40 Comments
Jul 4, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

It always bothered me that Singer tends to drift towards arguing that Ivy League graduates really should work at hedge funds and consulting firms. ‘Make as much as you can to help as many as you can.’

It’s always something like: (1) you can’t really do anything to change the capitalist system of inequality in which you were born (and thus shouldn’t try); (2) if you don’t work for the hedge fund, someone else will; (3) that someone else would perform the job more or less as well as you do, but you are better, because you are virtuous and would give marginally more of your income away than they would.

It’s like he has a theory of individual action, but no theory of collective action or politics——either on the side of the “givers” or on the side of the “takers.” He can’t understand givers committing themselves to political action, because that could potentially be a “waste.” And he can’t imagine the recipients of aid organizing to change their situation in a fundamental way, other than as passive recipients of aid.

And he ignores the potential moral costs of that private equity firm…

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author

Agreed--thank you for this great comment.

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Jul 1, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

GiveWell's described reluctance to adapt to the evidence reminds me a bit of a remark I heard about some March of Dimes workers, who were highly critical of the mission to get a polio vaccine, mostly because it meant they would have to change course as organizers.

I admittedly never read too much on effective altruism, but I always thought it was funny the premise seemed to imply that high-paying jobs were value neutral - just make a few million dollars and nobody else suffers, right? Trenchant social criticism.

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Indeed--Goldman Sachs ftw? 😨😪🤬 Anyway great comment and thanks for reading. 🙏

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Aug 1, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

I will leave the commentary on deworming to colleagues at GiveWell. But I would like to both affirm your critique of Singer and slightly complicate your view of EA.

"Nothing about us without us" seems like a particularly prescient criticism of EA, since it became a slogan used in English by disability rights campaigners. In the same way that Singer does not care about the humanity of the people who first protested "nothing about us without us", he doesn't seem terribly interested in incorporating the poor's own thoughts in his prescription on how to act and how to contribute.

That being said, I work at Open Philanthropy, an EA organization and Michael's critique that we are searching for One Weird Trick does not ring true at all. We work *extensively* on changing systems, by funding people who know the area well. Immigration? Yes. Macroeconomic growth? Yes. Regulation instead of drop-in interventions? Yes and yes. I had a discussion on Twitter with someone who insisted that EAs don't fund criminal justice reform - except my employer has spent $50M on criminal justice reform. EA is a broader tent than it tends to come across as. Even my friends at GiveWell would not say their giving is the *only* type of giving that should be done, and are generally pretty excited about other people providing new and different ways to do highly effective charity work.

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author

Thank you! I really appreciate your perspective, and your important work.

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Aug 15, 2022·edited Aug 15, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

I think of my job as trying to provide infrastructure so poor people can make their own choices. So it's not my job to tell them they HAVE to do anything (indeed, if I tried, I think many people rightly would tell me to fuck off, or just ignore me). It IS my job to try to enable opportunities, so that people have more choices they *can* make - and then they can make their own decisions on what's best for them.

So, like, we're pretty optimistic about telecoms infrastructure (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/H6GhXkbfAy949xhGf/open-philanthropy-shallow-investigation-telecommunications) being a good investment. Are we saying anyone *has* to use the internet or cell phones? Absolutely not. But for your teacher to text you when schools are closed (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-022-01381-z), you kinda need to have cell service. If you want to contact people to sell produce, or your small store, or your tailoring store, cell service might make that easier.

(It is relevant that we compare everything we do to increments of just giving very poor people cash (GiveDirectly). That's our fundamental baseline - we think giving cash is good, and so our fundamental question is: why do we think that whatever we're doing is *better* than that?)

(Edit: I don't identify as an EA, but it is how I think about doing work at an EA organization.)

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author

That makes a lot of sense. Thank you for doing what you do. 🙏

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Aug 15, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

I should also note: I don't identify as an EA solely and completely because I think Peter Singer is gross and I can't get past the ableism. I mostly buy into the ideas of effective altruism - I do think it is good to do as much good as possible, and I'm a physicist by training; I love to quantitatively analyze things - but just. Can't as long as Singer, you know, exists. My opinions are stronger than most EAs on this point (clearly), but I have been shocked how many effective altruists I have told "I can't identify as an EA because Peter Singer" have nodded and been like "yeah, seems fair".

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That's interesting. My sense is philosophy is only just coming to grips with how unconscionable his views on the disabled are, even though some of us (me and my family included) have always found them monstrous.

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Jul 1, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

Excellent piece -- thank you for writing. The idea also that impact can be measured in a single step of causality directs people to a particularly narrow kind of technocratic problem-solving. What about funding, for example, rights-based programs that help people navigate systems of power? Workers' collectives, women's groups, scholarships to give members of oppressed communities access to elite education, etc.? The impact of these might be too complex to measure in randomized control trials, but if they create, within a generation, a cohort of international scientists who can advocate for the best public health solutions in their own communities -- is that not much more effective altruism?

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Thank you! And agreed. There are so many people who need material help who will never be "efficient" to help.

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Jun 30, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

This man advocates for “altruism” while simultaneously advocating to legalise the killing of disabled babies…?!? JFC check your God complex maybe. I assume the Africans he refers to are not participating in his favoured “discussions” because those discussions are f*cked up. Great piece, thanks.

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Thank you! And yeah, it's pretty fucked up. Philosophers have a tendency to try so hard to separate out an individual thinkers' different arguments. In this case, I'm not at all convinced it works.

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Nov 19, 2022·edited Nov 19, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

The most horrifying story of alpha-male dominated Christian missionary malfeasance I've ever read is an oldie but a goodie. It was, as I recall, a Yale Business School case study back in the 80s, refugees of genocide tyrannized basically by one very rich Canadian, Art DeFehr. (For more on Mennonite missionaries like DeFehr, check out the great journalist Norman Lewis' classic: The Missionaries: God Against the Indians: https://www.amazon.com/Missionaries-God-Against-Indians-ebook/dp/B00DU45U7G/ref=sr_1_1?)crid=3CHJ934FUI8G7&keywords=god+against+the+indians&qid=1668900331&s=books&sprefix=god+against+the+indians%2Cstripbooks%2C138&sr=1-1

https://www.alumni.hbs.edu/stories/Pages/story-bulletin.aspx?num=6900

https://www.amazon.com/Rice-Rivalry-Politics-Managing-Cambodian/dp/0268016151/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

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Aug 29, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

I feel unsatisfied that most of the EA criticism seem to focus on the details of EA rather than the core argument of 'Give to others, and give effectively'. I'm curious what you think about arguments like this one against the criticism of EA https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/effective-altruism-as-a-tower-of . You talk about this early on in your essay - when you state that its strange to make a sweeping argument that assumes all the addresses are subject to obligations but not its entitlements.

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Aug 2, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

Great piece! I am so happy to see attention on this important topic. Thank you.

I have worked in public health for over 22 years and know first hand that "one-offs" and swooping in are for the most part just temporary "fixes" and can often do more harm than good. Supporting and achieving individual and community health/well-being is a complex process. Successful initiatives need to be comprehensive and sustainable with peoples-specific, self determined solutions AND rigorous evaluation.

Similarly thought provoking to your essay is the book "Winners Take All - the Elite Charade of Changing the World" where author, Anand Giridharadas shares an inside view of corporate-led philanthropy.

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author

Thank you! I really appreciate your comment, and will check out that resource too.

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Jul 5, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

An African from a 3rd world country here. Always wondered why these charities determine exactly what we need and how we need it, how to spend, when to spend, etc. As rightly point out in the article , we are passive recipients.

I believe many come with genuine intentions whilst others are here to prove to themselves that they are not egoist (trying out their effective altruism experiment).

This is partly why Africa has developed alot of distrust for western charities. China is filling the void.

The beauty with dealing with the chinese is it's straight forward. when give us money/ build schools and all other infrastructure, we automatically know there will be time to pay eith directly or indirectly. They not here out of some hard to understand apparent moral obligation influenced by unconscious savior complex.

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author

This is very interesting. Thanks so much for your perspective. 🙏

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Jul 4, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

Thank you for this outstanding essay! It helps me to better understand and articulate my own dis-ease with the effective altruism movement.

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Thank you, dear Susan! That means the world coming from you, whom I so admire. 🙏❤️

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Jul 2, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

Hi Kate, fantastic article! What are your thoughts on direct transfer charities like Give Directly and other similar projects like Reparations for Slavery?

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author

Thank you! While I'm certainly no expert, I do find it intuitively attractive to prefer models that give directly and in support of people's agency/autonomy. But this is something I'm very much still learning about and thinking through. Thanks again.

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Jul 1, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

I’m glad this post appeared on my Twitter feed and I really enjoyed the read. I appreciated you laying out the premises of Singer’s argument at the beginning of your post. As I read through the essay, it was not clear to me whether you (1) disagreed with Singer’s argument, (i.e., thought at least one premise was false and/or the logic was not valid) or (2) believed the argument was correct, but thought there is often-overlooked nuance underlying some of the premises. It seems to me that many of the points you raise fall in the latter camp; they do not challenge the soundness of the premises, but instead offer (important) context. I’ll briefly review two examples below.

(A) You write that this argument implicitly “assumes students have, or will soon have, disposable income,” and under appreciates the possibility that they could actually be poor or marginalized individuals that are deserving of resources. While this critique suggests that proponents of Singer’s argument fail to give adequate emphasis to the “if it is in our power” clause to premise (2), it seems to me that does not suggest that this premise is false.

(B) You cite McMillan Cotton when arguing about the often-overlooked importance of purchasing luxury goods for marginalized people to be viewed as unthreatening to the social status of (largely white) elites. The serves as an example as justified luxury goods purchases. However, rather than rendering a premise false, I argue this shows, first, when marginalized groups abstain from purchasing luxury goods it may be more likely to cause a sacrifice of comparable moral importance (premise 4); and therefore, they can expend more resources on luxury goods without a decrease in marginal utility (conclusion). Thus, it seems to me that this point adds important context to premise (4) and the conclusion, but does not contest their soundness. You go on to expand this argument to other groups (women, fat women, etc.) before to transitioning to your critique of his focus on GiveWell.

To conclude: I would be curious to know if you think any particular premises are false, or if you actually affirm his argument but were simply hoping to provide often-overlooked nuance. Thanks!

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To add to what I commented just now slightly, the reason why I favor rejecting p2 over your more modest suggestion in B is it seems false to me that getting a somewhat better job is of comparable moral importance to saving a life (which you could arguably do with the money you'd spend outfitting yourself better). I still think a Black woman at least is entitled to do this, in this grossly unequal country and real world as we know it.

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Great question. I nearly said something about this but ended up leaving it as an exercise for the reader 😆. I think I'd be most inclined to dispute the Prevent Suffering Principle (Premise 2: “If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.”) on the grounds it neglects our entitlements, and theorizes is as merely subject to moral obligations as agents.

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*theorizes us

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Jun 30, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

Thank you for this. As a scholar of humanitarian communication (among others), I am excited to read this fresh and pertinent critique. I am not a philosopher, but just in case you might be interested, my critique of the humanitarian imaginary - its utilitarian, deontological and pragmatist strands - can be found here: https://www.wiley.com/en-us/The+Ironic+Spectator%3A+Solidarity+in+the+Age+of+Post+Humanitarianism-p-9780745642109

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Thank you so much! Will read with great interest. 🙏

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Jun 30, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

Singer was invited to my institution earlier this year, and campus conservatives are now trying to manufacture a narration of "cancellation" at this institute who invited him. Exhausting.

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Jun 30, 2022Liked by Kate Manne

When I read his piece some years ago, I was influenced but then wondered: what happens to the lives of these kids in Africa after you "save" them with malaria nets but no other conditions change? Even under this logical/CBA framework, should no money go toward stopping the root causes of these problems, and if that's what you believe, then do you believe the root causes are unsolvable or even natural?

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I'm very confused by your comment that there's perfect overlap between "technocratic mansplaininess" and white saviordom. I can take without complaint that the former is a strict subset of the latter, but to say that the only type of white savior is the technocratic mansplainer is also a necessary implication, and that one seems obviously wrong: female white saviors are a classic part of the archetype, from missionaries to teachers. Am I misinterpreting you somewhere?

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