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I've seen some EAs mentioning the possibility of tractable research that compares EA to other social movements and looks for trends that might reveal some things about EA, whether in the present or in the future. (See Effective Thesis - I also thought I saw something on an Open Phil agenda about this, but wasn't able to find it.)

I think EA is unique from many, if not most historical social movements and hence difficult to compare with, most notably because of its relative breadth (having one very broad goal and several cause areas beneath that). But I'd find it hard to be convinced that EAs can't learn anything at all from trends in other social movements.

My two questions are: a) how useful might comparing EA to other social movements be, and b) are there any particular social movements that look similar to EA?




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I think that EA is most similar to the climate movement:

1. Trust in data, rather than intuition, to even identify the problem. Although the impacts of climate change are being felt today, without data, we wouldn't intuitively feel that (e.g.) one specific heatwave, drought or hurricane is a sign that the overall global climate is changing.

2. Focus on a problem whose major impacts won't be felt until after our lifetimes; valuing of future people.

3. (Often) Also valuing non-human animals and their experiences.

4. (Method-related) Veganism

5. (Totally anecdotal) Similar personality types. This may be surprising to people outside the climate movement (as it was to me when I got more involved) because of the popular image of it as people protesting loudly and doing speeches, but many people in my local climate action groups seem quite introverted and are unusual in their/our focus on this one specific issue.

Where I live, there's also a surprising amount of overlap between EA and the climate movement -- and I mean that both ways; a lot of EAs I know are also involved in climate action, and I've been surprised to find out that several people in the climate movement here already know about EA (and have positive views of it) when I happen to mention it.

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You might find some of Open Phil's work on the history of philanthropy relevant to your question. They've studied certain philanthropy-driven changes, including the rise of the conservative legal movement, which (somewhat like EA) spread through elite universities using talks, debates, and other idea-driven events.

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