I wrote a booklet entitled The Cross about altruism through self-risking. The booklet is a study guide containing some framing and commentary plus a reading list. I intended it for a different audience than EA, but it could be relevant to EAs. The title of the booklet is The Cross and there is a Christian influence to it, but it should be useful for secular purposes as well.

The term "cross" comes from the story of Jesus in the Bible, who was tortured and killed on a cross in his pursuit of a large altruistic reward, and who in some sense sought out that cross, because it was the way for him to achieve that reward. Christians have identified "the cross" as a way of life to emulate, and have interpreted the concept of "the cross" in different ways. Some that I seem to remember having heard are "self-sacrifice" or "ordeal that in itself is of spiritual benefit". The interpretation that I use in the booklet is "self-risking" -- the point isn't to die, or to suffer, but rather to achieve some end, which happens to entail personal risk. (But sometimes those who pursue risky things suffer or die because of them.)

The bottleneck for some altruistic actions is the personal consequences for pursuing them, and the facing of the possibility of those consequences. The booklet intends to show what pursuing the cross looks like, and undergoing the consequences if they occur. It also talks about the people who are (or could be) in the lives of those who pursue the cross.

One motivation for writing/reading this that EAs might consider, is that if the transition to artificial superintelligence (ASI) goes well, one of the main remaining (maybe the only remaining?) bottlenecks to doing good, if there are any, will be human culture, politics, social environments, etc. -- whatever is upstream of the political decisions that affect the ASI's plan of action (supposing the ASI may respect human decision-making), or of whatever parts of society ASI can't reach, whether because humans decide they don't want ASI intervention there, or in the case that there isn't enough compute for ASI to micromanage every aspect of people's lives. The people who are the subjects of the books in the booklet often were involved in changing culture, politics, and social environments, and their examples may be food for thought for those who might want to work in those areas. Changing social systems can involve being unpopular, taking unpopular stands, etc. and this generally ends up being a case of pursuing the cross.

(There may be near-term areas to engage with the social, cultural, and political, like AI governance and global health and development.)

The booklet is short and uses some fairly mainstream sources for its reading list, to make it easier to translate (mainstream sources mean more likely to find translations in non-English languages). I tried to use sources that each contributed something of their own to the consideration of "the cross".

One of the sources, Churchill and Orwell by Thomas E. Ricks, I found through the rationalist/EA community (not sure exactly whose post I found out about it from, but likely from Sammy Martin's review). Some inspiration for the booklet came from Inadequate Equilibria by Eliezer Yudkowsky, which might have gone on the list if I was writing specifically for rationalists/EAs.

Some parallel study guides that could be written: maybe the problem is that some people have "too much self" to do the best thing they can (their egos are wrapped up in something else, or their nervous systems are tuned to a different kind of work). Perhaps they need to "reduce their selves" (less ego, less connection to their natural preferences or psychological orientations) in order to do good, rather than "risk themselves". They need to (partially) extinguish or re-engineer themselves. (Study guides on "altruism through self-extinguishing" or "altruism through self-re-engineering".)

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Executive summary: The post introduces a booklet with a reading list on altruism through self-risking, aimed at changing culture, politics, and social environments.

Key points:

  1. The booklet is called The Cross and contains commentary and a reading list on altruism through self-risking.
  2. The concept of "the cross" refers to pursuing altruistic goals even when there is personal risk, as Jesus did according to Christian teaching.
  3. The reading list focuses on examples of people who took risky or unpopular stands to create social change.
  4. This could inform work on improving culture, politics, and social environments to enable more altruism, including for AI safety.
  5. The booklet uses mainstream sources for easier translation and to convey key examples of self-risking altruism.
  6. Parallel concepts are "self-extinguishing" and "self-re-engineering" to reduce ego and natural preferences.

 

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