– Simon Mayes
A few years ago, I attended a lecture in which the speaker encouraged us to find out more about the Effective Altruism movement. Later, as a result of going on retreat, I felt sufficiently motivated to find out more. So, what is Effective Altruism and how do I relate it to donating to FutureDharma?
Effective Altruism involves asking “How can I make the biggest (positive) difference I can?” and using evidence and careful reasoning to try to find an answer.
(Macaskill, 2016, p14-15)
One major area of effective altruism is looking at the effectiveness of the donations we make. Carefully choosing the organisations to which we donate can have a huge impact on the amount of good we can do.
For example, it costs about $40,000 to supply one person in the USA with a guide dog. It costs between $20 and $100 to prevent one person in a poor country from going blind. So, the same amount of money can provide one person with a guide dog in the USA or prevent between four hundred and two thousand people from going blind in a poor country. (Singer, 2015, p110-111). Effective Altruism would suggest we can do a lot more good by allocating the money to prevent blindness in poor countries.
In fact, there are other causes that have been suggested as providing even better value. These include buying mosquito nets to prevent malaria, supporting rainforest communities to reduce rainforest destruction and campaigning to reduce the suffering of farmed animals. (Macaskill, 2016, p61-62, p171, p235)
FutureDharma and Effective Altruism
Effective Altruism challenges me to think about why I give more to FutureDharma Fund than to other causes. It could be argued that funding the teaching of meditation and Buddhism offers poor value compared to say stopping somebody from dying of malaria (especially if the meditator happens to live in a rich country).
When I reflect on why I donate to FutureDharma Fund I find the following are some of the reasons:
· Firstly, Triratna provides clear explanations (karma) and practices (ethics, meditation) explaining how to become kinder and happier. It could be said that while Effective Altruism focuses on making altruism more effective; Triratna enables more altruism. Both altruism and its effectiveness are needed to make a positive difference. So, it makes sense to fund organisations that increase either.
· Secondly, Triratna aims to operate on a “give what you can take what you need basis”. As much as possible what Triratna offers is provided free and funded by those who donate. As I benefit from Triratna it makes sense that I want to give something back.
· Thirdly, it is possible that our short lives have some greater meaning that stretches beyond our current lifetime. If this is correct and if the Dharma is a way of allowing us to fulfill something deeper then ensuring people have access to the Dharma is an extremely valuable thing to do.
Where we choose to give matters. Considering how we can make our altruism effective has the potential to dramatically increase the good we can do. I have chosen FutureDharma Fund as one of the priorities and one way I fit this into the Effective Altruism framework by considering Triratna as offering training in how to become more altruistic. My own experience has been that meditating and in particular going on a Brahma Viharas retreat has led to a shift towards wanting to contribute more and caring more about others. Indeed, it is interesting to recall that I found the motivation to learn about Effective Altruism as a result of going on retreat.
Macaskill, William (2016) Doing Good Better, Guardian Books, p14-15, 61-62, 171, 235
Singer, Peter (2015) The Most Good You Can Do, Yale University Press, p110-111