Hide table of contents

I dropped a bunch of people who were EAs in high school into a group chat and asked them about how they got into EA, whether it’s been good for them, and what they think of plans to introduce EA to a larger number of high school kids.

how did high school kids even get into ea?

I first heard about EA ideas when I found Rationally Speaking at age 16. … EA provided that moral structure for me, as I struggled to figure out what and who I wanted to be. I would debate myself whether, as an adult, I should set up recurring payments or invest my money and wait to donate until I retired. - Laura

I first encountered EA-ish ideas via a philosophy textbook that I bought (well, my mom bought for me) at a lawn sale when I was in grade 8 or 9, maybe it was the summer between these two? A few things stuck with me from it, but Singer’s pond was the largest. This would have been in 1997 or 98. something like that. The Singer thing influenced my education/career, and so I’ve been associated with the international development part of EA since well before EA was a thing. - anonymous professor

I stumbled across some Eliezer Yudkowsky blog posts in a pretty random way - Juan

I first heard of EA ideas in HPMOR when I 13 - Arun Jose

I got into EA when I was 17 in 2018 and I was proto EA before that. I'd been convinced to be vegetarian when I was 14/15 by some combination of watching a crashcourse philosophy video about Peter Singer's arguments against eating meat. Before EA I wanted to do dev econ to for global poverty reducution. … The other part that I already had was the like "aiming to do good part." I'd decided that the point of my life was to help people. I decided this pretty explictly when I was 15/16 when I was explicitly thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. - Nathan

i originally got into ea via the rationalist sphere when i was ~15; i think i read gwern before anything else. -Celeste

did hearing about ea in high school make your life better?

I'm of the opinion that my life would've been a *lot* worse if I hadn't been introduced to those ideas as a kid, both because of what I understood about myself in the process that I wouldn't have otherwise, and because, well, these are _important things to think about_. - Arun Jose

almost all of the people i'm friends with now are eas and this is just great for me because for most of my life i haven't had very many friedns and this has made me sad and now i have loads of friends and find it easy to make freinds. - Nathan

i moved out from my family at 17, and near a lot of ea/rat-adj people around when i turned 18. my life immediately improved a lot - Celeste

should orgs actively recruit teens to ea?

morally serious teens will find something to motivate them—climate activism, socialism, etc. So if EA can offer an alternative/supplementary message, I think this is positive and moreover necessary for teens who are smart and looking to help the world - Laura

I worry at least a little about pushing EA to high schoolers. People under say 25 are trying to find themselves and already prone to fairly wild extremism (flip view: people over 25 are conservative) and so I think it’s possible to make people pretty unhappy if they take on too much of the “maximizing” lesson from EA. I think my fear is more about preserving fidelity in information transmission than it is squarely about EA, but I do still worry a touch. - anonymous professor

i think it's good to get embedded in the ea community early. i think it's also near-universally bad to be solely embedded in one community. or at least worse than being in multiple - Celeste


More posts like this

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:25 PM

Thanks a lot for doing this! A concrete question I'd be very interested in from these people: "is there anything that you found especially demotivating, difficult, stressful, or off-putting in your early days of engagement with effective altruism?"

Laura: "For me, one of the off-putting things in my early days (and still now) is how much utilitarianism is part of the culture, but is denied. I think it says something when Toby Ord and Will MacAskill aren’t philosophically committed to that position, but everyone I talk to takes its “obvious truth” for granted. I always found this a little alienating, honestly. And it’s exhausting having to defend my beliefs all the time"

Nathan: "I found some of the anti-politics vibe from the rationalists pretty annoying. But this is pretty minor - my early EA experiences were really good"

Thanks very much!

The utilitarianism thing is interesting. I find there's a bit of a difficult balancing act between openly discussing effective altruism as a community, as it currently 'is', vs emphasising how it 'could be' or 'aims to be'. The latter options seem much broader.

E.g. if people have enquired about the connection to utilitarianism, I have sometimes commented how in principle it seems possible to me that you ask how to maximise rights observance, or develop the very best/virtuous character traits you can. But of course, there's relatively little discussion about these topics within the current effective altruism community.