Are You a Selfish Bastard Like Me?

TAGs: Raising for Effective Giving, WSOP

Lee Davy gives his account of Raising for Effective Giving’s annual jaunt to the World Series of Poker where they try their very best to spread the word of effective altruism from the heart of an Indian Restaurant in the Rio.

Are You a Selfish Bastard Like Me?Are you a selfish bastard?

I bet you are.

I used to be. I still am, most of the time, but not all of the time. I call myself a work in progress. I’m somewhere on the road between death and destitution. Worried about the end, figuring out how I will survive when I stop working, and getting tired of this mean-spirited money monster that’s making me feel malnourished.

Once upon a time I read a book. The author told me that if I gave my money away I would receive more in return. That sounded like a very good idea. I wanted to indulge. I didn’t. My debt saw to that. How could I give money to others, if I was in debt? The dream was dead.

I’m not proud of that way of thinking. I share it in the hope that it does some good. I imagine I’m not the only person who considers giving so I can receive more in return. It’s an inherent selfish attitude, but anyone who has had sex, and continued to the bitter end, only because they remember the reverence that awaits them, understands what I am muttering on about. It’s inherently human to be selfish.

Everyone needs a catalyst for change. Something that goes bump in the night. Raising for Effective Giving (REG) has been my catalyst. They’ve placed matchsticks in my eyes. They are my Clockwork Orange. I am cloaked in a ubiquitous altruism, and it’s very effective.

I made a decision to give 2% of my gross earnings immediately. That has since grown to 3%, and will continue to grow until it reaches 100% or I die. Unless Elon Musk creates eternal life, it will be the grim reaper that reaches me before the 100% stamp.

Last night I was invited to a dinner organized by REG. I got to meet many of the board members that I had exchanged communication with, without ever having the opportunity to leave some stray strands of spit on their faces. Philipp Gruissem, Igor Kurganov and Liv Boeree are the faces of REG. I get that. It makes sense. But without the tireless efforts, and brainpower, of the likes of Adriano Mannino, Tobias Pulver, Renae Garcia, Ruairi Donnelly and the rest of the effective altruists, they are nothing. It’s not an exaggeration to say they are the beating heart of REG.

The presentation was held in an Indian restaurant. I was seated at one end of the table, and the invited poker players were sat at the other. For a moment I felt like an intruder. Then I checked in with myself, changed the story, and got on with the evening.

The starters were ordered, and the furtive glances began. What would people eat, would they eat meat? It’s an interesting point to ponder. Is it possible for one to be an effective altruist, campaign for the need to reduce animal suffering and then eat a cow’s leg? It was an idea that crossed my mind for a brief moment, broken by Sorel Mizzi pinching my vegetable samosa – my selfish gene kicking in almost instantly.

The plates were cleared away. Mizzi dug his elbows into the remains of his curry, and cast a glance at Mannino as he took the stage. The audience was complete with some of the greatest poker players in the world: Tobias Reinkemeier, Justin Bonomo, Dan Shak, Igor Kurganov, Liv Boeree, Max Altergott, Jorryt van Hoof, Evan Jarvis and the list goes on and on until I reach a smudge on my notepad where someone has spilt an errant few drops of white wine.

The speech is delivered. We learn that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raised $140m for the charity. That money saved between 85-250 lives. That equates to $0.6m – $1.6m per life. You can save a child from dying of malaria for $3,500.

What the fuck were we playing at?

I was one of the drones who thought it would be cool to tip a bucket of ice water over my head. It wasn’t about the charity. It wasn’t about doing the best good that I could do. It was about having an ALS video that was funnier and more innovative than anyone else I knew. That selfish gene, once again annoying like slivers of shit seeping into an anal fissure.

Those who know more than I do about effective altruism may shoot me down for being so simplistic, but for me, being an effective altruist is all about choosing your head over your heart. A good example that Mannino gave to the audience was the decision to send aid for those affected by the Nepal earthquake.

Why wouldn’t you send aid to the Nepal Earthquake?

It was all over the news, heartstrings were being plucked like a harp played by the angel Gabriel. A lot of people gave money to the Nepal earthquake. PokerStars and Full Tilt raised money for the Nepal earthquake.

But why?

What ultimately was the point?

Was it to make you feel good, or because you wanted to do the best that you could do?

If it’s the latter then you might want to know that 10,000 people lost their lives at the end of the 7.8 scale, and yet a mosquito kills more than a million people per year, 70% of which are children under the age of five. Do you give money to them? Do you think about them? When you cradle your own five-year-old child in your arms does your mind wander into their beds? Little children being bitten by mosquitos because they can’t afford the $5 needed to cover their bed with a net?

I am being a little hard on you. I know that. It’s the way the world works. Our minds are invaded by mass media, misaligned mentors, and the latest memorable massacre. The one that has annoyed me recently is the news of the Mumbai deaths as a result of toxic alcohol. Over 100 people died, and whilst that’s tragic, my mind can’t stop thinking about the millions that die through alcohol abuse each year. That’s a statistic that we normalize, and by the way, you will find that all forms of alcohol are toxic.

I digress, Mannino continues…

It was good to hear that REG may move into other areas such as video gaming, golf, sports betting. Dan Shak made an excellent observation that there were so many people in the room with connections outside of poker, connections that could help save even more lives.

It was also interesting to hear about REG’s understanding of the power of education, and the dangers inherent in the advancement in Artificial Intelligence (AI) – quite apt given that I am going to watch Terminator tonight. After all, if effective altruism is all about doing the most good that you can, then shouldn’t we be donating our money to existential threats such as AI, nuclear war prevention, and figuring out a way of stopping an asteroid sending us the same way as the cast of Jurassic Park?

Mannino’s speech was met with a resounding round of applause. Then came the questions. Suddenly, I started to shrink like my balls on a cold winters night. These people are some of the most intelligent minds you will meet, and I’m not just talking about the effective altruists. The poker players in that room are deep thinkers. To them, the meaning of life is not a Monty Python sketch. At times I felt like I was chilling out with Stephen Hawking and his crew.

And that’s important.

Rationality is important.

But so is story.

We should never forget the path into a person’s heart.

As I shook hands, man-hugged everyone, and walked to my car, there was one thing that stuck in my head. It was a number. It wasn’t the $750,000 that had been raised by the poker community and sent to effective charities, it wasn’t the $250,000 that Martin Jacobson donated when he became the world champion…it was the number 159.

That’s the number of members that REG have.

159 members raised over $750,000, and saved the lives of so many people in the world.

This morning I wrote my WSOP Day 35 Recap.

2,497 players entered Event #57, 2,155 entered Event #59 and 4,555 entered event #60.

And REG has 159 members.

Effective altruists are not made like I am made. They will not push their agenda onto people. They will not try and tell people what to do. Instead they are role models, who spread their words, and hope that some of them drift down the right ear canals.

I am more blunt.

159 is not good enough.

It’s time to start creating the single most important habit of your life. It’s time to start giving to others. Each month you should set aside a percentage of your gross earnings and send it to REG.

It’s without doubt, the most good that you will ever do.


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