Donations, The First Year

2021 was my first year with a full-time, steady source of employment.

Having identified as an Effective Altruist (EA)1 for the better part of a decade, one thing I was looking to the most from this was the ability to finally make a substantial difference through the unit of caring.

For someone who’s identified as an Effective Altruist for the better part of a decade though, it was embarrassingly easy for sentiment to get my goat (the goat in question being my donations).

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Where We Gave

My girlfriend and I donated ~10% of our combined post-tax income, as stipulated by the Giving What We Can pledge. However, we failed to donate it all to effective charities, so it can’t really be said that we uh actually fulfilled the terms of the pledge. Thankfully I am very neurotic about not breaking any oaths so I have prepared for this moment by never actually officially signing up for the pledge, despite having identified as an effective altruist for zzzzzzz.

Here is where it went:

40% to global health initiatives via the RCForward Global Health Fund.2

15% to environmental advocacy via the RCForward Climate Change Fund.

15% to Spectrum, Kitchener-Waterloo’s queer community space. They do a lot of cool stuff and maintain a very active calendar of events.

15% to A Better Tent City, a cheap, no-barrier alternative to shelters in Kitchener. Instead of doing the shelter model where they turn everyone out during the day and then accept them back at night using a first-come-first serve basis, ABTC serves a more permanent community and gives people a place to keep their stuff and have a sense of stability.

15% to the KWCF Immigration Partnership Fund for Immigrant and Refugee Initiatives, to support programs and initiatives for Afghan refugees starting their new life in Waterloo Region.

On Donating Locally

To be honest, I’m still not really sure if doing what was basically a 50/50 split between effective and local charities was the right move. It’s definitely something I want to think through in more detail before this year’s donations.

What we donated to local charities combined would be enough to save the lives of two children if we donated it to a Givewell recommended global health charity, and I wouldn’t expect it to have that sort of impact here. I think you can definitely argue that donating to local charities could be put in the same bucket as, like, signing up for local pottery classes (stimulating the local economy), or heck maybe even home decor (beautifying your immediate area mostly for your own benefit) – something you do for warm fuzzies more than you do because it’s the right thing to do.

On the other hand, I do think that having a sense of rootedness in where you live is virtuous, and I genuinely do think that local charities are neglected and can be very powerful.

Getting My Goat

Stuff about local/effective donations aside, I think my local charities were honestly pretty terribly chosen and motivated entirely by my lame monkey emotions. Spectrum because I’m gay and I attended some events that they hosted, and I had a really good time. ABTC because I work with people who are on the project and it seems cool. The refugee fund because I was following their story in local papers and they did a good job tugging on my heartstrings.

I mean look I did look into everyone’s annual reports and make sure that they’re legit, and in the case of the refugees I ended up donating to my second choice since the first was going through some issues, but I basically made up the categories out of whole cloth since I didn’t have a super rigorous idea of what I wanted to do.

I also didn’t donate to what I think is equivocally the best and also most neglected charity in the region, because I thought it would be awkward since I work there (I work there because I researched nonprofits in the region to apply to jobs at and this seemed like very obviously the best one), which is honestly a pretty terrible reason. Especially since it’s actually very easy to donate anonymously, which was something I realized after we did all our donations.

I will state though for the record that the donor wall didn’t actually factor into my decision making process at all. That was just a joke I swear.

Tentative Plan for 2022

Aggressive/Risky: Donate 10% of income to effective charities in global health and environmental advocacy, in something like a 70/30 split. Definitely pay attention to new environmental projects. Treat local donations as a separate budget category that pulls from our spending money, and donate only to the one I like. Executing this means risking not doing any local donations.

Moderate/Safe: 70/20/10 split of donations for global health, environmental advocacy, and local organizations. Peter Singer still wouldn’t Officially Recognize Me As A Good Person if I do this route, but I think about this in terms of harm reduction – the more I enjoy the giving process, the more likely I am going to do continue to do it in following years. Ensuring that the experience of donating remains pleasant for me is how I ensure that the world gets donations from me for the rest of my life, and if that means local charities get a cut, it’s still better than if my monkey emotions start rioting and I stop donating in 5 years when my earning power is higher.

  1. If you’ve never heard of Effective Altruism before, I recommend this introduction.[โ†‘]
  2. As a Canadian, RCForward is the only solution I’ve found to donate to many Givewell approved charities and still get tax receipts.[โ†‘]

Ways a phone is like a dรฆmon

With apologies to Philip Pullman.

  • It’s an extension of me – my phone and I are part of the same entity that make up my thoughts/perspectives/habits
  • Despite the fact that it’s part of me, I can still “talk” to it (i.e. get new insights and perspectives from it through interacting with it)- it’s a part of my soul, but separate enough for that
  • Everyone has one that is close by them at all times, and our structures are now built to accommodate them (charging ports at malls! QR code menus at restaurants!)
  • If mine is more than 6 ft away from me I get separation anxiety
  • If I am to be permanently separated from a smartphone I will probably end up catatonic with depression for life (this one is maybe a joek)
  • I can talk to another person in person, and I can use my phone to communicate to their phone, but using another person’s phone seems viscerally wrong/taboo – I would never pick up a random phone and start playing around with it at a party. Strange phones emit a strong Do Not Touch field. I would even hesitate to move a strange phone from a couch to a table to sit on the couch.
  • It feels slightly less wrong when it’s a close friend or lover, but it still feels like an invasion of privacy (touching another person’s daemon is reserved for basically only immediate family and lovers, and even so, very rarely)
  • One wrong interaction with someone else’s phone can destroy their relationship entirely. This is because to touch another persons daemon is to feel viscerally how they feel about you – it can being to the forefront many unexpected negative emotions (like all the r/relationships posts that start w a person seeing an errant text on their partners phone)
  • I did the most intimate thing I could do with my girlfriend recently – we exchanged all our passwords and gave each other access to all of our accounts. We now own a piece of each other’s souls.

Thoughts brought to you by the fact that a close friend of mine borrowed my phone to call their grandma 2 weeks ago since their phone died; I felt many unexpectedly strong emotions about this.

This is how we become eloi

This is an interesting tiktok that the algorithms gave to me today.

A transcript is available on the next page, or you can click here.

If one alcoholic drink early in pregnancy is enough to cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), then probably something like >80% of all humans throughout history has had it.

Of course, a correlation to nature or tradition doesn’t imply goodness. Most people throughout history had malnutrition too, and it should be self-evident that our efforts towards eradicating malnutrition globally is unequivocally moral.

Still, it’s always interesting to me when something that used to be the default is now pathologized. In case you were curious, in the west, we didn’t realize that alcohol could lead to birth defects until the 70s, and presumably those who were pregnant weren’t taking much care to drink less before that.

(I want to note that the debate around drinking during pregnancy isn’t settled, even now. In the comments of the tiktok you see people complain about all their relatives or posters they see online that insist on continuing to drink while pregnant. But I’m pretty sure I know which side is going to win out in the long run.)

In the future we might see other sorts of features becoming classified as “birth defects” and pathologized. It’s not hard to imagine the construction of something called Fetal Adiposal Spectrum Disorder and an industry around it for treating people whose mothers were obese during their pregnancies. Or Fetal Stress Spectrum Disorder for people whose mothers were overly stressed. Maybe a Fetal Toxoplasmosis Spectrum Disorder. The list goes on.

Or maybe before we get to that point, we’ll realize that pregnancy is something best left to the experts or artificial wombs and that it’s barbaric to do it ourselves. It’ll become as taboo to carry your own child as it is to care for your own dead without the use of some professional mortuary service.

After that realization, how long is it going to be before we realize that having childrearing defaulting to bioparents is unethical and children should all be reared by an expert centralized body? There are a million ways to fuck up a child. And have you seen the abuse stats? In the US, in 2015, 15% of children and youth aged 0โ€“17 years old underwent maltreatment by a caregiver, with 5% undergoing physical assault. Surely we can do better than this.

Perhaps one day there will be a study that says that the effects of child abuse costs the government ten trillion dollars a year 1 , and maybe in time that study will be used to justify the collection of all children by the state (except for the children of the very rich, who seem to always be exempt from these kinds of things).

The Scream by Kent Monkman
Like this but it’ll be ethical this time guys we promise (“The Scream”, Kent Monkman 2017)

One way to look at all this (the correct one, I think) is to say that we are trading in toxic and outdated traditions for better practices that benefit us all.

I was born after we started making these tradeoffs, and every trade that we’ve already done seems more than reasonable. I benefit from them, too. I take birth control, I appreciate living in a society that doesn’t ostracize me for my non-mainstream religious beliefs (I’m not religious), and I’m certainly not going to resist a cultural opposition to pregnant people drinking.

Still, I hesitate when looking at the tradeoffs that I see looming on the horizon. My heart illogically wants to draw the line in the sand, for us to progress to here and no further. But there’s no real argument to make for that.

  1. Actually, it turns out that someone had already written that paper. The annual economic burden was $2 trillion.[โ†‘]