In my opinion, objection 4 is a result of some people taking the (good) idea that “all people are equal” and developing the (bad) intuition that “all professions / causes are equally important”.
Subsequently, they’re offended by EA ideas of some career paths / causes being higher impact than others, because “professions / causes aren’t equally important” starts to sound like “people aren’t equally important” to them.
I have noticed this line of thinking with 1 friend but I don’t know how prevalent it is. We could consider adding clarifying statements like “people in lower impact careers do not have less intrinsic value as human beings” to EA careers advice. But my guess is that it would not be worth it, because I think people who’s intuitions are against prioritising between careers and cause areas are very unlikely to ever be influenced by EA ideas.
This thinking has come up in a few separate intro fellowship cohorts I’ve facilitated. Usually, somebody tries to flesh it out by asking whether it’s “more effective” to save one doctor (who could then be expected to save five more lives) or two mechanics (who wouldn’t save any other lives) in trolley-problem scenarios. This discussion often gets muddled, and many people have the impression that “EAs” would think it’s better to save the doctor, even though I doubt that’s a consensus opinion among EAs. I’ve found this to be a surprisingly large snag point that isn’t discussed much in community-building circles.
I think it would be worth it to clarify the difference between intrinsic and instrumental value in career advice/intro fellowships/other first interactions with the EA community, because there are some people who might agree with other EA ideas but find that this argument undermines our basic principles (as well as the claim that you don’t need to be utilitarian to be an EA). Maybe we could extend current messaging about ideological diversity within EA.
That said, I read Objection 4 differently. Many people (especially in cultures that glorify work) tie their sense of self-worth to their jobs. I don’t know how universal this is, but at least in my middle-class American upbringing, there was a strong sense that your career choice and achievement is a large part of your value as a person.
As a result, some people feel personally judged when their intended careers aren’t branded as “effective”. If you equate your career value with your personal value, you won’t feel very good if someone tells you that your career isn’t very valuable, and so you’ll resist that judgment.
I don’t think that this feeling precludes people from being EAs. It takes time to separate yourself from your current or intended career, and Objection 4 strikes me as a knee-jerk defensive reaction. Students planning to work in shipping logistics won’t immediately like the idea that the job they’ve been working hard to prepare for is “ineffective,” but they might come around to it after some deeper reflection.
I could be misreading Objection 4, though. It could also mean something like “shipping logistics is valuable because the world would grind to a halt if nobody worked in shipping logistics,” but then that’s just a variant of Objection 5.
I’m very curious to know more about the sense in which these students gave Objection 4.