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Mr Beast and Being Blamed for Helping
What if you heal the sick, but get clout for doing so?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, MrBeast is a YouTube phenomenon. He’s the 4th most subscribed channel on the platform with more than 151 million subscribers. He’s best known for doing extreme and wacky stunts that involve paying people large sums of money to do something crazy - swim with sharks, stay inside a circle for 100 days, play a real life Squid Game, etc. He’s buried himself alive, paid assassins to ‘kill’ him, built the world’s largest Lego tower and once purchased a private island to give to a random fan.
Recently, MrBeast seems to have grown bored with his usual method of splashing money around, and has created videos with a more philanthropic bent. Three months ago he released a video where he paid for 1000 cataract surgeries to allow 1000 functionally blind people to see again.
Now he’s back helping deaf people hear, and people are furious.
When People Get Mad at Charity
While there are plenty of people praising MrBeast for his charity, there are also a lot of people who are very, very angry.
And it’s not just randoms on Twitter. Ryan Broderick at Garbage Day calls it an ‘exploitation video’ which is ‘gross’. Liam O’Dell in The Independent calls it ‘inspiration porn’ and ‘harmful sensationalism’. This is widespread.
If you think about this, it’s very weird. There are deaf people who wanted help. MrBeast offered the help and those people consented. There was no cost to them. What’s the issue? Who is being harmed here? Why are people so angry?
When Caring Makes You Culpable
The key to resolving this odd view is the Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics. Quoting the now defunct blog Jaibot:
The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics says that you can have a particle spinning clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time – until you look at it, at which point it definitely becomes one or the other. The theory claims that observing reality fundamentally changes it.
The Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics says that when you observe or interact with a problem in any way, you can be blamed for it. At the very least, you are to blame for not doing more. Even if you don’t make the problem worse, even if you make it slightly better, the ethical burden of the problem falls on you as soon as you observe it. In particular, if you interact with a problem and benefit from it, you are a complete monster.
This probably strikes you as a principle that’s not very sound, and yet it’s a very prominent feature of the discourse.
MrBeast would never be blamed for doing nothing. He would face precisely zero criticism from the deaf community if he had made another video where people get $50,000 each to eat a pile of worms. He is being blamed for helping deaf people who wanted to be helped, but in a way that some people think is suboptimal. It’s not in question that he helped people and that his actions benefited them. But it wasn’t done in the right way, supposedly. Or it was done in such a way that MrBeast benefited from helping those people.
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The logic of Copenhagen Ethics says that if you act on a problem, you’re now responsible for the problem. If you follow this logic to its endpoint, it leads to a mode of thinking where taking no action is the ‘most moral’ action (and certainly the safest). What MrBeast did was apparently wrong - and so better to do nothing at all, for which you will accumulate no blame. This theory of moral culpability explains why people who do little charity work themselves feel entitled to yell at people doing real charity work in a way they disapprove of.
Frankly, this is stupid. The people criticizing MrBeast are wrong. Who cares if he got some clout out of the deal. Who cares if his motivation isn’t pure (as if you on the internet could possibly know his internal motivation in the first place). Who cares if he’s chasing clicks. He helped people who eagerly consented to be helped, at no cost to them. That’s good. Period.
Against Activist Universality
“But what about this prominent deaf activist? Are you saying they’re also wrong?” Yes. If a deaf person is arguing that deaf people can’t consent to correct their own condition, that’s bad and we shouldn’t be afraid to criticize someone just because they have the label of activist. There’s a kind of discourse that leans heavily into ‘listen to activists’ or ‘listen to the community’ or talks about ‘lived experiences’ as though those phrases are magical incantations which automatically wins every argument. But if you look at what these activist commentators want, it’s hard not to see something self-serving.
There are a lot of appeals in this kind of discourse to ‘listen to deaf people’. MrBeast appeared to be listening to deaf people just fine to me. He offered help, 1000 deaf people accepted. What further ‘listening’ needed to happen? To my cynical eye, it seems like the real answer is ‘listen to professional activists like me’. This is not a charitable interpretation, to be fair. But activists often claim to speak for an entire group of people who don’t always agree with the activists, and somehow the activist’s actions always end up with the activist having a larger platform and more power.
In the end, what would they prefer? There are so many complaints about rich people having too much money, so would it be better if he just hoarded it? As expressed by the man himself:
Even the supposedly sophisticated versions of this argument are just wrong.
True, MrBeast did nothing to address the systemic issues deaf people face in society. That’s because he’s a rich YouTube personality and not the God Emperor Of All Culture And Policy. He did something positive and people’s lives are better because of it (and also donated 100K to help spread sign language).
True, he’s getting clout and praise and clicks and money for his very popular video. I cannot express to you how little I care if that makes you mad. Those 1000 people can still hear.
True, the video uses simplistic language like ‘cure’ and does not accurately represent the full reality of how hearing aids work. That’s because it’s a six minute long YouTube video from the guy who did ‘Last To Leave Ramen Noodle Pool Wins $20,000’. Deal with it.
True, his video frames deafness as a problem to be fixed. To say it one more time with emphasis: those deaf people in the video asked to be fixed. It’s fine if you are a deaf person and have no desire to stop being deaf, but that gives you no right to protest when a different deaf person wants to hear.
The facts are pretty simple here. 1000 people’s lives are significantly better off because of MrBeast’s actions. Nobody was coerced at any point. Millions more people will be thinking about deaf folks and their issues this week than last week because of this video. The only supposed harms are vague claims of exploitation or psychic harm, none of which involve the actual recipients of the charity. The world would be a better place if more YouTubers and social media stars were using their money and influence to do things like this.
Luckily, this is still a minority view. Social media often takes fringe views and amplifies them well beyond the point they’d reach in a non-social world, so it’s easy to forget they’re still fringe. The comments on MrBeast’s video are almost all positive, and the ‘backlash to the backlash’ seems to be winning on most social sites. The next time you see people criticizing someone who did a good thing (just not in the preferred or perfect way) remember: The Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics is crap, and doing something is always better than nothing.