Devin Kalish

1746 karmaJoined New York, NY, USA


Hello, I'm Devin, I blog here along with Nicholas Kross. Currently working on a bioethics MA at NYU.


Alcoholism Appendices Sequence


I'm not sure, again I haven't really spoken with my professor about this, and agree with Leah that the numbers are likely inflated. On the one hand Some ways of spelling out this position just seem to imply that yes, these deaths are as important to prevent. On the other hand, speaking less generously and more meta-philosophically for the moment, my impression is that people most likely to be comfortable with the age-neutral position in the first place also tend to be the ones willing to weave arbitrarily elaborate networks of moral cruft for themselves in order to avoid biting almost any bullet.

I'm not sure I even share your definition here, I think "disadvantaged" doesn't refer to a lack of compensation or anything else so specific, just overall whether you are below the relevant threshold of advantages. This seems very straightforward and I don't think I need a definition of disadvantage that specifically references compensation anywhere, just one that doesn't discount a level of advantage if it turns out compensation was involved in getting it. I also kind of disagree that you can just rely on "this is what words mean" anyway. I have taken very few surveys where I could just literally answer all the questions. Because of phrasing limitations, many questions are only really designed to allow uncomplicated yes/no or multiple choice answers to a few possible positions. Typically I have to imagine a slightly different version of survey questions in order to answer them at all.

Hm, something like this confusion could be boosting numbers, but I do have a professor who holds a position like this (I haven't spoken to her about it, so I don't know her exact justification). I find the position extremely implausible, but my steelman is probably something like this:

It is better to give someone twenty more years of life rather than two more years of life, but it is also better to give someone a million more dollars rather than a thousand.

We don't think, however, that it is right to give preferential treatment to saving a millionaire's life rather than the life of someone living paycheck to paycheck.

We infer from this that when we are making life or death decisions, we typically should not think in terms of deprived additional wellbeing at all, but rather the loss of something basic to autonomy/rights any being with certain minimum properties already has.

There are more details I could go into about theories that are skeptical of a deprivation account of death but this is sort of an attempted gloss of where they might be coming from, I recommend Shelley Kagan's book "Death" for anyone interested in an accessible treatment of this and other nearby issues. Again, I do not endorse this view, I think whatever commonality you find between all deaths, it is still very hard to deny that the deprivation is an additional consideration that is important enough to be decision-relevant. I just want to provide the steelman.

I think a complication is that some people answering might have a theory of justice wherein a fully just world by definition corrects/compensates any disadvantages that come with being blind. I think this view still raises concerns for people who either think that the loss of a major personal capability isn't something that is fungible with any social compensation for reasons basic to their theory of autonomy/flourishing, or people who think that justice will not demand fully compensating disadvantages like this at all. Still, I doubt 40% of respondents think the less plausible interpretation of this answer is true.

Thanks for doing this research Leah! I've been hoping to see something like this for a while. Most of the results aren't that surprising to me (paid organ donation and non-medical embryo selection are a little surprising to me, I expected them to be controversial, not so one-sided). On my overall views on the field I reserve judgement - these look relatively normal for what I expect to see in the general public with a few exceptions, which is more or less what I expected. I unfortunately don't seem to have institutional access to the paper diving into this question more and I still don't know how to use sci-hub, so I'll have to figure that part out later. Again, thanks for running more formal research on this subject!

I never met Marissa, in fact I never even heard of her until today. But this is an incredibly tragic end to an incredible life – that she died so young, and that what she suffered through was enough to make her think death was worth it. But this suffering and this death is part of the fight she joined us in, with great dedication. When things like this happen within the community I can’t help but think of a quote from Yudkowky’s writing on his own brother’s death,

“When Michael Wilson heard the news, he said: ‘We shall have to work faster.’ Any similar condolences are welcome. Other condolences are not.”

While this seems too strong to me, and I think of this sentiment in the context of suffering, not just death, I think it’s ultimately my source of solace and motivation in times like these. Her suffering and death can’t be undone, but we can continue the fight for what she cared about and against what took her, and her loss is a reminder that we shall have to work faster.

I don’t have much to add here, except for two things.

This post asks for mental health resources for other EAs struggling. The main thing I can offer along these lines is related to addiction – I founded a server for EAs struggling with addiction, if anyone here thinks this can be helpful for their own struggles:

It isn’t very active right now, but I will continue maintaining it, and starting up meetings where possible. You can also ask for advice, vent, or celebrate accomplishments on the text channels, even without the meetings. If this isn’t of interest, feel free to reach out to me directly, and I can try to offer comfort, advice, and resources where possible. I recently made a sequence of my writings on this subject that contain hopefully useful insights about addiction as well. I have less experience with other mental health difficulties, but feel free to reach out anyway if you want someone to talk to.

Finally, because many people here have shared suicide prevention resources, I feel compelled to address maybe the unspoken barrier many people have in reaching out on time. If you are scared of losing control, being involuntarily detained and institutionalized, and are avoiding frank discussion or treatment, please at least reach out to a hotline using a concealed IP address. Absent this, I’ve consulted an anonymous psychiatrist for advice on this worry, and was told that even if your psychiatrist or the hotline try to call the police on you, there is almost never a manhunt, so you can always just hang out at the park for a few hours and most likely be in the clear. This is not discouragement from getting more thorough treatment, I’ve been to inpatient and found it helpful, it is encouragement to get treatment even if you have these fears. They are common worries, and you can get around them while still getting help in many cases, so please try. Your life is at stake after all.

Thank you so much for writing this! I hope this isn't considered too off topic, but I run the Effective Altruism Addiction Recovery Group which I am maintaining but is still fairly slow at the moment. If you are reading this and are worried about your own addictive behaviors, feel free to join the server, or if you would rather not, feel free to reach out to me directly, and I would be happy to meet/help any way you think will be most useful. You should be able to join through this link:

Pinea did complain about how many dimensions I wanted in my ethics...

Thanks, I see what you’re saying now. I can see value in positive reinforcement at least, but I guess I have a few reactions to some of the more specific points here:

  1. Insofar as people can find reference classes they don’t fit that predict alcoholism, they can do the same for not drinking. Muslims, some other conservative theists, people with physical health conditions, people who are recovering alcoholics, people who rarely hang out with friends. I think you are at high risk if you are say a young atheist socialite in somewhere like NYC, and you can also count on very few of your friends being teetotalers. Given this I think the bigger difference the half non-drinker stat makes is to the risk of alcoholism if you do drink, which it doesn’t quite double, but probably something close to doubles (base rate I would guess is nearly a quarter of American who drink qualify as alcoholics at some point in their lives).

  2. If there are sufficiently reliable things about someone’s situation/history that they can reference that it brings their risk down very significantly, then good! I would still probably disagree that it’s worth the personal risk, and think “drinking culture” is sufficiently bad that even if you fall in that bucket there are morally irresponsible ways to promote drinking, but if I can only convince people who do not have strongly mitigating factors not to drink (or heck, even just the people who have strong risk factors), then I think that would do a lot of good.

  3. Honestly as I’ve mentioned here I don’t trust people that much to judge their own risk factors off of reasonable criteria. Too many people I run into spend literal decades in denial when they actually are already alcoholics by their own later admission. Heck, I have a close friend with a personal history of an addiction-like disorder, co-occurring mental health problems, and family history of alcoholism who I haven’t been able to convince not to use cocaine because they “don’t have an addictive personality”. I think the best heuristic in these cases is usually to just not assume you’re special and go with the averages, which don’t look great.

Sorry, I'm not sure I understand what you mean here:

"I meant for the stat of non-drinkers to be a positive signal for the general population to choose not to drink and still feel normie."

Could you rephrase? As for my stats, this is an example that's been helpful. I definitely agree that most people can eventually recover and stop drinking pretty much for good (or less reliably, in moderation). I'm currently sober for about two months, and hope to fully recover myself. What I meant is that even if you do eventually recover, there are huge costs that are typically incurred along the way in physical and mental health, personal relationships, career, finances, time, immoral actions, sense of identity/control, raw suffering, and certainly an above average risk of just dying before you recover (either from things like heart attacks and cirrhosis, or suicide). Even considering that most people can eventually recover, it seems like drinking isn't worth the risk of all this unless it was significantly rarer than it is.

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