This essay was submitted anonymously to Open Philanthropy's Cause Exploration Prizes contest before the deadline. We are uploading some entries late, but all good-faith entries were considered for prizes.

My proposed cause area is outreach, values spreading, and awareness raising among conservatives and religious people in the US. 

Importance

  • Two primary mechanisms for positive influence: politics and influencing charitable giving
  • Politics 
    • Conservatives are more likely to be rural, which means they live in low-population states. Low-population states have an outsize influence on the Senate and the Electoral College. Therefore, we can expect the Republican party to have considerable power going forward. 
    • A lot of important political issues (AI safety, pandemic preparedness) don’t have an obvious partisan lean. 
  • Charitable giving
    • Religious people are significantly more likely to give than secular people. 
    • Religious people also tend to be conservative, so I’m folding this into the overall pitch. 
    • Religious people’s charitable giving is usually not directed particularly effectively.
    • Anecdotally, evangelicals in particular are interested in international causes: child sponsorship, adoption, and missions work (which typically includes anti-poverty work along with evangelism). 
    • Some key EA causes reflect important evangelical beliefs. For example, malaria causes miscarriages, which is more important to prevent if you’re pro-life. 
    • Religious giving doesn’t displace sources of funding that go to more effective causes (e.g. long-termism).
    • The multiplier matters a lot here: it’s cost-effective if a small grant moves a lot of money to more effective charities. 
    • Important question: can we expect to find enough cost-effective giving opportunities for all donations?
  • Speculatively: a lot of people are conservative. Is it good to “raise the sanity waterline” and encourage habits of effective thinking in this population? 
    • Can we spread ways of thinking about politics to conservative politicians or just positions on particular issues?
    • Do habits of thinking effectively about charitable giving expand to other areas?
    • Depends on how much you expect global problems to be solved by ordinary people vs. elites. 
    • Depends on how useful being a little more rational is to solving global problems. Conservatives and religious people don’t seem, on priors, unusually likely to produce exceptionally rational people. 
  • Speculatively: effective altruism could become more welcoming to conservatives?
    • EAs are very strongly liberal; are we missing out on people who can think in an EA way but happen to be conservative?
    • Conservatives dominate many EA-relevant jobs (e.g. the military). 
    • Depends strongly on whether you expect liberals to be better EAs (e.g. high openness, low religiosity, liberalism is correct so people who believe correct things are more likely to be liberal).
    • Chance of conservative presence making EA unwelcoming to current EAs (e.g. trans people, who tend to be overrepresented in technical AI safety research). 

Neglectedness

  • As I mentioned above, EAs tend to be very strongly liberal. I have personally not observed any outreach towards conservatives. 
  • Lots of politics-related effective altruist work is for liberal causes (e.g. Sam Bankman-Fried mostly donates to liberals; Carrick Flynn is Democratic; criminal justice reform work is liberal-aligned). 

Tractability

  • Politics
  • Charitable giving
    • It is difficult to reach out to conservative religious people when most supporters of effective altruism are liberal atheists. 
    • It is possible that, once we introduce these ideas, evangelicals will spread them among each other without as much work. 

Sample Grants

  • A conference which introduces conservative politicians, judges, and intellectuals to effective altruist thinking. 
  • A retreat for young conservative effective altruists who are interested in policy.
  • Founding an EA-aligned think tank which concentrates on outreach to conservatives. 
  • Advertisements for GiveWell in major conservative religious publications (e.g. Christianity Today). 
  • Financial support for a writer grounded in both conservative religious and EA communities to translate EA ideas to conservative religious people. 

Open Questions

  • Politics
    • How do we avoid unnecessary partisanship? Ideally, we want pandemic preparedness, AI safety, etc to be a bipartisan issue. 
      • Seems easier given how liberal EA is?
    • Is it better to recruit conservative EAs or to lobby conservatives until they are convinced of EA ideas?
  • Charitable giving
    • Is the message going to degrade to an unacceptable degree?
    • How do we avoid coming off as outsiders imposing ideas on evangelicals? Evangelicals are very suspicious of outsiders. 
    • How do we avoid diluting EA movement quality with evangelicals who think that EA is about giving to GiveWell in the name of Jesus? 
    • Evangelicals exposed to some effective altruist ideas might decide that saving people from Hell is overwhelmingly important because eternal torture is very bad and they should devote all their energy to that. Assuming Hell does not exist, this consequence would be neutral or even negative. 

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