Category Archives: Misc

Saving little Tommy and his three-legged dog, Scout, and other potential realities

Blog 4 pic

(Photo via Steve Granger)

I recently listened to the thought and action provoking conversation between the philosopher, William MacAskill, and author, Sam Harris, on the Waking Up podcast, which I highly recommend (unless, as I ruefully learned, you’re about to go do some back-to-school clothes shopping – you’ll get why shortly).  They discussed arguments for what is called effective altruism.  Effective altruism is the idea that we should apply reason and evidence to maximize our attempts at making the world a better place.

For most of us, we are in the advantageous position to do a great deal of good.  We can save a life right now.  Seriously.  Imagine the story you would have if you were out for a night-on-the-town and you pulled someone away from getting hit by a distracted driver – or the tale you would recite if you ran into a burning building and saved a little child and his three-legged dog.  As MacAskill and Harris conclude, we are in a position to reach out or run in whenever we want!

But then the questions start to roll in.  Who or what organization should we give to?  How much should we give?  How can I truly maximize the good I do?  Luckily the effective altruism movement has answers for these and many more questions: http://www.givewell.org/

The key takeaway for me is this: Giving shouldn’t necessarily be seen as an obligation, but an opportunity.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the “maximize the common good” mindset – where luxury is a sin and being a hypocrite is unavoidable (e.g., getting new clothes when your old ones are perfectly fine!).  Many get paralyzed by this approach.  They turn inward by putting up a wall of distrust and self-preservation.  They lash outward by reproaching those who express benevolent inclinations and dismiss them as virtue signals.  Ultimately, they give less than they would have in hindsight.

Yet it has never been so easy to reach out.  If we simply change how we think and reason about giving, we could do so much more.  That’s why I wanted to share this conversation between MacAskill and Harris, and the idea of effective altruism.  As Harris points out in his postscript, it is not so often that we can share ideas that have such immediate consequences.

An Open Love Letter to Winnipeg

Blog3 via unbekannt270_Edit(Photograph via unbekannt270)

I have seen you grow. I have wallowed in fields of grass and snow that are now schools and stores. I have watched a city revel in self-deprecating humor – to then vigorously defend itself with pride. I have witnessed the warm embrace of a community welcoming their fellow human beings; individuals similarly devoted to making a better life for future generations. I have observed time and again a collective upholding its values yet opening its mind outwardly and inwardly.

It is true that you have stumbled and fallen; that your hardened character from the bitter cold has been mistaken for meanness; that you have seen turmoil resulting from our nature to create out-groups. But it is also true that you have clung on to what matters. That most of you are there to help each other up; that you made it a place where people are free to make mistakes. That you are willing to acknowledge these mistakes and work hard to learn from them; where each day you put every ounce of effort into building up your confidence.

This sense of growth, the self-checking balance of humility and pride, the welcoming of diversity, and the awareness of the wisdom that lies in values is much of what makes you wonderful. The scars and the bruises, the shared hardness of your life in a frigid-to-sweltering swamp, and the mistakes that are made as you develop are what make you real. Your progeny engrain these features; when they depart, they only leave in the physical sense – but like dandelion seeds blowing in the gentle breeze, they will always be a part of you.