A new framing of EA’s collective impact
There is a current theme in the EA community to focus on how to maximize the collective impact of the movement, rather than just the impact of each individual.
But what does it mean to maximize the impact of the movement? I suggest that the mission to ‘do the most good’, in the context of our collective potential, closely approximates ‘optimizing the Earth’.
Why ‘do the most good’ is roughly equivalent to ‘optimize the Earth’:
- Optimize – make as good as possible, based on evidence and reason, acknowledging the potential for ongoing improvement
- Earth – home to every human with capacity for impact, and every known sentient being. The seat of our collective impact on the world beyond Earth.
Why would aiming to optimize the Earth enable us to do more good?
1) The Earth optimization framing of the EA mission gives focus to what it means to maximize collective impact. It points to a unified outcome of our collective work, in a way that ‘do the most good’ does not. With an Earth optimization mindset, we can rationally consider:
- What are the meta-outcomes of an optimized Earth?
- What lead-metrics should we measure to track progress towards an optimized Earth?
- What are the most impactful causes to optimize the complex system of Earth?
- How to prioritize the best combination of causes given that progress on some causes affects the expected impact of other causes?
2) Optimizing the Earth hints at what may be possible decades from now, beyond the current reality of the nascent EA movement. It may help the EA movement to set very long-term goals, and back-cast the roadmap to achieve them
3) Optimizing the Earth may include increasing or maximizing the marginal impact of every individual, not just those who currently self-identify as EA. It invites us to consider a more expansive vision of our potential collective impact.
4) Aiming to optimize the Earth will help us to identify new priority cause areas that have strategic relevance in bringing about the best world possible, but which may have limited immediate/direct impact in and of themselves.
5) An Earth optimization methodology will give context to current priority cause areas, and help us to evaluate their strategic relevance and relative urgency, in the mission of maximizing our collective impact. This may result in non-trivial adjustments to which causes are deemed highest priority.
6) The Earth optimization framing of the EA mission requires us to consider not only our marginal impact but also our collective, total, global impact – something that has not been much of a focus in the EA community up until now. This challenges us to develop our cause prioritization methodology to account for how different causes, when pursued in concert, can be more than the sum of their parts.
7) Earth optimization can be approached with methodological rigor, using complexity theory and systems science. By modeling the Earth as a complex system, we may be able to develop a ‘general theory of cause prioritization’, not only to prioritize top cause areas, but also to evaluate and optimize the impact of any actor in the system of Earth.
This is post 1 of 3:
Post 2: "Effective Altruism Paradigm vs Systems Change Paradigm"
Post 3: "5 Types of Systems Change Causes with the Potential for Exceptionally High Impact"