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Currently helping run SPARC and researching and developing collaborative cultures.


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I felt like this is a deeply human approach to sharing “critique”, something that I wish to see so much more of, both in EA and everywhere else.

Your expression, for me, paints a possibility of “altruism” that is capable of escaping the seeming paradox that doing good for a world (which includes me) somehow must trade off against my wellbeing. When we model to the rest of the world that “Effective” “Altruism” looks like brilliant (and especially young) people burn themselves out in despair, we are also creating a second order effect where we broadcast the image of Altruism as one tiled with suffering for the greater good. This is not quite inviting or promising for long term engagement on the world's most pressing problems. I feel you painting something differently. The value of signaling altruism as itself a joyous practice to pursue is, in my opinion, a woefully undervalued cause area – one that you are now expressing through your embodiment.

Once again, I really appreciate your synthesis of an intensely rich journey so far. 

The quote is from Christopher Alexander's book A Pattern Language. It's an introduction + 200 or so "patterns" (design principles from different levels of architecture, from cities to chairs), where the reader can consult patterns that feels relevant to them. He recommends A Timeless Way of Building for more of the theory, and A Pattern Language for a more applied representation.

re 1) I have thought of it as imagining a child whose arms has chosen to grow faster by becoming an adult arm before the rest of the child body. The decoherence in the child is represented by the fact that not only is the arm putting strain on the child's body, the child likely awkwardly uses the adult arms in exceptionally sub-optimal ways to the dissatisfaction of the arm and the body. In addition, from the arm's "perspective", it's likely to believe it's altruistically helping the body by growing faster to reach higher and can feel defensive when feedback from the body is asking it to slow down. Hope this help illuminate the meaning of coherence here!

re 2) My understanding would be that this is extraordinarily difficult. Though as EA is a movement that puts good epistemics as a fundamental value, I also think we have one of the best shot at doing this well and learn from that process.

I really appreciate you engaging with the post the way you did! 

I appreciate a lot what this post is driving at.

Adding on to what you're saying, even instrumentally speaking, a human working so hard they are edging (or past) burnout, is not nearly as effective in being able to assess their own landscape (i.e. see less visible mistakes). Especially because the stakes of the problems we are trying to solve can be so extraordinarily high, doing good sustainably becomes so critical as a basic practice. Helping each other do better can be a thing we learn to do better too.

A culture that emphasizes being a workhorse can be liable to create the "invisible mistake" of incentivizing people within that culture to make more "invisible mistakes". The more we can point this out to each other (like what this post is doing), the more we can preserve/restore our capacity to zoom in and out flexibly and do our work well!

I also quite appreciate the organization/management posts, as someone else commented above.

I'll also add that cultivating and retaining institutional knowledge with a regular team is already quite a task in itself, and sustaining sufficient ontological and practical coherence with contractors can lead to a lot of inheritance type issues. This kind of overhead cost can often be overlooked or trivialized, in my experience.

However, I can imagine a scenario where there could be the deliberate training of certain contractors to fulfill a particular ecosystem's common needs. For example, most EA organizations would benefit from legal work (amongst other things like accounting) supported by specialists that are at least sympathetic to the philosophy of the community. In which case the overhead cost of one organization taking on outsourcing might reduce the cost of another organization in the same community taking on the same contractor. This could make sense for the contractor too, because they can develop their own niche and get more clients. To coordinate this though would require exceptional sharing of learning/intel across the community, which warrants more writing than this comment can serve.

Accounting for "overhead", or higher order costs/gains that a lower order action may create, is really interesting to me. I hope there'll be more discussions in the future.

I really appreciate the sentiment from this. I help run SPARC (https://sparc-camp.org/) and while the camp itself is meant to be a selective program, we want to support more broadly addressed initiatives too (if nothing else they end up benefiting us anyway because it encourages future good and aligned applications).

SPARC can probably help on the level of ops support from alumni who may be interested and a degree of funding that can at least make something like 2. happen.