How does one live/​do community as an Effective Altruist?

I used to be a con­ser­va­tive Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian (cEC) (Chris­ti­ans who try to take the Bible as liter­ally as pos­si­ble and then tell oth­ers about it) and while I have fairly lit­tle pos­i­tive to say about Chris­ti­an­ity these days, my cEC friends were great at com­mu­nity. I think there are some ques­tions then about how we can max­imise our wellbe­ing and con­vince oth­ers to share our ide­ol­ogy.


  • See­ing a core group of peo­ple of­ten al­lows you to fol­low their lives

  • Group singing/​ eat­ing is re­ally fun—are there any stud­ies on this?

  • Sup­port around ill­ness, births, mar­riages, deaths is great—my friends all used to make meals for each other at these times. Not hav­ing to worry about food at a stress­ful time is a big plus

  • Know­ing peo­ple of differ­ent gen­er­a­tions helps loneli­ness, par­tic­u­larly in the old and young

  • With lots of caveats, hold­ing peo­ple to a known ex­ter­nal stan­dard stops poor behaviour

  • For­give­ness is great. Par­tic­u­larly in cir­cum­stances where some­one doesn’t ad­mit they are wrong. Many of the words I use here are just de­scrip­tors—for­give­ness isn’t any mys­ti­cal trans­ac­tion, it’s de­cid­ing not to pur­sue vengeance, ac­knowl­edg­ing your feel­ings and re­solv­ing not to dwell on them

  • Learn­ing to deal with weird/​awk­ward/​in­tense peo­ple. Per­haps I doth protest too much

  • Fi­nan­cial support

  • Hav­ing un­der­stood reg­u­lar com­mu­nity events and so­cial time

Spread­ing Ide­olo­gies—Weddings

Wed­dings are an ap­pro­pri­ate place for (ap­pro­pri­ate) dis­cus­sion of ide­ol­ogy. I’ve been to ~20 wed­dings (though only 2 non-Chris­tian) and wed­dings can be a great place for re­veal­ing what you be­lieve and how you live. I wasn’t an ag­nos­tic athe­ist at the time so it’s only a guess that I’ll still feel that, but I have some mus­ings:

  • Does mar­riage in­crease wellbe­ing?

  • Should EAs live in long term com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ships? Should they make promises to one an­other? Should they have wed­ding ser­vices. Cer­tainly, peo­ple are still hav­ing wed­dings, though do you find them to be ide­olog­i­cally deep/​ beau­tiful and clear in their imagery? (cough white wed­ding dress, walk­ing down the aisle, father of the bride giv­ing her away, cough)

  • Is there any good EA wed­ding liturgy? Li­turgy (“We are gath­ered here to­day...”) is, if writ­ten well is a great way to be clear about what you be­lieve and say it in a beau­tiful, po­etic way. I make no defence of some con­cepts in the wed­ding ser­vice, but it’s a great ser­vice.

  • Are there sug­ges­tions for ways a wed­ding could con­vey EA con­cepts through form? Effec­tively I mean good memes—things that peo­ple will say “I’d like that in my wed­ding” which will con­vey good prac­tise. I can think of a cou­ple of these:

    • Hav­ing some­one give a talk on how to live well as a cou­ple, the beauty of ex­is­tence and the need to re­duce suffer­ing. I don’t know what noncs (non-Chris­ti­ans :p) think of wed­ding talks but when given by a good speaker, I think they are great.

    • Honour­ing the time of those in­volved—not ask­ing peo­ple to give loads of time for min­i­mal im­prove­ments. Wed­dings con­tain far too much of this IMO.

    • Ask­ing peo­ple to give to EA char­i­ties rather than a wed­ding list?

Spread­ing Ide­olo­gies—Discussion

I have dis­cussed my ide­olo­gies a lot with peo­ple over the years. Some things I have learned are:

  • An ide­ol­ogy may be the most im­por­tant thing, but it also may not be the most im­por­tant thing now. Be kind, find the right mo­ment, stop if peo­ple aren’t in­ter­ested.

  • When you ask a good ques­tion, leave it rather than an­swer­ing it. They are more likely to think about it that way.

  • Search for your own in­co­her­ence. It’s an eas­ier way to work out if you are wrong. A harder way is do­ing re­search on the ev­i­dence base.

  • You build mod­els of ev­ery­thing. Test them to see if they are right. The per­son with whom you are dis­cussing likely doesn’t think what you think they do

  • If you are un­able to con­vince some­one in re­peated dis­cus­sions and you can’t see where they are be­ing ir­ra­tional, it’s worth se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing if you are wrong

  • Peo­ple are much more likely to listen if they feel safe/​ listened to. Also you will be kind which is re­ally un­der­rated. Also if you are un­pleas­ant your good ar­gu­ments are eas­ier to dis­miss

  • There are many differ­ent types of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, some­times it’s bet­ter to just listen or to em­pathise rather than dis­cuss rigor­ously

  • Some in­se­cu­rity is good—it makes you ques­tion your be­liefs. Don’t be so in­se­cure as to need to have the last word

  • Learn which com­ments or ar­gu­ments are worth chas­ing and which are worth let­ting go

  • It’s okay to stop dis­cussing, to say you don’t want to or to only want to have a cer­tain type of dis­cus­sion (“I’m happy to talk about feel­ings, but I don’t want a deep dis­cus­sion about this”)

Spread­ing Ide­olo­gies—Other

A strong com­mu­nity is a great place to in­vite oth­ers to, and through con­ver­sa­tion they can be in­volved in im­por­tant ide­olog­i­cal dis­cus­sion. It’s good if these events are not just a weekly meetup, but more neu­tral events. This is openly evan­gel­i­cal, but I am evan­gel­i­cal, I’m just not a Chris­tian.


  • How does we live in the man­ner which is best for our well be­ing? I sug­gest com­mu­nity has some­thing to do with that.

  • How do we cre­ate and run trans­par­ent, ra­tio­nal, ide­olog­i­cally-self-cor­rect­ing, em­pa­thetic, wellbe­ing-in­creas­ing, fun , life-long com­mu­ni­ties?

  • How do we com­mit com­mu­nity with­out dam­ag­ing our wellbe­ing or al­tru­is­tic prospects?

  • Is there a way to have chil­dren with­out mas­sively de­creas­ing the good you can do in the world?

  • How do we do this with­out mak­ing all the mis­takes of re­li­gion? While I am open to the challenge that I seek to cre­ate what I have left be­hind, but I think there are benefits to what I have sug­gested here. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. (A back­wards clock is right 4 times… wait, what?)


I sug­gest there is a place for build­ing and main­tain­ing com­mu­nity for the wellbe­ing. I don’t know how much of our time this is worth, but it’s some­thing I’m in­ter­ested in. If there is an ap­petite for a more in depth piece, I’d be happy to write one. I am lit­tle vuln­er­a­ble in talk­ing about this, but I’m in­ter­ested to hear your thoughts.