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homunq comments on Four Focus Areas of Effective Altruism - Less Wrong

40 Post author: lukeprog 09 July 2013 12:59AM

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Comment author: homunq 13 July 2013 05:03:19PM *  6 points [-]

"Thinking quantitatively" is poor shorthand for good rational practice. Of course a rationalist shouldn't neglect quantitative thought; that leads to fuzz. But purely quantitative evaluation is just as bad; it leads to No-Child-Left-Behind-style teaching-to-the-test and, worse, testing-to-the-test (choosing metrics based on reliability over applicability).

I think that there are signs of that in the choice of four areas. It's not just that "effective environmental activism" didn't make the cut; what about politics itself? Rational improvements in political systems are incredibly easy to imagine; approval voting, for instance, is a tiny, simple change compared to plurality voting, yet would eliminate a number of senseless biases in politics. And politics is important; as any evil overlord knows, the goal is to take over the world. But it's very hard to quantify political progress objectively, and easy to get into mind-killing arguments, so it seems the whole issue just gets covered by an ick field for rationalists.

So, the question becomes: do you want to talk about what aspiring effective altruists do do, or what they should do? If it's the former, fine. If it's the latter, I think you have to start from more basic principles.