TL;DR: An EAG 2022 retrospective, but also a creative writing exercise.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the past and the future lately. And in particular about my values. In this… thing, I try to articulate something hard to articulate; my admiration for the great big everything and my strong desire to keep it going. I hope it’s not too confusing and I don’t blame you for skipping this one.
"The way they are spending, a split appears inevitable. It's egregious. I get the argument that it makes sense to focus on scalability, but my heart aches when I hear these stories."
elsewhere, some time ago.
“At some point, the waves pulled me out further, prphff, and I swear I almost didn't make it back." he was swaying as he said it. Alcohol and exhaustion from the night swim had taken their toll. I mumbled something, but he ignored it and just took a step closer to me and held my head with both of his hands. Then he rested his forehead against mine. He was the kind of person who felt comfortable doing that.
"You're a good friend, a very good friend; you know that. I only want the best for you. So when I say this, know that I only say it to help. - When you sing, you're singing too loud. You're drowning everybody out; it's no fun. You need to..." he trailed off, losing track of the thought. I helped him back up the stairs leading up to the hostel, where he collapsed into his bed to sleep and sweat out the expensive leftover wine he had consumed at the end of his shift.
Two weekends ago I flew out to London to meet some friends and to think. I've been at one of these events before, and it's always rather intense. Being surrounded by brilliant minds buzzing with the urge to do something certainly has the potential to blow a fuse or two.
But these days, I am not in a competitive mood most of the time. I marvel and absorb whatever comes my way. Indeed, my best conversations didn't happen with any single person - they were a potpourri of ideas and opinions, picked up and spread from person to person, amplified and refined at each step.
Some fortuitous turn of fate put me at the table with the artsy, cool kids that I had admired from a distance for a long time. I remember decorating my stationery with Stanley Kubrick and Jimmy Hendrix cutouts, their feral expressions matching my feral moods. But my feral moods only ever showed on my inside; I was a shy kid, after all.
It took months or perhaps a year until they invited me to one of their hangouts. Naturally, it was a total disaster. Rather than being introduced into a world of constant excitement and wonder, we were just a handful of kids sitting around a table, not knowing what to say to each other. We all want the same things, don't we.
"So what is your current take on... everything?" I ask, not wasting any time.
"Well, perhaps mostly the funding influx and what is happening to the community."
"It's complicated. This influx is, of course, exactly what we dreamed of in the beginning. But it's also a lot to process, and things are moving very fast. And if you care about helping people right now, it's hard to accept some of the things that are happening. $4000 can save a life, you know. On average."
"And I don't want to argue against longtermism. I can do the EV calculation as well as you can. I'm just saying that the contrast is getting rather grotesque. I'm not sure all of this can still be called one unified thing."
“But that’s kind of … sad?”
“I agree, it doesn’t feel right. There is a core somewhere that ties everything and everyone together, but I can’t put my finger on it. Something that differentiates an EA from a random futurist/transhumanist/extropian. Any ideas?”
"And then, I think, the numbers would just have to wrap around. That just somehow feels right."
It is past midnight, and the bonfire is dying down. My high school physics teacher gives me an odd look that is mirrored in the faces of my classmates. My exposition on why I think that +∞ = -∞ had been hurried, lacking pace and grace. (And logic, I admit.)
"You might enjoy reading about Gödel's incompleteness theorem. He demonstrates that there are true statements that we can never prove." my physics teacher opines to break the silence.
I raise my eyebrows, making my forehead all wrinkly, in no small part due to my disbelief. Even then, I realized that this is not a manifestation of magic in our world. I knew there had to be a catch. But I also knew I had to know what it was.
Night crept upon us, and then the event was over. I heard about the parties, which are not an official part of the event but still are a highlight for many. I feel torn. I rarely desire to drag things out, borrow a bit of time from my future self, and cling to the present. This night I feel a little bit of that desire. But I also feel the gravitational pull of the bed in my AirBnB, and I know how parties are for me. They don't work from a cost-benefit perspective.
I walk home alone. Ah no, with two friends. They are talking about the Sahara desert and how you can repurpose an old fire engine to travel through the desert. In fact, you can fit an entire family into that thing and just go from village to village. And you'll have all eyes on you when you arrive; what a ridiculous(ly awesome) scene.
I yawn. The fire engine story doesn’t move me. Even the excitement of my friends does not manage to jump over. I used to be very worried about that; why don't I like what other people like? But the angst has been in retrograde for a long while now, and I've learned to like myself. And it's even more than that. I've learned to like everyone else, too, even if they talk about fire engines. Especially when they talk about fire engines.
I draw energy from that thought. This is what humanity is. It's driving a fire engine through the desert and rejoicing. It's partying through the night, bonfires, night swims, friendship, art, and awkwardness. It's climbing into a random van and going on adventures. It sits at the core of everything.
I don't tend to do those things myself too much. I love numbers and thinking about the future. I am restless. And I am fine. Caring about numbers is humanity, too, you know. We might be somewhat different, you and I, but in the end, we all want the same things.
Most of the time.