Even if you're not a multi-billionaire like Bill and Melinda Gates (see 2017 Annual Letter for their vision and impact), most of us want to do "good" and make a difference in the world. We might opt-in to help a stranger, be kind to co-workers, perhaps try fundraising for a charity, or volunteer for local causes. However, one might ask: am I making any actual difference? How can I do more good?
An answer to the question is Effective Altruism (EA), which encourages us to use evidence and reasoning to altruistic endeavors. (see Introduction to Effective Altruism, Peter Singer's The why and how of effective altruism). Though it may be a bit over-simplified summary, the EA movement basically suggests a two-pronged approach:
- giving what we can to effective charities (e.g. GiveWell, The Greatest Good)
- following a fulfilling career path to either solve global challenges directly or make as much money as possible and donate to effective charities (e.g. 80,000 Hours).
The EA philosophy outlines how individuals and organizations can efficiently make a difference, but it can be further extended into a general framework for solving difficult large scale issues with high impact:
- What: solving large scale problems with an objective of improving both people’s everyday lives and pushing the boundaries of humanity
- How: careful reasoning, hard evidence, and concrete actions
- Why: altruistic motivation because intent matters.
So what sort of world do I dream of? The Effective Altruism movement primarily focuses on more realistic and tractable problems—often carefully curated with cause priority evaluation, but one source of inspiration worth mentioning is Keynes, an influential economist who has a school of thought named after him (Keynesian economics). He once said that "perhaps a day might come when there would be at last be enough to go round, and when posterity could enter into the enjoyment of our labors." This simple idea left a profound impression on me: is it possible for us to have a society where every member can truly pursue his/her passion and happiness?
It was almost a century ago when Keynes entertained on the idea, which was and probably remains to be a bit outlandish objective. Though achieving his vision seems to be an insurmountable challenge even with all the progress in the past century, the most important fact is that we're making a steady progress and the net direction of all the changes is positive.
I believe all of us, people like me and you, can make a difference in the world. Whether or not you subscribe to the views of Effective Altruism, we have the power and potential to do good—towards a brighter future for humanity. Am I naïve to believe in such proposition that may well be presumptuous and intractable? Well, I don't attempt to predict the future, but I decide to work hard and be an optimist.
"We can’t put a date on these events, and we don’t know the sequence, but we’re confident of one thing: The future will surprise the pessimists." - Bill and Melinda Gates