Idea: "Change the World University"

by capybaralet1 min read7th Dec 20206 comments

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Effective altruism education
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What if there was a university that only aimed to accept people who wanted to change the world (as opposed to just getting educated / trained for a career)?

It would be cool to have an entire student body who were explicitly focused on having a positive impact.  I'm not sure how EA branded it should be.  I would imagine having a much broader tent.  I like the minimalist version, where it's only selecting for idealism / devotion to trying to change the world.

I guess a lot of people go to college wanting to do that, and become jaded.  I think going to a college called (something like) "change the world university", with an explicit purpose of helping people change the world would help prevent that from happening.

 

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How would you separate the genuine idealists from the virtue signalers?

  • To some extent, you don't need to.  I don't believe there's a very clear distinction between the 2 camps.
  • To begin with, this university would be viewed as weird, and I suspect, would not be particularly attractive to virtue signalers as a result.  This would help establish a culture of genuine idealists.
  • This is part of the mandate of the admissions decision-makers.  I expect if you had good people, you could do a pretty good job of screening applicants.

     

Hmm. I apologize, I don’t actually know whether idealists and virtue signalers differ in productivity. I think the motivation matters for what someone will put up with on the way to their goals; maybe some problems are easier for virtue signalers to solve.

I've seen graduation and commencement speeches for about four different universities. I think every university presents itself as helping its students change the world. Your proposal is to make this even more explicit than it already is.

I don't think jadedness really captures most of what's going on. I think people correctly realize that the world is more complicated and confusing and hard to change than they thought, and full of grey areas they don't understand rather than black and white, good guys and bad guys, etc. But to say that jadedness stopped them from trying to change the world feels off to me; rather, they naively thought it would be easy and simple and then got confused and lost interest when they realized it wasn't. 

If they were actually trying to change the world -- if they were actually strongly motivated to make the world a better place, etc. -- the stuff they learn in college wouldn't stop them.

What you describe is part of what I meant by "jadedness".

"If they were actually trying to change the world -- if they were actually strongly motivated to make the world a better place, etc. -- the stuff they learn in college wouldn't stop them."

^ I disagree.  Or rather, I should say, there are a lot of people who are not-so-strongly motivated to make the world a better place, and so get burned out and settle into a typical lifestyle.  I think this outcome would be much less likely at a place like "Change the World University", both because it would feel worse to give up on that goal (you would constantly be reminded of that), and because your peers would be (self-/)selected for being passionate about changing the world.

I think there’s another source of jadedness: things being made unnecessarily difficult. I was explicitly told in school by instructors, “we’re going to make this harder than it needs to be, in arbitrary ways, because real life is like that sometimes, and you need to figure out how to handle it psychologically. Better that you learn to deal with pointless assignments and needlessly difficult problems and petty teammates and vague instructions now than in a job.” Being forewarned made it bearable, I was even grateful for it. And then I forgot this when I changed schools, the new place provided the same kind of challenges but didn’t say so explicitly, and I got frustrated and hurt by the work being unnecessarily difficult.

I think some who aren’t warned correctly intuit that someone is deliberately making life harder than it needs to be, and conclude the deck is being stacked against them, instead of concluding this adversity is being created to give them opportunities to learn mental strategies for not getting jaded.