Blood donation vs. hashtags
Every day, I get multiple emails about the blood shortage in the DC area, telling me that they urgently need my donation. I wonder why this is happening.
Maybe it’s because they can. Perhaps the blood supply is about what it always was, and it’s just that the blood banks have finally figured out email.
Maybe it’s because DC has a real lack of donors and/or a real excess of people who need blood.
Maybe it’s a nationwide (or even worldwide) problem.
You can argue that a market for blood would solve the problem. That is beside the point. It does not answer the question of: why now?
I get the emails because I have donated in the past. Usually once a year, occasionally twice. I have been donating since my 20s (I remember going to donate during the Blizzard of 1978 in Boston).
Introspection leads me to believe that I donate to get a sense of moral entitlement. “I am a good person. I donate blood.”
But when I donate, I notice that most of the other blood donors are close to my age. My hypothesis for why there is a blood shortage now is that as we old folks age out of the blood donation system, younger people aren’t stepping in to replace us.
My hypothesis for why young people don’t step up to donate blood is that they find other sources of moral entitlement. Hashtags and memes do it for them.
As you can imagine, this thought makes me furious. I think you should get moral entitlement from doing something good, not from announcing that you favor some righteous cause. Or preening about effective altruism.
In fact, on Scott Alexander’s latest post on effective altruism, I commented
I think that one of the assumptions that you are hiding is the assumption that charitable donations do more long-term good than market investment. This seems wrong in theory, because profit-seeking companies are more strongly accountable to the people they are supposed to serve. And it seems wrong empirically--if I look at the record, most of human improvement seems to come from profit-seeking investment. And if you ask me whether I can behave consistently with my view that market investment is a better use of money than charitable donation--I can! And I also donate blood.
I wonder if Sam Bankman-Fried has ever donated blood.
‘ I wonder why this is happening.’ Because when the Government frightens the population to believe they are a health risk to each other, when you close down medical facilities including blood donation centres, when people are afraid to mix with others and masks and vaccination are mandated when they reopen to reaffirm the risk we are to one another, and the drum-beat of never-ending pandemic is kept up - people stay away. That’s why.
I agree with this sentiment and have been incredibly frustrated with this phenomenon in a vague sense for several decades. I think the first time I heard the phrase “raise awareness”, it set off alarm bells similar to “hate crime”, (separate post). “We’re going to have a walkathon to raise awareness for homeless people!” How about making some sandwiches and passing them out under a bridge? How about volunteering at a soup kitchen and getting your hands dirty? We’re all aware of the issues - you just don’t want to do real, hard work on them. How much did it cost to rent the track, rent the sound system, pay the DJ, buy the bottled water, etc… for your walkathon? You are actually throwing a party for yuppie moms instead of serving the homeless. That’s drift. I guess now we just skip the walkathon and do some hashtags. Just as effective, but lazier.
For your contribution to be most effective, it has to contain real sacrifice as close to the problem as physically possible. #proofofwork