TL;DR: The EA movement should not use techniques that alienate people from the EA community as a whole if they do not align with a particular subgroup within the community. These approaches not only have an immediate negative impact on the EA community, but also have long-term repercussions on the sub-community utilizing them. Right now, the EA movement uses these sorts of tactics too often.
People connect with the EA movement through many different channels, and often encounter sub-communities before they have a full understanding of the movement and the wide variety of opinions and viewpoints within it. These sub-communities can sometimes make the mistake of using "polarizing techniques". By this, I mean strategies that alienate people or burn bridges with the broader community. This could be from pushing a sub-perspective too hard, or being aggressively dismissive of other views.
An example of this might be if I met a talented person at a party and they said they wanted to change to an impactful career, but had never heard of EA. If I then proceeded to aggressively push founding a charity through Charity Entrepreneurship (the organization) as a career path to them, to the point where they got turned off of EA altogether if they don’t come on board with my claims, I would consider that a polarizing approach: either they choose charity entrepreneurship as a path, or they don’t engage with effective altruism at all. Note that in the short term, all Charity Entrepreneurship really measures impact-wise is how many great charities get started, so a good person going into policy due to me connecting them to Probably Good means nothing to our organizational impact. Taken to an extreme, it might be worth pushing quite hard if I think that founding nonprofits is many times more important as a career path than policy. However, I think this style hurts both the community and Charity Entrepreneurship long-term.
This phenomenon occurs across a diverse range of people, both in terms of funding and career transitions. Most often, it revolves around cause prioritization. It can be disappointing when someone does not share your enthusiasm for your preferred causes, but there is still a lot of value in directing them to the most impactful path they would in fact consider pursuing.
Why it Hurts the Community
The clearest way this technique is damaging, is that turning off someone from one part of the community often demotivates them to engage positively in other parts of the community. It makes them more likely to become an active critic instead of a neutral or contributing member of a different sub-community, or to the philosophy of effective altruism as a whole.
Different sub-communities look for different types of people and resources. It's difficult for one person to have a bird's eye view on all sub-communities within EA, and it’s easy to overvalue your own community's certain needs or strengths. On numerous occasions, I have witnessed instances where one sub-community dismisses individuals possessing skills that would be immensely valuable in another segment of the community. It seems worth exercising a degree of modesty in determining who exactly is a good fit for the community as a whole.
The EA community is diverse in its viewpoints, cause areas, and approaches, and this diversity brings many benefits. The most promising career, the most neglected cause area, or what seems to be missing most from the community has changed many times over the years. Even if someone has a comprehensive understanding of all EA sub-communities, accurately predicting their long-term needs can be challenging. It is not uncommon for a community to inadvertently alienate a group that eventually emerges as crucial in the years to come.
Why it Hurts the Sub-Community Long Term
People talk. Generally, when someone has a negative experience with a community, or feels as though they were treated badly for not conforming with a specific view, they share that perception with others in their network. Maybe the person who was alienated from a sub-community was not a great fit, but their friends, colleagues, and broader community could potentially be a hugely beneficial match. A lot of people are introduced to EA via personal networks; they can be turned off in the exact same way.
Defecting begets defection: If one sub-community in EA uses polarizing techniques, it increases the odds of others doing the same. There is a lot more pressure for me to hard-sell charity entrepreneurship as a career path to someone if everyone else is doing the same for their preferred career path. This can result in a decline in impact, as individuals become disengaged or simply opt for the first career path they encounter instead of the one that aligns best with their skills and goals.
People sometimes join the EA movement through one sub-community, and then switch to another. Even if you assign 0 value for members of other sub-communities (which already seems like a bad norm to have), it is very common for people to engage in one area for years before switching to another area. These people getting hard-sold a cause early might reduce the chance of this happening and cause them to drift away from EA altogether.
I think it should be a given that if someone encounters the EA movement but is not the right fit for the sub-community they first encounter, that community should be kind and cooperative. Guiding individuals towards the most suitable areas where they are likely to find a good fit, rather than adopting an aggressive dismissive attitude or forcefully pushing them down a path that contradicts their goals, would be immensely advantageous for the entire community.
Some ways that CE has done this that I think are pretty easily replicable include
- Getting people to map out the impact of alternative comparative career paths during our program to deeply consider their counterfactuals before launching a charity
- Connecting people who get far into our process to other job opportunities, even outside of our cause areas
- Recommending CE as not the right choice for someone despite them getting into the program based on their values and counterfactuals
- Connecting funders to other philanthropists who are interested in the same area even in areas we are not working in
- When a funder/founder is not accepted into a program, we try hard to leave them with a positive view on EA/the broader charity world through sending them resources and information about alternative career paths.