I am conscious about coming across as self righteous or judgemental here but the below are areas I wanted to flag up as very important to me and are at the core of who I am.
‘To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication’
- Sam Harris, Lying
After reading an essay by Sam Harris on lying I made a commitment to never lie again regardless of the intention being to do good or if it seemed an innocuous white lie. A lie wilfully misrepresents the reality and truth of the world and when we do that we create a barrier in a relationship which ultimately weakens it. It really is astonishing how often we take part in this self sabotage and how much pain and suffering we cause for ourself with it. To pick up a newspaper or read the headlines is to explore a world of pain built on personal betrayals, infidelities and governments wilfully misleading the people. The damage done when we lie is clearly evident and the world would be a far better place if people took the step to choose not to lie. Granted there are some extreme life and death cases where this should be lapsed and I am referring to intentional misleading when people expect honesty, absolving jokes, performances and poker players etc.
Essay - https://samharris.org/books/lying/
‘Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.’
- Guardian, May 2018
There is almost no doubt that future generations will look back on ours appalled by some of our norms and practices for it has been the case throughout most of human history. Whether it be the treatment of different races, the treatment of the sexes or the treatment of those with sexual preferences at odds with the status quo, the history of our race is littered with views we now see as abhorrent. The majority of the most admired figures of the past were products of their society and as such held views that by today’s standards would be considered as sexist, racist and violent. This often drives how I try to behave myself, regardless of whether it is at odds with the status quo.
An area where I believe we will be viewed particularly unfavourably by our future generations, should there be any, is in our treatment of animals and in particular the meat and dairy industry. There simply is no just explanation for the cruelty to animals on a mass scale or the degradation and destruction of large parts of our planet due to intensive farming practices. Ignorance of the issue is now, in the Western world, a poor excuse. Choosing to live a plant based life is the single biggest way you can make a difference and it has made me happier, healthier and more connected to the natural world.
‘Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind. Every relationship is as good or as bad as it is because of the minds involved. If you are perpetually angry, depressed, confused, and unloving, or your attention is elsewhere, it won’t matter how successful you become or who is in your life—you won’t enjoy any of it.’
- Sam Harris, Waking Up
As someone who has suffered with mental health issues, in particular anxiety, OCD and insomnia, after a head injury delving into meditation has been an invaluable tool in my mental health locker. After making it a regular practice and going on a number of silent retreats, including ten days in full silence, I can honestly say it has changed my life massively for the better and completely altered the landscape of my internal world. My mind is now a calmer, more rational place and it has allowed me to focus on what is real, not the constructs or stories my mind tells me. When applied correctly it promotes humility, empathy and compassion and the scientific research on it is, though in its infancy, very promising. Through neuroplasticity you can literally alter the physical structure of your brain by meditating to make it a place far more calm and in touch with the world. Ultimately it has allowed me to cultivate presence into my everyday life and has given me the ability to use my mind rather than have my mind use me.
‘The challenge for us is this: How can we ensure that, when we try to help others, we do so as effectively as possible?’
- William MacAskill, Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You
I have always been compelled to try to make the world a better place in whatever way I can and research shows that most of us want to make a difference. However we often base these decisions on emotion and not using reason and rationality and this results in us often doing very little actual good or even in some case causing more harm. After reading William MacAskill's excellent book Doing Good Better I took the emotion out of the process and made a pledge to give at least 10% of my earnings before tax to the most effective causes until the day I die. I have been doing this for over a year through Effective Altruism Funds and my 10% is split between the causes below:
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT FUND - 40%
This fund supports organisations that work on improving and saving the lives of some of the poorest people in the world. At the moment a large proportion of this goes to Against Malaria Foundation and No Lean Season.
ANIMAL WELFARE FUND - 20%
This fund supports organisations that work on improving the wellbeing of animals. This pot is divided amongst a number of organisations aimed at achieving large-scale reductions in farm animal suffering and promoting research and promotion of plant-based and cultured animal product.
LONG-TERM FUTURE FUND - 20%
This fund supports organisations that work on improving long-term outcomes for humanity. Grants will likely go to organisations that seek to reduce global catastrophic risks, especially those relating to advanced artificial intelligence. At the time of writing the large proportion of this pot goes to the Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative.
EFFECTIVE ALTRUISM COMMUNITY FUND - 20%
This fund is set up to increase the amount and quality of money, talent, and ideas available to tackling the world’s biggest problems. It is anticipated that the fund will go to support activities in the effective altruism community.
Based on the best available evidence it takes just £3,000 to ensure that there is someone alive today who wouldn’t have been had that money not have been given. If you feel disheartened by politics this is an incredibly empowering and easy way to make a real difference. Ten per cent often seems like a lot, at the start there was some adjustment, and to be clear this should apply to people earning over £18,900 a year. People, like I did initially, feel anxious about the commitment but I always try and frame it as,‘Would you take a ten per cent pay cut for a dream job where you can make a real difference all over the world?’ The answer is invariably yes. A large proportion of us have that opportunity right now.
More Information - https://app.effectivealtruism.org/funds
Being Good and Doing Good - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Doing-Good-Better-Effective-Difference/dp/1592409105
‘But it’s in the nature of progress that it erases its tracks, and its champions fixate on the remaining injustices and forget how far we have come.’
- Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
We are, due to some strange evolutionary quirk, wary of accepting the progress we have made as a species and are instead always convinced that the world is going to ‘hell in a handcart’ or has gone mad. We also have a habit of looking to the past through rose tinted glasses and ignoring the harsh realities that were present. Steven Pinker’s excellent book Enlightenment Now is a brilliant defence of reason, rationality and science and shows how in almost every area we look at the world is immeasurably better. We live longer, are healthier, safer and inhabit a more peaceful world than ever before and it is always worth remembering that. True we do have some huge obstacles to face, in particular with regards to climate change and its already irreversible impact, but these are all challenges we are capable of solving.