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Effective altruism: Part. 1

If you don’t know what it is, you should.

Essentially, effective altruism is the act of creating the greatest good, for the greatest number of people. We can use research that effectively determines how much it is to save a life, and donate our money accordingly to charities that will save the most amount of people they can with the money they have. How to be an altruist, effectively.

It’s a utilitarian viewpoint, one underpinned with research in order to establish exactly how the money you donate can be used to save the most amount of lives and therefore, morally, make the greatest difference. You might be surprised to learn that giving to an organisation that protects people from Malaria is one of the best ways to do this. According to givewell.org, the Malaria Consortium is the top listed charity, followed by Against Malaria and Helen Keller International.


Based on a book by Peter Singer in 1971 regarding global ethics, the concept of allocating a percentage (and according to Singer, a very large one) to the global poor is a moral obligation of anyone in a position to do so. If you have dispensable income, anything above what you need is to be allocated to a charity like those aforementioned. If you’re reading this, you almost certainly fall into that category.

His philosophy is thus:

‘If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, then we ought, morally, to do it’.[1]  For example, it is of no comparable moral significance for someone to go without a luxurious new piece of clothing, provided they have a set of clothes to wear already, in favour of donating such funds to save people of starvation. Yet, this mild version of his proposition leaves room for error on the grounds of subjectivity, where any person deems what is or is not morally significant for themselves. Singer then strengthens his argument by explaining that we should go far beyond this to provide as much help as possible, to the point of ‘marginal utility’.[2] That is, to the point where it would then begin to impinge on our basic needs. His argument may seem extreme, however Singer attributes this reaction to a lack of significant moral reform amongst Western society, and entrenched views of what it means to be charitable and generous rather than fulfilling a duty of what we morally ought to do. Rather, donating a significant proportion of our income to the global poor is an act to uphold justice and the acceptance of human rights to fulfil our duty to the impoverished. It is not to be mistaken for an act of charity, which would be a supererogatory act (one that is above the accepted call of duty). Instead, it is a duty that we ought to perform and a right that the impoverished of the world have to receive.  

For a little perspective…

Credit: Ourworldindata.org

For more wholesomeness from the man himself, check out this video.


Some useful websites to explore:

https://www.effectivealtruism.org

https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org


[1] P. Singer, ‘Famine, Affluence and Morality’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 3, 1972, p. 6, < https://d2l.deakin.edu.au/d2l/le/content/913448/viewContent/5086497/View>, accessed 3 September 2020.

[2] Singer, op. cit., p.5.

  


Hey interesting person, what interesting thing did you learn today?

This is what I have set my phone to ask me, every night at 8pm.

Realistically, I’ve had a minimum of 12 hours to conjure up an answer to this question. My phone doesn’t care if I answer and obviously neither does anyone else. But I do. It’s a small way that I can keep accountable to myself in a way that is positive and constructive.

I suppose now more than usual, this kind of mental proactivity is useful in keeping our brains open and flexible to new information, no matter how minimal. It forces you to seek out all kinds of bizarre knowledge that you never knew you needed to know.

Small goals help create small habits. When compiled, these small habits lead to consistent behaviours.

Every person you meet knows something that you don’t.

That thought changed my interactions with people. It helped me give otherwise vexatious people the time and space to expose themselves more to me than I probably would have otherwise let them. Be it younger or older, more or less travelled, educated, whatever… the same principle applies: everyone knows something that you don’t.

So then, you may as well make what you know a little interesting. Get creative in acquiring your knowledge. Read books, listen to podcasts, learn a new word everyday, trawl through google or pluck up the courage to ASK SOMEONE – ANYONE – A QUESTION!

For you reading this, what interesting thing did you learn today?

the saplings of forgiveness

I restlessly throw my body around in bed while candles flicker and frogs croak. Camomile and honey trickle down my throat. Lavender floats around me in a cloud. It feels like even the frogs have more conviction than I do. I can barely muster a squeak. 

There is an aching in my soul that I’m unsure of how to soothe. A hurt that this time, I do not know how to mend. I’m good at this, I think. I can step back and assess myself, criticize the reason for my emotions and analyse my motives. Stab and slice away at my ego, threatening it to stir and face me. 

Most of the time, I can strategize a way out. A way up. Not this time. I’m snowed under with a weight it feels I cannot bear. In this place, it feels like there are no hands to help me. I’m not sure I’ll reach for any either. 

I remind myself; my needs are met. In fact, they are beyond met in many ways. Mostly, I have the freedom to do what I want, when I want. A true luxury that I try not to undervalue. How dare I feel anxious or depressed?!

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is something that I often draw back to. It resonates with me that a human has a myriad of elements to keep in fine balance before one can feel self-fulfilling (which ironically coalesces, or more accurately, actually depends on the intimate support network around the individual). 

Tonight the acknowledgement of these base needs being met are not serving to comfort me. 

  • Insert reality check: they are NOT a given and should be ALWAYS appreciated as a comfort – perspective is key.
  • Insert secondary reality check: the vicious ‘how dare you’ mindset is reinforced – stay wary of negative self-talk masquerading as the helpful critic.

I am deeply grateful to have loved and been loved by some special souls in my life. In the occasional absence of this loving presence, I am sometimes unexpectedly cast into a chasm of emotion with myself playing damsel and hero simultaneously. Usually I’m not shy of this confrontation of self, but this seemingly unending emotional fragility has me trading faces.

I fumble around with this uncomfortability, trying to understand it in any way I can. Feel it wash through my body and take root in the centre of my torso. Find consciousness in my breath and attempt to loosen the knots in my chest. 

Thus far, uncomfortability has been my most brutal, but honest teacher. Oh, and maybe heartbreak. At this point I’d label them interchangeably. I’m not sure I’ll ever revel in uncomfortability but my appreciation for what is unveiled in its wake is constantly multiplying.

In the midst of this inner turmoil, a gentle voice enters and begs for both time and space for forgiveness. The harsh critic is silenced. I’ve visited this place before. In it is a garden. A sacred garden with a plethora of possibilities. Here, the seeds are most difficult to sow. Upon discovery, the landscape is barren and the soil unrelenting. Weeds entrenched and overgrown. Colours mute. With diligence and mindful care, slowly the soil softens. Richness re-enters to allow small, hopeful sprouts. With further tending, these saplings will flower, but their flowers are stubborn and slow to bloom. They demand boundless amounts of conscientious tenderness. However, once given their fill and in full spectrum light; this garden and its flowers provide the deepest healing.

Tend relentlessly to your garden.

Dear soul

Dear soul, I hear you in there whispering gentle truths. Directing my eyes on an upward trajectory.

Dear soul, my heart quakes with the vibrations of your deafening bellows; demanding to stay aligned with my journey.

Yet sometimes, I do not listen. I avert my gaze. I wander. I get lost. I betray myself. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice, sometimes it’s not.

Then I find my way back.

Do you ever blink with wonder at how you got to where to you are? The air around you stills and sound leaks from your ears. Maybe you aren’t who you wanted to be. Maybe you’re more that you ever thought you could be. If you aren’t where you know you should be, on that upwards trajectory, you’ve hushed that voice for much too long. The sound of the soul inside you that tugs at the bottom of your shirt like a kid begging to be pushed on the swing or bought chocolate at the check out of the grocery store. You swat it away with annoyance, even contempt.

We justify our aversions with half-hearted conviction. A squirming of uncertainty alerts us that we aren’t living in accordance with our highest truth. But, we won’t fail if we never try. Onwards our feet feebly lead us. We drown in earthly expectations. Succumb to dramatic social demise. Feeding our ego its tantalising sustenance, soon our soul grows weary of its constant dismissal. Faith in yourself dwindles and so too does your once clear vision for life. For your journey. Your spirit.

Often, we live according to the narrative that we (and society) have etched for our lives – one we torturingly expect ourselves to not only live up to – but exceed. Is it in accordance with our truest self? You better hope that it is. After all, you’re the one that spent all this time getting yourself here.

strive to consciously create

We take ourselves by the hand then swing ourselves over cliffs of self-construed personal destruction. There’s that voice again. The tugging on your shirt. We stray from our path. Then we blame and curse; those around us, our upbringing, the world. While we perish at the hands of our own self-sabotage, we deflect responsibility. To admit fault would be to threaten our beliefs. Beliefs that over time, have morphed into deeply set values. Values that convincingly masquerade as our identity. Maybe some are. Or maybe you’ve just told yourself that. Where did they come from anyway? These values are often bolstered by ignorance, threatened by change and the challenge of growth. Ideologies are hard to kill, but when they do die, they die hard. Let us not forget how malleable our identity is to the world around us.

let go

To undermine ones value system would surely test the fibres of ones soul. Just how far have you wandered?

Visualise the greatest version of yourself. Start making conscious choices that are in alignment with that version of you. Be more afraid of fear holding you back from experiencing life than the fear itself. Confront hard truths. Be a sensation seeker.


Dear soul, I promise to listen. To live aligned to my truths. To speak words of honesty, with love. To love from the depths of my being, without limitation or expectation. To leave the world a little (or a lot) better than I found it.

Who are you, if you’re not living in consistency with what your soul is saying?

On the joy of being alone

I watch the morning light set her matted, curly ginger locks ablaze. Her and her sister swing their legs on their seats as they wait for their Dad to retrieve his morning coffee. People, with their people, filter in and out of my vision.

I feel alone.

I cop a lick to my ear and have another wet nose nudge my leg. I remind myself to be grateful – an attitude of gratefulness quickly quells a yearning heart.


With anxious energy abounds and a daily step count goal of 10,000 to reach, I threw the dogs in the back of my car and sped to the beach.

The horizon had the outline of the last remaining rays of the day, where the light arcs as it dissipates. If you look up, you feel like a wide-eyed guppy in a fishbowl. At first, I thought I must have seen a single firework, as a streak of clustered white light streamed through the sky. It was as if a hand of the universe plucked it out from behind my right ear and twirled it up into my peripherals. It was a glittering meteor. It fluttered for a moment, burning up as it skimmed across our atmosphere, finally finishing by sprinkling its stardust out into the universe somewhere. A wispy grey trail faintly water brushed through the sky lay as evidence against my imaginings. 

Magic.

I found myself instantly wanting to share it with someone. Someone just as encapsulated by the enigmas of the universe as I am. I knew just the person. But why? Could it not be beautiful enough that I witnessed this alone? It was a beautiful moment, in and of itself. It didn’t need external validation. But did I? 

Naturally, we long for and seek out connection of many varieties. We are communal creatures. We especially seek it when we have become accustom to it. I always had ‘my person’. At times where you desperately need the mental, emotional and physical intimacy to support you through a shit time, they serve as an emotional buffer. Now without that, the void is vast. But instead of trying to fill it with distraction, I’m diving headfirst into it. Sometimes with liberation and renewed spirit, other times with aching emptiness. All times with the same desire – to grow.

I’m attempting to unravel my psyche and pry apart my insecurities in a bid to really know myself and understand just how much I value myself without the interference of others; be it in words, human interaction, comments or likes. Delving into the darkness where fears of abandonment, loneliness and rejection lay in hungry wait. To my surprise, I’m very much the opposite of alone when it comes to feeling lonely.

According to the Australian Loneliness Report, 1 in 4 Australians are lonely and 1 in 2 Australians feel lonely for at least one day a week. Nearly 55% of the population feel they lack companionship ‘at least sometimes’. With a sample size of nearly 2000, I acknowledge that this is no overarching statistic to be applied to all, but it certainly highlights a growing disconnect. 

Being alone is terribly uncomfortable for some people. For others it’s freeing, like being sprawled naked in bed at 7:30pm on a Saturday night writing this. (FOMO can get fucked). Interestingly, loneliness as a social pain shares the same neural pathways as physical pain. That sickness in your stomach and tightness in your chest isn’t a figment of your imagination. Our bodies physically respond to our emotions. Google it if you don’t believe me, or listen to this lil morsel. 

Anyway, it’s a handy biological function when you think about it, collective knowledge has increased our chances of survival. So is this desire to connect, to validate our feelings and experiences, all just an extension of our biological conditioning? It’s almost as if that connection adds an unlanguageable ‘something’ that wasn’t otherwise there.

As we build relationships with people, patterns of human behaviour are logged in our brains and endorphins continue to be released as intimacy increases. Technology can aid us with things like video calls, to people we can’t be in physical contact with. This medium allows our brains to recognize that same eye contact and body language we experience in person, instigating a small injection of serotonin and oxytocin; chemically induced happiness. However, as a whole, social media necessarily circumvents this neural and emotional connection. You simply can’t substitute being with someone. 

When we are out experiencing something new and unknown, it seems more special for that newness to be shared. Social media is arguably our most significant example of this desire to share our lives with the world, while ironically disconnecting from the moment of real life itself. Endorphins are released when we are in the flesh with someone; conversing, absorbing their body language and gaze as a part of our dialogue. Check out this podcast; Look Up and Connect for some more inspiration to do so (science n shit). 

Sometimes it is hard to resist experiencing something without sharing it. Especially in a state of loneliness. Instant gratification, instant connection

We appreciate when we recognise parts of ourselves in others, the good parts at least. We also appreciate when others go out of their way to share personal moments with us. Beautiful little bonds between souls. Maybe it’s just another form of pattern recognition that we know will be appreciated and reflected by a certain someone. Maybe it’s just those biological survival skills resounding. Although, the reasoning may stem from a deeper place of vulnerability. From an unnerving crevice of our ego that begs to be fed the indulging words of others. The same place where our own appreciation appears not enough. 

Happiness is only real when shared.

Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild)

How you gauge your own personal loneliness meter I suppose really depends on how often you are without human interaction, while feeling as if you’d prefer the opposite. I’d argue that we often need to be alone, despite this feeling. In fact, especially when we feel these uncomfortable feelings. Whether that time is spent going for a walk, meditating or taking a small solo break somewhere, it allows us the mental/emotional spacetime to purge our thoughts without the interference of others. It pays to turn your phone off or drop off social media for a while. Unplug from the virtual world; take a nip hardening swim in the cold ocean, hike through the mountains, get scratches on your skin and feel the sun warm you from the outside in. Whatever conduit for change and growth you choose – use it to seek clarity and acknowledge just how grateful you are for the basic comforts you have been afforded in life. There will always be persons greater and lesser than yourself. Be grateful for the people and relationships you have cultivated and acknowledge where they need tending. 

So then, where does the equilibrium between a healthy relationship of independence and co-dependence, or isolation and socialisation exist? I spent nearly the entirety of ages 13-23 in two different relationships… maybe I’m not qualified to answer that question. All I know is this: 

There is love to be found in everyone you meet and everything you do. Time spent in love, of any and all forms, is never time wasted. Yet, there is only one person that you can ever rely on to show up for you when shit just gets a bit fucked. 

You.