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Longtermist work is suspiciously comfortable

Much Longtermist work is clean, abstract and suspiciously well-suited to your typical EA. Could this be clouding our judgement?

One surprising thing about bednet-era EA was the disconnect between EAs and the kind of work they were championing. Oxbridge-grad MacAskill implored us to donate to malaria charities, or even to help fix global poverty directly. I actually found this reassuring - nerdy philosophy types probably don’t inherently love thinking about Sub-Saharan supply chains, so the fact they do it anyway was a sign that perhaps their reasoning really was impartial.

Contrast this with Longtermism. Longtermist work is generally more theoretical and less messy. It can be conducted on a laptop with a flat white and a Huel on hand. Longtermists don’t need to make networks in developing countries. In many cases, they don’t even need to prove that their work is making a difference.

All of the above differences make Longtermist work more appealing to a typical Western, university-educated person. 

“So what?” I hear you say, “we’re rational and are pursuing Longtermism because it is so impactful”.

Perhaps. But we should be wary. We know how prone we are to post-rationalising our decisions. We should be careful to separate the worthiness of Longtermist work from the appeal of Longtermist roles.

I am not questioning the validity of Longtermism. I merely think that we should be aware of the likely bias we have towards it.

We are allowed to be swayed by good working conditions or better wages. The danger is that the comforts of the job stop us asking difficult questions about Longtermism.

Tonight, on the 80,000 Hours job page, as my cursor glides past the $1,000/month manager roles in Nairobi and hovers over the $100,000/year AI job in Silicon Valley, I will try to remember this.


This may be true in some cases but there are examples of people  who would prefer not to work on longtermism related causes if they were just following interests.

Also depending on which career people are in, longtermism related roles  often pay less than the private sector.

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