A Complete Guide On Effective Altruism

effective altruism
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Effective altruism (E.A.) has been one of the most controversial topics of the 21st century. Most people acknowledged effective altruism as an effective way of bringing positive changes in our society. However, it has also received criticism from several people who believe that this method is too idealistic to be beneficial.

But what is this effective altruism, you ask? Are you also curious to know more about the E.A. method or how it can be effective in bringing about change in the world? Then please continue reading the article as we share with you all the details.

A Complete Guide On Effective Altruism

A. What is effective altruism? 

Effective altruism is defined as the project of using reason and evidence to figure out how best a person can contribute to helping others and take action on that basis. In simple terms, effective altruism means making small changes that create a positive impact in the world.

Most of us do not want to witness suffering, injustice, and death in this world. But we are moved to do something to create a positive impact on the world. Identifying this something becomes a huge challenge in itself. EA is the answer to the challenge.

EA requires careful reasoning and evidence to work out how welfare can be bestowed upon people with a given unit of resources. Originally, the term effective altruism was coined by the team that founded the Center For Effective Altruism.

An effective altruism community refers to a collection of people and organizations who use their resources, i.e., social capital, money, and time on the project of making the world a better place. An example of an EA community is 80,000 hours, an officially registered charity in England.

Some pioneers of EA as a social movement are Peter Singer and William Macaskill are the two philosophers who helped with the dissemination of effective altruism.

B. What does it mean to be an effective altruist? 

Still confused about what EA means, let us help you get a better grip on the subject.

According to the founders of Giving What We Can (GWWC), which was formed in the early periods of the EA movement, altruism refers to the selfless act of helping others, even if it comes at a high price for ourselves.

Let us give you a simple example, you give your lunch to an extremely hungry person, but it comes at the price of you going hungry for the rest of the day.

However, to the proponents of EA, the situation is a win-win situation for both parties. The ‘high price’ refers to materialistic possessions one possesses, but sacrificing for the needy helps instill a highly satisfying feeling and happiness in the donor.

However, you may have noticed the method is known as effective altruism. Being effective in your selfless acts holds great significance. Being effective means that when a person helps a cause, he is successful in producing the desired effect or result. For example, you helped someone, but it hurts them instead of helping them, then the act is not effective.

C. What problems can be tackled with EA? 

According to Givewill and GWWC, EA suggests that the following three characteristics can prioritize good cause:

  • Great in scale- the work should be able to impact many people at one go positively. 
  • High neglected- Such issues should be addressed that only a few people take notice of. 
  • Highly solvable- most of the problem could be solved if not all

Some of the problems that are part of the EA movement are eradicating extreme poverty, improving the welfare of farmed animals, making improvements to combat climatic changes, dealing with global health issues, and so forth.

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Photo by Jonathan Kho Ming Jun on Unsplash

Several problems pop up in the world at any given moment, and it is not possible to completely eradicate all of the problems in just one go. Still, we can always contribute to making a change. We should always be the change that we want to see in the world. As the popular saying goes,“be the change you want to see.”

Tweaking changes in our lifestyle first and then influencing the people around us can help us go a long way in making the desired change that we want to see around us.

D. Some examples of effective altruism in history

History contains excellent examples that will help you to understand EA better. We have mentioned some of those inspiring examples below:

  • Norman Borlaug researched disease-resistant wheat, which helped bring about the Green Revolution that helped save millions of people worldwide. 
  • Stanislav Petrov prevented an all-out nuclear war by remaining calm under pressure and by disobeying orders. 
  • Loney Gordon, Pearl Kendrick, and Grace Eldering developed the vaccine for whooping cough that saved millions of people thereafter. 
  • Irena Sendler and Paul Rusesabagina risked their lives to save thousands of people from genocidal regimes. 

Well, the above-mentioned examples are a glimpse of EA at a large scale, but any person can be a part of the EA movement.

Donating a part of your salary to a charitable organization, giving your food to a hungry person, helping donate clothes and food to the homeless are all part of EA. Making small changes helps in creating big wonders.

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Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

E. Outlook on the EA movement

Well, the EA movement does help in creating a positive impact on the world, but the methods need to be modernized and updated according to the times.

For most people, the methods incorporated in the EA movement are too idealistic to have a greater impact in the future. EA fails to calculate the wider impacts of the activity in the long term future and that everything that seems to be beneficial always does not create the same effect. And most important, EA does not always deal with the root cause of the problem. 

However, it has to be admitted that EA, if not drastically but can impact the world in a good way. EA organizations believe that each selfless act helps create a real impact on people and further continues the chain of good deeds. It may be trivial as giving food to some homeless person to something as great as developing a vaccine that can effectively cure thousands of people from some dangerous ailments. In short, the EA movement is all about helping others in whatever small you can.

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Hopefully, the article was able to help you understand the essence of effective altruism. As mentioned throughout the article, it does not mean that you have to make big drastic changes to be a part of an effective altruism movement; small selfless acts also help you to go a long way. Please help the needy and let the love spread.


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