Thank you for this post. This is a really fascinating discussion. I'm not entirely sure which "side" I end up on (or, of course, maybe there's another name that would be better than both that hasn't been proposed). At first I wasn't sure, but I might agree that GP sounds more arrogant than EA. Or at least they're both pretty close.
Honestly, this whole debate—and similar recent ones— has made me very confused about what EA is at the moment. I look back to the pitch that I gave my college roommate about doing more good by being thoughtful and deliberative about charities and I wonder how much longer that will be (should be, can be) the EA (GP?) pitch. I wonder how I would've reacted to a GP pitch about researching and engaging in ostensible global priorities over the "you can help a lot of people and isn't that good" pitch.
I think EA sometimes tries to have it all. Like, it wants to be everything and to be compatible with all (or most) worldviews. But it seems to me that if you want to be an "international social movement" then you probably can't be Global Priorities, because that (I would argue) is pretty arrogant and exclusive. However, if you want to have more of a research/prioritization focus and less on things like individual donors, well, then Effective Altruism might not cut it either.
So, what is EA? Is it about donating? Going vegan? Getting an impactful job? Doing high-level research into cause X? Is it movement focused or is it research focused?
My intuition is that you can't be all of this. Or, at the very least, we don't have the bandwidth for all of this.
I'm very confused about this, does anyone have a way to resolve this at least a little?
I think I more or less agree with you. However, I think my point wasn't about longtermism, but rather just the difference between the project that DGB was engaging in and the later work by MacAskill on cause prioritization. Like, one was saying, "Hey! evidence can be really helpful in doing good, and we should care about how effective the charities are that we donate to," and the other work was a really cerebral, unintuitive piece about what we should care about, and contribute to, because of expected value reasons. And just that these are two very different projects, and it's not obvious to me which one EA is at the moment. To use a cliche, EA has an identity crisis, maybe, and the classic EA pitch of Peter Singer and DGB and AMF is a very distinct pitch from the global prioritization one. And whichever EA decides on, it should acknowledge that these are different, regardless of which one is more or less impactful.
This is an excellent point. I "joined" EA because of the pond idea. I found the idea of helping a lot of people with the limited funds I could spare really appealing, and it made me feel like I could make a real difference. I didn't get into EA because of its focus on global prioritization research.
Of course, what I happened to join EA because of is not super important, but I wonder how others feel. Like EA as a "donate more to AMF and other effective charities" is a really different message than EA as "research and philosophize about what issues are really important/neglected."
I'm not sure which EA is anymore, and changing the name to global priorities might change the movement from the Doing Good Better movement to the "Case for Strong Longtermism" movement and those are very different. But I'm very uncertain on which EA will/should end up as.
I think this is more or less correct. EA is not destined to be compatible with everything that we care about, and I think we should be thinking hard about what EA is capable of being and that the project of bringing in leftists is way more difficult than a few messaging tweaks. Those tweaks might bring in a few left-liberals, but once many leftists really see EA—i.e. as more than just a "you should donate more effectively" project—they will not be super interested, I think.
I take your point, but I think I still have some slight pushback. Although I am unconvinced myself of the abolish the police position, slogan or not, it seems a bit patronizing maybe to assume that a very real policy proposal—which has some support by real academics and philosophers including utilitarian ones—is just, like, an "expression of distaste". Maybe I'm misunderstanding your point, and if so please let me know, but I guess that's the kind of dismissal of real (real not necessarily as in "good" just as in "supported by thoughtful people and perhaps defensible in some cases") ideas that I worry EA does too much. One reason I love EA is because of its ability to deliberate and to really deal with many different ideas in a productive way. I'm not sure that it's super productive to not take seriously a political idea because the conversation would (truly) be difficult.
Again, I am curious how many EAs view leftists as something like "people who aren't really good at being thoughtful or serious, but maybe sometimes, when they're not being SJWs, have some valid sentiments" or whatever. Like that dismissal, insofar as it exists, is I think representative of a deep problem with EA , which in its history has been just as naive and stubborn as any left movement.
I guess I would say that maybe EA understands the left just as little as the left understands EA, and if this is true, then EA is destined to never have a movement that involves the left.
As an anecdotal example, I've had dozens of conversations with EAs about this kind of stuff and, reliably, they will view "socialism" or "leftism" as synonymous with something like "centrally-planned government-run economy", which is if that's your only understanding of the left, then you don't understand the left any more than if someone thinks EA is nothing more than day traders donating to AMF.
Good point! My intuition is that it's probably true that self-identified leftists are often indeed members of the PMC. But this could be in part because of a similar selection bias on my part.
I think the difference is, though, that left politics often draws power from the working-class even if the working-class of course contains people of very diverse political viewpoints. Like not everyone striking in a labor union necessarily an identified socialist, but the political act they're engaging in is one arguably.
Whereas with EA, it is both the case that members of the community and where power is locating in the community is mostly the PMC (with exceptions). Like, descriptively most EAs are well-educated and so on, and most EA solutions are ones that would derive from well-educated people.
Thanks for the clarification—I should clarify as well. By serious ideas I don't mean that they necessarily have a lot of purchase in, let's say, American society. They might (it depends on your measures, and as I noted above we're talking about different things. Socialism, progressivism, leftism, etc. can be understood differently) or they might not. What I mean is that they have a rich intellectual history, in the case of socialism an intellectual history that is much older than EA, and that when a person on the left espouses an idea that it should be judged seriously. As opposed to the way that—not necessarily in this thread—I've seen EAs dismiss ostensibly or actually left-leaning concepts without a lot of deep introspection.
I want to again mention the example of the summer BLM protests. It's possible that 2015ish EA would have given the trite and unhelpful response of "well, there are worse things happening in X country, so people should instead be donating there" or whatever. But, EA has meaningfully grown since then, particularly when it comes to issues of race and justice. By taking those (left-leaning) ideas seriously, there has been a tangible shift, I think, in EA's ability to be compatible with progressives and more inclusive generally. As I mention in another comment, I think there's a ceiling to this, but progress is possible.
EA has changed a lot over the past ~8 or so years, and I think it's moving away from the "Elon Musk Silicon Valley" EA that Dylan Matthews noted several years ago and is morphing into something more diverse and interesting. And I think part of that is because left/progressive/social justice ideas like diversity and racial justice are being taken more seriously (while acknowledging that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done).
To summarize, anytime I see a thoughtful person seriously (and disparagingly) refer to progressives and leftists as something like "SJWs" I cringe because of what that could mean for the future of EA.
I generally agree with your second paragraph!
Thanks for this response! This is helpful, but I still have uncertainties.
Take conferences as an example. Conferences can only be about so much, obviously given their limited time and bandwidth. Should we expect that EA conferences in the next ten years (let's say) will have all of these things? That Session A will be about how veganism is necessary (or unnecessary) and that Session B will be about how it only makes sense to focus on the longterm?
I think it seems possible that you're right, but also EA is still very young and has already changed a lot in its short time on Earth. So, I think it's reasonable to assume that it will continue to change, and I think we can't easily say that it will or won't change in a way that becomes far less interested in lifestyle issues and far more interested in really big, cerebral questions about the future, cause x, and so on. Anecdotally, I think it's fair to notice that EA is moving in this direction a bit already. Why would we think that it won't continue to? The proportion of EA that is interested in lifestyle vs metaethics vs whatever else is not destined to be the same proportion forever, right? And therefore the content of the movement will change.
Some of this disagreement might come down to the earlier forum debate of EA as a question vs an ideology. I view it as an ideology and very much not as something that you live in the way that you describe. But that strikes me as an agree to disagree-type situation.