The Ethics of Giving in the Very Long Term
Glenn weighs in on effective altruism and longtermism
Today we’ve got the second installment of our new feature in which the TGS team presents me with a story, idea, video, or topic and documents my spontaneous reaction to it. In this episode, Mark Sussman, the editor of this newsletter, brings to my attention a Twitter thread by Émile P. Torres about “effective altruism” and its controversial offshoot, “longtermism.” Mark presents a summary of both of these ideas, but you may have read about them in the news over the past week or so. (A good starting point is Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s profile of effective altruism’s most influential proponent, the philosopher William MacAskill.) That’s because one of the major figures in longermist circles, the (perhaps former) cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, has been at the center of a scandal that resulted in the bankruptcy of his cryptocurrency exchange, FTX.
We recorded this episode weeks before the implosion of FTX, but Mark refers to Bankman-Fried’s attempt to parlay his wealth into political influence, and both he and I evince skepticism about the prospects of Bankman-Fried maintaining his purported ethical position while dealing in vast sums of money. That’s not all we talk about, though. Neither Mark nor Nikita nor I are experts on the topic, and you’ll hear us thinking through some of the possible implications of effective altruism and longtermism in real time. What, if anything, do we owe humans living in the distant future? Is effective altruism just a way for Silicon Valley elites to salve their guilty consciences? Can “presentism” get you canceled?
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