Will say that I commend the bravery of this position - I respect people who take bold stances on issues of moral importance, even if I don't personally agree with them - but I do think it's very brave and potentially at risk of being damaging in the current political climate.
Universities, particularly in the UK and the US at the moment, are peak culture war discourse source territory and the last thing you're aiming for at the moment is being sucked into that all-consuming cheap political narrative. I get the appeal of universities (young people skewing more in favour of this stuff + climate action), but anything radical and left-coded coming out of universities these days is consumed by it all. Regrettably, the first I saw of this campaign was a press piece using the campaign as raw meat for cheap political point scoring. You don't have to be supportive of the game to end up on the board, so best to understand the state of play.
Having previously been approached to sign a similar pledge but in a local government context, I ended up having to issue a fairly middle-of-the-road statement stating why we weren't willing to sign it. The core of the problem wasn't the ask, but the political backlash that taking a stance on a matter that's very swept up in the culture war narrative would have cost us wasn't a trade I was willing to make at the stage in the election cycle that we were at. We have taken stances on other issues in this cluster of political sensitivity, such as gender-neutral bathrooms and air quality improvement work, this cause just wasn’t the one we chose to spend our limited political capital on. Worth considering for anyone working on this sort of advocacy.
Reflecting on this, and the recent piece on the Pledge, I’m more optimistic about across-the-aisle campaigns focused on reducing the consumption of the worst for-welfare animal product options in the current climate until either A. The political climate around these issues improves or B. The window is shifted enough that such stances aren't as ‘radical’ as they are at the moment.
Nonetheless, I wish the folks working on this well.
Thank you! Very kind.
I think, in an ideal world, what you end up with is an ecosystem of accounts that cover a lot of the niches you've raised.
Some are compatible, so you could do more than one on one account. Example: You could have an account that produces and shares accessible content on effective giving research and seeks donations (if done tastefully), but that account shouldn't be getting into arguments.
Responding to criticism is important and is often done better by individual user accounts vs central orgs. A good rule of thumb has always been: don't reply with anything that you wouldn't be happy being taken as a good representation of your views, that you don't think adds clarity or additional value, or that you wouldn’t want plastered above your name on a ballot paper (in the political context). It's hard to do well, but good-faith actors appreciate it and trust and respect you more for doing it.
I think, purely from an outside perspective without having experimented, that a better route to respond to criticism more centrally would probably just be creating and sharing more accessible content that reaffirms where EA stands (where the criticism isn’t or isn’t entirely valid).
EA as a community has a habit of referencing EA texts and principles in response to criticism, and while this is great for people already within the community or adjacent ones like the rationalists, it isn’t necessarily accessible (plain language, core ideas explained, typical blog or news story format) to the general public, while a lot of the critique pieces are.
I'll admit I've never quite grasped the EA focus on voting systems over/vs the structural conditions under which we vote. It is a bit symptomatic of our technical solutions for social problem bias.
I don’t think voting methods is a bad EA focus, more that it is a chair with two legs. A bit too shaky while the structural conditions legs are missing to be all that confident about sitting on it.
I’m coming at this from a practical politics and campaigning expertise area as a politician who elects politicians and invests too much time tracking policy progression and maps the electoral pathway to creating the kind of parliament/senate/house etc we would need to deliver my ideal policy aspirations for fun.
If I haven't commented in this thread on it I broadly think that chunk of your argument is solid. It’s clear that your expertise in voting systems is very impressive and it’s always good to have people on side with strong expertise in neglected areas.
I think the idea that proportional systems or systems that encourage smaller parties to win will reduce policy polarisation or speed up the legislative process/prevent bottlenecks needs a bit more potential outcome consideration.
Chambers and their coalition blocks do still tend to skew Left/Right - with the us vs them mentality persisting. The largest block can be potentially larger than it would be under an FPTP system (everyone wants to be on the winning team and everyone hypothetically can be) and will broadly decide policy.
The bottlenecks simply shift to a more informal inside-the-block process vs the more open to scrutiny chamber in these circumstances. I witnessed many a late-night policy WhatsApp battle between members in blocks while working in the European Parliament that closely resemble the ones I now have in a large FPTP group.
Where the arithmetic gets a bit dicey for the potential ruling block they are incentivised to allow increasingly fringe groups into the ruling block.
Those fringe groups usually make some very cheeky demands in return for their support and can end up with an outsized impact on the administration and end up polarising the agendas further. We don’t necessarily want to be amplifying the views of fringe groups where they present risks to EA causes.
There are some safeguards against fringe group influence but most people dislike them. When I was working in the European Parliament all the groups agreed to block a handful of really right-wing/anti-EU parties from getting any meaningful committee positions or passing policy. Good for the EU, pretty rubbish if you voted for one or more of those parties.
With enough clearly EA-aligned politicians, you could consider a similar technique to lock parties that promote x-risk raising policies or are against x-risk-reducing policies out, for an EA example, but again it’s a bit dodgy to voters.
I think anti-gerrymandering work is a strong angle for us to consider investment in on the traceability and neglectedness front.
I recently ran a grassroots anti-gerrymandering campaign in my area when the boundary review came around and the vast majority of people had no clue what I was on about when I explained cared a lot but did very little. Even the easy task of writing a comment on a website wasn't taken up by a lot of people because the cause just isn't seen as important enough.
I then went to a hearing as an expert to object to a gerrymandering boundary change proposal and it was unbelievably empty. Only a handful of us spoke over the course of the day.
Controversially, I think political attacks are quite an important part of the democratic process. Particularly to prevent bad politicians, which you clearly value very highly.
The average voter does little to no background research on candidates beyond what they see over the course of the campaign. There is no reason to believe that would change under a different voting system.
‘Nice’ electoral environments and positive campaigning pledges are already pretty weaponised (used by parties with things to hide to attack other parties for bringing them up).
Voters also miss the chance to gain important information about their candidate of choice that they might not be so willing to share. MP/Senator voting records are a big one because most people do not pay enough attention to how their reps vote.
I think anyone considering investing EA cash and resources in changing voting system campaigns/referendums needs to do a cursory sweep of the UK AV referendum. A qualified disaster on all levels and a great primer on how to waste a substantial amount of money achieving nothing because of poor planning and timing.
Happy to help!
I don't think what we and others in the comments are disagreeing on boils down to a disagreement on ‘true democracy’ (not entirely clear what you mean by that) being an unambiguous good.
On my side, I'd say our disagreement is that you believe that more and continuous input = better democratic outcomes and experience for voters while I'm arguing that it is more important that the quality of engagement is good (informed, lots of reasoning time, only engaging at a level people can be realistically expected to understand with the end goal of appointing aligned experts to make most more complex decisions) vs quantity.
If you want to make the true democracy argument you’d need to go some way to prove that my conception of democracy, and the conceptions of democracy held by other competing theorists, are somehow less true to democracy.
You might be better off trying to argue that direct civic choice and personal input into decision making is the ‘good’ of democracy - so more of that is more good democracy.
I'll admit for context that I’m not personally convinced by your argument. I'm in the less but better camp on fixing democracy, not the more and often camp. More democracy, more often doesn't really fix the biggest issues with democracy as it stands (populism, low levels of policy understanding, desire satisfaction short-termism, politicians not having enough time to actually deliver policy agendas before the hounds are set on them for not delivering and they are subsequently voted out, niche powerful interest groups being overrepresented...)
That being said I think this is a really interesting direction to explore - and have a lot of respect for the significant amount of time it is clear you've invested into this project.
My biggest takeaway from your amended webpage (the one linked at the top) is that it still really needs a ‘This is what Persistent Democracy would mean in practice and this is how it would change your day-to-day life’ section right at the start. Your writing is incredibly rich in its exploration of PD in relation to specific causes you regard as important but I really needed an early grounding without having to skim through to understand it. Hard to effectively evaluate your arguments otherwise. Clear that you've understood your most likely critics and created clear distance between yourself and obvious contemporaries.
Would be interesting to see how this fits with the other big trend in the more and often camp of democracy fixing which is arguments for people’s assemblies and more direct referendums.
Great to see people promoting engaging with the HoC Science and Technology committee on this forum!
Hardly anyone outside of specialist bodies and lobbying groups really bother with the HoC committees despite their really significant impact on the legislative agenda. You can have an outsized impact just by responding to their public calls.
The Centre for Election Science are doing some super interesting stuff. Would be interesting to try and do something similar in the UK.
I think the information and democracy track (fake news/fairer and more effective campaigns/democratic literacy) and the electoral reform track have a lot to gain from each other. We can't get the democracy we want (if you go for the defending liberal democracy as a cause argument) without both sides succeeding.
Had a bit of a faff working out how to get the formatting right on mobile - Will come back and try and restructure this later!
The vibe I was going for with this is that more people voting and/or engaging more effectively with democracy can be regarded as a good worth perusing in itself, but that doesn't mean it will necessarily benefit other EA causes. People we encourage/enable to engage more effectively with democracy might vote against EA candidates/causes.
Hello! I'm Alisha, I've spent 6 years working in UK local government (+ the European Parliament) and I'm a digital comms and communications strategy geek for good causes.
Location: UK - Near Bristol/Birmingham
Remote: Yes - years of remote experience
Willing to relocate: For the right opportunity
🤖 Digital communications: Paid & organic social (Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter - I wrote the handbook for one of the UK’s political parties), email marketing, online fundraising and membership recruitment/retention, and basic video editing.
✒️ Traditional comms: Press relations, messaging development and field testing, community and grassroots organising/outreach, stakeholder engagement, speech writing, consultation submission writing, public affairs, speechwriting, parliamentary monitoring.
Event organisation, casework and training and development (writing and delivering training programmes) experience.
Available from and until: Flexible for the right opportunity