What are some examples of successful social change?

post by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-06-22T22:51:19.955Z · EA · GW · 17 comments

This is a question post.

Mark Lutter of the Charter Cities Institute has compiled a list of examples of social change

The list is wide-ranging, and there's no requirement that changes be positive — merely that a group of people tried to change a system and succeeded. 

I'll post the current entries here for easy skimming:

What are some examples Mark should add? 

Personally, I'm most interested in examples that:

  1. Involve movements on the approximate scale of EA, and/or 
  2. Involved changes being made carefully and with attention to detail, to the overall benefit of those affected.

Answers

answer by JamesOz · 2021-06-22T23:34:46.160Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Otpor! - A group in Serbia who overthrew their dictator, Sloban Milosevic, in 2000 using mass nonviolent civil disobedience.

Indian Independence from British colonisation.

OutRage! - LGBT campaign group who used protests to win marriage equality for homosexual couples in the UK (and generally change opinion on gay rights)

ACT UP - Another civil disobedience group in the US who used nonviolent protests to get better access to AIDS treatment for gay people.

Civil Rights Movement in the US that won equal voting rights and desegregation (amongst other things) for black people.

Some of these might be smaller than the intended scale of EA but all planned quite meticulously with much more attention to detail than most people give them credit for! Having researched some of the above quite extensively, usually years of preparation and trial and error took place beforehand.

answer by Linch · 2021-06-22T23:44:30.813Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure that all of these things are examples of 

a group of people tried to change a system and succeeded

For example, what concretely did:

The Tiananmen Square uprising

succeed in changing? 

comment by Habryka · 2021-06-23T00:47:13.318Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Similarly: 

The modern environmental movement

It seems pretty plausible that due to opposition to nuclear power and polarization and politicization of the whole space, the environmental movement has been overall harmful to the goals of that movement. 

I think it's a somewhat hard call to make, and don't think it's obvious whether the environmental movement was harmful by its own lights or not, but I definitely wouldn't count it as an obvious success.

Replies from: Habryka, aarongertler
comment by Habryka · 2021-06-23T00:48:44.181Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Also: 

Prohibition in the United States

My sense is overall the goals of the prohibition movement became harder to achieve after it took off, and it overall reinforced the role of alcohol in society, and made future efforts to reduce alcohol consumption harder. Again, not obviously harmful for its own goals, but also not obviously a success.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-06-23T05:46:26.560Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(Not defending any particular example on Lutter's list, which is clearly an early-stage project and needs some filtering.)

The modern environmental movement seems to have changed the course of history, using policies and positions supported by a majority of the movement's supporters. 

Whether the net effect of all this change was actually good, by the movement's own lights, may be in doubt, but it seems to have done much of what it set out to do, to a greater extent than many similar movements. (Similarly, the French Revolution could be called "successful" even if many of its own leaders died in the process and the average French person was harmed more than helped.)

Replies from: Habryka
comment by Habryka · 2021-06-24T01:31:29.239Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Well, no. Whether that change was actually good, by its own lights, is the whole point. Change that looks big but doesn't actually help is not something that you should meaningfully count as a success. Magnitude of effect is not in itself good. I have no interest in emulating social movements that cause big effects in the world, in ways that don't actually help, or maybe even actively harm, my goals. I don't see at all why I should classify something that just had a big effect, without that effect actually being useful, as a "success". 

This is a really important distinction because in my model of the world it is much much easier to have some big effect on the world, than it is to have a specifically targeted big effect on the world. So measuring social movements by just "the size of their effect" is almost purely sampling from movements that took a path of lowest resistance of just doing things that are big, which is a path that doesn't seem like it generalizes at all to helping with things that we care about.

Replies from: aarongertler
comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-06-24T05:59:57.867Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

While you could call the French Revolution "successful", in the dictionary sense of "accomplishing an aim or purpose", you certainly don't have to. That's a reasonable distinction to draw.

As I said, I wouldn't have put the list together the same way, and I'd also much prefer to learn from movements and groups that actually achieved things I value.

*****

That said, I've seen a lot of people in rationalist spaces discuss the rise of certain religions as interesting phenomena worthy of study, at least in piecemeal ways. Even if religious rituals are used to bond small social groups together, around shared belief in something false, one can still consider whether it's possible to copy the bonding elements without getting false beliefs at the same time. On a larger scale, can we learn from people who successfully lobbied for bad policies if we want to lobby for good policies?

(Another spin on this is to find examples of groups that started with worthy goals, then lost sight of the goals as they grew more capable of changing the world. What happens to groups like that, and what makes them different from groups that keep hold of their goals? How can we keep our own groups in the second category rather than the first?)

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-06-23T05:49:07.534Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Trying to imagine Lutter's reply, I'd say the uprising "brought many people together to fight for the same thing,  to an unusual degree," even if it didn't succeed.

Personally, I wouldn't include it on a list like this, and I think better examples for the list will involve more concrete change. (Though perhaps the longer-term history of China would have looked somewhat different without the uprising?) 

Replies from: marklutter
comment by marklutter · 2021-06-23T21:14:17.910Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, I edited it to read succeeded and failed. There are lots of examples that I left out as the list of social movements in very large. I will likely slowly add to the list over the coming years. 

The goal is mostly to get tech folks thinking about the mechanisms for social change. I think the EA folks do that ok now, but tech hasn't really done so, and developing good mental models will be useful for them. 

answer by BrianTan · 2021-06-23T01:45:04.645Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'll give two Philippine examples:

  1. The EDSA People Power Revolution in the Philippines in 1986, notable for being nonviolent. From Wikipedia:

It "was a series of popular demonstrations in the Philippines, mostly in Metro Manila, from February 22–25, 1986. There was a sustained campaign of civil resistance against regime violence and electoral fraud. The nonviolent revolution led to the departure of Ferdinand Marcos, the end of his 20-year presidential term and the restoration of democracy in the Philippines."

...The People Power Revolution has inspired a call for a change of government through peaceful protests rather than bloodshed. Many similar revolutions have followed since then, taking the Philippine example of nonviolent regime change, such as that in East Germany and many other former Soviet Bloc countries.[66] It also helped inspire the Arab Spring in 2011.[67]

2. Jose Rizal (the Philippines' national hero) and his books "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo":

After publication, Noli me Tangere was considered to be one of the instruments that initiated Filipino nationalism leading to the 1896 Philippine Revolution. The novel did not only awaken sleeping Filipino awareness, but also established the grounds for aspiring to independence. Noli was originally written in Spanish, so the likelihood that Spanish authorities would read it first was very high; which is what Rizal wanted to happen. Copies of books were redirected to churches, many were destroyed, many anti-Noli writers came into the picture. Catholic leaders in the Philippines at the time regarded the book as heretical, while Spanish colonial authorities declared it as subversive and against the government. Underground copies were distributed, so Rizal decided to increase the price, the demand was so high.

The impact also included the expulsion of Rizal's clan in Calamba, Laguna. Extradition cases were filed against him. This led to his decision to write the sequel of Noli Me Tangere, the El filibusterismo. Unlike El Fili or Fili, as they called it, Noli Me Tangere was more delicate and did not invoke rebellion. as El Fili does. So to ensure revolutionary ideas and patriotic reaction, Rizal redefined his careful concepts in Noli to aggression in El Fili.

I'm not sure if people can attribute the 1896 Philippine Revolution as primarily caused by Rizal, but I think he did play a key role. I'm also unsure if we should label the revolution a success (since the revolution merely transferred rule of the Philippines from the Spanish to Americans, and it's not clear to me if the Philippines played a large role in that happening), but I think these 2 books show the capability of fiction/books to inspire revolutions.

Neither of these examples involve movements on the approximate scale of EA. Both seem quite beneficial though and had some attention to detail (i.e. focused on being nonviolent). 

I'm not sure if there are any strong Philippine examples that involve movements on the scale of EA, but maybe the work of various local advocacy groups to have the Philippine Mental Health Act passed in 2018 could be one. Though those groups combined could be smaller than the current scale of EA.

answer by freedomandutility · 2021-06-24T12:42:35.730Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The 2011 Indian anti-corruption movement used non-partisan, non-violent civil disobedience to get an anti-corruption bill passed in Parliament

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comment by Larks · 2021-06-23T01:40:09.661Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a very broad category; Belisarius reconquered Italy with a carefully planned campaign and an army on the approximate scale of the EA movement!

Replies from: MaxRa, MichaelA
comment by MaxRa · 2021-06-23T12:11:10.826Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

According to my memory of the Cuba Libre Netflix documentary, Fidel Castro conquered Cuba with fewer than 100 men. At least that was the size of the initial group on his small ship with which he started his guerilla invasion.

comment by MichaelA · 2021-06-23T06:59:30.155Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

#2022EAgoals