Ben_West comments on Why & How to Make Progress on Diversity & Inclusion in EA - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Ben_West  (EA Profile) 26 October 2017 03:49:25PM 26 points [-]

I prefer to play the long game with my own investments in community building, and would rather for instance invest in someone reasonably sharp who has a track record of altruism and expresses interest in helping others most effectively than in someone even sharper who reasoned their way into EA and consumed all the jargon but has never really given anything up for other people

I believe that Toby Ord has talked about how, in the early days of EA, he had thought that it would be really easy to take people who are already altruistic and encourage them to be more concerned about effectiveness, but hard to take effectiveness minded people and convince them to do significant altruistic things. However, once he actually started talking to people, he found the opposite to be the case.

You mention "playing the long game" – are you suggesting that the "E first, A second" people are easier to get on board in the short run, but less dedicated and therefore in the long run "A first, E second" folks are more valuable? Or are you saying that my (possibly misremembered) quote from Toby is wrong entirely?

Comment author: Stefan_Schubert 27 October 2017 12:39:10AM *  12 points [-]

Katja Grace gives a related [edited - said "the same" - see Katja's comment below] argument here:


"When I was younger, I thought altruism was about the most promising way to make the world better. There were extremely cheap figures around for the cost to save a human life, and people seemed to not care. So prima facie it seemed that the highly effective giving opportunities were well worked out, and the main problem was that people tended to give $2 to such causes occasionally, rather than giving every spare cent they had, that wasn’t already earmarked for something more valuable than human lives.

These days I am much more optimistic about improving effectiveness than altruism, and not just because I’m less naive about cost-effectiveness estimates."

She goes on to list several reasons, including greater past success and greater neglect.

Comment author: Katja_Grace 27 October 2017 04:23:47AM 7 points [-]

It seems worth distinguishing 'effectiveness' in the sense of personal competence (as I guess is meant in the first case, e.g. 'reasonably sharp') and 'effectiveness' in the sense of trying to choose interventions by cost-effectiveness.

Also remember that selecting people to encourage in particular directions is a subset of selecting interventions. It may be that 'E not A' people are more likely to be helpful than 'A not E' people, but that chasing either group is less helpful than doing research on E that is helpful for whichever people already care about it. I think I have stronger feelings about E-improving interventions overall being good than about which people are more promising allies.

Comment author: Kelly_Witwicki 26 October 2017 08:18:23PM 7 points [-]

I only hold this view weakly, but yes, I'm worried that, as you put it, "E first, A second" people are less likely to stick around.

I don't think "A first, E second" people are necessarily easier to get in the first place though, as they are more likely to already have a calling (and so to have less personally to gain) and to be committed to other altruistic pursuits that are hard for them to drop as "ineffective."

That said, I've seen significant movement among heavily committed farmed animal advocates towards thinking more about and acting in the interest of maximizing impact... though farmed animal advocates are often already doing that advocacy because they're already thinking about effectiveness: they see the issue as massively important and very tractable. So I suppose realistically I'm putting most of my investments in people who are A first, but still clearly already E.

Comment author: casebash 26 October 2017 10:38:41PM 7 points [-]

From what I've heard, most of the people would are A first are already involved in causes. Now, unfortunately, there is a sense in which EA unavoidably is threatening, as the logical implication is often is that the work that they have done is less impactful than it could have been and that their current work or things they are working towards are less effective than it could have been. And we can phrase things as nicely as we want, and talk about how you can do EA plus other things and that all charity work is valuable even if it isn't EA and that there are valuable causes we haven't discovered yet, ect., but at the end of the day, this is still the logical implication and no matter what we do, this will make people uncomfortable. This effect is especially bad since if everyone adopted EA, it is likely certain organisations would cease to exist.

Further, because we unavoidably threaten current power structures within charity, many people there have written incredibly unfair articles articles criticising EA and misrepresenting us (there has been valid criticism too, but this is a minority). This makes recruiting A people even harder.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 26 October 2017 10:59:01PM 8 points [-]

I think this is a big deal, unfortunately. I try to talk about EA very carefully when talking to people who're "A first", but people can sense any implicit criticism a mile off. It's really hard to avoid some variant of "So you think I've been wasting my time, then?"

Strangely, "E first" people may be easier to reach because they're less likely to be already invested in something.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 26 October 2017 10:56:51PM 3 points [-]

My gut reaction is that most of the people who have stuck around are "E first", but I think there's probably a higher base rate of those amongst early adopters, so hard to say.

It seems like we could gather some data on this, though. It's a vague question, but I suspect most people would be able to answer some variant of "Were you E first or A first? E/A/Other". Then we could see if that had any relationship to tenure in the community, or anything else. Perhaps an item for the next Effective Altruism survey?

Comment author: Kelly_Witwicki 26 October 2017 11:45:38PM *  3 points [-]

Unfortunately since the respondents would be members of the EA community, it would be hard to control that data for cultural fit in order to get at how robustly EA people from each demographic are. People have stuck around in the community for reasons other than how EA they are or can be, as I hope I've shed some light on.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 October 2017 01:21:18AM 1 point [-]

I think that EA has conceptualized this in counter-productive ways and needs to entirely rethink it. There are many causes which need to be worked on, we cannot simply not do X just because we can help more people or animals with the same money in some other way. There are also many causes, most causes would be my guess, where effectiveness is largely determined by local community connections and personalities and cultures. I could have donated my $300 in 1992 to help buy malaria nets, but instead I used it to start a consignment retail store in the storefront of a non-profit that then supported me while I saved their free clinic for migrant farm workers (that helped 10,000 patients a year). I had unique local connections and knowledge that allowed me to put that together, and the effort in under two years grew to include increased rural health outreach with a local hospital. Pretty sure all the "experts" in EA would have advised me to donate my money. People should be encouraged to recognize and use their talents and opportunities and passions.