I turned 29 today.
I’ve essentially accomplished every personal goal I set for my life already. I’m lucky in that respect. Success and luck really do go hand in hand.
I have a bucket list of things to do and places to visit before I die. I made it a few years back. There are 99 things and places on the list. I’ve finished 12 of them. The rest don’t matter. Well, maybe the doctorate. We’ll see.
I also literally can’t think of anything I want. I own everything that I desire. A Ducati would be cool, but I’ve owned bikes in the past and they can be a pain in the ass. They’re fun for a few hours, but books and exercise are more fun after the adrenaline wears off.
I even wrote down my perfect day at the time I made the bucket list a few years ago. I spend almost every weekend living what I described as my perfect day back then. Weekdays aren’t terribly far off either.
What does one do when they find themselves in this situation of self-actualization, where their desires and goals are satisfied?
Try one’s hardest to actualize others.
In the long-run, this means constantly focusing on education and learning. Creating, innovating, and inventing new things so that the whole world is wealthier and has more options as a result. If this wealth creation is paired with respect for all sentient life by creating various universal rights and inclusive institutions, we have a winning formula for the “good life”: rights plus wealth.
This means education for democratic citizenship and entrepreneurship so that students have the ability to turn innovative ideas into products of value that solve problems and challenges for others. It means teaching them about sustainable development, the practice of scientifically and morally based problem solving. These skills lets them “do good better”.
However, most people can’t wait for the long-run to happen. They need rights and wealth now, not tomorrow. It is a tragedy that millions die every year because they are poor. We can save these these lives.
Organizations like Give Well, Giving What We Can, The Life You Can Save, 80,000 Hours, The Centre for Effective Altruism, and The Copenhagen Consensus are all doing fantastic work to figure out exactly where the most marginal benefit per dollar spent on humanitarian and philanthropic efforts is coming from.
For example, Give Well estimates that “you can save a person’s life for approximately $3,500.” This is the “person” whom Megan and I will be giving the $3,500 from this post’s title to. It is a statistical person. And we aren’t even giving the whole amount tonight.
Both of our parents donated to Give Well organizations for our birthdays this year. They also gave for Christmas at our request. We currently give $100 each month to Give Well and let them allocate it as they see best fit.
From the amounts we’ve given or had donated on our behalf over this past year, we only need to donate an additional $1,800 to save that life.
With all the wonderful birthday wishes written to me today just because I was born, I feel it’s very important to live a life that is deserving of that celebration. At this moment, I can’t think of a better way to deserve those wishes than by trying to prevent others from dying prematurely and having their loved ones celebrate their birthdays without them.
Admittedly, it’s much harder to get worked up emotionally about donating to causes based on statistics. It doesn’t have the same emotional drive as watching a firefighter save a person by pulling them from a burning house. This is why Bertrand Russell, in The Aims of Education, stated:
The next stage in the development of a desirable form of sensitiveness is sympathy. There is a purely physical sympathy: a very young child will cry because a brother or sister is crying. This, I suppose, affords the basis for the further developments. The two enlargements that are needed are: first, to feel sympathy even when the sufferer is not an object of special affection; secondly, to feel it when the suffering is merely known to be occurring, not sensibly present. The second of these enlargements depends largely upon intelligence. It may only go so far as sympathy with suffering which is portrayed vividly and touchingly, as in a good novel; it may, on the other hand, go so far as to enable a man to be moved emotionally by statistics. This capacity for abstract sympathy is as rare as it is important. Almost everybody is deeply affected when someone he loves suffers from cancer. Most people are moved when they see the sufferings of unknown patients in hospitals. Yet when they read that the death-rate from cancer is such-and-such, they are as a rule only moved to momentary personal fear lest they or someone dear to them should acquire the disease. The same is true of war: people think it dreadful when their son or brother is mutilated, but they do not think it a million times as dreadful that a million people should be mutilated. A man who is full of kindliness in all personal dealings may derive his income from incitement to war or from the torture of children in ‘backward’ countries. All these familiar phenomena are due to the fact that sympathy is not stirred, in most people, by a merely abstract stimulus. A large proportion of the evils in the modern world would cease if this could be remedied. Science has greatly increased our power of affecting the lives of distant people, without increasing our sympathy for them. Suppose you are a shareholder in a company which manufactures cotton in Shanghai. You may be a busy man, who has merely followed financial advice in making the investment; neither Shanghai nor cotton interest you, but only your dividends. Yet you become part of the force leading to massacres of innocent people, and your dividends would disappear if little children were not forced into unnatural and dangerous toil. You do not mind, because you have never seen the children, and an abstract stimulus cannot move you. That is the fundamental reason why large-scale industrialism is so cruel, and why oppression of subject races is tolerated. An education producing sensitiveness to abstract stimuli would make such things impossible. (p. 401-402)
I’ll keep waiting and working on education to “make such things impossible”. In the meanwhile, I will also continue to advocate and give for those who weren’t born with the extreme luck that I was. I hope to replicate and expand this giving each year for the rest of my life. I hope this encourages a few others to do so as well.