Aaron Gertler

I moderate the Forum, and I'd be happy to review your next post.

I'm a full-time content writer at CEA. I started Yale's student EA group, and I've also volunteered for CFAR and MIRI. I spend a few hours a month advising a small, un-Googleable private foundation that makes EA-adjacent donations. I also play Magic: the Gathering on a semi-professional level and donate half my winnings (more than $50k in 2020) to charity.

Before joining CEA, I was a tutor, a freelance writer, a tech support agent, and a music journalist. I blog, and keep a public list of my donations, at aarongertler.net.


Part 7: What Might We Be Missing?
The Farm Animal Welfare Newsletter
Part 8: Putting it into Practice
Part 6: Emerging Technologies
Part 5: Existential Risk
Part 4: Longtermism
Part 3: Expanding Our Compassion
Part 2: Differences in Impact
Part 1: The Effectiveness Mindset
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Wiki Contributions


Effective Altruism: The First Decade (Forum Review)

No, they should be eligible. 

I've update the post to clarify that people can't vote on their own posts — maybe that's what you were seeing? Otherwise, what's the post where you don't see voting available?

Effective Altruism: The First Decade (Forum Review)

I'm checking in with the LW team about these questions — I'll update this answer and send you a DM to notify you when I have an update.

Sasha Chapin on bad social norms in EA

If you only observe EA culture from online interactions, you get the impression that EAs think about effective altruism much more regularly than they actually do. This will extend to activities like spend lots of time "doing EA-adjacent things", including the forum, EA social media, casual reading, having EA conversations, etc. Many people in that reference class include people volunteering their time, or people who find thinking about EA relaxing compared to their stressful day jobs.

I agree.

However, if we're referring to actual amounts/hours of work done on core EA topics in their day job, EA org employees who are less active online will put in more hours towards their jobs compared to EA org employees who are more active online.

I don't have an opinion about this either way. My argument was about people who were org employees vs. interested in doing EA work but not actually employees of EA orgs (the latter being the group somewhat more likely to talk online about feeling bad in the ways Sasha described).

By comparison, when EA feels like the biggest thing in your life and there's no clear "part of it" for which you are responsible, it's easier to feel like you should be doing everything, and harder to heed the messages about work/life balance...

"No clear part of it" = "no one job that belongs to you, so you may feel vaguely like you should be contributing to everything you see, or doing everything possible to figure out a career path until you find one".

"Requires" was imprecise language on my part — I just meant "they are actually working 45 hours, rather than just completing <45 hours of work in what looks like 45 hours." Your response satisfies me w/r/t people seeming to have more than a 45-hour workweek of "actual/required work".

Announcing my retirement

The person who takes over for me directly might also be really dedicated to running the site. But we're trying to keep the position flexible to account for the interests of our strongest candidates, so it's possible they'll end up more focused on other aspects of CEA content. If that were to happen, I wouldn't be surprised if we hired for a "head of Forum" role in the near-to-medium future (but no guarantees).

Sasha Chapin on bad social norms in EA

I vaguely share your impressions that EA org people who are active socially/online (including myself) may on average be less hardworking

That seems like the opposite of my impression. My impression is that the majority of people in EA positions who are less active online are more likely to have normal work schedules, while the people who spend the most time online are those who also spend the most time doing what they think of as "EA work" (sometimes they're just really into their jobs, sometimes they don't have a formal job but spend a lot of time just interacting in various often-effortful ways).

Thanks for sharing your impression of people you know — if you live with a bunch of people who have these jobs, you're in a better position to estimate work time than I am (not counting CEA). When you say "working >45h", do you mean "the work they do actually requires >45 hours of focused time", or "they spend >45 hours/week in 'work mode', even if some of that time is spent on breaks, conversation, idle Forum browsing, etc."?

Announcing my retirement

Thanks, Jared!

To clarify: The guidelines on this post are the default guidelines for all posts, which I think were written by someone on the LessWrong team before the Forum existed.

Sasha Chapin on bad social norms in EA

I work for CEA, but everything here is my personal opinion.

"General nerd social patterns" sounds right to me.

I've seen a lower proportion of people in "pits of despair" in EA than in other demographically similar communities I'm familiar with (social activists, serious gamers). The ways in which people choose to evaluate themselves differ, but there are always many people who feel inadequate relative to their own standards (whether that's about upholding social justice norms or maintaining a certain winrate on the ladder). I think Sasha is describing the human condition (or at least the human condition among people who care a lot about certain social groups — "nerds", I guess?) more than anything inherent to EA/rationality. (And it sounds like Sasha would agree.)

This kind of observation about any group also suffers from... observer effects? (Not sure that's the right term to use.) There is a phenomenon where the most visible people in a group are often the most involved, and are more likely to experience personal difficulties that drive extreme levels of involvement. Another term people use for this is "very online".

Having worked with lots and lots of people across lots and lots of EA orgs, I rarely see people who seem to be in "work until you drop" mode, compared to the more standard pattern of "work pretty hard for a pretty standard number of hours, mostly relax when not working". People at CEA get married, have kids, and take vacations at rates that seem normal to me.

(Obvious disclaimer: It's not always obvious when people are doing the work-until-you-drop thing. But in many cases, I'm also real-world or Facebook friends with these people and see them vacationing, partying, reading novels, sharing memes, and otherwise "indulging" in normal stuff.)

However, when I think of the people I know mostly from the EA internet — people whose main engagement with the community comes from engagement on social media or the Forum — I see them express these kinds of feelings far more often. 

This makes sense — once you have a day job (and maybe a family), your focus is mostly on a few specific things, rather than "having as much impact as possible, generally". You're also able to accomplish a lot by just doing your job reasonably well (or helping to shepherd new life into the world!). By comparison, when EA feels like the biggest thing in your life and there's no clear "part of it" for which you are responsible, it's easier to feel like you should be doing everything, and harder to heed the messages about work/life balance that get shared in EA groups, at EA Global, etc. 

Another way to put it is that people feel more comfortable once they have a source of status, either within EA or outside of it. (Being a parent seems very high-status in the sense that most people will compliment you for doing it, gladly talk about parenting with you, etc. — plus you get to actually help another person every single day in a highly visible way, which is good for the soul.)

The result: to people who see the EA community mostly through its online presence, EA looks like it has a high proportion of people who seem burnt-out or unhappy, even if the on-the-ground reality is that most people are living emotionally ordinary lives.

The practical takeaways:

  • It's good to acknowledge that unhealthy norms do exist in some corners of EA, but I worry that confusing "what EA looks like online" with "how EA actually is on a population level" might lead us to throw too many resources or too much concern at problems that aren't as widespread as they appear. (This isn't to say that we've reached that point yet, or anything close to it, but I sometimes see takes like "EA should focus on taking care of burnt-out community members as an urgent priority" that seem to overstate how common this is.)
  • I'm also worried  that people who want to get more involved with EA will assume that their risk of being pulled into a pit of despair is much higher than it actually is, or think of the community as being a collection of sad, burnt-out husks (rather than what it actually looks like to me — a bunch of people who span the full spectrum of emotional states, but who seem somewhat happier and calmer than average).

This post was shared here a week ago, and there are quite a few comments there. 

It's not against the rules to have the same thing crossposted twice, but you might want to add your observations as a comment there rather than having a separate post up.

December 2021 monthly meme post

I'm leaving this as Frontpage for now to see what happens, but wouldn't be surprised if several people asked for it to stay in Personal Blog (if that happens, I'll agree).

[Linkpost] Don't Look Up - a Netflix comedy about asteroid risk and realistic societal reactions (Dec. 24th)

Toby Ord reading a table out loud sounds like a bridge too far, but it's not uncommon for movies to end with a link to some relevant real-world resource. If I knew the people behind this movie (I don't) and thought there might be time to change it (no idea), I'd probably advocate for something like this (many ways to improve the wording, I'm sure) before the credits:

This film isn't based on a true story. But it may become one.

Learn about risks to humanity, and how you can help: 


(More realistically, if I did have an in, I'd ask people like Toby Ord what message they'd want millions of random viewers to see.)

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