This was very fun and, I think, quite decisive. Reminds me of the old slightly more polemical philosophyetc days. If I just picture the type of human that I dislike the most who is not abjectly evil (E.g. not a nazi) it's the type of social justice activist who opposes doing things to benefit the world's poor because of vague word salad about promoting white supremacist institutions. The people who, as a result of their elite status at high-ranking university departments, devise cleverly worded jargon about systems of oppression, which they use in the service of opposing the things that most effectively benefit the worst off people. It would be like objecting to saving drowning children on the grounds that it fails to confront the structures that resulted in children drowning (without giving any reason to think that confronting those structures would be more effective, of course).

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May 2Liked by Richard Y Chappell

A very nice reminder to anti-anti-wokesters not to become too anti-anti-woke that they can't call out these sorts of excesses, even if anti-wokeness can be annoying and bad for freedom of expression! :)

More seriously, the mindset underlying this is something Marxist or Post-structuralist that basically just says you ought to mistrust or disbelieve lots of social science, especially economic analysis or political science analysis of what is feasible or useful.

I'm going to give what I think is the best possible version of this critique which doesn't literally claim helping people is wrong when it's not done in service of a particular ideology, since we may as well be charitable:

Basically stripped of the wordy theoretical baggage, the claim is that in fact these sorts of large-scale destructive radical reforms to seek justice and remake our economics and politics are way more likely to work and way more beneficial than what you'd conclude by looking at mainstream history, economics and social science research, because the assumptions behind all those disciplines are wrong and put there to justify the interests of the powerful, so it's best to just walk away from them and distrust their findings just like you'd be right to e.g. distrust the research funded by the food industry on sugar and obesity.

To the extent that you think this route to impact is much more beneficial and much more likely to work, than our best evidence would suggest, things that keep the existing status quo going but lower the chance of a revolution working are an opportunity cost and maybe the good done is outweighed by 'ethics washing' capitalism and liberal democracy, making the harms they cause more illegible to people who might otherwise oppose them, and making it less likely that they'll be replaced by something better.

So it's just very very different empirical and epistemological beliefs, so incredibly different that they look like a difference in moral beliefs: "If we can just get global social justice (which is not as hard as it looks), then all of these problems will melt away into nothing so it's actually easier to solve the world's problems by that route, but that can't be seen from within economics because you can't to an RCT to evaluate its likelihood and people within a white supremacist capitalist system will in the absence of evidence massively underrate how likely this is to work or how beneficial it would be."

And of course I don't believe any of this for a second! I think there's tons of historical, philosophical, economic etc. evidence against it. And it is a (not fundamental but widely held) belief in EA that you can trust mainstream economics and mainstream science to some extent to guide cost-benefit evaluations and don't have to reevaluate everything for possible influence by class/race interests and rebuild your understanding of economics and political science from scratch.

And it's totally fine to make that assumption because it can be justified, but we should be clear we're making it and just say that people who are globally skeptical of these fields are like moral skeptics or Cartesian-style skeptics and we're just not going to listen to them (even though particular critiques based on class or race considerations if justified are of course good).

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Today I wrote an article that was sort of about this phenomenon, though not entirely. https://controlledopposition.substack.com/p/degrees-of-freedom-and-jargon

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The problem with "movements", including woke-type movements, is that they must necessarily have an internal power structure, while at the same time pretending not to. Those who hold the power within "movements" are usually charismatic people and/or good at bullying. (Sometimes they are also cynics, but probably not very often - since you are usually more convincing to others if you believe you are who you pretend to be.) Since their power is not formalized, it cannot easily be challenged from inside the movement. But it can be challenged by outsiders - in particular if they are the ones who provide the funding. To leaders of movements, therefore, "outside" ideas about documented efficiency and transparency represent a threat. So their opposition to EA is rational.

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Did you really go into a book by an evangelical cult that openly disavows honest reasoning, expecting valuable philosophy rather than statements of faith and accusations of witchcraft?

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deletedMay 2Liked by Richard Y Chappell
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