The EA community has expanded to encompass a broad spectrum of interests, making its identity and definition a hotly debated topic. In my view, the community's current diversity could easily support multiple distinct communities, and if we were building a movement from scratch, it would likely look different from the current EA movement.
Defining sub-communities within the EA movement can be approached in numerous ways. One proposed division that I believe captures much of what people appreciate about the EA community, is as follows:
- Question-based communities
- An Effective Giving Community
- An Impactful Career Community
- Answer-based communities
- An AI X-Risk Community
- An Effective Animal Advocacy Community
An Effective Giving Community
The concept of effective giving is where EA originated and remains a significant component of the community. Notable organizations such as GWWC, Effektiv Spenden, One for the World, Founders Pledge, and others, share a common mission and practical outcomes. The primary metric for this community is directing funds towards highly impactful areas. GiveWell, for instance, is perhaps the first and most recognized organization within this effective giving community outside the EA movement. This community benefits from its diversity and plurality, as many people could, for example, take the 10% pledge, and an even larger number could enhance their giving effectiveness using EA principles. Key concepts for this community could include determining the best charities to donate to, identifying the most effective charity evaluators, and deciding how much one should donate. This, in many ways, echoes the fundamentals of the EA 1.0 community.
An Impactful Career Community
In addition to funding, individuals can contribute to the world through their careers. Much like the effective giving community, there's the question of how to maximize the impact of one's career across multiple cause areas. Organizations such as Probably Good, High Impact Professionals, or Charity Entrepreneurship focus on this area (I intentionally exclude career-focused organizations with a narrow cause area focus, like 80,000 Hours or Animal Advocacy Careers). The objective of this community would be related to career changes and enhancing understanding of the most impactful career paths. Although this is a broadly inclusive community benefiting from cause plurality, it's likely less extensive than the effective giving community, as a smaller percentage of the population will prioritize impact when considering a career switch. Relevant topics for this community could include identifying high absorbency, impactful careers, assessing the most impactful paths for individuals with specific value or skill sets, and determining underrated careers.
Answer-based communities, e.g., AI X-Risk Community
The second community category that is a bit different from these others is anwer-based communities. I think there are two somewhat distinctive answer-based communities in EA: AI and animals. I think AI X-risk is a better example as it's more often mixed with the other above two communities and has significantly grown as a unique area within EA. This community consists of meta-organizations like Longview, Effective Giving and 80,000 Hours as well as the organizations working directly on the problem. It has begun to hold separate forums, conferences, and events. Its shared goal is to mitigate existential risks from AI, a specific objective that doesn't necessarily require members to embrace effective giving or prioritize impact in their careers. However, it does require specific values and epistemic assumptions, leading to this cause being prioritized over others that are also sensible within the EA framework. Much like the adjacent animal welfare community, it is razor-focused on a specific problem and, although it grew out of the EA community, it now occupies a distinct space from EA 1.0 or the EA as a question community.
The Benefits of Distinct Communities
I believe there are considerable benefits to establishing these separate sub-communities. An effective giving community may prefer not to be associated with the practices of the existential risk community, and vice versa. The X-risk community, for instance, could benefit from tapping more into excitement or personal motivations rather than moral obligation, especially given recent updates on timelines. Ultimately, we want EA to be clear about its identity, ensuring that people don't feel like they're joining a community for one reason and are then being misled into another. A more explicit division could also lead to greater focus within each community on the goals it genuinely cares about. For example, if an EA chapter is funded, it's clear whether it's funded by an effective giving community (in which case it would run fundraisers and have people sign up to GWWC), an impactful careers community (thus it would provide career coaching and help members get jobs), or an x-risk community (which would help people donate to or join specific x-risk-focused career paths). I think this sort of division would let us lean into prioritization without losing plurality, as well as helping issues related to maintaining a transparent scope. In some ways, this is almost like having a transparent scope, but applied to a whole movement.