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The Value of Starting a Giving What We Can/EA Chapter

Hi all! I'm John. I was co-president of the Harvard EA group for the last 2 years.

I agree strongly that starting a chapter is an incredibly valuable thing to do.

I just want to add that much of the impact of a chapter--and at universities, arguably, most of the impact--can come from influencing the career choices that members will make (whether or not they become GWWC members) and the choices that they will make later on, in whatever careers they choose. This article might make a reader think that chapters' only impact is through donations.

I think it's important to account for the importance of having people who will actually do object level things or who can think critically about what decisions are the right ones, especially if we believe that EA will grow rapidly in the coming years. This is even more relevant if we are worried that EA will become more herd-like as it spreads.

The perspectives on effective altruism we don't hear

The dinner I learned the most from was the one we had with Harvard College Faith and Action, a Christian student group. I could identify three main differences in perspective (there are likely a bunch of others too):

(1) Many of the Christian students ascribed to non-consequential ethics systems. Their goal was to "act as Jesus would." While this would have consequences they considered good, they were maximizing for acting like he would, not for the outcomes acting like him would cause.

(2) A corollary of "act as Jesus would" is "help thy neighbor"; many of the students we talked to felt a need to prioritize local aid, or at least do it along side non-local aid.

(3) When cornered into least-convenient-possible-world thought experiments, most of the Christian students said that it was better to "save" one life (in the sense of salvation, i.e. ensuring one more soul went to heaven) than to save any number of physical lives. To be fair, they were quite resistant to this question, mostly saying that they supported the idea of local or international aid through Christian organizations who would also encourage the spread of Christian principles.

Introduce Yourself

Hi! I'm John. I am co-president of Harvard's effective altruism student group for undergrads. I currently study physics and math, and I do research in economic theory; I'm planning to transition to economics after I graduate in May, eventually going to grad. school and likely doing research long-term.

In the past, I've spent a lot of time thinking about meta-ethics and movement building. I have two years of experience running Harvard's group, and am super happy to talk to other students / movement-builders. Currently, I'm most excited about rethinking some of the decision theoretic and behavioral assumptions at the root of economics and the societies we've built on top of it (I'm still a young idealist...).

I love playing ultimate frisbee and jazz piano, biking, and backpacking.