496Joined Jul 2018


To me it seems like you have a wrong premise. A wellbeing focused perspective is explicitly highlighting the fact that Sentinelese and the modern Londoners may have similar levels of wellbeing. That's the point! This perspective aims to get you thinking about what is really valuable in life and what the grounds for your own beliefs about what is important are. 

You seem to have a very strong opinion that something like technological progress is intrinsically valuable. Living in a more technically advanced society is "inherently better" and, thus, everyone who does not see this is "objectively wrong". That argument would seem strange to even the most orthodox utilitarian.  Even if your argument is a little bit more nuanced in the sense that you are seeing technological progress only as instrumentally valuable to sustain larger population sizes at similar levels of wellbeing, this perspective is still somewhat naive because technological progress also has potentially devastating consequences such as climate change or AI risks. In that sense, one can actually make the case that the agricultural revolution was maybe the beginning of the end of the human race. So maybe if there would have been a way to grow our societies more deliberately and to optimize for wellbeing (rather than economic growth) from the beginning, it wouldn't have been such a bad idea? I just want to illustrate that the whole situation is not as clear cut as you make it out to be.

Altogether, I would encourage you to keep more of an open mind regarding other perspectives. The post but also this comment of yours make it seem like you might be very quick in dismissing perspectives and being vocal about it even if you have not really engaged with them deeply. This makes you come across as naive to a somewhat more knowledgeable person which could put you at a personal disadvantage in the future and, in addition, could also be contributing to bad epistemics in your community if the people you are talking to are less informed and, thus, not able to spot where you might be cutting corners. Hope you don't resent me for this personal side note, it's meant in a constructive spirit.

Just a short follow up: I just wrote a post on the hedonic treadmill and suggest that it is an interesting concept to reflect about in relation to life in general: 

I think that it may be helpful to unpack the nature of perceived happiness and wellbeing a little bit more than this post does. I think the idea of hedonic adaptation is pretty well known—most of us have probably heard of the hedonic treadmill (see Brickmann & Campbell, 1971). The work on hedonic adaptation points to the fact that perceived happiness and wellbeing are relative constructs that largely depend on reference points which are invoked. To oversimplify things a little bit, if everyone around me is bad off, I may already be happy if I am only slightly better of than them. At the same time, I might be unhappy if I am pretty good off but everyone around me is much better off. As such, it is entirely reasonable to expect that hunter-gatherers  when asked about their life feel quite good and happy about it as long as they don't feel like everyone else around them is much better off. 

The conclusion of this post should not be that perceived happiness and wellbeing should not be used to compare the effects of interventions but that they simply measure something different than "objective measures". They aim to measure how people feel about their life in general as they compare it to others, not how they score on a particular metric in isolation. Whether you prefer one or the other approach largely depends on your perspective on what is valuable in life. Some people may find making progress on metrics that they find particularly valuable is the way to go and others prefer a more self-organizing perspective where the affected people themselves are more involved in determining what is valuable.

In sum, this post seems a little bit confused on what the WELLBY debate is about. I can recommend the cited article to get some idea on why something like a WELLBY approach may be interesting to consider even if one doesn't like it at first glance.

Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. In M. H. Appley (Ed.), Adaptation-level theory: A symposium (pp. 287–305). Academic Press. 

If you take this as your point of departure, I think that’s worth highlighting that the boundaries between community and organizations can become very blurry in EA. Projects pop up all the time and innocuous situations might turn controversial over time. I think those examples with second-order partners of polyamorous relationships being (more or less directly) involved in funding decisions are a prime example. There is probably no intent or planning behind this but conflicts of interest are bound to arise if the community is tight knit and highly “interconnected”.

While I think that you have a good starting point for a discussion here, I would expect the whole situation to be not as clear cut and easy as your argument suggests. So, I really agree with the post that getting to a state most people are happy with will require some muddling through.

I kind of skimmed this post, so hopefully I am not making of fool pf myself but I think you didn’t really address a key point which is raised by „critics“ and that are the challenges associated with the tendency for centralization in EA.

There are basically two to three handful of people who control massive amounts of wealth, many of which are interweaved in a web of difficult to untangle relationships ranging from friendly to romantic. The denser this web is, the more difficult it is for people to understand what is going on. Are rejections or grants based on emotion or merit? It’s simply difficult to say the more complex the interactions are.

I think having friendships and relationships is great if the people involved are happy but we have to develop appropriate means for dealing with the complexity of it all. For instance, in cooperatives relationships are often very highly valued and central to the whole experience of being part of the cooperative. There are formalized mechanisms in place to afford systematic discussion of relationships and negotiation of mutually acceptable forms of organization. In EA, we are lacking this kind of structure. While some participatory islands might exist, there are often streamlined but opaque processes in place that allow a few people to make huge decisions affecting countless people with very limited involvement from the community at large (or the people affected for that matter). This becomes pretty tricky to justify as “EA” if you cannot demonstrate that the decisions being made are “above reproach” and not influenced by romantic relationships, in-group favoritism or the like.

In sum, I think I broadly agree that having friendly or even romantic relationships within the EA community can also have a good side but I am very skeptical that our current ways of organizing can handle all the complexity that is entailed by strong versions of this. If we want deeper and more relationships within the community, we should adapt our spaces and institutions to be ready for that. We owe it to ourselves and others to figure out how we can behave responsibly in this context.

Thanks for the response. I agree that this might not be „pleasant“ to read but I tried to make a somewhat plausible argument that illustrate some of the tensions that might be at play here. And I think this is what the comment that I replied to asked for.

Also I would argue that the comment „holding up“ when we are switching to related phenomena (at least sex positive gay culture) could actually be an indicator of it pointing to some general underlying dynamics regarding „weirdness“ in relation to orthodoxy. Weirdness tends to leave more room for deviance from established norms which may attract people with tendencies toward rule breaking. And since being gay has become much more accepted by the mainstream and less „weird“, so has the potential for misuse by bad faith actors.

All of this should not be interpreted as me having anything against polyamory or other practices currently perceived to be weird per se, actually, I find there are very interesting arguments in favor of polyamory and I am many regards holding weird positions myself (e.g., vegan, etc.). I have friends who have polyamorous relationships. But given it’s status in the current environment, it still might be an attraction point for nefarious people simply by virtue of being „weird“ and, thus, more open for misuse.

Just to explain why I downvoted this comment. I think it is pretty defensive and not really engaging with the key points of the response, which made no indication that would justify a conclusion like: „You seem to be prioritising the options based on intuition, whereas I prefer to use evidence from self-reports.“

There is nothing in the capability approach as explained that would keep you from using survey data to consider which options to provide. On the opposite, I would argue it to be more open and flexible for such an approach because it is less limited in the types of questions to ask in such surveys. The capability approach simply highlights that life satisfaction or wellbeing are not necessarily the only measures that can be used. For instance, you could also ask what functionings provide meaning to your life, which may be correlated to life satisfaction but not necessarily the same thing (e.g., see examples that were given).

I generally agree but I think it might also be interesting to take a memetic perspective and look at the incentives and consequences that some of the ideas might cause as a product of their information content interacting with a dynamic environment. Sometimes we tend to think of ourselves as the masters of our own behaviors (e.g., we have „free“ will) but underneath it all, we may just be carriers for the information and rules encoded in genes and memes. In this view, „weirdness“ relating to the distribution of memes may actually be an informative perspective because it highlights novel dynamics that might be at play here.

I think that the call for more self-awareness regarding weirdness and how this might be viewed by other people is quite important. However, I also think it has been discussed before and quite a few people are aware of it. The recent situations have highlighted that we should maybe aim for clearer guidelines and rules how to handle this in practice. But it’s not really easy to find appropriate tradeoffs between the different interests here (weird vs. non-weird).

If you downvote or disagree it’s quite helpful to explain why. I think this is a reasonable comment that provides a possible answer to the question that was posed. I would argue it makes a contribution to the discourse here and deserves to be engaged with.

For me it seems really difficult to disentangle whether downvotes are just „soldier mindset“ or actually grounded in deliberate reasoning. Just downvoting without any kind of explanation seems like it should be reserved for clear cut cases of „no contribution“.

My point here was that the conclusion that can be drawn from your example is orthogonal to the question of how concentrated power is. Your example did not provide much evidence against the claim that concentration of power may be a contributing factor to the issue here. Feel free to reread my prior comment.

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