Effective Altruism: If Only We ALL Practiced It

By Shlomo Maital

   Altruism is defined as a philosophy of doing good for others. It is an admirable change-the-world framework for living. But is it enough?   Philosopher Peter Singer (in a superb TED talk – you can look it up) proposes effective altruism – which applies evidence, logic and reason to find the most effective and efficient ways to help others.   Yes, do good – and do it in the most powerful impactful way, by carefully planning what and how you do.

     Singer’s example: a seeing eye dog costs $40,000 to train, and to teach the blind person how to make best use of it. Highly worthy. But millions in poor countries are blind, due to trachoma and cataracts – both of which are curable and fixable. You could bring sight to perhaps 200 blind people with the resources used to train one guide dog. Altruism is providing seeing eye dogs. Effective altruism is weighing the best use of those resources.

       Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have given billions to medical charities. Gates’ Foundation has saved an estimated 5 million lives – and enriched the lives of millions more – by rigidly applying effective altruism to their resources and projects, focusing on illnesses that are widespread, afflict the poor, and that can be cured or mitigated. Like malaria.

       What if millions of people worldwide would embrace altruism? And then, what if we could supply a very simple straightforward set of guidelines, about how to be efficient in our altruistic behavior? Our time, resources and energy are limited. How can we do the most good with them?   And even before asking those questions – how can the notion of ‘effective altruism’ be ‘sold’ to the masses?

         Today everything is becoming ‘evidence-based’. Perhaps doing good for others, too, should be more evidence-based.   When we combine the powerful emotion of giving, and the impactful logic of rational decision-making, the result can be immensely beneficial to humanity.