This is a Draft Amnesty Week draft. It may not be polished, up to my usual standards, fully thought through, or fully fact-checked. 


When I was pretty new to EA, I was way too optimistic about how Wise and Optimized and Ethical and All-Knowing experienced EAs would be. 

  • I thought Open Phil would have some magic spreadsheets with the answers to all questions in the universe
  • I thought that, surely, experienced EAs had for 99% figured out what they thought was the biggest problem in the world
  • I imagined all EAs to have optimized almost everything, and to basically endorse all their decisions: their giving practices, their work-life balance, the way they talked about EA to others, etc.


I’ve now been around the community for a few years. I’m still really grateful for and excited about EA ideas, and I love being around the people inspired by EA ideas (I even work on growing our community!). However, I now also realize that today, I am far from how Wise and Optimized and Ethical and All-Knowing Joris-from-4-years-ago expected future Joris and his peers to be. 


There’s two things that caused me to not live up to those ideals:

  1. I was naive about how Wise and Optimized and Ethical and All-Knowing someone could realistically be
  2. There’s good things I could reasonably do or should have reasonably done in the past 4 years


To make this concrete, I wanted to share some ways in which I think I’m not living up to my EA values or expectations from a few years ago. I think Joris-from-4-years-ago would’ve found this list helpful.[1]

  • I’m still not fully vegan
  • Donating:
    • I just default to the community norm of donating 10%, without having thought about it hard 
    • I haven't engaged for more than 30 minutes with arguments around e.g. patient philanthropy
    • I left my GWWC donations to literally the last day of the year and didn’t spend more than one hour on deciding where to donate
  • I have a lot less certainty over the actual positive impact of the programs we run than I expected when I started this job
    • I’m still as bad at math as I was in uni, meaning my botecs are just not that great
    • It’s so, so much harder than I expected to account for counterfactuals and to find things you can measure that are robustly good
  • I still find it really hard to pitch EA


I hope this inspires some people (especially those who I (and others) might look up to) to share how they’re not perfect. What are some ways in which you’re not living up to your values, or to what you-from-the-past maybe expected you would be doing by now?

  1. ^

    I’ll leave it up to you whether these fall in category 1 (basically unattainable) or 2 (attainable). I also do not intend to turn this into a discussion of what things EAs “should” do, which things are actually robustly good, etc.




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For what it's worth, I think you shouldn't worry about the first two bullets. The way you as an individual or EA as a community will have big impact is through specialization. Being an excellent communicator of EA ideas is going to have way bigger and potentially compounding returns than your personal dietary or donation choices (assuming you aren't very wealthy). If stressing about the latter takes away from the former, that seems like a mistake to be worried about. 

I also shouldn't comment without answering the question:

  • I balk at thorny or under-scoped research/problems that could be very valuable
    • It feels aversive to dig into something without a sense of where I'll end up or whether I'll even get anywhere
    • If there's a way I can bend what I already know/am good at into the shape of the problem, I'll do that instead
    • One way this happens is that I only seek out information/arguments/context that are legible to me, specifically more big picture/social science-oriented things like Holden, Joe Carlsmith or Carl Shulman, even though understanding whether technical aspects of AI alignment/evals make sense is a bigger and more unduly under-explored crux for understanding what matters 
  • I fail to be a team player in a lot of ways. 
    • I have my own sense of what my team/org's priorities should be
    • I expect others around me to intuit, adopt these priorities with no or minimal communication
    • When we don't agree or reach consensus and there's a route for me to avoid resolving the tension, I take the avoidant route. Things that I don't think are important, but others do, don't happen  
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