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Gregory_Lewis comments on Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 23 October 2014 09:49:36PM 25 points [-]

I'm strongly against changing the pledge, as well as the underlying motivation to more tightly incorporate GWWC with (cause-neutral) EA

It seems part of the GWWC 'brand equity' is that basically all morally serious people agree that giving large amounts to help those in desperate poverty is a good thing to do (although some EAs would add that there might be something else that can do much better). All other causes EAs commonly endorse (i.e. animal welfare, x-risk) have much poorer common sense credentials.

GWWC is a valuable intersection between Effective Altruism and the wider world. In one direction, GWWC packages some EA ideals (moral commitment, looking at evidence and data carefully, some moves towards cause agnosticism) in a manner that not-too-inferentially distant from most people, and a common route for people getting 'more EA'. Looking the other way, the wider appeal of global poverty over the currently-coalescing 'Tenets of Effective Altruism' can attract those not 'fully on board', and this group of more liminal 'EA' people can be an anchor against the EA community drifting further towards becoming an insular, epistemically overconfident and morally arrogant monoculture.

Insofar as the changes to the pledge (and the ethos motivating them) pushes GWWC towards being an avowedly 'EA organisation'; insofar as their membership have less to do with commonsensically good things like 'stopping extreme poverty'; and insofar as it risks pushing away those inclined to ally with the 'EA movement', these changes threaten the goods GWWC brings to the EA movement. I also fear knock-on effects to GWWC itself and the millions of pounds it encourages and directs to good causes (is there a plan to survey the current members of GWWC about this change in the pledge?)

I agree that the 'EA community' should have a cause-neutral way to make a morally serious declaration of commitment, and especially to convert what I hope to be wildly successful outreach efforts into concrete action to make the world better. One could do worse than modelling this community on GWWC, given how successful it has been.

But I don't think GWWC can be this community whilst maintaining its focus on global poverty. I don't see how subtle changes to the wording of the pledge to make it in principle 'animal rights friendly' help when in practice GWWC's entire website is about global poverty and never mentions animal suffering once. Nor do I see how cause-agnosticism is squared with a tagline that exorts, "Join us in the fight against global poverty". I worry about Giving What We Can's mission being incrementally hollowed out to make it a more welcoming home to EAs who think global poverty is a distraction from a far more important cause; or it being half-heartedly maintained as an atavistic facade by a cognoscenti who take it as received wisdom that fighting global poverty isn't really the most important thing GWWC does anymore.

The other alternatives; of trying to construct a cause-neutral parallel to GWWC, preferably before the books launch, or a status quo devoid of a central hub new EAs can go to; are far from ideal either. Yet the former is not hopeless (c.f. Tom et al.'s work on a donation registry), and a community norm about giving could propagate without a centralized group (and perhaps we should fear a single EA group becoming too central to the movement). I'd prefer either to this.

Comment author: Toby_Ord 24 October 2014 10:41:16AM 8 points [-]

Thanks Gregory, that's a very helpful set of arguments.

Comment author: Nekoinentr 25 October 2014 11:47:39AM 4 points [-]

The other alternatives; of trying to construct a cause-neutral parallel to GWWC, preferably before the books launch, or a status quo devoid of a central hub new EAs can go to; are far from ideal either. Yet the former is not hopeless (c.f. Tom et al.'s work on a donation registry), and a community norm about giving could propagate without a centralized group (and perhaps we should fear a single EA group becoming too central to the movement). I'd prefer either to this.

I agree, and the EA donation registry looks like a fine place for people to declare cause-neutral pledges already if they'd like to. If we thought having something with a predefined pledge (eg of 10%) was better, then it wouldn't be too hard to create a way for people to sign up for that - for example, creating a Google Form which people could complete would get you a decent way there. It doesn't seem to require a centralised group to manage this.

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 25 October 2014 01:19:08PM 3 points [-]

Thanks very much for taking the time to explain your thoughts! With regard to member consultation, we’ve done some of that via the members Facebook group and two mailing lists. We’ll likely reach out to members we know well and haven’t heard from yet. Then I was planning to write up a new doc of the considerations people had, and our revised thoughts. I definitely agree with your assessment of fighting extreme poverty being something basically all morally serious people care about, and that allowing GWWC to be seen as a credible, reasonable organisation. I don’t think that would be harmed by our saying that it is possible that there are other really effective causes out there though. I think the best way to conceptualise this is as follows: GWWC is trying to convince people that effectiveness in helping others is really important; that fighting poverty is amazingly effective; that we in developed countries are super lucky and should do more to help; that we should make a commitment to give and to give as effectively as we can. I’m not convinced that it detracts from that message that it does not specify that the commitment must be to, and only to, fighting extreme poverty, even though that is what we as an organisation are focused on. I don’t think it’s wholly fair to characterise this change as one which means that GWWC’s mission would only be half-heartedly maintained. We care deeply about eradicating extreme poverty, and will continue to do so. Having some members who think that there may be even more effective ways to help those in developing countries than fighting current poverty (whether that be by donating to Cool Earth or FHI) in any way detracted from our focus on global poverty. Nor do I think it’s fair to characterise our members who do think that as not caring deeply about extreme poverty. I believe they still think that eradicating extreme poverty through treating NTDs and malaria is hugely important, very effective, and something which we should be spreading awareness. I would expect any members who joined under the new pledge and were donating to causes other than current poverty eradication to feel the same way. Therefore, I don’t think their joining would take away from our continuing to focus on eradicating extreme poverty, and assessing charities with that purpose.