Anyone who is dedicating the majority of their time or money to Effective Altruism needs to ask themselves why. Why not focus on enjoying life and spending your time doing what you love most? Here is my answer:

I have a twin sister but neither of us had many other friends growing up. From second to fifth grade we had none. From sixth to eighth we had one friend. As you might guess I was bullied quite badly. Multiple teachers contributed to this. Despite having no friends my parents wanted us to be normal. They pressured me to play sports with the boys in the neighborhood. I was unable to play with an acceptable level of skill and was not invited to the games anyway. But we were still forced to go 'play outside' after school. We had to find ways to kill time. Often we literally rode our bicycles in a circle in a parking lot. We were forced to 'play outside' for hours most days and even longer on weekends. I was not even allowed to bring a book outside though sometimes I would hide them outside at night and find them the next day. Until high school, I had no access to the internet. After dinner, I could watch TV, read and play video games. These were the main sources of joy in my childhood.

Amazingly my mom made fun of her children for being weirdos. My sister used to face a wall and stim with her fingers when she was overwhelmed. For some reason, my mom interpreted this as 'OCD'. So she made up a song titled 'OCD! Do you mean me?' It had several verses! This is just one, especially insane, example.

My dad liked to 'slap me around. He usually did not hit me very hard but he would slap me in the face all the time. He also loved to call me 'boy' instead of my name. He claims he got this idea from Tarzan. It took me years to stop flinching when people raised their hands or put them anywhere near my face. I have struggled with gender since childhood. My parents did not tolerate even minor gender nonconformity like growing my hair out. I would get hit reasonably hard if I insisted on something as 'extreme' as crossing my legs 'like a girl in public. I recently started HRT and already feel much better.  My family is a lot of the reason I delayed transitioning.

If you go by the checklist I have quite severe ADHD. 'Very often' seemed like an understatement for most of the questions. My ADHD was untreated until recently. I could not focus on school or homework so trying to do my homework took way too much time. I was always in trouble in school and considered a very bad student. It definitely hurts when authority figures constantly, and often explicitly, treat you like a fuck up and a failure who can't be trusted. But looking back it seems amazing I was considered such a bad student. I love most of the subjects you study in school! When I finally got access to the internet I spent hours per day reading Wikipedia articles. I still spend a lot of time listening to lectures on all sorts of subjects, especially history. Why were people so cruel to a little child who wanted to learn things?

Luckily things improved in high school. Once I had more freedom and distance from my parents my social skills improved a huge amount. In high school, I finally had internet access which helped an enormous amount. My parents finally connected our computer at home to the internet because they thought my sister and I needed it for school. I also had access to the computers in the high school library. By my junior year in high school, I was not really unpopular. Ironically my parent's overbearing pressure to be a 'normal kid' probably prevented me from having a social life until I got a little independence.  Sadly I was still constantly in trouble in school throughout my high school years.

The abuse at home was very bad. But, to be honest, the absolute worst part of my childhood and adolescence was the constant sleep deprivation. Even at thirty years old I cannot handle getting up early; I rarely wake before nine-thirty. A year ago I briefly had to be awake at six-thirty for work. I felt terrible all day and could not think straight. When I was younger I had an even stronger need to sleep in but I had to be in school before eight. People were amazed at my ability to fall into a deep sleep in the middle of a loud classroom. Unless someone woke me up I would just stay asleep at my desk. This was a horrible experience and surely terrible for my brain. I got a break from this torment during the summers but I didn't really escape until I made it to college.

Obviously, I was an outlier in many respects. But many people are outliers in some important respects. They still deserve an environment that is healthy and lets them flourish. I wanted to learn all sorts of things. But instead of helping me, the school system tortured me and permanently damaged my brain. No one deserves to be treated like that.

We should not frame this in terms of my parents being aberrations. I live in the United States. Many groups here normalize far more extreme repression and physical punishment. In some subcultures, my parent's behavior is considered unacceptable. But much of what happened to me is still normalized. Even supposedly liberal parents are often terrible to trans children. Society isn't going to stop sleep-depriving children anytime soon. And there are many people being severely mistreated in very different circumstances.

I cannot get my childhood back, can't go back in time and transition earlier, and if my brain was harmed the damage is permanent. Whatever other traumas I have won't fully heal. But I eventually got out. There are millions of people in prison, trapped in abusive nursing homes, or starving in Yemen. There are many more animals on farms. Those people haven't escaped yet and it is unclear they will ever escape to somewhere safe. Society never should have normalized what happened to me and we shouldn't normalize what is happening to them. This is an emergency.

When I was small and vulnerable I needed help. For the most part, no help came. I was forced to stew in boredom and misery until I grew bigger, stronger, and accorded more respect. It is always hard to compare experiences. But I know what it's like to spend about a decade miserable, knowing you are being mistreated and being unable to defend yourself. Maybe one day I will again be unable to defend myself because I am sick or in prison. But for now, I am relatively healthy and free. I cannot just abandon the people and animals who are still trapped. Every day I try to imagine them somehow watching me and I ask whether they would think I forgot them. I hope I never forget. I hope my actions always show I have forgotten neither my past nor their present.

This post also appeared on my blog.

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I feel like people perceive EAs as motivated by some mysterious and unknowable drive, but stories like yours make it so understandable. I'm glad you're fighting the good fight.

Thank you for taking the time -- and having the courage -- to write this. I appreciate learning about others' experiences from personal accounts.

I really appreciate both this piece and your drive to leave this world better than you found it!

This made me think about two of my favorite older pieces about EA, which are both about the tie between one's own losses and a drive to do something positive:

Derek Thompson on donating after the death of his mother: "Malaria is not merely the greatest killer of children in the world, but also it is the greatest killer of pregnant women. The disease plunders motherhood from both sides of the equation. The loss of a mother must be quantifiable by some measure of creative accounting, but in my experience it is immeasurable. This much I knew: There is the thing that I want, I cannot have it, but I can give it to somebody else."

[edited later: second piece is no longer available]

I work at a company that (as of recently) allows children to operate online clubs based on their interests. I shared this article (along with ) with my team and my boss. So far it has been warmly recieved. I was reflecting with my boss about what your post meant to me and wrote the following:

Explaining fully my intent in sharing would probably require as much effort and eloquence as the essay itself took to write, or more :p. 

I am alienated by how little skepticism is commonly directed at parents, teachers, and schooling. So I have these skeptical beliefs and they are so disconnected from the dominant version of reality, that it’s hard to even share (or continue to think) these beliefs.

Like it is hard to make people even understand just how much injustice I believe I personally faced and how damaging this was, much less how much injustice I think most US children face (which is very significantly more). And that drives me insane, that I cannot make this part of myself visible.

This article does a good job of articulating “yes, it really was very bad, and yes everything I’m describing is common.” Even if you do not believe these claims, it is at the very least clear that the author does.

And for me that alone is a relief.

Thanks for writing this, I found it really moving. I think it's incredibly admirable that you've decided to use your strength now to help other people who need it most. It's especially refreshing because I sometimes see stories like this end with something like "and I managed to do this [on my own / with the help of this specific thing] so anyone can do it and I don't need to help them" which just always seems wrong. 

Had a variant of the "your parents don't understand you or what you're going through and wants you to fit the stereotype" experience. Also grew up in a religious community where questions and learning are superficially encouraged but socially punished when you are more curious than they would like. 

Still have some lingering learned helplessness surrounding "can I learn things" "can I do things"  "can I connect with people" that I'm trying to deal with.

Thanks, I found this moving. I associate stories like yours with the urge to become stronger/smarter/richer so I can make the suffering stop. Oh, and it reminds me of the story in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality where Harry almost decides to sacrifice his life to destroy Azkaban.

Do you think that you would be less altruistic today if you had not had these experiences?

Thanks so much for sharing your story! I found it very moving and inspiring, and I agree with other commenters that it's great to see people explain why they feel so strongly about these things.

Thank you for writing this! Someone recently shared with me the concept of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). I wonder if people with high ACEs scores find solace in EA 

Wow. I only lived two years with a legal guardian who was similarly intolerant of me for being "weird" and not making friends and loving computers.

Would you say you had some kind of insatiable need to go against your parents' wishes, or was it more like a limitation in which you simply didn't know how to be what they wanted?

I'm worried about the same problem in reverse. I'm having a child soon, and worry about her being normal. I don't want normal, I want weird like me! I want a high-curiosity, high-openness, high-altruism, thoughtful, epistemologically strong naturist like myself... which may be out of reach. Maybe she will love to play with Barbie dolls, spend tremendous effort fitting into a school clique, read romance novels, swoon for the next Beiber, and fret about having too few shoes and dresses? There's no EA community in my area to lean on... I wonder if there are any EA children's books.

(Edit: Jeez, EAs sure can be mean with their votes.)

(just a note that it's completely possible to be a bit silly when you're a kid, eg play with Barbie Dolls, read romance novels, swoon for the next Bieber (or the next Taylor Swift), and fret about having too few shoes and dresses... and still be extremely attached to EA principles and dedicate one's life to EA ideas. I did all the above and I would describe myself as high-curiosity, high-openness, high-altruism, thoughtful and really trying to be epistemically strong... I think it's ok to be a bit silly when you're a kid or a teenager... and also still a bit silly when you're an adult? Not sure those "silly stuff" are actually deal-breakers to be ridiculously impactful later on? ) 

Thanks for pointing that out! Of course, my actual worry is that she won't pick up on EA principles when the only EA in her environment is me. I hate to have to move to an overpriced EA hub city to provide more intellectual infrastructure, but it's on the table.

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