Some preliminaries and a claim

“Oh, Master, make me chaste and celibate… but not yet!”

– Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

“Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

Luke 4:23

Consider reading these posts first before continuing on here (obviously this isn’t required reading in any sense, though I will be much more likely to seriously engage with feedback from people who seem to have read & reflected carefully about the following). In rough order of importance:

The purpose of this essay is to clarify to YOU, the mind reading this essay, your relationship to the intellectual communities of Effective Altruism and (Bay Area) Rationality, the characteristic blind spots that arise from participating in these communities, and what might be done about all of this.

I have an intuition that this will be a lengthy post [edit: actually this is probably going to become a sequence of posts, so stay tuned!], and I suspect that you probably feel like you don’t have time to read it carefully, let alone all the prerequisites I linked out to.

That’s interesting, if true… why do you feel like you don’t have time to carefully read this post? What’s going on there?

I can’t control what you do, and I don’t want to (I want you to think carefully and spaciously for yourself about what is best, and then do the things that seem best as they come to you from that spacious place). I do have a humble request to make of you though… as you continue on, perhaps feeling as though you really don’t have time for this but might as well give it a quick skim anyhow to see what Milan has been up to, if as you do this you notice a desire to respond to something I say, please don’t until you actually have space to read this post and all the other posts I linked to above carefully (with care, with space...). If you don’t foresee being able to do this in the immediate future, that’s fine… I just ask that you don’t respond to this post in any way until you do.

Thank you for considering this request… I really appreciate it.

Okay, the preliminaries have been taken care of. Very good. What’s this about, anyway?

I’m going to ramble on for while, perhaps in follow-on posts, but this is the kernel of it:

I claim that the Effective Altruism and Bay Area Rationality communities (and especially their capital-allocating institutions (GiveWell, the Open Philanthropy Project (and its affiliates: 1, 2, 3), this Forum, the Centre for Effective Altruism, the Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative, and the Survival and Flourishing Fund for EA; LessWrong, CFAR, the Open Philanthropy Project, the Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative, and the Survival and Flourishing Fund for Bay Area Rationality)) have collectively decided that they do not need to participate in tight feedback loops with reality in order to have a huge, positive impact.

This is a deeply rooted mistake, and I have personally participated in making and propagating this mistaken view, largely through my participation in GiveWell, the Open Philanthropy Project, and to some extent on this Forum and the LessWrong Forum as well. I have done a teensy bit of the same thing on my personal blog too. I am sorry for all of this. I avow my participation in all of it, and I feel shame when I think back on how I acted. I am really, really sorry.

Happily, I am now mostly active on Twitter, where I no longer participate in this mistaken view, so you can communicate with me there with my thorough and complete guarantee that I will only communicate with you as a friend, that I have no ulterior motives when communicating with you there, that I will not infect you with any info hazards or mind viruses (intentionally or unintentionally), and I will not take anything from you (or try to do this, consciously or unconsciously) that is not freely given. That is my promise and commitment to you.

(Though we probably won’t have a very fruitful conversation on Twitter or anywhere else until you read all of the above, including the prerequisite posts, in a spacious, careful, open-minded way!)