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Evan_Gaensbauer comments on The Importance of EA Dedication and Why it Should Be Encouraged - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 06 May 2018 09:12:31PM *  6 points [-]

The tension of over- vs. under-dedication on the part of individuals to find the best balance for the needs of EA has always been at the heart of the movement: it's called Giving What We Can for a reason, and Singer's book was called The Most Good You Can Do not the The Most Good You Should Do. I think it's the experience of some the message of EA combined with a call for dedication can be so overwhelming many people feel compelled to do more than they can; burn out; and feel dejected enough by their self-perception of failure they can't summon as much dedication as they did before. Unfortunately, as you point out, de-emphasizing dedication doesn't lead to effective altruists dedicated at all times as much as they can be in a sustainable manner, but effective altruists who aren't dedicated once the clock at the office is up. Now that EA has been around for a few years, and even if it were slowing down (which it isn't), it'd be around for a while longer. So we can take a longer-term view of investing resources into individual effective altruists. I don't think dedication is fixed: newcomers to EA don't come in with either a level of dedication we can work with, or not, and that's the end of it. Given we can expect some individuals to be dedicated to community projects indefinitely, we can foster a growth of dedication in effective altruists. I think to prevent outcomes like burnout in fostering increased dedication, it's the responsibility of existing community members to create an evidence-based tool-kit for how to do so. Currently we don't have either of those two evidence-based tool-kits (they're two separate tool-kits), but that might because not enough effective altruists were interested in creating them. Pushing 'excited altruism' over 'dedicated altruism' often seems motivated by PR concerns of not being offputting to newcomers, but that's based on assumptions of what kinds of people we should be reaching out to to bring into the movement in the first place. Of all the pieces written cautioning against both the appearance and reality of over-exertion in EA, I think the best is A Defense of Normality by Eric Herboso. A difference between Eric's post and others is his comes from a motivation of both fostering dedication and caring about the sustainable, long term well-being of individual community members, so that dedication and the work those effective altruists do is itself sustainable. This is unlike other motivations to de-emphasize dedication in EA, as you mentioned above:

  • What topics that are researched in an organization. Does it lean more towards what the researchers find fun or towards what will help the most people?

  • Management choices. Does one hire/fund someone they are friends with or do they hire/fund the strongest applicant chosen by more objective criteria?

  • Strategic direction. Does the person point their organization in a direction that might be higher impact but less personally or organizationally prestigious?

At the time Eric wrote his post, Peter Hurford and others commented the level of dedication Eric was observing was to a degree past which we'd see diminishing marginal returns to productivity and also health and well-being were (some) effective altruists were to dedicate themselves as much as the picture Eric was painting. It might be the case Eric was observing other effective altruists personally over-correcting to make up for what they saw as a decline in the average level of dedication in the community. De-emphasizing dedication in EA on shortsighted grounds doing what's more comfortable, fun or prestigious, even if it's not the best plan for how to do the most good from whatever perspective, is the problem to solve. Making EA based on appearances of drawing in people who want to feel comfortable, fun or prestigious, without too much dedication, may be what's drawing in people who who aren't willing to up their dedication when EA stops being fun, comfortable or prestigious. They may not want to become more dedicated, because when they joined the movement they were told they wouldn't have to be.

Having been a past moderator for the EA Peer Support group on Facebook, and a long-time community organizer, I've seen the toll in hundreds of effective altruists of being sent the mixed message of dedicating yourself while doubting everything you're doing but doing so in a self-effacing way so it's not offputting to potentially anyone else. I'd like to construct effective, robust evidence-based tool-kits for both fostering a growth in dedication and long-term sustainable self-care which suits the unique demands of effective altruism. If anyone is interested in such a project, I welcome anyone's contributions, so don't hesitate to contact me.