I hate the phrase “saving lives” and unfortunately this otherwise excellent Boston Review debate is replete with that usage

If you can get past the deadline induced sloppy writing, there is a lot worth reading.

It is almost criminal to have this as a topic.  A great example of the difference between writing technically (where author and reader share understanding) and writing for a newspaper… Look at the first sentence here, for example.  When I eat breakfast, have  I excluded a poor person?  If I advocate for being humble, am I really encouraging a savoir complex?  If I encourage people to think about the global poor rather than the nearby poor, am I being insular?  If my actions are directed at a goal like winning a soccer match, then do I also fail to meet a normative criteria of democracy?

By excluding poor people and encouraging a savior complex and insularity among its members, the effective altruism movement fails to meet normative criteria of democracy and equality. A supporter of this movement might respond that democracy and equality are less important than improving individual welfare. Yet in the medium-to-long term, the movement will likely fall short in this regard as well. As the low-hanging fruit of basic health programs and cash transfers are exhausted, saving lives and alleviating suffering will require more complicated political action, such as reforming global institutions. Undertaking this action will require outsiders to work with, and follow the lead of, activists in poor countries. Yet the effective altruism movement as Singer describes it does not cultivate the expectations, attitudes, or relationships necessary for this kind of work.

via The Logic of Effective Altruism | Boston Review.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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