Project: Part 0: Considering major life choices

I’m going to write about these questions:

Analysing the question

My last question here is arguably a complicated version of “Should I do good?”, which I have an immediate intuitive answer to - yes!

But that doesn’t account for the full question - about doing good in “the world at large”. I guess that’s really a question of “is the world good?”, because I live in the world and of course need it to continue existing and I want to see it improve. I was talking about Dominique Francon recently, she had concluded that the world was bad and so she shouldn’t try to help. She just amused herself, and when she met someone good she couldn’t believe it at first and even when she couldn’t deny it any more she went on trying to stop him from doing good because she didn’t think the world was worth it.

My point is: I’m questioning if the world is good for a reason. I think this is some elements of a past me that was very cynical and pessimistic and hopeless. I think that past me had decided the world was bad and it wasn’t worth trying to improve. I can’t say I think the world is all good now, but I do think that it can be improved. Maybe it’s a losing battle, but if it’s worth trying to do anything it’s worth trying to improve the world.

So I think it’s important to do some good in the world. I don’t necessarily mean that in some sort of charitable sense (though I’m not ruling that out). Creating good ideas, spreading good ideas, protecting people, improving health, helping productivity, entertaining/making people happy (in a good way, I don’t consider e.g. exploiting people with bad gambling/drug/sex habits to be a good thing even though it may make them happy).

I think how much someone gets paid is a rough estimate of how much good they’re doing/how much impact they’re having, as long as it isn’t exploiting/destroying/degrading or in some other way immoral.

I looked for some other ideas or articles around the subject.

Unidentified Cause X

I think this is interesting (that people in general may have some sort of major moral flaw and no-one has even thought of it yet). I think choosing a life path in such a way that your life is compatible with being radically altered is valuable - e.g. if someone chose a career but found out after a decade of work that it was actually really bad, it would be even worse if they were so entrenched in that career that it would nearly destroy the rest of their life to leave it. I think academics, career politicians and influencers can suffer from this problem, becoming dependent on the system to the point where they struggle to find other kinds of work that allow them to perform vital functions like supporting their family.
(reminds me of The Matrix quote, “And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”)

I think EA is actually creating “cause X” with their position on animals.
From the article:

The persecution of animals today, what we see over and over again is how easy it is for people to be oblivious to serious moral problems.

They seem to be oblivious to the moral problem of calling the way animals are treated as “persecution”. They hold back humanity (the only good that is known to exist), waste effort protecting biological automata from “suffering” that hampers human progress with medicine and food creation. The kind of idea that humans and animals are so similar is also pretty bad, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it results in them making a bunch of other mistakes like how they think about the mind and emotions, and how they could find analogies in animals and other life forms to take lessons from.

Office job vs effective career

Another article from EA:

This is not so bad in it’s conclusions, though it still bases quite a few conclusions just on feelings. I think in principle I agree with the comparison of “office job” vs “effective career”, that either choice is doing good, and that if someone picks “effective career” to have more impact but ends up unhappy with the work it’s a mistake (as Elliot explained well). Though I think I wouldn’t ask EA what type of career would be effective or what causes are good to donate to.

I’m getting the impression that EA content is typically bad in having some serious mistakes as a premise or emotional reasoning. It’s alarming how many people (such as Corentin) commit drastic amounts of effort to them or their causes. I’m yet to turn up a result from EA that I think is very well thought out.

Good effective careers

I think this is an interesting article:

It’s not so relevant to me (not US citizen) but it lists some career choices which can have good positive impact and are in some cases also well paid on average, I think these are better places to focus if someone wants to pursue an “effective career” specifically. Working for charities is often not a very high-skill job, and people who have the options and aspiration to aim for a more skilled career should do so.

Earn to give as a way to do good

I think this article is also interesting and talks about why to “earn to give” (or as mentioned earlier “office job” instead of “effective career”):

I think it makes a lot of good points. I like this one in particular, as it allows much more flexibility and error-correction, and is one of the many under-acknowledged benefits of capitalism:

The third and most important consideration is that charities vary tremendously in the amount of good they do with the money they receive. For example, it costs about $40,000 to train and provide a guide dog for one person, but it costs less than $25 to cure one person of sight-destroying trachoma. For the cost of improving the life of one person with blindness, you can cure 1,000 people of it.
This matters because if you decide to work in the charity sector, you’re rather limited. You can only change jobs so many times, and it’s unlikely that you can work for only the very best charities. In contrast, if you earn to give, you can donate anywhere, preferably to the most cost-effective charities, and change your donations as often as you like.

Other context

I think the section on employment biases is interesting. I think it highlights some deeper issues that can be easy to overlook in choosing a career, particularly stress, location and actual buying power.
Lots of high paying jobs are very demanding in terms of stress, hours and performance requirements. This is really important to consider when choosing a career, as if someone has major life goals (e.g. raising children) a career like that will get in the way.
Considering actual buying power and location is really important - even staying within one’s country of origin, there can be different locations to live and work that may give better buying power even at lower incomes.

Summing up

  • Doing good is important, but there are lots of mistaken ideas about what counts as “good”. Lots of careers can do good in ways that people might not realise or consider “good” because of misconceptions about what is a good cause.
  • A career which has some flexibility - that is not entrenching and allows career flexibility - avoids the catastrophic risk of being stuck doing something that you later realise is bad.
  • Doing work that doesn’t make much difference (as long as it isn’t actively bad) still leaves the possibly more effective option of donating to worthwhile causes.
  • It’s important to consider other goals as some careers are incompatible with other major aspirations in life owing to time/stress/location/commute demands.
  • Location can make a huge difference to the living costs, and lower paid less demanding jobs can still result in better buying power with certain changes in location, or even because some jobs have lifestyle requirements. So it’s important to decide if changing location is an option, or if not why not, and look at other associated costs that come with a job.

Project notes

This is my goal met for the week.

I’ve provisionally put my thoughts starting from this quote into an article on my new blog. I rewrote some areas of it. I’m going to use the blog as a place to write up my thoughts about the main questions I’m asking myself here, plus probably some other articles I’m interested in writing.

I’ve consistently failed to meet this part of my goal (I forgot about it).

I’ve been picking questions to answer on whim. Sometimes I’ve had a specific subject in mind but not clearly enough to state it.

Having a question I plan to consider isn’t a commitment to posting on that subject, it’s just trying to think ahead about this more since it’s a pretty important long-term goal.

My goal question to write about this week is: Why do people leave CF?
I plan to look at my analysis of the Corentin discussion, the comments of others, possibly look at some of the other examples Elliot provided, and start writing some conclusions.

Integrating some of my earlier comments about this project question:

I’ve made the following list primarily based on my notes from my earlier post:

I don’t think these are necessarily true reasons that Corentin in particular chose to leave. But I think they are possible reasons that someone might leave.

  • Broad cause: Debate pessimism
    • Overconfident expectation of how quickly conflicts of ideas can be honestly resolved or how easy accurate communication is.
      • Possible sub-cause: Convinced by cultural influences such as TV debates which are more about each side expressing their point of view, but not actually fully convincing anyone, and concluding this is the best existing form of discussion.
      • Possible sub-cause: Lack of debating skill or appreciation of how much improvement there is, leading to overwhelm.
      • Possible sub-cause: Impatience, the sense that there are too many things to do and discussion isn’t profitable enough by comparison.
      • Possible sub-cause: Lack of skill in managing overwhelm and breaking tasks down into manageable sub-tasks.
      • Possible sub-cause: Lack of skill in self-reflection and understanding how to communicate intuitive disagreement.
      • Possible sub-cause: Scheduling conflicts, commitments in life that preclude taking time to debate or study in ways that aren’t part of their commitments.
        • Possible solution: Concrete examples that discussions can be solved effectively, of how much improvement potential there is, and the benefit of improvement.
        • Possible solution: Concrete guidance on managing overwhelm and how to break big hard tasks into smaller manageable ones.
  • Broad cause: Authoritarian thinking
    • Convinced that new ideas need an authority to accept them, so not open to honest discussion and criticism.
      • Possible sub-cause: Insecurity about being making decisions independently, seeking safety in the authority/tribe/group.
      • Possible sub-cause: Collective thinking, convinced that group votes are the best way of finding true ideas or rejecting false ideas (similar: statistical thinking, convinced by Bayesian epistemology)
        • Possible solution: Difficult! If someone needs an authority to accept an idea, better ideas that don’t play to authority will have obstacles. I don’t have a straightforward answer here. I think it’s possible to get in under the authoritarian thinking to uproot it in theory.
  • Broad cause: Subjectivism
    • Convinced that truth is subjective and/or “nothing is true”, so there’s no point to trying to pursue truth and honesty.
      • Possible sub-cause: Authoritarian thinking, uncritically accepting subjectivist ideas owing to status or other similar reasons.
        • Possible solution: Difficult! If someone believes nothing is true, they have a ready-loaded response to reject any new idea. Again I think it’s possible that there’s some way of uprooting the misconception but don’t have a straightforward answer.
  • Broad cause: Arrogance
    • Convinced they know enough/they don’t have any bad ideas. Generally: dishonesty.
      • Possible sub-cause: Insecurity, the need to think their current ideas are infallible is an evasion and excuse to avoid the uncertainty of making decisions.
      • Possible sub-cause: Defensiveness, faced with someone who is a better thinker and/or debater they feel threatened or scared that they’re not good enough (in life, in general, etc) if they acknowledge mistakes so they entrench their position.
      • Possible sub-cause: Status seeking, convinced that they need to appear to be right for social status/profit reasons.
        • Possible solution: Difficult, but avoiding direct criticism and presenting good ideas in an impersonal way so that the arrogant person can consider it privately (which may trigger less arrogance) may be more effective than direct criticism.

I’m interested in countering reasons people leave because my past engagement with FI/curi has been infrequent and erratic and there could be related reasons for that. I think I’m overall better off staying active here as it helps me avoid deceiving myself. It would also be beneficial (to me directly, and to the pursuit of truth and betterment of humanity in general) if more good people could be convinced of this.

I think this list covers a lot of bases. There may be more to add (or possibly some reorganising of groups) which I might find studying the other examples Elliot provided or further analysis of Elliot’s additional post. (links mainly so I can easily find them later)

I don’t plan to make this into an article on my blog in it’s current form. I think it would be misleading about CF to post about why people leave it out of context.
I might instead write an unambiguously pro-CF article that’s related but focuses on the solutions. Such as writing about why people should join CF and stick around, or writing about why people evade serious discussion and how and why they can do better.

Project notes

Goal completed for the week.

Next week I plan to write about this question:

I think this question is misguided now. I think some sort of subconscious idea about wanting to treat CF and/or Elliot as the saviour and final answer to my problems was behind it. I think that’s really bad, it’s a part of me I’ve improved a lot but still exists. I guess it’s some sort of frustration or anxiety asking “why is everything so hard?” and wanting easy answers. It’s related to trying to do too much, to getting overwhelmed, and to rushing and messing up.

I think there’s a better, deeper question which the original question is adjacent to:

How should someone decide how to make decisions based on the advice of people they only know online?

One reason I think this is better because it has reach. I think there are a lot of people who go to strangers online to make decisions for them and can get really terrible guidance because the strangers couldn’t see or understand the full context of the problems and/or aren’t open about what agenda or values they have.

Having a good approach to getting advice about life choices from strangers is important, as they wont know things about a person’s life to look for patterns or problems that may be root causes that are better to solve.

I couldn’t find any direct answers to this question elsewhere, but there are a few articles on related subjects.

It does make some useful points, I think (context of this excerpt is taking advice online on parenting).

At the very least you should narrow things down. Instead of posting in a local moms group with 8,000 members, find a more specific group, whether it’s Unconventional Parenting, Single Parenting, Foster Parenting or something else.

It’s certainly worth being highly discriminating with who to aim the question at (though that can result in someone fooling themselves by asking in an echo chamber).

Do your own research, and don’t treat all websites equally. There’s a huge difference between reading information about the safety of medication on the CDC or FDA website and reading it on a website someone posted in crunchy parenting forum that promotes or sells natural health products has an anti-vaccine/anti-western medicine bias. A lot of those websites are really good at making the things they’re saying look legit, but when you dig a little bit deeper, they are fake/propaganda/untrustworthy.

Broadly, yes (but I’d treat the CDC and FDA with just as much scrutiny).

What is the Internet Good For?
The internet is not a good place to seek advice, but that doesn’t make it worthless. It also has its strong suits.

The section that follows this heading is overall not too bad.

Overall I don’t think this article is very good. I think it tries to replace submitting one’s reason to strangers with submitting one’s reason to authorities. I think it also treats intuition as an authority Though I think it could be a lot worse - I would expect doing what someone with a medical degree says about a medical problem, instead of what wiki and strangers say, will go wrong much less often. And it does address that somewhat.

This following post is about dating advice specifically, but I think has some important related points.

There’s so many different people in the world, literally any dating style can work. Remember, you’re not supposed to be looking for anyone, you’re looking for the one.

I think there’s so much deep subconscious stuff going on when it comes to life choices like who to date (or whether to pursue romance at all), what career to have, whether to have children, what investments to make (i.e. risk management and exposure needs) and so many other things that it’s important to keep that in mind when taking advice from strangers. There’s also physical stuff - appearance, health, age, body language, historical behavior, and other cues that people online might never notice and may be highly relevant.

Curiosity – [Excerpt] Personal advice means advice that is cont...

It’s not very well written but I doubt Elliot cares very much as it’s 20 years old and an excerpt from something else obviously written quickly. I don’t think he’d write something that way today (even for informal posts). I think the point is clear enough and touches on the subject.

I think the degree to which a subject is personal is a decent measure of the degree to which online advice should be taken cautiously. Some examples:

  • Asking someone online “what is the year?” is very impersonal and generally not going to go wrong.
  • Asking someone “what is the weather like?” is more personal and requires some context like location and common usage of words (like how rainy “very rainy” is).
  • Finally asking “what shoes should I wear?” is a lot more personal and requires a lot more stuff for useful answers like job/activity/foot size/fashion preference/foot health/budget.

The asker needs to understand all the contextual requirements and personal details that are relevant to get good answers, and if relying on talking to people online people who answer might miss context that the asker doesn’t know the relevance of.

This is just some first thoughts on this subject, I’ll think about it some more and write something that answers the new question better.

I think it would be good to write up my final answer to this subject as an article for my blog. It seems like something a lot of people might benefit from a good answer to.

Project notes

That’s my goal for the week.

Next week I plan to write about this question: