Abigail Thorn, better known online as Philosophy Tube, is an English youtuber who makes videos discussing political and social issues.
Her videos usually discuss a particular topic through the lens of philosophy from a left-leaning perspective. Though her videos often have a format similar to that of a lecture, they can often take on a more stylized nature featuring cutaways to theatrical scenes that illustrate her points. She currently has 1.3 million subscribers.

She made a video on transhumanism earlier this year, which you might have seen. Now she's giving a brief history, and subsequently discusses the philosophy of effective altruism.

It wasn't as skeptical as I expected. Though I do wish she talked a bit more about animal welfare, since that is a big part of the community that often gets ignored, although I get that the focus on poverty and longtermism ties in better with the discussion about crypto and clout.

If you don't like long form content, a lot of her older videos are shorter and also touch on ideas that are relevant to EA:

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Here's an automatic transcription of it with automatic speaker separation.

Perhaps that link could be in the main post, or perhaps the contents of the transcription even could be copied into the post body.

edit: and while I'm at it, here's one for the vegetarianism video.

At more than six and a half thousand words I think the transcription would be a bit long and I think in general the linkposts should link to the primary source.

But I appreciate the link and I will use that site in the future. This forum doesn't allow me to pin this comment, so I'll upvote instead. It's a pretty short post so I'm sure people will find and upvote your link rather quickly, but if this post becomes unexpectedly popular and this comment sinks to the bottom of the comments, I'll copy-paste the links into the post.

Overall, I thought they were well-presented criticisms.

One exception is @34:18 in the video where Abigail quotes Anthony Kalulu that there is "no chance" someone in abject poverty will mention an EA-supported charity "as having impacted their lives more than the work of traditional global antipoverty agencies."

I saw that piece has been discussed on the forum before. My reaction to the statement was the same as the comment made by timunderwood to that forum post (i.e. it's unlikely they would due to EA-charities having a relatively small budget). And also Sanjay regarding general sceptism to the claim (and others in that piece). I didn't read all comments so others surely shared similar doubts.

My point here though is just that I thought it, and that EA's leaders "don't really want to talk about that," was a particularly poor criticism on Abigail's part and a let-down on an otherwise good critique/viewpoint on EA.

Edit: I notice I am confused by the disagreement votes here. I'm not sure I've written anything particularly disagreeable compared to other Forum discussion on this video, so I can't really tell what I wrote that people are disagreeing with or why. I don't really have much information to update on in scenarios like this ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So just finished watching it, and I was very pleasantly surprised. It's a ~40 minute YouTube video from a channel with a wide audience and a keen eye on style and entertainment as well as content - so it's not going to be equivalent to an in-depth philosophy journal article. But I thought, for a leftist critic of EA, it was actually very even handed. I would honestly classify it as one of the better criticisms I've come across recently. I think there's more chance of me being got by Pascal's Mugger than Abigail reading this, but if she is, I liked the video :)

Some points I've noted down:[1]

  • Abigail has, I think, a commitment to engage with her subject matter even if she disagrees. This comes across throughout the video - there are some quips sure, but not Twitter-level dunks on EA. I also counted at least two points where she brought up Torres as taking criticism too far or being unfair to EA, and that was as much a repudiation as any other points in the video.
  • Thought The Precipice was better than What We Owe the Future.[2]
  • Earn-to-Give comes up a few times, which the movement has mostly moved away from promoting? I think it's clear this will still be a jumping off point for critics.
  • Doesn't argue for the FTX collapse to be the direct fault of EA philosophy. Actually made an interesting point near the end that EAs desire for influence/power may have made it an 'easy mark' for bad actors in the Crypto space like SBF.
  • Some discussion about the problem of measurability bias and how that biases EA away from systemic change. I think this has some validity, but also EAs love systemic change, so I don't think this criticism fully lands. I think where EA lands on capitalism/anti-capitalism has yet to be fully explored - at least by the community directly.
  • The best criticisms, I think, come from the Institutional Critiques to EA. Drawing a line through Cremer/Kemp, EAs who sounded fire-alarms about Crypto, to the lack of transparency or concrete actions to reform in EA institutions, these resonated with me. I think she also makes a good point that EA can't avoid political questions of 'effective for who', 'good for who', how we trade off rights between moral patients (e.g. past/future people, humans/non-human animals, impartial people/those we have duties to). These have important political consequences, and we probably need to own that better.
  • Ends the video by not taking an anti-EA stance at all. Implies that where you stand on EA will depend on other philosophical/moral commitments you have.

I think if you adjust your priors accordingly (Leftist/Marxist critic, 40 minute YouTube video, Made for an audience mostly unfamiliar with EA) then actually it comes off quite well. If you have the time/temperament, I'd recommend watching.

  1. ^

    For a more in-depth summary, I'd recommend Jessica's post

  2. ^

    I agree

Thank you for linking to EAs love systemic change!
Now I am sad that "While some people should earn to give, we expect the right share is under 20%, and think that ‘earning to give’ is now more popular among the people who follow our advice than it ideally would be." seems to already have been the consensus in 2015; I know many many people who got into EA later than that and were still mainly told about that even from other EAs. I would have hoped (and assumed) we would be much much quicker at adapting to new information.

Oh, and that post with its ominous ending of "We don’t want to burn the existing system to the ground" also brings me back to the PhilosophyTube video: In the ending, Abigail just dispassionately asks whether we should work within the existing structures or overthrow them and then says to decide for yourself - instead of saying the (I think?) obvious thing out loud: hell yeah identify and overthrow any and all oppressive structures asap, but until then, use whatever structures there are to reduce suffering already, and also after, keep working within the new structures to keep doing better. Like, this is not a binary choice and no matter how big or small a "revolution" we will be able to pull off, we will never be done either way.

[Written on mobile]

Interested to hear people's thoughts here. I think it got off to a good start, but after 35 minutes just seems to fissile out. Key cruxes seem to be avoided, and discussion around key topics like AI-Safety, and "changing the system" is of low quality. I wish she'd reached out to someone and at least had a back and forth on 1 or 2 topics - and then reflected that in the video.

I'm left feeling that the combination of a video that must include: a political slant with cool/witty/entertaining tangents, just leads to overall poor quality conversation which lacks the moral seriousness the channel claims to embody.

Watched it as it premiered, got distracted by the live chat, and had to watch it again! I've written up my thoughts and reactions here.

That post is not public at the time I make this comment, I think.

Weird, does it work now?

it does now, yup!

This video is definitely a mixed bag. First, the video's title is needlessly provocative: most effective altruists aren't rich. Second, I don't like how nearly a third of the video was dedicated to longtermism and the FTX scandal. Thorn adds a bunch of fake controversy by pointing out (2:47 in the video) that William MacAskill's What We Owe the Future was recommended by Elon Musk (even though Musk is barely, if at all, important to the effective altruism movement). And as if this wasn't already tendentious enough, she then (3:20 in the video) contrasts a fundraiser for a trans healthcare charity with donating to a charity that distributes medicine against trachoma. Here she gets dangerously close to implying that effective altruism is somehow opposed to LGBT activism. She could have just as well mentioned that while LGBT issues are arguably neglected in the effective altruism movement, they do get talked about (this thread is an example). She could have also pointed out how according to the EA Survey 2020, around 20% of participants were non-straight, which is probably more than in the general population. But alas, fake controversy generates more likes and views I guess?

While I appreciate that Thorn concludes the video by encouraging people to form their own views on the matter, her claim that "I would never tell you to either join or not join the effective altruism movement. My job is to tell you what the theory says and why people believe it" doesn't sound very convincing when she dedicates so much of the video to framing the effective altruism movement as a bunch of conservative capitalists and techno-utopianists, while basically not discussing effective altruist animal advocacy and key concepts like the ITN framework, cause neutrality and means neutrality.

That being said, I really appreciated how well Thorn worded the critique of the democratic deficit of the effective altruism movement (12:22-14:40 in the video) and I like that she quoted a topic on this forum by Carla Zoe Cremer. This doesn't get talked about nearly enough, so it's great that Thorn raised this topic. Also, I liked the video's humor, which helps soften the otherwise needlessly snarky tone. And I chuckled when she pointed out that her viewers don't differ too much from the typical effective altruist (6:00-6:20 in the video), which is true!

Overall, the video has some merits, but I don't think it's a very good contribution to the debate on effective altruism. The video frames effective altruism in a rather innacurate way. Thorn could have used her philosophical skills to zoom out from the current media obsession with longtermism and FTX and discuss effective altruism's relationship to capitalism and democracy in greater depth, but unfortunately didn't take that opportunity. Sadly, it looks like this video will mainly contribute to the growing mutual misunderstanding between effective altruists and leftists outside of the effective altruism movement, even though ironically over 70% of participants of the EA Survey 2019 identified as 'left' or 'center left'.