Effective Altruism (EA), described at the most general and inclusive level, involves prioritizing charitable funding using a particular standard:
“People in effective altruism typically try to identify issues that are big in scale, tractable, and unfairly neglected. The aim is to find the biggest gaps in current efforts, in order to find where an additional person can have the greatest impact.”
Reason 1: Focusing on scale and wellbeing, the climate crisis is the greatest threat to human and animal welfare, accelerating beyond what we have expected. Recovering the costs that were externalized and using them to fund effective family reforms to protect kids through better birth and development conditions, is the most effective long-run way to address the crisis.
Family reforms have the greatest long-run impacts on everything, including climate emissions, child welfare, animal suffering, and human rights and democracy. That’s not odd. We, and what we do, are the products of our creation and pasts.
Many EA funders ignore the issue because they have made money on growth (including the sale of plant-based products), wish to continue doing so, and wish to avoid family reform based reparations. But those are not good reasons, and the benefits of many EA funded efforts (and veracity of fundraising claims) have been reversed when one factors in growth. Not starting with child rights also commits the fallacy in Reason 4, below – ignoring child-centric human rights as the system of actually inclusive obligation that overrides all competing interests and sets the baseline for cost and benefit analysis, telling us what words like “good,” “impact,” and “problem” mean.
Reason 2: Family norms are tractable, with drastic changes in fertility and other metrics in the last few decades, changes that – thanks to increased autonomy for women – vastly exceed changes in diet or other areas of behavior EA often focuses on. There are very specific tactics that work in this regard and can be improved. This is key: The legal entitlements that block wealth from being used to ensure fair starts for all are also tractable, and many EA advocates back the direct (not relying exclusively on unjust political systems) limitation of property rights as an effective form of change in other contexts – like open rescue.
Reason 3: Fair Start reforms challenge the status quo of reproductive autonomy (a contradiction in terms) based family planning systems, which by ignoring their interests, begin by enabling the exploitation of the two most vulnerable entities in the world – nonhumans and future persons. As such Fair Start is a highly neglected reform, facing down systems of wealth built on that exploitation, but the chance for funding true justice abound.
Reason 4: This broad description of EA at the beginning of this blog reveals a fallacy. The term “altruism” frames the thinking in a way that excludes human rights obligations (which override decisions based on personal altruism) on the wealthy funders who back EA to first pay for costs their wealth has imposed on others. And those costs were imposed by fundamental reliance on a system of coercive legal obligation that did not include the average person, including black persons in the United States, at any real level of influence over the rules under which they would be forced to live. To the extent EA advocates believe in self-determination they have a fatal problem in using people for economic growth. They have to fit all those they create in terms of quantity and civic quality for shopping malls back into the participation-capable town halls meant to regulate the former. That’s impossible, and truly free persons will make compliance with the law contingent on their role in making it.
The “altruism” framing hides these obligations, making it seem as though the wealth is just naturally owned, rather than incompletely allocated. The climate crisis, the United Nations recognition of the need for loss and damage payments, and the right to a healthy environment all form a legitimate framework for reparation payments, and individuals have already begun the process using these standards.
All systems begin with rules, the base condition for any rule is that it be fair, and the first rule must account for the creation of the persons to whom rules apply. Reparations for black Californians is an example of obligations that precede altruism. Ask any EA advocate to factor in things like inequitable family policies that often undercut – by their own metrics – what they claim to do.
For example, initiatives to study wild animal welfare would logically have to start from a position that protects the animals being studied, which requires climate restoration as part of an overriding human right to birth equity. Funding a research project while simultaneously relying on system of growth eradicating those animals and harming the poorest humans is disingenuous.
This is not about different worldviews.
EA advocates all live day-to-day the values of not wanting to fall below minimum thresholds of welfare and self-determination in their lives – they are often simply too antisocial to extend the values to kids like Jazmine, who was slowly beaten to death as an infant, and would rather use a system of oppressive, “growth over parental readiness” power relations to make returns on investments.
TAKE ACTION: Urge EA advocates, like@dylanmatt, to be both just and effective in their thinking and funding.