Recently I was introduced to the idea of “effective altruism.” Pioneered by Australian philosopher Peter Singer and then further popularised by British Philosopher William MacAskill.
The basic idea is that if we’re able to help others, we should.
On top of this, making the money you donate work most effectively i.e. save the most lives. The argument being that $1 Australian will go much further in a country such as Nigeria than it would here. MacAskill recommends donating 10% of your income to charitable causes.
There main arguments against these ideas seem to be
- I don’t earn enough to sacrifice that much
- I don’t know where my money is going
- Why should I help people I have never met in a different country?
- I have worked hard for this and shouldn’t have to give it away
- I already give money to the homeless
What I’ve learnt from reading the work of both Singer and MacAskill is that I’m very privileged to have been born in a first world country. To have been given a good education and solid upbringing. Never having to think of where my next meal is coming from or being worried about my basic safety needs. This was a genetic lottery that I won. I could have been born into a family in Eritrea, where war and corrupt government would impact my chances of “economic success” despite any intelligence or gifts I may have.
As a result, I’ve decided to rethink how I use my money. We can all sacrifice a few lattes, cocktails or fancy shoes with arguably no impact on our general quality of life. Especially if we think of how having one less night out a month could save a persons life. Is that a reasonable trade off? I would argue so. Especially if you have ever bought a bottle of water whilst living in a country where clean drinking water is free from a tap.
To be perfectly clear, I’ve never thought this way before. I’ve always lived for myself, being fiercely independent and using my money to prepare for my uncertain future. It’s been a massive eye-opener to see how selfishly I’ve been living. Sure, it’s nice to treat friends and family to gifts and nights out, especially at this time of year but how much more beneficial would it be to give some of that money to those who are really in need.
This is a philosophical argument about “happiness” and looking after those whom you love. Only you can really answer but I would stress that you look inside yourself and decide where you really see value in the world, how you want to imagine your impact on those around you. Try and imagine you were in the position of a mother in a third world country and your child is dying from a preventable illness such as malaria because you don’t have the money for a mosquito net or medication. Is that worth more than an extra night out a month?