How does one live/do community as an Effective Altruist?

by Nathan Young 3 min read15th May 201914 comments


I used to be a conservative Evangelical Christian (cEC) (Christians who try to take the Bible as literally as possible and then tell others about it) and while I have fairly little positive to say about Christianity these days, my cEC friends were great at community. I think there are some questions then about how we can maximise our wellbeing and convince others to share our ideology.


  • Seeing a core group of people often allows you to follow their lives
  • Group singing/ eating is really fun - are there any studies on this?
  • Support around illness, births, marriages, deaths is great - my friends all used to make meals for each other at these times. Not having to worry about food at a stressful time is a big plus
  • Knowing people of different generations helps loneliness, particularly in the old and young
  • With lots of caveats, holding people to a known external standard stops poor behaviour
  • Forgiveness is great. Particularly in circumstances where someone doesn't admit they are wrong. Many of the words I use here are just descriptors - forgiveness isn't any mystical transaction, it's deciding not to pursue vengeance, acknowledging your feelings and resolving not to dwell on them
  • Learning to deal with weird/awkward/intense people. Perhaps I doth protest too much
  • Financial support
  • Having understood regular community events and social time

Spreading Ideologies - Weddings

Weddings are an appropriate place for (appropriate) discussion of ideology. I've been to ~20 weddings (though only 2 non-Christian) and weddings can be a great place for revealing what you believe and how you live. I wasn't an agnostic atheist at the time so it's only a guess that I'll still feel that, but I have some musings:

  • Does marriage increase wellbeing?
  • Should EAs live in long term committed relationships? Should they make promises to one another? Should they have wedding services. Certainly, people are still having weddings, though do you find them to be ideologically deep/ beautiful and clear in their imagery? (cough white wedding dress, walking down the aisle, father of the bride giving her away, cough)
  • Is there any good EA wedding liturgy? Liturgy ("We are gathered here today...") is, if written well is a great way to be clear about what you believe and say it in a beautiful, poetic way. I make no defence of some concepts in the wedding service, but it's a great service.
  • Are there suggestions for ways a wedding could convey EA concepts through form? Effectively I mean good memes - things that people will say "I'd like that in my wedding" which will convey good practise. I can think of a couple of these:
    • Having someone give a talk on how to live well as a couple, the beauty of existence and the need to reduce suffering. I don't know what noncs (non-Christians :p) think of wedding talks but when given by a good speaker, I think they are great.
    • Honouring the time of those involved - not asking people to give loads of time for minimal improvements. Weddings contain far too much of this IMO.
    • Asking people to give to EA charities rather than a wedding list?

Spreading Ideologies - Discussion

I have discussed my ideologies a lot with people over the years. Some things I have learned are:

  • An ideology may be the most important thing, but it also may not be the most important thing now. Be kind, find the right moment, stop if people aren't interested.
  • When you ask a good question, leave it rather than answering it. They are more likely to think about it that way.
  • Search for your own incoherence. It's an easier way to work out if you are wrong. A harder way is doing research on the evidence base.
  • You build models of everything. Test them to see if they are right. The person with whom you are discussing likely doesn't think what you think they do
  • If you are unable to convince someone in repeated discussions and you can't see where they are being irrational, it's worth seriously considering if you are wrong
  • People are much more likely to listen if they feel safe/ listened to. Also you will be kind which is really underrated. Also if you are unpleasant your good arguments are easier to dismiss
  • There are many different types of communication, sometimes it's better to just listen or to empathise rather than discuss rigorously
  • Some insecurity is good - it makes you question your beliefs. Don't be so insecure as to need to have the last word
  • Learn which comments or arguments are worth chasing and which are worth letting go
  • It's okay to stop discussing, to say you don't want to or to only want to have a certain type of discussion ("I'm happy to talk about feelings, but I don't want a deep discussion about this")

Spreading Ideologies - Other

A strong community is a great place to invite others to, and through conversation they can be involved in important ideological discussion. It's good if these events are not just a weekly meetup, but more neutral events. This is openly evangelical, but I am evangelical, I'm just not a Christian.


  • How does we live in the manner which is best for our well being? I suggest community has something to do with that.
  • How do we create and run transparent, rational, ideologically-self-correcting, empathetic, wellbeing-increasing, fun , life-long communities?
  • How do we commit community without damaging our wellbeing or altruistic prospects?
  • Is there a way to have children without massively decreasing the good you can do in the world?
  • How do we do this without making all the mistakes of religion? While I am open to the challenge that I seek to create what I have left behind, but I think there are benefits to what I have suggested here. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. (A backwards clock is right 4 times... wait, what?)


I suggest there is a place for building and maintaining community for the wellbeing. I don't know how much of our time this is worth, but it's something I'm interested in. If there is an appetite for a more in depth piece, I'd be happy to write one. I am little vulnerable in talking about this, but I'm interested to hear your thoughts.