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Why do we refuse to take action claiming our impact would be too small? 2020-02-10T19:33:02.632Z · score: 5 (5 votes)

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Comment by hookdump on Why do we refuse to take action claiming our impact would be too small? · 2020-02-18T15:25:19.379Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm saying it's out of scope, meaning it's not what this post is about.

It's about a phenomenon that happens in lots of different situations and topics. I'm trying to generalize it, abstract it, and understand it.

A simple example:

Family meeting. Mother says: "The electric bill is getting expensive. Please mind your use of energy. Don't leave lights on when unnecessary. Use the Air Conditioner at reasonable temperatures. Etc."

Then one of the sons thinks: "Why should I make any personal changes or sacrifices? I barely use electricity, the ones wasting it are the others. The expensive bill is their fault. So unless they make a change, my sacrifice won't even make a dent. No point in doing it."

That's the phenomenon I'm talking about. Aside from specific instances.

Comment by hookdump on Why do we refuse to take action claiming our impact would be too small? · 2020-02-14T20:14:43.002Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's why I didn't focus on actual examples, and only briefly mentioned a couple in the begginning. :P

I'm more interested in the psychological phenomenon, rather than specific instances in real life, or wether its occurrence is a good or a bad thing.

e.g. Maybe it makes sense to not cooperate. I don't know. That's out of scope here.

Comment by hookdump on Why do we refuse to take action claiming our impact would be too small? · 2020-02-14T20:12:19.311Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fair enough. Presumably there could be many different reasons to be unwilling to "cooperate". One of them could be an underestimation of the effects of one's individual actions, but there could be other reasons.

Comment by hookdump on Why do we refuse to take action claiming our impact would be too small? · 2020-02-14T20:09:44.742Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fair. (I was only trying to model a super specific aspect of this debate, not the entire problem).

Your example of filling the swimming pool one drop at a time while hundreds of gallons per minute pour out through the hole in the bottom is much better, and kind of disheartening to think about.

What's a good strategy in that scenario? (maybe adding a twist: If the pool completely empties, we all die)

Comment by hookdump on Why do we refuse to take action claiming our impact would be too small? · 2020-02-14T20:07:42.976Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Good question! I don't think it's usually possible to estimate that accurately.

That's why I think it may make sense to play it safe, and just adopt a strategy of "doing our personal best", while trying to promote other changes too (inspire others to do their best, push for policy changes, etc).

Comment by hookdump on Why do we refuse to take action claiming our impact would be too small? · 2020-02-14T20:03:40.745Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Of course I was referring specifically about people who, in your words, cannot do it. :)

I worded it as "we" instead of "some people" in order to take my fair bit of personal responsibility: Even though I fully acknowledge the incredible importance of Climate Change, through my actions I am often part of this group of irresponsible people I refer to.

That being said, I found your answer really enlightening. Thank you. :)

Comment by hookdump on Why do we refuse to take action claiming our impact would be too small? · 2020-02-14T19:57:26.912Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't claim that is not the case.

You seem to think that an altruist action that harms me but benefits the whole planet should have at least a certain amount X of positive impact on the planet... otherwise it's not worth certain sacrifices. And to that, I say: Fair enough!

To give an absurd example: Giving up civilized life, and starting to live in the middle of the forest without any technology would be a silly, disproportionate, ineffective sacrifice to do in order to help Climate Change. It's a nonsensical plan. And I agree with you.

I think what I'm trying to figure out is... how can we maximize benefit to the planet?

Can we aim at a certain ratio of personal sacrifice / benefit to the planet?

Can we even measure the benefit? Does it make sense to take it into account?

Perhaps we should just make the maximum amount of sacrifice we'd willing to do, try to inspire others to to the same, and hope for the best?

What do you think?

Comment by hookdump on Why do we refuse to take action claiming our impact would be too small? · 2020-02-14T19:46:07.544Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Even if a person wants to do something about a problem, it's often much more impactful to donate to an effective charity then to change personal behavior.

Not sure if you meant "then" or if it was a typo for "than", but either way I have an observation:

One can do both things: donate to an effective charity and change personal behavior, no?

One example I like is: vegan lifestyle vs. vegan activism.

Activism is a lot more impactful than becoming vegan oneself. By far. Because of the potential amount of people reached, and because activism can make a dent in group behavior and culture. One could even theoretically participate in activism while not even being vegan... and have more impact than a non-activist vegan!

BUT... then I pictured a scenario: All of humankind participating in vegan activism, claiming we should stop animal exploitation... while at the same time everybody eats meat. That's just a massive-scale bluff. Collective hipocrisy.

I think that example illustrates nicely the gap we need to bridge between large scale action and personal change. And this is why I believe it's ideal to avoid comparisons between large scale actions and personal actions. I claim they can and should be simultaneous.

Comment by hookdump on Why do we refuse to take action claiming our impact would be too small? · 2020-02-10T20:34:49.203Z · score: -5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. There are two separate problems, which I can illustrate in this hypothetical scenario:

  • A group of people need to fill a glass of water.
  • Each person can only add one drop of water per minute, maximum.

So...

1. Underestimating small-impact actions: This is the phenomenon I describe in my post. Often used as an excuse to avoid responsibility or to shift blame to others. An action with a very small impact is "rounded down" and is considered to have zero impact. i.e. Adding one droplet has insignificant impact, so why bother doing that? Let's push for a change of the rules, so we can fill the glass all at once.

2. Overestimating small-impact actions: This is the phenomenon you describe. Often used to settle for a minimal effort. An action with a very small impact is "rounded up" and is considered to have "enough impact", so we oversee further action we could take. i.e. I've already added one droplet. I've done my part. What do you want from me? Now it's up to others!

These two traps prevent individuals from taking an optimal strategy:

  • Add as many droplets as you can.
  • Suggest to others that they keep adding droplets.
  • And sure, ALSO, keep pushing for a change of the rules, so that water can be added in a faster manner.
Comment by hookdump on Who... (or what) designed this site and where did they come from? · 2020-02-10T19:47:38.554Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, I'm new here, and I share your appreciation for the design of the site and particularly the comments system. It's amazing!! <3