During the first two sessions, we aim to introduce the core principles of EA. We introduce these ideas in the context of global poverty because we think it’s an approachable and intuitive cause area, and makes the tools more obviously and immediately useful and practical.
- Scope sensitivity: saving ten lives is more important than saving one, and saving a billion lives is a lot more important than saving ten.
- Tradeoffs: Because we have limited resources, we need to prioritize different ways to improve the world.
- Scout mindset: We’ll be better able to help others if we’re working together to find the truth, rather than trying to defend our own ideas.
- We have outstanding opportunities to do good available to us.
- In order to do the most good, we have to make tradeoffs between different outcomes. Because all of these outcomes involve helping someone, it may feel difficult or “wrong” to choose who we help (and thus, who we don’t help).
- Aggregation - we can, in principle, compare the outcomes of different interventions
- Scientific evidence allows us to quantify the outcomes of different interventions and allows us to make better decisions
- We should focus on marginal benefit instead of average benefit, making neglectedness an important criterion to look at.
Tips for this session
- The most important goal of this session is to build group rapport so that people are comfortable speaking and listening to each other. It’s worth spending a significant amount of time (20-40 minutes) on icebreakers, chatting and other social activities.
During the Session
Icebreaker suggestion (20-40 mins)
- Everyone introduces themselves
- Rock paper scissors tournament
- Would you rather where you go to each side of the room
- Would you rather live for an extra year or an extra 14 months but you can’t use a screen for that time?
- Would you rather live for an extra year or an extra two years but you must be nocturnal?
- Only need two hours of sleep per night, or have a perfect memory?
Give an overview of the program
It might be helpful to briefly give the high-level details of the program again.
- High-level details of the program:
- 8 weeks
- Around 1.5-2 hours of personal work including reading each week, to be done before the session. Be sure to point out to participants that, while there are a bunch of readings each week, the readings are each short and to the point.
- 90-minute weekly meeting
- The aim is to learn about some of the ideas and principles behind effective altruism that guide the way people investigate how to do the most good and to begin to work out our own views on these concepts so that we can take them into account for our plans to do good in the future.
- Make connections with other people who are motivated to do good in the world.
- Ask if people have any questions
- Find a communication platform (e.g. group text or Slack) to communicate with each other (one that everyone will actually check!)
Set discussion norms
The culture of your group will largely be set in the first session. Try to make it as sociable, fun, thoughtful & considerate as possible - largely by setting this tone yourself.
Discuss the norms that you expect people to follow. Don’t forget that especially this week, you help to set the culture!
- Recap discussion norms.
- Basic stuff; if the program is online, perhaps emphasise taking slightly more care not to interrupt, which can be difficult in video calls.
- In the discussions, we’ll be clarifying our understanding of the reading, and talking through our perspectives. Naturally, some of us are therefore going to disagree with each other.
- We want to be approaching these disagreements with a framing of:
- Try to figure out what the other person thinks, and why - which differences in worldview or in models generated the disagreement? rather than
- Try to convince everyone that you’re right.
- Explain jargon - there’s lots of it around in some of the fields we’ll be talking about.
- Do ask for clarification if there is jargon or acronyms you don’t know.
- Be careful of dominating the discussion – it will be most valuable if everyone contributes equally.
- Explain any hand-raising norms or similar that you’d like to enforce.
- “It’s also important to acknowledge…”:
- Our privilege in being able to discuss these ideas and not let that overshadow the fact that we are talking about real lives. (Generally being aware that we are lucky to be in a place where we can be able to think about these issues and have a large impact.)
- People in this group come to these discussions with different ideas, backgrounds, and knowledge. Be respectful of the fact that the same examples or stories can land quite differently with different people depending on their experiences and identities.
- These are very complex issues, and keeping an open mind is important.
- Some of these can be uncomfortable to talk about, and some of us may have personal ties to some of these areas. That is part of the reason they are so neglected and so important to talk about.
- What are the most important new ideas that you took away from the readings this week?
- What is the core question of effective altruism?
- You have limited resources, so you can’t solve all the world’s problems overnight. What should you focus on first? How do you even start to answer this question?
- What are the habits/tips for thinking and communicating clearly and sincerely from the readings that you found most compelling? Most challenging?
Importance of prioritisation/triage
- What does Holly Elmore mean when she writes “We are always in triage?” Why is triage an important concept for effective altruism?
- Suppose you have been given £100,000 to spend. Charity X will save lives for £20,000 each, while Charity Y will save lives for £15,000 each. How much would you give to charity X and how much to charity Y?
- What is the moral/practical significance of an area being neglected – should we (as individuals) prioritise an area more highly if it’s neglected?
On scope sensitivity
- Scope sensitivity - that helping more is better than helping less at all scales - is a core idea in effective altruism. Why do you think it’s so important to EA?
- How, if at all, would it change your thinking process and/or decisions if you were perfectly scope sensitive?
- If you think we should, how can we reduce scope insensitivity in our decisions and priorities?
- What’s a time in your life when you found yourself defending your ideas instead of working with someone else to find the truth? Any reflections on that experience?
- When is a time in your life when you were actively trying to figure out the truth together with other(s)? Any reflections on that experience?
- What tools (if any) presented in the readings for reasoning clearly did you find most useful?
How to think about our situation
- How (if at all) should we take our emotional and/or intuitive judgements into account when deciding where to donate or how to spend our time?
- Do we have a great opportunity or a terrible tragedy?