NB: First post on the forums - take it lightly!
Tldr; I've recently joined the University of Oxford for my undergraduate degree and have felt compelled to write a forum post in regards to the importance of a strong community.
From my point of view, community building efforts have been instrumental in changing a strong hobby to an integral part of identity leading to high expected impact. I see this as akin to a political entrepreneur activating a past social cleavage and arguably the most high impact cause area. My reasoning is that strong communities fulfil our basic psychological needs for an abstract idea such as Effective Altruism.
I developed a rather fleeting interest in Effective Altruism during the first wave of lockdowns back in 2020 mainly from the philosophical roots of its core beliefs. Yet, despite reading extensively about it, for a long time, it remained a subset of modern consequentialist beliefs more than anything in my mind. Yet, upon reflection, it seemed clear that a clear and strong life interest was found. I tried to get involved with the closest EA group open to me (EA Bristol) yet, due to a mix of a geographical distance and the lack of a community aimed around similar demographics and career progression as me, such afflication was weak. I pondered starting an EA chapter in my old educational institution before ultimately deciding against it after even the most basic 'market research' would see it fail due to a severe lack of interest.
At this stage, EA was still an academic interest. I would suspect it would had remained as such if not for a strong community for, it is very difficult for our inner 'monkey brains' to have a genuine life motivation from reading academic papers no matter how impactful and well-written Famine, Affluence and Morality is.
I joined the University of Oxford to study for my undergraduate degree.
It is only within these past few months where such an academic interest became a core integral part of my identity. Argubly, this was actualised by the strong community in which I find myself now within satisfying our inner 'monkey-brains' need for social stimulation. I will list some examples:
- Instead of pondering the relative importance of animal suffering vs AI risk, I can now have fruitful discussions on said topic.
- No longer alone in weirdly declining all opportunities to donate at checkouts, to charities raising money on the high street and when approached but at the same time donating significant amounts of AMF.
- Being able to discuss scepticisms actively instead of internalising said scepticisms without much thought.
- Having a group of people in which terms such as "EV", "X-risk", "long-termism" etc don't require a bucketload of explaination and boredom for both parties.
I don't think intrinsically I have any more convinced of the core arguments behind EA than I once was before Oxford yet, the ability to cultivate a social community in which satisfies our basic psychological needs (which I have been referencing as our 'monkey-brains') has allowed a transformation in how it is actualised. This seems similar to political entrepreneurs tapping into pent-up demand or a neglected style of politics. They've always been there but an agent was required to truely actualise it.
It comes without saying, I feel extremely fortunate for where I find myself.
I am however, aware of members of our community who have online resources as the main methodology for remaining within our community. While it is obviously vastly significantly better than nothing, I believe for the past majority of people, in person communities are on a different order of magnitude better. I have been apart of online communities before and I cannot envision it being as nearly as easy to adopt as an integral part of your identity as an in-person community for the vast majority of people.
I hope this post inspires further in-person community building of sorts.