Does abnormal self-sacrifice inspire social change?
The conventional wisdom is that many movements throughout history (christianity, buddhism, Indian independence) were inspired and fueled by the extraordinary sacrifice of leaders/early adopters (or at least myths about such extreme altruism). The conventional wisdom may be wrong, but maybe we need more abnormal sacrifice in our movement, not less. In fact, I think it's plausibly a good idea for us to donate our kidneys, precisely as a symbol of our commitment-- not necessarily in the hopes that others will follow suit-- but in the hopes that it inspires people to take altruism more seriously.
In theory, local EA chapters can do all this already without focusing on local problems. This is not an argument for donating locally as much as an argument for focusing how to take on collaborative, visible, and engaging projects in our communities.
Of course work for effective causes might not be as engaging or enticing in our communities but then this just becomes an extension of the argument against weirdness: "AI is weird, but so is global poverty relative to the local soup kitchen."
Anyway, I welcome the broad criticism: maybe we should be thinking more about how to create engaging events in our communities, partnering with non-EAs and non EA organizations, and being more visible in the local sphere.
I'm so excited by all the recent public discussion about movement building. It's really encouraging to see so many brilliant people investing their time and energy into this neglected area.
That being said, I am concerned that we are reinventing the wheel, and ignoring a substantial body of empirical and theoretical work that has already been done on the subject.
Why are we starting from scratch and developing novel theories of social change? Why are we focusing on mathematics and philosophy instead of academic sociology research? I'm not an expert but, I'm familiar enough to know that lots of other smart people have studied the issues addressed in this paper. Lots of people are interested the growth and strategy of social movements.
If we were talking about ending global poverty, we would not be postulating new models of economic development. Why should we demand any less empirical/academic rigor in the context of movement building? Why are we so willing to trust our intuitions here?
I think there are two common reasons for ignoring academic sociology research here (but both of them are pretty weak):
1. The research on movement building is extremely shallow and of poor quality
2. The EA commitment to cause neutrality is so unique that analogies to other movements (and to existing academic research) are not very useful
To address the first point, I think that we have to consider "EA expert overconfidence" bias. As Rob Wiblin has pointed out, people who are experts in one area are often radically overconfident in other areas. I think EAs succumb to this pretty severely: we are all so shocked (rightly so) at how much cause prioritization is neglected by smart people that we think we have to basically do everything from scratch. But this isn't quite right. We need to distinguish between "effective means" and "effective ends." EA's might be world leaders when it comes to thinking about effective ends (i.e. worthwhile causes like global poverty, animal suffering, far future suffering etc.) but we have no reason to think we are superior when it comes to effective means. Smart people have been trying to understand the spread of ideas and the grow movements for a long time. We should be shocked if there isn't at least some good work done on the subject. My own shallow research has left me convinced that there is a lot of good stuff out there. Even though sociology has the reputation for being less rigorous than economics, there is a lot of serious, rigorous empirical and theoretical work out there.
I think the second point is also not a huge issue. First, lots of other social movements have faced the problem of maintain a broad base of support in the face of ever-changing goals/priorities (political parties and religions seem like good examples). But more importantly, even if we are unique in this regard, it seems that many of the big questions in movement building apply equally well to either case.
Ultimately, if I was GPP, I would try to convene a working group of non-EA academic experts on social movements before trying to do any more original thinking on the issue.
© 2017 Effective Altruism Forum |
Powered by reddit