In his book The Most Good You Can Do, Peter Singer says, “Effective altruists do things like the following: living modestly and donating a large part of their income—often much more than the traditional tenth, or tithe—to the most effective charities; researching and discussing with others which charities are the most effective or drawing on research done by other independent evaluators; choosing a career in which they can earn most, not in order to be able to live affluently but so that they can do more good; talking to others, in person or online, about giving, so that the idea of effective altruism will spread; giving part of their body—blood, bone marrow, or even a kidney—to a stranger (p.4).”
It seems to me that the above list might be somewhat off-putting to many people. Looking at the first activity, donating a large part of one’s income, I immediately feel that I may not be the right person for this movement. My wife and I are retired. We live modestly but on a equally modest fixed income. Though we live in a small house our income and expenses are pretty close together. As well, my wife has multiple sclerosis (MS), and we need to be realistic about the implications of this. At any time, it may place an added strain on our budget, perhaps a great strain, making it even more difficult to make large donations or pledge a large part of our income. It is not easy to know what is most prudent under such circumstances. We would not want to burden our children because of our poor planning. Surely, many people face similar limitations and uncertainties.
But all of these considerations do not turn me off to effective altruism or its basic idea. Though it would if I thought that donating a large part of my income was a requirement of EA. Thankfully, it isn’t. The idea is to give what you can. And there are many ways of giving, many ways of being resourceful with what one has. This blog, is an example.
More important than all these various limitations is the overriding wish to do as much as one can. When one is really grasped by this, when one is rationally and existentially overtaken, one sees things differently: the world changes. What seemed perfectly fine last week, or even yesterday, now seems silly, superficial, even strange.
So as I work my way into this new world of effective altruism, I’ve begun to look for creative ways to give more. In a future post, I will describe something I came up with, a modest way of giving, that should be fairly easy for most people, especially those who are in the later years of life.