Software developer, philosophy MA, secular humanist, blogger @ ghostlessmachine.com. Originally from Rio, based in Bucharest.
Hi Richard, thanks for the input :) That's a fair point, and I have considered it. The problem is that, after meditating over this, talking to friends, etc, I just cannot bring myself to believe that I am more confrontational than average, or even than the average community organizer. I just don't see evidence of this beyond this incident. This is a difficult thing for me to say because I feel that I will be perceived as stubborn, as somebody who is engaged in motivated reasoning, etc. But if I said anything else I would be lying. I don't know if I'm the only one who feels this, but sometimes I fear that we are creating an environment in EA where people don't have the space to respond sincerely to criticism. I sometimes feel a bit like I'm forced to accept any criticism immediately without questioning it because that's what it means to have a scout mindset. This cannot be a good thing. There must be a balance between resisting criticism too much or too little.
Besides, even if I am a bit more confrontational that the average organizer, I'm not convinced that I should give up and choose something else that's a better fit for me. I'm not perfect at anything. no matter what path I choose, I will have to work on myself in someways to become better at that job. I would only give up on a path if I'm a sufficiently bad fit. And I don't think I'm bad enough at community building that I should just give up on it. Moreover, at this point I'm kinda in too deep into community organizing. If I stop now the community will die. I considered this possibility with people from the community and they encouraged me to continue. The community is growing, there are often new people who show up excited to the meetups, it feels unreasonable to disappoint everyone and stop everything just because 2 people who don't know me concluded that I am too confrontational after one isolated incident.
Also, I am a rather insecure and risk-averse person in general, so usually when I'm excited and confident about something it actually means I can do a good job at it. I guess I can accept that it's a bit useless to spend too much time trying to figure out whether I really am or not more confrontational than it's ideal for a community organizer, but I think the implication is that I should look for ways to be friendlier and more agreeable, after all it can't hurt to improve in those dimensions, no matter how unconfrontational I may already be.
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.
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 :)
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?
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.
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…
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.
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:
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.