Chris is a dedicated vegan and meditator, and a committed member of the Effective Altruism community. Read below his reasoning behind some of the values, beliefs and practices he has come across that serve as a guide in his life and are a core part of who he is...
"To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication." Sam Harris, Lying
After reading an essay by Sam Harris on lying, I made a commitment to never lie again, regardless of the intention being to do good or if it seemed an innocuous white lie. A lie wilfully misrepresents the reality and truth of the world and, when we do that, we create a barrier in a relationship which ultimately weakens it. It really is astonishing how often we take part in this self-sabotage, and how much pain and suffering we cause for ourselves with it.
To pick up a newspaper and read the headlines is to explore a world of pain built on personal betrayals, infidelities and governments wilfully misleading the people. The damage done when we lie is clearly evident, and the world would be a far better place if people took the step to choose to be honest. Granted, there are some extreme life-and-death cases where this should be lapsed, and I am referring to intentional misleading when people expect honesty; absolving jokes, performances and poker players etc.
"There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery"
"Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages." Thomas Edison
An area in which I believe we will be viewed particularly unfavourably by our future generations, should there be any, is in our treatment of animals, particularly in the meat and dairy industries. There is simply no just explanation for the cruelty to animals on a mass scale or the degradation and destruction of large parts of our planet due to intensive farming practices.
In the Western world, ignorance of the issue is now a weaker excuse. Choosing to live a plant-based life is one of the single biggest ways you can make a difference and I am happier and healthier for it.
"A reliable way of making people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth."
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
"But it is in the nature of progress that it erases its tracks, and its champions fixate on the remaining injustices and forget how far we have come." Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now, The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress
We are all, due to our evolutionary psychology, prone to faulty reasoning and succumbing to biases. Research shows people are far more likely to accept evidence which confirms pre-existing beliefs, that their empathy is more likely to be aimed at those who are of the same group and that we are more affected by individual cases of suffering than by large numbers of people suffering. We also are hardwired to take short term threats seriously, when slower, emerging longer term threats such as those posed by advanced artificial intelligence or global warming, rarely evoke the reaction they warrant. We are also blind to the very real progress we do make and have a habit of looking to the past through rose tinted glasses and ignoring the harsh realities that were present.
Recognising these limitations in our reasoning is crucial to making progress. Steven Pinker’s excellent book Enlightenment Now is a brilliant defence of reason, rationality and science and shows how in almost every area we look at the world is immeasurably better. We live longer, are healthier, safer and inhabit a more peaceful world than ever before and it is always worth remembering that. There is no denying that we face some huge obstacles at the moment, but these are challenges we are capable of solving. Using reason, compassion and science, rather than gut intuitions, faith and emotions will help us do just that.
"The challenge for us is this: How can we ensure that, when we try to help others, we do so as effectively as possible?"
William MacAskill, Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You
I have always felt compelled to try to do good in the world and research shows that most of us want to make a difference. However, we often base these decisions on emotion, not reason, and this results in us often doing very little actual good or, in some cases, we cause even more harm. After reading William MacAskill's excellent book Doing Good Better, I re-evaluated my own charitable giving and made a pledge to give at least 10% of my earnings before tax to the most effective causes until the day I die. I have been doing this for many years through Effective Altruism Funds and my 10% is split between the causes below:
GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT FUND - 40%
ANIMAL WELFARE FUND - 18%
LONG-TERM FUTURE FUND - 25%
EFFECTIVE ALTRUISM COMMUNITY FUND - 17%
Based on the best available evidence it takes just £3,000 to ensure that there is someone alive today who wouldn’t have been had that money not have been given. If you feel disheartened by politics, this is an incredibly empowering and easy way to make a real difference. People, like I did initially, feel anxious about the commitment, but I always try and frame it as, ‘Would you take a ten per cent pay cut for a dream job where you can make a real difference all over the world?’ The answer is invariably yes. A large proportion of us has that opportunity right now.
"Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind... If you are perpetually angry, depressed, confused, and unloving, or your attention is elsewhere, it won't matter how successful you become or who is in your life - you won't enjoy any of it."
Sam Harris, Waking Up
As someone who has suffered with mental health issues, in particular anxiety, OCD and insomnia, delving into meditation has been an invaluable tool in my mental health locker. After making it a regular practice and going on a number of silent retreats, including ten days in full silence, I can honestly say it has changed my life massively for the better and completely altered the landscape of my internal world. My mind is now a calmer, more rational place and it has allowed me to focus on what is real, not the constructs or stories my mind tells me.
When applied correctly, it promotes humility,empathy and compassion and the scientific research on it is, though in its infancy, very promising. Through neuroplasticity, you can literally alter the physical structure of your brain by meditating and make it a place far more calm and in touch with the world. Ultimately, it has allowed me to cultivate presence in my everyday life and has given me the ability to use my mind rather than have my mind use me.
There is almost no doubt that future generations will look back on ours appalled by some of our norms and practices, for it has been the case throughout most of human history. Whether it’s the treatment of different races, sexes or those with sexual preferences at odds with the status quo, the history of our race is littered with views we now see as abhorrent. The majority of the most admired figures of the past were products of their society and, as such, held views that would be considered sexist, racist and violent by today's standards. This truth often drives how I try to behave myself, regardless of whether it is at odds with the status quo. My aim in life is to behave in a way that I believe to be morally right, regardless of where the societal consensus is.