Current field-building initiatives seem to have a lopsided focus on 1. extending EA’s reach via new like-minded groups that share our values and strategies over 2. building shared understandings with professionals who have alternative approaches and views.
See some general reasons I’m concerned below. I’m curious to learn from your input!
Do share any relevant idea, nuance, or counterargument in the comments.
(I wrote the following as part of a comment, but then realised it would serve better as a separate thread. I didn’t do any background research. I may have mixed up definitions.)
I generally worry about encouraging further outreach focused on creating like-minded groups of influential professionals (and even more about encouraging initiators to focus their efforts on making such groups look 'prestigious'). I expect that will discourage efforts in outreach to integrate importantly diverse backgrounds, approaches, and views. I would expect EA field builders to involve fewer of the specialists who developed their expertise inside a dissimilar context, take alternative approaches to understanding and navigating their field, or have insightful but different views that complement views held in EA.
A field builder who simply aims to increase EA's influence over decisions made by professionals will tend to select for and socially reward members that line up with their values/cause prio/strategy as a default tactic, I think. Inversely, taking the tactic of connecting EAs who like to talk with other EAs who are climbing similar career ladders leads to those gathered themselves agreeing to and approving each other more for exerting influence in stereotypically EA ways. Such group dynamics can lead to a kind of impoverished homogenisation of common knowledge and values.
I imagine a corporate, academic, or bureaucratic decision maker getting involved in an EA-aligned group and consulting their collaborators on how to make an impact. Given that they're surrounded by like-minded EAs, they may not become aware of shared blindspots in EA. Conversely, they'd less often reach out and listen attentively to outside stakeholders who can illuminate them on those blindspots.
Decision makers who lose touch with other important perspectives will no longer spot certain mistakes they might make, and may therefore become (even more) overconfident about certain ways of making impact on the world. This could lead to more 'superficially EA-good' large-scale decisions that actually negatively impact persons far removed from us.
In my opinion, it would be awesome if
- along with existing field-building initiatives focused on expanding the influence of EA thought,
- we encourage corresponding efforts to really get in touch and build shared understandings with specialised stakeholders (particularly, those with skin in the game) who have taken up complementary approaches and views to doing good in their field.
- Dedicated EA field builders seem to naturally incline towards type 1 efforts. Therefore, it's extra important for strategic thinkers and leaders in the EA community to be deliberate and clear about encouraging type 2 efforts in the projects they advise.
- 1 is challenging to implement but EA field builders have been making steady progress in scaling up initiatives there (e.g. staff at Founder's Pledge, Global Priorities Institute, Center for Human-Compatible AI).
- 2 seems much more challenging intellectually. They require us to build bridges that allow EA and non-EA-identifying organisations to complement each other: complex, nuanced perspectives that allow us to traverse between general EA principles and arguments, and the contextual awareness and domain-specific know-how (amongst others) of experienced specialists. I have difficulty recalling EA initiatives that were explicitly intended for coordinating type 2 efforts.
At this stage, I would honestly prefer if field builders start paying much deeper attention to 2. before they go out changing other people's minds and the world. I'm not sure how much credence to put in this being a better course of action though. I have little experience reaching out to influential professionals myself. It also feels I'm speculating here on big implications in a way that seems unnecessary or exaggerated. I'd be curious to hear more nuanced arguments from an experienced field builder.
(Also, it seems clear to me that collaborating with value-aligned people allows you to trust them more to make progress on things you care about, and that increasing cognitive diversity across arbitrary dimensions can actually impede a group from building up shared understandings and getting closer to the truth. Staff at each of the three organisations I mentioned respond to writings, seek input from, and consider the personal values of outside professionals they reach out to. But this post argues from one side, so feel free to correct it in the comments below!)