Ariel Pontes

Group organizer @ EA Romania
Seeking work
122Bucharest, RomaniaJoined Jan 2021

Bio

Participation
6

Software developer, philosophy MA, secular humanist, blogger @ ghostlessmachine.com. Originally from Rio, based in Bucharest.

Comments
7

Is my blog too provocative for a group organizer?

Hi Harrison, thanks for the detailed feedback. I take your point and I will try to edit the article to make it less "shocking", since there seems to be consensus that I went a bit too far. There are a couple of considerations though that I think might be relevant for me to raise. I'm not trying to excuse myself, but I do think they provide more context and might help people understand why I wrote the article in this style.

  1. The only reason why I brought up rape in the article at all was that the vegans who opposed my argument for meat offsets explicitly used the "rape argument": If meat offsets are permissible then rape offsets are permissible. Rape offsets can't possibly be permissible because rape is too shocking and disgusting. Therefore, meat offsets are not permissible. I could have used another example rather than rape, but the whole point of using the rape analogy is that rape is shocking and invokes moral disgust in most of us. If I used another example, I felt it would be dishonest. I was afraid that it would look like I am evading their argument. Don't you think this is a reasonable concern? How could I avoid the "rape" example without looking like I'm evading their argument?
  2. Sometimes, when discussing moral philosophy, I find it important to evoke some degree of shock or disgust. Again, I write to the general public, and there are many people in the lay audience who casually espouse relativistic views, but if I press them hard enough with sufficiently gory examples, they agree that certain things are "objectively bad". But I guess I have now learned to avoid gender-based violence in my examples. I do think "murder" is not good enough though. Would "torture" or "child decapitation" be OK? Or still too much?
  3. I don't have an official diagnosis but I've been called autistic many times in my life and after reading about the topic I concluded that people might be on to something. I'm a typical nerdy IT guy who struggled with social skills for most of my youth, and I've never been particularly good at reading how people feel, predicting how they're gonna react to certain things, etc. With time, however, I've learned how to mask my weirdness by following certain simple algorithms and I now have a very active social life and I would say I get into conflict less often than the average person. I'm just saying this because I've noticed that people often assume that I use shocking language because I am callous and insensitive and don't care about how people feel, but the truth is that I do care about how they feel, I just fail to predict how they will feel. Sure, at the end of the day the harm caused might be the same, but I do hope people will see this as an attenuating circumstance because a person whose heart is in the right place is more likely to improve their behavior in the future in response to feedback.
  4. Another factor that I think is tricky is cultural differences. So far my experience of EA is that the cultural norms are very much dictated by the US/UK, because this is where most people are and it's only natural that these cultural norms come to dominate. In progressive circles in the US/UK it seems that it has become mainstream to believe that people should be protected from any potential discomfort, that words can be violence, etc. Jonathan Haidt calls this the coddling of the American mind. I don't want to argue here that people should be more resilient. I haven't read enough about this so I prefer to refrain from judgement and remain agnostic. But my point is that in other cultures this phenomenon is not so mainstream. In Romania for example people are pretty callous comparatively and there is some tolerance for this in the culture, even in progressive circles. My girlfriend for example read the article and didn't say anything about it being too graphic or callous. Sure, American culture influences both Brazil (where I'm originally from) and Romania (where I've been living for 8 years), but I think it's a bit unfair to expect people from everywhere to flawlessly respect the sensibilities of the anglosphere without ever making any mistake.
  5. Besides, there is the even more complicated issue of subcultures. I'm into extreme metal and gory horror movies, and people in these communities have a different relationship to violence. We tend to talk about it callously and the less triggerable you are the more metal you are. I've also been active in the secular humanist movement, where many people identify as "free-speech fundamentalists", and there is more tolerance for "offensive content" than in other more mainstream progressive movements. Because of the strong rationalist component of EA, I've always assumed it overlapped a lot with secular humanism, but lately I am realizing that this overlap is a bit smaller than I assumed it to be.

Again, I'm not saying these things to excuse myself, I appreciate the feedback and I will adjust my behavior in response to it. At the end of the day I will always have to adopt one imperfect set of cultural norms or another, so if I want to get more involved in EA I might as well adopt EA norms. I guess I just felt the need to explain where I'm coming from so that people don't leave with the impression that I'm a callous person who doesn't care about how others feel. I made a mistake, I failed to predict that my article would be seen as too callous to EAs,  and hopefully with this new data point I can recalibrate my algorithms and minimize the chances that I will make the same mistake in the future. I cannot promise I will never make a mistake again, but I still hope my reputation won't be forever damaged by one honest mistake.

PS: What is the infamous Robin Hanson post? I'm curious :)

Request: feedback on my EAIF application

My hypothesis is that focusing on donations is a good strategy in Romania because of the tax incentives I mentioned. Because this is a new project, I am approaching everything experimentally. The plan is to test my hypothesis by estimating how many hours per week I spend on activities related to fundraising, and then measuring how much money I raised in the end of those six months. If the amount of money per unit of effort seems too small, then I will conclude that my hypothesis was wrong. If the amount is decent, then I will conclude that it was right. Of course, it's hard to put a number on what "decent" is in advance. It's also worth noting that I expect this effort to be cumulative: if during year 1 I make effort E1 and money M1, I would expect to have M1 again in year 2 without all that effort because once we make it to the list of NGOs a company contributes to, it's easy to stay there. Therefore, even a modest return in the end of 6 months can be enough encouragement to continue the experiment.

The only case I can make in favor of this hypothesis a priori is to say that the people in my company have experience both raising funds and offering them and that they estimated that I could easily raise $5-10k in my first year. And I think their estimate is plausible because I think I could easily find 10 members in our community who can convince their companies to donate $1k per year to us. Then as the community grows we should develop relationships with people in more companies, perhaps bigger ones that can donate larger sums, especially if we focus on tech outreach.

This is another reason why I think these 2 goals are actually interconnected: the activities involved in achieving one goal are also helpful in achieving the other. In some way, if I pursue only the tech goal, I feel I will be wasting opportunities to raise funds. Every developer that I attract to EA is somebody that I can both add to a database of EA-aligned developers, and also ask them to convince their employers/companies to donate to us. The actual hard part of the work is attracting these developers to EA, once they're part of the community, asking them to talk to their employers is the easy part.

I mean, sure, I could be wrong about all that, but this is something we can only find out if we try it. Do you think my hypothesis is so implausible that it's not worth testing?

Request: feedback on my EAIF application

Hi Vaidehi, thank you so much for taking the time to write all this, it is definitely helpful :)

The benefit of setting up a legal entity in Romania is that it would allow me to get donations. The benefit of a website is also donations. I can't really have an NGO and ask for donations without having a website to show. It doesn't have to be a complex or expensive website, but I do need something. I could even remove website creation from the budget, but then I would have to create it myself and this would consume more of my time. But yes, I can definitely remove the focus from creating content (i.e. blog and social media).

I guess one aspect that I perhaps should make more explicit is how easy it is to get donations in Romania via the tax incentives I mentioned. I talked to my employers and they said many companies allocate their donation budgets based on recommendations by employees, which are relatively rare, so usually each recommendation gets a big chunk of the donation budget. If everybody who comes to our meetups convinces their companies to donate 1k EUR to us, and if at least some of them donate 3,5% of their income taxes, we could raise some funds quite easily. I actually know a Romanian member of the EA community (currently based in Berlin) who has been encouraging me to set up an NGO because she has a company and wants to also convince her family to donate 3,5% of their income taxes to something impactful, but currently this is simply impossible. I don't necessarily have to focus on getting as much money as possible in the short-term, but I do think it's useful to have the legal structure in place so we can slowly start to get donations. My hope is that one day our donation revenue will be greater than the funds we receive, but this is something I can aim to achieve in a long-term basis, so I don't need to dedicate much of my time to this within the next 6 months.

Does it make more sense now? I will update the application in the meantime and try to cut more from my goals and make it more focused and less ambitious, but in principle I still think it's important to have a basic website and a legal entity ready to receive donations, even if I don't focus on fundraising.

Request: feedback on my EAIF application

Yeah, sure! I didn't think of adding them cause they're even newer to the community than me, and in the description of this section they say:

References by people who are directly involved in effective altruism and adjacent communities are particularly useful, especially if we are likely to be familiar with their work and thinking. (E.g., long-time members of the effective altruism community who have given you feedback or otherwise engaged with your work.)

And also they would be the same people that I list in my team of volunteers… So I figured it would be a bit redundant…

Would you buy from an altruistic shop?

Fair enough, I admit I didn't do any deep research  on luxury brands. My assumption that they make a lot of profit is based on the fact that many successful brands that also spend money on "R&D, marketing, office employee salaries, shipping, storage, dealing with returns and damages, and more" nevertheless manage to sell their products for very decent prices. So I really do not see what could justify another brand with presumably similar production costs selling almost identical products for 5 times the price. Based on the little I understand about human psychology and economics, it's about the exclusivity, the luxury, the idea of having something "limited edition".  People think it's worth a lot because other people think it's worth a lot. But maybe I'm wrong  and Louis Vuitton doesn't make a lot more profits than, say, Zara. I'm checking now and the net worth of Bernard Arnault (the CEO of Louis Vuitton and richest person in Europe) is more than twice that of Amancio Ortega (chairman of Zara), but I'm not sure this is the metric I should be looking at. In any case my main point is that the fact that we spend so much money as a society on something so "useless" is a moral scandal.

And as far as risk is concerned, I will use Printful and Etsy for the MVP, and they only charge fees when products are purchased, so the financial risk is literally zero. The only thing I may lose is time.

Would you buy from an altruistic shop?

Honestly at this point the $50,000 item is more like a joke, something to make a point. I'd have a listing there to raise awareness of the fact that people really are spending that kind of money on stupid stuff all the time, which I think is a moral scandal. But of course, I'd be happy if somebody actually bought it! But in any case, although people usually don't buy t-shirts or hoodies for $50,000, they buy  them for a few hundred dollars all the time. This shop idea is largely inspired by this Patriot Act episode: 

Would you buy from an altruistic shop?

Yeah, I've thought about that as well. I guess it's not exactly EAs that I expect to be the main audience, but "conscious consumers" who are not necessarily super educated in ethics and EA, but who like to buy "eco" stuff, or who would be happy to buy  a product if the profits are going to a any cause, like feminism or BLM, regardless of whether it's effective. I just prefer to say it goes to EA to simplify my life, and because I think EAs knows best how to use this money in the most ethical way possible. The way I see it, EA is about two things: (1) we should donate (2) effectively. I don't intend necessarily to focus on effectiveness so much. I want to focus more on the moral imperative to donate something.