"Call off the EAs": Too Much Advertising? 2022-08-19T23:49:03.532Z
Responsible/fair AI vs. beneficial/safe AI? 2022-06-02T19:37:04.743Z
Potential funding opportunity for woman-led EA organization 2019-03-14T02:14:42.501Z


Comment by tae on Advice for a 16-year-old girl · 2022-08-28T18:39:27.991Z · EA · GW

Hi! I relate so much to you. I'm seven years older than you and I'm pretty happy with how my life is going, so although I'm no wise old sage, I think I can share some good advice.

I've also been involved in EA, Buddhism, veganism, minimalism, sustainable fashion, etc. from a young age, plus I was part of an Orthodox Christian community as a teenager (as I assume you are in Greece). 

So, here's my main advice. 

The philosophies of EA, Buddhism, etc. are really really morally demanding. Working from the basic principles of these philosophies, it is difficult to find reasons to prioritize your own wellbeing; there are only pragmatic reasons such as "devote time and money to your own health so that you can work more effectively to help others". Therefore, if you predominantly engage in these communities through the philosophy, you will be exhausted. 

So, instead of going down internet rabbit holes and reading serious books, engage with the people in these communities. Actual EAs goof around at parties and write stories. Actual Buddhists have silly arguments at nice restaurants and go on long treks through the mountains. While good philosophies are optimized to be hard to argue with, good communities are optimized to be healthy and sustainable.

I'm guessing you don't have strong EA and Buddhist communities near you, though. Same here. In that case, primarily engage in other communities instead. When I was your age (ha that sounds ridiculous), I was deeply involved in choir. Would highly recommend! Having fun is so important to balance out the philosophies that can consume your life if you let them. 

In non-EA non-Buddhist communities, it might feel like you're the only one who takes morality seriously, and that can be lonely. Personally, I gravitate toward devout religious friends, because they're also trying to confront selfishness. Just make sure that you don't go into depressing rabbit holes together.

Of course, there are nice virtual EA and Buddhist communities too. They can't fully replace in-person communities, though. Also, people in virtual communities are more likely to only show their morally intense side. 

I hope this helps! You're very welcome to DM me about anything. I'll DM you first to get the conversation going.

P. S. You've got soooo much time to think about monasticism, so there's no reason to be concerned about the ethics of it for now, especially since the world could change so much by the time we retire! Still, just for the philosophical interest of it, I'm happy to chat about Buddhist monasticism if you like. Having lived at a monastery for several months and written my undergrad thesis on a monastic text, I've got some thoughts :)

Comment by tae on Driving Education on EA Topics Through Khan Academy · 2022-08-27T23:06:30.813Z · EA · GW

General information about people in low-HDI countries to humanize them in the eyes of the viewer.

Similar for animals (except not “humanizing” per se!). Spreading awareness that e.g. pigs act like dogs may be a strong catalyst for caring about animal welfare. Would need to consult an animal welfare activism expert.

My premise here: it is valuable for EAs to viscerally care about others (in addition to cleverly working toward a future that sounds neat).

Comment by tae on "Call off the EAs": Too Much Advertising? · 2022-08-22T19:55:40.599Z · EA · GW

Yes, I am pretty amused about this

Comment by tae on "Call off the EAs": Too Much Advertising? · 2022-08-20T23:38:39.542Z · EA · GW

I'll just continue my anecdote! As it happens, the #1 concern that my friend has about EA is that EAs work sinisterly hard to convince people to accept the narrow-minded longtermist agenda. So, the frequency of ads itself increases his skepticism of the integrity of the movement. (Another manifestation of this pattern is that many AI safety researchers see AI ethics researchers as straight-up wrong about what matters in the broader field of AI, and therefore need to be convinced rather than collaborated with.)

(Edit: the above paragraph is an anecdote, and I'm speaking generally in the following paragraphs)

I think it is quite fair for someone with EA tendencies, who is just hearing of EA for the first time through these ads, to form a skeptical first impression of a group that invests heavily in selling an unintuitive worldview. 

I strongly agree that it's a good sign if a person investigates such things instead of writing them off immediately, indicating a willingness to take unusual ideas seriously. However, the mental habit of openness/curiosity is also unusual and is often developed through EA involvement; we can't expect everyone to come in with full-fledged EA virtues.

Comment by tae on "Call off the EAs": Too Much Advertising? · 2022-08-20T02:38:34.916Z · EA · GW

Sure! Thank you very much for your, ahem, forethought about this complicated task. Please pardon the naive post about a topic that you all have worked hard on already :)

Comment by tae on [deleted post] 2022-08-19T23:44:39.909Z

Today, my friend asked me "Hey, could you call off the EAs?". He heard an ad for What We Owe The Future  in a podcast yesterday. "Nice," he thought; "I've heard of Will MacAskill". Then he heard another ad in a different podcast. And then he watched three YouTube videos in a row, each from different creators, that again included WWOTF ads. Now he is genuinely annoyed.

This exact pattern showed up in the Carrick Flynn campaign. So many EA funds went into advertising that people got frustrated by how many ads they received. 

There is such a thing as too much money in advertising! Oregon voters came to believe that Carrick was funded by bottomless crypto money to be a crypto shill. And now smart people, who watch YouTube channels and listen to podcasts that are EA-adjacent, will rightfully get suspicious about who is putting this much money into promoting... a book about philosophy?

Hope this anecdotal experience informs how we publicize/market/advertise in the future!

Comment by tae on Responsible/fair AI vs. beneficial/safe AI? · 2022-06-04T07:14:44.534Z · EA · GW

These are excellent answers, thanks so much! 

As more and more students get interested in AI safety, and AI-safety-specific research positions fail to open up proportionally, I expect that many of them (like me) will end up as graduate students in mainstream ethical-AI research groups. Resources like these are helping me to get my bearings.

Comment by tae on Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter · 2022-06-03T00:06:29.540Z · EA · GW

Thanks very much, that helps!

Adding more not to defend myself, but to keep the conversation going:

I think that many Enlightenment ideas are great and valid regardless of their creators' typical-for-their-time ideas. 

Education increasingly includes rather radical components of critical race theory. Students are taught that if someone is racist, then all of their political and philosophical views are tainted. By extension, many people learn that the Enlightenment itself is tainted. Like Charles, I think that this "produces misguided perspectives".

I'm--apparently badly--trying to communicate the following. These students, who have been taught that the Enlightenment is tainted by association with racism, who (reasonably!) haven't bothered to thoroughly research this particular historical movement to come to their own conclusions, who may totally make great EAs, would initially be turned off.

It's quite plausible that it shouldn't be the case that Enlightenment aesthetics might turn people off. But I think this is the case, and I argue that it's likely more important to make a good first impression than to take a stand in favor of a particular historical movement.

Hope that makes sense!

Comment by tae on Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter · 2022-06-02T19:40:28.257Z · EA · GW

Could someone who downvoted please explain which of these premises you disagree with?

Comment by tae on Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter · 2022-05-20T07:34:34.957Z · EA · GW

Short version: if we can avoid it, let’s not filter potential EAs by the warmth of their feelings toward a specific group of historical figures (especially because history education is inevitably biased)

Comment by tae on Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter · 2022-05-20T07:20:36.858Z · EA · GW

I actually wouldn’t know where to find a liberal student who respects classics (let alone “our cultural heritage”) at my large American university, after four years in the philosophy department!

Comment by tae on Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter · 2022-05-20T07:16:37.767Z · EA · GW

Yes, these are great reasons to take inspiration from the Enlightenment!

The point I most want to get across is that, by using Enlightenment aesthetics, EAs could needlessly open themselves up to negative perception.

  1. If EAs use Enlightenment aesthetics more, then EA will be associated with the Enlightenment more.
  2. Regardless of their positive qualities, Enlightenment philosophers racked up plenty of negative qualities among them. Maybe there were 10x as many purely virtuous ones as problematic ones; maybe every problematic one made contributions that vastly outweighed their issues; nonetheless, there are some problems.
  3. People who would otherwise engage with EA might have heard of enough problems that they’d be put off by Enlightenment associations entirely. (I suspect many of my social-justice-y friends would have this reaction.)

Here’s the more nebulous point. I hinted in my original comment that I take issue with the “rational individualistic actor” view. This alone puts me off Enlightenment aesthetics, because I think that particular view is especially dangerous considering how innocent it looks. But that’s a whole big discussion, and I respect the other side! The relevant part here is just that, anecdotally, at least one EA isn’t a huge Enlightenment fan.

Comment by tae on Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter · 2022-05-18T20:08:19.347Z · EA · GW

Yeah, the magnitude of the problem depends on the empirical question of how many people associate the Enlightenment with racism and such.

Descartes’ moral circle issue is that he believed animals have no moral standing whatsoever, so he enthusiastically practiced vivisection (dissecting animals while they were still alive).

Comment by tae on Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter · 2022-05-18T18:20:51.998Z · EA · GW

We'd need to be really careful. 

The Enlightenment led to good foundational ideas of EA, but it was also full of philosophers who conceptualized humans as individualistic rational actors, excluded pretty much everybody except for white men from the moral circle, and advocated for constant growth with no regard for sustainability (e.g. Immanuel Kant, Rene Descartes, Adam Smith). 

I do think historical aesthetics are great (see my other comment on this post), but I think we should stick to historical art that isn't so closely tied to questionable philosophy.

EDIT:  I see how this came across differently than I intended! I do not mean that we should cancel the Enlightenment. Please see child comments for explanation.

Comment by tae on Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies: Why Aesthetics Matter · 2022-05-18T18:10:27.794Z · EA · GW

I'm more inspired by the "altruistic" aesthetic than the "effective" aesthetic. 

"Effective" blends into the Silicon Valley productivity/efficiency crowd. While there's a lot to appreciate about the Bay Area, I'd prefer not to tie EA to that culture.

On the other hand, there are truly beautiful exemplars of altruism throughout history and around the world.

Personally, I associate altruism with Avalokiteśvara. Art portraying him is colorful and full of details, which, to me, represents that Effective Altruism can bridge all kinds of cultures, theories, and life experiences. Here's why he has so many heads and arms:

One prominent Buddhist story tells of Avalokiteśvara vowing never to rest until he had freed all sentient beings from saṃsāra. Despite strenuous effort, he realizes that many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his head splits into eleven pieces. Amitābha, seeing his plight, gives him eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering. Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Avalokiteśvara tries to reach out to all those who needed aid, but found that his two arms shattered into pieces. Once more, Amitābha comes to his aid and invests him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering multitudes.[34]

I'm gonna need help coming up with more examples of historical altruistic art... Civil rights art from the US? (I love this painting of Harriet Tubman reaching out to the viewer.) Some Christian saints?

Comment by tae on Try to sell me on [ EA idea ] if I'm [ person with a viewpoint ] · 2022-05-17T20:20:25.071Z · EA · GW

Try and sell me on AGI safety if I'm a social justice advocate! That's a big one I come across.

Comment by tae on Free-spending EA might be a big problem for optics and epistemics · 2022-04-13T21:09:03.394Z · EA · GW

Adding on: Increasing EA spending in certain areas could certainly support diversity, but it could have the opposite effect elsewhere.

I’m concerned that focusing community-building efforts at elite universities only increases inequality. I’m guessing that university groups do much of the recruiting for all-expenses-paid activities. In practice, then, students at elite universities will benefit, while students at state schools and community colleges won’t even hear about these opportunities. So the current EA community-building system quite accurately selects for privileged students to give money to.

Curious about any work to change this pattern!

Comment by tae on What music do you find most inspires you to use your resources (effectively) to help others? · 2022-04-11T18:11:04.204Z · EA · GW

"Two Thousand Years" by Billy Joel.

This is our moment
Here at the crossroads of time
We hope our children carry our dreams down the line
They are the vintage
What kind of life will they live?
Is this a curse or a blessing that we give?


There will be miracles
After the last war is won
Science and poetry rule in the new world to come
Prophets and angels
Gave us the power to see
What an amazing future there will be

Comment by tae on Let Russians go abroad · 2022-03-23T23:54:27.633Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the great idea!

Here's an email script summarizing this article. I wrote it in ~5 minutes to send to my US Congressional representative, so it's not very polished, but I think it's good enough. 

Hi! I'd like to encourage Rep. ___ to advocate for opening borders to Russians as much as possible. Any simplification of the visa process will help. This will weaken Russia and its onslaught on Ukraine while also strengthening our economy.

First, Russian men who don't want to fight would avoid conscription or desert the army by immigrating to the US with their families. Second, the Russian economy would weaken: emigrants would stop paying taxes, and the Russian military would experience brain drain. Third, a kind welcome from the US would weaken Putin's propaganda that everyone hates Russian people.

As for us, we'd get the best kind of immigrants: people willing to change their lives to avoid supporting a corrupt government. These people are the most likely to have savings, higher education, in-demand skills, English skills, and generally a good grip on reality.

In conclusion, let's welcome Russian people to take a stand against the Russian government!

Comment by tae on What are academic disciplines, movements or organisations that you think EA should try to learn more from? · 2022-03-23T17:34:29.084Z · EA · GW

"Strong Towns is an international movement dedicated to making communities across the United States and Canada financially strong and resilient." Advocates for friendly human-scale dense cities over car-centric suburbia. I learned about Strong Towns through the similarly educational YouTube channel Not Just Bikes.

Of course, this is relevant to global development work. And I feel better qualified to vote/advocate for local urban planning. 

Finally, from a rationalist perspective,  it was fascinating to watch my mind change as I understood how my American surroundings were built for cars, not people.

Comment by tae on [Creative Writing Contest] Noumenon · 2022-01-24T03:57:22.280Z · EA · GW


Comment by tae on [Creative Writing Contest] Noumenon · 2022-01-22T22:52:30.142Z · EA · GW

Hi Ben, looking forward to reading your story aloud for the audio project! 

So, on behalf of future readers/listeners... how do you pronounce "lumiq"? 

Comment by tae on Two Podcast Opportunities · 2022-01-05T05:20:00.204Z · EA · GW

I'd love to read! Female American voice here. I'm a trained singer, but not a trained voice actor. I have a Tascam DR-05 and might be able to finagle access to a recording studio.

This is great timing. I'm currently in the middle of reading Significant Digits aloud. Just this past week, I realized that voice acting is a ton of fun and I'd like to contribute to a project :) 

Thanks for organizing, Fin!

Comment by tae on [Linkpost] Apply For An ACX Grant · 2021-11-20T23:56:36.002Z · EA · GW

When exactly is the deadline to apply? Thanksgiving, since November 25 is two weeks from when this was posted on November 11?

Asking on behalf of a professor friend who would appreciate the chance to work on her application over the weekend :)

Comment by tae on What should we call the other problem of cluelessness? · 2021-07-12T16:09:33.491Z · EA · GW

"Epistemic hurdle" is nicely concise, and I like the corresponding mental image of EAs who are ready to run to do good, but need to overcome the barrier of (2). 

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: I took an intensive course on the Bodhicaryavatara in the traditional monastic style in Kathmandu, Nepal; see 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?":

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?


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."


"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"). 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.)


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.


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:

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:

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.