Peter Singer, guest speaker at the 2014 Josep Egozcue conferences, talks to us about effective altruism and animal rights
What is the effective altruism movement?
It is an emerging movement, made up mainly of young people with backgrounds in the field of philosophy or other related areas, who have set up different organizations to try and fulfill the purpose of the movement and discuss the best way to carry it out.
What does it involve and what is the purpose?
It involves maximizing the amount of good a person can do; this may be a life-time dedication or it may be the amount of time or money an individual is prepared to allocate to helping others and doing good or trying to make the world a better place.
Why doesn't society help more?
I personally believe that there are several reasons. One would be that despite the fact that we have a capacity to be altruistic, we also have a strong tendency in our nature to be self-centered. As humans, we first think of ourselves and our immediate surroundings, and we forget about people who are far away or those we consider to be strangers.
We believe that we cannot help people who are far away, and we tend to focus on those who are nearby…
This is the most relevant factor, but there are many more related reasons, as for example, we tend to act towards individuals and we don't have a tendency to help if we see that others are not helping.
What is the best way to eradicate poverty?
It depends mainly on the capacities of each individual. If people can make a lot of money, then perhaps the best way to help is by donating large sums to effective organizations.
But not everyone has the ability to generate large sums of money...
This is true; if we don't have this capacity then we can act as advocates and help the effective altruism movement to grow and help more people to understand the movement and share it with others. We can also work for effective organizations and travel to developing countries to offer our help.
Which are the main challenges that we must face to eradicate poverty?
There are many challenges. It is essential to ensure that the resources allocated are used correctly and for this reason the challenge is to evaluate the projects and make sure that they are focused on what we really want them to achieve.
A seemingly straightforward challenge...
Sometimes, but depending on the country where we are working it can be a very difficult challenge, since there are places where we find corrupt government leaders. In such cases we have to be even more vigilant where governments do not take an interest in the wellbeing of the people.
How would you like to see the situation of poverty evolve in the next ten years?
The number of people living with no resources at all should be reduced as quickly as possible. In ten years I would like to see extreme poverty cut by half.
An ambitious challenge...
I would also like to see much more people in the affluent countries becoming involved and participating so that the poorest developing countries can achieve economic security and not be as desperately poor as they are now.
Do you think that we are on the right path to achieve this?
I think we still need a lot more people involved in the cause because, in this way, everything would be much easier and progress would be faster.
What does the animal liberation movement involve?
This is a movement that has been going on now for more than 40 years. It involves trying to change how we treat animals, to achieve that we see them as beings with a moral status of their own and not just as things for us to use.
Yes, this is about changing the way that socity thinks about animals in order to be able to transform our practice about animals.
How has the struggle for animal liberation evolved since its beginnings?
In some respects I think we have made good progress since the 1970s when the movement started. We have managed to change many of the ideas that people had about animals. In addition, the European Union has made considerable changes to legislation is relation to the treatment of animals, but these are still insufficient.
Change is slow...
We can consider that this is a very large challenge, since the animal liberation movement is asking for quite radical changes. I would say that the progress we have made is not bad and is reasonably satisfactory, but even so we still need to go a lot further.
In which direction is the animal liberation movement moving?
Much of the problem stems from the fact that people do not really know what happens to the animals they eat, so creating more awareness is a major challenge. Another drawback is that most people are in the habit of eating meat, so it is very complex to bring about a change in mentality.
A part from increasing people's awareness, are there any other obstacles to progress?
There are many important economic interests that require the use of animals. Obviously, if the animal movement prospered, the large factory farms which are a big business for those who run them would cease to exist.
There is a lot of money at stake...
This is true, and the only one fighting against this industry is the animal liberation movement, which does not have that many resources. Despite this, as I commented before, we must continue to work in the same way as we have been doing all these years.