xccf's Comments

Are there lists of causes (that seemed promising but are) known to be ineffective?

One problem with making a list like this: People already get mad at EA for saying that their favorite trendy cause is ineffective. I'm somewhat sympathetic to this: Even if I don't think [super trendy cause] is the most important cause, I'm usually glad people are working on it, and I don't want to discourage them (if the likely result of me discouraging them is that they switch to playing video games or something). It's also bad from a public relations point of view for EA to be seen as existing in opposition to trendy causes.

Therefore, if anyone makes a list like this, I suggest you stick to obscure causes.

EA considerations regarding increasing political polarization

EDIT: I want to highlight this take by someone who's much more knowledgable than I am; you should probably read it before reading my comment.

First, the immediate stakes are far lower - in the Cultural Revolution, "counter-revolutionary revisionists" were sent cross-country to re-education camps, tortured, killed, even eaten. As far as I am aware, none of these things have happened recently in America to public figures (or made-public-by-Twitter figures) as a result of the sort of backlash you discuss.

This hasn't happened yet, and probably won't happen any time soon, but it's conceivable to me that it might happen eventually if things get much worse. What if we saw a resurgence in targeted killings in a world where police have been abolished/shamed into inaction and discussing the killings in the media is seen as blowing a dog whistle? (However, even in this world, one could move to a part of the US where the rate of private gun ownership is high... from what I've seen, rioting hasn't really been taking place in those areas.)

Third, at the moment, this cultural movement (whatever you want to call it) is not orchestrated top-down or directly backed by the formal structures of power (legislative, executive, and judicial branches of American government, and the military), in stark contrast to the Cultural Revolution.

The Cultural Revolution was not backed by the formal structures of power. The Red Guard organizations precipitating the revolution were frequently in opposition to established party structures (and each other). Here are some quotes from Mao: A Very Short Introduction:

All groups justified their policies and actions with reference to Mao’s works. When Mao gave a clear order they tried to obey it. Much of the time, however, Mao was careful to hide his hand. His comments were Delphic in their ambiguity leaving Red Guard organizations considerable room to act on their own initiative. Communist leaders vying for power or survival whether at local or national level tried to manipulate Red Guard groups, sometimes through their own children. Like gang members anywhere, Red Guard organizations developed their own rivalries and antagonisms, albeit with ideological rationalizations. In some cases, they imprisoned, tortured, and even murdered each other with disturbing brutality.”
When [Party leaders] were dragged before struggle meetings, Mao left the masses to do as they saw fit. He did not order their ill treatment but neither did he intervene to prevent it.
...At this point, however, Mao drew back from the abyss, condemning the commune and the free elections it had announced...

Finally in the summer of 1968, faced with near civil war in various provinces, Mao decided to call a halt. Work teams were sent onto the campuses to restore order but were sometimes viciously attacked. Mao called a meeting of Red Guard leaders in the capital. Confronting their complaint that a ‘Black Hand’ was attempting to suppress the campus revolution, he announced that he himself was that Black Hand.

Lack of top-down authority could be a bad thing. With the current situation, since there is no cult of personality, there is no one with the authority to be a 'Black Hand' if things get truly crazy. Memetic evolution seems to be the primary master.

On the other hand, there is the point that police, military, and privately-owned guns in the US all appear to not be very inclined to revolution, at least for the time being.

EA considerations regarding increasing political polarization
Secondly, effective altruists are disproportionately employed at companies like Google and Facebook. The policies of social media giants can influence discourse norms on the Web and therefore society as a whole. While EAs working at tech giants may not have enough power within the organizational hierarchy to make a meaningful difference, it’s something worth considering. Another way in this vein that EAs could make a difference is by creating or popularizing discussion platforms that promote rational argumentation and mutual understanding instead of divisiveness (related post).

I want to highlight reddit as a social network which could be especially valuable to get a job at. It seems to have a combination of

  • a very large userbase (bigger than Twitter according to this article)
  • a relatively small employee headcount (so larger per-capita employee influence)
  • a subreddit structure which could allow for experimentation with depolarization interventions--allow moderators to customize their subreddits in a programmable way, let many experiments bloom, see which experiments are associated with depolarization/improved discussion quality (I have experiment ideas if people are interested)
EA considerations regarding increasing political polarization
increasing the presence of public service broadcasting

I don't know how well that would work in the US--it seems that existing public service broadcasters (PBS and NPR) are perceived as biased by American conservatives.

A related idea I've seen is media companies which sell cancellation insurance. The idea being that this is a business model which incentivizes obtaining the trust and respect of as many people as possible, as opposed to inspiring a smaller number of true believers to share/subscribe. One advantage of this idea is it doesn't require any laws to get passed. (As polarization gets worse, I expect passing depolarization laws gets harder and harder.)

Here's another idea for the list: https://twitter.com/JohnArnoldFndtn/status/1266701479404060678

Should EAs be more welcoming to thoughtful and aligned Republicans?

Maybe you could choose to only vote in a party's primary if you also precommit to voting for your chosen candidate in the general election if they win the primary.

Should EAs be more welcoming to thoughtful and aligned Republicans?

I think if you're in a blue state like California, it generally makes sense to register as Republican to vote in the Republican primary, because there will be fewer California Republicans voting in that primary, but California still contributes the same number of electoral college votes?

Genetic Enhancement as a Cause Area

I think a good way to explore potential downsides of this proposal, and also potentially reduce the taboo around genetic enhancement, would be to steelman the concerns of people who are reflexively opposed to it.

For example, how likely is it that talking about genes more (e.g. the genetic basis of intelligence) will cause people to associate moral value with genes or feel contempt for those are genetically unlucky? You could do psychology experiments where you tell participants that X% of variation in some trait is genetic and see how that affects their attitude towards people without that trait. Does the framing matter? Do some framings cause dehumanization and others cause compassion?

You could also look at historical case studies and try to tease apart causality: Did the progressive eugenics movement amplify the racism of that time period or just reflect it? Did Hitler become interested in genes because he was racist, or did he become racist because he was interested in genes?

You're both looking for potential downsides to this kind of advocacy, and also looking for framings which will minimize potential downsides while framing genetic enhancement in a way that broadens support among those who might consider it taboo. For example, subsidize it as a way to decrease inequality. Genetic inequality is arguably more unfair than any other kind!

Finally, regarding the We risk creating a race of enhanced humans who won’t care about (or will subjugate) the rest of us. point, one idea for mitigating this is to introduce genetic enhancement soon, before we are very good at it, so there is a gradual increase in the level of e.g. intelligence instead of a sudden one. That could decrease tribalism, since instead of there being an "ultra-enhanced" tribe and a non-enhanced tribe with nothing in between, there are many people with many different levels of enhancement in the middle to keep the peace and foster compassion and understanding.

Leverage Research: reviewing the basic facts
I also hope your faith in Bennett is well-placed, that whatever mix of vices led him to write vile antisemitic ridicule on an email list called 'morning hate' in 2016 bear little relevance to the man he was when with Leverage in ~~2018, or the man he is now.

Perhaps it'd be helpful for Bennett to publish a critique of alt-right ideas in Palladium Magazine?

  • In Bennett's statement on Medium, he says now that he's Catholic, he condemns the views he espoused. If that's true, he should be glad to publish a piece which reduces their level of support.
  • Since he used to espouse those views, he has intimate understanding of the psychology of those who hold them. So a piece he edits could help deconvert/deradicalize people more effectively than a piece edited by an outsider. And whatever persuaded him to abandon those views might also work on others.

Bennet might complain that publishing such a piece would put him in an impossible bind, because any attempt to find common ground with alt-righters, and explain what originally drew him to the movement to do effective deconversion, could be spun as "Jonah Bennett doubles down on alt-right ideology" for clicks. Bennet might also complain that publishing such a piece would make him a target for alt-right harassment. However, if Bennett is sincerely sorry for what he said, it seems to me that he should be willing to accept these risks. At least he could offer to publish a critique of the alt-right that's written by someone else.

If he does publish such a piece, I personally would be inclined to tentatively accept him back into civil society--but if he's unwilling to publish such a piece, I think it's reasonable to wonder if he's "hiding his true power level" and be suspicious/condemnatory.

I do feel we should have some sort of path to forgiveness for those who sincerely wish to leave extremist movements.

Evaluating Communal Violence from an Effective Altruist Perspective
communal violence seems to be common in post-colonial contexts, where many borders have been drawn in disregard to geographic grouping of social groups.

Hmmm, would this reasoning also imply that immigration restrictions could reduce communal violence in some cases? If putting people of different social groups in the same country tends to cause conflict.

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