[Altruist Support] The Plan
post by Giles
A. Becoming more rational
B. People stuff
C. Doing good
Here's my plan.
I intend to build a community of aspiring rational leaders. I see three components to this:
A. Becoming more rational
I see this as being about bringing together the spheres of self-identity, rationality and the human. The human is your physical body and brain; it is the human which actually does things, and if the human isn't on board nothing will happen. Instrumental rationality is the art of achieving your goals; it should be a familiar concept to Less Wrong readers. And self-identity, among other things, is about having those goals in the first place.
The spheres will never align entirely, and it is important to recognise that we are only aspiring rationalists, and to recognize and work around our weaknesses when they can't be easily fixed.
You don't have to lead other people to be a rational leader; you might only be leading yourself. But there's no reason to be afraid of it. I see true rationalists as making good leaders.
B. People stuff
In order to achieve your goals, it is likely you will need to interact with other people; to lead them, influence them, cooperate with them. You will also need to influence yourself; learn how to make yourself more effective. You may even need to go beyond basic individual interaction and deal with the issue of why people are the way they are.
This is something I believe may be a problem in the LW community: Not doing the people stuff.
C. Doing good
To give us a common goal, I want to find people who are interested in doing good. It doesn't have to be your only goal, and your definition of doing good doesn't have to be exactly the same as mine or anyone else's. It'll still be enough that we should co-operate.
If I could find such people, and if we could train ourselves and each other into being really effective, what would I see this organization doing?
I would see us reaching out to altruistic individuals and organizations; finding people who are confused, who need help or who are still looking for the right approach. The idea is not to turn them all into rationalists, but rather to use our own rational skills to help and guide them. I would see this as our public face: the Altruist Support Network.
Making a real positive difference in the world is hard. Even if you're motivated to do it, the infrastructure just isn't there to enable it. So we're going to need a lot of ideas, and ways to evaluate them. I feel certain that there are levers we can pull; small changes we can make that will have huge impacts, and that we can use rationality to help us find them. But I'll need your help.
Some of the thinking has been done for us: there are papers and books already written, there are communities already out there. We need to find them - we need to create a good map of the rational-doing-good landscape. And then we need to push the boundaries, to create new knowledge.
If we have money, we want to spend it as wisely as we can: on organizations who share our goals and who have proven themselves to be among the most effective out there. Maybe we can tempt organizations into making changes with the prospect of a donation. And, very likely, we'll need to make money ourselves: to start a business and run it rationally, making a lot of profit and giving it to the causes we support. Such an endeavour sounds very difficult but worthwhile.
Sometimes you just need to get out there and do things. Right now I don't know what; but this organization will not be an ivory tower. It exists to serve a purpose - making the world a better place - and we'll do what we need to in order to make that happen.
I apologize that my previous posts may have seemed a bit directionless. I hope this clears it up a little; I'm planning that my next bunch of posts will be sequence-style, gradually building up the ideas I've been having from foundations that are familiar.
The main things I want to know:
- Whether people see such an organization working
- Whether they see it as fundamentally different from anything which currently exists
- Whether they would want to be a part of it.
Comments sorted by top scores.
comment by Mitchell_Porter ·
2011-05-06T06:13:47.698Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
The main things I want to know
The main thing I see is that the purpose remains extremely under-defined, and there won't be very much interest until you have something more specific than "making the world a better place". We already discussed the distinction between conventional causes and transhumanist causes, but then there are so many other considerations.
Consider the problems faced by a suicidal teenager, a stressed sales manager, or a schizophrenic living on the street. Their problems are not cleanly solvable problems - 'do this differently, and we're done'; they would involve a complex tangle of personality traits and external circumstances. And yet problems of that sort are far more typical of what people complain about. People generally don't complain about universal conditions like "everybody has to die" or "everybody has to work"; it's more like, my child is failing in school, I'm gaining weight, and I don't know how I will make next month's mortgage payment, and it's all so unfair because I'm being a good person and trying to do something for the planet by saving to buy solar panels.
The fabric of human suffering, if I can call it that, consists mostly of chronic annoyances, frustrations, and disappointments possessing this highly particular and personal character, punctuated by harsher events, whose frequency in space and time is sharply peaked around wars and natural disasters.
Returning to what you want to know: who supports your future organization will be decided by the specific answer you give to the question, what exactly are we trying to do? Most people already have some idea of what causes they want to support. A few people might be interested in reconsidering from first principles which causes they should support. But no-one is going to commit to anything on the basis of what you've written so far, because the one thing that the world is not short of, is organizations asking for our moral, financial, and practical support. So we're all waiting for further details.
comment by Giles ·
2011-05-06T13:19:22.183Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
who supports your future organization will be decided by the specific answer you give to the question, what exactly are we trying to do?
One of the points I intend to make is that this actually matters much, much less than people think. If you want to make a change in the world and be effective about it, you will share a lot of medium-term goals with other people who have similar ambitions, even if your desired end goals are different. Medium-term goals such as raising the sanity waterline, researching techniques for personal effectiveness, and so on.
I realise I haven't actually made this point yet - it'll be a future post. But it's a point I need to get across sooner rather than later, so thank you for bringing it to my attention.
comment by Eneasz ·
2011-05-06T20:07:18.110Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
This seems like a very long version of:
Step 1: Be Rational.
Step 2: Act.
Step 3: ????
Step 4: Profit!
I suspect there is no #3.
comment by paulfchristiano ·
2011-05-06T04:18:10.080Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I've thought more or less the thoughts you describe, or at least thought thoughts that would impel me to write what you've written, in the past (chronologically recent, mentally pretty distant; the two get out of sync when you spend too much of your time thinking). My beliefs/plans are quite different by now (in particular "determine how well rationalists can make money," "make money,"and "hire rationalists" have taken on much more central significance); I don't know if you are likely to go in a similar direction, but it might be worth talking about it on Skype or via IM.
Your proposal sounds a little naive, which you might want to work on as a sales thing. Regardless, I appreciate where you are coming from and am enthusiastic about helping as long as there seems to be a reasonable chance of success.
comment by Giles ·
2011-05-06T13:07:06.932Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Determine how well rationalists can make money
Wouldn't it be a lot easier if you first had a community of rationalists to help you determine that?
(What if the other rationalists weren't interested in that particular goal? Well... it's not an end goal, it's a strategy. Rationalists with the same end goals ought to be able to agree on a strategy, and "try and see if we can make a lot of money" is likely to be part of it)
[EDIT: "Your proposal sounds a little naive, which you might want to work on as a sales thing." - I agree, absolutely. My main "people stuff" problem so far has been underconfidence; I'm now at the "confident but awkward stage". I'm having to develop social skills fast as I go along.]
comment by Fergus_Mackinnon ·
2011-06-27T16:33:05.067Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Well good luck with everything, and make sure you have a route out if something goes wrong. I'm trying to work towards a masters of doctorate in economics once I reach university, for example, but if I am unable to do that, I have the option of simply becoming an economist or assistant economist etc.
I'll PM you if it looks likely to work out, or already has... adds to list\.
EDIT: Can I ask, how do I add an asterisk on this forum without them being read as Italics? (It indicates an action in a lot of forum-dialects.)
comment by atucker ·
2011-05-06T05:04:01.258Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I've had similar ideas, but am closer to your current thinking than (I think) paulfchristiano is. Your enthusiasm is nice, and I want you to be successful, but the devil's in the details.
Whether people see such an organization working
Yes, but making an organization work is actually really really hard.
And I don't see much in this post addressing those challenges beyond pointing out that they do in fact need to be addressed. Your "People Stuff", "Welcome", "Think", and "Act" Sections seem to be where the meat of how this organization would actually function, and I see almost no development of the ideas of how it actually works.
Like, no object-level analysis about how you do "people stuff" or how the organization would "act". Unpacking a bit of your thinking on quotes like:
I would see us reaching out to altruistic individuals and organizations; finding people who are confused, who need help or who are still looking for the right approach. The idea is not to turn them all into rationalists, but rather to use our own rational skills to help and guide them.
would also benefit the article greatly. Are we only trying to help other altruists because that's easier? Because there are more of them? Or because making people identify as rationalists isn't the best marginal use of our time with regards to world saving?
Whether they see it as fundamentally different from anything which currently exists
Not really, it seems like what we want is in some ways this, but more effective, more ambitious, and with higher impact. With a bit of community thrown in?
Whether they would want to be a part of it.
Yes. It would be awesome if what (I think) you're aiming for got working.
comment by Giles ·
2011-05-06T13:54:36.690Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
and I see almost no development of the ideas of how it actually works
OK - fair point. I haven't yet addressed how I see the organization being run, as I was planning on waiting until I had some people to organize - I can see now how that thinking was in error. I'll address it soon.
Or because making people identify as rationalists isn't the best marginal use of our time
No - making people identify as rationalists is not a good marginal use of time. I want to make people behave as rationalists.
To address your point: learning rationality is a big investment for people, and for most people I believe there are low hanging fruit (i.e. just think about this one thing in this particular way, and you'll be a lot more effective). In other words, I want to expose people to rationality as a set of tricks for getting what they want, rather than a grand overarching ideology.
This approach may not work though. We may be able to achieve better results by working largely within rationalist subculture. But I think we need to try and find out.
comment by Goobahman ·
2011-05-06T06:20:05.963Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I admire your enthusiasm and vision, but I think it needs to be tempered with some realism. What your trying to do is fantastic, but the unfortunately reality is that LW is ultimately an online interaction, and thus has certain limits that would severly impair an initiative such as this.
To give you an idea here's my own personal hurdles in fully embracing this:
a) I already engage in face-to-face communities which whilst differnt to what you have described shares many similar values. Energy into this means less energy into them, and currently those groups reap the most reward.
b) to offer good advice to each other we need to know about each other. Whilst I can obtain huge amounts of useful advice from LW in terms of my own rationality, and how I can evanglize it, employ it etc. in terms of my actual day to day situation I can really rely on this place, for example: what should I do about Chris' depression?
That's not to say I couldn't get any advice, but truly helpful stuff would be a bit beyond us because none of you know Chris.
c) If I were to devote more energy to a project such as this, it would be too the Less Wrong Sydney Meetup as posted on this site, as having face-to-face meetings and interactions has considerably more potential than something that would have too, for a long time remain online.
d) These values you can play out in day to day life without too much trouble.
I don't want to discourage you, on the contrary I think your desire to do something like this is wonderful, but we want you to be effective.
I personally think a great place to start channeling this energy would your local LW Meetup if you have one, and if not, maybe make one. The NYC chapter I think is a great success story and shows the potential benefits of carrying through with your type of energy and enthusiasm.
comment by Giles ·
2011-05-06T13:34:25.891Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I tried raising this idea at the Toronto meetup first and got a similarly lukewarm reaction. I'm totally with you that face to face interaction has great benefits though, so I'll continue to evangelize there (thanks for the reminder and encouragement)