Étienne Fortier-Dubois

283 karmaJoined May 2022


This is a good point. I don't think it necessarily conflicts with my suggestions, which are more about allowing people and organizations within the EA ecosystem to spend a small part of their time and resources on exploring various aesthetics, rather than picking an aesthetic identity and sticking to it.  

I also think that aesthetics can absolutely be apolitical (I assume you mean the term in a stricter sense like "mapping to current areas of political disagreement in society," since in a broad sense EA is about allocating common resources and therefore inherently political). But yes, the failure mode you describe seems real and should be kept in mind.

All aesthetics have to be remixing to some degree IMO, there's no such thing as a fully new aesthetic that isn't classical/retro/etc. in some sense. But otherwise yeah I agree with most of your points (except that classical really isn't inherently tied to authoritarianism; it's at least as much linked to liberalism and democracy!)

I'd say that the aesthetics of any movement will exist at some level, and if they're unintentional, they are most likely to be fairly bad (or at least bland if not actively bad) and therefore not provide the benefits I outline. 

High modernism is an interesting example — its architectural incarnation was deliberately avoiding highly-developed aesthetics (ornamentation etc.) and the resulting aesthetic is kind of a "default" that most people indeed find unappealing. That has clarified the moral worth of the ideology. 

And while it's true that the philosophical movements you name have less defined aesthetics than, say, religions and some political ideologies, I think they all have a degree of intentional aesthetics to them, more so than EA does.

Aesthetics as the foundation of utilitarianism, rather than pleasure, is definitely an interesting idea. Perhaps less tractable because beauty is much harder to define in a coherent way than physical pleasure, but as you say, the additional complexity might be why it actually matters more.

A truly great artist could succeed at getting money from EA-aligned orgs, but it indeed seems difficult to do in large part because of the attitudes of the people giving out the money. At least that's my guess.

Great links, thanks! I agree that how much resources is a core question. It seems plausible to me that there's currently a low-level baseline of caring about aesthetics, fiction, art etc. that has been sufficient so far, but EA will need a bit more intentionality as it grows.

It seems true that aesthetics provide an extra dimension that can lead to disagreement, conflict, misunderstanding, etc. So I agree that we'd want to be careful about it. 

On the other hand that's kind of why so much of everything is bland today, from architecture to politics. Sometimes you do want to present a bold vision that will alienate some people but perhaps rally even more. In a sense, EA already does this (it rallies a certain kind of person and puts off other kinds), and I think adding a layer of good aesthetics would make it possibly more effective at doing that. But it is a risk.

That's a reasonable take. It depends ultimately on what EA tries to be. It could be, for example, a small node of "elite" people which coordinates other organizations that do care more about their aesthetics for their instrumental goals. In that case minimalist aesthetics serve the purpose well. If EA tries to become more mainstream — or even if it becomes mainstream due to some external factor, like the media starting to pay attention — then it's possible that it would need a more elaborate aesthetic to showcase its values.

Not an easy concept to define, indeed! I have thought a lot about beauty, and to me it is a form of interestingness that emerges from the relationship between a thing and an observer. This seems similar to what you're saying. Aesthetics are never independent of the audience. They also always exist (since people will react to anything), but can be more or less tailored to the audience, which itself can shift.

"How much resources aesthetics need" certainly is a central question. There's definitely a risk of spending too much. For an organization that is fairly successful, though, I don't think it needs to be a big portion of the total budget in order to get most of the positive effects.

I think it's fine to say that we shouldn't care about people joining EA because there's no art, which in essence means that my first argument about attracting people is irrelevant to EA (or relevant only in the narrower "elite" sense). I'm not sure it's truly the case, but EA has been successful enough so far so you could totally make that point.  I do think that the other two arguments are more important to EA.

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