124Joined May 2022


Re: “But I read this paragraph and it seems alien to me. What % of women+nb folks have this experience in EA?

‘I could tell you how tears streamed down my face as I read through accounts of women who have been harmed by people within the Effective Altruism community.’”

In the interest of reducing alienation, here’s some anecdata and context. Maya’s reaction wasn’t alien to me at all.

Among my female friends, having this type of reaction at some point was basically a developmental milestone. It wasn’t unique to EA. I expect such a survey would be more useful if you did some sort of national poll of women and compared it to women in EA.

Most (85%?) compassionate women I know reached a point in our teens or 20s where we got properly distressed and angry over gender-based* injustices that we and others had experienced. Most of us had experienced something bad or knew someone who did by then and it sucked.

If we happened to be involved in a specific “Good Community” that claimed some moral high ground (eg a church, an EA group, an “honorable family” etc), we hoped bad treatment happened less there and that we were safer there. Finding out, inevitably, that even in such a community, some of our peers and moral heroes also demean, harass, or rape each other is really awful. Our level of emotionality varied by personality type, but it sucked for all of us.

For Maya, this happened at its height about EA. For me, it happened about church. I’m no longer involved in religion. By the time I got to EA though, I expected some bad behavior even from “good people,” so I was just impressed the EA community health team existed to deal with it and didn’t have Maya’s intense reaction. I still do have a visceral reaction to others’ stories of harm though.

I don’t know if there base rate of problems is higher or lower in EA groups compared to other communities. I think the resources dedicated to good responses is higher than in other communities, which I feel good about.

I think we should try to track our base rates if we can, and plan to always dedicate resources to things like the Community Health team’s prevention and response efforts, because that is the price of admission for running healthy human groups.

I don’t mean to be callous or cynical, but I unfortunately now regard gender-based* violence as a gross and terrible part of being human that is present everywhere.

So, all communities and conscientious community members will need to contend with this unfortunate aspect of reality at some point and learn to talk about it in a healthy way, despite the pain. We’ll all need to have conversations like this sometimes, again and again, to address the pain involved, and it will bring up varying degrees of emotion and discomfort with that emotion, that are all pretty “normal”. It’s the price of admission for being alive and part of a social species.

Maybe, hopefully, the base rate of problems stays low within our microcultures and gets lower across the centuries as we keep learning how to human.

I hope saying this doesn’t belittle Maya’s concerns at all. They’re real and I’m glad she raised them so people could respond.

Fwiw, some of the discourse about these issues does seem more pointed, more naïve, more fearful, and less obviously compassionate in EA than eg in my church (maybe because of the gender and rationality skew in EA), so talking about it on the Forum felt worse than talking about it at church overall and has sometimes made me emotional. However, most EAs are less shame-laden than discourse in church, and more nuanced than discourse on eg. Twitter, so sometimes the Forum is preferable. I am more invested invested in EA communities so I’m willing to put more effort into these conversations than I would elsewhere.

To avoid intense frustrations though, I usually choose to talk about this stuff only with EA women or 1:1 with EA men rather then dealing with a Forum furor.

(*tbc, I see the same experiences happen for other characteristics that people realize they may unfairly targeted for, like race, sexuality, neurodivergence, etc).

Thanks! I’ve edited my comment substantially. I’ll have a look at these resources.

Thanks for writing this! I appreciate this conversation. I think if I had been aware of your assertion that dads are typically more on the fence about having kids but still happy to have them, I would have been more excited to have kids with my partner earlier, so I especially valued that point. I want to reinforce your message that it’s important to think about this and maybe weight the “have kids” option more heavily than the average EA might do by default.

Anecdata: I am a woman who planned not to have kids. I allowed for the possibility I’d change my mind, but I wanted to prioritize my career. Around 35 or 36 I started to want kids. I found that health issues meant that having kids is not an option now. I did test my fertility in my early 30s and it was normal, but things changed rapidly. I am quite heart-broken about it and expect this to be one of my greatest life regrets.

If it helps anyone else, here were my reasons for changing my mind. (It wasn’t just my biological clock, though of course that was part of it):

  • I didn’t want kids because I expected to put ongoing, lifelong energy into my romantic relationship(s), career, and hobbies. I’ve always had some health issues so I didn’t expect to have surplus energy for kids. But in fact, I reached relative career stability and relationship stability by 35 and knew how to manage my health. I strongly desire personal growth. While I expect to continue to find that at work sometimes, the rate has slowed down more than I expected. I felt a growing interest in adding another lifelong endeavor to my portfolio of projects, outside of work. I love contributing to others’ development and my hobbies are compatible with kids. Kids started looking like a great addition to life that I would have energy for. Planning for kids actually made my work and hobbies feel more fun because I was excited to teach my kids about them at home and to discover their own related or differing interests.

  • The responsibility of parenthood seemed overwhelming to me. As I aged, I noticed that new responsibilities always feel overwhelming at first but that is something that can be overcome. This no longer seemed like a good reason not to parent.

  • I previously worried that parenting would reduce my impact. I now think that having a large impact is uncertain anyway due to my health issues and the kind of work I do. With less certainty about my impact at scale, I actually felt more motivated to keep pushing in my job because I thought I would be working toward supporting a family.

  • I previously thought kids might be boring or I might not be a very interesting or engaged parent. Seeing my nieces and nephews change over time has been really rewarding for me though and has brought a lot of happiness and engagement with my extended family. I noticed I found it really rewarding to contribute to the kids’ learning, they inspire me to create more in order to share new experiences with them, and they make familiar experiences more engaging because they interpret the world in unexpected ways. I find myself very engaged in supporting and discovering who these people will become as they grow up!

  • I worried I’d lose my individual agency and identity to motherhood. It is definitely true that I’m less focused on my own needs and wants when I’m around kids, so this is a real risk. However, my attitude changed about motherhood: having kids means creating new agents, and then (ideally) supporting them in becoming independent. I felt excited about taking on the goal of being a role model of agency to my kid(s).

  • As I age, I value stability more than I used to. I saw that my social life and community would be more stable if I had kids. When I was planning to be child-free, I planned to build a community of close friends instead of a nuclear family. My partner and I both thought we’d pursue a variety of potentially high-risk work projects as well. A lot of EAs probably want the same in their twenties and some do pull it off! I’ve become less extroverted, less social, and more risk averse with age, however, which makes pulling that off less likely.

  • I underestimated how hard stable community is to maintain in the US. I underestimated just how much of US culture pushes against non-nuclear family structures and how much that’s still true even in an unconventional community like EA. I’m the US, so much of society is organized around the atomized nuclear family that it is really much harder than I expected to buck the trend. In my circles, parents+kids create the bulk of social connections outside of work and generate a lot of common experiences, especially in secular communities. Even among my poly+EA+queer friends (where innovating around family is expected), it’s most common for people to make long-term plans that default to a nesting partner and/or kids, rather than making long-term plans with multiple partners or friends. My EA friends are also globalists who move to different states or countries fairly frequently. Those with kids tend to stay in one place more often.

  • I also overestimated how much I would personally feel motivated to buck nuclear family norms. I’m not as interested in that as I expected to be! In my 20s, I was happy with innovating on various family and friend living arrangements. In my mid-30s, I find I’d prefer to be able to focus on work, health, and home a lot of the time, but I’d like to do that without being (a) lonely or (b) needing to deal with a lot of roommate turnover. While I have a fairly stable, small peer group of late 20-40yos who I care about a lot, we don’t want to live together and we have ended up living in different neighborhoods or cities for a variety of reasons. Everyone is busy and we don’t see each other as much as we did pre-COVID.

COVID and working from home has made the world even more atomized! It’s extra valuable to live with loved ones now.

  • I currently prefer to spend most of my downtime with a small, consistent, core set of people. My 20s were focused on meeting new people. Now, I’d like to go through the daily ups and downs of life with an established core set of people, and keep doing that for a couple decades+. Raising kids through various life stages with my partner and extended family would have produced that dynamic, and likely attracted friends who valued stability as well.

-In sum: US EAs who are pinning their hopes on stable, non-nuclear family structures maybe should expect it to be harder to coordinate that than you think. (This may also apply in most western countries; I just know the US context best).

  • I know there are EA group houses in a few cities now, and that’s great! In my 20s, I predicted that I’d love that. I don’t want to have very many roommates anymore though. I value privacy and, again, stability more than I used to. I also want more separation between my home life and work life than I can get when I’m living with past/present/future EA colleagues. I think EA neighbors in a cohousing community where couples/families each have their own house, would be great. I was excited about raising my kid(s) near EA neighbors.

  • All that said, if you’re positive you don’t want kids, that’s great! There are some good reasons not to have kids and people obviously create great lives without having kids. I personally expect I’d have had more long-term happiness and actually plausibly more impact as a mom. Other men and women may find they have similar thoughts to mine in their 30s, even if they don’t lean toward having kids now.

The title is Global WarNing :) I misread that too at first.

Why not also strive to be the better replacement?

Cool idea. Are you working on this in a dedicated way? If this is useful, you could try it at a retreat or take 3-12 months to promote its use I bet, and see how it fleshes out.

This seems like one of those things that might be best for the movement but not best for the individual.

A uni organizer who recruits 5 excellent future performers might have just had the most impactful portion of their whole career. But the general marketing skills they got might be less useful to them personally. Becoming an expert in X object level issue would probably be more rewarding and open more doors over the course of their career than being a generalist in marketing, and have lower earning potential than learning consulting, programming, or some research skills.

I feel more uncertain about this if they’re actually doing project management and people management.

I don’t think (3) is that bad. New members are not always better than shooting experienced members into good projects.

I wonder if 2- 3 year cohort models of fellows would be better in established campuses.

I really like this post. That said, I don’t think this is true: “dedicates don’t have bullshit jobs.” We might have different definitions of bullshit though.

Dedicates don’t take jobs without doing an impact analysis, agreed.

However, dedicates may choose to sacrifice the chance to work 10 hour days on interesting problems, to take strategic jobs in non-EA orgs or government agencies that involve a lot of day-to-day bullshit. They do this in the hopes that they might have a shot at impact when the time is right. I think it’s good that they’re willing to do this and wouldn’t want their sacrifice mistaken for being a non-dedicate.

I agree that for a lot of people, this won’t be a problem. A lot of EA roles are professionalizing, so people can switch over to traditional careers if they want. (As in, community building is enough like management, event planning, or outreach roles at a lot of traditional orgs that the skills may transfer).

One piece of good advice for most people:

  • Issue-specific expertise and professional networks don’t transfer well. I’d advise that a good backup plan should include spending time networking with EA-adjacent, and non-EA orgs.

That issue seems inconvenient, but can be overcome with time and planning.

The main caution I want to raise is this:

  • it’s not always possible for EAs to leave themselves a psychological line of retreat into non-EA roles. Anecdote below to illustrate.

Suppose someone is currently reasonably happy, productive, and has a support system in their non-EA role and social scene. They’re not sure they’ll make it in EA.

Before switching to EA work, it might be worth considering this risk:

  • suppose doing an EA role for a while fails, and
  • you can’t get another EA role
  • and this results in you being miserable and ineffective in almost all subsequent non-EA roles? Is that worth it?
  • If you’re miserable at work for 1-5+ years or more and have a hard time relating to friends, family, and both EA and non-EA peers during that time, do you have reason to believe your mental health and finances are solid enough to recover, or do you have mental health risks or other risk factors that make that a pretty dangerous bet?

I didn’t know I was taking that bet. It caught me very off guard. It seems so costly to have played this game that it would have been better to not work on EA projects, and to keep my EA participation more casual instead.

Solution? I don’t think we have one yet. I don’t know where in the funnel I could have best been diverted, or how I could have best been supported when I tried to transition back to non-EA work. I imagine EAs will get better at this over time.

Personal Anecdote: Pre- EA, I didn’t enjoy work if it had a low likelihood of a positive outcome/impact. That motivated me to find the most useful things I could do in whichever role I was in. I enjoyed that and was effective at it. That also led me to EA.

After a deep dive into EA projects and social scenes, my definition of impact changed. I was always aware that many “good things” might not actually do good. But the set of things that I saw as plausibly high impact got much smaller. The bar for “having an impact” got much higher. I endorse that.

After a few EA projects, I found I don’t have the right aptitudes for most EA work. This was humbling but mostly fine. I figured I’d just get a non-EA role like the ones I’d had before, and go back to making them a little bit more effective.

When I tried to take this line of retreat though, I found I couldn’t. I hadn’t fully appreciated how hard I would hit a wall when trying to do work that no longer met my bar for impact. All the professional roles I had and was previously reasonably happy and effective in were now below the bar. It seems my brain doesn’t just prefer impact; I found myself fundamentally incapable of work on something full-time when my brain couldn’t see the case for impact. This seemed stupid; surely I should just be able to muscle through and do a traditional job while I skill up in something else and try to move on to something that’s above my impact bar, right? I could not. I tried, but depression and anxiety set in fast without the connection to impact, which decreased performance, which increased depression and anxiety. (Fun spiral, mate /s). I’d need to quit and try again elsewhere. Same story repeated. (This didn’t happen pre-EA).

The instability means EtG isn’t really available as a path either, and I’m not building a strong resume. I became a more frustrated and frustrating person, decreasing the quality of my work and my relationships. This means I don’t have the right mindset anymore to use my aptitudes in non-EA roles either! I’m not sure this is changeable. A lot of the negative impacts are irreversible at this point.

I know at least one other EA in a similar boat. Maybe there are more, or maybe I’m a rare kind of bycatch. I’m not sure if I expect more or fewer cases like mine as EA grows.

Note: I’m not proud of nor endorsing my mindset. I feel a bit stupid for feeling this way and for sharing it. I’ve read Julia Wise pieces about how it’s ok to leave EA being ok and how it’s fine to have more than one goal. I agree, but not at a deep enough level yet to alter my experience at work.

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