Effective Altruism (essay)
Title: Effective Altruism
Author: Rohese Bayvel-Timsh'l
First published on the 15th day of Charlatos in the year 5116
One of the moral dilemmas of our time is the issue of whether or not we have an obligation to help others, and if we do, what is the nature and extent of that obligation?
Help comes in many forms: a simple donation of healing herbs on a town bench, a gift of silvers, clothing, or equipment to someone less fortunate, or – more formally – embarking on a profession that directly assists others. Think of the cleric that restored your life, at the cost of their own spirit, or the empath that willingly took your bleeding wounds, putting their own health at risk.
Ultimately, the answers to the question of moral obligation are important because they influence the way we live our lives, and how we perceive our roles in Elanthian society.
The recent refugee crisis brings this into sharp focus. For almost six months, half-elves were living in near-constant fear of persecution at the hands of the Prelate, Chaston Griffin, and the witch, Raznel. Thousands were killed or maimed in the name of the Church of Koar. Many fled east or were displaced within the Empire and it behooves us to help.
It’s not a question of religious, racial, or cultural obligation, it goes beyond that and applies to all of us because we are more interdependent than we might think; from the humble gnome living deep within the woodlands of the Lyserian Hills, to the wealthy elven noble residing in one of Ta’Illistim’s finest villas.
Let me put it into very simplistic terms: you recently had a new gown made and have taken the opportunity to wear it for the first time. Relaxing in town, you encounter a friend in despair; he has just lost his treasured blade to an Ithzir in Old Ta’Faendryl and beseeches you to help him. There is no time to change as there is a danger that the item could be lost forever and you are the only person in the vicinity that could assist. What do you do? Would you take immediate action to sacrifice your new gown to the mucky waters on the Glydemar Road and probably your own life too for want of better protection than silk?
Most people would, of course, say yes.
Now imagine, that defying the most unbelievable odds, the same thing happens a month later, and again, you are asked to repeat the experience. Would you be prepared to ruin yet another gown and lose another deed to Lorminstra to save the same item, or would you stand aside this time in the knowledge that you’ve done one good deed and that was enough. Your friend should know better than to take that sword into the Old City! Again, most people would say that of course they would do it again, despite it being terribly inconvenient.
In a crisis situation, most people would repeatedly sacrifice personal comfort or safety to help a friend in need but what about someone you are not personally acquainted with. In our society, there is a tendency to place more value on learning from an experience; knowing full well, that at the same time you are helping someone, you are also gaining from the deed. So let’s consider other ways you might be able to help others that are truly altruistic: donate unwanted items to the Lorekeepers of Silverwood Manor for redistribution, help to build camps for the half-elven refugees, raise funds for the Wellington Home orphans, open your doors to those made homeless by earthquake damage in Ta’Illistim. You could also consider lobbying the Wehnimer’s Landing Mayoral candidates about their views on aid and welfare.
I posit that the answer is yes, we do have a moral obligation to those in need, because ultimately that’s the type of civilized society we want to live in. Perhaps the next time you are asked to help someone, you pause for thought and understand your motives. Ask yourself if you are doing a good deed because you feel obliged to do so; are you doing good because you will benefit from it, or are you doing so because it is the virtuous thing to do?
There are many arguments around the different approaches towards obligation, one of which includes the adage: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but, matters of self-interest and ethical egoism aside, effective altruism combines both the heart and the head. At the end of the day, as long as you are doing a good deed, attempt to do so virtuously because the smallest good deed is better than the grandest intention.