby lake, would you jump in and rescue them, or would you continue walking because saving the kid wouldn't solve any of the systemic problems of our economic system?

The question of whether to spend effort on getting people to donate to charity vs getting people to push for policy changes isn't so easy to answer when you factor in likelihood of success. Political change is quite difficult for any person to accomplish--there's no shortage of left-wing academic figures who got a lot of attention advocating for change but had little impact overall. In contrast, Singer has been extremely successful at getting a lot of people to donate to charity. What's better: A high probability of convincing 1,000 people to donate and save 10,000 lives, or an unknown but probably very low probability of convincing the entire US to reform its political system? Do you save the drowning children in front of you or do you gamble on a tiny chance of a vastly higher payoff?

(Plus, you can multitask by donating to charity and also voting for good politicians or policies. Singer votes, and isn't silent about who he votes for.)


GrogramanTheRed t1_itpy4lt wrote

There's a useful concept in mathematics called a "local maximum."

One way to solve a problem is to simply do the thing that most directly relates to maximizing a desired attribute in ourselves and the world. This is roughly analogous to the "greedy algorithm" in computer science, and it's what Singer largely advocates for.

However, it usually results in getting stuck in local maxima--a space where any different incremental actions lead to a result that is worse than the result we're currently. It is often the case that in the total probability space of reachable solutions, there may be better solutions, but we will have to go through a temporary period of pain or reduced effectiveness to get there. But since we don't yet have that new solution--the problem isn't fully solved yet--we can't know for sure that we actually can get to a better solution than the local maximum that we've found.

There's a element of wisdom involved in apprehending that what we've found is merely a local maximum, not the global maximum. And there's a element of risk in striking out for the the higher peak across the valley. Call it a calculated risk or--if you want a drop of poetry--a leap of faith.

This criticism of Singer is essentially that he lacks the courage to step out from the local maximum that he's found. Whether it's a fair criticism or not depends on one's overall judgement of the situation.


Tinac4 t1_itq21fx wrote

The difference between your stance and Singer’s has nothing to do with courage—it’s almost exclusively a matter of epistemics. Singer thinks we live in a world where systemic change is hard and where he would have a very small chance of accomplishing anything if he switched away from charity to advocate for it full-time. You (apologies if I’m making any bad assumptions) think we live in a word where systemic change is somewhat easier and where Singer would have a substantial chance of making concrete changes if he pushed for it. Courage doesn’t factor into it—and unless criticism explicitly focuses on why systemic change is easier than Singer thinks, it’s going to miss the mark.

(Another possible difference of opinion is that Singer is more risk-averse—that given a choice between saving 1 life with certainty and 101 lives with a 1% chance, he’d pick the former—but since he’s a utilitarian, and it’s hard to do utilitarianism without being at least somewhat comfortable with expected value theory, I doubt that’s his main objection.)


GrogramanTheRed t1_itqezhn wrote

I was sort of describing a stance rather than presenting a stance of my own. I understand your first paragraph here to be something of an elaboration of my last paragraph.

My own stance is, however, remarkably similar to what I laid out. I don't have a particularly detailed understanding of Singer's work--I've only read brief papers by him, and not many of his longer works. However, I would describe my own position briefly, if you're interested.

It is a long tradition in philosophy going back to at least Plato to analogize between the individual (I almost want to put scare quotes around "individual" here) and society. I would like to do that as well. It may seem strongly disanalagous at first, but close introspection of one's own mind shows that while there is something unified or unifying about conscious experience, the mind itself is made up of many different parts, each of which has its own motivations, goals, and behaviors. Each of us can be treated like a society in and of ourselves.

This is talked about in great detail in the meditation traditions that spread out from India, as well as in various psychotherapeutic modalities, from newer modalities like Internal Family Systems and Core Transformation to more traditional modalities like paychodynamics.

When you spend some time working with the parts through therapy and/r meditation, it starts to become clear that there us a far broader possibility space for the state of the whole bodymind system than one initially thought possible. Things can be both far better and far worse than one thought was possible. One can become aware of ways that your parts interact with each other that are quite surprising. For example--over the last week in my own meditation practice, I have discovered that there is a part of me which functions as a "bliss limiter"--it tamps down on a particular body experience of fizzy joy and pleasure which the Buddhist tradition calls "piti." It has been tamping this down this experience specifically because other parts were afraid of losing control and being unable to fulfill their functions and their goals. But I have found a way to allow the bliss limited to safely ease up a little bit without threatening too many other parts.

By analogy, I strongly suspect that there are aociety-wide modes of relating which are both far better and far worse than what we experience now. And just as clinging too hard to what works now in the individual status quo can lead the individual to severe depression, anxiety, suicidality, etc., I suspect that clinging to status quo methods of working with society can also lead us to dark places.

Singer's work is a little bit like the standard advice for dealing with negative mental health states. Giving to charity and changing to more prosocial personal habits and modes of consumption is rather like eating your vegetables, getting exercise, and trying to get enough sleep. They are indeed helpful and have been shown both scientifically and in many people's personal lives to improve things overall. However, they are limited in what they can do. There are other, very surprising ways of working which can have much more dramatically positive impacts.

Similarly, I suspect that there are things we can do as a society which can improve the overall state much more dramatically than we usually think possible. I think we can point to world history over the last 500 years for many such previous examples. (As well as many times where the local situation became much worse than people thought was possible quite suddenly! Which should be a warning!)


Tinac4 t1_itqqhvu wrote

Thanks for taking the time to explain! I think I understand a little better now. It does seem like the difference of opinion is going to come down to how easy to find and how common those transformative policies are--although I think you could plausibly put them into the same category of explorative research, where you cast a wide net to find a few major discoveries.


Smallpaul t1_itpxb7e wrote

I don’t think anyone knows which is more likely to work at a global system level. But it is demonstrably easier for a single individual to dramatically change the life of another individual through charity (I have done it several times). For me to achieve the same through politics is incredibly diffuse and difficult to prove, especially if I eschew electoral politics as many Jacobin writers would probably suggest.

Obviously I’m happy that some people work on behalf of the poor through politics, and I vote for them. But I could spend my whole life without accruing any evidence whatsoever that I had actually improved anyone’s life. It’s almost a faith based activity, whereas the fruits of my charitable work are obvious,

The other issue is that in politics, the harder you work, the harder your opponents are motivated to work. In charity there are seldom opponents. Hardly ever is there a person who makes it their life goal to re-impoverish people.


glass_superman t1_itq7k2e wrote

> Hardly ever is there a person who makes it their life goal to re-impoverish people.

It's basically the mission statement of many corporations. The IMF has austerity plans to "help" poor nations.

Nestle buying up the sources of water in order to resell water to poor people is an attempt to reimpoverish people, for profit.

No one explicitly has the aim to impoverish people but we set up systems to allow us to do it while obfuscating the guilty. And when we fail to obfuscate the guilt, we give charity! Charity was invented to relieve us of our guilt.


Smallpaul t1_itqa3un wrote

> No one explicitly has the aim to impoverish people ....

Yeah that’s what I said before you contradicted me and then contradicted yourself.

> ... but we set up systems to allow us to do it while obfuscating the guilty.

Sometimes the guilty are pre-obfuscated. When America set up its highway system rather than a decent train system, nobody knew they were contributing the flooding of Tuvalu. The world is hella complex and only a tiny minority of problems are caused by identifiable “bad guys” and a much smaller minority of those “bad guys” are capitalist CEOs, as opposed to warlords, authoritarians and others who get power outside of democracy or capital markets.

> And when we fail to obfuscate the guilt, we give charity! Charity was invented to relieve us of our guilt.

No. Charity was invented to help people.

But yes it does also assuage guilt. Another way to assuage guilt is to say that charity does nothing. Then you can do nothing and feel justified.


SalmonApplecream t1_itrdxtg wrote

He literally does not say it cannot be changed. He just says that random individuals can't do very much to change it.


glass_superman t1_itrxc67 wrote

Is not every change in society made by random individuals? Sometimes working together?


Mkwdr t1_itq09i3 wrote

I don’t think it’s ridiculous if we take it as improve on rather than just change. It’s always possible to change just not necessarily for the better. There’s certainly lots to be improved in capitalism but whether it can be improved on is yet to be demonstrated. It’s certainly possible but the writer is far clearer on Singer’s faults than any alternative.


glass_superman t1_itq4vwd wrote

> There’s certainly lots to be improved in capitalism but whether it can be improved on is yet to be demonstrated.

Probably the same was said of every economic system. It can't be bettered until it is.


Mkwdr t1_itq7czb wrote

Or not. But it’s up to someone to suggest an alternative and why it might work better bearing in mind what we know about people etc ( and indeed better than a reformed version of what is already there) and persuade people that is the case.


pickleshoesteve t1_itqzo1r wrote

Charity isn't about "solving" poverty. It is about doing what you can to help lessen the suffering of others.


Vainti t1_itq3sig wrote

Changing our economic system is obviously possible. We can become more authoritarian and less capitalistic. But we have never been able to create a non oppressive economic system. Creating such a system through democracy without having your movement co-opted by dictators may very well be unrealistic.


TuvixWasMurderedR1P OP t1_itppp0j wrote

You're making a lot of assumptions about Singer's would-be critics.

The alternative to charity isn't necessarily throwing soup cans at priceless art, and to suggest that is to provide a pretty unsympathetic view of the critic.

Charity itself is a luxury of sorts, and not everyone can participate.

Also, while some critics of capitalism or of Singer (or both) might be petty tyrants and dogmatically committed to some purity test, there's no reason why that's necessarily the case. There are conceptions of alternative systems that are nonetheless pluralistic, and to suggest that these don't exist is to be intellectually dishonest.

Nor do we have any reason to believe that there's a democratic consensus around the status quo, or that the status quo somehow conforms better to "human nature," whatever that may be.


Mkwdr t1_itpza3o wrote

I’m curious what your pluralistic alternative to capitalism. I’m all for reforming and controlling capitalism through social measures - but the article certainly seemed to me to be suggesting a complete replacement. And indeed rather sneering at Singer. Personally I think the third way is to actual out in the effort to convince , persuade, and work through the democratic system - if you have actually worked out what can and needs to be changed.


Amphy64 t1_itpwtf3 wrote

>The problem with ‘overthrow the whole system and put in my ideologically pure alternative’ is that it tends to be undemocratic ( but for their own good because they are too stupid, evil or brainwashed to know what good for them of course) and all ideologies tend to have unintended consequences when faced with real life that may be worse than the one overthrown (and often the intended methods are morally suspect.)

Not really, it tends to assume false consciousness and that people would already agree if they weren't being mislead. Most people in our society -UK here- even already easily agree animals have moral value, claim to care about them, back laws protecting them and want further such legislation, frequently express horror at footage of animal agriculture or outright refuse to watch it yet continue to act according to the status quo and counter to their own apparent beliefs, for various reasons. I can't think of an actual instance of such an ideology being implemented with unintended consequences, examples?

Charity also is not counter to ideological consistency aimed at systemic change - I donate to vegan charity Viva, for example.


Mkwdr t1_itq1g4e wrote

>Not really, it tends to assume false consciousness and that people would already agree if they weren't being mislead.

Indeed. Which I think is covered in “they are too stupid …. brainwashed”. I didn’t say the assumption was always necessarily wrong ( though I certainly don’t trust ideologues Of any flavour on the subject).

>Charity also is not counter to ideological consistency aimed at systemic change - I donate to vegan charity Viva, for example.

No indeed the two are not mutually exclusive , one can do what you can on a micro(?) level while working for wider macro change. My problem is while I can see a change in our eating habits and people being persuaded of that over time , it’s far harder to come up with an alternative to “capitalism” that would work better overall and be accepted to populations.

Bear in mind that I absolutely agree with the social limitation of capitalism. But the article seems to be promoting replacement not reform.


Amphy64 t1_itq3gxk wrote

But what I mean is, there's a difference between imposing something over people's heads on the mere convenient assumption they're too brainwashed, and aiming to unbrainwash them and letting them join the calls and action for change. Mostly those wanting systemic change aren't even assuming it's possible, or remotely logical -those with more power are not the ones likeliest to dismantle their own power-, to impose top down like that.


Mkwdr t1_itq4l0k wrote

I absolutely agree.

But I think it’s hard work persuading people they are wrong or misled and takes time - much easier to complain about them being ‘sheep’ and feel righteous? But I ( being not at all an expert) have a theory that ideologues become authoritarians because “people just won’t make the obviously right choices so must be made to for their own good’.

Though I wonder if ( on the two ends of a horse shoe principle) there is a link between right/left ( I use the words vaguely) ideologies , authoritarianism , and underlying Hobbes/Rousseau social beliefs. That is the right think people are inherently crap and need whipping into shape right from the start - while the left think people are inherently perfect … and need punishing and controlling when they inevitably disappoint. Just a random thought.


Amphy64 t1_itqdbxg wrote

>ideologues become authoritarians because “people just won’t make the obviously right choices so must be made to for their own good’.

Again would need an example because cannot think of any: only of supporters of the status quo claiming it's the case. Us vegans are always getting accused of somehow pushing veganism on people despite evidently possessing vastly less influence and access to power than the animal ag. industry. Usually what it actually means is 'vegans made me think about how my actions aren't in accordance with my beliefs and that made me feel bad some I'm going to blame them and call them pushy'.

Rousseau is not nearly as idealistic as he gets accused of being - he suggests people will act in self-interest and is not expecting perfection, or even, on the worse side, that means of control like religion aren't useful. It is the eighteenth century, I'm never sure why anyone expects idealism as some might mean it today from it. Which, in terms of arguable improvements, suggests 'idealists' have a point. This debate could easily be had about slavery using worryingly similar language to that applied to the oppression of non-human animals. Leftists assume the system creates the bad outcomes, not inherently the people.


Mkwdr t1_itqdwzd wrote

Well I’m thinking of practically every group that has tried a form of communism, national socialism or theocratic government as an ideology.


Amphy64 t1_itqek9k wrote

That's not a specific example of an ideology being adhered to the point of unexpected bad outcomes, though. Nazism had the bad outcome built in and intended, so do theocratic governments.


Mkwdr t1_itqhdtx wrote

You seem to have shifted the point.

I wrote..

>ideologues become authoritarians because “people just won’t make the obviously right choices so must be made to for their own good’.

(Now admittedly I implied so could have made clear “for their own good” according to the ideologues.)

You asked for examples where that happened.. not

>example of an ideology being adhered to the point of unexpected bad outcomes

So ?

But I would suggest that no ideology thinks of itself as the bad guy ( shout out to Mitchell and Webb “Are we the bad guys”.) I think that those ones mentioned are wrong in principle and practice. My point is that when the inevitable failure occurs then they need to blame someone and ratchet up the authoritarianism.


Amphy64 t1_itqjb2r wrote

Think Nazism is likewise different to your original point though, because as well as the deliberateness, there is a lack of cohesiveness to the ideology, making it more of an excuse for what was done than an example of what can unexpectedly happen if following ideology -that was mentioned in the first post I think-, it was with considerable public support, not just imposed from above.

Lack of coherence and consistency suggests lack of sincerity - eg. demands for pre-marital chastity combined with a sexual double standard where all the emphasis is on the demand that women should be modest, but intimate examinations are apparently acceptable, and rapists are enabled. People may not think of themselves as the bad guys but that's not what good faith looks like either.


Mkwdr t1_itqkqac wrote

To me you are identifying the problem with all ideologies. The contrast between theory and practice. While no doubt some are more thoroughly worked out than others - Is there a political ideology which hasn’t been open to exploitation and hypocrisy by those with the power to implement it?

I think I’d say with that in mind that it’s true that powerful believers in charge use authoritarianism as a method to try to compensate for the system failing , while powerful free loaders do it to keep themselves in a privileged position? Though that makes my wonder the balance between those two groups in any specific example of an ideology.

But I’m only thinking aloud.


Amphy64 t1_itqqb7v wrote

But exactly - it's easy to come up with examples of deliberate exploitation, human error/idiocy, impossible circumstances and simple panic, not so much of bad outcomes originating from someone sincerely trying, sticking to principles and expecting a good outcome with legitimate reason for that expectation. Almost like maybe it doesn't actually happen and supporters of the status quo just claim it does to try to undermine positive change - and I think we should be clear this accusation gets thrown at the left, not the right, despite the ideology frequently having then being accepted with time.

Using authoritarianism would often intrinsically represent a failing in belief, not consistency. Although another accusation thrown at the left is that of being authoritarian just for defending their position against the status quo and reactionaries.


Mkwdr t1_itqrxz0 wrote

You’ve lost me somewhat.

All I’m suggesting is that throughout history organisations based on a specific ideology ( in which the ideas matter more than actual individuals - who become a means to an end) have a tendency when faced with the reality of failure to shore up the system or punish scapegoats by greater authoritarianism. Individuals matter less than preserving the ideology.

If you are saying there are no genuine believers at the top and it’s their own power they seek to maintain with the increasing authoritarianism then I think you have a very good point.

Though I think it’s possible there may be examples in which the action taken in the name of the ideology actually undermined their power and a more pragmatic approach would have been better for them?


Amphy64 t1_itquhj7 wrote


Depending on the ideology, the idea individuals mattered less would tend to be an inherent contradiction, certainly to leftwing movements that are intended ultimately to benefit a people consisting of individuals. If said 'individuals' actually means 'clear enemies who are outright trying to destroy the progress and murder those trying to establish it', then it's only leftist movements that seriously get blamed for this and it has darn all to do with those making such accusations thinking it just went ideologically 'too far', and everything to do with thinking they had no right to try to oppose the status quo to begin with, it's just a bad faith conflation. It's not that individuals matter less than some kind of assumed-abstract ideology in such a case, if the ideology was supposed to benefit the majority and not the minority totally deliberately trying to sabotage its application.

No - genuine believers may be around, but are then up against the opportunists, the people who are just bad/inexperienced at applying an ideology, consistency issues that already existed, legitimate differences in ideology that may be hard to resolve, the weight of the status quo, all the mistakes and pressures of the situation itself, the people behind deliberate internal and external opposition, and likely do not want to be an authoritarian even if they could. So the explanation for what went wrong was still not the typical lame accusation of 'ideological purity': the people who were ideologically at least fairly consistent may not have stood a chance. Which does not make them wrong nor the aim of consistency wrong, it just suggests it's hard, which is more the actual problem imo than anyone ever being overly ideologically consistent on any scale. If more aim for it, it may get easier for others to do, ie. veganism again.

>Though I think it’s possible there may be examples in which the action taken in the name of the ideology actually undermined their power and a more pragmatic approach would have been better for them?

Possible but I've more often seen the reverse argued. Whether a specific action was just a bad idea/misguided/stupid is a somewhat different question.


Mkwdr t1_itqzdzh wrote

I find the suggesting that ostensibly left ideologies such as communism put the welfare of the individual over the collective somewhat difficult to take seriously. Similar with the idea that the millions that they imprisoned or killed through commission or deliberate omission were clear enemies. I would say that pretty much all political ideologies claim everyone is better off even if it’s because the hoi poloi are better of in their place.

I would suggest that ideologies by their nature put conceptual factors above realistic pragmatism and when the two clash authoritarianism attempts to reconcile the problem. Ideologies don’t survive the test of being implemented.

So far like democracy could be said in practice to be the worst system apart from all the others , capitalism is the same.


MrPezevenk t1_itqegjb wrote

>than come up with concrete individual actions

Individual actions are explicitly not the point though.


Mkwdr t1_itqfl0t wrote

That would appear to beg the question. The author thinks individual actions that work within the system are insignificant and the system needs changing as a whole. Well that’s easy to say.

And since in practice there are only the actions of individuals working separately or together _ what do they do to change the whole system and what do they propose to replace it with?

It’s like people protesting to “stop racism!” - well yeh I agree …. and now how do we do actually precisely and practically do that step by step since just saying stop probably isn’t going to do it.


MrPezevenk t1_itqg3fo wrote

>And since in practice there are only the actions of individuals working separately or together

In practice most actions that are socially significant are collective, not individual, and very hard to reduce to "many different individuals separately doing x and y". If you are asking for a step by step guide of what YOU specifically should do, this is beside the point. If the question is about what a social subject "should" do, then that is a totally different question and a very widely addressed one.


Mkwdr t1_itqjbgi wrote

Collective is just lots of individuals acting in concert. I don’t see it makes a difference. Lots of people giving to or volunteering for the same charity is a collective action. Just saying “act collectively” isn’t very useful without specifying precisely what to do.

That’s rather my problem with a protest which is of a “stop being bad” nature without doing the more complex work of planning for and persuading for necessity concrete specific steps. Does collective action just mean “if I make enough fuss someone else like the government will sort it out” so my only personal action is to protest?

I think what can I and I should do that will make a difference is not beside the point at all. Including working out how what I can do to influence those with more power to take action. But so is precisely what actions they should undertake.


MrPezevenk t1_itqlcc9 wrote

>Collective is just lots of individuals acting in concert

Definitely not in concert.

>Does collective action just mean “if I make enough fuss someone else like the government will sort it out” so my only personal action is to protest?

That is very much not the point and as I said before it is also not the point to give a personal manual for any person to follow. The whole point is that "what do I specifically do" is not really a good question because, who are you? And whatever it is that you do end up doing, what does it matter if it's only you doing it? It's like saying, what do I do to create a good blockbuster movie? There is no answer to this, it's a lengthy process that goes through a number of institutions and involves many different bodies of people going back and forth. If the question is, what are the elements of a good blockbuster movie, then the question makes a little bit more sense. It also makes more sense to ask "I am involved in x aspect of y movie, what do I do to do my part well?", and that also makes more sense. Otherwise it doesn't.

Social progress is not something that can be framed individually in the abstract.


Mkwdr t1_itqo66n wrote

>Collective is just lots of individuals acting in concert

>Definitely not in concert.

Don’t leave me hanging! lol


> done by people acting as a group.

In concert

> acting jointly.

>That is very much not the point and as I said before it is also not the point to give a personal manual for any person to follow.

In your opinion. As I think I might have mentioned this begs the question. The writer if the article may think that ( though I’m not sure that necessarily true). But he’s disputing what Singer might think. You don’t get to decide the point when that’s in contention.

My point is that real, precise actions for real individuals to do that can make a difference is precisely the point. Such action could be direct or indirect through persuading others to take an action. But what action matters? It’s difficult for individuals to do anything - so don’t take any personal responsibility?

Like I said , it may be that lots of individuals changing their behaviour or indeed acting to persuade others to change their behaviour - is useful. But even more so if they attempt to work out precisely what behaviour needs changing and how.


MrPezevenk t1_itqotfb wrote

>It’s difficult for individuals to do anything - so don’t take any personal responsibility?

So, stop asking for what abstract individuals should do and start asking what social classes, institutions and movements should be doing. If you want a concrete answer it is not possible to get one on the level of an abstract individual.


Mkwdr t1_itqq8mm wrote

Um… I was paraphrasing up your argument.

Abstract concepts such as a social class cant do anything… only the individuals that make them up. So we are back to what should the individuals in that group actually do.


MrPezevenk t1_itqsdbm wrote

>Abstract concepts such as a social class cant do anything…

Yes they can. They do all the time. Let's open a random news article from, uh, say the guardian. Let's look at the title of the first featured international news article:

>Russia-Ukraine war live news: Ukraine fears Russia planning false flag attack amid Kremlin’s ‘dirty bomb’ claims

Neither Ukraine which apparently "fears" nor Russia which apparently is feared to be planning a false flag attack are people. It's an abstraction of multiple different people doing and thinking often conflicting things but summing up to a specific overall direction.


SanctuaryMoon t1_itrgqlo wrote

Ah yes, because animal rights are so status quo...

Is this satire?


Arcanas1221 t1_itt47vj wrote

He’s a utilitarian. I think pretty much every utilitarian would disagree that the status quo maximizes benefits/minimizes suffering.


flatcologne t1_ittbk8f wrote

Of the individual. It’s a big difference. Edit: thought you said agree, not disagree


shumpitostick t1_itqiujb wrote

I feel like the author of this never really cared to understand Singer's philosophy. It's not only focused on individual actions. Singer has written books advocating for policy change in areas such as animal experimentation. He founded a non-profit that works on inspiring public awareness for animal welfare. He campaigned against tbe Vietnam war. Let me just quote this passage from Wikipedia

Singer has criticised the United States for receiving "oil from countries run by dictators ... who pocket most of the" financial gains, thus "keeping the people in poverty." Singer believes that the wealth of these countries "should belong to the people" within them rather than their "de facto government. In paying dictators for their oil, we are in effect buying stolen goods, and helping to keep people in poverty." Singer holds that America "should be doing more to assist people in extreme poverty". He is disappointed in U.S. foreign aid policy, deeming it "a very small proportion of our GDP, less than a quarter of some other affluent nations."

The ignorance of the author also shows when he calls Singer a preference utilitarian, a position that he has backed away from almost 10 years ago.

Calling Singer a supporter of the status quo is dishonest. What the author is really trying to criticize him about is for not being communist. It is Jacobin magazine, after all. For the author, anybody that comes short of flatly rejecting capitalism is a supporter of the status quo


notworkingghost t1_itps53f wrote

Maybe time for some people to read some Franz Fanon about some other options besides charity. I’ve completely oversimplified this, of course.


mechajlaw t1_itrr6eb wrote

Franz Fanon is an interesting one in this context. When he wrote the Wretched of the Earth, it was in the context of colonialism. It was effective because it's solution was simple, to end colonialism kill the colonizers.

I'm not sure how well that applies in the current context because something like "Eat the Rich" has to be far more nuanced than the Bolshevik movement to really help people.


jindog t1_itr6bju wrote

Jacobin: Singer is the Philosopher of the status quo

Bing: Singer is considered to be one of the most influencing living thinkers however he was also called as the best-known vegetarian, and the most dangerous man in the World.


DrPlatypus1 t1_itpxdze wrote

If you're opposed to large scale efforts to stop babies from dying needlessly, I think it's time to rethink your ethical framework. Large-scale social change is insanely difficult to bring about, and history has shown that it almost never has the results the people pushing for it expect. If you're okay with just letting people die for no good reason while you wait around for it, I seriously doubt you actually care about people at all. You're just a poser who likes to feel good about yourself without actually having to do anything.


whodo-i-thinkiam t1_itpocno wrote

>Peter Singer argues that individuals should do more to alleviate the world’s poverty

The reason these kinds of statements are empty platitudes is because people like Singer aren't saying individuals should be required to alleviate the world's poverty, through enforceable laws or policies, but rather they should choose to alleviate the world's poverty, freely, which of course many won't do. In the subtext of normative statements like these from liberal, utilitarian thinkers is the absence of enforcement. Enforcement of social norms and moral values (like, one should not hoard wealth and resources at the expense of others) throughout a society or culture is illiberal, as it necessarily means the limiting of individual freedoms and rights, like the right to property and wealth accumulation.


TuvixWasMurderedR1P OP t1_itpq9bh wrote

Also, what do you do in a system that regularly generates incentives to NOT give to charity? I'm not against charity, but to propose it as a systemic way to address poverty is ridiculous.


glass_superman t1_itpugc6 wrote

Even more ridiculous: Charity has existed for literally thousands of years and has yet to solve poverty. Yet people hold on to the notion that this will eventually work.

When? Are we half way done with the project of eradicating poverty? Or is it just another 2000 years perhaps?


EdgyZigzagoon t1_itpxfnn wrote

We’re well over halfway there. The number of people living in extreme poverty today is lower than it has been in hundreds of years (when it represented the majority of the worlds population). In terms of percentages, it has fallen from 80% in 1820 to 20% in 2015 thanks to large scale globalization and international relief organizations.

Unfortunately, research has consistently found that most Americans (and likely other first world inhabitants) are ignorant of the vast progress made in reducing world poverty, many even believing that it has increased. Better communication is necessary so that people who live in a first world bubble remain connected to the progress that has happened and continue to be motivated to finish the job by contributing (individually and via their government) to NGOs on the ground actually working to improve lives around the world.


glass_superman t1_itq65as wrote

It's not surprising that people would guess wrong because their basis for what counts as extreme poverty is probably inflated.

Ask those same people if they would consider themselves impoverished on $1000/year and they'd probably almost all say yes. And they'd be wrong there, too, according to the "experts".

Edit: BTW, your link is funded by the libertarian Koch brothers, for whom the current system has been wildly beneficial. How convenient for them that so much progress has been made under the system that has also made them billionaires! The countenance of your sources is dubious, dude!


VitriolicViolet t1_itsk3b0 wrote

also forgetting the vast majority of that poverty reduction was the Chinese government lifting over 1 billion out of poverty.

remove the Chinese and suddenly the world has made minimal progress, funny how the 1 nation the West couldnt bully into submission is also the one that managed to become rich off of globalization (India went the route of allowing Western corporations to control their political parties, as did most of the 3rd world)


EdgyZigzagoon t1_itq6i2x wrote

As long as the measurement is consistent, it’s still a good measurement. If you think the threshold is too low, that makes it even more of an issue that 10% of the worlds population still falls below it, and our efforts should be focused on helping those who need help most first.

By the way, making $1000/year would put you in the top 20% in the world in income, further highlighting the need for increasing investment in global economic development. Development of strong market economies is the single biggest predictor of reducing poverty in a nation.

If you’d like to learn more about how the line is chosen and what we need to do to continue the fight against world poverty, I would encourage you to read this article:


glass_superman t1_itqb7tl wrote

>, further highlighting the need for increasing investment in global economic development. Development of strong market economies is the single biggest predictor of reducing poverty in a nation.

That's true in the neoliberal order but why must we have the neoliberal order?

Isn't that the point of this article? To search for solutions to poverty beyond the neoliberal order and not within it? Because within it we are claim success at having only 80% of the world earning less than $1000/day or whatever. That doesn't sound very successful to me at all!


EdgyZigzagoon t1_itq842d wrote

Did you mean provenance?

I have added sources from the United Nations and New York Times which expand upon the issue, you’re right that it’s good to examine the data from multiple sources. In this case, the data is reliable and you will be able to find it yourself from many more sources if you’re still in doubt.


glass_superman t1_itq95zk wrote

(Oops, it's still very early in my time zone. My bad!)

I still wonder if the people who had the wrong impression of the number of people in poverty also had the wrong definition of poverty. We should use measures more universal, like, "How many people per years will experience hunger as pain?" Saying that someone earning $3/day isn't in poverty doesn't speak to me at all!


EdgyZigzagoon t1_itq9xc6 wrote

I agree with you in principle, but it’s also a massive success that the number of people with even less than that has fallen so dramatically. And obviously, $3/day means different things in different places. Ultimately, the number of people starving, the number of people who are absolutely destitute, and rates of child mortality have all dropped sharply, and that should be celebrated and the work should be continued.

I think it makes the most sense to contextualize poverty in terms of the quality of life and security that comes with alleviating it, which is what organizations who study it attempt to do far better than either of us ever could, which is why they deserve huge amounts of funding and support.

We probably agree on 80% of things at the end of the day, I just like to encourage people to be a little more optimistic because we have done great things and if we continue to work hard we can continue to make the world a better place. I have to go actually do my job now lmao, peace out.


TuvixWasMurderedR1P OP t1_itq03nw wrote

Will it be any real consolation for people to hear that they’re better off than we’re the medieval peasants?

Also, many studies have shown that this pandemic reduced a lot of these gains that had taken a century or so to accumulate. And with the current monetary policies of the US and European central banks, we’re going to see in-debt developing countries fall into a chasm of debt so deep that it’ll look pretty much impossible to overcome.

The system is not resilient.


EdgyZigzagoon t1_itq0tyb wrote

Extreme poverty has halved in the last 20 years, 2000 is hardly medieval, in fact the dismissal of those in extreme poverty around the world like that is a major obstacle in continuing to improve global conditions for the most poor. Source on global extreme poverty increasing to 20th century levels during the pandemic?


You are right that there was an increase, my mistake, of about 1.5 percentage points from 8.4 percent of the world population to 9.9 percent living in extreme poverty.

This is a massive tragedy to those 140 million people, and I don’t want to minimize that. That being said, you hugely overstated the matter, and the increase in poverty regressed us to 2016, not 1922.

With the global resurgence and reopening of international free trade following the pandemic progress will be able to resume and continue towards the goal of 5% by 2030. Over 1/2 of those living in extreme poverty live in just a handful of nations, so focusing aid and development projects on those nations should allow the efforts of organizations working in this field to continue to save lives and reduce human suffering.

I would encourage you to learn anything at all about actual policies that can be supported to reduce world poverty. While simple ideological dogma can be tempting and comforting, doing real work to help real people is complicated and difficult, and requires complicated solutions. Champagne Socialists can rail against institutions for being imperfect all they want, they are imperfect, but I am more impressed by the people who work hard to improve lives as effectively as they can regardless of imperfect circumstances, who don’t let ideals become the enemy of progress.


SalmonApplecream t1_itrrv68 wrote

lol what? If everyone was charitable it would get rid of these problems


glass_superman t1_itrx5y0 wrote

Big if! How are you going to get everyone to be charitable?

Jesus, super famous, with the Bible, super famous, has a an entire religion, said that we should help the poor, his ideas have been around 2000 years. Still, we have poverty.

You're telling me that Peter Singer is going to do a better job of getting everyone on board? He's going to be more influential than Jesus?


SalmonApplecream t1_itrxhrx wrote

I don’t know, but it’s probably easier than setting up a socialist utopia. Poverty, disease, war etc is decreasing year on year.

I just find it silly to criticise someone who has actually massively changed the world, because they didn’t make it perfect overnight


shumpitostick t1_itpstm5 wrote

That's not true that his only focus is on individual actions though. In his Animal Liberation, there's a whole section of the book where he talks about the mostly unnecessary cruelty of Animal Experimentation, and how it should be solved by advocacy and changing the laws. The Effective Altruism movement for with Singer is considered to be somewhat of an ideological father, uses advocacy, grassroots movements, lobbying, etc in a variety of issues.

However, in some issues individual action can be the best way. Some issues, like Veganism for example that Singer is an advocate of, do not have enough public support at this point to change laws and policies. Same with poverty alleviation. I'm sure pretty much everybody in the movement would be happy to see countries give foreign aid in the forms that have been shown to be effective. However countries generally see foreign aid as a tool to buy influence and that's unlikely to change soon.


Amphy64 t1_itpxp5t wrote

Disagree, I think in the UK we easily have sufficient public support for veganism, and at absolute minimum for welfare legislation that would have the inevitable effect of drastically reducing then likely eliminating meat consumption, it's the actions and practical understanding that haven't caught up. It's an edgelord minority willing to look at animal ag. and go 'this is fine', very few think or want to say that.


shumpitostick t1_itqfnyu wrote

Are you vegan? Because honestly I think you're a bit naive about the public support for animal welfare. There are quite a lot of people who don't give a single shit about animal welfare. They're not the deciding factors when it comes to this kind of politics though. It's the farmers. Farmers are one of the strongest lobby groups in most countries and they oppose anything that hurts their bottom line. I'm from Israel, we have the highest percentage of vegans in the world and we had a big campaign a while ago to stop importing livestock (they would suffer a lot on the trip). The campaign failed.

I'm not saying that you can't find public support for some animal welfare policies, and many groups in the Effective Altruism space do work on that, but it's usually stuff like "hey maybe you can't keep this chicken in an individual cage where she literally can't move and instead put her in a cage with other chickens where she maybe will be able to take a few steps without stepping into another chicken". We're very far from like, banning slaughterhouses.


tomvorlostriddle t1_itprfp2 wrote

>The reason these kinds of statements are empty platitudes is because people like Singer aren't saying individuals should be
>to alleviate the world's poverty, through enforceable laws or policies, but rather they should
>to alleviate the world's poverty, freely, which of course many won't do

Lawmakers are people too.

Acts to vote for new laws are acts just like following those laws are acts and like doing charity despite the absence of such laws are acts as well.

Rule utilitarianism is the default unless explicitly stated otherwise. Because you would need to justify why of all possible actions, those who consist of establishing rules should be set out of scope. They are just actions that need to be assessed by their expected consequences, like all other actions.


chrismeds t1_itqquhg wrote

The title is pretty ridiculous as Peter Singer is hardcore on the left, wants huge changes at every level, wants international cooperation in general, wants to alleviate as much animal and human suffering as possible, etc. He's never used to justify or rationalize status quo, because he's on the left and wants CHANGE. Such as people donating money to solve urgent issues and save lives instead of burning money on a selfish hedonist treadmill which often damages the environment/etc. I'm not into clickbait.


NobleOceanAlleyCat t1_itr8mo6 wrote

Agreed. A lot of people commenting don’t seem to be too familiar with Singer’s work. As someone who has read most of his books, I can say it’s crazy to paint him as anything other than a good old lefty, who’d like nothing more than to see the sort of political changes likely favored by the authors of this hit piece.


Dejan05 t1_itribuy wrote

I'm missing the part where advocating for animal rights is part of the status quo if clearly the world isn't vegan?


ThoughtfulPoster t1_itqe12x wrote

The only positive thing that can be said about this post is that the title is an accurate summary of the article.


eliyah23rd t1_itqhxuf wrote

Like the joke, "The good news is that I found no typographical errors in your article".


eliyah23rd t1_itpn09g wrote

For all the potential dangers that social media create, perhaps it is our last, best hope.

Attempts at underlying change in the past failed. The ability of the greedy individual to concentrate power repeatedly thwarted even the best of initiatives.

Social media has the potential, only the potential of course, to create a vehicle to coordinate a very large number of minds and skills in the interest of the widest possible cooperation.

I propose a grass-roots Universal Moral Framework controlled by everybody and nobody. ESG seems to be a sham, a system of fences run by the foxes to protect the chickens.

It is a little difficult to be optimistic about this suggestion, but I can think of no better.


glass_superman t1_itpvcdm wrote

Technology is a force multiplier, true, but it works for all sides and it's owned by the wealthy. I'm skeptical of it.

Facebook helped organize the people voting for Donald Trump and Brexit.


eliyah23rd t1_itq2cup wrote

I'm here because of the content that people like you and I create. Without that content, there is no value. Yes, it is owned by concentrations of wealth.

This technology is not going away. It will evolve. I don't see a choice but to talk about how we can move it in positive directions. I see no harm in proposing practical solutions and letting them get ripped apart, until some good proposals come up that lots of people are willing to get behind.


VitriolicViolet t1_itsktsv wrote

>Technology is a force multiplier, true, but it works for all sides and it's owned by the wealthy. I'm skeptical of it.

you should be, by definition a force multiplier helps those with the most influence.

who will have greater reach in a grassroots movement? you or Bezos?

it most certainly did help with trump, brexit, iraq, attempting to make the West want war with China and us voting to dismantle our own nations (look at the West, funny how we are all on a similiar trajectory isnt it?)


glass_superman t1_itsqsvc wrote

Great point that last one. Why is it that idiot leaders just pop up in every country simultaneously? Because it's all one big global game.


Amphy64 t1_itpyvkv wrote

Much of the UK old Labour left backed Brexit and always had, it was seen as aiming at systemic change.


PDOUSR t1_itpx7yb wrote

"Well, here we are and here we are and here we go" powerful words


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The68Guns t1_itrjn96 wrote

Opened at Live Aid, too.


The_Lawn_Ninja t1_itsloky wrote

Seems like this guy is substituting Singer for Jordan Peterson. If not, than Peterson borrows a lot of ideas from Singer.


Tex-Rob t1_itqjdv3 wrote

Old men are the masters of the status quo, it should be no surprise. I'm 44, and my mind is as fluid as ever. I hope I can stay like this into old age. My guess is this guy isn't challenged in his ideas enough, and so he's settled into a stage where he repeats what he believes and everyone in the room nods so he keeps saying it.


SalmonApplecream t1_itrs0lz wrote

Yes, one of the greatest living philosophers certainly doesn't challenge their mind enough


theglandcanyon t1_itpl2e1 wrote

> an undergraduate student raised the question of the material cause of poverty, that is, capitalist accumulation.

A very undergraduate thought. People live materially better lives now than at any previous time in history. The amount of extreme poverty worldwide is steadily going down, not just as a percentage but in absolute numbers. We live in the first historical era in which more people die from eating too much than from eating too little.

We live in an age of extreme abundance. Yes poverty is still a problem, but blaming it on "capitalism" is just about the most insipid thing ever.


frogandbanjo t1_itprrk6 wrote

We have a mountain of evidence to suggest that we're living in an era of extreme temporary abundance permitted by mortgaging potentially the entire future of the species, with wealth inequality reaching nearly-unprecedented levels, while we're also losing a race to keep the general population educated enough to not slip into a new Dark Age of superstition.

You can lay a shitload of that at capitalism's feet. Isn't it perfectly poetic? Capitalism is all about the next quarter's profits and/or growth. Right up until this evidence started to seriously accrue, your comment seemed incredibly "post undergraduate." Now, not so much. Now it seems like capitalism trying to defend itself by focusing on absolutely nothing except a very specific set of numbers from this particular snapshot.


theglandcanyon t1_itr7w0t wrote

Well, I'd be very interested to hear about this "mountain of evidence" that we're living in an era of extreme temporary abundance". What kind of "evidence" could even show that?


Amphy64 t1_itpya2h wrote

That's not really accurate to history, though, superstition never went away, nor did the people calling it out as such, nor is it dependent on education or the 'general population' - eg. some more highly educated people might be more rather than less inclined to defend religion when lower class people were just sick of institutional religious exploitation.


Aggressive-Act4242 t1_itplhbx wrote

Great, we all get to buy more stupid shit at the cost of the planet.


DuckDurian t1_itponmr wrote

I'm not sure why OP is getting downvoted for making such an uncontroversial point.

Sure, there are aspects of capitalism that are undesirable. But let's not forget that capitalism has also done far more to solve poverty than it has to create it.

If we want to come up with solutions, we at least need to be honest about the problem we're trying to solve.


theglandcanyon t1_itr8hfp wrote

Yeah, life was a lot better a few hundred years ago when all this stupid shit wasn't around and people could just peacefully go about dying from simple dental infections. Those were the days my friend