DR

Dylan Richardson

17 karmaJoined May 2022Seeking work
substack.com/profile/46244575-dylan-richardson

Bio

Participation
2

Former member of UC Davis student group

Comments
11

Skills & background: Recent graduate, some internship experience in research related roles. Current legislative intern at the Animal Welfare Institute.

Location/remote: Currently located in San Diego, California. Willing to relocate.

Availability & type of work: Part time, or full time starting in May.

Contact: DM me here or on my LinkedIn.

Other notes: Interested interested in policy roles, animal welfare roles, GHD, movement building, longtermism and more.

I'm sympathetic to the problem of measuring "marginal cost effectiveness" for ACE's movement grants, that does seem difficult and at risk of measurement bias. But let's change the topic for now: 

I'm curious how much thought has gone into considering the dilemmas here as "spread movement infrastructure broadly everywhere vs concentrate it in particular social groups/geographies/municipalities/political levers/corporate targets"?

There's an extent to where establishing footholds widely is important, maintaining the universality of the movement and maybe benefiting from a wide diffusion of tractable goals.

But on the other hand, it seems to me that concentration of funds may benefit from possible social tipping points? 

  • Protests and leafleting both seem to more likely to happen with, say 20 individuals, 5 of whom show up on a given day. 
  • Likewise, the salience of such acts seems somewhat predictable - 5 fill a sidewalk, 20 might be enough to pressure a particular target, 100 enough for a march/parade.
  • "Friend group", "social scene", "group identity", all seem dependent on different scales.
  •  Social media effectiveness might require 10,000 viewers.
  • Major (positive) media attention might require 250 moderately dedicated individuals. 
  • Signature collecting clearly benefits from concentration, as do "letters to your representatives"
  • More abstractly, there are possible tipping points for achieving clear social consensus on topics, what ideas are conformed too rather than against, how many are needed to veto dinner party decisions, and so on

Obviously this isn't remotely an empirical matter, there are no objective numbers to refer to, I made these up. And I'm of course equivocating between $$$ and social network building, there's plenty of room for particularly capable organizations and individuals to dominate. 

But what if we concentrated millions in groups in Berkeley, California? What if hundreds of thousands go to fueling activism against one single provision in a particular bill? What about 10-timing the funding of a single university group? 

I may not be "on the ground" enough to get a good sense of actual movement dynamics, so feel free to discount what I've said on that basis. And maybe I'm just naive as to the amount of funds that can actually be productively used by a given group?

But it seems like one essential problem of the movement is that it is drowning in just causes. Random barn fire happens, 10k cows burn alive - what now? 

I agree with GWWC's case that AWF may be overestimating the value of addressing geographic neglectedness. But I'm wondering if the problem is wider? Could animal movement-building giving in general do with a bit more concentration? EA has been great at pioneering new, neglected frontiers in animal welfare; but perhaps there's a point where we should shy away from novelty and bet everything on a few choice picks?[1]

 

  1. ^

    I realize that the emphasis on the humane league could be construed as doing just this, but I vague notion that "corporate campaigning" isn't exactly a movement-builder tactic and so may have more of ceiling on possible benefits? Very uncertain on this.

I'm a bit skeptical that all identitarian tactics should be avoided, insofar as that is what this is. It's just too potent a tool - just about every social movement has promulgated itself by these means, by plan or otherwise. Part of this is a "growth of the movement" debate; I'm inclined to think that more money+idea proliferation is needed.

I do think there are some reasonable constraints:

  1. Identitarian tactics should be used self-consciously and cynically. It's when we forget that we are acting, that the worst of in/out groupiness presents itself. Do think we could do with some more reminding of this.

  2. I would agree that certain people should refrain from this. Fine if early-stage career people do it, but I'll start being concerned if Macaskill loses his cool and starts posting "I AM AN EA💡" and roasting outgroups.

  1. This neglects a considerable amount of my probability mass that says "ASI is dangerous", due to not considering the possibility of an Oracle ASI, or otherwise one with bad outcomes that would be worsened by China's AI plausibly getting to ASI before us.
  2. For a further reason "But China!" does matter, consider the greatly reduced bargaining position under that scenario. Much easier I think (with admittedly no understanding global-power bargaining dynamics) that building international agreements is easier when costs aren't to the competitive disadvantage of the opposing side.
  3. I'm not convinced that alignment is not ~90% capabilities. That Open AI and Anthropic are at least somewhat dedicated to explicitly pursuing alignment also shouldn't be taken for granted. 

Great! Perhaps at a conference like this, dedicated to this particular field of inquiry, there could be commitment to start writing papers in a non-anthropocentric fashion? There's a problem I've written about before where academics tend to presume the obvious human interests on topics like climate change and environmental harms where discourse norms are normalized, but for anything pertaining to animal welfare, they slip into "and animal rights groups have historically called for", rather than "lessened meat-eating (or other adjacent welfare concern) lessens animal suffering".

This is less problematic in philosophy and in economics to a degree, but it tends to persist in other sciences. Part of the problem is a lack of interdisciplinary connection - just what this conference is posed to help with! 

That's the first I've heard of that disruption threat. But - just judging from that sentence - it sounds completely reasonable to me!  Asymmetric weapons and improving the discourse are good aims generally, yes, but there are substantial barriers in place to these actually occurring.

 I don't really have enough info to judge what the actual counterfactual would be here, but generally the counterfactual reality in these sorts of discussions isn't everyone coming together in harmonious logical debate. Incrimination and the four Ns are a strong countervailing force! That we have a norm in 2023 where quite disparate people (in background, field) come together on eating vegan is pretty much unprecedented. 

I agree with some of this post and more of the comments, but I want to focus on one thing. The "veganism has tradeoffs" frame isn't helpful; it's much too ambiguous.

Three main claims can distilled here. You may be claiming that 

  1. Advocacy orgs focusing on diet change should be de-emphasized on the margin.

and/or

      2. *I* the reader, the audience of this post should de-emphasize the urgency of diet change in my personal life on the margin.

and/or

      3. Systemically and/or individually, some sort of non-vegan diet change should be focused on, eg vegetarianism, no-chicken diet, reductarianism, meat-free mondays, etc

 

I usually assume that blog posts, unless otherwise specified, are meant to be targeted to their readership. If this was just explicitly directed around 1, I may have a different response.

I don't think most vegan EAs have the problems listed. I won't exclude the possibility of a few rare cases, people who have peculiarities of some sort that makes veganism unhealthy, but lets focus on 3 for the next best thing then!

If I was to bet on it, I'd say that +90% of vegan EAs are aware of B-12 deficits and either take supplements or seek out supplemented foods.  

Insofar as there are vegan diets not "properly planned" they occur among the health crowd (which outnumber the pro-animal vegans), those who believe it to be some sort of panacea for their ills or distrust the medical establishment. I could be wrong about this general claim, but I think it's roughly correct. (I agree about the need for better studies which control for supplement use!)

Back to number 3. I appreciate that you mention the issue with concern trolls and you briefly allude to "vegetarianism being much nutritionally closer", but I really wish people would be more explicit about this. Far, far, to many (purposefully or not) use criticisms of veganism as a way to avoid personal responsibility.

Mind if I re-frame this discussion? The relevant question here shouldn't be a matter of beliefs, "is he a longtermist?", it's a matter of identity and identity strength. This isn't to say beliefs aren't important and knowing his wouldn't be informative, but identity (at least to some considerable degree) precedes and predicts beliefs and behavior. 

 

But I also don't want to overemphasize particular labels, there are enough discernible positions out there that this isn't very helpful. Especially for individuals with some expertise, in positions of authority who may be reluctant to carelessly endorse particular groups.

Accepting this, here's some of what we could look into:

  • Amount of positive socialization with EAs and affiliates (Jason Matheny's FLI history is notable, how long and involved was this position?)
  • Amount of out-group derogation - if he's positioned against our out-group, this may indicate or induce sympathy. Mentioning X-risk seriously once did this, may still to a degree.
  • Effect of role identities (Matheny apparently did malaria work before EA. Not sure what tech industry or Google CEO entails, defensiveness or maybe self-importance(?), "yeah me quoting the Bhagavad Gita would sound good!")
  • Identities are correlated; what are his political, religious and cultural identities?

Some of DxE's cases have been impacted by the courts not even allowing the defendants to describe animal welfare conditions (though not completely curtailed). Perhaps the somewhat more open reception to the facts of the matter in this particular case helped - at the very least, the industry attempted the clearly outrageous argument that confinement was actually good for the pigs.

Could also be something to do with the possible implications for abortion or, ironically, the Biden admin's support. 

I like it. And I'll echo some others about my appreciation for it's thoroughness and nonsectarianism. Something notable though is it's emphasis on personal sacrifice, as a result of being simultaneously a MacAskill and EA profile. Whenever I ask a curious acquaintance "... well have you ever heard of Effective Altruism, by any chance?", The response is invariably "Yeah! I do know what the word effective means and I do know what the word altruism means!"

Don't get me wrong, utilitarian demandingness is correct and right and drowning children abound. But it's just one aspect of EA and I think there is and should be acceptance of internal diversity in regards to one's position on this spectrum at least insofar as there is of short termism. Not to say MacAskill would disagree. But often there is a very visceral reaction to "altruism" and good doers (making the normies look bad! - economic game studies have even found downright spiteful, negative sum reactions) and the article may invoke that feeling.

Load more