My understanding from the FTX fallout is that SBF was driven by an extreme form of total utilitarianism with little respect for virtues such as honesty.
I think this kind of attitude is very rare in EA.
To some, this may be reason not to worry too much about future PR risks to EA.
But I think it is normal across social, political and religous movements for PR risks to come from the most extreme views within the movement.
I think we've seen examples of this in:
- the effect of Salafist jihadism on the reputation of Islam
- the effect of "Antifa" on the reputation of the American left
- the effect of more extreme and authoritarian views on the reputation of the social justicey left
But also just in general, historically many political movements have developed a smaller violent wing which harms the reputation of the wider movement.
I think this has important implications for how EA tackles major PR risks going forward.
Firstly, CEA should bear in mind that as EA grows, the probability of an individual holding a very extreme interpretation of EA principles will increase.
Secondly, CEA and other EA orgs should pre-empt, and publicly, firmly discourage and reject predictable extremism inside EA, for two reasons:
- To prevent harmful acts as an end in itself
- To protect EA’s reputation in response to potential harmful acts by EAs in the future
“Predictable extremism” includes further cases of stealing-to-give / fraud-to-give, but also violence towards perceived bad actors. This kind of extremism and more severe violations of deontological principles might become more likely the closer we get to AGI / as people shorten their timelines, and may particularly become more common amongst those with high P(doom).
Some concrete actions I'd like to see:
- Giving What We Can and Founders Pledge prominently and explicitly making it clear that they condemn and discourage stealing-to-give. This should be prominent enough to make GWWC and FP fairly claim to be at no fault whatsoever for potential future cases of stealing-to-give by signatories. 80 000 Hours should do the same on its pages about earning-to-give.
- CEA should add honesty and non-violence as separate fifth and sixth "principles which unite effective altruism" for greater emphasis.
- Community builders should emphasise honesty as a key EA value.
- Community builders (and other people) should emphasise non-violence as an EA value more often, to the extent that EAs can fairly claim to be at no fault whatsoever for potential future cases of violence motivated by extreme interpretations of EA principles.
In particular, I'd like to stress that we should not wait for someone to commit an act of violence in the name of EA before we dedicate ourselves to non-violence, for both PR reasons and to just prevent violence in the first place.
(Obviously, there are less PR focused reasons to do these things, but I primarily wanted to focus on PR for the purposes of this post)
This post previously conflated “fringes” with “extreme views” and has been edited to distinguish between them.