How I feel when I talk to Non Effective Altruists

This post is not intended as an argument in favour of effective altruism (although I intended to write those posts in the future) but instead is about my emotional experience as an Effective Altruist talking to non-effective altruists about EA ideas.

I have many friends who raise money for charity. They do Relay for Life, or Live Below the Line, or 48 Hour Famine. They want to help people (or from a hansonian perspective they want to signal helping people.) And they do. But they don’t help people as much as they can with the effort they are putting in. And they don’t know that. And I do. And I want to explain this to them. But it’s hard.

I think part of the reason is that because effective altruism is so intuitive for me. It feels almost condescending telling people about it. I didn’t independently come up with the entirety of the collection of ideas effective altruism as a concept consists of (although I do remember googling “effective charities” and finding GiveWell and then from there effective altruism) but after I first read them, it just seem obvious. I find it very difficult to understand how people cannot agree with them. There are good worthwhile critiques of the effective altruism movement and ideas but central tenets such as “If you want to do good, figure out which option does the most good and choose based on that criteria, rather than another criteria” are so obvious that writing them out like that makes me feel like I’m talking to a five year old.

But a larger part is that I just feel bad telling people that thing they are good that they are not. I’m trying to analyse why, but it’s hard to break the feeling down. My brain seems to be suggesting it’s like telling a child that Santa doesn’t exist, but I don’t think that’s quite right.

Sometimes I talk about how some charities are more effective than others. They will say “yeah, like how some charities will spend 20% of the money on the staff” and then I have to explain that that is only one of several measures of a charities effectiveness, and often can be misleading etc. And the look on their face. Its like they don’t understand. I know this is partly because I need to improve my communications skills (part of the reason I am writing this blog) but it seems like a different kind of look to when I try to explain an philosophical or economic concept to someone. Or maybe just my internal emotional reaction is different.

I am writing about his because I want to get over it. Because it lowers the amount of good I can do. When people talk to me about charity I should be able to effectively communicate EA concepts without having unproductive negative emotional reactions. If I can cause one person to be as effective altruistic as me (which is not much yet as I am a full time student that ) then I have doubled the amount if good I would otherwise have caused.

So my ideas are to desensitize myself to this feeling my incrementally building up to it/forcing myself to do it. Next time I see a facebook post about raising money for a non EA charity I want to be able to send a polite, non-confrontational message to the person suggesting that they consider donating for a more effective charity. I’ll update you if I make progress in this area.

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