A few years ago, at a wonderful blog, I've heard, for the first time, the expression Effective Altruism. I confess that since day one it didn't sit well with me, I never mentioned it, because I hoped, that listening more, I could understand and like it. But until now it seems like the modified parable, below:
A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Waltham to Boston. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A Harvard student happened to be going down that road, but he was going to the effective altruism meeting and, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Princeton graduate came to the place, and when he saw him, he calculate the cost effectiveness of the help he could provide and passed by on the opposite side. But a student from the New England Institute of Art who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, and since there are no cellular coverage to dial 911, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own 2005 Honda, took him to a hospital and cared for him. The next day he took out two thousand dollars and gave them to the hospital manager with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’
I helped many initiatives over the years, but only once I donated to a GiveWell sponsored institution, and not because I care about GiveWell, or understand it, but because I trust very much the person who indicated it to me and I trust her judgement in balancing the so-called effective altruism with caritas. I understand that common sense should be applied when donating our money but effective altruism seems off target (even without the ludicrous debate on having kids or not).
The encyclical Deus Caritas Est, which I read recently, is very helpful in thinking about the subject. In fact, the Pope Benedict XVI, uses the term effective several times at that letter.