comment by MichaelPlant ·
2021-04-17T15:35:19.638Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
TL;DR. I'm very substantially in agreement with Brian's comment. I expand on those concerns, put them in stronger terms, then make a further point about how I'd like 80k to have more of a 'public service broadcasting' role. Because this is quite long, I thought it was better to have it as a new comment.
It strikes me as obviously inappropriate to describe the podcast series as "effective altruism: an introduction" when it focuses almost exclusively on a specific worldview - longtermism. The fact this objection is acknowledged, and that a "10 problems areas" series is also planned, doesn't address it. In addition, and relatedly, it seems mistaken to produce and distribute such a narrow introduction to EA in the first place.
The point of EA is to work out how to do the most good, then do it. There are three target groups one might try to benefit - (1) (far) future lives, (2) near-term humans, (3) (near-term) animals. Given this, one cannot, in good faith, call something an 'introduction' when it focuses almost exclusively on object-level attempts to benefit just one group. At the very least, this does not seem to be in good faith when there is a substantial fraction of the EA community, and people who try to live by EA principles, who do prioritise each of three.
For people inside effective altruism who do not share 80k's worldview, stating that this is an introduction runs the serious risk of conveying to those people that they are not "real EAs", they are not welcome in the EA community, and their sincere and thoughtful labours and perspectives are unimportant. It does not seem adequately inclusive, welcoming, open-minded, and considerate - values EAs tend to endorse.
For people outside EA who are being introduced to the ideas for the first time, it genuinely fails to introduce them to the relevant possibilities of how they might do the most good, leaving them with a misleading impression of what EA is or can be. It would have been trivially easy to include the Bollard and Glennister interviews - or something else to represent those who focus on animals or humans in the near-term – and so indicate that those are credible altruistic paths and enthuse those who might take them.
By analogy, if someone taught an "introduction to political ideologies" course which glossed over conservatism and liberalism to focus primarily on (the merits of) socialism, you would assume they were either incompetent or pushing an agenda. Either way, if you hoped that they would cover all the material and do so in an even-handed manner, you would be disappointed.
Given this podcast series is not an introduction to effective altruism, it should not be called "effective altruism: an introduction". More apt might be “effective longtermism: an introduction” or “80k’s opinionated introduction to effective altruism” or “effective altruism: 80k’s perspective”. In all cases, there should be more generous signposting of what the other points of view are and where they could be found.
A good introduction to EA would, at the very least, include a wide range of steel-manned positions about how to do the most good that are held by sincere, thoughtful, individuals aspiring to do the most good. I struggle to see why someone would produce such a narrow introduction unless they thought those holding alternative views were errant and irrelevant fools.
I can imagine someone defending 80k by saying that this is their introduction to effective altruism and there’s nothing to stop someone else writing their own and sharing it (note RobBesinger does this below).
While this is technically true, I do not find it compelling for the following reason. In a cooperative altruistic community, you want to have a division, rather than a duplication, of labour, where people specialise in different tasks. 80k has become, in practice, the primary source of introductory materials to EA: it is the single biggest channel by which people are introduced to effective altruism, with 17% of EA survey respondents saying they first heard about EA through it; it produces much of the introductory content individuals read or listen to. 80k may not have a monopoly on telling people about EA, but it is something like the ‘market leader’.
The way I see it, given 80k’s dominant position, they should fulfil something like a public service broadcasting role for EA, where they strive to be impartial, inclusive, and informative (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_broadcasting).
Why? Because they are much better placed to do it than anyone else! In terms any 80k reader will be familiar with, 80k should do this because it is their comparative advantage and they are not easily replaced. Their move to focusing on longtermism has left a gap. A new organisation, Probably Good, has recently stepped into this gap to provide more cause neutral careers advice but I see it as cause for regret that this had to happen.
While I think it would be a good idea if 80k had more of a public service broadcasting model, I don't expect this to happen, seeing as they've consciously moved away from it. It does, however, seem feasible for 80k to be a bit more inclusive - in this case, one very easy thing would be to expand the list from 10 to 12 items so concerns for animals and near-term humans feature. It would be a huge help to non-longtermist EAs that 80ks talks about them a bit (more), and it would be a small additional cost to 80k.
Replies from: RobBensinger
↑ comment by RobBensinger ·
2021-04-17T16:22:54.732Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
The point of EA is to work out how to do the most good, then do it. There are three target groups one might try to benefit - (1) (far) future lives, (2) near-term humans, (3) (near-term) animals. Given this, one cannot, in good faith, call something an 'introduction' when it focuses almost exclusively on object-level attempts to benefit just one group.
This is a specific way of framing EA, and one that I think feels natural in part for 'sociology and history of EA' reasons: individual EAs often self-identify as either interested in existential risk, interested in animal welfare, or interested in third-world development, in large part due to the early influence of Peter Singer, GiveWell, LessWrong, and the Oxford longtermists, who broke in different directions on these questions. The EA Funds use a division like this, and early writing about EA liked to emphasize this division [LW · GW].
But I don't agree that this is the most natural (much less the only reasonable) way of dividing up the space of high-impact altruistic goals or projects, so I don't think all intro resources should emphasize this framing.
If you'd framed EA as being about '(1) causing positive experiences and (2) preventing negative ones', you could have argued that EA is about the choice between negative-leaning and positive-leaning utilitarianism, and that all intro resources must put similar emphasis on those two perspectives (regardless of the merits of the perspectives in the eyes of the intro-resource-maker).
If you'd framed EA as being about 'direct aid, institution reform, cause prioritization, and improving EAs' effectiveness', you could argue that any intro resource is obviously bad if it neglects any one of those categories, even if it's just because they're carving up the space differently.
If you'd framed EA as being about 'helping people in the developed world, helping people in the developing world, helping animals, or helping far-future lives', then we'd have needed to give equal prominence to more nationalist and regionalist perspectives on altruism as well.
My main objection is to the structure of this argument. There are worlds where EA initially considered it an open question whether nationalism is a reasonable perspective to bring to cause prioritization; and worlds where lots of EAs later realized they were wrong and nationalism isn't a good perspective. In those worlds, it's important that we not be so wedded to early framings of 'the key disagreements in the movement' that no one can ever move on from treating nationalist-EA as a contender.
(This isn't intended as an argument for 'our situation is analogous to the nationalism one'; it's intended as a structural objection to arguments that take for granted a certain framing of EA, require all intro sources to fit that frame, and make it hard to update away from that frame in worlds where some of the options do turn out to be bad.)Replies from: Khorton, Gregory_Lewis, RobBensinger
↑ comment by Khorton ·
2021-04-17T23:53:47.251Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Hi Rob, I agree with your and Ryan's point that the poverty/animals/future split is something that evolved because of EA's history, and I can imagine a world with different categories of cause areas.
But something that I keep seeing missed is this:
"A good introduction to EA would, at the very least, include a wide range of steel-manned positions about how to do the most good that are held by sincere, thoughtful, individuals aspiring to do the most good."
I'm really troubled by any "Introduction to EA" that suggests EA is about long-termism. A brief intro saying "by the way, some people have different views to the following 20 hours of content!" is not sufficient. This should be relabelled as an intro to EA long-termism if it remains in its current form.
↑ comment by Gregory_Lewis ·
2021-04-18T05:17:59.613Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Although I understand the nationalism example isn't meant to be analogous, but my impression is this structural objection only really applies when our situation is analogous.
If historically EA paid a lot of attention to nationalism (or trans-humanism, the scepticism community, or whatever else) but had by-and-large collectively 'moved on' from these, contemporary introductions to the field shouldn't feel obliged to cover them extensively, nor treat it the relative merits of what they focus on now versus then as an open question.
Yet, however you slice it, EA as it stands now hasn't by-and-large 'moved on' to be 'basically longtermism', where its interest in (e.g) global health is clearly atavistic. I'd be willing to go to bat for substantial slants to longtermism, as (I aver) its over-representation amongst the more highly engaged and the disproportionate migration of folks to longtermism from other areas warrants claims that epistocratic weighting of consensus would favour longtermism over anything else. But even this has limits which 'greatly favouring longtermism over everything else' exceeds.
How you choose to frame an introduction is up for grabs, and I don't think 'the big three' is the only appropriate game in town. Yet if your alternative way of framing an introduction to X ends up strongly favouring one aspect (further, the one you are sympathetic to) disproportionate to any reasonable account of its prominence within X, something has gone wrong.
↑ comment by RobBensinger ·
2021-04-17T22:02:47.900Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
1) (far) future lives, (2) near-term humans, (3) (near-term) animals
This isn't the main problem I had in mind, but it's worth noting that EA animal advocacy is also aimed at improving welfare and/or preventing suffering in future minds, even when it's not aimed at far-future animals. The goal of factory farm reform for chickens is to affect (or prevent) future chickens, not chickens that are alive at the time people develop or push for the reform.