Meet Dev. Dev is an accountant. He doesn’t work at KPMG, or for the Canada Revenue Agency. Dev doesn’t work at a traditional accounting firm at all. He is a karma accountant. He keeps track of all conscious moral agent’s behaviours and their moral tallies. You use the right shoulder lane to pass other people -1, you give a homeless guy the change in your pocket +17, you adopt a kitten +38, you spend $3337 of your disposable income on a TV and don’t spend it on saving a child’s life in Africa -1000.
You get your Karma report at the end of the month, and see this giant negative integer staring at your emotional gut. You don’t feel like a bad person, but yet your purchasing history tells you otherwise. You submit a formal Karma Claim to Dev. Dev responds:
“A moral act now is different than it was when you were developing as a moral agent. Perhaps 100 000 years ago, caring for your local human community with compassion and kindness was enough, but with the current accessibility of a global currency, and honest charitable organizations, we, here at the Karma Bureau, expect more of you.”
Morality doesn’t scale well. Our evolutionary history, as Dev described, programmed us in a limited capacity to naturally extend our care to small numbers of people, often in your local social group. Guided by our empathetic compass, we often reach out when we can try and put ourselves in the person’s position. It’s easier to help someone you see suffering, feel their pain viscerally, and then relish the high when you assist in alleviating that pain. Who starts cancer charities? A loved one that lost someone to cancer, or a survivor of the disease.
Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University, argues against the use of empathy in our approach to charity. Apart from it’s inherent biases of empathizing with people that you share similar characteristics with, Bloom argues that an empathetic guide to kindness can be debilitating. Feeling another’s pain, really living through the emotional exhaustion of the experience of their world, is exactly what it sounds like, painful. And after a certain point, it becomes difficult to keep up with the kindness. Selfish mental health control mechanisms, which are often unconscious, overtake and end up halting the empathy kindness train. What Professor Bloom suggests otherwise is compassion based kindness. A kindness that extends by feeling positive about the act of helping, without the need to emotionally empathize. And this approach, produces better long term results, while not discriminating who to help, regardless of relatability or physical distance to oneself.
As you alluded to, the consequentialist perspective, may be the correct ideal to work towards. With results at the focus, and using the active tool of compassion based altruism, optimizing your monthly karma report is not only possible, but has selfish positive feelings at its core. And while charity isn’t natural, and helping a child drowning in a one foot pond of water 1000 miles away isn’t either, as Dev described, the human being as a moral agent needs to graduate and move past what’s natural, and move into what’s logical, effective, and morally responsible.