Tommy Raskin: In Memoriam

This terrible news. I also did not know Tommy, but my heart really goes out to his friends and family. Reading the statement I was touched by his strength of character - he appears to have been extremely gifted, loving and humble and with a genuine interest in helping others and the world. We can all surely find great inspiration in the exemplary  life Tommy led.

This is also a stark reminder that no matter how outwardly successful or happy we might appear, we all carry our share of troubles and negative feelings; doubting ourselves and our worthiness, often trying to hide our sadness and our loneliness out of shame. Though just like Tommy, we're all merely human, we all have flaws and imperfections. We are not alone in our struggles.

For anyone who might be feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with their negative feelings, or are just interested in more mental health resources, I would like to recommend The Feeling Good Podcast (available with most podcast apps) with David Burns (author of the book Feeling Good, though the podcast is much better). There are episodes available on suicide prevention, loneliness, perfectionism, feelings of worthlessness, COVID-19 and much more. It has drastically improved my own mood and those that I know that have listened to it, and I believe it might help others as well.

The Folly of "EAs Should"

Yes, I agree that when we are trying to maximise the amount of good we do with limited resources, these local charities are not likely to be a good target for donations. However, as you mention, EA is different from utilitarianism because we don't believe everyone should use all or most of their resources to do as much good as possible. 

So when we spend money on ourselves or others for reasons other than trying to maximise the good this might also include donations to local causes. It seems inconsistent to say that we can spend money on whatever we want for ourselves, but if we choose to spend money on others, it can't be for those in our community. 

My point was therefore about communication: it's not correct to say that EAs should never donate to local causes, when what we mean is that donating to local causes is unlikely to bring about the most good (but people might have other reasons for doing so anyway).

The Folly of "EAs Should"

"Most supporters of EA don't tell people not to go out to nice restaurants and get gourmet food for themselves, or not to go the the opera, or not to support local organizations they are involved with or wish to support, including the arts."

Thanks, I agree with this statement! However, in Halsteads comment it said

"I just think it is true that EAs shouldn't donate to their local opera house, pet sanctuary, homeless shelter or to their private school, and that is what makes EA distinctive."

I think it would be good to be clearer in our communication and say that we don't consider local opera houses, pet sanctuaries, homeless shelters, or private schools to be good cause areas, but there might be other good reasons for you to donate to them. For example, maybe you like opera and you want to help your local opera house survive during the pandemic, or you got a new dog from a pet sanctuary and want to donate some money in return, or perhaps your kids private school is fundraising for scholarships for disadvantaged students and you want to contribute. In my view, the claim EA is making isn't that we shouldn't donate to these places, same as that its not telling us not to buy a car or go to restaurants, but that your earmarked "EA budget" should be spent on the causes that do the most good.

The Folly of "EAs Should"

"I just think it is true that EAs shouldn't donate to their local opera house, pet sanctuary, homeless shelter or to their private school"

This is a very minor point, but I don't quite understand what EA has against cultural establishments like opera houses and museums. Of course, counting the number of lives saved one shouldn't donate to museums, but that kind of misses the point that these institutions might be offering free or discounted tickets in exchange for charitable donations. If they switched over to everyone paying a full price they would probably still get a similar revenue, but it would be an objectively worse situation since fewer people would get the chance to visit.

Careers Questions Open Thread

I think lots of people can relate to this sentiment! 

I could recommend having a look at Escape the City which provides a list of career opportunities for mid-career professionals wanting more social impact in their work: https://www.escapethecity.org/

If you are interested in short or long term volunteering with your tech skills, I can recommend a number of organisations that provide ample opportunities for this in the UK:

"Tech For UK aims to enable people to transform British democracy through technology and digital media that impacts the systems not just the symptoms of its problems."

"We build digital tools to support everyone’s participation in UK democracy. Our services are trusted by organisations in government, charities and the media, and have reached millions of people since 2015."

"Mechanism Design for Social Good (MD4SG) is a multi-institutional initiative using techniques from algorithms, optimization, and mechanism design, along with insights from other disciplines, to improve access to opportunity for historically underserved and disadvantaged communities. Members of MD4SG include researchers from computer science, economics, operations research, public policy, sociology, humanistic studies, and other disciplines as well as domain experts working in non-profit organizations, municipalities, and companies."

AMA: Jason Crawford, The Roots of Progress

I would also highlight the contribution towards creating an educational platform that extends beyond the immediate participants in the course. I believe most of the talks are available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR4WNZP7Uxfe4F1XNugu5_g

A great resource!

My mistakes on the path to impact

I actually think the principles of deference to expertise and avoiding accidental harm are in principle good and we should continue using them. However, in EA the barrier to being seen as an expert is very low - often its enough to have written a blog or forum post on something, having invested less than 100 hours in total. For me an expert is someone who has spent the better part of his or her career working in a field, for example climate policy. While I think the former is still useful to give an introduction to a field, the latter form of expertise has been somewhat undervalued in EA.

My mistakes on the path to impact

Hi Michael, thanks for your reply!

I agree with everything you are saying, and I did not mean to imply that people should not consider working at explicit EA organisations. Indeed, I would also be interested at working at one of them at some point!

The point I wanted to make is that the goal of "getting a job at an EA organisation" in itself is a near-term career goal, since it does not answer many of the questions choosing a career entails, many of which have been highlighted in the post above as well as by 80,000 hours. I am thinking of questions like:

How do I choose a field where I would both enjoy the work and have an impact?
How do I avoid significant negatives that would stop me having a meaningful and happy life and career?
How do I build the skills that make me attractive in the field I want to work in?

Of course, we'll never get everything right, but this is a more nuanced view than focussing all your efforts on getting a job at an EA organisation. I would also like to see more discussions of "hybrid" careers, where one for example builds a career as an expert in the Civil Service and then joins an EA organisation or acts as an advisor during a one year break to exchange experiences.

My mistakes on the path to impact

Thanks for writing and sharing your insights! I think the whole EA community would be a lot healthier if people had a much more limited view of EA, striving to take jobs that have positive impact in the long  run, rather than focussing so much on the much shorter-term goal of taking jobs in high-profile EA organisations, at great personal expense.

AaronBoddy's Shortform

I agree with most of the benefits, but think that the "employees may freely choose to leave" part may be somewhat contentious. People need money to survive, and one argument that is often brought forward is that Amazon has driven a lot of smaller businesses out of the market, so that employees may not have that many choices of where to work any more.

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