Olu Online

Doing good

Been thinking a lot about the best ways to "do good" and help the world and associated stuff, and it's annoying I spent so much of my formative years thinking that Effective Altruists may not be completely right but made some good points, had the spirit if not the beat, etc, when I could have been more seriously challenging the status quo, in my mind at the very least.

Effective altruism is all about doing the most good you can, which seems good on the surface, but they have a lot of skewed priorities, and that informs their metrics about what counts as 'most' good. You earn a lot of money in any high-paying industry you have the skills for (or can attain i guess?), give that to the charities that they have assessed to be most effective for the causes they care about, and profit out pops social change! This route, of earning lots of extra money, is called earning-to-give.

Billionaire - and wannabe rich people, in the earn-to-give model that EAs espouse - philanthropy will never lead to liberation for the poorest, most oppressed and most marginalised. It necessarily conforms to the systems that it claims to want to dismantle; capitalist systems as they currently stand need to extract worth and labour from people who don't stand to gain much from it other than barely scraping by, if that.

I'd be more sympathetic to the EA view if I hadn't read this great article by Current Affairs surfacing their more heinous views - go work for a tobacco company, cos you can earn a lot of money and put it into not that! - and the passionate posting of Timnit Gebru on Twitter criticising the movement.

They've pivoted much more strongly towards a view called longtermism, which basically postulates that everyone who ever lives in the future will count for more than those who live now or in the near future due to dubious probabilities and their sheer anticipated volume by EAs. There are a lot of what they would call 'repugnant conclusions' mixed in, such as that if those trillions of people all have terrible, barely living lives, since there are more of them it's better than less people living their most actualised lives... It's wild.

I did philosophy at university so I'm well aware of jumping two feet first into what sounds like a great, logical, morally watertight idea one week and sheepishly walking it back the next. I can only hope this is a sped up version of what the EA movement as a whole is doing, but I deeply suspect it isn't, and also suspect it's a strong case of getting high on one's own supply, and believing one's own hand waving conclusions.

They're currently having a competition to see if they can be dissuaded as to some existential - aka potentially causing the extinction of humanity - type risks, but I think all they will take as a response is "hard data" where obviously hard data about things like AGI and other technological advancements is impossible to come by in our current state of knowledge. I assume people will use maths in a way to play with probabilities, but I don't know how that can definitively answer the question in a way that can sway a bunch of people. I guess we'll all see!

To return to the original point of this post, I've been reading a book called Dedicated which has been echoing a lot of the experiences of my social and political organiser friends; it's all about building relationships, putting in the day to work, building bonds, etc.

I've been working on doing this a bit. I've been writing for Kernel Magazine and being part of the Reboot community - a group reclaiming techno-optimism from its misty eyed but cold hearted current trajectory - in the tech space. I am currently trying to build a bit more local community in London, as my friends are scattered around if all in the city, so I'm looking for connections in my area, going hyperlocal.

I do wonder how other tech and tech adjacent people are feeling about their efforts to "give back"/contribute, as the majority of the things I see for us specifically to contribute is getting people who are marginalised or oppressed or both into industry, which given the state of the industry and the job market at large right now doesn't feel very productive.

Do you try and make the world a better place? If so, how? Let me know on Twitter!