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

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Comment author: Telofy  (EA Profile) 17 May 2017 02:26:43PM *  2 points [-]

Here’s what I usually found most unfortunate about the comparison, but I don’t mean to compete with anyone who thinks that the math is more unfortunate or anything else.

  1. The decision to sacrifice the well-being of one person for that of others (even many others) should be hard. If we want to be trusted (and the whole point of GiveWell is that people don’t have the time to double-check all research no matter how accessible it is – plus, even just following a link to GiveWell after watching a TED Talk requires that someone trusts us with their time), we need to signal clearly that we don’t make such decisions lightly. It is honest signaling too, since the whole point of EA is to put a whole lot more effort into the decision than usual. Many people I talk to are so “conscientious” about such decisions that they shy away from them completely (implicitly making very bad decisions). It’s probably impossible to show just how much effort and diligence has gone into such a difficult decision in just a short talk, so I rather focus on cases where I am, or each listener is, the one at whose detriment we make the prioritization decision, just like in the Child in the Pond case. Few people would no-platform me because they think it’s evil of me to ruin my own suit.
  2. Sacrificing oneself, or rather some trivial luxury of oneself, also avoids the common objection why a discriminated against minority should have to pay when there are [insert all the commonly cited bad things like tax cuts for the most wealthy, military spending, inefficient health system, etc.]. It streamlines the communication a lot more.
  3. The group at whose detriment we need to decide should never be a known, discriminated against minority in such examples, because these people are used to being discriminated against and their allies are used to seeing them being discriminated against, so when someone seems to be saying that they shouldn’t receive some form of assistance, they have just a huge prior for assuming that it’s just another discriminatory attack. I think their heuristic more or less fails in this case, but that is not to say that it’s not a very valid heuristic. I’ve been abroad in a country where pedestrian crosswalks are generally ignored by car drivers. I’m not going to just blinding walk onto the street there even if the driver of the only car coming toward me is actually one who would’ve stopped for me if I did. My heuristic fails in that case, but it generally keeps me safe.
  4. Discriminated minority groups are super few, especially the ones the audience will be aware of. Some people may be able to come up with a dozen or so, some with several dozens. But in my actual prioritization decisions for the Your Siblings charity, I had to decide between groups of so fuzzy reference classes that there must be basically arbitrarily many of such groups. Street children vs. people at risk of malaria vs. farmed animals? Or street children in Kampala vs. people at risk of malaria in the southern DRC vs. chickens farmed for eggs in Spain? Or street children of the lost generation in the suburb’s of Kampala who were abducted for child sacrifice but freed by the police and delivered to the orphanage we’re cooperating with vs. …. You get the idea. If we’re unbiased, then what are the odds that we’ll draw a discriminated against group from the countless potential examples in this urn? This should heavily update a listener toward thinking that there’s some bias against the minority group at work here. Surely, the real explanation is something about salience on our minds or ease of communication and not about discrimination, but they’d have to know us very well to have so much trust in our intentions.
  5. People with disability probably have distance “bias” at the same rates as anyone else, so they’ll perceive the blind person with the guide dog as in-group, the blind people suffering from cataracts in developing countries as completely neutral foreign group, and us as attacking them, making us the out-group. Such controversy is completely avoidable and highly dangerous, as Owen Cotton-Barratt describes in more detail in his paper on movement growth. Controversy breeds an opposition (and one that is not willing to engage in moral trade with us) that destroys option value particularly by depriving us of the highly promising option to draw on the democratic process to push for the most uncontroversial implications of effective altruism that we can find. Scott Alexander has written about it under the title “Toxoplasma of Rage.” I don’t think publicity is worth sacrificing the political power of EA for it, but that is just a great simplification of Owen Cotton-Barratt’s differentiated points on the topic.
  6. Communication is by necessity cooperative. If we say something, however true it may be, and important members of the audience understand it as something false or something else entirely (that may not have propositional nature), then we failed to communicate. When this happens, we can’t just stamp our collective foot on the ground and be like, “But it’s true! Look at the numbers!” or “It’s your fault you didn’t understand me because you don’t know where I’m coming from!” That’s not the point of communication. We need to adapt our messaging or make sure that people at least don’t misunderstand us in dangerous ways.

(I feel like you may disagree on some of these points for similar reasons that The Point of View of the Universe seemed to me to argue for a non-naturalist type of moral realism while I “only” try to assume some form of non-cognitivist moral antirealism, maybe emotivism, which seems more parsimonious to me. Maybe you feel like or have good reasons to think that there is a true language (albeit in a non-naturalist sense) so that it makes sense to say “Yes, you misunderstood me, but what I said is true, because …,” while I’m unsure. I might say, “Yes, you misunderstood me, but what I meant was something you’d probably agree with. Let me try again.”)

Comment author: Austen_Forrester 06 June 2017 11:08:45PM 1 point [-]

Blind people are not a discriminated group, at least not in the first world. The extreme poor, on the other hand, often face severe discrimination -- they are mistreated and have their rights violated by those with power, especially if they are Indians of low caste.

Comparative intervention effectiveness is a pillar of EA, distinct from personal sacrifice, so they are not interchangeable. I reject that there is some sort of prejudice for choosing to help one group over another, whether the groups are defined by physical condition, location, etc. One always has to choose. No one can help every group. Taking the example of preventing blindness vs assisting the blind, clearly the former is the wildly superior intervention for blindness so it is absurd to call it prejudiced against the blind.

Comment author: Telofy  (EA Profile) 08 June 2017 11:14:49AM 0 points [-]

Thanks! In response to which point is that? I think points 5 and 6 should answer your objection, but tell me if they don’t. Truth is not at issue here (if we ignore the parenthetical at the very end that isn’t mean to be part of my argument). I’d even say that Peter Singer deals in concepts of unusual importance and predictive power. But I think it’s important to make sure that we’re not being misunderstood in dangerous ways by valuable potential allies.