Viewing a single comment thread. View all comments

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).