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Larissa MacFarquhar: A Sociopath in Reverse

Why don’t people give more than they do? 

The usual answer is, we’re human. We’re weak-willed, we’re lazy, we’re selfish. There are also some reasons specific to giving money to charities—poverty (or disease, or injustice) seems intractable, so giving feels futile, aid money is often wasted, and sometimes harms the countries it’s trying to help, and so on. All this is true. But it’s not the whole story. The answer has also to do with a deep suspicion of morally minded people that has developed over the past couple of hundred years, and this talk will sketch a history of that suspicion.

Larissa MacFarquhar has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998. Her subjects have included John Ashbery and Edward Albee, among many others. Before joining the magazine, she was a senior editor at Lingua Franca and an advisory editor at The Paris Review. She is working on a book about extremely ethical lives.