“I got thumped in the face a few times but it was worth it.” – Weekend Away Participant.
Okay, that quote was not in fact in reference to the Centre for Effective Altruism’s (CEA’s) Weekend Away as a whole, but rather to the game of water polo that some of us played on the final day. But now that I have your attention…
While a lot of the EA Summit attendees were from tech startups, a lot of the folks at CEA’s Weekend Away were philosophers; I suppose this difference can mostly be explained geographically (CEA is based in Oxford and the EA Summit took place in the San Francisco Bay Area). Apart from this notable difference though, the two conferences had much in common. There were introductory presentations to some of the organizations present, workshops covering various areas of effective altruism, rationality and productivity, and excursions, games and singing to relax and socialize.
One of the sessions was a day-long ethical careers workshop delivered by 80,000 Hours. The most valuable takeaway for me was probably to remember the importance of the following three things when choosing an ethical career:
It is sometimes the case that, while an activity has been very high-impact so far, now that all the low-hanging fruit has been taken it is not very high-impact for more people to engage in that activity. (This is related to the concept of "Room For More Funding".)
If a particular career option looks very promising, but not many people have done it before, this may be because it is in fact a bad option! You should have an explanation for why an option that is good for you today has not been more popular for others in the past.
Some career choices offer a lot of "information value". For example, a seemingly low-impact office job could be a good option for a short while, because through it you will learn whether or not you can cope with sitting in front of a computer for 40 hours a week.
Another session presented some research into personal productivity techniques to help participants design an optimal daily routine. The three top takeaways for me were:
Only deal with your emails 1-3 times a day at specific times in order to avoid getting distracted from other tasks by incoming mail.
Have a breakfast high in protein and low in carbohydrates to help you feel energized throughout the day.
To help with prioritization, before you go to bed, choose 1-3 things that you aim to accomplish tomorrow, and then start your working day by doing them.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the weekend was a debate on the topic of “Which cause is best: global poverty, animal welfare or extinction risk?” I can’t recount the whole debate for you but I can give you some food for thought. The advocate for global poverty reduction challenged his fellow debaters to provide an opportunity for charitable giving that was as cost-effective and proven as donating to the Against Malaria Foundation. The debater arguing for animal welfare pointed out that billions of animals suffer in factory farms each year and that there may be many orders of magnitude more nonhuman beings in the future whom it is important that humans care about. Finally, the defender of mitigating human extinction risk as the best cause claimed that the large majority of the world’s value that we can affect lies in the future – if we prevent human extinction now, we could effectively be saving trillions and trillions of lives – and so even if we can only affect extinction risk by a tiny amount, it would be worth it. What do you think is the best cause for you to be working on?
On Sunday, I delivered a workshop on the topic of keeping your pledge. I’ll be passing on some ideas to Claire for her weekly blog series on that topic so stay tuned!