I think the concerns about utopianism are well-placed and merit more discussion in effective altruism. I’m sad to see the post getting downvoted.
I downvoted it based on things like calling John Halstead and Nick Beckstead white supremacists (based on extremely shaky argumentation) and apparently taking it as obvious that rejecting person-affecting views is morally monstrous.
I might make longer, more substantive comments later, but there are reasons to downvote this other than wanting to squash discussion of fanaticism.
It may be noted that in the thing I wrote on climate change I don’t actually defend long-termism or even avow belief in it.
For those who find it confusing that I, at best a mid-table figure in EA, get dragged into this stuff, the reason is that I once publicly criticised a post on Pinker that Phil wrote on Facebook (my critique was about three sentences). Phil has since then borne a baffling and persistent grudge against me, including persistently sending me messages on Facebook, name-checking me while making some rape allegations against some famous person I have never heard of, and then calling me a white supremacist. Hopefully, this gives some insight into Phil’s psychology and what is actually driving posts such as the one linked to here.
John: Do I have your permission to release screenshots of our exchange? You write: ”… including persistently sending me messages on Facebook.” I believe that this is very misleading.
Thanks for pointing that out!
For those who might worry that you’re being hyperbolic, I’d say that the linked paper doesn’t say that they are white supremacists. But it does claim that a major claim from Nick Beckstead’s thesis is white supremacist. Here is the relevant quote, from pages 27-28:
“As he [Beckstead] makes the point,
>> saving lives in poor countries may have significantly smaller ripple effects than saving and improving lives in rich countries. Why? Richer countries have substantially more innovation, and their workers are much more economically productive. By ordinary standards, at least by ordinary enlightened humanitarian standards, saving and improving lives in rich countries is about equally as important as saving and improving lives in poor countries, provided lives are improved by roughly comparable amounts. But it now seems more plausible to me that saving a life in a rich country is substantially more important than saving a life in a poor country, other things being equal.
This is overtly white-supremacist.”
The document elsewhere clarifies that it is using the term white supremacism to refer to systems that reinforce white power, not only to explicit, conscious racism. But I agree that this is far enough from how most people use the terminology that it doesn’t seem like a very helpful contribution to the discussion.
Thanks, I agree with this clarification.
I actually find the argument that those arguing against prioritising climate change are aiding white supremacy more alarming than the attack on Beckstead, even though the accusations there are more oblique.
While I think Beckstead’s argumentation here seems basically true, it is clearly somewhat incendiary in its implications and likely to make many people uncomfortable – it is a large bullet to bite, even if I think that calling it “overtly white-supremacist” is bad argumentation that risks substantially degrading the discourse.
Conversely, claiming that anyone who doesn’t explicitly prioritise a particular cause area is aiding white supremacy seems like extremely pernicious argumentation to me – an attempt to actively suppress critical prioritisation between cause areas and attack those trying to work out how to make difficult-but-necessary trade-offs. I think this style of argumentation makes good-faith disagreement over difficult prioritisation questions much harder, and contributes exceedingly little in return.
“Hence, dismissing climate change because it does not constitute an obstacle for creating Utopia reinforces unjust racial dynamics, and thus supports white supremacy.” (p. 27) ↩︎
The document also claims (in footnote 13) that “the prevalence of such tendencies” (by which I assume is meant “overtly white-supremacist” tendencies, since the footnote is appended directly to that accusation) in EA longtermism “may be somewhat unsurprising” given EA’s racial make-up. I would find it quite surprising if many EAs were secretly harbouring white-supremacist leanings, and would require much stronger (or indeed any) evidence that this were the case before making such aspersions. ↩︎
Yeah, agreed that using the white supremacist label needlessly poisons the discussion in both cases.
For whatever it’s worth, my own tentative guess would actually be that saving a life in the developing world contributes more to growth in the long run than saving a life in the developed world. Fertility in the former is much higher, and in the long run I expect growth and technological development to be increasing in global population size (at least over the ranges we can expect to see).
Maybe this is a bit off-topic, but I think it’s worth illustrating that there’s no sense in which the longtermist discussion about saving lives necessarily pushes in a so-called “white supremacist” direction.
Is this taking more immediate existential risks into account and to what degree and how people in the developing and developed worlds affect them?
Yeah, I agree the facile use of “white supremacy” here is bad, and I do want to keep ad hominems out of EA discourse. Thanks for explaining this.
I guess I still think it makes important enough arguments that I’d like to see engagement, though I agree it would be better said in a more cautious and less accusatory way.
I’m sad to see this comment get downvoted.