We began week five of ENVS 295 by reading posts on “Effective Altruism,” a movement working towards engagement and action that brings the greatest positive impact. Advocates for Effective Altruism (EA) believe that although there are many organizations and individuals taking action, few are truly effective. Although effectiveness is never explicitly defined in the introduction section of their website, they have set criteria for choosing what causes/issues one should put effort into to achieve effective action. The three categorizations for high-impact action is that the issue must be “Great in scale,” “Highly neglected,” and “Highly solvable.” Philanthropy is a key aspect of the movement, believing that it is essential to uplift organizations working on the “most important causes.”
We all have a moral duty to help each other, and we should help each other in more effective ways.”Vox Future Perfect, 2018
Although Effective Altruism addresses four main categories of issues, the reality that some individuals won’t agree with which issues are the world’s most pressing ones, and which ones to dedicate funds or resources to, remains. This reality is especially pressing because some of Effective Altruism’s solutions to crises can be quite controversial. EA has yet to introduce an effective solution to bridge the gap between diversely thinking groups to solve this roadblock in their progression towards a better world. Additionally, EA’s focus on monetary donations appears simplistic in that it does not call for further communication about the root of the problem. Between these two critiques is where engagement enters the picture. Environmental engagement creates a space for constructive conversations between polar viewpoints to happen, where any “sides” can be treated with respect, understanding, and hidden commonalities may be discovered. These types of conversations further understanding of underlying problems or inequities and can be a gateway to effective action. Hopefully, between Effective Altruism and environmental engagement, there can be enough momentum to create much-needed funding and support for crises around the world.
Effective Altruism Meets Crossing Party Lines
This imperative to communicate over differences to serve communities in need strikes a chord with the organization Crossing Party Lines’ story and mission statement.
We form communities and engage in open dialogue on the important topics of the day. Creating connections locally is our first step in building supportive, trusting communities.”Crossing Party Lines Mission Statement
CPL’s events are focused on bridging the gap between Americans with “dissimilar ideologies” to “build communities and encourage civic engagement”. Held bi-monthly in primarily New York City and Portland, OR, each CPL event is managed by a moderator and requires participants to read preliminary material prior to the meetup. Though the themes vary slightly, they tend to lean towards more of a socio-political discussion than purely environmental issue discussion groups. This means that engagement with this organization will likely have more political spin to it than engagement with another organization more focused on hands-on habitat conservation – for example. CPL’s more politically driven approach doesn’t mean that there are fewer opportunities for environmental engagement because systematic societal change is just as crucial in the awakening of the public to the multitude of views and solutions which exist.
Here is an example of a CPL discussion event on the topic of President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
A challenge in relating CPL to the concept of Effective Altruism is the difficulty in defining effectiveness, an element essential to the EA movement when the primary action within CPL is conversations. Although participants may find inspiration in engaging with people of a different political party, there are no further action plans put in place by CPL that can enforce the effectiveness of the meetups. As mentioned above, CPL can be seen as a space for engagement on what issues are worth further discussion and action, a place for agreement on what high-impact actions can be taken across party lines. This form of engagement – dialogic mode of conversation – will be a crucial method of interaction with CPL when setting up a future relationship for engagement.
Although we have not yet attended a CPL event, something we both find imperative is that the meetings are not simply echo-chambers of a single political position and instead consist of people from a variety of political leanings. In terms of effectiveness, we hope the meetup has stimulating enough conversations that participants are left hungry and ready for more engagement/conversation opportunities. Although it may not be possible to completely change minds and reach agreements in every session, finding common ground is essential in that it allows for greater understanding between participants. The most effective kind of engagement doesn’t force fixed opinions upon the individuals involved, it rather allows the space for a bridge between polar sides to be formed, or for a previously hidden solution or idea to surface through dialogue. This open-mindedness is crucial for the success of the organization’s mission. As we further collaborate with CPL we are interested in how they define effectiveness. Are the changed biases of a few people considered a success or do they believe the meetups are only effective if the participants go on to engage in political discussions that have a larger impact?
- Matthews, Dylan. 2018. “Future Perfect, Explained.” Vox. Vox. October 15, 2018. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/10/15/17924288/future-perfect-explained.
- “Talks.” Crossing Party Lines. Accessed February 25, 2020. https://www.crossingpartylines.com/about-us.