I'm Aaron, I've done Uni group organizing at the Claremont Colleges for a bit. Current cause prioritization is AI Alignment.
Sorry about the name mistake. Thanks for the reply. I'm somewhat pessimistic about us two making progress on our disagreements here because it seems to me like we're very confused about basic concepts related to what we're talking about. But I will think about this and maybe give a more thorough answer later.
Edit: corrected name, some typos and word clarity fixed
Overall I found this post hard to read and I spent far too long trying to understand it. I suspect the author is about as confused about key concepts as I am. David, thanks for writing this, I am glad to see writing on this topic and I think some of your points are gesturing in a useful and important direction. Below are some tentative thoughts about the arguments. For each core argument I first try to summarize your claim and then respond, hopefully this makes it clearer where we actually disagree vs. where I am misunderstanding.
High level: The author makes a claim that the risk of deception arising is <1%, but they don’t provide numbers elsewhere. They argue that 3 conditions must all be satisfied for deception but neither of them are likely. The “how likely” affects that 1% number. My evaluation of the arguments (below) is that for each of these conjunctive conditions my rough probabilities (where higher means deception more likely) are: (totally unsure can’t reason about it) * (unsure but maybe low) * (high), yielding an unclear but probably >1% probability.
FWIW I often vote on posts at the top without scrolling because I listened to the post via the Nonlinear podcast library or read it on a platform that wasn't logged in. Not all that important of a consideration, but worth being aware of.
Here are my notes which might not be easier to understand, but they are shorter and capture the key ideas:
This evidence doesn't update me very much.
I would prefer an EA Forum without your critical writing on it, because I think your critical writing has similar problems to this post...
I interpret this quote to be saying, "this style of criticism — which seems to lack a ToC and especially fails to engage with the cruxes its critics have, which feels much closer to shouting into the void than making progress on existing disagreements — is bad for the forum discourse by my lights. And it's fine for me to dissuade people from writing content which hurts discourse"
Buck's top-level comment is gesturing at a "How to productively criticize EA via a forum post, according to Buck", and I think it's noble to explain this to somebody even if you don't think their proposals are good. I think the discourse around the EA community and criticisms would be significantly better if everybody read Buck's top level comment, and I plan on making it the reference I send to people on the topic.
Personally I disagree with many of the proposals in this post and I also wish the people writing it had a better ToC, especially one that helps make progress on the disagreement, e.g., by commissioning a research project to better understand a relevant consideration, or by steelmanning existing positions held by people like me, with the intent to identify the best arguments for both sides.
I expect a project like this is not worth the cost. I imagine doing this well would require dozens of hours of interviews with people who are more senior in the EA movement, and I think many of those people’s time is often quite valuable.
Regarding the pros you mention:
I’m not convinced that building more EA ethos/identity based around shared history is a good thing. I expect this would make it even harder to pivot to new things or treat EA as a question, it also wouldn’t be unifying for many folks (e.g. who having been thinking about AI safety for a decade or who don’t buy longtermism). According to me, the bulk of people who call themselves EAs, like most groups, are too slow to update on new arguments and information and I would expect that having a written and agreed upon history would not help with this. Then again, my point might be made better if I could reference common historical cases of what I mean lol
I don’t see how this helps build trust.
I don’t see how having a written history makes the movement less likely to die. I also don’t know what it looks like for the EA movement to die or how bad this actually is; the EA movement is largely instrumental toward other things I care about: reducing suffering, increasing the chances of good stuff in the universe, my and my friends’ happiness to a lesser extent.
This does seem like a value add to me, though the project I’m imagining only does a medium job at this given it’s goal is not “chronology of mistakes and missteps”. Maybe worth checking out https://www.openphilanthropy.org/research/some-case-studies-in-early-field-growth/
With ideas like this I sometimes ask myself “why hasn’t somebody done this yet”. Some reasons that come to mind: too busy doing other things they think are important, might come across as self aggrandizing, who’s going to read it?-and ways I expect it to get read are weird and indoctorinaty (“welcome to the club, here’s a book about our history”, as opposed to “oh, you want to do lots of good, here are some ideas that might be useful”), it doesn’t directly improve the world and the indirect path to impact is shakier than other meta things.
I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad idea. But so far I don’t see strong reasons to do this over the many other things openphil/cea/Kelsey piper/interviewees could be doing.
I like this comment and think it answers the question at the right level of analysis.
To try and summarize it back: EA’s big assumption is that you should purchase utilons, rather than fuzzies, with charity. This is very different from how many people think about the world and their relationship to charity. To claim that somebody’s way of “doing good” is not as good as they think is often interpreted by them as an attack on their character and identity, thus met with emotional defensiveness and counterattack.
EA ideas aim to change how people act and think (and for some core parts of their identity); such pressure is by default met with resistance.
There is some non-prose discussion of arguments around AI safety. Might be worth checking out: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/brFGvPqo8sKpb9mZf/the-basics-of-agi-policy-flowchart Some of the stuff linked here: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/4az2cFrJp3ya4y6Wx/resources-for-ai-alignment-cartography Including: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/mJ5oNYnkYrd4sD5uE/clarifying-some-key-hypotheses-in-ai-alignment
I agree that persuasion frames are often a bad way to think about community building.
I also agree that community members should feel valuable, much in the way that I want everybody in the world to feel valued/loved.
I probably disagree about the implications, as they are affected by some other factors. One intuition that helps me is to think about the donors who donate toward community building efforts. I expect that these donors are mostly people who care about preventing kids from dying of malaria, and many donors also donate lots of money towards charities that can save a kid’s like for $5000. They are, I assume, donating toward community building efforts because they think these efforts are on average a better deal, costing less than $5000 for a live saved in expectation.
For mental health reasons, I don’t think people should generally hold themselves to this bar and be like “is my expected impact higher than where money spent on me would go otherwise?” But I think when you’re using other peoples altruistic money to community build, you should definitely be making trade offs, crunching numbers, and otherwise be aiming to maximize the impact from those dollars.
Furthermore, I would be extremely worried if I learned that community builders aren’t attempting to quantify their impact or think about these things carefully (noting that I have found it very difficult to quantify impact here). Community building is often indistinguishable (at least from the outside) from “spending money on ourselves” and I think it’s reasonable to have a super high bar for doing this in the name of altruism.
Noting again that I think it’s hard to balance mental health with the whacky terrible state of the world where a few thousand dollars can save a life. Making a distinction between personal dollars and altruistic dollars can perhaps help folks preserve their mental health while thinking rigorously about how to help others the most. Interesting related ideas: