[ Question ]

Can you turn me into an effective altruist and do you want to?

by Rob2 min read26th Mar 20212 comments



It was said people could ask any questions related to effective altruism so I decided to post a few.

I have looked at the surface of what you do. I read the introduction on the front page but was switched off by the verbose nature of the key ideas so haven't yet read through them, instead choosing to flick through different areas of the site and the forum. Someone could perhaps write something more digestible for the layperson, if you indeed want laypeople involved. I found a post exploring the concept that a small organisation may be better and also a post saying that the effective altruism movement wants to attract the brightest, the most influential and similar (and what enterprise that desires success does not want effective people involved?), I remember not if that was to the exclusion of having lesser mortals around, I may have conflated two separate concepts (the stay small concept and this one) in my head.

So my first question is, does the community want to induct lesser mortals right now? I am a nobody. I desire to make use of my time and altruistic inclinations in an effective manner, that's how I found your organisation. Do you actually want nobodies? Perhaps I will be someone more effective one day. It's certainly what I'm working towards.

My second question is, is there a clever person who can either tear a notion I have apart or afford it some credence? I tabled it a little in the welcome thread, it's based around something I've read written about already in one of the pages I looked through today after I posted that by an effective altruist, that people reciprocate if you help their causes. I think this is something I might like to explore, to do things locally people care about, that tickle their "good feels" in order to both perpetuate more of this investment in "good feels" causes but also to try to encourage them into contributing more effectively. Is it a waste of effort I could more effectively invest in a cause with a greater ROI or will it have a greater ROI because I will be more invested in it due to the "good feels" and by introducing others to consider the ROI on their altruistic actions?

Which brings me to a third question. Does the effective altruism movement care about non-neglected causes at all? It seems like my personal concept of effective altruism might be at odds with what you do. You appear to be about getting the most bang for the buck of every buck invested in altruistic investment from what I gather. It strikes me (and it is just intuition) that many people care a lot more about issues like litter, the welfare of children in their home country, dogs and cats charities, and so on than on directing global priorities or risky AI or weaponised pathogens. They might not act altruistically at all if they think their time/money are going on causes such as these, but may do so if they believe they can make an active difference to these well-noticed causes that stir their passions. Is it better to encourage them to act altruistically for a net benefit to humanity because as many people as possible acting in a way they are willing towards a better life and future for all sentient beings is a positive force with more bucks invested than otherwise, so a greater ROI, or better to encourage as many as possible to invest their time/money getting the biggest ROI, on causes as determined by this community which seems to contain people far smarter than I am.

Can the two be combined somehow as I asked a couple of paragraphs ago? An organisation with a motto along the lines of "We make a visible difference to encourage you to make the biggest difference you can to everyone." Is it totally alien to the effective altruism movements way of thinking? Am I better off looking for some other organisation(s) to give my time to, or perhaps even starting my own?


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Hi Rob. I can only speak for myself. A lot of people, myself included, discover EA online, because the name or the ideas feel right.

Then we discover there’s a lot of people involved, huge amounts written, and many efforts going on. How do we meet people? How can we contribute? How can you find your place? How do we make sense of all the ideas?

I can only say that nobody is a nobody, and everybody struggles with these questions. It takes time to work it all out, so I advise patience. Write your thoughts out, and make sure to take care of yourself. It sounds like you are in the middle of building up a stable life for yourself, and I believe it’s extremely important for people in EA to focus on that first. Good luck!

Thank you. I didn't want to talk about myself too much but since you referenced stability in my life, I have one major project to complete to put me in a position where I will be a capable human being ready to make an effective contribution to the lives of others who no longer needs to prioritize themselves and seek out a calling, preferably one that can provide myself a modest income too so that I can focus on it full time, but this isn't a necessity, so now is a good time to be thinking about what I want to do and how to go about it, then I will be in a ... (read more)