A topic of discussion which hasn’t been focused on in the EA forum. Would be great to hear where you sit on these perspectives and why? Do you think the EA community is doing enough practical action? Do you think there’s not enough discussion about more possible futures involving catastrophic risk?

And more pertinently, ¿por qué no los dos (can’t we have both)? Is it possible that the practitioners of neartermism can work on longtermism goals, and that theorists of longtermism can establish effective strategies for neartermist actions? This potential would be opposed to longtermism focused just on theorising about the future and neartermism just focused on acting on available choices in the present. I hope you keep an open mind to this proposed duel-philosophy model for the EA community.

Background on the longtermism vs neartermism debate: Within the EA forum there is little in the way of practical steps one can take to make an impact today and this is reflected in the answers to such questions and the lack of neartermism within Effective Altruism discourse. There seems to be a belief that neartermist thinking isn’t effective or highly impactful, and currently it isn’t, but it can be. There is at least a noticeable number of EA members who ask questions about making a practical impact today but get suggested to think with longtermism instead. I’ve spoken to roughly 30 highly passionate people who joined the EA community only to feel there was no place for them and that their desire for making a tangible and effective impact on a problem afflicting society today went unnoticed or considered ‘amateurish’ and a distraction from the pursuit of longtermism. Those people didn’t want to continue being part of the EA community and their skills weren’t especially suited to longtermism, and so they left EA. Instead of disregarding the passion a number of EA members have to make a practical impact today, there is a future where longtermism compliments that passion for immediate action. Both longtermism and neartermism are utilitarian as they focus on doing the most good for the most people, but they’re still very different philosophies. Below I’ve listed their unique qualities and an imagined scenario wherein these contrasting philosophies can work together for a greater impact.

Neartermism A barely-existing collection of practical guides and unsolved EA member queries (I bet the EA librarians know what the cacophonous neartermism choir sounds like). This unorganised collective seems mostly based in intuition as EA members add to the neartermism objective with questions such as ‘how can I do more good without money?’ Or ‘how can we start an EA dating platform?’ In this loose-thread manner, neartermism prioritises the practical needs of individuals, communities and institutions, seeking to solve for these problems to create a systemic change from the bottom up. The downsides of neartermism is a lack of regard for comparative effectiveness between available altruistic actions (a likely reason the impassioned questions such as the examples above simply go unanswered), and a lack of broader awareness of the plethora of potential altruistic actions which could be acted upon (i.e. improving career prospects as opposed to finding altruistic activities which don’t cost money). Proponents argue that nearsightedness creates immediate action which can be iterated upon to improve impact towards bigger goals while also tending to the immediate needs of communities and individuals today, and that staying grounded within what is available today leads to lessened risk of failure and more overall skill building. Imagine neartermist practice being guided by what will effect the longterm implications (e.g. ups killing to help effective charities which solve for systemic distrust in peer-reviewed research) as opposed to whatever feels right in the moment (e.g. ‘how to get my family to think like effective altruists?’). It seems good and well to test methods for acting locally and thinking globally, but are you truly working on the most important problems? Is hour expertise such that you’re already prepared to make a positive impact within those fields? Is the strategy you have in mind truly a long-term fix or does it solve for insignificant factors? Is your method based in research? Longtermists eat these questions for breakfast!

Longtermism The predominant perspective within the Effective Altruist community. This perspective prioritises solving for future problems, especially catastrophic risks which threaten the survival of the planet and all its life. These risks are consider low but effect so great that we must act to stop them from happening. Often this entails a lot of theoretical discourse to determine first a philosophy and then a strategic model (or a range of models) to effectively avoid these problems. The downsides of longtermism is neglecting the issues of the day and getting caught up in theory which may not be able to be tested. Proponents argue that already many charities work nearsightedly on helping people today, but instead future catastrophic risk is being neglected and requires more attention seeing as all of society’s efforts would be for none if just one catastrophic event occurred. Imagine longermist theory being guided by what we can practically make headway on today (e.g. AI bias within institutions and businesses) rather than what might be important in the far future (e.g. AI singularity). It seems good and well to predict what our world will be like if the singularity happens, but by the time it is near our world will be so vastly different than it is today and it will either be different because we’ve prepared with practical steps to overcome the nearterm problems which contribute to those longterm problems, or we will have a lot of deeply informed theory we aren’t prepared to implement due to neglecting working with neartermist practitioners (e.g. the world-wide theories for pandemic response vs the practical preparedness of the institutions to accept and implement those theories). Neartermists especially know what actions can be performed today and how much progress is being done to reach those longterm goals.

*ps, while this may sound like a somewhat scathing overview of neartermism, I align with the neartermist perspective - believing it can grow to create a very large and reliable impact in the EA community through making discussions more practical, strategies more realistic and grounding longtermism theories in practical steps EA members can test and make headway on. However, I’m aware it’s a nascent collections of ideas which has no official model to guide the intentions of passionate EA members to make practical changes in the world.





More posts like this

No comments on this post yet.
Be the first to respond.
Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities