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Has anyone else listened to the latest episode of Clearer Thinking ? Spencer interviews Richard Lang about Douglas Harding's "Headless Way", and if you squint enough it's related to the classic philosophical problems of consciousness, but it did remind me a bit of Scott A's classic story "Universal Love, Said The Cactus Person" which made me laugh. (N.B. Spencer is a lot more gracious and inquisitive than the protagonist!)

But yeah if you find the conversation interesting and/or like practising mindfulness meditation, Richard has a series of guided meditations on the Waking Up App, so go and check those out.

I don't like everyone that I'm supposed to like:

There is nobody you, or any other EA, are 'supposed' to like. Apologies if I'm over-interpreting what's meant to be a turn of phrase, but I really want to push back on the idea that to be an EA you have to like specific people in the movement. Our movement is about the ideas it generates, not the people who generate them.[1] This is not to say that you can't admire or like certain people, I definitely do! But liking them is not a requirement in any sense to be a part of the movement, or at least it shouldn't be.

Make disagreements more visible and more legible, especially among leaders or experts.

I definitely agree with this. It's prima facie obvious that senior EAs won't align 100% with each other on every philosophical issue, and that' s ok. I think the Redwood/Anthropic idea is another good one. In general I think adversarial collaboration might be a good route to pursue is some cases - I know not everyone in the community is a fan of them but I feel like at the margin the Forum may benefit from a few more of them.

I also co-sign Mathias's post, that many of the [redacted] claims could probably be re-framed as object level concerns. But I also don't think you should be shy of saying you disagree with a point-of-view, and disagree with a high-level EA who holds that view, as long as you do so in good faith. A case in point, one of my favourite 80k podcast episodes is the blockbuster one with David Chalmers, but listening to 'Vulcan Trolley Problem' section I came away with the impression that David was spot on, and Rob's point of view (both Wiblin in this one, and Long in the recent one) wasn't that tenable in comparison. But my disagreement there is really an object level one, it doesn't prevent me from appreciating the podcast any less.

  1. ^

    Clarification: obviously people matter! I mean this in the sense that anyone should be able to come up with good ideas in EA, regardless of background, hierarchy, seniority etc.

I'm not questioning this decision on a whole regarding Ivy's comment, and accept that this is a sensitive thread so stricter norms will apply, but I think the original user's name - "Eugenics-Adjacent", should at least raise some eyebrows.

I find it unlikely that it would be a coincidence that they happened to choose a name which plays on the "I'm not an EA, I'm EA-adjacent" trope, and the "Eugenics" seems to relate to the Bostrom letter. Taken together, "Eugenics-Adjacent" seems easily interpretable as a shot at the entire EA movement for being exactly this. 

The OP also  posted the first comment on this thread iirc, and set the tone off by saying:

...stories like this are lost on the devoted EA crowd here. We're likely to see another round of rationalizing, distancing, downvoting, and flooding the forum with posts to drown out the stories of power being abused

Which includes a direct accusation the EAs will 'flood the forum' with posts after controversial issues like this intentionally in order to bury this issue.

Tl;dr: Not commenting on the whole of Ivy's comment being unkind/assuming bad faith, but I think one can also be sceptical of the original poster's motives

So I don't have any extra knowledge to add to FHI, but I think this quote hits on something key:

and I don't think I know anyone who thinks he adds net positive value as a manager** (vs. as a researcher,  where I agree he has made important contributions, but that could continue without him wasting a critical leadership position, and as a founder, where his work is done). 

There are a few cases like this where excellent EA researchers end up as org leaders, but this is not the thing that they're best at. From other people's reports in this thread Bostrom seems to be a textbook example here. I'd also say MacAskill and Backstead come to my mind here given that they are board members of EVF, but their background/experience/expertise is mostly in academic philosophy as far as my outside view can tell.[1] 

I can see the argument that you'd want someone with this background who has deep knowledge of the movement's philosophical tradition and arguments to be on a board, but I'd be surprised if the very best people in EA at research/idea generation would also be the very best we have at organisational strategy, community leadership, and people management - which are the qualities I'd want to be at the heads of EA organisations. The suggestion by Sean about a co-directorship might be a good one for many EA orgs perhaps? I sense that we're probably very over-indexed in excellent reseachers and under-indexed in organisational experts, so this might be a way of not letting the former crowd out the latter for these leadership roles.

Final quick points for clarification:

  1. I've never run or been part of leading a significant organisation myself, so these thoughts can definitely be wrong! And I'd appreciate explanations as to why
  2. My apriori view that Will and Nick might not be the best org leaders in EA doesn't mean I don't like them as people, or I don't like their work
  3. I'm open to the point of view that these EA thought leaders end up leading orgs because there are few others putting themselves forward. I assume those running EA orgs have the evidence for this one way or the other, and if true it'd be a good thing to look at rectifying.
  1. ^

    I'm sure this pattern holds for other orgs as well, EVF is just what came to mind

I do agree that some EAs have labelled certain critiques as 'bad faith' or 'bad epistemics' without backing it up with clear reasoning, I just think there hasn't been much vitriol of the level Crary engages with in her article, and I think that can be a barrier to good-faith dialogue on both sides.

The Kemp piece looks really good! I've bookmarked it and will make sure to read. I'm aware of Garrison and Habiba but will look into what Rutger has said. Thanks for sharing these people and their perspectives, I think these are exactly the kind of perspectives that EA should be listening to and engaging with.

The McGoey piece seems (at first glance) like it's a bit in between the two. EAs having a blindspot about the policies of the IMF/WTO (especially in the postwar 20th century and the ascendance of the "Washington Consensus")[1] and how they may have harmed the world's poorest people seems like a very valid critique that EAs could explore for sure. But the article subheading calls EA "the Dumbest Idea of the Century". Now, of course, EA critiques shouldn't have to obey Marquess of Queensberry rules in order to be listened to be EAs. But I think it's probably a psychological fact that if a group of critics keeps calling your ideas some combination of "moral corruption", "the dumbest idea", "excuses for the rich" and "white supremacist/fascist"[2], then you'll probably just stop responding to their work.

  1. ^

    If any EAs want to look into this, I'd recommend starting with Globalization and Its Discontents, by noted leftie firebrand *checks notes* Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics and former Chief Economist of the World bank

  2. ^

    Torres & Gebru especially deploy the rhetoric of the last 2

Hey rachel, there's actually been a few different posts on the Forum about the video which I was glad to see. I posted my main reaction here  - but short answer, I was pleasantly surprised by how fair it felt as criticism, especially given the YT format and what I know about Abigail's own philosophical perspective. In retrospect, seems like your impression was pretty spot on.

Hello AnonEALeftist - thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I'm sorry if you felt like you had to post anonymously because of being leftist.

I think what Richard is perhaps getting at here[1] is not to say that all leftist critiques of EA are bad, but instead that EAs have come across them and have considered them lacking, and that this DEAB section is trying to get EA to consider these ideas while not actually arguing for them on the object level first. You may find this unfair, and I think the (alleged) ideological clash between EA and the Left has been danced around  a bit by the community. I'm very much in favour of more constructive debate between the Left and EA though, and I hope you fellow lefty EAs can help contribute to that :)

I will point out that to-date, all the major EA scandals have been caused by libertarians

I don't think this is fully below-the-belt, but I think libertarian EAs would push back that libertarianism would necessarily be related, or causally responsible, for these harms.[2]

If EA became more left-wing, in my leftist opinion, it would be more "EA", if you get what I mean.

I definitely get you mean, and I'd like to see the community explore it more in good faith. Are there any articles/resources that you think would be helpful for non-leftist EAs trying to explore this point of view? One thing I find fairly off-putting about some[3] leftist criticism is how relentlessly hostile it is. For example, I find it very difficult to see Crary's criticism of EA as being in good faith, and I don't think this is just because she's not framing her arguments in EA language/terms, but even when EA is critical of the Left, I don't think we call Leftism "a straightforward case of moral corruption".

  1. ^

    Or at least, one interpretation

  2. ^

    Not really wanting to dive fully into this - but it's somewhat analogous to being against all of EA because of SBF

  3. ^

    But not all!

Edit: I notice I am confused by the disagreement votes here. I'm not sure I've written anything particularly disagreeable compared to other Forum discussion on this video, so I can't really tell what I wrote that people are disagreeing with or why. I don't really have much information to update on in scenarios like this ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So just finished watching it, and I was very pleasantly surprised. It's a ~40 minute YouTube video from a channel with a wide audience and a keen eye on style and entertainment as well as content - so it's not going to be equivalent to an in-depth philosophy journal article. But I thought, for a leftist critic of EA, it was actually very even handed. I would honestly classify it as one of the better criticisms I've come across recently. I think there's more chance of me being got by Pascal's Mugger than Abigail reading this, but if she is, I liked the video :)

Some points I've noted down:[1]

  • Abigail has, I think, a commitment to engage with her subject matter even if she disagrees. This comes across throughout the video - there are some quips sure, but not Twitter-level dunks on EA. I also counted at least two points where she brought up Torres as taking criticism too far or being unfair to EA, and that was as much a repudiation as any other points in the video.
  • Thought The Precipice was better than What We Owe the Future.[2]
  • Earn-to-Give comes up a few times, which the movement has mostly moved away from promoting? I think it's clear this will still be a jumping off point for critics.
  • Doesn't argue for the FTX collapse to be the direct fault of EA philosophy. Actually made an interesting point near the end that EAs desire for influence/power may have made it an 'easy mark' for bad actors in the Crypto space like SBF.
  • Some discussion about the problem of measurability bias and how that biases EA away from systemic change. I think this has some validity, but also EAs love systemic change, so I don't think this criticism fully lands. I think where EA lands on capitalism/anti-capitalism has yet to be fully explored - at least by the community directly.
  • The best criticisms, I think, come from the Institutional Critiques to EA. Drawing a line through Cremer/Kemp, EAs who sounded fire-alarms about Crypto, to the lack of transparency or concrete actions to reform in EA institutions, these resonated with me. I think she also makes a good point that EA can't avoid political questions of 'effective for who', 'good for who', how we trade off rights between moral patients (e.g. past/future people, humans/non-human animals, impartial people/those we have duties to). These have important political consequences, and we probably need to own that better.
  • Ends the video by not taking an anti-EA stance at all. Implies that where you stand on EA will depend on other philosophical/moral commitments you have.

I think if you adjust your priors accordingly (Leftist/Marxist critic, 40 minute YouTube video, Made for an audience mostly unfamiliar with EA) then actually it comes off quite well. If you have the time/temperament, I'd recommend watching.

  1. ^

    For a more in-depth summary, I'd recommend Jessica's post

  2. ^

    I agree

(trying to focus my comments on particular thing here, instead of a long comment[1] trying to cover everything. Also, I again want to thank the authors for breaking down the original post and continuing the object-level discussion)

EA and Leftist Philosophy: Détente or Decimation?

As noted by others, while this particular section of DEAB suggests that EA would be institutionally and epistemically improved by accepting more 'deep critiques', it does not suggest EA accept these critiques from any direction. I'd be very surprised if the authors thought that EA would be improved by seriously considering and updating on the thoughts of our right-wing critiques.[2]

 In this post in particular, the relevant claims are:

  • EA is more likely to listen to a critique that is not critical of capitalism
  • The main approach to politics in EA is 'liberal-technocratic'
  • It suggets "The  Good it Promises, the Harm it Does" as an example of 'deep critique' that EA should engage with. Most, if not all perspectives in said book, criticise EA from an anti-capitalist perspecitve.
  • EA should "seriously engage with critiques of capitalist modernity"
  • EA funders should "enthusiastically fund deep critiques" (which I would assume take the form of the anticapitalist approaches above)

So where I agree with this line of thinking is that I think there is a strong ideological divide between modern leftism and current EA (because I think EA is an ideology is some respects, not just a question, and that's ok). I think intellectual and public leftism is probably the largest source of criticism at the moment, and likely to be so in the future, and it is definitely worth EA investigating why that is, finding the key cruxes of disagreement, and making it clear where we think we can learn and where we reject leftist arguments and the key reasons why.

However, one of the reasons why I have ended up as an EA is that I find modern leftist epistemology and theodicy to be lacking. In disputes between, say, Hickel and Roser or Hickel and Smith, I'm not on the former's side - I think his arguments (as far as I understand them) are lacking. The same go for anticapitalist critics who do post on the Forum.[3] I think this is because their arguments are bad, not because I'm pattern-matching or hiding behind 'bad-epistemics'.

Take Crary's "Against Effective Altruism" - an example I think ConcernedEAs would agree is a 'deep critique'. Here's an example of what she has to say about EA:

EA as a movement benefits from its embrace of those who ‘earn to give’, accumulating wealth in the economic arena that it leaves critically untouched. It is a textbook case of moral corruption.

Firstly, In terms of the institutional reforms suggested, I can't think of any movement than would give 'enthusiastic funding' to critics who call the movement morally corrupt. Secondly, I don't think Crary really argues for rejecting EA in the piece. She frames the critiques as 'institutional', 'philosophical', and 'composite' - but doesn't really argue for it that much. Plenty of other authors are mentioned and referenced, but the article seems to me to assume that the anticapitalist critiques are correct and proceeding from there. Finally, I don't think there's much middle ground to be had between the worldviews of Crary and, say, MacAskill or Singer. Indeed, she ends the article by saying that for EA to accept the critiques she believes in, EA would cease to exist. And here I do agree. What EA should do, in my opinion, is explain clearly and convincingly why Crary is completely wrong.

In conclusion, I do agree that there is a lot of value in exploring the leftist critiques of EA, and I think there has been good EA work to reach out to leftist critics.[4] But I think the ConcernedEAs  authors who are strongly sympathetic to these leftist critiques have the responsibility to spark the object-level debates rather than suggesting they be adopted for meta-level concerns, and those in EA who disagree with them should provide good reasons for doing so, and not hide behind accusations of 'bad epistemics' or 'wokeness run amok'. 

  1. ^

    Edit: It still became a long comment 😭 I'm trying my best ok!

  2. ^

    I especially have in mind Richard Hanania's recent critique, which I thoroughly disagreed with

  3. ^

    I actually think that last post is really well-written, even if I do disagree with it

  4. ^

    See this podcast from Garrison Lovely, and also this one by Rabbithole

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