Many effective altruists would prefer to learn that someone is poor, than to be robbed by someone who is poor. The revealed preference in this thought experiment is that equality of authority is valued over socioeconomic equality.
Are people equal? Are humans morally fungible?
Today, the effective altruist’s notion of equality in practice is far from egalitarian. In almost all cases, effective altruists mean it as socioeconomic equality of outcome, or equality in health states. We compare the effectiveness of ways to increase human life spans, preserve quality of life or years of life lost to disability. We compare expectations of suffering, or lost income, or education, or even extinction risk.
Few of us believe in utility monsters, preferentially donating to the particularly greedy or narcissistic. This begs the equation - what outcome do we want to effect equality in?
What if any moral foundations do we have as a community and in this movement to agree an answer to that, or at least co-ordinate from a mix of perspective? At some point over the course of this movement, I recall Peter Singer explicitly shifting his perspective from preference to hedonic utilitarianism. I feel much of our flock have followed his shepherding. That leads to counterarguments in another post (see my post on Belonging)
As for preferences - socioeconomic equality, in the sense of its common usage rather than strange realisations such as an equal distribution arms among sentient beings falls short of maximising individual preferences.
Before Kant’s argued that people should not merely be means to ends, John Locke influentially wrote that
“being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorise us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another's uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours…[T]he execution of the law of nature is in that state put into every man's hands, whereby every one has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree as may hinder its violation…. For in that state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law, every one must have a right to do.”
This post makes the case that we need to consider and perhaps reprioritise socioeconomic equality relative to equality of authority. I hope to encourage conversation about subordination or subjection that is more sophisticated than (being a person of colour myself) discussion of the relative merits of white saviours, or their platforming relative to the platforming of recipients of effect altruism.
An effective altruism that consistently recognised the equality of persons, sentient beings, feeling beings or similar, we must consider in scope the authority of the administration of political and legal systems, social systems and economic systems. This is not the same as considering systemic issues or system change in scope. This equality would not merely be an equality of deservingness, or actuation, of freedom from malaria, or poverty, but equality in authority to administer moral judgements, and actuate those judgements as funders, equal participants in this movement, thought leaders, even makers and enforcers of the law in broader society.
I am not arguing that this is a preferable state, but rather the consistency we value, that for many of us drives our meta ethics as effective altruists, is caveated and not strictly driven by egalitarianism. Are we unanimous in our rejection of human (or animal, or machine) equality?
I do not suggest we reject effective altruism in practice on this basis of this consideration. Equality is one virtue of many, and scoring poorly on one subject doesn’t necessarily mean a worse grade than alternatives overall. There is a great inequality between wealthy and politically engaged effective altruists, and beneficiaries of effective altruist programs. This difference in bargaining power, about, this constraint on choice, limited to socioeconomic equality chosen by effective altruists, does not imply effective altruists aren’t sincerely well meaning, or effective for that matter. To ignore this inequality of authority however, treats the subjects of our altruism as means to ends, subordinated to our own socioeconomic preferences, and not necessarily theirs.