563 karmaJoined Jul 2018


Ok, I acknowledge that I might have misunderstood your intent. If had taken that your point was to dispassionately explain why people (the EA community) don't engage with this topic, I myself might have reacted more dispassionately. However, as I read your comments, I don't think that it was very clear that this is what you were after. Rather, it seemed like you were actively making the case against engaging with the topic and using strawmanning tactics to make your point. I would encourage you to be more clear in this regard in the future, I will try to be more mindful of possible misinterpretation. 

I think the key point of my comments stand in that the position you outlined is potentially problematic and ill-informed. To take an other example, you say:

You can cite the study "justifying" limits to growth, (which I've discussed on this forum before!) but they said that there would be a collapse decades ago, so it's hard to take that seriously

The point of simulation models is never to "predict" the future. We are not in the foundation novels and doing psychohistory here. Studies like this are used to look for and examine patterns in behavior. That's why it is so remarkable that one of the scenarios they developed actually mapped so closely to current developments. That was never the goal of the exercise. So the issue here is that you are misrepresenting the way people are actually building their arguments. If you again are claiming that this is not how you see the situation but how other people see the situation, please make people aware of the errors in their reasoning and don't continue to propagate false or at least misleading information.

I'm sure there is a steelmanned version of this that deserves some credit, and I initially said that there are some ideas from that movement that deserve credit - but I don't understand what it has to do with the degrowth movement, which is pretty explicit about what it wants and aims for.

I think the point I was trying to make is that it would do us good to try to go out there with a charitable mindset, look for the steelmanned versions of arguments being made, and try to engage them on their merits. For me this implies looking also in "unusual" or on the face of it "irritating" places and talking to people that hold different beliefs or work with different ideas, in particular if they are trying to reach out and engage with us. This happened to some degree here and all I am advocating for is keeping an open mind and not jumping to dismissive conclusions without deliberate critical engagement.

I would argue that it is a snarky but honest reflection of my state of mind. I also support my claim with evidence if you continue to read the comment. I am walking a fine line but I think my comment should still pass as constructive and well-intentioned all things considered. If you beg to differ feel free to make your case. 

Wow, I am wondering whether to engage further or just let your reply stand as a testament to your "thoughtfulness". Doubling down on stereotyping and mischaracterizing people... great job! (sorry for the sarcasm but I am STILL surprised when I encounter this type of behavior in the EA forum, probably a sign of my naivety...). Nevertheless, for the benefit of the people who are intimidated by this type of behavior, I will try to give a short outline on where you, at least in my opinion, go wrong. 

First, you seem to be upset that some people believe the hypothesis that "it is possible to organize a transition and live well under a different political-economic system that has a radically smaller resource throughput" because there is no evidence for it. I get that this may be not something you want... from your perspective it may not be "desirable" at the moment but what is your evidence that this is "impossible" to realize or even "undesirable" for people in general? Do you have more than specious historical analogies that actually proof your point? No, you don't because you can't. This is a complex and nuanced question that requires critical engagement and empirical inquiry to be resolved. Nobody is forcing you to contribute to this project but advocating against resolving the issue through critical engagement actually requires critical engagement. Pick your poison.

Second, why on earth do you continue to make broad stereotypical and misrepresenting claims after you have been made aware of the fact that you are doing it? Do you believe that is conducive to a productive and good conversation or are there other reasons in play that I simply fail to apprehend in my naivety and ignorance? Just to illustrate my point, a couple of quotes and replies from my side:

they are opposed to mining more minerals, regardless of environmental damage, because they want less resource usage

You make it sound like people are against mining of minerals in general. This is not the case. Even people advocating for degrowth have understood that civilization requires mining and use of minerals. They just advocate for being mindful of how much minerals we actually need to mine and encourage reconsideration of how we approach resource extraction in general, from all else being equal "more is better" to "less is better". Mind you that for most people this is also not a dogmatic position but a strategic position that is being taken on the margin in response to a (perceived) overweight of the "more is better" position. In the end, most people who advocate for degrowth now, would settle for a middle ground in the long run, where humanity is simply more mindful with regards to what it is doing. My circumstantial evidence for this is talking to people at academic sustainability conferences.

Yes, there are limits to growth, but they aren't relevant. They are busy telling people energy is finite, so we should use less - ignoring the fact that energy can be plentiful with solar and other renewable sources.

When people are pointing to limits to growth as a problem, they tend to have a reason for doing so even if one disagrees with them. Figuring out who is right tends to involve debate and empirical inquiry but you again opt for the easy way out and strawman "their" position to prematurely close discussion. What people are pointing to when they say "energy is finite" is not that we could not create "Dyson spheres" sometime in the future but that in our current situation we are still very much dependent on fossil fuels, transitioning to renewables is itself energy and resource intensive, and we don't want to burst our carbon budget while still enabling the Global South to continue its development. These are real issues that must be dealt with in the here and now. What is so wrong with thinking that encouraging Western countries (and their citizens; some degrowth advocates favor bottom-up approaches) to reconsider some of their basic assumptions about growth and prosperity and reduce their material footprint and consumption to help this process along could be part of the solution?

These are the same people - literally the same, in some cases - as the "limits to growth" folks from decades ago, and the fact that they were wrong hasn't deterred them in the least. They are STILL telling people that we will run out of minerals, ignoring the fact that discoverable reserves are orders of magnitude larger than we need in the foreseeable future, and in most cases reserves have been getting larger over time.

You make it sound like it is a consensus that the "limits to growth" people have been wrong. I can tell you there are quite a few people who would beg to differ. If you would engage with the discourse and look at the data, it's actually surprising how well the original study held up

But don't let this evidence fool you, your entire hypothesis that we theoretically have enough resource reserves that we can continue to plunder in our ongoing mindless quest for economic growth, (almost) proofs we have nothing to worry or just discuss about. Don't let the fact that we are in an unprecedented situation where we are transitioning entire economies with enormous efforts that are going to take resource, energy, and time disturb you in your certainty and let's simply not use this crisis situation as an opportunity to engage in deep reflection about the values and goals of the economic systems that we want to create as a result. Discussing about how we want to work together as humanity is overrated and not at all consequential for the long-run development of our species. That's explicitly not what EA is supposed to be about. (Sorry, couldn't resist the sarcasm, again)

If you are looking for some materials to further engage with these debates, I can recommend engaging with the academic literature but also other sources like Nate Hagens podcast. There are many people on there who talk about the very practical issues the degrowth people are concerned about and want to address. There is definitely more of value there than what you give it credit for and this is basically the whole reason that I am complaining so heavily about your style and behavior. 

Please don't just go around and attack and dunk on "niche" topics you haven't taken the time to properly engage with. It's fine to have (strong) opinions but be mindful of the effects the way you talk about things can have on other people and the community around you. The EA forum needs a diversity of voices and people should feel empowered to raise their (constructive, honest, etc.) points even if not everyone automatically gets their relevance. Constructive criticism and questions are fine and desired but misrepresentations are not. (I acknowledge that I myself am walking a fine line here... but somehow I think a sharp tone is still defensible in this case given the unfolding of the discussion)

I have to disclaim that I am NOT an expert on degrowth but from everything I know about the topic you are building up a huge strawman and misrepresenting their position in a way that really proves the point I was trying to make. 

Just searching on google scholar for the term "degrowth" and looking at the first result, I come to an open access article "Research on Degrowth" in a reputable outlet with a reviewing discussion of the actual positions held and research being done on the topic. I have not read the entire article but from engaging with it for less than five minutes it's clear that your simplified summary is inadequate. 

Degrowth is a new term that signifies radical political and economic reorganization leading to drastically reduced resource and energy throughput. Related scholarship critiques the ideology behind the dogma of economic growth; contributes to documentation of negative material, social, and ecological effects of growth; and assesses alternatives to growth-based development (1). Put simply, the degrowth hypothesis is that it is possible to organize a transition and live well under a different political-economic system that has a radically smaller resource throughput. 

Thus, the point the degrowth movement is concerned with is reducing resource and energy throughput and not stopping all forms of (technological) development. On the opposite, it is about being more mindful of what technologies we develop and how we put them into practice with the goal of needing a smaller resource throughput as a result. Or do you expect degrowth proponents to advocate against investing more into R&D of better solar panels and wind turbines? No, the whole point of degrowth is not to be against development but to change our conception of development so as to lead to an overall reduction (or at least stabilization) of resource and energy throughput. Lofty goals but same can be said for the whole AGI and existential risk shebang. 

And I mean their point seems to be worthy of discussion as there are limits to growth as you acknowledge, and it seems not outlandish and to many people probably very reasonable to argue that we are approaching these limits as we have a created an economic system that has pushed us into the dangerous territory of our planetary boundaries. 

Maybe you disagree about the degree to which we are in state of emergency or you are a techno-optimist who believes AGI will easily solve all "resource flow hiccups" we may be experiencing right now but this does NOT absolve you from doing a minimum of critical engagement with a case being made if you are to actively advocate against it. If the topic is not for you, fine. Stay out of it. But do not misrepresent the claims and case of people just because they have a different opinion from you.

P.S. sorry if this is a little bit harsh but this situation really captures a lot of what I am worried about with the EA forum. Stuff sometimes gets downvoted for specious reasons that are not grounded in any significant engagement with the topic but simply a "hot-take" that's formed based on a different (often uninformed) starting point. This creates potentially specious filter bubbles similar to other social media. Shouldn't this forum strive to do better than this?

Being “agnostic” in all situations is itself a dogmatic position. It’s like claiming to be “agnostic” on every epistemic claim or belief. Sure, you can be, but some beliefs might be much more likely than others. I continue to consider the possibility that pleasure is not the only good; I just find it extremely unlikely. That could change.

If you read what I have written, you will see that I am not taking a dogmatic position but simply advocate for staying open-minded when approaching a situation. I tried to describe that as trying to be "agnostic" about the outcome of engaging with a situation. It's not my goal to predict the outcome in advance but to work towards a satisfying resolution of the situation at hand. I would argue that this is the opposite of a dogmatic position but I acknowledge that my use of the term "agnostic" may have been confusing here.

Thank you as well, it was thought provoking and helped me reflect my own positions.

As above, these conflicting intuitions can only be resolved through a process of reflection. I am glad that you support such a process. You seem disappointed that the result of this process has, for me, led to utilitarianism. This is not a “premature closing of this process” any more than your pluralist stance is a premature closing of this process. What we are both doing is going back and forth saying “please reflect harder”. I have sprinkled some reading recommendations throughout to facilitate this.

I am only disappointed if you stop reflecting and questioning your position based on the situations you find yourself in and start to pursue it as dogma that cannot be questioned. I don't face the same concern as I am committed to continue on my open-minded and open-ended quest to better understand what it means to do good in particular situations and to act accordingly. In that sense, I am not "just" value pluralist nor a monist but agnostic as to what any particular situation may demand of me.

The post does not mention whether we have reasons to hold certain things dear. It actually rejects such a framing altogether, claiming that the idea that we “should” (in a reason-implying sense) hold certain things dear doesn’t make sense. This is tantamount to nihilism, in my view. The first two points, meanwhile, are psychological rather than normative claims. As Sidgwick stated, the point of philosophy is not to tell people what they do think, but what they ought to think.

Just because one is moral anti-realist doesn't mean one is automatically a nihilist. The post argues for Valuism and suggests there can be more than moral reasons for acting such as biological or psychological reasons. One may even argue that these are primary. But I guess that's bound to become too long of a conversation for this thread. I tried to make my case and I hope we both got something out of it. 

One caution I want to add here is that downvoting when a post is fresh / not popular can have strong filter effects and lead to premature muting of discussion. If the first handful of readers simply dislike a post and downvote it, this makes it much less likely for a more diverse crowd of people to find it and express their take on it. We should consider that there are many different viewpoints out there and that this is important for epistemic health. Thus, I encourage anyone to be mindful when considering to further downvote posts that are already unpopular.

I think one point of this post is to challenge the community to engage more openly with the question of degrowth and to engage in argument rather than dismiss it outright. I have not followed this debate in detail but I sympathize with the take that issues which are controversial with EAs are often disregarded without due engagement by the community.

I think you are misrepresenting a few things here. 

First, Catholics talk a lot about ethics. Please come up with a better excuse to brush away the critique I made. I am almost offended by the laziness of your argument. 

Second, you are misrepresenting the post. It does not assert that we should "value everything that we already care emotionally about". It argues for reflecting about what values we actually hold dear and have good reason to hold dear. This stands in contrast to your position, which amounts to arguing for a premature closing of this process of reflection by deferring to the supremacy of welfare under all circumstances and for all time. 

Besides those misrepresentations, I think there is value in discussing reasons for actions and reflecting about values and my hope is you will stay open to this in the future. I personally feel drawn to a critical pragmatist perspective and I believe that at some point we could have a nice discussion about it. There are certainly other perspectives besides utilitarianism that are worth discussing. All I want to do, is to encourage you to keep an open mind.

Hey Devin, 

first of all, thanks for engaging and the offer in the end. If you want to continue the discussion feel free to reach out via PM. 

I think there is some confusion about my and also Spencer Greenberg's position. Afaik, we are both moral anti-realists and not suggesting that moral realism is a tenable position. Without presuming to know much about Spencer, I have taken his stance in the post to be that he did not want to "argue" with realists in that post because even though he rejects their position, it requires a different type of argument than what he was after for that post. He wanted to draw attention to the fact that moral anti-realism and utilitarian value monism doesn't necessarily and "naturally" go well together. Many of the statements he heard from people in the EA community were confusing to him not because anti-realism is confusing but being anti-realist and steadfastly holding on to value monism was, given that we empirically seem to value many more things than just one "super value" such as "welfare" and that there is no inherent obligation that we "should" only value one "super value". He elaborates that also in another post.

My point was also mainly to point out that we should see moral theories as instruments that can help us get us more of what we value. They can help us reach some end-in-view and be evaluated in this regard, anything else is specious. 

From my perspective, adopting classic utilitarianism can be very limiting because it can oversimplify and obscure what we actually care about in a given situation. It's maybe useful as a helpful guide for considering what should be important but I am trying to not delude myself that "welfare" must be the only thing I should care about. This would be akin to a premature closure of inquiry into the specific situation at hand. I cannot and will never be able to fully anticipate all relevant details and aspects of a real world situation, so how can I be a priori certain that there is only one value I should care about? 

If you are interested in this kind of position, feel free to check out: Ulrich, W. (2006). Critical Pragmatism: A New Approach to Professional and Business Ethics. In Interdisciplinary Yearbook for Business Ethics. V. 1, v. 1,. Peter Lang Pub Inc.

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