Final Project Preparation #5: Flaws in Effective Altruism Movement

<Effective Altruism has Five Serious Flaws> by Hank Pellissier

FLAW #2: EA’s Stance that “Earning High and Giving Big” is Morally Superior

A crudely seems to regard CASH DONATED as containing the highest moral value. The EA-promoted essay “To save the world, don’t get a job at a charity; go work on Wall Street” by William MacAskill says, “while researching ethical career(s)… I concluded that it’s in fact better to earn a lot of money and donate a good chunk of it…you’ll have made a much bigger difference.” Doing good deeds in your vocation, claims MacAskill, is probably inferior: “if you decide to work in the charity sector, you’re rather limited.”

His reasoning – supported by EA – proclaims it is ethically superior, for example, to take a $200,000 annual income job on Wall Street, and donate 50% to charity, than it is to, for example, teach High School Math in the inner city for $50,000 and donate $5,000 to charity. He’s wrong in this inhumane assessment, for two reasons:

1. The happiness of the individual funder is disregarded. Of course it is wonderful that the additional $95,000 gained is perhaps curing malaria, but its callous to suggest that everyone in the developed world is ethically required to to devote themselves to high-salaried occupations, that they might hate. The giver’s life and need for happiness also contains value. Mandating that developed-world people should labor for others in occupations that might make them miserable is self-righteous and unethical.

2. EA disregards the “human value” of an occupation. The math teacher is unable to donate $95,000 annually to charitable causes, but he is, every school day, conveying information on an important topic and serving as a role model and support for young adults. He is in a position to touch, change, and improve lives. Maybe he will inspire his students to quite drugs, leave gangs, go to college. Wall Street sharks aren’t doing that; they’re usually just helping the 1% maintain their privileged status. Is the math teacher’s contribution to helping humanity less than the Wall Streeter, as MacAskill asserts? No. I believe the math teacher’s contribution is greater.

FLAW #3: EA’s Too-High Consideration for Animal Rights

Yes, I’m an omnivore, and Yes, I’m a “Speciesist.” I’m a Humanitarian not an Animalitarian. My priority is helping humans first; I think its the ethical and sensible stance. I deplore factory farming but it is below human slavery and genocide on my list of concerns.

Singer/EA, not surprisingly, puts Animal Causes on the list of most-ethical concerns. Animal Rights NPOs even have their own evaluator.  I don’t support this position; I find it misguided. Hundreds of millions of dollars are already donated to beast-centric concerns that pamper orphan tigers, for example, so they can return to the wild and slay ungulates. I feel a wee bit of compassion for these creatures, but the vast majority of my empathy is reserved for homo sapiens who are hungry, diseased, and uneducated.

Truth is, I don’t think its ethical to donate thousands of dollars to furry-friendly organizations like Maddie’s Fund in San Francisco, where waiting-for-adoption felines recline on comfy furniture, licking their lips while watching song bird videos on their own television set. Meanwhile, right outside, homeless humans dig through dumpsters looking for slabs of cardboard to use as a mattress for the night.

Helping Humans First is central to my moral code. Singer elevates animals to a level that is unacceptable to me; this promotion detours money away from needy people. I find that crazy and shameful.


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