It was about a year ago when a college student I know introduced me to effective altruism (EA). He said, it “tries to use data analysis and philosophy to find the best ways to do good in the world.” He’s the nephew, cousin, and grandson of people I’ve been close to for decades, but we’d never shared time together prior to last summer, after which we stayed in touch. I like him a lot as a human, he was genuinely curious about my work and I was all over being able to talk consciousness with a bona fide techie — especially one who’s on the trajectory he’s on. He had been making it clear to his family that EA was where it was at for him but it was all new to me so, last summer, I did some reading. I immediately felt both affinity and discord, a Venn diagram of shared interests and divergent approaches. His and my conversations, though, largely focused on other subjects.
EA reappeared on my radar last month via this article about how outside money had poured into the political campaign of Carrick Flynn, one of five Democrats vying to represent Oregon’s sixth congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. The money — a surprise to the candidate himself — was from EA adherents: one in particular plus a super PAC plus some individuals contributing the maximum amount, all of whom believed the candidate’s position on pandemic preparedness was worthy of their largesse. The House Democrats’ PAC piled on as well, infuriating the other candidates.
It had actually been two or three months since my young friend and I had spoken so I emailed him with a link to the article and a snarky comment about how EA was wreaking havoc in Oregon politics. He responded with pronounced confidence that this would be the first of many effective altruists to make it to Congress. For sure, their flood of dollars shook up the race and catapulted their candidate to a lead in the polls. In the end, however, the EA candidate lost the primary by 18 points in a five-way race. Eighteen.
So back to the Venn diagram and a few ways in which effective altruism overlaps with and diverges from conscious practice:
A foundational aspect of the new consciousness, as you know, is the paradigm shift we humans are making from operating from our heads to operating from our hearts. EA appears, by all measures, to be firmly rooted in operating from the head.
“The movement began when several Oxford philosophers, quantitatively-minded donors, and online communities found a mutual interest in looking for ways to improve the world that actually work.”
“ In most areas of life, we understand that it’s important to base our decisions on evidence and reason rather than guesswork or gut instinct.”
“… if we want to do good, we need to focus on the concrete, long-term outcomes of our actions and not solely on our warm, emotional intentions.”
I am a conscious social entrepreneur who also wants to improve the world in ways that work. I thus believe that listening to and being guided by inspiration/gut/intuition is what actually eliminates guesswork — forever. I also believe we do the most good when, as individuals, we do what lights us up because everything is energy and we are all connected. A new-consciousness person, then, would prioritize working at a job at which he feels “warm emotions” than at one at which he doesn’t, regardless of any “concrete, long-term outcomes.” 1
In the new consciousness, we invest our precious time and energy cultivating our intentions — the what. We trade taking action/figuring out how for taking inspired action when inspired to do so. How, then, is de-emphasized, but not so for effective altruists.
“Effective altruism is the project of using evidence and reason to figure out how to best contribute to helping others, and taking action on that basis.”
“We're all trying really hard to figure out how to save the world."
“To figure out how” is a hallmark of the old consciousness and the opposite of conscious practice. (FYI, almost nobody is good at this. Yet.)
Studying up on effective altruism means ingesting copious amounts of judgment — thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and opinions people have about other people and what other people should do.
“This means that if your aim is to impartially help others, and all else equal, you’d prefer to help more people, your key concern shouldn’t just be to ‘make a difference’ — it should be to identify the very best ways to help among the options open to you.”
Effective altruism “doesn’t just tell you what you should do if you want to solve a certain problem. It also tells you which problems you ought to solve first in order to leave this world a little bit better than you found it.”
Compassion guides us to refrain from offering should except, perhaps, that we should all do what lights us up and brings us joy, which we emit into the world all day every day.
Effective altruism says “it’s important to work on the right problems.” That sounds like a problem to me if a tiny sliver of us with outsize means gets to decide what the right problems are. The arrogance and judgment alone are astounding, to say nothing of how not democratic it is. EA didn’t create the concept of money in politics but it certainly seems ready, willing, and able to exploit and exacerbate it — like in Oregon’s sixth.
This is all obviously, at best, a cursory look at a movement that both complements and veers away from conscious practice as we define it. However, in these times of transformation, I could envision a hybridized, “EA/conscious” approach to problem-solving at scale. Who knows? Perhaps there’s an effective altruist out there for whom my own conscious, social entrepreneurial project(s) would be deemed a worthy investment. Hmmm.