Should local EA groups support political causes?

post by lukasberglund · 2020-07-21T19:54:32.397Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW · 4 comments

This is a question post.

Contents

  Answers
    30 Khorton
    19 Julia_Wise
    2 henrycooksley
None
4 comments

Members of our university group occasionally suggest that we, as a group, should support certain causes that are gaining momentum at our school (these include Black Lives Matter, a solidarity movement for the Hong Kong protests, and a movement to abolish Greek Life at our school).

My reservation is that members or potential members could feel alienated from our club and even EA in general if they disagree with the movements that our university group supports. Also, these movements aren't conventional EA causes.

On the other hand, refusing to support these movements feels like we are implying EA is somehow above these movements, which seems elitist. Supporting these movements could also give our group valuable publicity and sympathy from those who support them. Additionally, there is a strong case to be made that movements like Black Lives Matter and the Hong-Kong protests have a positive impact, so it's weird that we would refuse to support them.

How should university groups and other local groups deal with such dilemmas?

Answers

answer by Khorton · 2020-07-21T23:06:58.395Z · score: 30 (15 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Others may disagree, but here's my take:

University is a great time to learn about politics and political activism. You can make a difference and learn useful skills by getting involved in campus activism. One of those skills is deciding which causes to get involved with.

If I ran a campus EA group, I'd probably encourage members to get involved in other campus activities (including political activism) but remain neutral* as a group. This not only makes the group more welcoming to a wide variety of people, but it also encourages people to think through different political causes for themselves rather than deferring their decision to what "EA leaders" think.

*To some extent everything is political. I would not be neutral about preventing bullying and harassment at EA meetups or things like that - I'm talking about remaining neural about controversial party political topics here.

comment by lukasberglund · 2020-07-23T18:54:26.311Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

This approach is compelling and you make a good case for it, but I think what Lynch said about how not supporting a movement can feel like opposing it [EA(p) · GW(p)] is significant here. On our university campus, supporting a movement like Black Lives Matter seems obvious, so when you refuse to, it makes it looks like you have an ideological reason not to.

answer by Julia_Wise · 2020-07-24T20:08:48.478Z · score: 19 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

One question I'd ask myself is how well this holds up over time. If EA had existed in other times, what might left-leaning student types have been supporting? My guesses in the US, based on what was popular with progressive types at the time:
- 1970s: opposing the Vietnam War (this one holds up fine)
- 1920s: supporting communism
- 1890s: supporting women's suffrage, and also eugenics?

comment by Larks · 2020-07-28T16:43:33.170Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Supporting alcohol prohibition also seems like it might have accompanied the woman's suffrage.

comment by Julia_Wise · 2020-07-30T17:40:32.436Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

True. I didn't realize it was popular that early, but I see it got going well before 1890.

answer by henrycooksley · 2020-07-22T20:01:54.489Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

You could discuss promotional messaging for your group that has emphasis on your group's solidarity with those fighting for these causes, rather than endorsement per se, and link it to other things that you want to promote that are more traditionally EA if you feel that's helpful.

For example, you might talk about having solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, and say that while it's not something that EAs have a lot of research on, that EAs have looked into various areas in criminal justice reform that align with some of their goals.

Or you could link Hong Kong democracy protests to political stability and reducing great power conflict, etc.

comment by Larks · 2020-07-23T02:42:03.616Z · score: 9 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
while it's not something that EAs have a lot of research on

While I understand why this is a tempting and conflict-avoiding thing to say, (and is also literally true!), I think it would be a little disingenuous. The lack of EA research into many potential causes isn't simply an accident; research has been directed into areas that seem especially promising to the researcher (i.e. not just Important but also Neglected and Tractable, and ideally Quantifiable also). Given the natural sympathies of many EAs towards left-wing movements, I think it is reasonable to say that the reason EAs haven't published a lot of research into BLM as a cause area is because they generally don't expect it would look attractive - and I think the same is true for HK protests to a lesser degree.

Or you could link Hong Kong democracy protests to political stability and reducing great power conflict, etc.

Assuming the other students are in favour of the HK protests, I'm not sure this is such a great approach. In general protests are not good for stability! The HK movement, by drawing attention to China's authoritarianism, seem to have increased conflict between the West and China - the US is currently introducing various new anti-CCP measures for example. Similarly the BLM protests in the US seem quite destabilising - to the extent that they literally received funding from the US's geopolitical opponents. It's of course possible that something could be destabilising and good, but that is a different argument.

Unfortunately I think there is just not that much in common between EA and causes which seem neither neglected nor tractable. Overall I think Khorton's approach is best; individual EAs are of course free to have non-EA interests, but focusing on the most important issues, rather than being caught up in contemporary issues that get a lot of attention for non-EA reasons, is a key part of the distinctive value proposition of the movement.

4 comments

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comment by Linch · 2020-07-23T10:10:58.506Z · score: 15 (8 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree that this is a difficult question, and that there are difficult considerations that you might need to carefully balance.

You should probably talk to other campus group organizers, ideally ones similar enough to your position (eg, EA campus group organizers in similar universities, or non-EA campus group organizers at your university) for a well-rounded take.

For example, I intuitively agree with Khorton's answer. Unfortunately my understanding from talking to a small number of campus organizers is that a neutral stance, for political movements that 90%+ of the student campus supports, will be seen as implicitly political (and not on the "right" side).

My personal impression is that campus activism/campus politics moves very fast, especially in America, to the point that those of us with only a handful of years out of school are almost unqualified to talk about such matters.

comment by lukasberglund · 2020-07-23T18:55:21.375Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Good point. I'll bring this up with other group leaders.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2020-07-22T00:44:43.497Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Worth noting there are a lot of important political questions that can be lobbied on that aren't part of the traditional blue vs. red axis (e.g., cage-free legislation, increasing foreign aid)

comment by alexrjl · 2020-07-22T08:25:25.434Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Voting reform also. While there's some partisan opposition to it in some countries, it can certainly be presented in a way which is highly non-partisan.