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.

Comment author: Joey 06 May 2018 06:11:33PM 2 points [-]

"I’m also personally very disappointed by that since high dedication felt like a major asset I could bring to EA. Now I feel more like it doesn’t matter which is discouraging." It’s still very helpful to other dedicated people to know people like you :)

The main movement I am comparing EA to is its younger self, but I think the AR movement also came to mind a lot while writing this post.

I agree that age seems to play a pretty noticeable role, with older movements being wiser but less energetic. I think there might just be some biological mechanism at play, but I also think that in many movements people do "what they can get away with". If I can work 30 hours and my organization is still successful, it’s less motivating to work 60 than if that 30 extra hours will be the make more break. Wisdom gives me more ability to slack on energeticness.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 06 May 2018 07:36:28PM -1 points [-]

See this comment I made about why an increase in the median age of effective altruists might not play as much a role as one would expect at first glance.

Comment author: cafelow  (EA Profile) 06 May 2018 10:36:49AM 8 points [-]

The increased concern about downside risk has also made it much harder to ‘use up’ your dedication.

Thanks for articulating that - it was a undefined sense of ill-ease, that I now have words for. When I joined EA initially I naively thought everything I did (donating, outreach) was certainly net positive, and I could boldly dedicate away! The uncertainty I now feel about everything makes motivation harder and deprives me of the satisfaction I used to get (especially as my brain prefers to fixate on the possible negatives, rather than the expected value).

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 06 May 2018 07:33:16PM 1 point [-]

As I stated in this comment, it's far from a consensus actions like donating or outreach are of an ambiguous sign.

Comment author: Denise_Melchin 06 May 2018 09:26:06AM *  9 points [-]

Another factor leading to dedication being emphasized less might be that people are less motivated to be dedicated these days. The growth of the movement and the funding available have resulted in an individual’s EA contributions mattering far less than they used to.

The increased concern about downside risk has also made it much harder to ‘use up’ your dedication. A few years ago you could at least always do some outreach - now it’s commonly considered far less clear the sign on that is positive.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 06 May 2018 07:31:56PM 1 point [-]

It's my impression it's a handful of coordinator organizations in EA who think it's not clear the sign of outreach is positive. It's my impression from most individual effective altruists I talk to, and I expect this would extend to their opinion as a bloc, the sign of outreach, even after taking into account the possibility of rogue/unilateral actors, is moderately positive.

Comment author: Denise_Melchin 06 May 2018 09:15:30AM *  16 points [-]

I’m curious what kind of experiences people in the dedicated group actually had that put them off if you could elaborate on that.

I share the impression that dedication is less encouraged in EA these days than five years ago. I’m also personally very disappointed by that since high dedication felt like a major asset I could bring to EA. Now I feel more like it doesn’t matter which is discouraging.

My guess is that this is because high dedication is a trait of youth movements and the age of the median and perhaps more importantly the most influential EAs has gone up in the mean time. EA has lost its youth movement-y vibe.

I’m also interested whether the other movements you’re comparing EA to are youth movements?

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 06 May 2018 07:29:11PM 1 point [-]

I think an increase in median age would have less to do with the shift than emphasizing dedication less. One of the primary drivers of growth for EA is outreach to undergraduate students at universities around the world, and constantly bringing in 18-22 year-olds into the movement should exert a statistical pressure that would keep the median age down. On the other hand, if messaging was emphasizing less the importance of dedication to EA, I'd naively expect the younger and fresher individuals movement organizations are bringing into the movement are being less selected for dedication than a few years ago.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 05 May 2018 02:38:05PM *  2 points [-]

Based on a suggestion from Michael Plant, I'm collapsing the few posts I made on the EA Forum on this topic to one. Since a comment made by user Ronja_Lutz will be deleted alongside the post it was under, I'm reproducing it here for ease of response later.

Thank you - this sounds like it will be very valuable for our local reading/discussion group! In previous discussions, we were struggling a bit with the term "suffering", since we couldn't find a clear definition for it (we read Thoomas Metzinger's paper, but didn't find it very useful). Do you have any recommendations for that, too?


Reducing Wild Animal Suffering Literature Library: Introductory Materials, Philosophical & Empirical Foundations

These are reading module put together by the members of the group  Wild Animal Welfare Project Discussion  as part of the  RWAS Literature Library Project . This series of articles and essays together lay out crucial considerations explaining and underpinning the reduction of wild animal suffering (RWAS) as a potential focus area for effective... Read More

Wild Animal Welfare Project Discussion: A One-Year Strategic Review

Summary: One year ago, I started the Facebook group Wild Animal Welfare Project Discussion to coordinate R&D projects in the network of wild animal suffering reducers in effective altruism, and as part of a broader project of figuring out how to coordinate and develop causes within effective altruism. This is... Read More
Comment author: RomeoStevens 04 May 2018 10:14:54PM 1 point [-]

I wasn't commenting on the overall intention but on enumerations of causal levers outlined by economists in the talks given. I was objecting to the frame that these causal levers are obfuscated. I think presenting them as such is a way around them being low status to talk about directly.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 04 May 2018 10:36:29PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the context. That makes a lot of sense. I've undid my downvote on your parent comment, upvoted it, and also upvoted the above. (I think it's important, as awkward as it might be, for rationalists and effective altruists to explicate their reasoning at various points throughout their conversation, and how they update at the end, to create a context of rationalists intending their signals to be clear and received without ambiguity. It's hard to get humans to treat each other with excellence, so if our monkey brains force us to treat each other like mere reinforcement learners, rationalists might as well be transparent and honest about it.)

It would appear the causal levers aren't obfuscated. Which ones do you expect are the most underrated?

Comment author: RyanCarey 02 May 2018 11:32:16PM 1 point [-]

I think this has turned out really well Max. I like that this project looks set to aid with movement growth while improving the movement's intellectual quality, because the content is high-quality and representative of current EA priorities. Maybe the latter is the larger benefit, and probably it will help everyone to feel more confident in accelerating the movement growth over time, and so I hope we can find more ways to have a similar effect!

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 04 May 2018 07:57:48PM *  2 points [-]

What current EA priorities are according to the CEA is at odds with what many others think EA's current priorities are. It appears the CEA, by putting more emphasis on x-risk reduction, is smuggling what they think EA's current (proportional distribution) of priorities should be into a message about what EA's current priorities actually are, in a way undermining the perspective of thousands of effective altruists. So the idea that this handbook will increase the movement's intellectual quality is based on definitions of quality and representation for EA many effective altruists don't share. I think this and future editions of the EA Handbook should be regarded as the community as drafts from the CEA until they carry out a project of getting as broad and substantial a swathe of feedback from important community actors as they can. This doesn't have to be a program of populist democracy where each self-identified effective altruist gets a vote. But the CEA could run the EA Handbook by EA organizations which are just as crucial to effective altruism as the CEA which don't have the phrase 'effective altruism' in their name, like ACE, Givewell, or any other organizations which are cause-specific but are community pillars nonetheless.

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