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Anti-Capitalist Effective Altruism

I really appreciate Snow's article in Jacobin looking at effective altruism from a leftist perspective. As a thorough consideration that engages with the arguments it's very welcome. Where I disagree with it, however, is primarily in the conclusion: it's not clear to me how Snow thinks socialists should use their time or money if they want to most improve the world.

The article clearly shows that poor suffer under capitalism, and I certainly agree with that, but it primarily uses this to argue against capitalism:

As charities and Effective Altruists publicize how badly the global poor need food, for example, capital acquires and controls their fertile land, using it to grow crops that can be sold for higher returns to populations with deeper pockets. The farming practices it brings require already-scarce water supplies and are slated to overdraw the sources of those supplies—to say nothing of ecological havoc like mass extinction and global climate change.
To an already socialist readership this is preaching to the choir: Jacobin readers are as a whole quite clear on the harms of capitalism. The problem is that it's not enough to object to a situation; we need to go beyond criticism to actually changing the world to make poor people better off.

Snow writes, quoting Gomberg that "the resources required to successfully relieve poverty through philanthropy or achieve radical systemic change are so huge that 'in doing more of one we do less of the other,'" and I agree. In considering ways to make a difference in the world we need to focus on whichever options provide the most benefit for our efforts, and we do have to make choices. While he spends much of the article saying what not to do, however, the closest he comes to saying what we should do instead is inviting us to "[question] an economic system that only halts misery and starvation if it is profitable" and "[challenge] capitalism's institutionalized taking." [1]

The problem is there's is an incredibly large range of activities that could fall under "trying to help people from an anti-capitalist perspective," and like with most things we should expect them to span a wide range of effectiveness. I would love to see Snow and others go beyond describing how badly capitalism fails the poor and address the problem of finding the most impactful ways to improve their lot.

(If anti-capitalists did work on this project, I do think there's some chance they would end up agreeing with some of GiveWell's recommendations. For example, it's much easier to mobilize and advocate for your own interests when you don't have malaria.)


[1] This is similar to my earlier criticism of Zizek's "Charity: First as Tragedy, then as Farce".

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Reminders

Reminders are awesome. They let you take something you need to do later, and put it aside until it's actually time to do something about it. Whether you're a person who never fails to do what they've promised or one who is always forgetting, letting technology do the remembering can be really helpful.

For reminders to work well, though, they need to be as frictionless as possible. When something pops into your head you want to be able to offload it as a reminder and go back to what you were doing. If the process is too long or complex it's much harder to get yourself to do it. I really love entering reminders vocally here: I can literally enter one in less than 10 seconds. [1] How to do this on Android:

  1. If you don't already have it, add the google search widget to your homescreen. Then tap the microphone icon:

  2. Tell it what you'd like to be reminded about and when.

    tomorrow morning remind me to write a blog post

  3. Confirm on the next screen by pressing the blue checkbox. You can also say "yes" but that's slower. This is also the screen where you would fix things if it didn't hear you right.

If you'd like it to be more insistent when it goes off you can say "set an alarm" instead, but for silly Android reasons you can only do this for things in the next 24 hours.

I find this really useful and set myself reminders all the time.

(I actually find it awkward when I want to enter one in a quiet space with other people around, because then I need to use my fingers instead. This is a pretty amazing accomplishment for voice recognition, given how bad it used to be.)

[1] Timestamps:

    Fri Aug 21 21:19:25 EDT 2015
    Fri Aug 21 21:19:31 EDT 2015

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Single-Level Nesting

When facebook first rolled out their feature where you could reply to comments I was disappointed. Only one level of nesting? I was used to reddit-style commenting: each comment indented under the comment it responds to. But I've changed my mind after seeing how well single-level nesting worked with the 200+ comments yesterday, and now I think it's a great setup for discussion. I just had to change how I was thinking about it. more...

Pluralism in Effective Altruism

Say you're on the edges of the effective altruism movement, and looking in you see people championing causes that make no sense, like preventing death-by-evil-robots. These causes take time and money that could be going to obviously good and extremely valuable things, like distributing bednets to people so they don't get malaria and die, so you conclude that the "effective altruism" movement is about taking resources that could have gone to useful things and basically burning the money. You try to convince people to stay away from EA and argue that if EA is serious it should distance itself from these loonies who are clearly not interested in actually helping people. Even if you're right about AI-risk research being a big waste, you're not helping. more...

After the Game

What is fair to carry over between games? Can I promise to try to hose you next game if you keep frustrating my goals in this one? Can I remember that you're the kind of person who keeps their word in-game? What's the right metagamethics to have here?

In the comments on my last gaming post I think we figured out a pretty good answer: you can only carry over single-person things, not anything pairwise. It's fine to build up a reputation over many games as someone who always tries to hoard the cheese, but it's not fine to make a deal with your sister that every game you play in you'll never place the robber on each other.

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Atheism By Gender Over Time

Atheism is sometimes given as an example of an identity that has successfully increased its gender diversity. Historically more men than women have not believed in God, but over time this has become less of a male thing. How do we see it changing over time? How big has the change been?

One place to look is the General Social Survey (GSS). This is a set of responses to survey questions asked since 1972, and while some questions aren't asked every year there is a lot of overalap. This makes it a good fit for seeing how people's views have changed over time.

Starting in 1988 the GSS asked:

Please look at this card and tell me which statement comes closest to expressing what you believe about God.
  • I don't believe in God.
  • I don't know whether there is a God and I don't believe there is any way to find out.
  • I don't believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a Higher Power of some kind.
  • I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at others.
  • While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God.
  • I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it.
Responses of "don't know" and "no answer" were also possible. I coded people as "skeptic" if they answered with one of the first two responses: people who don't believe in God or believe there's no way to find out. Graphing these as a percentage of the population of each gender we get:


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