comment by Chi ·
2021-01-20T23:59:14.704Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Should we interview people with high status in the effective altruism community (or make other content) featuring their (personal) story, how they have overcome challenges, and live into their values?
I think it's no secret that effective altruism has some problems with community health. (This is not to belittle the great work that is done in this space.) Posts that talk about personal struggles, for example related to self-esteem and impact, usually get highly upvoted. While many people agree that we should reward dedication and that the thing that really matters is to try your best given your resources, I think that, within EA, the main thing that gives you status, that many people admire, desire, and tie their self-esteem to is being smart.
Other altruistic communities seem to do a better job at making people feel included. I think this has already been discussed a lot, and there seem to be some reasons for why this is just inherently harder for effective altruism to do. But one specific thing I noticed is what I associate with leaders of different altruistic communities.
When I think of most high status people in effective altruism, I don't think of their altruistic (or other personal) virtues, I think 'Wow, they're smart.' Not because of a lack of altruistic virtues - I assume -, but because smartness is just more salient to me. On the other hand, when I think of other people, for example Michelle Obama or Melinda Gates or even Alicia Keys for that matter, I do think "Wow, these people are so badass. They really live into their values." I wouldn't want to use them as role models for how to have impact, but I do use them as role models for what kind of person I would like to be. I admire them as people, and they inspire me to work on myself to become like them in relevant respects, and they make me think it's possible. I am worried that people look at high status people in effective altruism for what kind of person they would like to be, but the main trait of those people they are presented with is smartness, which is mostly intractable to try to improve.
I don't think this difference is because these non-EAs lack any smartness or achievement that I could admire. I think it's because I have consumed content where their personal story and values were put front and centre alongside what they did and how they achieved it. Similarly, I don't think that high status people in effective altruism lack any personal virtue I could aspire to, but I'm simply not exposed to it.
I don't know if it would actually improve this aspect of community health, and whether it's overall worth the time of all people involved (although I think the answer is yes if the answer to the first is yes), but this made me wonder if we should create more content with high status people in the effective altruism community that is similar to the kind of interviews with non-EAs I mentioned. 'That kind of content' is pretty vague, and one would have to figure out how we can best celebrate the kind of virtues we want to celebrate, and whether this could work, in principle, with effective altruism. (Maybe the personal virtues we most admire in high status effective altruists just are detrimental to the self esteem of others. I can imagine that with some presentations of impact obsession for example.) But this might be a worth while idea, and I am somewhat hopeful that this could be combined with the presentation of more object-level content (the type that 80k interviews are mostly about).