I'm not an effective altruist and don't think I ever will be one. I'm here only out of curiosity and intellectual entertainment. Perhaps this allows me to give you an honest "outside" perspective. My main reasons for not donating 10% of my income or make other similar commitments:
I am instinctively too egoistic and I don't like the cognitive dissonance from being a little altruistic, but not as much as I reasonably could be. I feel best when I "play for my own side" in life, am productive to get only what I want and don't think about the suffering of others. I feel better when I don't care, and I prefer feeling better over caring. They say giving makes happy, but I find it brings me no equivalent pleasure.
Society and the law already demand a great deal of altruism and (what they think of as) morality from me. Some of it in the form of taxes, some of it in the form of restrictions on what I can do, some of it in the form of implicit status attacks. Of course, I get a lot in return, but subjetively it doesn't feel balanced. Perhaps if I were richer or had higher life satisfaction, I might be more generous in addition to what is already demanded.
In many morally relevant domains, there is a discrepancy between what I feel is important and what people in general feel is important. In addition, I have given up on convincing people through value talk. Most people will never value what I value, and vice versa. There are no cost-effective ways to change these discrepancies, and even though EA is a multi-domain endeavor, it is ultimately about empowering humanity to fulfill its preferences, half of which are more or less opposed to mine.
Psychologically, uncertainty cripples my motivation. I am not an "expected utility maximizer". But in EA, certainty of impact and scope of impact are somewhat negatively correlated. And where positive effects are really certain, I expect the most cost-effective ground will eventually be covered by the EA movement without me, and I'd rather other people pay than me (donor's dilemma).
These are the core reasons why I have decided against EA in my personal life. It does not preclude small donations or ethical consumption, both of which I make, but it makes me recoil from real commitments, unless I have an unexpected windfall or something.
Other bad phrases: "Saving the world" or "saving the planet". They are usually used in a context where the impact could not possibly match up with actual world-saving or planet-saving (with some exceptions).
But I also think "doing good" is problematic. It also lacks a sense of scope, and it also suffers from philosophical disagreements about the nature of the good.
Problem is, if you want to create emotional impact in an audience that is diverse in its philosophical goals, ideas about strategy and willingness to accept costs, then you have to use language that doesn't alienate too many and yet has the emotional appeal. This only leaves you with phrases that are ultimately empty marketing terms. But if you cut them out, you lose the motivational hook as a common denominator. Marketing matters.
The baby's death is more likely to cause a replacement pregnancy.
But the college student's economic output is higher for 20 years, which will compound into the future (whether this is good or not depends on how the wealth is used, what indirect consequences it has, and so on).
Also I think childhood is terrible. :)
Actually, my point was that donating to the Catholic Church does more harm than good, not just that it causes harm. Perhaps you should look up how little it spends on things like poverty relief, how much money it absorbs from presenting itself as an official institution of morality while spreading supernatural superstition and promoting socially harmful policies. I would probably pay money to make the Catholic Church poorer, though certainly not at a 1:1 exchange rate.
I think the other EA causes you mention, while mixed blessings, have a much better profile.
I do agree with Wilson's core argument, but would still point out that his money didn't come out of thin air, and neither would the money of other rich people. A lot of that is competing for profit margins, that is, a successfull hedge fund manager replaces other hedge fund managers. It can therefore be more effective to try to make rich people more altruistic rather than to make more people rich.
From his email:
"When I talk to young people who seem destined for great success, I tell them to forget about charities and giving. Concentrate on your family and getting rich—which I found very hard work. I personally and the world at large are very glad you were more interested in computer software than the underprivileged when you were young. And don’t forget that those who don’t make money never become philanthropists."
There is certainly truth in this.
But not all of Wilson's giving was in areas suitable for effective altruism. In particular, donating to the Catholic Church arguably causes active harm. Preserving monuments and wildlife reserves is at least a good distance away from optimal.
I think the strongest objection to his objection is that becoming rich doesn't make the world a better place in itself. Even if you make other people richer in the process, it's not a clear-cut world improvement. Especially if you consider replaceability effects and negative externalities from certain forms of business, making rich people more altruistic, and more effectively altruistic, could be more important than making more rich people.
There is still low-hanging fruit in bringing gifted children online. A small percentage of kids in developing nations are potential high achievers, autodidacts and could be given access to all the world's knowledge at reasonable costs.
If you think malaria nets aren't leveraged enough to beat kidney donations, other interventions might be.
Legalizing voluntary organ markets could be most effective, since it would both make the poor richer and solve the kidney shortage. But perhaps politics is too hard to change.
Instead of asking for self-sacrifice, why not allow poor people to sell their kidneys? There should be enough willing donors if compensation is high enough. Especially the affluent recipients should be able to leverage their wealth this way. In return, the global poor would have another income option.
Is this banned? If yes, then that means the current kidney shortage is a form of artificial scarcity.
The problem with demonstrations is that half of the time, people demonstrate against each other's causes. Or just for causes with unclear sign or scope of impact.
The whole thing has huge overhead; it blocks the streets and disrupts everyone, and additional police have to be paid to secure the whole thing.
On the other hand, there is no doubt some demonstrations have been of great historical significance.
So make sure this is worth your time, compared to just sending 20 bucks to some random effective charity,