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 Post subject: Effective Altruism
PostPosted: Mon March 04, 2019 8:56 pm 
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In the trolley problem thread, I said this:

Green Habit wrote:
I hate these types of fabricated dilemmas. This is the kind of thing that gets me itching to rant about the problems with the "effective altruism" movement.
This caused some to ask me to explain this further.

The TL;DR version is this: Effective altruism advocates place their thumb on the scale by getting to declare what type of altruism they deem to be effective.

The publication that's really been irking me with pushing effective altruism these days is Vox, and particularly Dylan Matthews, to the point where they actually created an entire new section on their site devoted to this. I'm going to highlight one paragraph introducing the section:

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018 ... -explained

Dylan Matthews wrote:
In 2011, MacAskill, Ord, and others named their incipient movement “effective altruism.” And from there, the movement quickly developed a few main areas of focus: global health and economic development, the traditional focus area of both GiveWell and moral philosophers like Singer and Unger; animal welfare, since there are many more animals in factory farms than there are humans on earth, and they are living vastly worse lives on average; and preventing catastrophic risks — like climate change, nuclear war, or unregulated artificial intelligence — that have the potential to end humanity or severely set back human civilization. We think all of these issues are incredibly important and undercovered relative to their importance. That’s why we wanted to start a new section devoted to them.


Here's where my dissent is rooted: if you feel that those issues are "incredibly important", then by all means devote whatever time and resources you want to in advocating for those causes. But what I dislike is the presumption that everyone should believe that those issues are indeed "incredibly important". That's a subjective question that, while you can try to make your case to people that you should consider agreeing, you shouldn't say that those who disagree are somehow doing altruism wrong. Furthermore, I think that the planks of the EA movement, particularly the more bizarre obsessions with animals and AI, come from quirks of their founders such as Peter Singer.

This gets even more smug when I see statements like "using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis." Now, I have no problem with investigating charitable actions with objective metrics to see whether they're working to achieve their stated goal as well as they could be. However, I strongly believe that if you do so, you have to first establish that the stated goal itself is earnest, and accept that people want to work for this cause even if you don't.

Using myself as an example, I'm on the board of, and have long donated to, the chapter of the Boys and Girls Club here in town. I do so because I feel it helps to strengthen the community that I'm a part of by giving kids a safe place to go during a time of day when they may not otherwise would have that. But I'm sure if I mentioned this to an EA advocate, I'd get some lecture on how I could really help kids better if I was buying mosquito nets for kids in malaria-stricken regions. But I'm content in my decision, and I don't think it should be odd that people have different priorities in life, and we should respect those differences.

It's taken me a while to write that so I'll just leave it at that for now and open up the discussion to others. That may lead me to write more or to clarify what I'm trying to say.


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 Post subject: Re: Effective Altruism
PostPosted: Wed March 06, 2019 12:49 pm 
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Thanks for posting this GH.

One of the things I admire about EA, at least from what I've read, is that it tries to hold non profits accountable. Everyone really should be looking at administrative costs and have an understanding of how much their donation actually goes toward supporting whatever/whomever it is they want to help.

My complaint is about the same as yours. The idea starts with a very utilitarian view of humanity, a view that Kahneman and Tversky have proven that economists got wrong, and gives this one-size-fits-all process.

One of the best books I've read relative to my field is called The Seven Faces of Philanthropy. The authors research hundreds of major donors and discover seven archetypes explaining why people give. The most popular one is the Communitarian, which sounds like you GH.

I think the failure of EA advocates is in thinking people give because of some extensive cost/benefit analysis. People give for emotional reasons. EA advocates sound like a mix of the Altruist and Investor archetypes, and it sounds like they worked backwards from there to develop a theory to "prove" their way of thinking is correct.

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 Post subject: Re: Effective Altruism
PostPosted: Wed March 06, 2019 2:51 pm 
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Dscans wrote:
Thanks for posting this GH.

One of the things I admire about EA, at least from what I've read, is that it tries to hold non profits accountable. Everyone really should be looking at administrative costs and have an understanding of how much their donation actually goes toward supporting whatever/whomever it is they want to help.

My complaint is about the same as yours. The idea starts with a very utilitarian view of humanity, a view that Kahneman and Tversky have proven that economists got wrong, and gives this one-size-fits-all process.

One of the best books I've read relative to my field is called The Seven Faces of Philanthropy. The authors research hundreds of major donors and discover seven archetypes explaining why people give. The most popular one is the Communitarian, which sounds like you GH.

I think the failure of EA advocates is in thinking people give because of some extensive cost/benefit analysis. People give for emotional reasons. EA advocates sound like a mix of the Altruist and Investor archetypes, and it sounds like they worked backwards from there to develop a theory to "prove" their way of thinking is correct.
Well said on all points. It is definitely worthwhile to have someone monitor how nonprofits are administered, and to make them work better at their goal. That's why it's so frustrating that EA is sucking up so much oxygen by tacking on its oddball views on what causes it believes people should be giving to.

And that book looks good. I found this Forbes article to start on what the seven types are:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/russalanpr ... 1ab6947ad8

Reading that, I would say that, with the strong exception of The Devout, there's probably a little piece of the other six types in me somewhere.


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 Post subject: Re: Effective Altruism
PostPosted: Thu March 07, 2019 1:01 pm 
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Not familiar with this concept... is there some boundary on ‘most people’?

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 Post subject: Re: Effective Altruism
PostPosted: Tue March 12, 2019 2:02 am 
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Bi_3 wrote:
Not familiar with this concept... is there some boundary on ‘most people’?

What are you quoting 'most people' from?

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 Post subject: Re: Effective Altruism
PostPosted: Tue March 12, 2019 2:10 am 
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Dscans wrote:
Bi_3 wrote:
Not familiar with this concept... is there some boundary on ‘most people’?

What are you quoting 'most people' from?


Ummmm. I think it was the Vox link. I don’t remember

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 Post subject: Re: Effective Altruism
PostPosted: Tue March 12, 2019 2:16 am 
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Bi_3 wrote:
Dscans wrote:
Bi_3 wrote:
Not familiar with this concept... is there some boundary on ‘most people’?

What are you quoting 'most people' from?


Ummmm. I think it was the Vox link. I don’t remember

That would make sense because I never clicked on that link. Carry on.

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