Doing Good Better - William MacAskill
- James Isaac
- 8 Sep 2015
- 6 / 10
While the author provides some neat frameworks that can be used to make more informed decisions about how to donate time and money in more efficient ways, unfortunately I feel the book takes these ideas to far too much of an extreme. I felt that the book presented the techniques of the Effective Alturism movement as some kind of objective science, when in fact I believe them to be extremely subjective (will get onto why later).
The book opens with an anecdote of a charity effort that received a lot of media attention, in which water pumps in rural Africa were replaced with children's roundabouts. Anyone who has a basic understanding of physics, and has ever played on a roundabout, should be able to understand why this is a flawed idea. Yet MacAskill really goes to town with pointing out his intellectual superiority over this misguided attempt at alturism. Overall I found the whole book to carry through this same frustratingly smug tone.
My overall belief on the argument presented is that, the world is infinitely complex, and no human or computer will ever be able to accurately model and predict the most effective courses of actions for solving it's problems, or providing the most "quality adjusted life years" once you look outside the very immediate consequences of actions. Therefore getting too wrapped up in any system of quantification and metrics over something so complex is a futile oversimplification.
In my opinion, the EA movement falls victim to the exact same trap they criticise others for, of doing good because it makes them feel better. The only difference being that they need a lot more logic and statistics to satisfy their own belief that they've done something objectively "good". This results in an abandonment of common sense, and the cracks in the logic start to show as the movement advances towards ridiculous extremes.
Having said all this, if taken with a grain of salt, this book does contain some nice ideas on how decisions related to alturism can be better informed.