Reasons for EA Meetups to Exist

by casebash 3y20th Jul 20164 comments

11


The latest Slatestarcodex post distinguishes between pushing and pulling goals. A pulling goal is when you start off with the goal and figure out how to achieve it (ie. end world poverty), a pushing goal is when you are given a structure and have to choose a goal that can be accomplished with that structure (ie. write a 2000 word essay).

He remembers when an atheism society was set up in his college by, "There was a Christian Club, and a Buddhist Club, so why shouldn’t the atheists get a club too? So they wrote the charter, they set a meeting time, and then we realized none of us knew what exactly the Atheist Club was supposed to do. The Christian Club prayed and did Bible study; the Buddhist club meditated, the atheist club…sat around and tried to brainstorm Atheist Club activities. Occasionally we came up with some, like watching movies relevant to atheism, or having speakers come in and talk about how creationism was really bad. But we weren’t doing this because we really wanted to watch movies relevant to atheism, or because we were interested in what speakers had to say about creationism. We were doing this because we’d started an Atheist Club and now we had to come up with a purpose for it."

An Effective Altruism society can easily end up existing for much the same reason. For example, there are a bunch of other charitable societies at my university, why shouldn't EA have such a club too? It is very possible that an Effective Altruism society will spend time organising talks that no-one particularly wants or hosting discussions that no-one is particularly interested in, just because they feel that they should.

Scott Alexander suggests a solution to this problem:

"In the example of the Atheist Club, that thing might have been starting the club in the first place. But assuming that we genuinely want to start the club, then the presence of a pushing goal means we don’t understand why we wanted to start the club. If we wanted to start it because we wanted to hang out with other atheists, then that offers a blueprint for a solution to the problem – instead of planning all these movies and speakers, we should just hang out. If we did it because we thought it was important for atheism to be more visible on campus, then again, that offers a blueprint for a solution – spend our sessions trying to improve atheism’s campus visibility. If we just sit there saying “I guess we have an Atheist Club now, better think of something to do at meetings”, then it seems like something important hasn’t been fully examined."

To assist with figuring out the purpose of your EA meetup, I decided to break down potential goals for an EA meetup.

 

  • Direct impact:

    • This is the end goal of EA and important in terms of maintaining credibility and convincing people to want to join

    • Examples: donating money volunteering time

  • Advocacy:

    • Promoting EA ideas and behaviours outside of the EA movement. Successful advocacy might make it easier for the movement to grow as a side-effect, but this is of course hard to measure.

    • Examples: The Life You Can Save promoting effective giving and giving pledges, 40k promoting give-to-earn and the idea of replaceability

  • Recruitment:

    • In order for a new EA society to survive, the most important task is to recruit more committed members. Unfortunately, while the original members may be committed to recruitment in-and-of-itself, new members are unlikely to immediately be onboard with this goal - they tend to need some other reason to be a member.

    • Examples: Convincing people to self-identify as an EA or join an EA organisation

  • Effectiveness Training:

    • Teaching EAs how to be altruistic more effectively. This is important, but I suspect that this quickly hits diminishing returns after a member is aware of most of the core concepts.

    • Examples: 80k workshop, concept clubs

  • Generic Skills Training:

    • Teaching EAs generic skills that can indirectly help them to be more effective.

    • Examples: Center for Applied Rationality, Toastmasters like exercises, Interview training

  • Community:

    • Providing EAs with opportunities to socialise, meet each other and have fun. In terms benefiting the EA movement a a whole, impact is mainly related to side effects such as increased recruitment, better member retention, more networking and increased collaboration. If excessive focus is placed on this goal

    • Examples: Dinners, general conversation, watching a movie


I think that it is important to figure out the goals of your community before deciding on specific activities.