How bad (or possibly good) value drift and lifestyle drift are will depend your definition of the phenomenon, as you acknowledge yourself. The way I conceptualise them in the EA Forum article I wrote on the topic (‘Concrete Ways to Reduce Risks of Value Drift’), makes them strongly net-negative. In the post I (briefly) make the case that reducing risks of value drift and lifestyle drift may be an altruistic top-priority.
Here’s how I think about the topic:
I use the terms value drift and lifestyle drift in a broad sense to mean internal or external changes that would lead you to lose most of the expected altruistic value of your life. Value drift is internal; it describes changes to your value system or motivation. Lifestyle drift is external; the term captures changes in your life circumstances leading to difficulties implementing your values. Internally, value drift could occur by ceasing to see helping others as one of your life’s priorities (losing the ‘A’ in EA), or loosing the motivation to work on the highest-priority cause areas or interventions (losing the ‘E’ in EA). Externally, lifestyle drift could occur (as described in Joey’s post) by giving up a substantial fraction of your effectively altruistic resources for non-effectively altruistic purposes, thus reducing your capacity to do good. Concretely, this could involve deciding to spend a lot of money on buying a (larger) house, having a (fancier) wedding, traveling around the world (more frequently or expensively), etc. Quoting myself:
Of course, changing your cause area or intervention to something that is equally or more effective within the EA framework does not count as value drift. Note that even if your future self were to decide to leave the EA community, as long as you still see ‘helping others effectively’ as one of your top-priorities in life it might not constitute value drift. (...)
Most of the potential value of EAs lies in the mid- to long-term, when more and more people in the community take up highly effective career paths and build their professional expertise to reach their ‘peak productivity’ (likely in their 40s). If value drift is common, then many of the people currently active in the community will cease to be interested in doing the most good long before they reach this point. This is why, speaking for myself, losing my altruistic motivation in the future would equal a small moral tragedy to my present self. I think that as EAs we can reasonably have a preference for our future selves not to abandon our fundamental commitment to altruism or effectiveness.
I have experienced both value drift and lifestyle drift (mostly the latter) and this has happenned in the last 3 years—and I first heart heard of EA about 3 years ago. My values are still close to what they always have been . I come from this tradition of environmentalism/nature/voluntary simplicity, social justice, tolerance, anti-authoritarian activism, ‘scientific humanism’or ‘ethical culture’, as well as scientific rationality (math based) as well as musical interests .
While I could live a lifestyle based on those values, I was fairly happy. But I got into some personal and work related environments which meant I had to compromise on many of my values—surrounded by people who variously had no interest in rationality , nature or science, didn’t like the kind of music I enjoyed, sometimes intolerant, and even ‘authoritarians’ though these people considered themselves what are called derogatoritarily ‘SJWs’—people who are ‘never wrong’ and always saving the world. If I was around scientists, not uncommonly they had limited ‘altruistic’ inclinations—much more concerned with their careers and status than with the world around them—so their Focus as used in the EA Framework was on themselves, and viewed that as the best way to better the world.
Also altruism from a biological/scientific view some say technically doesn’t exist—you can’t help others if you can’t help yourself. (Though of course many philanthropists like Carnegie and Mellon have helped others—its a time dependent process. Some historians have argued that ‘British Colonialism’ was a good thing.)
I wrote this because one of my interests are diffusion-drift equations (used in theoretical biology, physics, etc.) though I’m not an expert in them. I was sort of hoping to combine them with the EA framework, but the languages and dialects are so different, i’m thinking its a waste of time. Just as other environments I’ve been in conflict with my values, people I’ve encountered in EA personally or on-line don’t value that approach. So I’m having more value drifts—stop trying to associate with people who don’t share your values—be less tolerant. And for me, maybe stop valuing math reasoning and rationality of the kind humans do so much, because the world is fundamentally irrational.