Peter Gebauer

Voice actor interested in EA stories and AI Safety. I studied psychology and sociology of sustainability. I also currently work in communications & fundraising.


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Ways of improving one's empathy and emotional intelligence?

I liked Cognitively-Based Compassion Training. They do global live sessions with trained instructors 5 times a week over zoom. Let me know what you think if you try it. 

What self-help topics would you like better research/ resources on?

I imagine many of us spend a lot of time sitting and staring at screens. What would make this less bad? What are some alternatives we could do sometimes? What are the health and other costs and benefits compared to possible alternatives? 

For example, doing a phone call and walking vs a zoom meeting. For one on one meetings that seems like it would often be a good idea. For small groups, maybe you need an agenda and do a rotation on everyone's thoughts/updates as you go down each item, to cut down on awkwardness/time wasted not knowing who is about to speak, and make sure everyone gets a chance to contribute what they know. I used to do meetings like this years ago but I completely forgot since now it seems like we default to video conferencing automatically.

How meditation has helped my EA mindset

Meditating is definitely one of the best ways I've found to be happier, kinder, and calmer. Even when I feel like I don't have time,  I can tell there's a difference from doing just 30 seconds or a minute a day. 

The case against degrowth

Thanks! Sometimes I wonder if it's even worth thinking about topics like this since it seems so hard to see how it would even have an impact (and even if it did I could be wrong) so I'm glad you did.

Rhetorical Abusability is a Poor Counterargument

So would you say: 

"P1. If Consequentialist reasoning would actually justify X.

P2. And X is not justifiable.

C. Therefore, consequentialism is wrong in this case."?

The case against degrowth
  1. I've never heard of anyone proposing 85% wealth reduction so I don't think it's relevant here. But you could absolutely take that wealth and use it to create good standards of living across the board within sustainable limits. That's what everyone wants at the end of the day, right? 
  2. I don't know anything about degrowth people saying we cannot use new technologies even if they don't cause damage to the environment. That sounds more like straight up primitivism, which is a really obscure ideology. I think you're better off responding to the strongest possible arguments rather than the weakest ones. That seems like the most effective way to come to the best proposals using insights from both sides. 
  3. It seems like you don't accept the possibility to have innovation within an economy and rising standards of living without increasing total resource extraction every year. Maybe people figure out asteroid mining and all kinds of innovations so we never have to worry about any resources but it seems possible that such technology could take a long time or never be invented. Instead you turn to "Well this seems politically hard not easy and effective" and again if we end up in  a world where it's what we needed to do, then we should have done it and tried to do it no matter how hard it was. CFCs were an example of banning harmful technology instead of an innovation only approach. You say it was easier because growth continued but you don't have a counterfactual to judge it against. Maybe it's more palatable to not change any tax rates and investment policies and just keep raising more revenue as the economy grows, but that doesn't mean it's the only way to invest in beneficial technologies. 
  4. People cut down a whole forest for profit today because they are shortsighted and don't care or they don't have other alternatives. For some people, interest rates will never change that unless you paid them more than what they could chop the whole forest down for today. They are that shortsighted and selfish. And if you're doing that to save the Amazon, well that also seems like a big policy change very different than just invest, grow, and hope for the best. I don't see any reason why we can't have growth in parts of the world that need it while reducing overconsumption in other parts. 
The case against degrowth

As you mention, increases in efficiency tend to be followed by equal increases in consumption in society absent other incentives and policies. So it's understandable that some people might think we need some limits on resource extraction. And that some think we might be better off continuing innovation within those sustainable limits, instead of hoping we will always be able to invent technology that allows us to ignore those resource limits and failing to plan for possible limits. 

It does seem intuitively satisfying to just throw my hands up at the political system and hope technology solves everything, but I wonder if that's more a result of laziness and despair than well reasoned understanding and moral correctness.  The 40 hour work week was once unthinkable. So were child labor laws. So was a ban on CFCs. What if people had just given up? What if we had just hoped someone would invent a better alternative to CFCs that caught on in time, and we allowed the ozone to be destroyed? Instead, we got rid of CFCs and invested in new technology. Technology does not develop in a political vacuum. We would not have seen over 90% cost reductions in technologies like solar during the past 10 years without major investments and support from the Obama administration. 

Reducing carbon emissions is an example of "degrowth" in one sector of the economy. The wealthiest 10% of the world are responsible for over half of emissions in 2015. That's not exactly a decoupling of wealth/consumption/pollution, in my opinion. And we know that happiness barely increases above $75,000 a year, so is rising GDP really benefiting most people when it mainly goes to the top 10%? It makes sense that some restrictions on the 10%'s huge resource use could potentially be helpful in making sure there is enough for everyone to thrive (and may even be good for the overwealthy too).  For example, banning all new fossil fuel extraction and creating a carbon tax that is used to fund clean energy jobs will improve the health of millions and save thousands of lives by reducing air pollution. Most people would consider this good overall, even if it limits growth compared to allowing fossil fuel extraction to expand alongside renewables. And there's a good case to be made that in the long run, damage from fossil fuels would cause even greater degrowth from massive, sudden, and sustained shocks to the economy rather than more gradual, palatable, and planned transitions in production and innovation. 

Most people would prefer to work less so that they can spend more time with friends, family, and passion projects. And 9 out of 10 people would even give up $23 out of every $100 they would ever make for a guarantee of more meaningful work. So it's not clear to me that more consumption is always the best way to increase well-being for people compared to other options or that we should solely pursue a strategy of ignoring resource limits and hoping for the best with technology investments. 

To summarize, I don't feel particularly attached to one perspective or the other. Here are three questions I have. 

1. Why shouldn't we set sustainable limits on resource extraction and continue to invest in technology? Why is ignoring the possibility of running out of resources and betting everything on innovating our way out of all of those limits within a few decades better than a more careful approach? There are plenty of people who chop down an entire forest today for a quick buck rather than harvest sustainably in perpetuity, even if the latter would generate more wealth in the long run. 

2. A lot of people would rather have more time and meaningful work than money. Why should we ignore their preferences instead of taking a more flexible approach that allows people greater freedom over what they do (maybe through policies like offering shorter work weeks, building more affordable housing, and even some sort of basic income perhaps - all funded by taxing wealth and/or sharing assets) rather than trying to maximize GDP growth at their expense - or at least without prioritizing them as much - like we have often done over the past few decades? 

3. It's not clear to me that all increases in growth and consumption necessarily mean greater happiness, creativity, and innovation forever. Why not reduce certain kinds of consumption and use those resources to increase investments in innovation? Why should we be opposed to potentially reducing consumption overall even when it ends up boosting happiness overall? I think there's sometimes truth to the saying "less is more." There's diminishing marginal utility to much consumption. Some people overeat while others barely have enough; some people are stressed because they work so much, while others are stressed because they don't have enough work to be sure they can afford to live; and so on. 


Two Podcast Opportunities

I would love to help out with these, especially reading!

Rowing, Steering, Anchoring, Equity, Mutiny

This is a really interesting framework. If you're interested in diving into some ideas for more transformative social change I think I can recommend a few, though I'm not that knowledgeable about them.

  1. Participatory Economics or Parecon - if nothing else it does seem pretty detailed from what I can gather. Very theory based in terms of a blueprint for a possible society. Bolo 'bolo is another theoretical but specific example like this, but in a different direction.
  2. Democratic Confederalism in Rojava/the Democratic Forces of Northern Syria. I think this one can be harder to find info on, but it's a current real world movement example. There are some books and articles on it. The Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization series and Sociology of Freedom go more into the philosophy side rather than the existing on-the-ground specifics. The Zapatistas are another real world movement example.
  3. The Catalan Integral Cooperative is a specific organization practicing a more commons based socioeconomic system. (Also see Elinor Ostrom and others who have detailed effectively governed commons around the world and the principles they operate under).

Cooperation Jackson is another kind of organization level ecosystem example.

If you find these useful, I could probably think of a few more examples.

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