Fluttershy comments on Fact checking comparison between trachoma surgeries and guide dogs - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Fluttershy 14 May 2017 12:53:51AM 2 points [-]

The objection about it being ableist to promote funding for trachoma surgeries rather than guide dogs doesn't have to do with how many QALYs we'd save from providing someone with a guide dog or a trachoma surgery. Roughly, this objection is about how much respect we're showing to disabled people. I'm not sure how many of the people who have said that this example is ableist are utilitarians, but we can actually make a good case that using the example causes negative consequences for the reason that it's ableist. (It's also possible that using the example as it's typically used causes negative consequences by affecting how intellectually rigorous EA is, but that's another topic). A few different points that might be used to support this argument would be:

  • On average, people get a lot of value out of having self-esteem; often, having more self-esteem on the margins enables them to do value-producing things they wouldn't have done otherwise (flow-through effects!). Sometimes, it just makes them a bit happier (probably a much smaller effect in utilitarian terms).
  • Roughly, raising or lowering the group-wise esteem of a group has an effect on the self-esteem of some of the group's members.
  • Keeping from lowering a group's esteem isn't very costly, if doing so involves nothing more than using a different tone. (There are of course situations where making a certain claim will raise or lower a group's esteem a large amount if a certain tone is used, and a lesser amount if a different tone is used, even though the group's esteem is nevertheless changed in the same direction in either case).
  • Decreases in a group's ability to do value-producing things or be happy because their esteem has been lowered by someone acting in an ablelist manner, do not cause others to experience a similarly sized boost to their ability to be happy or do value-producing things. (I.e. the truth value of claims that "status games are zero sum" has little effect on the extent to which it's true that decreasing a group's esteem by e.g. ableist remarks has negative utilitarian consequences).

I've generally found it hard to make this sort of observation publicly in EA-inhabited spaces, since I typically get interpreted as primarily trying to say something political, rather than primarily trying to point out that certain actions have certain consequences. It's legitimately hard to figure out what the ideal utilitarian combination of tone and example would be for this case, but it's possible to iterate towards better combinations of the two as you have time to try different things according to your own best judgement, or just ask a critic what the most hurtful parts of an example are.