Effective Enlightenment

What is Effective Enlightenment


There are many problems in the world today. Poverty, war, various violence, abuses, fears and oppressive treatments, to name just a few. 

Given that the world has so many problems, and that these problems are so severe, surely we have a responsibility to do something about them. The responsibility is not just optional, but necessary, because the problems that others suffer from today will soon or later spread to others one way or the other, and come to inflict them who are better off today and thought they are immune from the problems.  

But to do what? There are countless problems that we could be addressing, and many different ways of addressing each of those problems. Moreover, our resources are scarce, so as individuals and even as a whole globe we can’t solve all these problems at once. So we must make decisions about how to allocate the resources we have. But on what basis should we make such decisions?

There has been a so-called effective altruism movement that focus on providing resources to those who suffer the problems, resources being chiefly funds, a major part of which are usually used to purchase foods, clothings or shelters for those who are hungry, cold or without a place to live. 

However, as the ancient proverb says, to give people fish is not as good as providing the tools for them to fish.  Charity can never solve the problems.   People who are suffering from the problems may well be part of the problems, or ignorant of the sources and solutions of the problems.  

Thus, what is needed is actually enlightenment, the midset and knowhow to help people identify the sources of the problems and address them by themselves.  How to provide such help in the most effective way is called effective enlightenment. 

People who join the Effective Enlightenment movement try to figure out, of all the different uses of the available resources, which uses will do the most enlightenment, impartially as much as possibly considered. There are now thousands of thousands of people around the world who are doing enlightenment work independently or within isolated groups, but they can do it more effectively by joining the Effective Enlightenment movement, the organizations to get supports and ideas.   Joining forces, being in the form of funds and support, will already produce amplyfying effect, thus more effetive.  one plus one is bigger than two, and two plus two could be bigger than ten.

This movement is gathering steam, as people become more conscious about how to chose their careers, at least in part, on the basis of effective enlightenment purpose; individuals can go into scientific research institutions, think tanks, party politics, entrepreneurship, finance (in order to do effective enlightenment through donating), and non-profit work.

Every year, every month and even every day, people can communicate with each other on ways to do the enlightenment better and more effectively, or meet in conferences to learn from and support each other.  People can pledge to give part of their income for the rest of their lives to the enlightenment organisations they believe to be most cost-effective, just as they do charity but with the understanding that they are not just providing charity, they are also providing the enlightenment mindset and tools for those who receive help to escape poverty, violence and fear.

Money is necessary but never the only thing, this is a difference between (effective) enlightenment and charity as in effective altruism.  Another difference is that it is not always for other people or people far away, but for people themselves and people nearby.  As each person needs to be enlightened and an enlightened person can affect people around him or her.   Every journey starts at the first step and the first step can be you yourself: be enlightened and not ignorant, be considerate and not abusive, be supportive and not sabotaging, to the right people of course, and be courageous rather than fearful when needed, be rational rather than illogical, be spiritual rather than superstitious, and so on, from there one can go the next step to enlighten their friends, neighbors, relatives and always be ready to be enlightened by others.

Enlightenment can be subjective and has to go through multiple stages to refine.  Ideas we think quite enlightening at this moment at this place may turn out to be ignorant and stupid later and in a different place.  But the most important thing is for people to know the difference.  In general as a member of Effective Enlightenment we believe there is a difference between right and wrong, true and false, kind and cruel, beautiful and ugly, at least in each scenario.   An enlightened person tries to do the right thing for each scenario.

Effective Enlightenment also believes that human although being limited but can evolve to a better being, the human society in general can also get improved to a better one.  Technologically speaking, compared with our ancestors of thousands years ago we can now better sustain illness, hunger and other natural disasters because we are more enlightened in many different ways, and we can continue to better ourselves as a whole with enlightenment ideas by eliminating or alleviating poverty, hunger and more importantly in reducing violence, abuses and fear and general ignorance.  

As a result of effective enlightenment, we aim to use our resources and time most effectively and contribute to more significant achievements in the shortest time and widest scope around the globe.  In a sense, ignorance can kill human beings and human societies, or to a lessor extent reduce their happiness and worthiness while in this world.  In a sense effective enlightenment is a competition with ignorance in time to reduce suffering and inadequacy in personal lives as a person’s life time is limited and one day living in ignorance is one day less in enlightenment.  Same can be said about a country or the whole human society in the world.  Without enlightenment, human society may continue to suffer or get worse.  Without effective enlightenment, people may not know how to start, how to do it effectively and thus it may be too late before the worst case scenario happens to humankind.  Enlightenment is thus also a risk managemet effort, to help people not get extinct in the guided or none-guided evolution process.

The Effective Enlightenment community will provide significant impetus and support in the development of ideas, methodologies and technologies for members to employ in their work.  However, we need to provide more details on what we’re talking about, mainly the definition of Effective Enlightenment.

Before we begin, it’s important to note that, in defining ‘effective enlightenment, we are not attempting to describe a fundamental aspect of philosophy. History has provided such elements through European Enlightenment for the French, British, German, Russian and in fact all people in the modern world, there are some more distinct and specific ones such as the Scottish Enlightenment, the American Independence experiment.  Various philosophical books from these countries and historical periods have been written and researched.  Those are the theoretical aspects that we will take advantage of.  But as in empirical research fields, we can distinguish between science and engineering. Science is the attempt to discover general truths about the world we live in. Engineering is the use of our scientific understanding to design and build structures or systems that benefit society.

We can make the same distinction here. Typically, enlightenment philosophy is concerned with discovering general truths about the nature of enlightenment — the equivalent of normative science.

But there is a need and scope for the equivalent of engineering within enlightenment effort, for example by creating new enlightenment concepts and procedures whose use, if taken up broadly by society, would improve the world in a more effective way.

Defining ‘effective enlightenment’ is a matter of engineering rather than of describing some fundamental aspect of enlightenment. In this vein, two principal desiderations are provided for the definition. The first is to match the actual practice of those who are currently described as engaging in effective enlightenment, and the understanding of enlightenment that the leaders of the community have. The second is to ensure that the concept has as much public value as possible. This means, for example, we want the concept to be broad enough to be endorsable by or useful to many different enlightenment views, but still determinate enough to enable users of the concept to do more to improve the world than they otherwise would have done. 

The Effective Enlightenment’s definition we take is based on the following consideration: Effective Enlightenment is about using evidence and reason to figure out how to enlighten ourselves and others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis. For that reason, Effective Enlightenment is defined as:

(i) the use of evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to maximize the enlightenment among people with a given unit of resources, tentatively understanding ‘the enlightenment’ in number of people, depth and effect terms, and

(ii) the use of the findings from (i) to try to improve the enlightenment of the world.

Here (i) refers to effective enlightenment as an intellectual project (or ‘research field’); (ii) refers to effective enlightenment as a practical project (or ‘social movement’).  The two are intertwined because the measures for the first have to come from the second, but the definition shows to be:

● Non-normative. Effective Enlightenment consists of two projects, rather than a set of normative claims.
● Maximising. The point of these projects is to do as much enlightenment as possible with the resources that are dedicated towards it.
● Science-aligned. The best means to figuring out how to do the most enlightenment is the scientific method, broadly construed to include reliance on careful rigorous argument and theoretical models as well as data.
● Spiritually-supportive.  Although scientific methods are used to measure effectiveness as much as possible, the measures cannot be always possible and can be misleading.  Relying on scientific methods too much or blindly with do more harm than good.  Enlightenment is always about a person’s enlightenment, which can be difficult to know and measure by others.

One can try to increase the amount and effect of enlightenment one does in two ways: by increasing the amount of resources that one dedicates to doing enlightenment; and by trying to increase the effectiveness of the resources that one has dedicated to doing enlightenment. Effective enlightenment is directly about maximizing in the second sense but can be possible in the first sense too.

Most of this “manifesto” is word by word from William MacAskill’s The definition of effective altruism.  I have copied that article directly unabashedly because we are almost doing something similar at least on the surface, except that I don’t believe “altruism” is what is needed to improve human society as providing charity itself is not effective at all.  Providing enlightenment, even without the adjective “effective” is already more effective than “effective altruism”.  Providing "effective" enlightenment is thus much more effective than effective altruism.  Therefore, effective enlightenment (EE) deserves a movement much larger than the one for effective altruism (EA).   EE can also avoid the problems associated with EE in the most recent years.  For example, some of the donors of EE (Sam Bankman-Fried being the most publicized one) have committed crimes.   Crime is not part of enlightenment and thus would be discouraged if not prohibition is not possible from the very beginning in Effective Enlightenment.