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I just noticed this post and the ensuing discussion. I want to share a model I recently made which seeks to answer the question: are these protests beneficial or harmful.

In summary:

  • The expected deaths caused by COVID spread outnumber the expected lives saved from reducing police brutality by a factor of 16.
  • If we adjust for QALYs (COVID mainly kills older folks), the COVID mortality is still worse than the reduction in police killings, though only by a factor of 5.
  • When I estimate a general positive impact of these protests upon America's political system - specifically, that they'll increase Democratic voteshare this November - it seems that the protests are neutral as far as American citizens are concerned, but (more importantly of course) positive when we include foreigners and animals.

I want to say upfront that this doesn't mean I endorse the protests, I still feel a bit negative about them due to the prisoner's dilemma at play (as in Larks' highly upvoted comment in the other thread, I also came up with the same point).

I haven't looked into this in any detail myself, but I wonder if other benefits for American POC could be more important than the prevented deaths, e.g. poverty, mental health and other crisis services, plea bargaining, imprisonment and sentencing. I think this could open a broader conversation about criminal justice. Some of this could come from a Dem presidency, but it might be addressed at state or more local levels, too.

I hate to share something like this, but feel a need to get it off my chest - I increasingly feel disillusioned with the idea of altruism on behalf of people who, more likely than not, dislike EA more than they like it. The amount of hatred some sections of the populace have against the EA community coupled with the limited amount of support makes me doubt the ethical arguments for charity. I would donate all of my excess income if it went to help other EAs but not if it's going to ordinary people who either don't care or worse.  I think my ethics now are more about reciprocity, helping those who would help you if positions were reversed, and disregarding those who would disregard you if positions were reversed. 

(NB before someone misinterprets me, no of course I'm not saying that people who are merely mad about FTX don't deserve charity.)

[I can delete my comment if you'd rather not have it on your shortform, or transfer it to somewhere more appropriate and not reference you]

I can emphasize with some of your emotions. This is what I wrote after seeing yet another Tweet from an entitled woke software engineer who probably never sacrificed for anything remotely valuable in his life:

I've been giving 10-20% of my income since I was 22, and I felt really bad I couldn't do it earlier when I left home at 19. And I took a >>50% paycut to do my current job. I'm not asking for thanks, nobody said morality had to be easy. But what the fuck did you do with your life?

But I deleted the Tweet quickly, because this type of emotional outburst isn't productive. People have all sorts of self-justifications, and pretend that not caring about morality absolves them of doing good, or that if you don't try to do good, you can be entitled to sneer at people actually trying. And I expect playing the virtue game here to be actively unhelpful.

Life can be hard sometimes, for all of us. Morality is hard, too, for those of us who want to do good things. It's important to remember this. I think when all of us old-timers (it feels weird to think of myself that way given that I'm not yet 30) decided to dedicate our lives to doing good, none of us thought this would be easy. Except maybe in the psychological sense of "I can't imagine getting up in the morning and not do something about all the suffering and suboptimality of the world." 

I think it's important to remember our ethical commitments, what drew us to doing good. Morality is fucking hard. Sometimes I forget that when I try to do abstract research to make the lightcone go well, but such is reality. If I wanted easy praise from the masses I'd do some generic greentech thing or go back to FAANG and volunteer + donate like 5% of my income to generically unobjectionable leftist causes. 

But that won't feel true to me, and more importantly, the net expected good in the world accomplished in the future will be significantly lower. And this general understanding is what drew me to this community in the first place. To do good, rather than seem to. To do the most good, rather than to do a bit and then call it quits.

From your past comments that I've read, you probably felt the same way,[1] even if it's not as "alive" now.  I imagine if you take a break, cool down some, and circle back to reflecting on your past ideals, you'll still endorse them, and think the fight is worth fighting.

Morality feels hard, now. The load has sometimes felt lighter in the past year, I won't deny that. But it'll probably feel hard again in the future, probably for different reasons. But we didn't sign up to do the easy thing. As you alluded to in your recent post, if we lived in a morally adequate society, we won't need this movement in the first place.

It's better to keep our heads down and just work for a better future, and let the historians sort out the rest. 

On the more object-level of your comments, I think a lot of EA, at least traditionally[2], is implicitly a rejection of reciprocity ethics. I think a lot of EA as fighting for the voiceless. Much of classic GiveWell-style EA is donating so very poor children don't suffer and die, and of course poor children have approximately zero political representation in developed world politics. Factory farmed animals can't speak about their suffering or go on strike or vote. And of course future generations have zero political power or sway. 

From another angle, I expect if we were much more focused on reciprocity ethics (especially to people with power), we'd be more liked. If EA was more about donating to stuff like Wikipedia and open-source software and local children's hospitals I'd expect a lot more generically positive vibes from people we trade with. But this is not what The Good is, and our movement 's ideals are not about being liked.

Honestly, maybe I should be grateful that we were liked for so long, given how much hatred other moral communities in the past has received in comparison. 

I don't have a strong conclusion, just some thoughts. I hope you feel better in the future. The work still needs to be done, and now more than ever we need people who can do it.

  1. ^

    My guess is that if you tried to seem good rather than do good, it'd not feel true to you, and your life won't actually feel better.

  2. ^

    I think this is much less true for fighting against near-time existential risks. I think this is another reason to disaggregate the "existential security" and "effective altruism" brands.

That sounds really discouraging. But I think that may mainly be the social media echo chamber amplifying loudmouths. I think it's safe to assume -- to the extent most (e.g.) GiveDirectly or New Incentives recipients have an opinion of EA, it is quite positive. I'm sure the animals are appreciative too, or would be if they could understand. As far as longtermism, I doubt there is any way to help yourself and those you want to help without also helping those you're feeling indifferent to.

It's hard to feel this way, and I'm sorry you're going through this. I hope you feel better soon; perhaps it helps to remember that this is not the most productive emotion, and that you may think about this in other ways. The people you know loathe... their opinions can't touch you, unless you allow it; they probably do not hate you especifically - they don't know you, and they are probably confused about things, which is hardly their fault. So there's not very much you can gain by blaming them. And sorry if I dare to pretend to preach or give you advice, but I hope you forgive an old fool who can't resist an opportunity to cite Marcus Aurelius. Also, many of them would perhaps agree with you about reciprocity-based ethics, and there's a lot to be said about this approach to moral philosophy - especially if you enlarge the scope of your relations to include counterfactual Rawlsian compacts, or large communities (in the limit, Stoic philosophers talked about the Cosmopolis, which encompasses all sentient beings). But if you want to remain attached to this specific community... well, we are effective altruists, and our projects and goals aim to make the world a better place for all; we don't use this forum or go to events because it's fun for us, but because it aims to that end. If you truly want to cooperate with us, to reciprocate whatever happiness we might bring to you, I'm afraid you ultimately have to help benefit others, including those who might be now disturbing you.

Shouldn't we collect a sort of encyclopedia or manual of organizational best practices, to help EA organizations? A combination of research, and things we have learned?

Why couldn't a manual of organizational best practices from non-EA organisations (I'm guessing there are probably many such manuals or other ways of communicating best practices) suffice? Which areas would it be unable to cover when applied directly to EA organisations? Are these areas particularly important to cover?

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