An Issue Of Effective Altruism

Many believe that art can be useful in influencing social change; however, a social movement known as Effective Altruism (EA) thinks differently. In “Is Art a Waste of Time?” Rhys Southan, an author and former screenplay writer, discusses these effective altruists and what they believe can maximize reducing the greatest amount of world suffering. Southan himself was inspired by art and used to be a screenplay writer. An Oscar award-winning screenplay writer Steven Soderberg, Southan found motivating, believes “this world would be unlivable without art” (435). The most interesting part of the EA is how they do not believe that art can directly impact social change if it is not the way they do things. The EA’s way to save lives using monetary value does not allow for an all-inclusive and direct approach. In Helen Epstein’s study of AIDS awareness, she found that the loveLife organization along with other organizations attempts to raise awareness was unsuccessful. What was successful conversely, was when the other organizations used a more direct and raw experience of victims of this disease, to speak to children and adults. The EA-affiliated organizations believe “working hard to earn money and then giving as much of it as you can to the needy” (435). With art, effective altruists say if your “good deed make as much of a difference as simply handing over money? If not, how good a deed is it really?” (435). Art is the creation of imagination or talent. Effective Altruists may believe the artist’s artwork might not help the world out of world poverty physically but, it might help emotionally. Art can induce emotion within the viewer that can promote self-confidence and happiness. Art is what you would like it to be, and someone might find it inspiring, and in return, they could try to change the world. Effective Altruists cannot measure art’s real value to others and the world, because the world we live in is data-driven, and art is not measurable in that way. However, this does not mean that art is not important.

In their minds “Effective Altruists” (EA) considered and called themselves “Super Hardcore Do-Gooders” at one point in time (435). When then realizing it was a name that many would not take seriously, they changed the name to become Effective Altruism in 2011 (435). Rhys Southan writes about EA and their purpose in his article called “Is Art a Waste of Time?”. Southan introduces a man by the name of Peter Singer, a “moral” philosopher, who compares saving a child drowning with saving “those dying of poverty.” Southan ties in the effective altruists (to Singer) who “agree, and have dedicated their lives to living out the radical implications of this philosophy” (435). Southan brings in this topic because the cherry on top of it all, is, how does art help anyone “out of poverty”? Southan also introduces an American writer, Brian Tomasik who says, “With reducing suffering, we care about decreasing the quantity that exists, but with artwork, it seems you’d only care about experience or not in a binary fashion. So, if all art already exists within some measure, isn’t that good enough?” (437). If we argued this, then we could say the same about modernization and technology (a result of science). If it already exists, why keep advancing? Southan mentions that “not even science is exempt from the EA’s remorseless logic” (438). Many would think it does because art and technology are measured differently. I believe art is not about trying to change people or the world for the better. I believe that it is more just a matter of expressing oneself. Sometimes art can be, without trying to be, breathtaking or horrifying in a way that it might influence change.

When I was younger, my parents exposed me to many things to which I thank them for. One of those things was art. All around my house were canvas paintings big and small, that were all stunning and all different. Some were abstract, and some were not. However, to me, I was able to look at the art whether it was the colors or shapes, and I became inspired with thoughts and emotions subconsciously. I became an artist myself at a young age, drawing what came to mind, or what I saw. When my parents saw my art, I did not realize that my parents had created some of these pieces together and some separate, until I was about 11. Art has been critical to how history is found and kept. Since before language came about, in prehistoric time, cave paintings/art depicted animals and stories, which was created by the Paleolithic people. Not only do these paintings help determine geographic locations, but they help us to understand how they perceived the world at the time. In the medieval period, Southan says artworks “were proto-utilitarian artworks… trying to save the audiences souls. And what greater utilitarian deed could you accomplish than averting infinite suffering?” (439). Art cannot be entirely defined to include every concept or creation there is and can be. Many believe art is primarily visual; however, art can be auditory and tactile as well. It does not have to be tangible like many believe. It has intention and emotion behind it, coming from the creation of the human mind and heart. Art is what you want to create or not create. It can be breathtaking or horrifying. A postgraduate student and effective altruist Michael Bitton thinks “sneaking” controversial statements into art can “really impact culture in any one way” (439). Which he believes, only then will the art become “worthy” to effective altruists.

Effective Altruism is extremely quantitative, and the movement seems to want to know, how much money will it take to save a life? With that, we conclude that value is an integral part of EA. Southan discusses replaceability as “the only good that counts is was you accomplish over and above what the next person would have done in your place” (436). Effective altruists like to consider selfless acts as a way to measure just how important something is. With art they say if someone created an artwork with the same idea/concept, would you be happy because it “was out there, altering perspectives and making everything better in a real quantifiable way even though it wouldn’t increase your social status?” or not because you believe you would’ve done it better (438). EA is concerned with doing whatever, in order to maximize positive world change. Effective altruists are regular people who may choose to care about whatever they believe is important. They have lives, and some have families. Does having a family maximize positive world change? Southan questions EA as maybe a problem with “ideology, or a problem with reality?” (438). The reality is that effective altruists lead their own life and ten percent of their income goes to charities that they believe influences positive world change.

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