The amazing power of human beings allows us to gravitate from one extreme to another in terms of:
- belief systems
My formative years were the 1940s and 1950s. The world was as evil as humans could make it. Starting decades before I arrived on earth. With all manner of power politics, imposition of prejudice and hubris. And a carryover of the delusion that our species can be divided into various levels of inferiority or superiority. Race, gender, culture. Even religion.
Wars conducted up to the midpoint of the 20th Century directly or indirectly killed tens of millions of people worldwide. And left a continuing legacy of pain and suffering everywhere.
My generation in the United States was imbued with the notion our reason for living was to provide service to others. Possibly because so many were appalled at the carnage and despair created by decades of war, genocide, and conquest based on greed. Sickened by the belief that the gulf between privilege and grinding poverty and despair was the natural way of things.
Although service to others was an overriding aspiration, it had geographic and contextual exceptions. Mine was life within the boundaries of a newly expanding Phoenix, Arizona. Within schools that were large because the city could not keep up with its exploding population. New facilities were still on the drawing board. With almost 6000 students in my high school. As a white adolescent, I was in the minority.
My lower middle-class family was the norm among white kids. Friends were representative of all races and economic groups after the Supreme Court mandated racial equity. The one exception was inclusion of indigenous kids still attending BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) boarding schools, a practice I later despised.
The service sphere in which my convictions were formed included church, YMCA, and a military that advertised itself as a peace-keeping force. Those organizations were my context. My channels through which service could be provided. A kind of cultural milieu with altruism at its heart.
A current magazine article details a new movement titled Effective Altruism. The primary influencer is a 35-year-old associate professor of philosophy at Oxford University: William Macaskill.
In his book, What We Owe the Future, Macaskill advocates the expansion of a moral circle. That circle includes those with whom we live on earth today and the millions who will come after us.
Believers in Macaskill’s philosophy are organizing themselves around the world. Many of the strongest supporters of what has become known as the EA Movement are young entrepreneurs. They believe they should share their good fortune with others now and far into the future.
What strikes me about the movement is that it is far from being a new idea. Our largest and most influential religions have advocated effective altruism for centuries. With varying degrees of success.
Even many of the American entrepreneurs of the Nineteenth Century, the so-called “Robber Barons,” gave away their money and other holdings in impressive chunks and for good causes. Andrew Carnegie alone gave away over $350,000,000. Which would exceed $11,000,000,000 today. His donations changed education, libraries, communities, and the lives of millions.
Carnegie’s legacy of largess has made, and continues to make, a big difference. But we must never forget that Carnegie, like the billionaires today, did not make any personal sacrifices when giving away all that money. It was a service that required no personal diminishment of property or well-being.
The EA Movement is essentially an updated take on humanism. The idea that we are all in this thing called life together, and we owe it to each other to be kind and generous. Especially as that generosity relates to property.
Unlike Carnegie, the EA Movement does suggest that some sacrifice on the part of the giver be involved.
To me, service has more dimensions than money deposited for the benefit of others now and in the future. It must be a way of life. A way of relating to others through love and understanding. A way of sharing the view that God has given human beings a sense of why we even exist.
The gift of self to others includes love, caring, time, and the mitigation of hurt, illness, and despair. Whether in the context of humanism or religious responsibility.
My preference is the inclusion of God and religious belief. As a human family that systematically acknowledges its origins and reasons for being. To diligently serve the family with love and humility.
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