I talked to a community group (comprising older successful people) recently about Effective Altruism, adopting a village, and personal commitment to making the world a better place. Following the talk, two questions/comments stood out.

Person A, who was invited to thank me for the talk, pointed out the personal challenge of giving 50% of our wealth to changing the world, and suggested that this was a great challenge/goal for the group members. (I had said that the 50% giving pledge was plausible for ‘normal’ westerners, not just billionaires, and that we are personally committed to this).
Person B, in private discussion after the meeting, said (politely) that the world had too many people in it, and the world would be better off if we let them die.

This got me thinking –  1) which of these two people is most honest? And then following this, 2) which of these two people might contribute more towards making the world a better place?

1) Which of these people is most honest?

Person A = encouraging others to rise to the challenge of “give 50% of your wealth away before you die”. This was a great, and surprising, challenge. I had only mentioned the “give 50%” concept in passing – yet this is what he picked up and promoted. BUT, will he do it personally? And will others respond to this challenge. If ‘A’ has a personal commitment to this already, or will explore this option with an intention of a 50% commitment, then he is obviously very honest. BUT if he doesn’t actually do this (50% commitment), then it could be argued that he was being rather dishonest.

Person B = open and honest about not really caring about the poor/starving, and actually suggesting that the world would be better off without them. Brutal? yes. Honest? yes seems to be (it is unlikely that anyone would verbalise this position without really believing in it.
And, unfortunately, this brutal position that they have verbalised seems the same as the reality of the way many richer people live. ie what is the difference between Person B and Person C – someone who is not so brutal or honest verbally, but actually does virtually nothing to help the extreme poor. If Person C has the capacity to help the extremely poor, but does nothing, aren’t they effectively endorsing the view of Person B, without verbalising it? ie they are living in a way that does nothing to help the extremely poor, and their actions are saying something like “its OK if they die” & “the world will be better off if they die”.

So – regarding honesty –
Person A = very honest or very dishonest – depending on whether they personally act on the “give 50%
Person B = very honest
Person C = probably not honest – or at least not open about their underlying beliefs and actions

2) Which of these people might contribute more towards making the world a better place?

Person A – if they act on the “give 50%”, and help the extremely poor, then they will presumably have a very good effect in making the world a better place.  BUT if they don’t act on it, then the world stays the same, or even gets worse (depending on how their words + inaction affect other people)

Person B – is not directly making the world better or worse. Their words might affect others – possibly for the better or the worse. If their brutal words help others stop and reflect on their personal actions (ie am I acting on this belief?), then it could lead to positive actions. Or alternatively their words might encourage others to do nothing &/or verbalise a similar perspective. (& Person C is similar)


I loved what Person A verbalised, and I hope they follow through on it, and also encourage others to do the same. Person B’s perspective was brutal and honest – I hope that it can be used to help others (type C) reflect on the reality of the way they live, and their similarity to Person B, albeit without the brutal honest words.