EA is too New & Important to Schism

As many of us have seen there has recently been a surge in discourse around people in the community with different views. Many of this underlying tension has only been brought about by large scandals that have broken in the last 6 months or so.

I’ve seen a few people using language which, to me, seems schismatic. Discussing how there are two distinct and incompatible groups within EA, being shocked/​hurt/​feeling rejected by the movement, etc. I’d like to urge us to try and find reconciliation if possible.

Influential Movements avoid Early Schisms

If you look through history at any major religious/​political/​social movements, most of them avoid having early schisms, or if they do, it creates significant issues and tension. It seems optimal to let movements develop loosely over time and become more diverse, before starting to draw hard lines between what “is” a part of the in group and what isn’t.

For instance, early Christianity had some schisms, but nothing major until the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. This meant that Christianity could consolidate power/​followers for centuries before actively breaking up into different groups.

Another parallel is the infamous Sunni-Shia split in Islam, which caused massive amounts of bloodshed and still continues to this day. This schism still echos today, for instance with the civil war in Syria.

For a more modern example, look at the New Atheism Movement which in many ways attracted similar people to EA. Relatively early on in the movement, in fact right as the movement gained popular awareness (similar to the moment right now in EA) many prominent folks in New Atheism advocated for New Atheism Plus. This was essentially an attempt to schism the movement along cultural /​ social justice lines, which quickly eroded the cohesion of the movement and ultimately contributed to its massive decline in relevance.

Effective Altruism as a movement is relatively brand new—we can’t afford major schisms or we may not continue as a relevant cultural force in 10-20 years.

Getting Movement Building Right Matters

Something which I think is sometimes lost in community building discussions is that the stakes we’re playing for are extremely high. My motivation to join EA was primarily because I saw major problems in the world, and people that were extremely dedicated to solving them. We are playing for the future, for the survival of the human race. We can’t afford to let relatively petty squabbles divide us too much!

Especially with advances in AGI, I know many people in the movement are more worried than ever that we will experience significant shifts via technology over the coming decades. Some have pointed out the possibility of Value Lock-in, or that as we rapidly increase our power our values may become stagnant, especially if for instance an AGI is controlled by a group with strong, anti-pluralistic values.

Overall I hope to advocate for the idea of reconciliation within EA. We should work to disentangle our feelings from the future of the movement, and try to discuss how to have the most impact as we grow. My vote is that having a major schism is one of the worst things we could do for our impact—and is a common failure mode we should strive to avoid.