I have two kidneys. I only need one. Others worse off desperately need one or they will die. Statistically, it’s a 1:4000 chance that I will die from the procedure to donate the kidney that I do not even need. Therefore to withhold a kidney from someone who would otherwise die means that I value my life 4000 times more than them.
This was rationale of Zell Kravinsky who famously reasoned the donation of his kidney to a complete stranger.
It is also a story that Peter Singer, Philosophy professor at Princeton University and a staunch advocate for Effective Altruism, shared at the RSA on Monday afternoon.
Effective Altruism is based around the philosophy that we should always do the most good that we can. Rather than helping those around us, we should direct our resources to places where they can be most effectively utilised.
One particularly potent question posed by an audience member related closely to the work of Empathy Action. It was about the idea of ‘heart-to-hand’ led altruism and compassion as a tool for fuelling change. It seems a natural human instinct to want to help those close to us that are in need.
Singer suggested that Effective Altruism is not necessarily that far away from the idea of ‘cognitive empathy’.
Empathy can be projected out beyond just the realms of those we are in direct contact with and that is what our simulations aim to do.
As a man with a father suffering from kidney disease, a colleague of a former volunteer who willingly donated their kidney to their husband and part of an organisation that uses the organ transplant narrative within our simulations work, I found it uncomfortably challenging to think about ‘the most good’ that I can do for others.
For more on the Effective Altruism movement please hear Peter Singer’s talk at the RSA and check out charities like Giving What We Can & 80,000 Hours – both groups we have run poverty simulations with in the past.