Megan Xu


I had never heard of Effective Altruism before I arrived at MIT. My first encounter was during the activities fair, where I quickly glanced over the booth before dismissing it in my mind. Then, I received an email calling for applications to join the Arete Fellowship. The fellowship was framed a chance to learn how to do the most “good” in the world with the resources we have. As someone interested in service, I jumped on the chance to apply and was admitted shortly thereafter; however, I soon realized that the Arete Fellowship proved to be very different from what I expected.

            Firstly, although I knew that the Arete Fellowship was related to the Effective Altruism movement, I did not expect the meetings to seem like an indoctrination. The readings, despite being interesting, seemed to nitpick at every aspect of thinking about giving and helping other people. I was repeatedly struck with the feeling that simply wanting to do good was not enough; action was needed, particularly very specific actions. Learning that randomized control trials were the only way people could tell interventions were effective proves to be useful; however, creating qualitative arguments for each action suggests that some actions should not be undergone at all. For example, ineffective interventions were brought up many times and almost laughed upon, donating to causes such as cancer prevention over malaria eradication was scorned, living in a first world country without actively devoting one’s career or salary to helping others seemed like a sin. 

            There is something to be said about wanting to help and not knowing how. I believe each person’s journey to helping others and the method by which each person decides to help is deeply personal. My issue with Effective Altruism lies in the superiority of those in the movement, as if the way that those in the movement decide to help others is inherently better than the efforts of other people. Plenty of people donate to the cause of diseases that are more well-known in developed countries, volunteer with soup kitchens, and run homes for the elderly. Why suggest that they are ineffectively helping other people by not including those interventions under the umbrella of Effective Altruism? For example, since undergoing this program, I feel that those activities are frowned upon. I’m sure that others who hear the logic of Effective Altruism would garner the impression. The urge to help others is precious and should not be discouraged in any way. Effective Altruism wishes to best help others using never ending estimations and long-winded logic; I just don’t think that thought process is valuable to my own perception of service and helping others.