Thank you so much, C Tilli, for putting this in words and blogpost it. I have similar thoughts, but I never could articulate them so clearly.
Like you, I had various connections to Christians and the church when I was younger. I am no longer religious, but I miss this comforting feeling of self-worth and being loved, no matter what, that came with the beliefes that were held in my community.
Like you, I was not yet able to find a similar comfort in the EA movement and it challenges my perceived self-worth. And also thank you willbradshaw for you answer.
I do totally understand the worth of instrumental value, but it is still not as reassuring for me as I wish it would be.
Do I just have to accept that feeling and is that some kind of “price” to pay, when you stop believing in stuff, that was designed to comfort people (and probably also to establish power over them, but I put that aside for the moment) and rather seek out a fact-based worldview. Or is it more a matter of getting used to it, slowly shifting your views and perspectives, and—after some time—getting the same comfort from the believes you expressed above?
I think all the different framings you suggest are at least partly true.
I think this is one of the fundamental challenges of EA, and is going to take a lot of different people thinking hard about it to really come to grips with as a community. I think it will always be a challenge – EA is fundamentally about (altruistic) ambition, and ambition is always going to be in some degree of tension with the need for comfort, even if it simultaneously provides a great deal of meaning.
As you say, I’m not sure EA will ever be as comforting as religion – it’s optimising for very different things. But over time I hope we will generate community structures and wisdom literature to help manage this tension, care for each other, and create the emotional (as well as intellectual) conditions we need to survive and flourish.
First, of course, thanks, C Tilli, for the post, and thanks willbradshaw for these comments.This pierced my mind:
I think my background is the opposite of C Tilli’s: I have been an atheist for many years (and still am—well, maybe more of an agnostic, since we might be in a simulation...), but since I found out about EA, I think I became a little bit more understanding towards not only the need for comfort, but also the idea of valuing something that goes way beyond one’s own personal value and social circle, that is sought by religious people (on the other hand, I also became a little bit supicious of some cult-like traits we might be tempted to mimic).
I am sort of surprised we wrote so much, so far, without talking about death and mortality. I know I have intrinsic value, but it’s fragile and perishable (cryonics aside); and yet, the set of things I can value extends way beyond my perishable self—actually, my own self-worth depends a little bit on that (as Scheffer argues, it’d be hard not to be nihilistic if we knew humanity was going to end after us), and there’s no necessary upper bound for what I can value. I reckon that, as much as I fear humanity falling into the precipice, I feel joy by thinking it may continue for eons, and that I may play a role, contribute and add my own personal experience to this narrative.
I guess that’s the ‘trick’ played by religion that might be missing here: religion ‘grants’ me some sort of intrinsic value through some metaphysical cosmic privilege (or the love of God) - and this provides us some comfort. But then, without it, all that is left, despite enjoyable and worthy, is perishable—transient love, fading joy, endured pain, limited virtue, pleasure… Like Dworkin (who considered this to be a religious conviction—though non-theistic), we can say that a life well-lived is an achievement in itself, and stands for itself even after we die, like a work of art—but art itself will be meaningless when humanity is gone. Maybe altruism is just another way to trick (the fear of) death: when one realizes that “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die” one might see it not as realizing some external value, but as an important part of one’s own self-worth. (if Bladerunner is too melodramatic, one can use the bureaucrat in Ikiru as an example of this reasoning)