Dylan Richardson

Pursuing an undergraduate degree
Seeking work
13Joined May 2022


Member of UC Davis student group


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.

I'm somewhat conflicted over this. On one hand, I don't agree so much with the sentiment I've heard before that EA needs to work to remain exclusive in some way, and that either it's present asthetic or lack thereof is an important aspect of that.

Part of that fear is the idea that EA thought could be subsumed by wider exposure and sort of dissolve into something only vaguely reminiscent of it's former status. I think we should welcome wider diffusion of EA values. The reasonable side of this fear is that EA "thought leaders" (for want of a better term) could be replaced by less effective ones, that are better at appealing to the masses. While this wouldn't be welcome, I don't think it's likely. At the most there could be a schism, more likely than that, perhaps an uncontentious division would form. Such as with more mainstream academic disciplines, like history or psychology, there could be outlets that appeal to the masses. These don't detract from the competency of the academic or serious amateur. They do I think, make the public slightly more informed on history and psychology. Distracted by misinformation and bad memes, yes, but nevertheless an improvement over nothing. This I think, would be welcome. I could definitely imagine some dangerous memes- Luddite/degrowth reactions to some X risks, apocalypticism generated anomie, typical utilitarian issues, etc. But most EA tenets would remain positive influences: longer term thinking, recognizing the existence of the far future, more concern with X-risks, animal welfare, classic peter singerish generosity, some notion of efficacy in good doing, etc.

Bottom line: we should seek greater proliferation of EA values.

The second part of the common response I identified was to do with the effect of the present asthetic or lack thereof. I do agree that some of it isn't especially invigorating. The EA org light bulb thing is fairly generic. I do think there is something that is an asthetic strong suit with EA though, it's just this- call it "blogcore". Partly as an epistemological consequence of a medium which happens to be common to EAs, and partly because of actual concerted efforts, such as with the blog and creative writing contests, there really is a sort of asthetic there and it really helps the movement gain members and spread EA values. Of course, it's somewhat difficult to separate the medium and it's asthetic, but suffice it to say, the asthetic does transcend the medium somewhat in this case. I think EA should continue to capitalize on this. It gives a nice low cost- high reward aspect to engagement.

Part of an issue I identified with this essay is that it didn't really flesh out what the relationship is between the form of a movement and it's asthethic. For instance take this passage: "Most religions show that it’s an achievable goal. (Incidentally, the lack of inspiring aesthetics may be why New Atheism has mostly failed as a movement, while religions are still doing just fine.)". While there are some secular - religious sort of movements (perhaps the author, singing in a secular choir, may be part of one), to my knowledge, much of "New Atheism" is fairly devoid of original substance and I don't mean that pejoratively. It doesn't aspire to be otherwise, and most New Atheists are adverse to religion as well as gods. Religions have particular aesthetics merely because they are religions. It's determined by the form. EA, via it's various organizations, demographics and particular tenets also has a particular form.

This point may be clearer if we stop thinking about EA as a movement and consider it as an identity. Identities have their particular asthetics. Take hippies for instance. New challenges pop up here, such as dealing with in-out group dynamics. Optimally, the hypothetical identity-sculpter here would have to aim for something not too individuating such that it appeals to too few and divides them from others, but individuating enough, or "thick" enough as James Banks commented, that it succeeds in movement building.

Another, somewhat unrelated comment: the author kinda danced around the idea that surely EAs don't want to give the impression that their goal is "...incrementing a happiness variable, thereby “maximizing utility"! Better avoid that! Perhaps I'm an outlier, but I'm all for that. I'm curious if other people here are any more receptive to the "Higher Pleasures" stuff? I've personally always found the basic Bentham view to have an anti-anthropocentric and depersonalizing consequence which is both philosophically and socially superior.