“EAs make sacrifices by being prepared to accept the substantial probability of themselves never having impact. This would be hard to take psychologically, but might be the right thing to do in a crowded talent space.”
My impression has always been that even the most qualified person who goes into the most promising field (say, for example, AI risk reduction) has a low absolute chance of being the person to make a breakthrough in that field, but rather, that part of the point of EA was to get more talented people into those fields (e.g. by increasing the number of jobs) to increase the chance that a breakthrough will be made by someone.
A problem with this post is that its conclusion that the “left” poses more “risk” is based on the number of individual perceived objections from the left. However, even if this were true, this conflates the number of separate issues with some attempt at a measure of the overall “magnitude” of risk, without taking into account the number of people complaining based on each objection, and/or the “intensity”/impact of their complaints. Which, as Halffull points out, could in any case even be a positive impact if they’re identifying a real problem with EA.
I don’t want to be overly pedantic, but there are also inconsistencies in this post, which make its conclusion even about the number of objections appear stronger than it is. The total number of objections from the left is increased by the separate listing of several instances of closely-related criticisms of Peter Singer (autism rights, disability rights, and others). In contrast, in the “problems with the right wing” section, similar complaints of abortion-related objections and zoophilia are listed in the same point. This inconsistency increases the apparent number of left-wing objections, a number on which the author then bases their conclusion.
I also think that research is lacking, as a recent podcast (80000 Hours? Someone help me if you can remember; it’s really hard to search content on podcasts) suggested that the rise of extreme right-wing populist nationalist politics is creating risks in the nuclear warfare space.
Another thing is that the EA survey consistently suggests that most EAs are left-wing. Anecdotally, most of those I know seem to be reformist, centre-left. Both the statistics and my experience suggests that the centre left, perhaps those who are disillusioned with more extreme leftist positions such as proposals for revolutionary communism, may be a significant source of people coming into EA—often bringing with them motivation, experience of community organising and other useful skills.
In my experience, this overvaluation of depression, or fear about what might happen if you feel happier, is a really common concern among some types of creatives (though in their case it has more to do with inspiration than motivation). In both cases, I’d say it’s probably an incorrect perception that results from the depressive state itself.
Correction: article summary says “quarter of a million” but article makes it clear it is 250 million, i.e. “quarter of a billion”. Feel free to delete this comment. :)
Interesting research. I first became aware of this issue from being involved in the animal welfare movement, specifically with small/“pocket” pets where sale of breeding “overstock” for reptile consumption is sadly common. Unfortunately, some people simply enjoy the spectacle of their pet consuming live prey. More generally, it’s part of the broader issue of carnivore pets in general—the meat produced for consumption by dogs and cats is likely to come from factory farms similar to those raising meat for human consumption, where conditions may be little better than those of the mice pictured here. This has led me to a personal decision to refrain from having non-vegetarian pets, and I know that other EAs have done likewise.
Depending on the level of government involved in making and/or enforcing animal welfare regulations, this sounds plausible even in a First World country. While discovering major, overt bribery in the federal government would be a shocking scandal, a lot of bribery and corruption occurs in lower levels of government, particularly between businesses and local councils. It sounds like John_Maxwell_IV has stats on bribery in animal welfare organisations, and I’d definitely be interested to see those.
General vegan movement, including to a greater or lesser extent people becoming vegan for health, environmental, and/or animal suffering reasons
Left-wing people who are disillusioned with the prospects of/normally promoted avenues for systemic change or the ability to help people in other countries
People who are accustomed to donating money, e.g. for religious reasons: potentially a large demographic but may be hard to sway donations, though I have had some success introducing GiveWell to people who have left religion and are looking for secular charities
This is a great article! Given the extremely high cost and demanding debt structure of college in the US, do you think that those of us who are lucky enough to live in countries with free, cheap(er) or more easily paid-off college tuition, should remain in those countries at least for undergrad (while aiming for top world colleges if/when we do a PhD)?
Yes, it’s great. I was talking to some people about this topic on New Year’s Eve, wish I’d had this stat and the link to this article then!
I just saw this post and came onto this comment thread to post that (had the Amazon link open and everything)! I’m home living with family for the holidays and while moving my bookshelf a few days ago I came across ‘Children Just Like Me’. It led me down a whole pathway of reflections about how much I loved that book as a kid and whether it was something that prompted me toward EA values.
I must have read it at least half a dozen times as a child, as I can remember parts verbatim. I am so amazed that other EAs grew up reading it! Wow, this has made my day. I’m tempted to order a copy for my little cousin now.
This reminds me of a pretty excellent Simone de Beauvoir quote: “We must decide upon the opportuneness of an action and attempt to measure its effectiveness without knowing all the factors that are present.” (From The Ethics of Ambiguity) I quite like this quote, because I don’t interpret it as an argument against trying to measure and predict the consequences of an action, but rather, as an expression of the fact that uncertainty and incomplete information is a fact of life, and we must at some point act anyway rather than becoming paralysed by this. We should always be at least passively open to the possibility of new and unknown factors, and compassionate toward people (including our past selves) who have made mistakes or held views that turned out to be incorrect.