I’m troubled by two posts I’ve seen lately distinguishing between “hardcore” and “softcore” effective altruists. Even if we introduce these terms with the goal of reducing stigma, “softcore” is always going to sound a bit insulting. (Not to mention that it’s typically used to describe porn, not people.)

Do other types of movements make this distinction? Political parties include a wide spectrum of people from those who simply vote, to those who campaign for particular causes or candidates, to those who hold office and spend their entire careers to their party. “Environmentalists” include everyone from those who try to conserve energy in their daily lives to those choosing radically different lifestyles and working for major policy changes. Some religious traditions distinguish between “laypeople” and those who have taken vows, but this term doesn’t have the same dismissive connotation as “softcore” (perhaps because it’s understood that clergy and monastics could not exist without the support of the laity).

Of course, there will be variation in how involved people get with any movement. Some people will keep their engagement with effective altruism at a fairly casual level—perhaps telling friends and family about an excellent charity. Others will become deeply involved, committing much more of their time and money. People will shift between levels as their beliefs and life circumstances change, perhaps as they become more committed or develop health problems. And it’s hard to tell from the outside how difficult a particular level is for any given person; an amount of effort or money that's easy for one person will be a major stretch for another.

Having strictly defined categories of involvement doesn’t seem likely to help. Even among people who have taken some concrete step like taking the Giving What We Can pledge or organizing an EA meetup, there will be a lot of variation in effort and impact. So perhaps it makes sense to see involvement with effective altruism as a continuum rather than a two-category division.

One of the things I love about effective altruism is that it demonstrates how small changes—whether moving your donations to better charities, learning about a career you didn’t know much about, or giving away enough to put you in the world’s richest 2% instead of the richest 1%—can lead to big impacts. I would hate to see these kinds of changes minimized as “soft.”


Thanks to Michelle Hutchinson, Oliver Habryka, and Tyler Alterman for feedback; all opinions expressed are my own.


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+1 for 'Dedicated EAs' and 'EAs'. I think 80k internally could describe all it wants to describe in simple English using those terms. It's naturally a continuum. If you really really need to describe people who are into EA but not that dedicated then 'less dedicated' is fine. "Committed" could work too. (I understand 'dedicated' to mean: how highly someone scores on the product of 'into effectiveness' and 'into altruism'.)

-1 for 'full-time' and 'part-time', I don't think it conveys what we mean (at least, doesn't to me; I'd be confused when I first heard it) and I'd personally find it annoying to be described as 'part-time'.

+10000 for ditching 'hardcore' and 'softcore'

First off, a comment I left on Facebook on this:

"I would also strongly advocate for describing the "softcore" EAs as simply 'EAs' or 'effective altuists' and then inventing a new term for the more 'hardcore' among us (how many of us are there anyway? Can't we all just agree to use a code word when talking to each other and otherwise not worry about this issue?). Fears of being judged or looked down on because they aren't 'hardcore' enough in some form or other are still the most common reasons I hear for people who basically agree with EA staying at a distance from the movement. I wish I could more easily to communicate to those people just how terrible a job most EAs do of living up to their ideals."

So yeah, I don't like the word 'softcore'. In fact, because I expect 80%+ of EAs and rising to be 'softcore' for the foreseeable future I don't see the point in having a word for them at all. They're the baseline and don't need a special descriptor.

It would be useful to have a descriptor for those who make EA large part of their 'life's work' in some way. I actually don't mind 'hardcore' here. Hardcore is already used in this context in many other movements (hardcor... (read more)

Thanks for pasting that comment here - I was sure there had been a really good discussion on this, with a general consensus that "softcore" needed to disappear. Perhaps I was just really persuaded by your comment and assumed others were likewise. I agree there's less an issue a designation for "very involved" being a bit negative, but I'm moderately opposed to "hardcore" because although it is used as you describe, I think its strongest association is with porn.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/979061645483526/ [https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/979061645483526/] I think Will Macaskill and I both advocated for the same position and got a lot of likes, so I understand your impression. I was sort of surprised to see the word wheeled out again, especially given I don't think 'softcore' was ever really intended for widespread use in the original post, just to contrast to the (more widely used) word 'hardcore'. And fair enough re. hardcore. I don't have that association at all really (I recognise it, but it's far from the first example-usage I think of), but I'm not averse to ditching the term or at least using it selectively based on audience if multiple people have that association given this is all a PR/perception question in the first place. So....'full-time' it is?

Practical arguments:

  • I once spent 30 minutes debating EA recruitment techniques with someone and we spent the entire time talking past each other. Two days later these terms came out and we realized he was talking softcore and I was talking hardcore. Having those terms available would have made it a much more productive discussion because the techniques and best targets are completely different.

  • The advice is different. 80k hours' advice for EA global participants is almost opposite its public advice (e.g. flipping the emphasis on direct work vs. donating). I advise people on the street to give to AMF, my statistician father to donate to GiveWell, "softcore" EAs to OPP, and "hardcore" to donate to metacharities, unproven new ideas, or to nudge charities to be more effective.

  • At a certain point of income and what someone's time produces for the world, donating to even the most effective charity is net negative to the world, because freeing up their time or brain has more impact. Having a socially acceptable way to mark that and reverse the pressure to donate seems really useful.

These aren't 100% correlated- by definition the people who shouldn't donate shouldn't donate to metacharities. And we need better words. But I think the concept is useful enough to keep.

FYI I downvoted this comment because I don't believe it's useful to post short comments agreeing with the parent comment (that's what upvotes are for!).
6Owen Cotton-Barratt7y
I'm not sure I agree; it's useful to be able to indicate different levels of strength of agreement. Also, I'll often upvote comments whose conclusion I disagree with if I think they made a useful contribution to the discussion.
I agree with Owen - a comment is a stronger upvote, plus it's public where upvotes are private.
I'm working on expanding this idea into a full post; what I have now is a fine tumblr post but not nearly polished enough for EA forum. Would you be willing to take a look and give comments? A lot of what I want to do is talk about what decisions need what information, and you're in a good position to know that.
Sure send it over.

In thinking about terminology, it might be useful to distinguish (i) magnitude of impact and (ii) value alignment. There are a lot of wealthy individuals who've had an enormous impact (and should be applauded for it), but who correctly are not described as "EA." And there are individuals who are extremely value aligned with the imaginary prototypical EA (or range of prototypical EAs) but whose impact might be quite small, through no fault of their own. Incidentally, I think those in the latter category are better community leaders than those in the former.

Edit: I'm not suggesting that either group should be termed anything; just that the current terminology seems to elide these groups.

So perhaps it makes sense to see involvement with effective altruism as a continuum rather than a two-category division.

Yes, very much agreed about the continuum, I made the same point in my earlier post on this topic.

Do other types of movements make this distinction? Political parties include a wide spectrum of people from those who simply vote, to those who campaign for particular causes or candidates, to those who hold office and spend their entire careers to their party.

There is a quite strong distinction drawn between simple voters, to donors, ... (read more)

The only way to get people to stop using these terms is if we have an alternative way of indicating how much someone is likely to sacrifice in the pursuit of helping others.

AGB reiterates a good suggestion he'd previously made on the facebook group: that no modification is needed for people who participate in EA without being a maximal sacrificer, and it's entirely appropriate to call those people effective altruists. If we want a term for people who are hugely involved, or sacrifice a great deal of their own well-being (I'm not convinced self-sacrifice is a good metric here, but that's another conversation), can't we just find a modifier for those people? Dedicated/devoted may be less problematic when you don't have to search for a counterpart that isn't dismissive.
Sure, but then how do you you refer to the group that are effective altruists but not 'full-time' (or whatever term)? 'Effective altruists who aren't full time' is very cumbersome. People want to refer to this group when speaking and if they don't have a nice term to hand, will use one that isn't nice.
What is actually wrong with 'Effective altruists'? If I talk about 'Christians' without much context, you will assume I am referring to the baseline Christian who believes in Jesus, God and the Resurrection, has a passing but far from comprehensive knowledge of the bible, etc. If I want to refer to a narrower group than that, I might say 'pastors', 'fundamentalist Christians', etc. I don't need to say something like 'casual Christians'. Similarly, if I talk about 'Labour supporters' without much context, you will assume I am referring to the lowest common denominator; people who routinely vote Labour and broadly agree with the party's policy stances. Not activists, donors, politicians, or wannabe politicians. Partly this is a numbers game; the vast majority of Christians (at least in an irreligious country like the UK) are concentrated at the casual end of the spectrum. Ditto for Labour supporters, environmentalists, and even animal welfare advocates. So if you refer to them on mass, it can be safely assumed you are talking about the casual version. Movements virtually always overwhelmingly concentrate at the casual end, because it's just very hard to get people to do anything that isn't casual. I really don't expect EA to be any different even within a year or two if it isn't there already, and I think the only reason it looks a bit different now is because (a) the core is relatively large due to the youth of the movement and (b) we're having this discussion on the EA forum, which was created by the core for the core. Edit: But if you insist on having a modifier, what about 'most'? If I want to communicate the fact that 'casual', 'liberal', Christians in the UK are not anti-gay-marriage, I would just say something like 'actually most Christians in the UK aren't anti-gay-marriage, even if the archbishops are'. I can imagine similar statements for EAs such as: 'Most EAs don't give nearly as much as they think they should.' 'Most EAs don't change their careers
To put this another way - when I'm giving someone career advice, how 'hardcore' they are is one of the top 3 things I need to know to tailor the information to them so that it's actually useful. Things that make our content more appealing to 'hardcore' people can make it less appealing to 'softcore' people and vice versa. If I need to communicate that to someone else on the team, I need a way to express it in words. Because I'm doing work to directly serve these different groups, I can't afford to enter a fantasy land where we refuse to have a descriptive term for a group, because acknowledging its existence would hurt someone's feelings.
For this purpose, things like "more committed" and "less committed" seem like they would work, and indicate a range rather than firm categories.
Very good points! I was updating closer to ABG's position initially, but these points convinced me that we really need terms to indicate both the lower end and the higher end of involvement. Thanks!
I just think you're trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist. The reason I think it doesn't exist is because most movements don't have the problem. You can either explain why we're actually different, how they are actually the same, or why such successful movements as Christianity and the Labour movement also living in fantasy land. In the last case you also need to explain why living in fantasy land is actually bad if it doesn't prevent such success (i.e. Could it be, maybe, that respecting people's feelings correlates with movement building success..?) What you can't do is patronise the problem out of existence. I await a real response that meets one of the above three criteria.
I don't think we are different. I think those groups do use extreme and some other term for less extreme. Perhaps not in their induction booklet, but internally definitely they do. How can they possibly canvas without recognising the range of views in the people they speak to? There are benefits to being welcoming, and there are benefits to being demanding. I think being so undemanding that we go far out of our way to avoid thinking about or drawing attention to differences in how extreme people's attitudes are is too far. We have to retain at least some intellectual honesty about describing the world as we see it and not bullshitting the people we speak to.
Because effective altruists includes both groups. We have a set A, that is comprised of (non-overlapping) subsets B and C. You're saying we should have a name for A, a name for B, but refuse to have a name for C. It won't work. People will naturally want to refer to group C when composing sentences. We need a word we like, or we'll get one we don't. I do indeed use expressions like 'relaxed Christians', 'soft-core labour members', etc. It's absurd to discourage the use of such terms when identifying those groups. The world is the way it is, describing it doesn't make it so. If someone doesn't want to be called a soft-core labour member, maybe they should be more hardcore.
"The world is the way it is, describing it doesn't make it so." This is true of the natural world, but not of the social world. Our categorisations of social behaviour have well-known consequences on behaviour.
Perception of reality >> reality most of the time. Reality only affects how the world works right now, perception of reality affects how everyone responds to it which in turn affects how the world works in future. Many perceptions are self-fulfilling, so that perception will in fact become the reality after a (typically short) time delay. 'EA is hardcore-only' is actually a classic example of such a perception. Whether it's actually true is just much much less important than whether people think it's true, because the latter is a better predictor of reality in the long term than the former. And presumably we care about the long-term.
* In my ideal world everyone would be a hardcore EA. * I think we should also be fun for those who aren't willing to be extreme yet, or ever if they are willing to meet some minimum bar. * I agree softcore is too unappealing a term. Part-time seems fine and not negative by design. * I think we must be honest internally about how extreme people's views are, or we lose a great deal of clarity in describing them. There's just no practical way I can do my work without thinking and talking in terms of how dedicated someone is to doing good at cost to themselves. This level of group taboo even risks pushing us in the direction of ceasing to be aware that we are trying to get people to become more extreme.
What's 'internally'? I have no interest in policing people's internal thoughts or private conversations where they are confident they everyone in the room is going to understand what they mean. But that's in the same way as I don't mind the use of the vast majority of offensive language behind firmly closed doors; I just can't see the harm. But that doesn't mean it isn't offensive*. But anything that could at some point be read by a journalist, including this forum and random blog posts, should be held to a significantly higher standard in my book. The clarity versus reputational risk trade-off looks alarmingly poor given you're basically complaining about having to add an extra clause or two to your sentences in public-facing material only. *Not that I would go as far as calling the suggestions here offensive. I'm just elaborating on the principle.
Sounds like we have been talking past one another - I'm really only talking about closed-door conversations and thoughts in your head. Clearly you have to be much more careful when speaking to a wide audience.
That wasn't really clear though, since this discussion started upon the term being used in public facing channels.
I thought I'd made it clear by talking about how it was necessary given my job and so on, but evidently I hadn't.
In response to edit: Most is at least something, but it makes it pretty unclear what you are driving at. Compare: * Most EAs don't eat enough vegetables. * Softcare EAs / Part time EAs don't eat enough vegetables. In one case you're just making a general statement about everyone. In the second you're claiming this is correlated with how extreme their attitudes are. I prefer full-time and part-time. It's not insulting. It's quite descriptive. Let's just go with that.
'Most EAs don't eat enough vegetables, though the dedicated ones do' sounds fine to me. It's actually almost directly analogous to my chosen example ('actually most Christians in the UK aren't anti-gay-marriage, even if the archbishops are').
I find going this far out of our way to be indirect and use convoluted sentence structures to avoid acknowledging some people's lax moral attitudes a bad sign about our intellectual integrity.
Why does this avoid acknowledging? The example I gave conveys the same factual information that casual EAs suck at eating vegetables, which means it acknowledges and indeed explicitly states the same factual reality. If I was refusing to even talk about the state of the world, then worrying about intellectual integrity seems reasonable. But actually the content is unchanged, and all it does is eliminate a loaded word that can and will be used to make some people feel bad, whether you want it to or not. Whereas I've never yet met the person who has been offended by being caught under the qualifier 'most'.
0Owen Cotton-Barratt7y
This is complicated by the fact that you might just want to make the statement about literal vegetables, where "most" is true but doesn't align with a level of dedication. I'm sympathetic to not generally using a term for this.
Agreed. I propose "dedicated" and "casual" as transitory terms, pending their complete discontinuation. ("Part-time" / "full-time" or "devoted EAs" / "layperson EAs" could also work... regardless, there's no need to use "softcore" / "hardcore" any more.)
I'm not fond of casual/committed as "casual" would offend some who feel they are committed.
Those are definitely improvements! One issue with "casual" is that it's a bit negative - and dismissive of people who, say, give 10% or 20% of their income. I like "part-time" / "full-time" the most. I brought up brainstorming new terms in the other thread at http://effective-altruism.com/ea/sl/celebrating_all_who_are_in_effective_altruism/6cp?context=1#6cp [http://effective-altruism.com/ea/sl/celebrating_all_who_are_in_effective_altruism/6cp?context=1#6cp]
I'm happy with full-time and part-time. Doesn't seem insulting and is fairly descriptive.
"Part-time" and "full-time" sound work-related, and I wouldn't be surprised if people initially read them as applying only to earning to give. Sorry, I realize I'm doing the annoying thing where someone criticizes a term and then doesn't come up with a replacement. I honestly don't have a good replacement.
"Associate EA" / "Dedicated EA"? (Trying to get creative: "flex EA", "10% EA", "decilife EA", "adequate EA", "regular EA", "relaxed EA", "lifestyle EA" (ambiguous?), "junior EA"? "EA-curious" for people who haven't donated much time/money yet?)
I like "EA-curious."
Agreed. Someone earning to give doesn't meet the literal characterization of "full time" EA. How about fully aligned and partially aligned (and any other modifier to "aligned" that might be descriptive)?
I believe the category of membership in the EA movement should apply only to people who are fully value-aligned with the movement, meaning that they hold “doing the most good for the world” as a significant and notable value. The question of where they are on the spectrum of involvement in the EA movement would correlate to how high they perceive this value in comparison to other values they hold, as demonstrated by their behavior.
The same problem occurred to me. You're probably right that "part-time" and "full-time" are better.
"Full time" and "part time" do sound less judgmental than the other terms (actually I'm not so confident about about that, calling someone a "part time EA" seems pretty dismissive). But they seem to misdescribe the concept we're actually talking about: you can be a full time EA worker and pretty casual, low-sacrifice-level and conversely you can be part time and super-dedicated, enormously self-sacrificial.
I disagree. I think most part-time EAs would be happy to admit that they don't try to do the most good with anywhere close to all of their time or resources. If they're not then, as Rob says, this is an inevitable result of their not being happy to admit what they actually do. As to this being a distinct concept from full-time EA workers, I think we can make that clear. It's not a perfect one but a better one hasn't been suggested.

It seems like we really don't know whether a more hierarchical structure is good for EA or not. Some types of organizations/institutions have hierarchies (most religions, governments, companies), and some (like more social movements, communities, friend groups) don't, or have extremely informal and loose ones.

At best, the hierarchies provide valuable information about merit and dedication level, facilitate coordination, and incentivize high-quality work. At worst, they fuck everything up completely.

I don't think we have good information about what structu... (read more)

Anecdotally, I tried to explain my friend in global health activism that effective altruism is a movement/philosophy, not an organization something like five times now, and he still doesn't really get it. He keeps on asking me where "effective altruism"'s headquarters are. I told him about CEA but emphasized that there's important work being done that isn't directly connected to CEA (eg. GiveWell), but I don't really think he gets it/really believes me. Some people takes the non-hierarchal elements of EA deeply in stride, and some people have a lot of trouble understanding it, apparently.
I think it's important to differentiate between the degree to which a hierarchy is "formal" and the degree to which a hierarchy is "loose". A Silicon Valley startup may have a hierarchy that's "formal" in the sense that everyone has a job title, but "loose" in the sense that it's very acceptable to tell your boss why they're wrong. A high school [http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html] may have a hierarchy that's "informal" in the sense that no one has a title specifying their position in the hierarchy, but "tight" in the sense that people lower in the hierarchy have very little influence. I suspect as a group grows, formation of some kind of hierarchy is basically inevitable. Jockeying for status is a very deep human behavior. I expect groups that explicitly disclaim hierarchy to have a de facto hierarchy of some sort or another. The de facto hierarchy can end up being much worse than a formal hierarchy would be. The extreme example would be an autocratic communist state where the official fiction is that everyone is equal. To take a less extreme example, I'm not very familiar with the environmental movement, but I wouldn't be surprised if environmentalists with lots of twitter followers are de facto significantly more influential than ones without. My observation is that people who are good at getting attention online tend to be [http://www.amazon.com/Trust-Me-Lying-Confessions-Manipulator/dp/1591846285/] people who enjoy generating controversies and have lots of time on their hands, which probably aren't ideal characteristics for a leader. Paradoxically, I suspect hierarchies tend to work better when they are at least somewhat immobile. In a turbulent hierarchy without formal rules for ascension, you select for some combination of skill at rabble-rousing (in order to ascend in the hierarchy) and skill at repression (in order to defend one's position)--good leadership becomes a rarer and less stable state. I don't know whether a formal hierarchy would be right
I wonder if it can be helpful to have more formal hierarchy for EAs for the purpose of managing status jockeying.
Yeah, maybe. I'm trying to think of groups that do this besides the usual suspects (governments, corporations, religions, and nonprofits) that we could learn from. The ideal example might be a group that has formal titles but is still mostly run by volunteers. Maybe Scouting? The Society for Creative Anachronism / LARPing? Volunteer organizations? Service groups like Rotary/Lions/City Year/etc.? I guess Giving What We Can would probably be the organization we'd want to administer the titles? It does kinda feel like someone should award you a title after you've pledged to donate 10% of your income to charity for the rest of your life (or after you've made your first 10% donation say, to better align incentives). This is something simple GWWC could do to recognize layperson EAs. Gamification of EA... I wonder how many achievements I can unlock! You could have an achievement for working at a recognized EA organization for at least 6 months, having donated for 5 (then 10) consecutive years, etc. etc.
I think some people love this kind of thing - I remember being drawn to scouting once I read about all the steps you could take to earn different badges and awards, and how disappointed I was when I joined a troop and realized the other girls were not interested in grubbing after badges in their spare time, so that pursuing the status symbols would make me look like a dweeb. Other people hate that kind of thing from the beginning. It probably has a lot to do with whether they see the people handing out rewards as having real authority ("Who are they to tell me how good I am?") Whereas several people have pointed to examples of those who are relieved to have some category that indicates one can be a "casual" EA, as this lets them self-identify as EA without being super involved.
There's been discussion of this and 'EA points systems' over the past. Here's the .impact page for the idea [https://impact.hackpad.com/EA-Point-Systems-EA-Gamification-zTer4SQCS7h].
Feminism has first/second/third wave feminists, but I think that's not an ideal example due to infighting within the feminism movement. Volunteer organizations certainly have lots of different titles to choose from. For example, leader/organizer/activist vs. member/participant. We can have "leader" EA leader vs. "normal" EA for example. If we're going to make it organizational, I'd say The Life You Can Save can award the lower-level EA status, as their pledge minimum is 1%, and maybe GWWC can award higher-level EA status, but I'm not convinced organizations should be the ones doing the awards. Gamification of EA - intriguing!
What alternatives did you have in mind?
Perhaps a community-recognized standard, or something like that, with people ascribing it to themselves. After all, all giving is self-reported anyhow. Moreover, I think we should have a standard that's based on resourced contributed, not money contributed. For example, if you spend your resources - time and money - convincing others to give effectively, that could mean you're doing quite a bit more good in the long run than contributing yourself. So my take would be that devoting 1% of your resources, however defined, to EA causes should be sufficient to be at the lower-level threshold of an EA. Not sure what the higher-level threshold should be.
I think the honor system is not super scalable in the long run. There's always a small portion of the population who are jerks. If telling people you are an "official EA" means something, then there well be an incentive to fake this. I would like to see GWWC work towards eventually doing donation verification. I also think receiving a title from someone else is significantly more meaningful than bestowing it upon yourself. One complaint I've heard about Google's promotion process is that you have to nominate yourself, which works against people who have humbler dispositions. For some reason this blog post [https://thingofthings.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/generalized-shame-disorder/] I read recently also comes to mind. If you are giving 10% of your income to effective charities, or even 1%, I think there should be an organization that says "no, you really are being a good person, please take this token of our gratitude on behalf of those you're helping". Of course. I'm in favor of there being a broad range of merit badges one could earn in this thought experiment.
Ok, you convinced me, I updated toward your position of the benefits of having an external source of bestowing a title. Not sure if GWWC is the best source for it, but that's a downstream question.
One thing that gets closer to this is that we now have a Trust through which people can donate to our recommended charities, which means we have a more direct sense of how much people are donating. (It also has other important benefits, like donors being able to get tax deductions on charities that aren't registered in the UK.) At the moment this is only a UK registered charity, but we're hoping to broaden the process to other countries.
Relevant essay: The Tyranny of Structurelessness [http://www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm]
Claire, in my comment below [http://effective-altruism.com/ea/so/against_segregating_eas/6d5], I point out why I think we need some distinctions in order to increase movement impact.

Thanks for this post Julia.

I know lots of people have been seeking alternatives to the 'hardcore vs softcore' terms that seem to have sprung up, and I agree that alternative terms are preferable to those two for many reasons. However I think you've addressed a much more important issue, that any binary categorisation is artificial and likely to be counterproductive.

Hi Julia - I wholeheartedly agree with your semantic point: the words "hardcore" and "softcore" seem potentially harmful.

However, I wonder if the stronger thesis is true: "Having strictly defined categories of involvement doesn’t seem likely to help."

It seems plausible, but I can think of worlds in which categories of involvement actually do play an important role. (For instance, there is a reason galas will do things like sort donors into silver, gold, and platinum levels based on their level of contribution.) Since one coul... (read more)

I've thought about this question for two days, and in the end I feel sure that "hardcore" and "softcore" are not the terms we want, but not sure about whether using category words for EAs is helpful or not. People seem to self-sort pretty well even without the words. In any in-person group, even when all the people have the same official title (“member,” “parishioner,” etc), everybody knows who just shows up sometimes and who writes the newsletter, serves on all the committees, etc. Because so much of EA happens outside of face-to-face communities, perhaps we struggle more to figure out who is who.

I'm interested to see people phrasing their arguments in terms of distinguishing how much sacrifice people make.

Personally, I'm sympathetic to distinguishing between how much impact people have, but thinking too hard about who sacrifices the most (except inasmuch as it's correlated with the former) seems like it's against the spirit of EA. It's about how much good you do, not how much you give up to do it!

If you're living on $10k and donating $90k, then donating your marginal $10k is WAY more of a sacrifice than if you're living on $90k and donating $10k. ... (read more)

I think there are some reasons to care about how much sacrifice people make (and related things, like effort, motivation etc.) independent of impact. One obvious one: you can ask and expect people different things of people who are making or are willing to make huge sacrifices compared to those who will only sacrifice a bit. Drawing the distinction is necessary to do a lot of practical tasks. It's also very important to what kind of movement EA is as a whole: if we are 90% diehard EAs who will donate their last penny to effective charity that's a very different movement to if we are 90% people who don't much care for sacrifice.

It seems we also want to recognise the efforts of people who sacrifice a lot but don't produce so much impact. Even if we try to avoid it we're inevitably always shuffling around symbolic status and recognition. We want to respect 'the widow's mite' - rather than assign recognition purely based on what actually gets done, given that being able to do a lot depends on the privilege of being able to get a lot done.

I think it can also be incredibly useful PR-wise. The trader making 150K after taxes and living on minimum wage might be doing less good with her donations than the trader making 500K and living on 250K, but emotionally, the former is generally seen as a LOT more admirable, in some sense better for young idealistic people to live up to, and (most importantly) generate more press for people to first hear about the movement and then later find out that they can do a lot of good without being as extreme. Also (and I'm less sure about this), I think in some sense anchoring people to "large sacrifice" and then learning about how you can do a lot of good while making a smaller sacrifice, or being able to do good in ways that don't feel like sacrifices at all, is a better recruitment measure than anchoring people to "ridiculously awesome ways to make an impact." and then hearing that you can do much less, but still a lot of good.
My perspective is that telling people "hey, you can take these small steps to do awesome good things" is a highly beneficial step to take, but not necessarily a recruitment mechanism - that requires more consideration about the kind of people we're attracting to the movement.
I agree about respecting the widow's mite [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesson_of_the_widow's_mite] - thanks for that term, David, didn't know about it before and had to look it up, appreciate the knowledge gained :-) I think it may be better to phrase contributions in terms of resources rather than money. If one can use one's time to influence others to donate to EA causes, for example, this can be a much more useful activity for advancing flourishing than donating money. This way of framing things also addresses the talent gap [https://80000hours.org/2015/11/why-you-should-focus-more-on-talent-gaps-not-funding-gaps/] in EA better.
Yeh the use of "diehard EAs who will donate their last penny" is purely an example, I don't mention money other than that (and the proverbial mite of course).
Same page, then :-)
But EA is about doing the most good that you can. So anyone who is doing the most good that they could possibly do is being an amazing EA. Someone on £1million who donates £50K is not doing anywhere near as much good as they could do. The rich especially should be encouraged to make big sacrifices, as they do have the power to do the most good.
1Owen Cotton-Barratt7y
But this will tend to neglect the fact that people can make choices which make them richer, possibly at personal cost. If we systematically ignore this, we will probably encourage people too much into careers which they enjoy with low consumption levels. I think it's important to take both degree of sacrifice (because the amount we can do isn't entirely endogenous) and absolute amount achieved (because nor is it entirely exogenous) into account.
Yeah good point. If people choose a job which they enjoy less then that's a huge sacrifice, and should be applauded.

Do other types of movements make this distinction? Political parties... “Environmentalists”...religious traditions.

Yes, these terms (or their cognates) are routinely applied to all these examples, and more, because the concepts are indispensable. The clergy/leity distinction is orthogonal to this: we certainly distinguish between the most devout, diehard, extreme, hardcore Christians and the soft, liberal, nominal, softcore vaguely Christian.

Having strictly defined categories of involvement doesn’t seem likely to help.

I've not seen any strictly defi... (read more)

I'm against segregating EAs, and if we ever have separate water fountains or bus seats for different classes of EA, I will protest. (EDIT: Looking back on this, I was using something of a strawman here. I apologise. My intent was to distinguish between segregation and categorisation.)

Categorisation, however, is something that we inevitably do and which is sometimes useful to do.

If categorisation makes people feel minimised or relegated to second class status, it's a problem. In line with some other comments here, I'm in favour of a term such as hardcore o... (read more)

I like the term "non-hardcore" as the opposite of "hardcore." Good idea!

Retracted for gratuitous snarkiness.

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Ironically, the term "Effective Altruist" was originally invented as a replacement for "super-duper hardcore people", so this seems to be something of an example of linguistic drift. It was never originally intended to be a public-facing term.

By Will's account [http://www.effective-altruism.com/ea/5w/the_history_of_the_term_effective_altruism/] , the phrase "effective altruism" was very intentionally developed and voted on because the Centre for Effective Altruism needed a name.
At the time CEA itself was not intended to be public facing.
Indeed, from Will's post

Whatever phrase we choose, clearly we are referring to something real when we speak of EAs who are "hardcore" or "softcore". Just because some people are in the middle doesn't mean that there is no use to be had in drawing a distinction. Clearly we have an issue that we need to talk about, and we can start chucking words out of our lexicon, but if we are chucking words out of our lexicon merely because they refer to concepts that make us uncomfortable, then either (a) we are going to replace them with new words that still make us uncomf... (read more)

I'm not entirely sure how useful it is to have different terminologies for levels of contribution or willingness to contribute instead of just being explicit about levels of contribution at any stage where that realistically comes up (whether it's # of pledgers or #of plan changes, for example), or later on (hopefully!), # of politicians who identify with EA. <-My certainty on this point is fairly low, I'm much more certain about the next point: "The real question is not whether we are minimizing the contributions of less committed EAs, but whether we are (a) praising the contributions of EAs in proportion to the magnitude of their contribution, or (b) praising the contributions of EAs disproportionately to their contribution by praising everyone more or less equally. There are good reasons to opt for (b), but we should be clear that it is a departure from what is instinctively appropriate and therefore requires motivation." (a) is not at all intuitive to me. Praise is useful as (1) a feedback mechanism (2) general happiness increases (3)making the praised feel desired and part of a community, (4) engendering goodwill to the praiser and activating positive reciprocity norms. Praising people who do more good work more is intuitive, but it is not all intuitive that we want the praise to be proportionate to the amount of good work done. The strongest way I could steelman your argument is imagining that (1) is by far the most important function of praise, and that we do not have more granular ways to provide useful feedback other than through quantity of compliments. I think on balance (2)-(4) are pretty important too, and I also think that in general, you can be specific enough with praise to provide useful positive feedback that it doesn't have to be so inefficient as praising somebody 1000x more times for doing 1000x more work.
Well imagine if we were talking about cities - we could refuse to say "small city" or "big city", and then just enumerate the total length of road or the number of skyscrapers everytime such a feature was relevant... sure it would work, but it wouldn't be great. Likewise, being fully or lightly involved in EA signals a wide range of covariant behaviors and attitudes which we might want to keep ourselves attuned to. If we were giving praise on a nonconsequentialist point of view, then it would be the right thing to do, and intuitions tend to follow well-rounded nonconsequentialist moral ideas pretty well. Of course we would praise those who sacrificed more, because that's implied by their sacrifices being praiseworthy. I don't know if feedback (which, as I understand it, as a purely informational phenomenon?) is the right way to put it. Rather, we want to motivate members of the group to act certain ways, we want to keep the most-contributing individuals from dropping out or no longer caring, and we want to reinforce certain ideals and values because they are important to (or are) the goals of the movement. 2 is technically valid, but it's like saying we should donate to Givewell because their researchers are happier than other researchers. 3 is sound, but for 4, blanket praise to all EAs interferes with reciprocity norms because the praise now has an extra degree of insensitivity to actual behavior.
The standard metric for city size is population. I normally ask for/specify this because different people's ideas for big city/small city are VERY different. US vs. Europe vs. East Asia for example. Madison, Wisconsin is considered a medium-sized city in the US (population 250,000) whereas many Chinese people talk about small towns of several million. I definitely think population size is a much better gauge for a intuitive feel of how big a city is than people saying "big city" vs. "small city" It's not a perfect metric, but it's better than ill-defined words. "If we were giving praise on a nonconsequentialist point of view, then it would be the right thing to do" It is unclear that this is "right". I think it's neither true in practice (most non consequentialists do not do this) nor true in theory (most nonconsequentialist theories would not suggest this).
I don't think this answers the point. We don't micromanage other people's geographic discourse out of a desire to make their description of cities more precise, because we can rely on existing language norms to perform the function well. Likewise, if we want to be scientific or precise for any particular function then we'll always be able to describe people based on various metrics for how much self-interest they incorporate into their decisionmaking. My point is not that we should only describe EAs as hard core or softcore, but rather that it's a distinction which is acceptable to refer to in basic terms if a speaker feels like that is the most efficient way to convey their ideas. Likewise, even though large city or small city are imperfect descriptors, we don't normally feel a need to tell people not to use the terms. But it should be clear that the ire which is provoked by terms like "softcore" and "hardcore" has nothing to do with how precise the language actually is, because for one thing the people against using the terms merely wish to replace them with a different dichotomy that means the exact same thing. Rather, I take it that the issue is solely one of the implication that softcore EAs are failing to meet some (supererogatory or obligatory) moral standard. It is unclear whether nonconsequentialist morality should consider siubstantial altruism to be praiseworthy? Since when do most nonconsequentialist theories consider altruistic sacrifice to be neither obligatory nor supererogatory?

I very much agree...

...though, that said, there is a distinction which makes sense and is useful on an intellectual level. This is the distinction between those who do and don't take the drowning child argument as a reason to keep trying to increase the amount they give (or, more broadly, the resources they dedicate to helping others), and then do so. Clearly, this isn't a sharp division. And different people also put different amounts of effort into trying to keep increasing the amount they give. But it's still meaningful and useful (intellectually if not PR-wise) to distinguish between people like Joey and Katherine Savoie (trying to live on ~$3,500 a year each) and someone who simply shifts which charities they give the odd hundred dollars to.