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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Jun 22, 2021


San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run – but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world….There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil.

— Hunter S. Thompson

Effective altruism is the movement devoted to finding the highest-impact ways to help other people and the world. Philosopher William MacAskill described it as “doing for the pursuit of good what the Scientific Revolution did for the pursuit of truth”. They have an annual global conference to touch base and discuss strategy. This year it was in the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and I got a chance to check it out.
.The lake-fringed monumental neoclassical architecture represents ‘utilitiarian distribution of limited resources’


The official conference theme was “Doing Good Together”. The official conference interaction style was “earnest”. The official conference effectiveness level was “very”. And it was impossible to walk away from some of the talks without being impressed.

Saturday afternoon there was a talk by some senior research analysts at GiveWell, which researches global development charities. They’ve evaluated dozens of organizations and moved $260 million to the most effective, mostly ones fighting malaria and parasitic infections. Next were other senior research analysts from the Open Philanthropy Project, who have done their own detailed effectiveness investigations and moved about $200 million.

The parade went on. More senior research analysts. More nine-digit sums of money. More organizations, all with names that kind of blended together. The Center for Effective AltruismThe Center For Effective Global ActionRaising For Effective Giving. Effecting Effective Effectiveness. Or maybe not, I think I was hallucinating pretty hard by the end.