I strongly believe this article touches upon the most important question in the formation and continuation of Effective Altruism and should be discussed here. I think it stands for itself, provides abundant examples, and is well-reasoned in highlighting what I view are current and future limitations to EA as applied rationality. Hanania, as always, is disagreeable and phrases issues in a provocative manner, but is as evidence-based as any post on this forum. I will highlight some key passages that I found most valuable as a starting point for discussion:
In the end, EA will need something like the Darwin-Jesus synthesis of American conservatism. In this case it would of course be much more Darwin than Jesus, and find Aella more a source of amusement or scientific curiosity than a sign of the apocalypse. But taking Darwin too seriously puts you on a collision course with the left, and not just because it prevents you from achieving gender parity in leadership roles. Be the kind of movement that takes an evolutionary view of sex differences, and you’ll attract individuals able to think freely about the causes of other kinds of disparities. Group differences in IQ is right around the corner, and if you’re going to maintain any kind of commitment to rationalism you’re going to have to either stop yourself before getting on that train or take it to its logical destination.
This was obviously highlighted by the Bostrom scandal, which made me very aware that in EA, we still have sacred cows of our own, and many are unable to distance themselves from their own sacred beliefs and acknowledge evidence on its face.
EA has thus far avoided falling into either category on account of it being new and marginal. But it’s now entering the real world. One path it can take is to be folded into the Democratic coalition. It’ll have to temper its rougher edges, which means purging individuals for magic words, knowing when not to take an argument to its logical conclusion, compromising on free speech, more peer review and fewer disagreeable autodidacts, and being unwilling to engage with other individuals and communities that are too non-conformist to avoid having any heretical strains. A woke EA means noticing that the FDA might move too slow on approving certain kinds of drugs, while ignoring that the fields of biology and medicine are in the name of sensitivity being transformed to increasingly select for a kind of cultish conformity, pushing brilliant and independent thinkers into other kinds of work.
This has been touched on recently by Tyler Cowen and a variety of forum posts. EA is best able to fulfill its mission of improving well-being when it resists these polite temptations.
We already have a movement that is able to reason carefully, or at least have a rational discussion, on most things while being beyond hopeless on anything related to identity issues. It’s called liberalism! Accept its views on the need for diversity and the causes of group disparities, and you’re just debating technocratic questions about the best way to address global poverty. Which is fine, but makes EA a movement of extremely limited ambitions.
Putting aside political realities, an EA freed from the shackles of wokeness will be better able to live up to its highest ideals by taking seriously important threats to human well-being that the movement currently ignores for purely political reasons. What does it mean that birthrates are decreasing at the same time there is a negative relationship between IQ and fertility across much of the developed world? And, speaking from a strictly utilitarian perspective, why exactly do we let a tiny minority of violent criminals make large swaths of what are potentially some of our most economically productive urban areas uninhabitable, instead of simply getting rid of them in full confidence that we’re doing the greatest good for the largest number of people? These are the kinds of questions an honest movement either has to ignore or become obsessed with.
Hesitance on gene-editing, crime-as-a-cause-area, and yes, so called "HBD" highlight this. EA should be willing to explore all potentially fruitful avenues of mission fulfillment without regard to taboo. I think this topic is well explored in this Scott Alexander excerpt on Jewish achievement
People act like genetic engineering would be some sort of horrifying mad science project to create freakish mutant supermen who can shoot acid out of their eyes. But I would be pretty happy if it could just make everyone do as well as Ashkenazi Jews. The Ashkenazim I know are mostly well-off, well-educated, and live decent lives. If genetic engineering could give those advantages to everyone, it would easily qualify as the most important piece of social progress in history, even before we started giving people the ability to shoot acid out of their eyes.
But maybe the Jewish advantage will turn out to be cultural. If that's true, I think it would be even more interesting - it would mean there's some set of beliefs and norms which can double your income and dectuple your chance of making an important scientific discovery. I was raised by Ashkenazi Jews and I cannot even begin to imagine what those beliefs would be - as far as I can tell, the cultural payload I received as a child was totally normal, just a completely average American worldview. But if I'm wrong, figuring out exactly what was the active ingredient of that payload would be the most important task in social science, far outstripping lesser problems like crime or education or welfare (nobody expects good policy in these areas to double average income!). Far from trying to make this sound "less interesting", we should be recognizing it as one of the most interesting (and potentially socially useful) problems in the world.
EA's existing taboos are preventing it from answering questions like these, and as new taboos are accepted, the effectiveness of the movement will continue to wain.