Can people be persuaded by anything other than an appeal to emotion? 2021-01-02T18:37:01.192Z
Why I think the EA Community should write more fiction 2020-11-04T14:11:55.842Z
What would a taskforce designed to minimise biorisk look like? 2020-11-01T12:08:45.326Z
Why Research into Wild Animal Suffering Concerns me 2020-10-25T22:26:20.029Z


Comment by Jordan_Warner on What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard · 2021-03-19T22:10:28.275Z · EA · GW

I'm not saying nobody has thought through the ideas,  I find the proposed alternatives to police fascinating, although I'm personally sceptical that they'd actually be better than the existing system - that's an essay all on its own!

My point was just that many people repeat slogans to express feelings rather than to advocate for concrete policy proposals, because everyone has feelings but almost nobody has policy proposals. (Myself included - I have opinions about lots of policy issues, if I'm honest I don't really understand most of them). I'm not saying we should dismiss ideas just because most people that advocate for them would struggle to defend them,  I'm just recommending against getting into arguments over the minutia of how community based restorative justice will actually work in the real world with people that have no idea what you're talking about! It's often more tactful to take people seriously but not literally, especially since slogans remove all nuance from the conversation and make it hard to know what people actually believe - saying "defund the police" could signal anything from supporting modest budget reallocation to literal anarchy!

I agree that treating "the Left" or "Progressives" as a monolithic bloc reveals a lack of understanding, but since Stalin and Hitler are much easier to argue against than what people on the left or the right actually believe, I'm not seeing this cheap rhetorical trick going away any time soon. We definitely should refrain from it though!

Comment by Jordan_Warner on What do you make of the doomsday argument? · 2021-03-19T08:16:12.105Z · EA · GW

One reason I'm not convinced by  the Doomsday argument is that it's equally true at all points in history - you could make the same argument 2,000 years ago to the Greeks or 10,000 years into the future (well, only if Doomsday isn't really imminent) and the basic logic would still hold. I find it hard to be convinced by an argument that will always come to the same conclusion at any point in history, even though the argument is that we're most likely to exist at the point that it's true.

The problem with the analogy is that the urn is continuously filling with balls with higher and higher numbers, so pulling out one number at any point in the process tells you nothing about the future number of balls in the urn. That would require analysis of the urn and the ball-dropping mechanism.

For this reason, I find concrete existential risks much more convincing than the Doomsday argument.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard · 2021-03-19T07:43:21.132Z · EA · GW

I worry that there's a danger in taking the ideas of the left too seriously, if I take ideas like "abolish the police" seriously,  I want to respond with the best arguments against it in order to have a productive discussion of criminal justice policy, and end up denying people's lived experience. I think it would be a very bad idea for EA to take the ideas of the Left seriously in any way that risks seeming critical of them.

Whereas if I  don't take the idea seriously and understand it merely as an expression of distaste for modern American policing, I can be much more compassionate and understanding. It's probably better to take the sentiment more seriously than the slogans.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard · 2021-03-19T07:28:42.589Z · EA · GW

I think it's important to be clear that Scandinavian Social Democracy is not a socialist economy or a socialist government - I'm a big fan of the Nordic countries and think they'd be great to emulate, but (like all  countries) Sweden is somewhere in between "capitalism" and "socialism",  using taxation and a strong welfare state to ensure that the benefits of capital are widely distributed without total redistribution.  Based on the 20th century, I'm pretty confident that the optimal system of government has both free markets and government control.

I see the Capitalist/Socialist false dichotomy a a relic of the Cold War, with neither side able to admit that the other had a point. Total laisse fare Capitalism is pretty unpleasant for the people on the bottom, but it's the height of hubris to think the government can centrally plan the entire economy - and as soon as the Chinese stopped trying, it turned out pretty well for them!

Comment by Jordan_Warner on What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard · 2021-03-18T09:11:55.431Z · EA · GW

I feel EA would  be very interested in a socialist running a cost-benefit analysis of the global proletariat revolution, the 20th century has presumably given us enough data to make it less speculative than a lot of things EAs are concerned about.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard · 2021-03-18T09:07:27.203Z · EA · GW

I wonder if it's a good or bad thing that AI alignment (of existing algorithms) is increasingly being framed as a social justice issue, once you've talked about algorithmic bias it seems less privileged to then  say "I'm very concerned about a future in which AI is given even more power".

Comment by Jordan_Warner on What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard · 2021-03-18T09:04:17.400Z · EA · GW

I honestly think that the progressive movement increasingly values Loyalty (i.e. you're not a real  minority if you're politically conservative) and Sanctity ( saying the N-word or wearing blackface make white people "unclean" in a way that cannot fully be explained by the Care/Harm framework),  so if anything I think Haidt's Moral Foundations theory is more right than even Haidt suspected, the taboos and tribes of the Left are simply still being defined.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard · 2021-03-18T08:54:59.803Z · EA · GW

I found this helpful, I'm in a similar situation of moving from "social justice" (mainly concerned with homelessness in my own city) to Effective Altruism, and so am trying to think of good ways to engage people/slightly concerned that if we don't phrase things in the correct way the left may try to destroy us.

I wonder if talking about the causes of international economic inequality makes it seem more like an issue of injustice to be addressed from a progressive/social justice framework? That's one way I'd frame the issue when talking about EA principles to a left-of-centre audience.  I don't subscribe to a zero-sum view of development in which all wealth is taken from someone else, but it's undeniable that most currently wealthy nations benefitted from colonialism at the expense of the rest of the world, and we all continue to participate in an economic system that is pretty clearly constructed to benefit multinational corporations rather than individual producers. I'd  also argue that donating to effective charity should at least be part of living an ethical lifestyle, and that many of the other issues people may find more emotionally compelling, like human trafficking and exploitative employment, are primarily rooted in poverty. 

I also point out how basically everyone in the audience is in the top 10% globally, although I feel like this is probably less effective when talking to students since their wealth is mostly in the future. I've also found that the very progressive idea that everyone should be treated equally is one argument in favour of international aid, that x100 multiplier goes a long way! However, it is difficult to convince people that life for the poorest 10% of people in the world really is a lot worse than life for the poorest 10% of people in a wealthy country, although access to food, medicine and housing is probably the area that makes this clearest.

Also, use emotional appeals, although that's just good advice when trying to persuade humans generally, although ideally use this to support  rather than instead of facts and evidence, because we probably can't win solely based on emotional appeals. This is obviously easiest in the context of global health, AMF has loads of pictures of smiling children holding mosquito nets, and GiveDirectly has loads of personal stories of how people actually spent the money.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on The Conflicted Omnivore · 2021-01-02T19:02:17.609Z · EA · GW

I think this described me for a while, I gradually cut down on meat until I'm now a lacto-vegetarian (at least when I'm buying the food, I'll admit I just visited my parents and enjoyed having an excuse to eat huge amounts of ham and turkey).

I think it's similar to other ethical objections people have but ignore, most supply chains degrade human dignity or destroy the environment in ways we know are wrong, but ethical alternatives are either unavailable or inconvenient, which outweighs the vague guilt we feel if we ever accidently  think think about it too long. 

As you point out,  making alternatives readily available definitely seems more effective than criticising the constant hypocrisy!  

Comment by Jordan_Warner on Thoughts on being mortal · 2021-01-02T18:48:40.405Z · EA · GW

I really liked this post, at some point I'd like to read some of the books you referenced.

Ultimately, this is why I worry about the Life-Extension crowd, clinging to life as long as possible causes a lot of misery in our current medical system. I feel like we'd all be happier if we all just accept that our days  are numbered and try to make them count. 

The obvious counter-argument is that the transhumanists plan on staying young and healthy forever thanks to technology (medical or digital), but that's a lot harder than just prolonging how long it takes to die.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on My mistakes on the path to impact · 2020-12-09T20:11:46.812Z · EA · GW

I'd say that "Intelligent people disagree with this" is a good reason to look into what those people think and why - I agree that it should make you less certain of your current position, but you might actually end up more certain of your original opinion after you've understood those disagreements.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on Nuclear war is unlikely to cause human extinction · 2020-11-07T11:47:05.082Z · EA · GW

This all seems very plausible to me, I've always been sceptical of the idea that nuclear war (or climate change, or a pandemic) could kill all humans on the planet. There's a lot of us, we're very widely distributed and we're very adaptable, we'd probably just end up with a new world order dominated by Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Latin America. It would be great to have more research on nuclear winter, especially since it would overlap with climate modelling and potentially with geoengineering projects designed to deliberately cool the planet, so understanding this better would be great for the future.

Nuclear war would still be very bad, and  I think we should probably be concerned with non-existential risks, since after a near miss it would take a very long time for things to return to where they are today.

The idea that we should lobby the military to be selective in its nuclear targeting is interesting, I'm not sure how tractable that is but the pessimist in me does suspect that militaries are the only branch of government incentivised to think long term.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on Why I think the EA Community should write more fiction · 2020-11-04T14:15:32.147Z · EA · GW

In terms of Effective Altruist Fiction, I think Unsong ( ) is a great example.  Despite the premise being rather strange (The Bible and Talmud are literally true), Peter Singer and EA get explicitly mentioned in Cantors and Singers, and the Comet King is a great example of a utilitarian protagonist who genuinely tries to do as much good as possible (by trying to literally destroy Hell).

The idea of communicating Long-termism through fiction is discussed in an episode of the 80000 hours podcast (, although Rob suggests an Office-style sitcom, whereas I think a science fiction thriller would be more interesting and potentially more effective.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on Why Research into Wild Animal Suffering Concerns me · 2020-10-26T20:58:35.411Z · EA · GW

It probably makes more sense in context, but the context is an entire book of Christian apologetics (sequel to a book on  early 20th century philosophy called "Heretics") so I doubt you have time for that right now.

I guess what I really meant was "regardless of how convincing it is to people other than me". By definition if I found something convincing it would change my mind, but in the hypothetical example it's more of a difference in values rather than facts.

I too think it makes the most sense to care about groups only as collections of individuals, but  reasonable people could think the reverse is true.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on Why Research into Wild Animal Suffering Concerns me · 2020-10-26T20:33:09.293Z · EA · GW

I just wanted to thank everyone for their replies, it's addressed most of my concerns. 

Based on my initial exposure to the field I was assuming that Wild Animal Welfare's long term goal would be to convince people of a worldview directly opposed to my own, i.e.  some form of negative utilitarianism, which I reject for both philosophical and mental health reasons. Regardless of how likely this project was to succeed, it seemed like the kind of thing I should be against, since arguments in favour of destroying the natural world could be very useful to people who planned on doing that anyway.  Nature seems pretty useful, I'd hate to lose it without good reason.

I mentioned negative utilitarianism, and so inevitably world destruction came up. I'll make it clear that I'm totally on board with destroying the world in order to replace it with something better, but for practical reasons we're going to have to do that incrementally. I'm opposed to destroying the world in order to prevent anyone from suffering, which was what I assumed the field would lead to before hearing more about it. I now feel that this will probably be the first kind of destruction, which I'm fine with.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on Why Research into Wild Animal Suffering Concerns me · 2020-10-26T20:04:17.788Z · EA · GW

To address the first point, it's definitely not something I see as happening any time soon, and I'm much less concerned about the future of the field now that I've read the replies to my post. 

But since you ask, I can only conceive of being convinced that any of my deeply held beliefs are wrong through appeal to an even more deeply held belief, and a lot of my beliefs (and interest in EA) rest on the idea that "Life is Worth Living". At some point, surely there has to be something that isn't up for debate? 

As for why I'd be opposed to human extinction on principle and even against my better judgement, G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, Chapter 5 puts it best: "A man belongs to this world before he begins to ask if it is nice to belong to it. He has fought for the flag, and often won heroic victories for the flag long before he has ever enlisted. To put shortly what seems the essential matter, he has a loyalty long before he has any admiration."

(This is the basis for his argument against optimism, jingoism, pessimism and suicide)

Comment by Jordan_Warner on Why Research into Wild Animal Suffering Concerns me · 2020-10-26T18:36:32.907Z · EA · GW

I believe we're  already replacing the rainforest with many things of more (economic) value, like palm oil and cows. I guess in future we'll just have the palm oil, at least until we discover plants can suffer and they have to go too.

If being a consequentialist implies I should, under certain circumstances, destroy the world, I think I'm going to prioritise the world over consequentialism. 

Comment by Jordan_Warner on Why Research into Wild Animal Suffering Concerns me · 2020-10-26T18:15:12.003Z · EA · GW

I think the entire space of dramatically intervening in natural ecosystems in order to align them with our own moral preferences should make anyone nervous (including fertility control , that could go horribly wrong), especially when the space includes "wiping out animals".

I'm not sure I'd call it one thing exactly, that covers everything from total extinction of all life to specific extinction of some species to merely human management of existing populations. The last option is something we already do to some extent, deer aren't going to hunt themselves and we already wiped out most of the wolves.

The fact that I consider some plausible solutions repellent is not a reason not to look into the space, I'm just trying to explain why I'm averse to it.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on Why Research into Wild Animal Suffering Concerns me · 2020-10-26T15:20:36.330Z · EA · GW

Fertility control is the kind of intervention very few people would have a problem with as long as all the consequences were thought through, I guess it's everything else in the space of possible solutions that makes me nervous.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on Why Research into Wild Animal Suffering Concerns me · 2020-10-26T15:12:45.692Z · EA · GW

I'll concede that opposing research because I suspect I won't like the conclusions is blatant science denialism. This is more about me trying to explain my feelings than my logical conclusions. I guess I worry it will be convincing to people with a different ethical framework to me, and I won't be able to articulate an equally convincing objection?

I'm totally anthropomorphising here, but if another species decided that humans lives were net negative and chose the simplest solution I'd object, even if they had a lot of convincing research to back them up.

Comment by Jordan_Warner on When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds? · 2020-10-17T13:01:00.531Z · EA · GW

I'd say another risk of making political engagement a big part of EA would be alienating non-US citizens, who hear quite enough about US politics everywhere else!

Engagement with politics divides the movement geographically as well as politically, which I think is worth considering. While the rest of the world clearly cares about US politics, I don't think it would be good for EA to encourage foreign interference in any countries elections, so political discussions are alienating to the rest of us.

This isn't a reason to never engage with politics, and I'd imagine political action in other countries could be even more high impact than in the US, by virtue of being more neglected (probably less impactful though, to be honest). It's just another reason to minimise the role of politics in the movement.