There appears to be a new profile published in The New Yorker on Will MacAskill, which as it unfolds ends up being as much of a profile of Effective Altruism as of Will MacAskill. Several other people who are well known or impactful in the EA community are mentioned or are interviewed (Julia Wise, Holden Karnofsky, Toby Ord, and others).

As far as I am aware, it seems to be one of the biggest pieces about of EA that in the popular press, and The New Yorker is a very well-respected publication. I know that there has been a fair amount of worry, thought, concern, and other feelings about publicity that EA has gotten in the past. How do you all feel about this piece?




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I liked it a lot. Given that he probably wasn't involved beforehand, the author got a detailed picture of EA's current state.

I'm reading it now and have to say it's really funny. :)

What did you find specifically funny? 

We're finally going mainstream, and that's a good thing.

Also thought it was really interesting, there's an ongoing thread on Hacker News which is also a good place to look to see an outside view of how people perceive EA in a (usually) thoughtful way

Hacker News is more adjacent (digitally native, young, affluent) than you might think. It is a bit different than EA but not as different as say the crowd in a Teamsters union hall or oil derrick in the North Sea.

Notably, I note a lot of anger around AI and longtermism being such a core subject of EA, calling EA unrealistic about it.

I loved it. Really interesting piece and I felt I learnt a lot from it even as a highly engaged EA.

I like it. And I'll echo some others about my appreciation for it's thoroughness and nonsectarianism. Something notable though is it's emphasis on personal sacrifice, as a result of being simultaneously a MacAskill and EA profile. Whenever I ask a curious acquaintance "... well have you ever heard of Effective Altruism, by any chance?", The response is invariably "Yeah! I do know what the word effective means and I do know what the word altruism means!"

Don't get me wrong, utilitarian demandingness is correct and right and drowning children abound. But it's just one aspect of EA and I think there is and should be acceptance of internal diversity in regards to one's position on this spectrum at least insofar as there is of short termism. Not to say MacAskill would disagree. But often there is a very visceral reaction to "altruism" and good doers (making the normies look bad! - economic game studies have even found downright spiteful, negative sum reactions) and the article may invoke that feeling.

Those are good observations.

It's a good article. Neither hagiographic nor a motivated hit piece, but an open and honest look at the movement as it is, with all the beauty, tensions, and potential contradictions that it contains.

I think it gave some valuable commentary on the tensions between how people inside and outside the movement view EA. How we deal with these stark contrasts would only become more relevant if EA becomes more mainstream, and the What We Owe the Future release with its ambitious media campaign appears to be gearing up to make a serious push in this direction! Some excerpts related to these tensions:

Money, which no longer seemed an object, was increasingly being reinvested in the community itself. The math could work out: it was a canny investment to spend thousands of dollars to recruit the next Sam Bankman-Fried. But the logic of the exponential downstream had some kinship with a multilevel-marketing ploy. Similarly, if you assigned an arbitrarily high value to an E.A.’s hourly output, it was easy to justify luxuries such as laundry services for undergraduate groups, or, as one person put it to me, wincing, “retreats to teach people how to run retreats.” Josh Morrison, a kidney donor and the founder of a pandemic-response organization, commented on the forum, “The Ponzi-ishness of the whole thing doesn’t quite sit well.”


The community’s priorities were prone to capture by its funders. Cremer said, of Bankman-Fried, “Now everyone is in the Bahamas, and now all of a sudden we have to listen to three-hour podcasts with him, because he’s the one with all the money. He’s good at crypto so he must be good at public policy . . . what?!”


It does, in any case, seem convenient that a group of moral philosophers and computer scientists happened to conclude that the people most likely to safeguard humanity’s future are moral philosophers and computer scientists.


Members of the mutinous cohort told me that the movement’s leaders were not to be taken at their word—that they would say anything in public to maximize impact. Some of the paranoia—rumor-mill references to secret Google docs and ruthless clandestine councils—seemed overstated, but there was a core cadre that exercised control over public messaging; its members debated, for example, how to formulate their position that climate change was probably not as important as runaway A.I. without sounding like denialists or jerks. ... Was MacAskill’s gambit with me—the wild swimming in the frigid lake—merely a calculation that it was best to start things off with a showy abdication of the calculus?

And most eloquently:

From the outside, E.A. could look like a chipper doomsday cult intent on imposing its narrow vision on the world. From the inside, its adherents feel as though they are just trying to figure out how to allocate limited resources—a task that most charities and governments undertake with perhaps one thought too few.

Even if these if there are good arguments for why EA is doing what it is/heading in the direction that it is, will these arguments be communicated with enough fidelity to make the process of EA becoming more mainstream go well? Although the author of this article is looking in from the outside, they did a lot of research and made a very conscious effort to make a proper analysis, which probably makes it closer to a best rather than worst case scenario as far as impressions of EA go. Still very excited to see the reactions of more people becoming familiar with EA, just also a bit anxious.

It takes a lot of courage to look into the abyss and try to build a bridge across it. Most people would not even look into it.

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