TL;DR: we should apply the same standards to movement-building proposals that we apply to scientific theories.
[I've written a lot about this topic previously for the CEA team, so I'll write a more easily digestible series of posts rather than a single over-long one. Also: my team is currently in the midst of inviting speakers to EA Global, so please pardon these posts for being patchy in terms of quality and detail.]
A motivation for mechanistic thinking
The magician's mechanism
Mechanistic movement design
- What ultimate goal is the EA movement trying to achieve?
- By what mechanisms can a movement plausibly achieve that ultimate goal?
- How can we dial the sociological parameters of EA to instantiate those mechanisms?
In our case, the ultimate goal is something like "universal flourishing." So, movement design proposals should include an account of how some mechanism(s) bring us closer to that ultimate goal. If a proposal contains too many implicit pieces between "Step n" and "universal flourishing" that resemble "Step two: ???" then we should lower our confidence in those proposals.
Mechanistic proposals for movement design will often contain descriptions of causal chains for plausibly moving us toward the goal. It's important to keep in mind the conjunction fallacy when evaluating such proposals. Yet, all else equal, we should sooner trust a proposal that includes plausible mechanisms for victory over one that doesn't. (Especially if it includes scenario-planning.)
In summary, it's important to realize that implicit in every movement-building proposal is a theory about sociology and human behavior. Given how wrong a movement can go (cf communism), we should seek to apply at least as much careful thought to building a movement that we do in building an airplane.
The ideal outcome of this post: When evaluating a proposal for EA movement design, ask, "By what concrete mechanism would this solution move us closer to universal flourishing?"
Below are all examples of proposal for which one could ask, "What is the mechanism for getting to universal flourishing?"
- ...be more like an elite network."
- ...be more like a mass-movement."
- ...have higher barriers to entry."
- ...should be more welcoming."
- ...accelerate growth."
- ...slow down growth."
- ...become more diversity-conscious."
- ...become less diversity-conscious."
- ...appeal more to emotion."
- ...appeal less to emotion."