Letian Wang

73 karmaJoined Working (6-15 years)Melbourne VIC, Australia


I'm not pushing back on your comment, nor do I think there's anything wrong with it! In fact, I'm very appreciative of your effort to making a difference. 

It's just very interesting that what other people think is the problem and what actually impacts me are fundamentally different. I used to not want to believe that personal experience presents a significant barrier to mutual understanding, but being embedded in a crowd so different from myself really changed my mind on that cosmopolitan pipe dream. 

The many subtle ways homogenous groups exclude outsiders are not unique to EA, it's just amplified by the aforementioned unique dynamics and perhaps also higher level of neurodiversity. I've yet to see good, systematic solutions to this type of problems other than time and more exposure. I'm also much more concerned about other dimensions of homogeneity, like class, education background, age, or even lack of on the ground, non-EA job experience. 

So, I am Chinese and have lived in the west for about half of my life, and I think I can contribute a few very personal vantage points. 

The Western centric-ness is less about what music the podcast plays or even what intellectual traditions the movement draws its intellectual roots from. It's more about the personality and social dynamics.  I'll summarise what makes blending into the community challenging for me. And I'll be very blunt here

  • While EAs on average has more intellectual humility than the average person, the white and male overrepresented crowd strikes me as argumentative, overly confident, likes talking far more than listening, and listen to respond rather to understand. It makes talking to them exhausting
  • Given the lack of boundary between personal and professional life in EA, it's much harder to progress your professional standing if you don't enjoy the social activities typical of the white EA crowd. Gossips, opportunities and networking happens in these activities. It's a problem for immigrants in general but much more so when "professional <> personal line is extremely blurred in EA". It can be as simple as not enjoying hiking / house parties or not knowing what D&D is and not interested in it. Or it can be more controversial ones like not interested in being vegan due to enjoying food from your country of origin.

Another generally good approach: Avoid big words if you can. Uncommon words are much harder for non native speakers to comprehend even if we know the word. Often I found myself searching in my memory for the word's meaning and missed a whole sentence. It's difficult to do if these words permeate the materials you engage with,but not impossible. Also,don't use the word permeate!

Hi Ben,

As a Chinese national currently living in the west, I think I broadly agree with your argument that "efforts to expand effective altruism into other languages should initially focus on person-to-person outreach to a small number of people with key expertise." I also appreciate your grasp of the complexity of cultural and linguistic barriers in promoting EA ideas in the Chinese context, which can often be lost on EAs who are less familiar with other cultures.

One potential objection to this is that not rushing into massive translation effort does not equal to not at least attempt some translation at all. A set of core materials can still be useful, if it is carefully curated by professional translators (not merely bilingual volunteers like me). Without written material, it can be difficult to make ideas stick, even among a small group of personal contacts. A counter argument to this, however, is that the initial promising groups are very likely elite college students and urban professionals who would have no problem reading English materials. I don't have a strong opinion on this.

Another potential problem I can foresee regarding 'personal contact' approach is that to my knowledge, the Chinese government keeps close tabs on any recruitment activities by foreign social movements. Anecdotes from missionary friends 10 years ago suggest that their religious activities, especially when involving locals, were closely monitored by the police, kept under 20 people, and sometimes harassed. I cannot speak with any confidence that this is still the case, or if it will be applied to EAs equally. But this is something to keep in mind when evaluating personal outreach versus media effort.