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I want to push back against this kind of explicit engagement in partisan politics, but I feel like that’s probably a losing battle while Trump is around. Can we at least have a consensus and commitment that we go back to the previous norm after this election, to prevent a slippery slope where engaging in partisan politics becomes increasingly acceptable in EA?
Wei, I feel that I addressed this in the final paragraph of the article. From my perspective, it’s pretty simple: EA values are EA values and partisan values are partisan values. So long as EA and partisan values happen to be in alignment, it’s both natural and desirable for there to be an alliance between them. So I agree with you on the notion of maintaining them as separate concepts, but I personally would like to see as much engagement in politics (not just in the US, but around the world) by/within EA as is warranted by the alignment I mentioned, no more or no less.To me, this feels completely straightforward and not threatening at all, so I am curious to understand better why it makes you uncomfortable. Is it that:
You don’t agree that EA should be involved in partisan politics even in cases when there is very strong alignment between the movement and one party/coalition or very strong misalignment with an opposing party/coalition?
You disagree with the premise that Trump’s leadership is very strongly misaligned with EA values?
I very much appreciate your willingness to explore this further.
In general, partisan politics is far from neglected and therefore unlikely to be the most effective use of altruistic resources.
Partisan politics is very tempting for people to engage in, due to basic human nature, hence the risk of a slippery slope.
It’s very hard to avoid bias when thinking/talking about partisan politics, both as individuals and as a community. For example, in many social circles, defending Trump on any aspect can cause someone to be branded as a racist, to be shunned, even to lose their livelihood (or at least to lose social status/prestige). A community that is considered insufficiently opposed to Trump can come to be seen as “toxic” and shunned by other communities that it has to interact with. Under these circumstances, open and reasoned debate becomes impossible, and one can easily come to believe that “EA and partisan values happen to be in alignment” to a much higher degree than is actually the case.
Thanks for responding. A few quick thoughts:
I agree with you on #2.
I agree with #1 as well, but think you’re conflating “unlikely” with “never.” It’s possible for cause areas to be high-profile and still be among the highest and best uses of one’s resources. That’s because neglectedness is only one of three considerations in the ITN framework, and a core (if implicit) premise of the post is that this particular election is both enormously important and highly tractable.
On #3, it sounds like you’re disputing the notion that EA and Trump are misaligned here but are reluctant to say why. I’m happy for you to message me privately about this if you prefer. I do note that in the 2019 EA Survey less than 1% of respondents identified as right-wing, which I take to be very strong evidence of the misalignment I mentioned, at least as perceived by rank-and-file community members.
Question for you (and others who have had skeptical reactions to this post): would you be comfortable with there being a formal process to determine when political engagement under the “EA brand” is appropriate/encouraged? For example, there could be a council of trusted movement leaders to make such determinations, like the group that decides when community members are banned (I can’t remember what they are called, sorry). Or there could be some kind of referendum system.
Can we at least have a consensus and commitment that we go back to the previous norm after this election, to prevent a slippery slope where engaging in partisan politics becomes increasingly acceptable in EA?
Unfortunately I expect that in four years time partisans will decide that 2024 is the new most important election in history and hence would renege on any such agreement.
Larks, I have no idea what 2024 will bring, but I can assure you that I would not have made this pitch to the EA community over the 2012 election.
Could you say more about what you want to achieve, and why? I can’t tell from your comment whether you are opposed to all political engagement in general, or only under conditions that are currently not met, and I would like to understand your reasoning. What risks are you concerned about? How do you decide when the circumstances are appropriate for political engagement?
Many kudos for doing this, I’ve been impressed seeing this work progress.
I think it could well be the case that EAs have a decent comparative advantage in prioritization itself. I could imagine a world where the community does help prioritize a large range of globally important issues. This could work especially well if these people could influence the spending and talent of other people. Things that are poorly neglected present opportunity for significant leverage through prioritization and leadership.
On politics, my impression is that the community is going to get more involved on many different fronts. It seems like the kind of thing that can go very poorly if done wrong, but the potential benefits are too big to ignore.
As Carl Shulman previously said, one interesting aspect about politics is the potential to absorb a deep amount of money and talent. so I imagine one of the most valuable things about doing this can work is producing information value to inform us if and how to scale it later.
Thanks, Ozzie! I agree with you that prioritization is both necessary and a way in which the EA community can add unique value. Compared to charitable donations, political giving seems to be a “flatter” market in that we haven’t found that many opportunities that are more than an order of magnitude more impactful than the “naive” benchmark of donating to the Biden campaign. For me at least, though, one important insight from this work has been confirmation that there are impactful things to do at all, which was not something I took for granted at the beginning. Personally, it’s been quite reassuring and motivating to know that there is a robust evidence base for different political engagement techniques that lends itself well to cost-effectiveness estimation and prioritization efforts.
All: I’ve noticed that this post is attracting a lot of strong downvotes. I care about this community and it’s important to me that my contributions to the forum be constructive. So I’m going to make those who downvoted an offer. If at least three of you either comment here or write me privately and say:
What concerns the post raised for you
What it would take to change your mind about those concerns
Then I will take the post down. In addition, if I find any of your arguments for why the post shouldn’t have been made compelling, I will take it down even if fewer than three people participate.
Epistemic status: Adversarial collaboration.
Have you considered that you might be falling prey to the unilateralist curse?
I’ve briefly looked at the evolution of past social movements, and I don’t get the sense that doing this kind of thing leads to a social movement being very long lived. One of the long lived movements I’ve studied cultivated (though perhaps not consciously) the skill of having members on both sides of any political conflict. If I imagine EA being very long lived, which seems somewhat valuable, playing politics is not a thing I picture happening in that scenario. See also the intersection between politics and movement collapse scenarios
You lampshade this, but really, there is no attempt to quantify the impact of a donation to Theresa Greenfield. For example, what amount of money would one expect to move the election by how much, and how does that compare to donating that money to GiveWell. More trickily, if you donate x millions, would you expect a random Republican billionaire to match them?
Relatedly, I have the impression that bounded rationality and politics play really badly with each other. Consider that EA may only have the capacity to deal with so many headaches at a time, and that politics has the potential to bring too many headaches. It also seems plausible that playing politics might have a one time fixed positive gain in exchange for a longer tail of negative outcomes (rather than the opposite). See also Wei Dai’s comment above.
Rules/Schelling points are important. “Don’t do politics, ever”, seems much more robust as a rule than “don’t do politics when you think it’s important”. If I’m thinking of the rules I want a long-lived movement to have, the first one seems vastly superior.
Have you considered David Shor’s donation recommendations?