No Happy Nonsense

What We Owe The Future

By: William MacAskill
Published: 2022
Genre: Philosophy
Finished Reading: September 30th, 2022

Boy howdy, did I fucking hate reading this book!

I went in with no expectations;'s marketing campaign for the book got me, they just kept shoving it in my face (as they do for a few weeks for any of the books that advertise with them) and the little blurb from Ezra Klein which is printed on the front cover of the dust jacket (lol) seemed good enough for me.

How wrong I was.

When I hear "What We Owe The Future" I naturally project certain ideas onto a book like that; namely how absolutely fucked humanity's current trajectory is because of anthropogenic climate change, and how we have to do something about it, urgently. Hence, we owe it to the future to do this.

Turns out, nope! This book is a little propaganda packet for "effective altruism" and/or "longtermism" which is some broken ass philosophical/ethical directive that tries to logically argue that this one certain way of thinking of things is the correct way to think about the future of humanity, and within that line of thinking, this other way of doing things is the correct way to ensure humanity's long term future.

If that sounds overly vague, sorry. The book itself is vague. The final section promises itself to give a call to action for how you, dear reader, can get involved and help the future of humankind. This section is a scant 15-20 pages and sums up as: donate to charities, and engage with the effective altruism community.

That's it. Any other argument for action is addressed as "not enough" because of the people-math that MacAskill creates along the lines of his philosophical argument. It's easy to say "this is the best way to do things because it has the largest sum of people it will impact in the future" and then reject anything else as less-than because it doesn't have the greatest potential outcome.

The entire first 200~ pages of the book is just outlining the argument for why "longtermism" is the king of all other ways of thinking of the future, and how other things are wrong. It's a philosophy book, so sure, make your argument for your philosophy. I guess I'm the idiot for reading the book. I can accept that.

This books smells of grifty type of shit, finance bro big numbers grift types of bullshit. It's weird that MacAskill has a fund you can donate to that makes donations to the "best" charities for the future of humanity. But, it doesn't have to do that, it just says it will. I dunno, it just seems off to me, like this dude sat at home and tried to think his way out of the pandemic + climate change in his notebook, calculating all these potential greatest outcomes based on weird logic and ultimately came up with "well let's just give money to a good charity" as the way to hedge humanity against it's own upcoming problems. It seems too easy of a solution, just join our movement, give to charity, and you're good! You're doing the most you possibly can, don't question that!

Also, the writing is horrendous. I took the below picture of a passage that gave me whiplash from how tone-deaf it is: both in terms of how bad the argument is while trying to be taken seriously, and just how unbelievably jarring the transition itself is between paragraphs.


In summary: fuck this book, fuck this guy, I'd donate the book or give it to a friend but I'm honestly considering burning it in my firepit.