Hello there, Effective Altruism!

by pixel_brownie_software8 min read20th Feb 20202 comments

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Hello there!

Ever since 2018, I've been increasingly interested in the effective altruism movement. The movement, at first just seemed like some really non-conventional, cold-hearted career advice. But I have learned that this is far more than just simple career advice. I will explain how EA affected my life-philosophy as well as my career ambitions (which is still tentative).

Keep in mind that this is not a post about my life-story, because I don't think I need to mention details about my life here - it is solely focused on my opinions on effective altruism. Nevertheless, it would be impossible to not at least mention a bit of my life since this movement affects that too.

Preface

I was first introduced to the movement in very late December 2016 through 80,000 hours and their career guide (now outdated), but I found it scary because when they said 'Do something that helps others' - I thought that I would need to abandon all my passions, which I will get to later on.

1 and a half years later, I took a sneak peek to their website and saw a post that consoled me which was the idea that you don't need to be a doctor to save lives, written by Gregory Lewis. Instead of having to spend a long time getting the needed qualifications, as well as doing a few years of residency, you can earn to give and save far more lives than an individual doctor could (with of course much less time spent training). The post also mentions that despite the increase in life expectancy in the UK, most of it was unrelated to medicine and more relevant to better housing, nutrition, wealth and a wholesome of other things.

I liked how the post was rejecting common notions and how it focused on doing as much good as possible rather than just doing good, therefore, it made me want to investigate 80,000 hours' website more and more. I started reading their career reviews, advice and ideas. At the time I was also aware that the advice 'Follow your passion' is really bad advice, pointed out by people like Cal Newport and Mike Rowe - which also made me agree with the ideas of Effective Altruism, since they don't find this advice very good either.

Back in school I was often told that altruism was sacrificing to do good: in order to do good you must have some kind of maytr complex. On podcasts with Rob Wiblin (from 80,000 hours), he has said multiple times that EA is not about sacrificing yourself to help others - in fact he says it would be better if nobody sacrificed at all to do good. EA is about just doing good, the sacrificing part is entirely moot.

How EA changed my philosophy on life

I've always viewed myself as a deep thinker and EA tends to cater towards these people. Especially when I watched Will McAskhill's video on EA and read 80,000 hour's post on future generations and the value of a life. Peter Singer is also someone who fed my deep-thinking mind. Although I don't agree with all of his ideas, I still think that they are enough to disrupt a consumer lifestyle that most people from 1st world countries tend to embark on. Like McAskhill, he also has a great Ted Talk (although I think he emphasises a bit too much on earning to give).

I have read his free audiobook "The life you can save" and I think anyone that is fed up of being rich yet unfulfilled should read it, as it gives detail into things such as the psychology behind charitable acts, which charity you should donate to and anecdotes from other people who are giving away. I like how Singer emphasises that even if you don't know someone else who is in dire need, that doesn't mean that you should just ignore them. If you can help them, it is clear common sense to help them otherwise, you're pretty much a fool.

He has even convinced me to work towards being a vegan since taking away, for example, a cow's life for a little bit of cuisine pleasure (even if they were killed ethically and grass-fed) when we have a number of vegan alternatives is pretty barbaric. Would you do this to your own pet if you felt a little hungry?

EA in general makes me think of living life in a better way. Many I know tend to live a conventional life of working a 9-5, 40 hours a week, earning money for frankly mostly pointless stuff like a big house or a super-expensive car and maybe a nice holiday to some exotic place, then go back to their jobs subconsciously aware that they are living a perpetual cycle of earning money, spending it, earning money, and it goes on and on. Try and add starting a family to the mix.

P erhaps though, they really enjoy their jobs, it's almost like a hobby, but even then - is it meaningful? Will it matter in the end? Sure they may have fulfilled their dreams, but what does it matter in the grand scheme of things? EA gives me another picture of living life, like doing work that could help lots of others and make them remember you for something, as well as having an inter-connected goal that is not just about fulfilling one's dreams. I wouldn't be happy if I fulfilled everything I would have desired to do (selfishly speaking, not accounting for helping others) - I would just search for more goals.

I am one of those people who don't think anything will 'matter' in the end (be it the heat death of the universe or the end of time). This might sound very nihilist of me and it very much is - but being a nihilist doesn't always have to be a bad thing. Pleasure feels good, such actions like going out with friends or saving a life and seeing someone smile feels good. The why and how we should have this is not known, but pleasure is still a good thing, therefore we should have more of it. This makes the idea of future generations very important as they could be living in a more just, healthier and enjoyable world than the world of today.

The goals of EA according to Will McAskhill from a podcast is something along the lines of 'As much good conscious experience as possible'. Which I can infer that even though the heat death of the universe may very well happen and nothing will be left. That won't happen for another billion years so there isn't really much point in worrying about such stuff. There is something more important than the end, it is ironically more of an immediate importance, despite the fact that future generations are important in my opnion.

It also show s that you don't need to believe in God, Allah, YVHV, Jesus, Angels, Demons, Heaven or Hell to be a happy person and give your life some kind of meaning. Helping others is a pleasure in itself, similar to playing a very fun and intellectually rewarding game or sport - you don't get rewarded anything other than the satisfaction of doing it.

Without effective altruism

Originally I planned to be a freelance Indie game developer, because I've made games for quite a few years, and still do now. I also like the freelance lifestyle of how flexible it is, rather than sitting in an office from 9-5 and having to go through rush-hour, I can go on a pleasant walk if I feel like it or travel around working remotely. It's still my passion, but I also want to learn about the Effective Altruism movement and develop a similar passion to the one I have for Computer games.

Video games definitely have value in them, as they can be enjoyed by loads of people and like books, board games, movies and whatever art form exists out there, they can provide a very provocative message. But I believe that they don't solve the all world's problems in the same way as Effective Altruism does as it directly solves the problems as opposed to, at best advocating them. Think about this: Would you rather play video games instead of visiting the doctor to cure your blindness?

That being said, I would still like to make money out of making games, if anything for advocacy and or earning to give.


What do I plan on doing?

I don't really know how I can help in any direct way. Without giving away too many personal details - I'm looking for an apprenticeship in the tech industry since that is a largely growing industry and it is something I'm good at. Tech is often used in EA, not limited to things like websites and data science - as well as problems like AI. Even the type of thinking used in EA is not too different from writing software or gathering data.

I run a blog which, although mainly I write posts about the development of my games, I also write about EA (in a series called "Selfish Effective altruism" because you can be an altruist for very selfish reasons). I find writing as engaging as making games (I used to write fiction books when I was in primary school to secondary school). The posts about EA aren't meant to be too scientific (because of my lack of access to scientific studies/ literature); they are more of intended to encourage people to look up such topics and create some discussion. In the process, I even learn about the problems I write about because I have to research them.

Conclusion

This post is my introduction to EA, I hope anyone reading this can perhaps relate in some way or another. I'm not experienced at EA and I'm still a newbie to the movement. Nevertheless I think I was introduced to this movement at the right time since it is still a niche movement and I could help promote the movement.

I will be doing a bunch of cross-posts, putting EA posts from my blog to here. I'm also working on a post about Bitcoin and crypto-currency, which I hope to publish later this month - if you want to suggest problem ideas worth looking into, please let me know.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post!

That's all from me!

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2 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:26 PM
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Thanks for sharing your story! 

I wonder if the Forum should have a section where people can go specifically to introduce themselves? I've seen some EA Facebook groups that do this, and it's a nice way for people to get involved with a new online community. It might also be more convenient for newcomers than writing a full post would be.

(I'm a moderator, and will discuss this idea with other people who work directly on the Forum.)

i believe that would be a great idea!

i personally like writing longer posts because it contains more information and doesn't feel oversimplified - it also feels more like something more serious rather than, say, a simple tweet.

i'm pretty sure you know that 80,000 hours prefers this approach too.

but i can see why some would want to do a TL;DR introduction of themselves.

though, i'm wondering if the EA community are friendly to those interested in joining, but are considering a more vocational path rather than a traditional 3-4 undergrad (as the latter is pretty much 80,000 hours' audience)...