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  • Rick Bonetti

Ethical Living for Dangerous Times

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

Oliver Burkeman, writing in The Guardian on August 25, 2022, calls William MacAskill's new book What We Owe the Future a thrilling prescription for humanity."

After reading Burkeman's 2012 book Antidote, I was a little surprised at his upbeat appraisal of MacAskill's book as "unapologetically optimistic and bracingly realistic, a philosopher’s guide to ‘ethical living’ for dangerous times - the most inspiring book on ‘ethical living’ I’ve ever read.."

MacAskill makes the case for “longtermism” – “the idea that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time.”

Urgency is not just for decarbonization to minimize the negative effects of human-induced climate change, but also the threats of losing control of innovations in artificial intelligence, whether to tyrants or terrorists, and an extinction-level engineered pandemic.

Part of the appeal of MacAskill's book What We Owe the Future is that he considers the focus on personal ethical lifestyle changes a “major strategic blunder” - it’s good to be a vegetarian, but giving $3,000 to the right clean energy charity will make vastly more difference to the climate, he argues, than a whole lifetime of not eating meat. Instead of beating ourselves up over every choice of groceries or transportation, MacAskill suggests having a life we truly enjoy,

"We are living through an extraordinary chapter in humanity’s story. Compared to both the past and the future, every decade we live through sees an extremely unusual number of economic and technological changes. And some of these changes—like the inventions of fossil fuel power, nuclear weapons, engineered pathogens, and advanced artificial intelligence—have the potential to impact the whole course of the future.” ~ William MacAskill,

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