Which piece got you more involved in EA?

by MaxDalton6th Sep 201821 comments


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The EA Forum team is currently thinking about what core content we'd like most new effective altruists to engage with. As a consequence, we're particularly interested in what caused beta users to engage more with effective altruism.

The piece of writing that feels most significant to me is Nate Soares "The value of a life". Whilst it touches on the technical point of the distinction between value and cost, I also found it very motivating.

This wasn't the piece that got me involved in EA - that was mostly personal conversations.

I'd be interested to hear which pieces were important to other people. Pieces which I've seen mentioned frequently:

- Peter Singer's The Drowning Child and the Expanding Moral Circle

- Nate's On caring

- Eliezer Yudkowsky's Feeling Moral and Scope Insensitivity

I'd also be interested in links to other places that this has been discussed.

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For me, the very first 'EA' thing I came across was from before EA was a thing: Eliezer Yudkowsky's post on money as the unit of caring. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/ZpDnRCeef2CLEFeKM/money-the-unit-of-caring

It genuinely was a lightbulb moment - the idea that doing the most good might mean making a bunch of money and giving it to someone who can do the good thing better than you can.

And, maybe most importantly, it turned me on to 'doing good' in general. If I'm honest, I hadn't really considered it as a priority before then. A couple years later I took an 80K career consultation, went into software engineering, pledged to give away 10%+ and am now in the early stages of starting an EA org!

LessWrong sequences really changed the way I think (after first reading posts like Epistemologies of Reckless Endangerment on Luke Muehlhauser's Common Sense Atheism). If I think back to the conversations I had as a teenager in school and the general frameworks I still use today, the posts that were most influential on me were (starting with most important):

And then later reading HPMOR was a Big Deal, for really feeling what it would be like to act throughout my life, in accordance with these models. Those things I think were the biggest reading experiences for me (and they were some of the most influential things on my decisions and how I live my life). Everything in EA felt very natural to me after that.

Probably the GiveWell website, because it was the first time I realized how hard charity evaluation was, and that specialization was helpful so that some people could do a better job at it than I was going to be able to do in my spare time.

Yes, forgot to add GiveWell website, quite important in my early days. Especially their post on flow-through effects relieved some of my concerns that EA mental models may be too narrow.

HPMOR and Privileging the Question got me into Less Wrong, and started me thinking about the idea that the problems I'd been hearing about weren't necessarily the problems that would be best to work on.

From there, Money: The Unit of Caring and Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others helped me get interested in GiveWell.

I can't think of a particular GiveWell article that pushed me further toward EA, though Excited Altruism helped me frame the way I was feeling about all of the ideas. Mostly, as I read their charity evaluations (and their past history of seeing certain charities, like VillageReach, underperform), I realized that glib assertions about impact were often wrong, and that deciding this sort of thing *correctly* -- in the absence of a functioning market -- was going to be difficult and require that I rely on outside experts to some extent.

The last big step to get me fully enmeshed in the community was starting a student group. The articles with the most influence on that decision were Ben Kuhn's reflections on starting the Harvard EA group.

The piece that got me to take the plunge and start giving 10% was Scott Alexander's Nobody Is Perfect, Everything Is Commensurable.

It convinced me singlehandedly to Try Giving, and I went to my first EA Global and took the pledge a couple years later. Before that, I'd pretty much not heard of EA as a movement at all.

Primed by Singer's Famine, Affluence and Morality and Jeffrey Sachs + White Man's Burden + Poor economics for an EA approach to development econ. Sequences, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and Nick Beckstead's thesis were the most important in making me deeply interested in EA.

I never read Nick's thesis. I'm curious if there are particular sections you can point to that might give me a sense of why it was influential on you? I have a vague sense that it's primarily mathematical population ethics calculations or something, and I'm guessing I might be wrong.

Chapter 2 in particular is slightly broader, and motivates some general EA/consequentialist questions. There are technical bits throughout, but I enjoyed reading it. https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxuYmVja3N0ZWFkfGd4OjExNDBjZTcwNjMxMzRmZGE

Yes, I would also particularly recommend the early sections on metaethics. Later parts are also good if you actually want to pass the Ideological Turing Test against long-termism. He spends a lot of time with the person affecting view :)

This Aeon article on EA & art introduced me to EA and left a strong impression on me, as a then music student. Since then, I've got more and more involved.

Other mentions:

  • Seeing Peter Singer talk in person about EA, for getting me even more hooked.
  • This Wait Buy Why post on AI, for introducing me to concerns about AI/x-risk.

My path to EA started by reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which was recommended to me by friends. After that I was looking around on LessWrong and saw a post mentioning The Life You Can Save (book) by Peter Singer. Reading that motivated me to dive in. One of the first things I did after that was watch EA Global videos.

This post made me identify a lot more with EA community. http://www.givinggladly.com/2013/06/cheerfully.html?m=1

(How do I embed a link?)

If you highlight the text, a hover appears above the text, and the link icon is one of the options - click on it, paste the url, and press enter.

Is that possible on mobile?

It took me a minute to figure this on out. It looks to me like the editor switches to "Plain Markdown Editor" on mobile, even if you don't ordinarily have it enabled. Here's how to make links in markdown:

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The content on Felicifia.org was most important in my first involvement, though that website isn't active anymore. I feel like forum content (similar to what could be on the EA Forum!) was important because it's casually written and welcoming. Everyone was working together on the same problems and ideas, so I felt eager to join.

I also have never read anything on Felicifia.org (but would like to)! If there's anything easy to link to, I'd be interested to have a read through any archived content that you thought was especially good / novel / mind-changing.

I can't think of anything that isn't available in a better form now, but it might be interesting to read for historical perspective, such as what it looks like to have key EA ideas half-formed. This post on career advice is a classic. Or this post on promoting Buddhism as diluted utilitarianism, which is similar to the reasoning a lot of utilitarians had for building/promoting EA.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, followed by the LessWrong sequences. After I had moved to the Bay Area, EA had become pretty closely entangled with the whole rationality thing, but philosophically the sequences had covered almost all of the EA material and I was already on board for spending my life on doing the most good, so it was more of a matter of identification than a matter of changing my mind at that point.