As someone who has been deeply into community building for years (most of it outside EA), I am biting my lip yet upvoting this. I deeply agree that "Being an EA" as an identity has problematic implications, to say the least. While I have many thoughts, for now I'll just highlight what you wrote which for me is the most important: "[we should be] convincing individuals to consider the ideas, not to “join EA.”".
I appreciate the post (even though I have no idea what Lawful Good / Neutral means etc. haha).
I think it is a good time to remind ourselves that EAs in general (including myself) have a tendency for over-responsibility. And feeling responsible for things which are broader than our scope makes us feel bad... I like the plumber example and the Sequoia Capital example. If the big VC got fooled, how can I not get fooled? And the plumber rightfully deserves money for his sweat, even if this money is dirty. The plumber did not know this in advance.
I think this is a very valuable comment.
As someone who loves sports, the main reason we have such incredible talent is due to the players desire to replace each other all the time. Every minute they compete, another player must sit on the bench. Their desire is so deep, that we end up with extremely talented leagues, which makes it so fun to watch. An "I want to be replaced" mindset might not motivate them to wake up at 6:00 to hit the gym. But what is true for professional athletes is also true for us. We also "hit the gym", all the time. To outperform others in exams, in job interviews, in dating, etc. We also strive to replace. Maybe the middle ground is striving to replace, but willing to let go and be replaced, when someone is just more fit than us for that one particular thing, like a certain job.
If, while writing this post, you had wished that it would deeply influence even one reader – congrats.
After listening to this post about three times through the Non-Linear Library, and reading it another couple times here, “I want to be replaced” has been on my mind since.
After a couple months of deliberation, I am finally ready to provide my ten-cent commentary. It will be mostly around the “By a better partner” and “By a better employee” sections.
First and foremost, I will explain why this has been so influential for me.
As a Buddhism enthusiast, this is on par with one of the most fundamental Buddhist principles – attachment as a lead source of suffering, and in many times a prerequisite for suffering.
When a woman whom I am dating breaks up with me, my suffering stems from several attachments – my attachment to this woman, my attachment to my wishful-thinking that she loves me, my attachment to my thoughts which have already been simulated about building a future with her, and more. Obviously, suffering, such in my example, stems not only from attachment, but also from rejection, but no reason to dive into that here. In your post, you use the word “cling”, which is very much parallel to the word attachment in this context. This text helps me soften my attachment, helps me not to cling so hard to my ideal-self beliefs. So thank you for writing it. You expand my perspective about suffering, specifically about utilitarian benefits of it. This woman, who would sooner or later date someone else, could be happier with him than what she was with me. The man whom she would date, could potentially be happier than where he is right now. I could be happy for both of them, and could also be happier myself later in the future with someone who would have more affection for me. Plus, if the original woman would have stayed with me, but would be unsatisfied in the relationship, her unhappiness would quickly trickle down to myself. In your words, “I want to be replaced by a better partner!”
The problem is that this scenario is the ultimate best-case scenario, which is never guaranteed. In the long run, everybody’s happy, and this do not give us much dilemma or conflict. However, in both my and your relationship example, we could end up with the following scenario – She finds someone else, they are both happy, yet the protagonist remains single. For me, this is the conflict, and I believe this should be emphasized in your post. Considering this, should the protagonist still declare “I want to be replaced!”, even though he could remain single? For me, this is where it gets interesting.
It seems that your resolution for this conflict is that despite the protagonist possibly remaining single, he still ought to declare “I want to be replaced!”. Leaning on utilitarianism, the net happiness of humanity is still expected to be higher, even taking into consideration a possible worst-case scenario for the protagonist – remaining single. Two (and potentially more) happy people are better than one.
However, I view this as an affective forecasting mistake – the attempt to predict our emotions, a game we are awfully flawed playing.
Despite my Buddhist inspirations, for some things I am heavily attached to, I simply cannot bring myself to declare “I want to be replaced!”. One year ago on this day, and after tons of hard work, I was accepted into a a graduate degree which is objectively difficult to get into due to a low acceptance ratio. For this reason, it is extremely likely that there is that one guy who did not get in, but has a greater potential than me to be better at the profession later. We only need one guy for this conflict to be relevant. Should I had declared “I want to be replaced!”, and offered my spot for this guy, would I had the chance? I would say yes only if I could, respectively, replace someone else whom I have greater potential for the profession than him. Thus, resulting with me + the guy better than me getting in, with the least competent candidate losing his spot (assuming the least competent candidate is not myself). But this, again, is the best-case scenario, with no conflict.
The conflict only comes alive if I do not get to replace the least competent candidate, and this is what my comment is all about. Should I declare “I want to be replaced”, so that the first guy replaces me? While I can argue using utilitarianism that humanity is expected to be better off if that one candidate who is better than me would be accepted instead of myself, I would never declare “I want to be replaced!”. No way.
I admit this being a egocentric move, almost by definition. Yet it is still crystal clear for me that I would not want to be replaced, and I do not feel guilty about admitting this. My urge to take care of myself, and my future-self is too strong for me to give up my spot
On the contrary, I would gladly declare “I want to be replaced!” for things I am less attached to. If I manage to buy a ticket to an oversubscribed concert, but there is this super-fan out there who was less fortunate, I would be happy, thrilled, to sell him my ticket. But this is only possible because I am less attached.
In conclusion, I want to be replaced is a mentality which inspires me, and I would love being more like this. However, I’m afraid this mentality could be applied only for things in which we have little to moderate attachment to. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Regarding neurological measurements - there is actually really significant fMRI work which demonstrates lack of empathy and fearlessness. I would recommend reading some of the work by Prof. Abigail Marsh
I listened to this post through the Non-Linear Library yesterday, thanks for writing this.
I think this post misses several things - (sorry if you already addressed some of these and I missed it).
1. Most people struggle to "think big" (related: Scope Insensitivity). It is hard and unintuitive to fathom that Charity X could be three orders of magnitude more effective than Charity Y.
2. Most people want practical certainty. Cultivated meat could be huge for the world. But it is still very uncertain whether this could be affordable in the foreseeable future. And no one guarantees that the industry of cultivated meat would still exist in ten years.
Due to these -
Many people's default image of charity is still volunteering in a soup kitchen (This is partly because many famous celebrities, including athletes, donate their money to provide warm meals in a certain community or toys for children). And many people's default image of doing good but not in a charity perspective is community oriented and very practical straightforward jobs like becoming a firefighter or a school teacher.
These are practical, certain to be good, could never backfire, and the smile of the recipient of the soup is guaranteed and not far away in time.
3. This point is extremely important in my eyes - many people do not believe they are capable of "doing something big". Even if someone is convinced for example that being a cultivated meat scientist is effective, he might not believe in himself that he has the capabilities to become one.
4. Regarding your correct point that meaning can bring more happiness than a yacht. I think that many people do in fact realize this more and more (even though many still do not) - but most students don't think about yachts and mansions, as they can't even afford the insurance for the yacht they do not have. They just want to get a job that could enable them to afford the down payment for an apartment later down the road. Most people want some financial security and stability before wanting to save the world. It is like convincing someone to donate 10% of his income to charity - but he doesn't even have an income he could donate from.
5. Which brings me to this point. Many people view doing good as a sacrifice - school teachers make less money than programmers. What I think they don't necessarily realize is that being a cultivated meat scientist or AI researcher or several other EA careers are actually not necessarily a financial sacrifice at all, and even if they are, they could still afford the down payment for the apartment they dream of. We could really emphasize this point.