6 min read

Effective Altruism Begins Close to Home

There's a way to significantly contribute to the human condition while helping yourself in the bargain
Pink neon letters in front of deep red background: This present moment used to be the unimaginab
Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC - Photo by James Bellerjeau

Greetings friends.

Sam didn't start out wanting to save the world. Sure, he had idealistic parents. But he was a normal teenager, worried about what people thought of him, worried about his future ... but not so worried that he stopped playing video games for hours on end.

Sam's journey from college dorm to thinking he could save the world happened quickly. That he skipped entirely over keeping his own life under control seems to have skipped everyone's attention. Until he crashed to earth again a few years later in spectacular fashion.

Is it our responsibility to save the whole world? Should we go about doing it before we've demonstrated we can manage our own lives?

Today I'm going to propose a way to meet in the middle, which is to have a real impact on others while not losing sight of our most important stakeholder, ourselves.

SBF, FTX, and cryptocurrencies

Even if you're no fan of cryptocurrencies, you might have heard the phrase effective altruism. That's perhaps thanks to cryptocurrency exchange founder turned alleged fraudster, Sam Bankman-Fried. SBF, as he was wont to be called, made waves long before his cryptocurrency exchange FTX collapsed.

SBF said he wanted to become outrageously wealthy, not for himself mind you, but for the children. Oh wait, that's not it. He said it was to save humanity. You see, SBF was a vocal proponent of effective altruism.

A ragged cardboard sign saing Need Some $ Help Used Books against a metal railing
Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

There is something incongruous about someone who could scarcely dress in an adult fashion thinking he should (or would) save the world. But let's give him points for vision, if not for style.

What is the vision of effective altruism?

What is effective altruism?

The goals of effective altruism are bold: to identify the world's most pressing problems and the best solutions to them and then put those solutions into practice.

Effective altruists, the organization says, are "not united by any particular solution to the world's problems, but a way of thinking." Effective altruists

try to find unusually good ways of helping, such that a given amount of effort goes an unusually long way.  

I want to say right up front I support the approach. Problem-solving works best when we pick the right topics and then work on them in effective ways. I wrote about this dynamic in a pair of ACC Docket articles: Identifying Problems Worth Working On and Identifying Solutions That Will Work.

The Effective Altruism organization has both honorable motives and a demonstrably positive impact.

Reasons not to trust people who want to save the world

There are good reasons not to blindly trust people who say they want to save the world.

The simplest reason is this: have you met any people lately? Would you trust your neighbor to wash your car, walk your dog, or water your plants? Many of you have done so, and how'd it work out?

I know most people are wonderful and well-meaning. But that doesn't stop them from taking ill-considered actions, making rash decisions, and generally messing things up. Why should we trust them to solve the world's biggest problems?

Black and white picture of man wearing a bathrobe open to expose his chest, sunglasses, and a wry grin, holding his hand out to shake hands
Photo by Martin Zaenkert on Unsplash

"Well, okay," you might be thinking. "I wouldn't trust anyone I know, but how about we put our faith in experts and world leaders?" To which I would say, "Really? Can you point to many who haven't covered themselves in shame in recent years?"

Even if you can think of one or two persons you still admire, I would argue the performance of our elites as a group puts them no better than the average citizen. Probably worse, if we're honest.

I trust people who want things for themselves

Genuinely altruistic people, who want nothing for themselves and display a selfless concern for others, are rare. I wrote about them in How Does It Benefit Me?

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I have a much easier time understanding rationally selfish people.

Rationally selfish? Yes. If you can't feed yourself, you shouldn't worry about feeding the world's poor. If you are struggling to get a degree while working two jobs to pay for it, you are carrying all the worries you need.

What if you are no disorganized mess, but functioning well? You're a success by any measure. Well-educated, prosperous, and successful. I have a disproportionate number of you among my readers, and congratulations are in order. Well done!

Torso of man in pinstripe suit adjusting his tie, showing an expensive watch on his wrist
Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

Klugne readers come from the U.S., Switzerland, the UK, Germany, Canada, and fifty more countries. It makes sense that people who already have been successful are thinking about how to live a good life, make better decisions, and achieve satisfaction.

Here's something you've probably noticed yourself, though. Having a lot is no guarantee you're satisfied with your lot. It's part of the human condition to want more.

So if you tell me you want to continue on your successful path, I can accept that much more readily than I can the person who says they want nothing but to save the world.

What if you can help others while helping yourself?

It turns out there is a lovely middle ground. You can focus on yourself and still help others. And you can follow effective altruism principles while you're at it.

Don't just donate to the first person who comes to your door or the first organization that solicits you.

Instead, ask if there's a way to significantly contribute to the human condition while helping yourself in the bargain. Here's one way to do it:

Support the spread of knowledge and good ideas
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Let people take better care of themselves by accessing good advice. And you may take advantage of that good advice yourself as well.

How? You do this by supporting authors you like. You're already on a good path as a Klugne reader. But there is so much more available.

Never have so many writers been able to publish their ideas to so many people. Spend time reading other interesting and helpful articles yourself. Then amplify your favorite voices by helping ensure others read those authors' works.

Medium.com is a fantastic place to start

Medium allows writers from anywhere in the world to publish their work. Hundreds of thousands of writers publish tens of thousands of articles each week.

You will see fiction and non-fiction, how-to articles and horror stories. If my experience is any indication, you will find quality content on just about any topic you care about.

You'll also find some content from me. I've been active for a couple of months and have contributed over 60 articles.

What does it cost? You can test the waters for $5 per month. Annual membership is a bargain at $50. If you're unsure, start with the $5 monthly approach to test how you like it.

Take courage in your self-interested altruism from the words of Erasmus:

When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.

It will quickly become clear why reading articles on Medium helps you. But how does your membership help others?

Simple. Medium pays authors a portion of your membership fee. This encourages more authors to contribute quality work and expand their reach.

You'll be in good company on Medium. There are already some 67 million Medium readers.

Why not check out Medium now?

If you want to help others while helping yourself simply by reading, browse around Medium for a bit. When you're ready to join, use my link and Medium will pay me a portion of your fee.

While I've chosen to keep Klugne free for readers, I devote serious time to sharing my thoughts with you. I surely would appreciate your support on Medium.

Be well.


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