Effective altruists use evidence and reason to maximise the impact of their kindness. Joshua Howgego follows their lead to see if it can help him do good better
4 December 2019
THE Athena Hotel in Blackpool, UK, looks like any ordinary seaside guest house. Behind the net curtains, it is anything but. The guests, who typically stay for months, have been selected because they share a common mission, one so important that they can’t waste precious time cooking, doing laundry or holding down a normal job. They have come to Blackpool to save the world.
This is the world’s first hotel for “effective altruists”, people who take an evidence-based approach to helping others. It was purchased in 2018 with the proceeds of a cryptocurrency investment to allow data-driven philanthropists to dedicate themselves to improving and saving as many lives as possible. And yes, Blackpool was chosen for a reason. The 17-room hotel was a bargain at £130,000, freeing up the proprietor’s cash to subsidise the various projects being pursued.
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When I first read about this place, I felt a twinge of guilt. Like many of us, I like to think I am a good person. I spend a few evenings a month volunteering with a charity that helps people with debt problems. I give money to my church. And I buy the occasional sandwich for homeless people. Learning about the hotel made me wonder if I could do good better.
Investigating how turned out to be a discombobulating experience. My principles were challenged in ways I never expected, and I ended up pondering some bizarre questions, not least how to think about the future of humanity. One thing is for sure: doing good …