There remains a large amount of uncertainty about what exactly happened inside FTX and Alameda. I do not offer any new takes on what occurred. However, there are the inklings of some "lessons" from the situation that are incorrect regardless of how the details flesh out. Pointing these out now may seem in poor taste while many are still coming to terms with what happened, but it important to do so before they become the canonical lessons.
1. Ambition was a mistake
There have been a number of calls for EA to "go back to bed nets." It is notable that this refrain conflates the alleged illegal and unethical behavior from FTX/Alameda with the philosophical position of longtermism. Rather than evaluating the two issues as distinct, the call seems to assume both were born out of the same runaway ambition.
Logically, this is obviously not the case. Longtermism grew in popularity during SBFs rise, and Future Fund did focus on longtermist projects, but FTX/Alameda situation has no bearing on the truth of longtermism and associated project's prioritization.
To the extent that both becoming incredibly rich and affecting the longterm trajectory of humanity are "ambitious" goals, ambition is not the problem. Committing financial crimes is a problem. Longtermism has problems, like knowing how to act given uncertainty about the future. But an enlightened understanding of ambition accommodates these problems: We should be ambitious in our goals while understanding our limitations in solving them.
There is an uncomfortable reality that SBF symbolized a new level of ambition for EA. That sense of ambition should be retained. His malfeasance should not be.
This is not to say that there may be lessons to learn about transparency, overconfidence, centralized power, trusting leaders, etc from these events. But all of these are distinct from a lesson about ambition, which depends more on vague allusions to Icarus than argument.
2. No more earning to give
I am not sure that this is being learned as a "lesson" or if this situation simply "leaves a bad taste" in EA's mouths about earning to give. The alleged actions of the FTX/Alameda team in no way suggest that earning money to donate to effective causes is a poor career path.
Certain employees of FTX/Alameda seem to have been doing distinctly unethical work, such as grossly mismanaging client funds. One of the only arguments for why one might be open to working a possibly unethical job like trading crypto currency is because an ethically motivated actor would do that job in a more ethical way than the next person would (from Todd and MacAskill). Earning to give never asked EAs to pursue unethical work, and encouraged them to pursue any line of work in an ethically upstanding way.
(I emphasize Todd and MacAskill conclude in their 2017 post: "We believe that in the vast majority of cases, it’s a mistake to pursue a career in which the direct effects of the work are seriously harmful").
Earning to give in the way it has always been advised-by doing work that is basically ethical-continues to be a highly promising route to impact. This is especially true when total EA assets have significantly depreciated.
There is a risk that EAs do not continue to pursue earning to give, thinking either that it is icky post-FTX or that someone else has it covered. This is a poor strategy. It is imperative that some EAs who are well suited for founding companies shift their careers into entrepreneurship as soon as possible.
3. General FUD from nefarious actors
As the EA community reals from the FTX/Alameda blow up, a number of actors with histories of hating EA have chimed in with threads about how this catastrophe is in line with X thing they already believed or knew was going on within EA.
I believe, at least in many cases, this is being done in straightforward bad faith. In some cases, it seems like a deliberate effort to sow division within the EA movement. This is the sort of speculative and poorly founded claim that is very unpopular on the Forums, but the possibility this may be happening should be taken seriously. When the same accounts are liking threads taking glee in this disaster or mocking the appearances and personal writing of FTX/Alameda employees, it seems unlikely that they are simply interested in helping EA.
EAs, in a reasonable aim to avoid tribalism, have taken these additional allegations very seriously. After all-one could, in theory learn productive lessons from someone trying to antagonizing them. Yet this is largely a mistake. Tribalism makes for poor reasoning, but so does naively engaging with a dishonest interlocutor who is trying to manipulate you.
There are legitimate questions here, like the nature of the early Alameda split. I encourage EAs to have conversations internally or to sympathetic counter-parties, who are actually working on solving the newly revealed problems with EA, rather than those celebrating EA's alleged downfall.
4. Most hot takes on ethics
Events are not evidence to the truth of philosophical positions. There was already a critique of expected value reasoning and utilitarianism could drive people to do certain immoral actions or take too large of risks. The FTX/Alameda catastrophe gives no more evidence against utilitarianism than the famous utilitarian hospital, and no more evidence lying to the hypothetical murder at the door gives evidence against deontology.
Those frustrated or appalled by the situation should reflect on their ethical framework, but they should not make hasty and poorly founded jumps to "rule utilitarianism" or "virtue ethics" or newly invented blends of ethical systems. I appreciate the work of Richard Chappell and others in tempering these impulses. As Richard reminds us: "Remember, folks: If your conception of utilitarianism renders it *predictably* harmful, then you're thinking about it wrong." Deep ethical reflection is worth doing, but it tends to be better done in a reflective place rather than a reactionary one.
There is a separate set of critiques, such as how closely one should try to adhere to an ethical system. For example, Eliezer Yudkowsky recommends we "Go three-quarters of the way from deontology to utilitarianism and then stop . . . Stay there at least until you have become a god." There are also outstanding questions to whether EA or utilitarianism could have encouraged SBF's actions. These lines of inquiry seem sensible in response to recent events, but they are distinct from analyzing the ground level truth of ethical systems. And while these should be investigated, they should be investigated thoughtfully as they are large and important questions, not hastily without even the facts properly established.
Finally, it's worth pointing out that ethical uncertainty - the position that Will MacAskill invented and advocates for - looks reasonably good.
In general, I hope that any lessons taken from recent events come after due reflection and many deep breaths. And I hope everyone is doing OK and wish everyone who was negatively affected outside and inside the EA community my best.