In the lead-up to EAG SF, I took some time to think about what the E in EA means to me.

The image below is a visualization of Peter Singer's TED talk in 2013:

When I first learned about Effective Altruism in 2015, I had spent over a year googling and thinking about doing the most good. I was so frustrated with the typical conversations. I wanted people to talk about what works in the holistic sense. I was looking for a group of people who strongly consider our reality and aim to do the things that actually succeed at doing the most good.

That's why I was delighted when I found EA. EA not only included people who were interested in what gave you the best bang for your buck, but it also cared about being a movement that cared about sustainability and getting more people involved. I told myself, "if a movement is too demanding of everyone, it will inevitably collapse." So I saw 'Effective' as taking that into account.

To me, Effective was all-encompassing; it took everything into account. Some people compartmentalize EA to varying degrees based on their unique threshold for what they want to put into it. This was healthy for the movement as well as the individuals. It was not, "oh, go out and have some fun or go to therapy, but only to the point that it keeps you productive to EA." That seemed to be the beginning of a disaster to me.

In practice, I expect at least some EAs have thought about optimizing happiness so that they could be more productive within EA. However, as mentioned in many sustainable productivity talks and posts within EA, we should continue to remind ourselves to avoid this scenario.

When I say all-encompassing, I do not mean totalizing, a word that a few people on Twitter have been saying lately. Instead, as Ryan Briggs said,

We all have a different threshold that changes over time, and that threshold helps us be honest about how much we want to put into EA at any given time. One year you might give it your all, while another year, you might take a sabbatical from any EA activity. 

For many EAs, they might decide to donate a solid 5-10% to effective charities for most of their lives. Or make their career as EA-aligned as possible without completely changing direction or impacting their lives outside of EA (moving away from family and to an EA hub, for instance). After careful thought, some people might want to devote a large part of their lives to EA, while others see EA as a much smaller piece of the pie than the other things in their lives.

All of that was always part of what Effective meant in EA to me. There's a strong sense of pragmatism; we look at the reality of what works. This also means that we should (and I firmly believe we do) accept that we all have different things we care about, and we care about them to varying degrees.

I see the word Effective in EA as trying to "focus our money and attention to the things that do the most good, within the limits of how we each personally want to devote one part of our individual lives to EA."

Some might be OK with staying with roommates for a long time to save money; others might strongly prefer having their own big place.
Some might want to be distant from the community, while others find a lot of meaning in it.

If this keeps the community and those within it healthy, is that effective?

What do you think? What does Effective in EA mean to you?





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