effective altruism

What’s the argument I’m not seeing for assigning EA-weight to the deaths of chickens? It has its own slider on 80,000 Hours asking how many chicken lives you would rate a human life as worth, and that continues to baffle me; subtracting the wider problems it would cause, I would delete every chicken from Earth today to bring one person back to life.

I can understand some squeamishness over treating them badly, but if you’re going to break their necks and eat them I see something silly in protesting their cage sizes, especially compared to something like children dying of malaria. This is also the reason why beastiality does not register very high on my list of immoral actions. The only other arguments that come to me are that some people have chickens as pets, or that there are analogous cases involving other animals that get stronger reactions and prove some hypocrisy.

For the first, the key purpose of pet ownership is the emotional satisfaction of the owner, and possibly the imparting of lessons on responsibility, so it’s just using the resource more creatively than as food. That is, I’d be reluctant to kill a chicken someone owned and loved, but not for the chicken’s sake. For the second, I agree there are some animals that are worth going out of way to treat well, but this is determined either by sentimental value or their potential for upliftability; very few people would care if grasshoppers or rainbow trout vanished from the Earth tomorrow compared to the people who would care if housecats or gorillas did. Chickens are much more like rainbow trout than housecats.

Sometimes I come across people being attacked because of doing altruistic acts. It can be some media article against effective altruism, or a squabble between effective altruists that support different causes, or a conversation between people who don’t even know what effective altruism is.

And I think that there is a simple principle that should be acceptable to many or even most people, and that would make the world better if adopted. This principle is: doing selfless acts of compassion is never evil. It doesn’t matter if it’s not “maximally effective”. It doesn’t matter if it’s “naive”. It doesn’t matter if “the same money could…” It doesn’t matter if the people it helps are not the people someone else thinks should be helped. If you are Pareto improving the world compared to the alternative of doing nothing, you are not evil. If you are making some else’s life better, at a cost to yourself, you are not evil. “Evil” means hurting people. “Evil” does not mean helping people in a way which is not the best way according to someone else. The same goes for “heartless”, “cold” and all other words that are meant as judgments of someone’s personality.

Dear altruists, whether “effective” or not. Whether you volunteer in a soup kitchen, or help disabled kids, or buy bed-nets against malaria, or donate to X-risk organizations. You are all amazing. You are all wonderful. Whatever you do, however you grow in your understanding and change your priorities, please never lose this incredible spark of compassion. I love you!

anonymous asked:

Do you think it's better to do small things for a lot of causes/issues, or concentrate on a small number and do more? And if the latter, how would you decide which one(s)? There are so many things I think are important and need support/attention, but I feel like I'm either spreading my efforts too thinly and not making much of an impact on anything, or focusing on a few and neglecting things which I think are just as important.

I think the best thing to do is to set aside some time specifically for evaluating your priorities, figuring out which ones are tractable, and figuring out what you can do for them. I personally do this about once a year. It genuinely is important to lay all of the things competing for your attention down, engage with them seriously, and figure out what your priorities are. But it’s also important not to be doing that constantly, because like you said, you end up either neglecting things basically at random because you can’t do it all or else spreading all your energy and attention around and never having the chance to impact anything.

When I sit down, here’s my process:

national politics: I’m scared about the U.S. political situation. I want to do activism and fix stuff. I want to stay aware enough of the situation that if it’s rapidly getting dangerous I have advance warning to get out. I want to know whether any of my friends are in danger of being deported.

local politics: I want to know if new regulations are going to make my home or my family illegal. I want to know whether it’ll be legal for us to add rooms to our house. I want to know if there’ll be reliable transit to work, and whether it’ll be safe. I want to know the answer to the question ‘when I see a homeless person screaming at strangers and throwing objects into traffic, will calling the police increase or decrease the odds of someone dying here today?’. I want to know if there are rewarding and fun ways to invest in my community. I want to know when my community members are in need so I can help.

global priorities: I want to direct research funding to the questions that affect the most lives. I want to end global poverty. I want to understand the risks to stability and progress on other fronts, like climate change and nuclear war and artificial intelligence and AI-related political instability and pandemics.

nonhumans: I want factory farming ended. I want to know how my diet can reduce how many innocents I’m hurting, without being high-overhead or stressful or obliging me to think about food, or go without food, or generally have more food-related overhead.

Okay, there’s a list of the things I might want to devote my altruistic time and energy to. Your list is probably different. 

Then as the second step, I come up with things I might want to do, and evaluate how much it’ll cost me and how helpful I expect it to be. Some examples:

‘do activism and fix stuff’ -> ‘attend protests?’ That sounds really hard and scary. ‘attend protests with water bottles, hand them out and then flee?’ Yeah, that sounds less hard and scary and probably does just as much good. 

‘factory farming ended’ -> ‘go vegan?’ That would sure have tons of mental overhead and be stressful. ‘keep tons of meat substitutes in the house and get good at cooking with them, and see if my meat consumption falls without me specifically targeting it?’ Yeah, that isn’t too much overhead if I just add the sausages, burgers, lunchmeat, etc. substitutes to my grocery list.

Then, hopefully, I eventually have a list of sustainable, not-too-hard-on-me ways for me to do more of what I want. And then I compare them against each other. Everything I do is competing for a scarce resource: me. I should think about what I would be able to do if I did less of something. “If I did less attending protests, I could donate more money to charity. Is that worth it?” Yep. Okay, strike the protests, I’ll just up my donation target. 

Eventually, all of the things on the list are things where 

1) they’re sustainable for me

2) they’re a response to something important to me

3) they’re impactful and make the world better

4) I have asked ‘what resources, and how much of them, will it use to do this? what else could I do with those resources?’ and there’s nothing else on the list that is a better use of those resources.

This is an extraordinary amount of work. That’s why I only do it once a year. The rest of the time, I barely think about any of this. I have my donation target. I have a standing goal to develop my capabilities and get promoted so that I can earn more money and work directly on things I think are important, and I have a standing goal to cultivate relationships with people who share my priorities and can draw my attention to the really important stuff. I know there’s lots of stuff I’m missing, but I’ve made the tradeoffs between my options as carefully as I can, and more thinking wouldn’t help.

I think lots about this solution is very particular to me. But I do think most people in general would benefit from setting aside some time to think deeply about these questions and prioritize for themselves, and then from giving themselves permission not to reevaluate constantly.

Supply/Demand Blues

I want to trace out a general phenomenon that you’ve probably thought about before, and then a specific subspecies of it that you might not have.

Then, spoilers, I’ll admit that I have worries specifically about the effective altruism community, and a (plausibly moderate) threat to its ideological representativeness.

General phenomenon:
When there’s a ridiculous oversupply of some kind of labor, the effective price people will pay for that labor gets really low.

Example: Approximately a zillion people want to write fiction short stories for some reason. Therefore, the majority of places that publish short stories don’t pay for them at all. Places that do pay for them are extremely competitive, and random noise/reviewer taste plays at least some role, such that consistent success is almost impossible.

Unfortunately, sometimes instead of the price getting low, it bottoms out at some floor and is offset by horrible externalities.

Keep reading

anonymous asked:

How do you deal with giving so much to charity? I'm newly employed. In college I thought I I'd give 10% to EA causes because it meant I could feel not-guilty about not doing enough. Now I get paychecks, and 20-30% is withheld for taxes. Rent is expensive. That's half my money already! Then the devil on my shoulder starts whispering to me about how I should be investing for my future, don't I want my kids to be well off some day...walking away from "just money" is a lot harder than I expected.

So, some thoughts….

This is easier for me because I am unreasonably rich. I don’t want to talk about donations and finances in a way that makes people look at their budget wondering how I do it when the answer is ‘I have $40k you don’t have’ or something. For that reason I’m going to have detailed financial info under the cut.

Keep reading


ooh this is interesting. this is very interesting.

here we have an outright admission that the ““““““Effective””””””” Altruism movement is, in fact, as i have argued, just using global poverty as a smokescreen to manipulate people into being recruited into the lesswrong/miri AI doomsday cult/scam.

of particular note:

On the other hand, it is much easier to convince people of AI risk if you get them into the EA community by claiming this is a community about global poverty, and then all their friends take AI stuff seriously, and the cool people are doing AI research, and it would be kind of awkward to say “I think this is bullshit” so they don’t, and cognitive dissonance takes you the rest of the way there. Of course, that’s kind of throwing out the whole “reason” and “evidence” thing we’re supposedly here for, but it works, and isn’t that what really matters?

this is such a detailed and accurate description of how people can be manipulated (and manipulated is definitely the right word here, they even specifically used that term in the tags) into falling under the sway of absurd, nonsenseical belief systems- and fits in with what i said earlier in my post on currents as a model for understanding the social superorganism, [link] particularly the amoeba as a metaphor for understanding it’s structure- an outer membrane designed to draw in outsiders, then once within, a structure designed to pull people into the nuclei.

this kind of structure is very common among currents/memeplexes/superorganism/[whichever term you prefer], but usually a current will simply emphasize the aspects of itself which are most appealing to outsiders while still giving an overall fairly accurate impression. when a current needs to resort to outright deception, presenting itself as something wholely different than what it actually is, that is massive red flag that a current is malignant and dysfunctional.

what frustrates me most about this is that global poverty is obviously an extremely important issue, and that it is being  exploited as a cheap tactic to manipulate people into giving their money to useless scams like MIRI is abhorrent to me.

Hurricane privilege

My parents and my husband’s all live in Florida. Mine are in Orlando and his are in the Tampa area (separately). None of them have evacuated. My folks are the sort of people who would evacuate if advised to do so. My mother-in-law… not so much.

My parents aren’t rich, except, you know, by any absolute standard. They own their home; they have insurance; they have good credit; they have two late-model reliable cars. The area they live in doesn’t flood. They have savings: my dad will be able to comfortably retire in the next few years. The same is true of their whole extended family.

My mother-in-law has worked cleaning houses since she got divorced when my husband was a teenager. She lives in a mobile home owned by a guy I don’t particularly trust in a poor and flood-prone area. She has an old Kia that we bought for her around the time I started medical school; I think it still runs, but it’s probably not insured. No health insurance either. No savings– when she can’t work anymore she’ll move in with one of her kids.

My parents got all their windows done with storm-proof glass and shutters a couple years back. They’ve stockpiled food and water and ice and batteries and fuel. My mom is angry with my dad for not checking until too late if the Coleman stove still works.

My mother-in law, last I heard, had been persuaded to go to a friend’s house nearby for the duration. She’ll be taking her cats with her, I assume; they’re the reason she wouldn’t leave the area entirely. Even if she’d wanted to, it’s not obvious her car would make the trip up to Indiana or New York where her kids live. She’s a fatalistic sort of person and isn’t too bothered about all this. I suppose worrying and hustling more than it takes to get through the day has never paid off for her before.

She’s not too bad off, really, compared to many people. She’s able-bodied and not dependent on any substances, and she has a working social network. 

When people talk about helping storm victims in the coming weeks, the emphasis will be on rebuilding, getting things back to the way they were. But the people who are going to need help are the people for whom they way things were fucking sucked. Hurricanes are a foreseeable problem, and people who can, like my parents, foresee them and do pretty well. At the margin we should try to get more people into that situation, the situation where houses get rebuilt without any Red Cross intervention.

(Also, disaster relief kind of sucks impact-wise, please just give to AMF or whoever)

anonymous asked:

I guess I don't get it. You have a six figure job, so you have money. You've written a lot of really compassionate posts, so you want to help people. You've written about how direct income transfers are so much better than thinking that you know what to buy stuff for people, all that Africa givewell stuff. So you get that what people want is money. So why do you 'not carry cash'? Like, it seems to contradict everything else about you. Why not just pay them? You have the money.

I want to help people (and help make worlds that are good for future people, and help nonhumans who still experience suffering) as much as I can with the resources I have. Making thousand-dollar cash transfers directly to the poorest people in the world is a pretty good way to do that. Buying malaria nets for mass distribution seems to be even better. There’s some reason to believe that grants for research to cure diseases and develop capabilities that will let us help more people is even better. When I make my donation decisions at the end of the year, I consider all of those questions, and then I contribute 30% of my pre-tax income to whatever seems like the best answer. (Another 30% goes to the U.S. government, I live on about 20%, and the rest is savings). 

I do not think that if I instead take some of the money I dedicate to making-the-world-better and go to an ATM somewhere and get cash, which I find stressful to have on my person and which I have a tendency to lose, and then start carrying a purse so I have something to carry it around in, and then give it in random amounts to homeless people in San Francisco, and repeat whenever I run out which would be like every day since there are a lot of homeless people in San Francisco, this would make me happier or the world better. 

I think that if you think not engaging in certain costly, exhausting forms of charity ‘contradicts everything about’ caring about other people, then you’re not really thinking very constructively about caring about other people. It is okay to figure out what ways of caring about other people are costly and exhausting for you, and not do those, and which ones help most, and prioritize doing those. Not doing every single conceivable good thing in the universe is okay, and it’s certainly compatible with caring a lot about people. You can’t do all the good things in the universe. You have got to choose some.

When I make donation decisions, I am necessarily deciding that almost every worthy cause out there isn’t getting my money, which I only have so much of. This is not saying they don’t deserve my money. Everyone deserves everything they need for an environment in which they flourish. It is saying that I will buy as much flourishing as I can get for every penny, that I will drive the hardest bargain I can for flourishing, because I cannot fix enough but I can fix more if I choose strategically. 

I’m volunteering for EA Global, but I got assigned all morning shifts and it’s in San Francisco, so I have to spend three days away from home just to be close enough to it to be showing up at 8:30 am.

And I feel really really sad and home sick.

Which is not a thing I expected to happen in less than a day and probably implies I already had other issues besides being stuck in SF.

(Actually, it might just be the fact that I couldn’t eat at the conference (because all the food is exclusively vegetarian, and my dietary restrictions are whatever the inverse of vegetarianism is) and I got lost trying to navigate SF for 2 hours, so I was on my feet continuously for 12 hours without eating.)

((In retrospect, it might have been a bad idea to get involved with a movement where no one can eat what I can eat and finds my diet immoral when I’m already both scrupulous and dangerously bad at eating.))

But I have to do this for two more days.

Halp, what do?

Effective Altruism Overdose

Small Brain: Suffering is a part of life, and we just have to live with it.

Medium Brain: Actually, that’s just learned helplessness! Desire is the root of suffering, and it’s possible to escape suffering by escaping desire through enlightenment.

Big Brain: Actually, that’s just learned helplessness! Desire is only a root of suffering because desires go unmet, but technology and social organization offer the potential to radically sculpt our future light cone so that unmet desires are massively minimized.

Cosmic Brain: Technological methods of mental modification scale even more effectively than traditional psychological enlightenment and technological desire-fulfillment. Therefore, the optimal way to reduce suffering is to use technology to modify and wirehead all minds within our light cone.

Transcendental Brain: Actually, desire isn’t the root of all suffering – physics is the root of all suffering, and we need to consider hacking the laws of physics and/or destroying the universe in order to minimize the amount of suffering contained within fundamental interactions.

OMNIFIC BRAIN: We are only one computation out of many within the Ultimate Ensemble, which itself contains all computations, thus instantiating suffering on a scale that we can neither comprehend nor do anything about. Therefore, suffering is a part of life, and we just have to live with it.

anonymous asked:

If you were to earn 20 billion dollars in cash, how would you go about using it? I chose 20 billion because it is more than almost anyone will ever earn, and it's large enough to influence an economy, yet insignificant in the us economy

Honestly, I’d give nearly all of it to the Open Philanthropy Project. They’re a research and grantmaking organization focused on impactful giving - so, figuring out which interventions achieve the most per dollar - and I really respect their approach. 

Some of their research I like:

This whole series by David Roodman on incarceration and crime (I specifically liked the analysis of the anti-rehabilitative nature of the U.S. prison system, where spending more time in prison makes you more likely to commit crimes when you get out). 

Case studies on the history of philanthropy and how they inform OpenPhil’s approach to giving

This summary of their research so far into geoengineering as a method of reducing catastrophic effects from climate change

What I like about OpenPhil is that they’re conscientious about the fact that lots of ‘charitable giving’ does nothing, and don’t assume that something will work just because there’s a plausible story for how it does. And once they decide that the state of the evidence and the need in an area justifies a grant, they check if the grant worked, so they can change course if they’re not helping or not helping as much as they should. They consult lots of people with relevant experience in the areas they work in, so that they won’t miss an insight because it’s from a perspective not represented on their staff. They admit their mistakes and learn from them. And they’re moving tons of money to promising causes in criminal justice, scientific research, global health and development, factory farming, human extinction risks, and other areas that I think are promising avenues to do good. So, yeah, if I had $20billion that’s where I’d put almost all of it - I think they are more equipped than anyone to figure out from there where it can do the most good.

(I would probably save some of it to spend on things like making sure none of my friends are homeless and helping depressed and miserable college students who’d be much happier if they were doing anything other than being college students to feel financially secure in leaving school and starting a car repair charity and other - I want to call it “selfish” stuff but that has the wrong connotation - other stuff that I’d be doing because it made me happy rather than because I suspect it of being one of the best prices for human flourishing available in the world today.)

A-typical Mind Fallacy

a-typical mind fallacy (noun) :

thinking the minds of others are so inscrutable that we couldn’t possibly say anything about the beliefs or values of other people

A: “I know bed nets save lives, but isn’t it arrogant for you to presume you know what’s best for people in Africa?”

B: “…do we really need a deep understanding of the local culture to know that people in Malawi don’t want their kids dying of malaria?”

(h/t my friend Dillon Bowen who doesn’t have a tumblr!)

anonymous asked:

I'm confused about EA and donation things. You just said "your desire to donate to charity and your desire to save and achieve financial security for your children to kind of slot in next to each other. You want financial security" and the rest of that paragraph, which was really good to read, but when I encounter EA things I see a lot of 'are EAs even allowed to have children' and 'people are dying right now why are you not saving them', and not that. How does this actually work?

There are lots of people who take effective altruism seriously and ask themselves questions about it and assert things about what it implies, and some of them are kind of awful or very misguided, so no matter what you’re going to have some of that. But I think the community actually bears a fair bit of responsibility for some of the specific ideas circulating out there which I think are wrong. 

In particular, Peter Singer’s thought experiment about a drowning child was referenced really, really frequently in early writing about effective altruism. If you’re not familiar with it, it goes “you’re wearing an expensive suit and walking down the street. You see a child drowning. You could easily rescue them at no risk to yourself (the pond is not very deep) but you will ruin your expensive suit. (You can afford to replace it). Do you have a moral obligation to rescue the child?” His point is that almost everyone says ‘yes’, and we’d judge the hell out of someone who said ‘no, I don’t want to have to replace my suit’. And yet, we can save children for the cost of a suit, and since they’re not dying right in front of us, we often don’t.

This is compelling, and it’s an interesting way to bring home the differences in how we perceive things that are Our Problem and things that are Problems With The World, broadly. It can genuinely be really valuable to get to a place where you think of the problems in the world as happening within your reach - as things you reason about the way you reason about dying kids in front of you.

But it can also lead to overwhelming guilt and misery and depression, or a sense you’re never good enough, and it doesn’t lend itself well to complicated but true lines of reasoning, like ‘sometimes it’s okay not to donate every penny you have right now in order to grow and thrive as a person and do more’. I have seen effective altruist messaging move away from this sort of obligation-language over the last decade, and I think that’s all for the good, but it definitely contributed to some people feeling that every penny they spend on their own happiness is evil and selfish (and contributed to attracting people who already feel that way to effective altruism).

So that’s part of it - historically there was more messaging like that and then people realized it wasn’t that nuanced and it was unhealthy for many people to engage with and that there were better ways to get the benefits it has. And then the other part of it is just competing needs. 

Some people benefit from believing ‘morality is infinitely demanding, and we’re all falling short of it, but we’re still all valuable and deserving of happiness’. 

Some people are absolutely shredded by that kind of ethical system and need ‘here are some rules; if you follow them you’re doing well enough’. Others need ‘there are no rules, ethics is fake, do whatever you want’ (and yes, I believe that there are compassionate and good people who need that, and I believe that they act ethically; they just can’t engage with systems that are making moral demands of them at all, and that’s okay).

Some people, like me, end up mostly needing something like ‘there is lots of room to make the world have more of what you value in it. what’s important is to set yourself up in conditions under which doing the right things will naturally happen, and in conditions under which you’ll thrive, and sometimes you’ll certainly have to do the right thing when it’s hard but mostly, day-to-day, your life will not involves wrestling with obligation, just building things you’ve planned for yourself and are proud of’.

And - these all seem like perfectly reasonable concepts, to me, and I think they can coexist, as long as everyone makes some effort to let people avoid the messaging that will shred their brain. But people aren’t super aware of competing needs, and end up writing things that express their perspective but are guilt-inducing or horrifying or wrongheaded from other perspectives, and it’s easy to run into a lot of that.

There are currently hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens in cages in the US alone. Most consumers of eggs–grocery stores, restaurant chains, food service providers–have pledged to go entirely cage-free within the next decade.

Hundreds of millions of male chicks are killed every year in the US. American egg producers have pledged to stop this practice by 2020.

Relatedly, some people do buy livestock with their GiveDirectly money, but mostly people who already own livestock. “I have two cows, now I’ll be able to afford four cows” is a good financial decision; “I have no cows and no idea how to care for cows, but I’ll buy cows” is unsurprisingly not what many people choose to do with their money. This is why I’m skeptical of the Heifer International/livestock donation model.

 I think most people would be naturally skeptical if you said “we’re going to solve U.S. poverty by giving the American poor chickens! Then they can sell the eggs!” You would go “uh, do they have a good place for the chickens? do eggs earn that much more than chicken feed and care costs? who will end up taking care of the chickens, and what is that person already doing, does this just add to the obligations of someone already working two jobs? will it end up falling to kids? is there a reason poor people don’t tend to buy chickens when they win a couple hundred dollars off a scratch ticket?”

But when it comes to other countries, I think some people fail to apply the same skepticism. 

So, yeah. Livestock are sometimes a good way for people to improve their financial situation, in which case they will buy it, with money. Other times, livestock don’t really help. You could try to do a lot of research and develop a model of who will benefit from livestock and only give those people livestock, or you could just give everybody money, in which case they can buy what they need.

“If you do something to benefit one person, that is an absolute gain, and its relative insignificance in the wider scheme is irrelevant. Benefit two people without concomitant harm to others - or a village, tribe, city, class, nation, society or civilisation - and the benefits are scalable, arithmetic. There is no excuse beyond fatalistic self-indulgence and sheer laziness for doing nothing.”
― Iain Banks