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Daniel_Dewey comments on Open Thread #36 - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Daniel_Dewey 16 March 2017 03:44:10PM 5 points [-]

Welcome! :)

I think your argument totally makes sense, and you're obviously free to use your best judgement to figure out how to do as much good as possible. However, a couple of other considerations seem important, especially for things like what a "true effective altruist" would do.

1) One factor of your impact is your ability to stick with your giving; this could give you a reason to adopt something less scary and demanding. By analogy, it might seem best for fitness to commit to intense workouts 5 days a week, strict diet changes, and no alcohol, but in practice trying to do this may result in burning out and not doing anything for your fitness, while a less-demanding plan might be easier to stick with and result in better fitness over the length of your life.

Personally, the prospect of giving up retirement doesn't seem too demanding; I like working, and retirement is so far away that it's hard to take seriously. However, I'd understand if others didn't feel this way, and I wouldn't want to push them into a commitment they won't be able to keep.

2) Another factor of your impact is the other people you influence who may start giving, and would not have done so without your example -- in fact, it doesn't seem implausible that this could make up the majority of your impact over your life. To the extent that giving is a really significant cost for people, it's harder to spread the idea (e.g. many more people are vegetarian than vegan [citation needed]), and asking people to give up major parts of their life story like retirement (or a wedding, or occasional luxuries, or christmas gifts for their families, etc.) comes with real costs that could be measured in dollars (with lots of uncertainty). More broadly, the norms that we establish as a community affect the growth of the community, which directly affects total giving -- if people see us as a super-hardcore group that requires great sacrifice, I just expect less money to be given.

For these reasons, I prefer to follow and encourage norms that say something like "Hey, guess what -- you can help other people a huge amount without sacrificing anything huge! Your life can be just as you thought it would be, and also help other people a lot!" I actually anticipate these norms to have better consequences in terms of helping people than more strict norms (like "don't retire") do, mostly for reasons 1 and 2.

There's still a lot of discussion on these topics, and I could imagine finding out that I'm wrong -- for example, I've heard that there's evidence of more demanding religions being more successful at creating a sense of community and therefore being more satisfying and attractive. However, my best guess is that "don't retire" is too demanding.

(I looked for an article saying something like this but better to link to, but I didn't quickly find one -- if anyone knows where one is, feel free to link!)