The religious despair of Sam Bankman-Fried
a tragic story about a misguided fanatic?
The next bookclub is on 26th November, 19.00 UK time. We are reading Darwin. Selected Letters and The Origin of Species. For letters, any edition will do, and it’s less essential than Origin.
On November 9th, I am running my final salon in the ‘How to Read a Poem’ series.
Go infinite or go home (or go to jail…)
The new Michael Lewis book Going Infinite is an account of what happened to Sam Bankman-Fried who stands accused of fraud over his running of FTX, a crypto-currency exchange. Despite its failings, which are well documented elsewhere, this book is interesting for the way it exposits Sam Bankman-Fried’s deeply religious nature. In some ways, admitting that Bankman-Fried did many things that were deeply wrong, this is a tragic story.
FTX was run by a group of Effective Altruists. Effective Altruism is a form of utilitarianism that believes many people can do the most good with their lives by earning a lot of money to give away to improve the lives of the most impoverished people around the world. Organisations like GiveDirectly, for example, get your money directly to the people who can make best use of it in Africa, with low overheads. This movement have saved and improved millions of lives globally.
Sam Bankman-Fried became a zealous convert to this cause, so much so that it narrowed his view of the world. As with all religions, acting too consistently on very strict beliefs can distort your mind. In Bankman-Fried’s case, the distortions were extreme. Two hundred years ago, Going Infinite would have been a book about a religious fanatic.