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Potential funding opportunity for woman-led EA organization 2019-03-14T02:14:42.501Z

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Comment by tae on Brainstorm: What questions will the general public find most interesting about charities and causes? · 2021-03-18T18:08:21.921Z · EA · GW

Nice, thanks for sharing!

Comment by tae on How can I handle depictions of suffering better emotionally? · 2021-03-18T17:54:57.364Z · EA · GW

I'm currently researching the related topic of the compassion-oriented Buddhist spiritual path, so my response will be from that perspective. Feel free to DM me if you want to chat. 

John Makransky, of Boston College and Kathmandu University, has done great work on this question. He adapts Tibetan Buddhist practices for a secular Western context. See "Compassion Without Fatigue: Contemplative Training for People who Serve Others" (third link from the top). The main insight for me is that I am not alone in trying to alleviate suffering--so many people throughout history have stood in compassionate solidarity, and I can draw on them for support.

Makransky takes the opposite approach of commenter Denis Drescher--he (and the Buddhist tradition) believe that reducing feelings of compassion is not the answer. Boundless compassion (along with boundless wisdom) is quite literally the goal of the Mahayana Buddhist path, so it's wonderful that you feel so much compassion already. Countless Asian philosophers have been developing these ideas for millennia, so they've inevitably come up with some good ideas and coping mechanisms!

For a beginner-friendly philosophical analysis of the progression from painful compassion to wise equanimity, see Sadness, Love, Openness by Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche. Note that this author is a Tibetan lama, so he takes a more religious approach than Makransky.

Hope this helps!

Comment by tae on Religious Texts and EA: What Can We Learn and What Can We Inform? · 2021-03-09T05:32:37.054Z · EA · GW

I highly recommend the Bodhicaryavatara by Shantideva! It's the most significant ethical text of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, with some serious Madhyamaka metaphysics sprinkled in. I'm currently writing my undergrad thesis on it, and I'd be happy to talk about it.

Here's a great guide: https://www.shambhala.com/guide-to-the-way-of-the-bodhisattva/. I took an intensive course on the Bodhicaryavatara in the traditional monastic style in Kathmandu, Nepal; see https://ryi.org/programs/degree-programs if you really want to dive deep. The school is currently offering all courses online.

I'm also studying The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus, with the accessible commentary Thirty Steps to Heaven by Vassilios Papavassiliou. St. John is venerated in both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, but he gets more attention from the Orthodox. I find Orthodoxy fascinating because it has such a mystical relationship-oriented spirituality compared to the legalistic style of both Catholicism and Protestantism. However, this text focuses on individual spirituality; there's not much discussion of ethics. 

Comment by tae on Brainstorm: What questions will the general public find most interesting about charities and causes? · 2021-03-03T19:39:00.795Z · EA · GW

Why should I donate to international poverty relief when these people would just have more kids (contributing to overpopulation) and not do anything good in the world? Shouldn't I donate to scholarship funds for local college students instead, since they're more likely to make a difference?

(I suspect this is a common line of reasoning among well-off educated white people in wealthy countries who think people in third-world countries are selfish and unambitious, but won't say that outright.)

Comment by tae on Brainstorm: What questions will the general public find most interesting about charities and causes? · 2021-03-03T19:31:39.565Z · EA · GW

Absolutely, I hear this all the time. Here's some anecdotal advice:

In particular, there's a strong thread in my circles that privileged people need to give up their power (for example, this was recently posted in the math Discord server at my left-leaning university), and philanthropy allows privileged people to hold onto power while feeling good about themselves. Social justice folks and EAs agree that everyone is complicit in injustice, and we should each take life-changing steps to help. The difference is that EAs claim that throwing away one's power isn't a good way to help. EAs could appeal to social justice folks by arguing that donating money is a great way to share the benefits of one's privilege; GiveDirectly is particularly appealing here. Finally, I've heard good things about mutual aid societies; perhaps you could compare and contrast mutual aid societies and effective charities.

Comment by tae on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-14T00:51:35.741Z · EA · GW

Here's a compilation of ideas from 2015 called "What Can A Technologist Do About Climate Change?": http://worrydream.com/ClimateChange/

Comment by tae on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-14T00:43:22.752Z · EA · GW

Hi! Thanks for this new way to get career advice.

I'd greatly appreciate ideas for where my skill set could be most useful.

My dream job would be some sort of research role at the intersection of philosophy, math, computer science, and religious studies. Lately, I've been curious about the risks of demographic shift toward religious fundamentalists.

What steps could I take toward a role like this? Where can I find EAs interested in the future religious landscape? Has there already been discussion in EA circles about the demographic shift toward fundamentalism?

As soon as I can, I plan to do some internet research and write up preliminary thoughts on risks from fundamentalism. I'll also work on getting more involved in the Christian and Buddhist EA communities. Beyond that, though, what can I do?

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Here's my background:

I expect to graduate this June from a US public research university with a major in Philosophy, a minor in Math, and a minor in Computer Science. I completed a few semi-prestigious tech research internships, spent a semester studying at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, and am writing my thesis on the spiritual paths of Mahayana Buddhism and Orthodox Christianity.

I have a strong grasp of an unusually wide variety of philosophies and religions. It brings me endless enjoyment to understand where people are coming from. I've won a couple philosophical writing awards.

As for math and computer science, I'm your run-of-the-mill strong student. I excel at proofs and logic, but I don't enjoy programming much. I'd love to learn more math—a minor doesn't feel like enough!

Comment by tae on What posts do you want someone to write? · 2020-11-19T21:23:42.791Z · EA · GW

As someone dubiously planning a career affiliated with the U.S. Department of Defense, I would really appreciate an analysis of working inside and outside of The System. Historically, have altruists been able to do good from within harmful governments (fascist dictatorships, military juntas, genocidal governments, etc.)? How? Which qualities do altruism-friendly systems have?

Comment by tae on What quotes do you find most inspire you to use your resources (effectively) to help others? · 2020-11-19T21:08:54.549Z · EA · GW

"I only ask of God
That I am not indifferent to the pain,
That the dry death won’t find me
Empty and alone, without having done the sufficient."

from https://lyricstranslate.com/en/Solo-le-pido-Dos-I-only-ask-God.html

"But those who fill with bliss
All beings destitute of joy,
Who cut all pain and suffering away
From those weighed down with misery,
Who drive away the darkness of their ignorance— 
What virtue could be matched with theirs?
What friend could be compared with them?
What merit is there similar to this?"

"The great should never be abandoned for the less,
And others' good should be regarded as supreme."

"If with kindly generosity
One merely has the wish to soothe
The aching heads of other beings
Such merit knows no bounds.
No need to speak then, of the wish
To drive away the endless pain
Of each and every living being,
Bringing them unbounded excellence.”

“If the simple thought to be of help to others
Exceeds in worth the worship of the Buddhas,
What need is there to speak of actual deeds
That bring about the weal and benefit of beings?”

from Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra (The Way of the Bodhisattva) by Śantideva

Comment by tae on What are some quick, easy, repeatable ways to do good? · 2020-11-18T23:04:12.696Z · EA · GW

I can't resist mentioning that Mahayana Buddhism considers meditation to be an altruistic act because it fosters wisdom and compassion. Sam Harris' Waking Up app is particularly great at taking meditation seriously; plus, the company has taken the Giving What We Can pledge.

Comment by tae on What are some quick, easy, repeatable ways to do good? · 2020-11-18T22:59:32.187Z · EA · GW

Many charities and hospitals accept knitted and crocheted donations, and they usually prefer super-affordable acrylic. When I was learning to knit and crochet as a little kid, I donated a lot of preemie- and newborn-sized hats. The great thing about these crafts is that they can be either easy and meditative or creative and engaging. 

Comment by tae on What are some quick, easy, repeatable ways to do good? · 2020-11-18T22:54:49.301Z · EA · GW

In the spirit of Aaron Gertler's expansion on calling elderly relatives, we can extend "feeding stray cats" to spending time with animals. This can be as small as giving some extra attention to local animals--in my case, I like to hang out with the cows and sheep at my university who are destined to become meat--or as significant as volunteering at a farm sanctuary. 

Comment by tae on Progress Open Thread: October // Student Summit 2020 · 2020-10-21T16:21:56.970Z · EA · GW

Here's a looking-at-the-bright-side sort of progress:

I've been bewildered for most of this year about why I'm struggling so much to get things done. Just 2020-related stress doesn't explain it.

Well, I think I've figured out that I'm just really burned out (or, as Cal Newport puts it, in a state of "deep procrastination").

...in one of my two majors! So, I've changed the burned-out major to a minor. Now I'll graduate in just a few months, giving me more time to learn things and explore career options (which I'm suddenly more excited about). 

My path ahead isn't exactly straightforward, but at least I've gained some valuable knowledge about what it could look like.

Comment by tae on [Linkpost] Some Thoughts on Effective Altruism · 2020-09-26T02:54:44.033Z · EA · GW

This seems like an incredibly interesting and important discussion! I don't have much time now, but I'll throw in some quick thoughts and hopefully come back later.

I think that there is room for Romy and Paolo's viewpoint in the EA movement. Lemme see if I can translate some of their points into EA-speak and fill in some of their implicit arguments. I'll inevitably use a somewhat persuasive tone, but disagreement is of course welcome.

(For context, I've been involved in EA for about six years now, but I've never come across any EAs in the wild. Instead, I'm immersed in three communities: Buddhist, Christian, and social-justice-oriented academic. I'm deeply committed to consequentialism, but I believe that virtues are great tools for bringing about good consequences.)

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I think the main difference between Guerrilla's perspective and the dominant EA perspective is that Guerrilla believes that small actions, virtues, intuitions, etc. really matter. I'm inclined to agree.

Social justice intuition says that the fundamental problem behind all this suffering is that powerful/privileged people are jerks in various ways. For example, colonialism screwed up Africa's thriving (by the standards of that time) economy. (I'm no expert, but as far as I know, it seems highly likely that African communities would have modernized into flourishing places if they weren't exploited.) As another example, privileged people act like jerks when they spend money on luxuries instead of donating.

Spiritual intuition, from Buddhism, Christianity, and probably many other traditions, says that the reason powerful/privileged people are jerks is that they're held captive by greed, anger, delusion, and other afflictive emotions. For example, it's delusional and greedy to think that you need a sports car more than other people need basic necessities.

If afflictive emotions are the root cause of all the world's ills, then I think it's plausible to look to virtues as a solution. (I interpret "generating the political will" to mean "generating the desire for specific actions and the dedication to follow through", which sound like virtues to me.) In particular, religions and social justice philosophers seem to agree that it's important to cultivate a genuine yearning for the flourishing of all sentient beings. Other virtues--equanimity, generosity, diligence--obviously help with altruistic endeavors. Virtues can support the goal of happiness for all in at least three ways. First, a virtuous person can help others more effectively. Compassion and generosity help them to gladly share their resources, patience helps them to avoid blowing up with anger and damaging relationships, and perseverance helps them to keep working through challenges. Second, people who have trained their minds are themselves happier with their circumstances (citation needed). Great, now there's less work for others to do! Third, according to the Buddhist tradition, a virtuous person knows better what to do at any given moment. By developing compassion, one develops wisdom, and vice versa. The "Effective" and the "Altruism" are tied together. This makes sense because spiritual training should make one more open, less reactive, and less susceptible to subconscious habits; once these obscurations are removed, one has a clearer view of what needs to be done in any given moment. You don't want to act on repressed fear, anger, or bigotry by accident! To riff off Romy and Paolo's example of "wealthy EA donors" failing to work on themselves, their ignorance of their own minds may have real-world consequences when they don't even notice that they could support systemic change at their own organizations. The argument here is that our mental states have significant effects on our actions, so we'd better help others by cleaning up our harmful mental tendencies.

Maybe this internal work won't bear super-effective fruit immediately, but I think it's clear that mind-training and wellbeing create a positive feedback loop. Investing now will pay off later: building compassionate and wise communities would be incredibly beneficial long-term.

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Miscellaneous points in no particular order:

"EA seems to unquestioningly replicate the values of the old system: efficiency and cost-effectiveness, growth/scale, linearity, science and objectivity, individualism, and decision-making by experts/elites".

Here's how I interpret the argument: historically, people who value these things have gone on to gain a bunch of power and use it to oppress others. This is evidence that valuing these things leads to bad consequences. Therefore, we should try to find values that have better track records. I'd be fascinated to see a full argument for or against this chain of reasoning.

More factors that may or may not matter: Greed might be the root cause of someone's aspiration toward efficiency+growth. A lack of trust+empathy might lead someone to embrace individualism. Giving power to experts/elites suggests a lack of respect for non-elites.

"In short, we believe that EA could do more to encourage wealth owners to dig deep to transform themselves to build meaningful relationships and political allyship that are needed for change at the systems level."

If you assume that spreading virtues is crucial, as I've argued above, and if virtues can spread throughout networks of allies, then you should build those networks.

We would suspect that donors and grant managers with a deep emotional connection to their work and an actual interest to have their personal lives, values and relationships be touched by it will stick with it and go the extra mile to make a positive contribution, generating even more positive outcomes and impact.

We need mind training so that we can help impartially. Impartiality is compatible with cultivating "warm" qualities like trust and relationships. Julia Wise explains why no one is a statistic: http://www.givinggladly.com/2018/10/no-one-is-statistic.html

More philanthropic funding, about half of it we would argue, should go to initiatives that are still small, unproven and/or academically ‘unprovable’, that tackle the system rather than the symptoms, and adopt a grassroots, participatory bottom-up approach to finding alternative solutions, which might bear more plentiful fruit in the long run."

Sounds like a good consequentialist thesis that fits right in in EA!

Comment by tae on Reasons to eat meat · 2019-04-25T18:02:28.994Z · EA · GW

Oh, you beat me to this point! Here's a more conversationally written article about the topic that I shared above before I saw your comment: http://nautil.us/issue/45/power/against-willpower

Comment by tae on Reasons to eat meat · 2019-04-25T17:37:41.905Z · EA · GW

Willpower is likely not a valid model — see the top-level comment by MichaelStJules below.

The point remains valid, though, that people are only willing to change their lives so much.

Comment by tae on Potential funding opportunity for woman-led EA organization · 2019-03-17T03:42:07.974Z · EA · GW

Great, this is exactly the sort of response I was hoping for!

I do not have a personal connection to the award, and I don't know how many charities were nominated last year. I plan to nominate the organization that stands out in this discussion (thus far J-PAL). The website doesn't mention any kind of voting system, so one nomination should suffice.

Frustratingly, I think the requirement that the organization must serve North American women rules out ACE, SCI, CFAR, and Encompass. J-PAL may have a chance.

Comment by tae on Potential funding opportunity for woman-led EA organization · 2019-03-17T03:25:21.968Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the suggestion! Done.