I live in London and work as a political adviser to an NGO. Interested in foreign policy, China and UK politics.
Fair point - political wasn't the right word. I guess it's more about those issues being about particular countries' interests in particular historical contexts, whereas nuclear and GMOs feel more like classic cause areas (and are still very live today). Also, I don't think nuclear and GMOs fall along party political lines. I guess your point about the USSR raises a question about this example which has been explored in other threads: I don't think the ideal example is one where the cause is obviously bad (like persecuting Christians), I think it's something which initially seems good to people reading, but after they find out about what happens when the cause is pursued, they realise it's wrong. Hence why plastic straws is probably a better example than religious persecution / Communism, because people are unlikely to have a priori negative opinions about it.
Thanks! I had considered things like this, but I'm not sure how well it illustrates the cause prioritisation point as in many ways these feel like the same cause (blindness) but different interventions, one of which is more effective than the other. I.e. it feels a bit more like a standard PlayPumps case, rather than highlighting the importance of picking the right cause? Feel free to push back if you disagree - I'm not too sure how tightly defined a 'cause area' is, but my general presumption is that it refers to addressing a distinct problem.
I guess one question I would have is whether the campaigners at the time were using good reason and evidence. It's possible that the information we have now was not available to them, and it's also possible that it's a legitimate cause area (i.e. overpopulation is a real concern) even if the means (sterilisation etc.) are clearly wrong. I'm not an expert on this at all but will read up on more recent literature on overpopulation!
Thanks so much - someone else suggested China's One Child Policy and I think this or a more general point on overpopulation might be where we end up! Really great suggestion. The sterilisation stories are harrowing and I think could really bring the point home.
So I guess the reason is that the example illustrates the importance of cause prioritisation more strongly. It's the same with PlayPumps: MacAskill could have picked a much better charitable intervention and yet still argued for effectiveness, but this wouldn't powerfully demonstrate just how important it is to get the intervention right. I completely agree with your overall point about maximising the good we can do, and other parts of the book will emphasise how important it is to not just settle for 'good enough'!
Interesting. Without reading into it, I've always assumed that Western defences of colonialism (incl. White Man's Burden) were somewhat disingenuous, i.e. defending something they knew was wrong, or was at least controversial, and the motivations were not altruistic. The ideal case is one where people are being genuinely altruistic but completely miss the mark.
Prohibition is a super interesting one I hadn't considered, thanks!
GMOs/nuclear power are interesting but I'd suspect it's unlikely to engage readers' emotions much. I.e. I doubt they'll leave thinking 'wow, what a waste of time to oppose GMOs!' because there is something quite intuitively unappealing about them. Might be worth a mention though, even if not as the key case study.
The others feel a little bit politicised, even though I agree!
Thanks. The nuclear one is a great example.
We want examples of both prioritisation between causes and prioritisation between interventions, but cases of the latter are far easier to find - like PlayPumps the examples you give. I actually think the former is a more important EA insight: it would probably be more valuable for the world for people/resources to focus on the most pressing cause areas, rather than to do what we currently do more (locally) effectively.
Thanks - do you know of any analysis / data behind your three bullet points which I could point to? Instinctively I agree that the costs almost certainly outweigh the benefits, but I anticipate scepticism from readers!
These are great ideas and exactly along the right lines of what I was looking for. I agree the religious aspect is tricky to navigate, but perhaps being somewhat close to home is useful for readers (i.e. I expect many readers will believe in the apocalypse, but very few would endorse sects who predict specific dates.
Someone on Facebook has also suggested China's One Child Policy, which is a nice contemporary example, not least because it was reversed this year!