HelenToner

HelenToner's Comments

Long-Term Future Fund AMA

I am in contact with a couple of other funding sources who would take recommendations from me seriously, but this fund is the place I have most direct control over.

Both Matts are long-time earn-to-givers, so they each make grants/donations from their own earnings as well as working with this fund.

Effective Altruism is a Question (not an ideology)

This is a great comment. If I were to rewrite this post now, I would make sure to include these.

Also, going back to a conversation with you: if I were to rewrite, I would also try to make it clearer that I'm not trying to give a formal definition of Effective Altruism (which is what it sounds like in the post), just trying to change the feeling or connotations around it, and how we think about it.

Effective Altruism Handbook - Now Online

This is awesome, Ryan! Well done on working so hard to pull it together, and on actually pulling it off.

Effective Altruism is a Question (not an ideology)

I think it's fair to say that "aspiring" doesn't quite fit for you. The point of that word being there is to reduce the strength of the claim: you're focused on being effective, you're trying hard to be effective, but to say that you are effective is different.

Maybe the slightly poor epistemology doesn't matter enough to make up for the much clearer name... I'm not sure.

Effective Altruism is a Question (not an ideology)

You can easily say that Effective Altruism answers a question. The question is, "What should I do with my life?" and the answer is, "As much good as possible (or at least a decent step in that direction)."

I think this is the key part of our disagreement - I don't think this is the case - and I've answered more fully in my comment in reply to Kerry. Would love to hear your thoughts there.

Effective Altruism is a Question (not an ideology)

Great comment, thanks Kerry. To your first point:

...it seems to me that EA is answering a question. The question is "what should I do with my life" and the answer is "do the most good with the resources available to me."

I'm really glad you stated this clearly (and it's the same idea as in pappubahry's comment). If this were the core idea of EA, then I agree that this whole post would be incorrect.

Is it the core idea though? None of the introductions I linked to above mention anything about what one "should" do. Certainly there are several EA organisations that are linked to spreading the idea of EA & motivating more people to donate, but that seems to me to be easily explained by:

  1. The ease with which resources can be turned into life-improvements ("ease" referring to convenience, speed, low information barriers) compared to just about any other time in human history.

  2. The stable instrumental goal of trying to spread one's own values, to make it more likely they are fulfilled.

My impression is not that the organisations in question (which are made up of aspiring effective altruists, or people interested in Effective Altruism, or whatever) see some kind of terminal value in persuading others to dedicate their lives to helping others. Certainly I find the idea of this (persuade others to do good with their resources) being a core motivating philosophy of my life very off-putting.

One of the things I love about EA (or perhaps just my interpretation of EA) is that it's driven by curiosity and compassion, not moralising.

--

For your second point:

I think what you've said actually splits into two things:

a) Should we promote having an EA identity, and b) Should people who have that identity call themselves "effective altruists"

I think you're right about a), and about the huge benefits of community, signalling, self-signalling, commitment etc that come with making Effective Altruism part of one's identity.

But I don't think it necessarily follows that the name "effective altruists" is the best way to refer to oneself, and one of the reasons I wrote this post was to point out the downsides of using that phrase.

I particularly care about the first impressions of people who have the potential to have a large impact on the world - who I expect will generally be more analytical, better informed and more sceptical than the typical person. In my experience organising EA Melbourne, this kind of person is often really put off by a group of people who just get together every few weeks to talk about stuff, and who call themselves both effective and altruistic. They are also put off if people in that group claim (as lots do, initially) that maximising your earnings and donating to global health charities is the best way to improve the world.

I think it's really important that our memes don't get stuck on one object-level strategy like that.

(I do wish I could think of another identifier that's as pithy as "effective altruist" though.)

What do you think?

On Progress and Prosperity

Some current things that are trying to push on "differential progress", if I understand you right:

Does that look right? What else would you add?

(Paul, I think I've heard you talk before about trying to improve institutional quality - do you know of anyone you think is doing this well?)

Career choice: Evaluate opportunities, not just fields

Do you have any thoughts about how to juggle timing when different opportunities will arise at different times? For example, if applying for jobs & university places at the same time, the response times will be very different.

The obvious strategy is to delay the decision as long as possible, but it's hard to know how to trade off confirmed options that will expire against potential options you haven't heard from yet.

One EA friend I talked to about this said he tried to do this, then found that when it came down to it he couldn't bear to let an opportunity slide while waiting for others, so just took the first thing he got.

Your Good Deeds 2014 Thread

Turns out tax deductibility is much more complicated in Australia than elsewhere, and is made even worse by the fact that a couple of legal challenges are currently underway, so the case law is in flux.

There are a couple of people in Melbourne (not me!) who know their way around the tax system very well and are planning to write up the parts that would be relevant to setting up a re-routing fund. I think they're not prioritising it because setting up such a fund looks like it would be at least 1 full time job, plus a decent amount of accounting/legal/senior-community-figure support.

Open Thread 2

Nick Beckstead's thesis "On the Overwhelming Importance of the Far Future" deals thoroughly with these questions from the perspective of Effective Altruism (albeit within the framework of a Philosophy PhD). See especially chapter 4.

http://tinyurl.com/BecksteadFuture

Working through the thought experiments he presents and seeing the different unintuitive consequences of each theory changed my mind: I had strong intuitions that creating extra happy lives had no moral value, but I'm now convinced that doesn't make sense. I also agree with Ryan that the question becomes less about what is worth adding and what isn't, and more about what we fundamentally value and whether that will be increased.

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