HELP! I want to do good

There are peo­ple out there who want to do good in the world, but don’t know how.

Maybe you are one of them.

Maybe you kind of feel that you should be into the “sav­ing the world” stuff but aren’t quite sure if it’s for you. You’d have to be some kind of saint, right? That doesn’t sound like you.

Maybe you re­ally do feel it’s you, but don’t know where to start. You’ve read the “How to Save the World” guide and your re­ac­tion is, ok, I get it, now where do I start? A plan that starts “first, change your en­tire life” some­how doesn’t sound like a very good plan.

All the guides on how to save the world, all the ad­vice, all the es­says on why co­op­er­a­tion is so hard, ev­ery­thing I’ve read so far, has missed one fun­da­men­tal point.

If I could put it into words, it would be this:


If that’s your re­ac­tion then you’re half way there. That’s what you get when you fi­nally grasp how much pointless pain, mis­ery, risk, death there is in the world; just how much good could be done if ev­ery­one would get their act to­gether; just how lit­tle any­one seems to care.

If you’re still read­ing, then maybe this is you. A lit­tle bit.

And I want to help you.

How will I help you? That’s the easy part. I’ll start a com­mu­nity of as­piring ra­tio­nal­ist do-good­ers. If I can, I’ll start it right here in the com­ments sec­tion of this post. If any­thing about this post speaks to you, let me know. At this point I just want to know whether there’s any­body out there.

And what then? I’ll listen to peo­ple’s opinions, feel­ings and con­cerns. I’ll post about my wor­ld­view and in­vite peo­ple to crit­i­cize, at­tack, tear it apart. Be­cause it’s not my wor­ld­view I care about. I care about mak­ing the world bet­ter. I have some­thing to pro­tect.

The posts will mainly be about what I don’t see enough of on Less Wrong. About rec­on­cil­ing be­ing ra­tio­nal with be­ing hu­man. Posts that en­courage do­ing rather than think­ing. I’ve had enough ideas that I can com­mit to writ­ing 20 dis­cus­sion posts over a rea­son­able timescale, al­though some might be quite short—just sin­gle ideas.

Some­one men­tioned there should be a “sav­ing the world wiki”. That sounds like a great idea and I’m sure that set­ting one up would be well within my power if some­one else doesn’t get around to it first.

But how I in­tend to help you is not the im­por­tant part. The im­por­tant part is why.

To an­swer that I’ll need to take a cou­ple of steps back.

Since ba­si­cally for­ever, I’ve had vague, guilt-mo­ti­vated feel­ings that I ought to be good. I ought to work to­wards mak­ing the world the place I wished it would be. I knew that oth­ers ap­peared to do good for greedy or self­ish rea­sons; I wasn’t like that. I wasn’t go­ing to do it for per­sonal gain.

If ev­ery­one did their bit, then things would be great. So I wanted to do my bit.

I wanted to pri­vately, se­cre­tively, give a hell of a lot of money to a good char­ity. So that I would be do­ing good and that I would know I wasn’t do­ing it for sta­tus or glory.

I started small. I gave small amounts to some big-name char­i­ties, char­i­ties I could be fairly sure would be do­ing some­thing right. That went on for about a year, with not much given in to­tal—I was still build­ing up con­fi­dence.

And then I heard about GiveWell. And I stopped giv­ing. En­tirely.

WHY??? I can’t re­ally give a rea­son. But some­thing just didn’t seem right to me. Peo­ple who talked about GiveWell also tended to men­tion that the best policy was to give only to the char­ity listed at the top. And that didn’t seem right ei­ther. I couldn’t ar­gue with the maths, but it went against what I’d been do­ing up un­til that point and some­thing about that didn’t seem right.

Also, I hadn’t heard of GiveWell or any of the char­i­ties they listed. How could I trust any of them? And yet how could I give to any­one else if these char­i­ties were so much more effec­tive? Big akra­sia time.

It took a while to sink in. But when it did, I re­al­ised that my life so far had mostly been a waste of time. I’d earned some money, but I had no real goals or am­bi­tions. And yet, why should I care if my life so far had been wasted? What I had done in the past was ir­rele­vant to what I in­tended to do in the fu­ture. I knew what my goal was now and from that a whole lot be­came clear.

One thing mat­tered most of all. If I was to be truly vir­tu­ous, al­tru­is­tic, world-chang­ing then I shouldn’t deny my­self sta­tus or make fi­nan­cial sac­ri­fices. I should be com­pletely in­differ­ent to those things. And from that the plan be­came clear: the best way to save the world would be to per­suade other peo­ple to do it for me. I’m still not en­tirely sure why they’re not already do­ing it, but I will use the typ­i­cal mind prior and as­sume that for some at least, it’s for the same rea­sons as me. They’re con­fused. And that to carry out my plan I won’t need to ma­nipu­late any­one into car­ry­ing out my wishes, but sim­ply help them carry out their own.

I could say a lot more and I will, but for now I just want to know. Who will be my ally?