Some people have made symbols for utilitarianism, and one such symbol can be even found in Wikipedia articles relating to utilitarianism. Since symbolism is important, I'm running a utilitarianism symbol/flag/insignia design competition. This is for broader outreach. The hope is to create a symbol as great as EA's "heart in a lightbulb."

 

I'll transfer $1,000 to the winner through a donation to a preferred charity, an Amazon gift card, cryptocurrency, or whatever is preferred by the winner.

The winning insignia will be used on Wikipedia articles about Utilitarianism and replace the current insignia used in articles such as this.

Either post your response below or, if you want your submission to be private, message me your submission through this form: https://forms.gle/NwZxCUv632WWMxYt7

Each submitter can submit up to 3 insignias.

If you win, please have an SVG version available.

Avoid mathematical symbols since these are less suitable for broader outreach.

Entries are due by the end of the month at the latest.

A few people will help decide the winning submission within a week after entries are due.

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Guiding Principles on Flag Design

The 5 Basic Principles of Flag Design

Reddit Crosspost

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I already worked on a project like this previously:

Flag utilitarianism

Yellow stands for happiness, that which utilitarianism pursues

White stands for morality, that which utilitarianism is

The symbol is a sigma, since utilitarians care about the sum of all utility

The symbol is also an hourglass, since utilitarians care about the (longterm) future consequences

 

If you don't like the rounded design I can also make it more angular:

The size of the symbol, the angles, the proportions of the flags etc can all be changed if you have specific preferences. The main idea is the sigma that also functions as an hourglass.
 

I do however worry whether it's wise to make symbols for philosophical ideas. I like designing these things, but you run the risk that these symbols can be used to make people strongly identify themselves with these ideas, instead of them being things that people can dispassionately examine and perhaps reject. I would advise everyone to say things like: "I like utilitarianism" or "I believe in utilitarianism", instead of "I am a utilitarian". Let's make sure ethical ideas don't become as rigidly polarized as political ideas.

EDIT: If you want to redesign this flag, go right ahead! I'm planning to donate the prize money if I win, so if you improve on my design and also donate the prize money, that would actually make me very happy.

I like this design, but it violates the rule of tincture: the heraldic metals - yellow (or) and white (argent) - should not be placed on each other because they don't contrast enough. So does the original five-star design. I would use a different background color, like light blue.

I want to mention that I like the rounded version a lot, and the angular version is better than the current 'weird 5 stars' but not quite as neat. I think the fact that the angular version looks almost exactly like a capital sigma is what throws me off (sigma means a lot of stuff).

I definitely sympathize with the argument against having a symbol for an idea. Both the good and the bad of symbolization is that it leads to identification.

I see that Wikipedia already has a utilitarian flag created by a philosopher.

Have you spoken to this person about replacing their flag? It seems like yours would be just as unofficial as theirs, so if they care at all about theirs, we may just end up with dueling flags on Wikipedia. Or are you collaborating with people affiliated with other utilitarian projects, like the team at utilitarianism.net?

I assume you mean this one:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/33/The_utilitarian_flag.svg/2880px-The_utilitarian_flag.svg.png

I personally really don't like that imagery (there's really nothing unique about it) and can't picture myself using it.

I'm very much fine with encouraging organic experimentation of symbols and similar.  I think we shouldn't aim for "one official image" (and similarly, should not be restricted by previous claims here), but should instead aim for images people might like to use in different settings.

The hippy movement had several prominent symbols, and an entire aesthetic, and that seems great to me. 

I think that it's really challenging to do good work here, but having people try, (for free/cheap), seems safe enough.

There isn't an official body for utilitarianism, so no decisions are official. A community competition brings in more submissions and voices, and it is a less arbitrary process. I'll try to have many utilitarian-minded people vote on the insignia compared to just one person.

Could you say a bit more about what you want this flag to symbolize/communicate?  Flags for nations need to symbolize what holds the members of that country together and unifies them but, when it comes to an idea, it seems the flag is more a matter of  what you want to communicate to others about the virtues of your idea.   I mean I'm having trouble imagining that a utilitarian flag could do $1000 worth of good unless it does some important PR work for utilitarianism.

If it was me I'd be trying to pick a flag to communicate the idea that utilitarianism is (or well a natural consequence of/close too) universal love/empathy/concern.  My sense is that opposition to utilitarianism seems frequently rooted in this idea that it's cold, uncaring calculation.  But since you are the one putting up the money maybe you can lay out a bit more what you want to communicate and what use you see this flag being put to.

I think the "heart in a lightbulb" insignia for EA is a great design choice and excellent for outreach, but there is no such communicable symbol for utilitarianism. Companies know to spend much on design for outreach since visualization is not superfluous. I do not think the optimal spending is $0, as is currently the case. A point of the competition is finding a visual way of communicating a salient idea about utilitarianism suitable for broader outreach. I do not know what part is best to communicate or how best to communicate it--that's part of the reason for the competition.

Hi! I'm out of the loop, but I'm curious about whether this resolved, and if there is a place to see submissions. The competition was supposed to close at the end of the month (August 2021), and it is now September. 

I too would like to know whether this is resolved and who the winner is. Also, I see that since I submitted my entry you've edited your post to talk about symbols instead of flags and added the phrase: "Avoid mathematical symbols since these are less suitable for broader outreach". But I had already submitted my flag with a mathematical symbol on it. Does this mean that my work is now retroactively made ineligible?

A reminder that the competition ends this month!

For what it's worth, this thread reminded me of Joshua Greene arguing that the brand of "utilitarianism" is so bad as to be a lost cause.

Greene suggests "deep pragmatism" for the rebrand.

This is an excellent point. Making a new name for an existing concept is generally bad, but utilitarianism (and the associated 'for the greater good') has been absolutely savaged in public perception.

I'm confused about why this has (probably) multiple downvotes, and am interested to hear from downvoters.

The same thing happened on the longtermist flag thread, but in that case there was an original design people didn't like. This is just a submission form.

I like the idea of people running contests on the Forum and didn't see a problem with this post.

Did anyone downvote for any of the following reasons?

  1. Utilitarianism is a different thing from EA and I don't like conflating them
  2. Design/art posts don't seem like good Forum content
  3. Contests like this don't seem like good Forum content
  4. Making official symbols for philosophies seems too tribal / identity-driven
  5. I'm confused about who Dan is and why he's taken charge of the official symbol of utilitarianism

Or was it something else?

I want to say that I didn't downvote the post (I think its a relatively neat idea, and has garnered at least one good submission).

On the other hand, I find speculation on 'why the downvotes?' to be unproductive.  Its reasonable to encourage people explain their opinions, but I've generally found that threads about downvotes are low quality with lots of guesses and trying to put words in other people's mouths. I don't think you're doing that here very much, but it isn't the kind of thread I'd like to see often if at all.

It also seems odd that there are so rarely threads in the other direction, asking people to explain why they liked a particular post :)

I agree that threads like this shouldn't be common. But I'd like to make a case for this one.

As the head of the Forum, I spend a lot of time thinking about what content I should be encouraging, promoting, etc. Over the last three years, I think I've developed a pretty good instinct for what kinds of posts people tend to like, which helps me do my job.

That's why posts like this (where the reactions surprise me and I don't have even a "best guess" as to what provoked them) are so interesting! 

I see these rare scenarios as a chance to learn more about how Forum voters (our most engaged readers) think. And if someone ever asks me for feedback on a similar idea, I'd like to be able to advise them on how to present it so that readers will find it valuable.

Fair enough. I would personally find it less off-putting if you framed it in terms of collecting feedback instead of focusing on the downvotes. For example, suppose I saw a thread starting with:

'I'm curious on feedback to this post. Please take this survey[link]'

and then the survey itself has questions about the positions 1/2/3/4/5 mentioned, and a question on whether the respondent up/downvoted.

Then that seems like a fine thread. You're collecting genuine feedback, maybe it seems a little over the top, but it doesn't come across as speculation on why someone disliked something. There's also an easy way for me to provide that feedback without making a public statement that people can then argue with. If I downvote something, there is a very good chance that I don't want to spend time explaining my reasoning on a public thread where I'm in a social contract to reply to objections.

Very fair feedback! I'll try to make that framing more explicit, though I don't expect I'll use a survey — it adds an extra step, stops the author from getting notified when feedback happens (I have to share with them separately), and risks promoting a norm of "don't explain why you dislike things in public", which I think is very unhealthy for the Forum.

(For example, a comment like Peter Hartree's, particularly the useful suggestion of hiring a professional for the same price, is one I'm very glad to have be public, for this author and for other authors who might try something similar.)

I didn't downvote. For what it's worth, the main negative reaction I had was:

  1. The use of the EA lightbulb as an example of a great symbol. Personally, I've always found it kind of amateurish and cringe. I think mainly because it combines two very tired cliches (a lightbulb to represent "ideas" and a heart to represent "altruism"? Really?!).

I suppose I could also complain that:

  1. The claim that "symbolism is important" is not substantiated. Generically that seems true, but the claim that utilitarianism the philosophical idea needs a good/better symbol and/or a flag isn't obvious.

  2. Granting that symbolism is important, running a prize competition on the EA Forum is probably not the best way to get a brilliant symbol. My main concern is that the format disproportionately encourages submissions from amateurs. In logo design, professional designers often encounter clients who believe that a great logo can be whipped up by more or less anyone in a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon. But no—world class logos usually take weeks or months of work, drawing on years of specialist training. If I had just $1K to spend, I might look for a talented young designer from a low-ish wage EU country (e.g. Portugal), and ask them to spend a couple days on it.

Re: (6) — I was curious to see how many others felt the same way, so I ran a quick poll. There's obviously inherent bias to doing this on a group full of people interested in EA, but it does seem like the logo is pretty well-liked. (Not that this invalidates your view, of course.)

Interesting, thanks Aaron. This result seems roughly in line with the fraction of EAG attendees who wear EA t-shirts.

My main concern is that the format disproportionately encourages submissions from amateurs

We also crosspost on reddit to attract people who know how to design logos.

The claim that "symbolism is important" is not substantiated

I would need evidence against the claim that imagery basically worthless. Even in academic ML research, it's a fatal mistake not to spend at least a day thinking about how to visualize the paper's concepts. This mistake is nonetheless common.

i think you are moving the goalposts a bit when arguing against the view "that imagery is worthless". peter (and you in the original post) wrote about symbolism specifically, and in this context symbolism in flags.

i also think there is probably a significant difference between the kind of plots, graphs and other visualisations you see in a research paper, which are aimed at explaining particular results and theories, and flags, which are more meant to associate with concepts, groups, movements and so on. it's like the difference between a paragraph of prose and a slogan -- one of fidelity, i suppose.