Author Topic: FIRE & Effective Altruism  (Read 2911 times)

shelbster

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FIRE & Effective Altruism
« on: December 18, 2019, 12:13:25 AM »
Hello Mustachians, 

I understand there to be some overlap between FIRE people and Effective Altruism (EA) people, so I figure this is a good place to get some perspective. 

The short version:
For other EA devotees out there, how do you combine FIRE and EA, in your worldview? Do you find that your FIRE goals and your EA plans are sometimes at odds? If so, how do you reconcile them? 


When I stop to think about it, devoting so much time and energy to FIRE goals when you could be helping the world in an impactful way seems... if not selfish, then at least quite self-centered. Who are we to be among the wealthiest people in the world, pursue a career up to the point where it meets our needs, then say "eh, I think I've contributed enough to the world -- I'm going to lounge around doing purely or primarily activities that bring me joy for the rest of my existence"? Taking care of yourself is one thing, but do we not have some moral obligation to help the truly needy in the world during our time here?

(This obviously applies more to people who, like me, really want to retire early instead of, say, achieving financial independence and continuing to do impactful work or earn to give.)

When I've posed these thoughts to most people I usually go to for advice, the general feedback is that I care too much about helping the world / that I have too narrow a view on what "helping the world" consists of and could just be happy with retiring then spending time doing volunteer work, etc.... From an EA perspective, though, volunteering at my local soup kitchen or whatnot is so low-impact that it seems like it almost doesn't count.

So, I'd love to get some thoughts from other folks who join me at the philosophical intersection of FIRE and EA.




If you want the longer version...
Context 1: I'm having a bit of a crisis of confidence about this in my own life. Let the records show that I recognize I, a known overthinker, am way overthinking this. 

Context 2: I've been working in consulting for 3 years, and a good part of the reason I started down this path is that I read the 80,000 Hours career guide (it's so good: https://80000hours.org/career-guide/) and thought consulting was a good personal fit and a good first step to get career capital. Both have turned out to be pretty true.

During that time, I got deeper into FIRE and am currently about a fifth of the way to what you might call a base-level FIRE goal: $500k savings at a 4% SWR = $20k/year, or enough to cover the basics and let me do anything I want in the amount of time that I want. For the last 2ish years, my goal has been to reach that point by age 30ish (I'm 26 now), probably have kids afterwards, and continue to work part-time with way more freedom of choice and flexibility in my time and lifestyle. In particular, the prospect of having kids and working full time sounds like the closest thing to torture, to me, that normal humans can expect to endure. I would like to avoid it.

All that makes for a fine plan, even one that's on its way to fruition, but I'm really starting to find that consulting does not put a fire under me to get out of bed every day. In fact, I burned out hardcore at my last (way crappier) consulting job and see myself going down a similar path after just a few months at my new (way better) one.

In my overthinking, I've basically boiled this down to 2 fundamental reasons: (1) it isn't really an intellectual challenge, and (2) I fail to find meaning in being part of the global 1% and spending my days helping... mostly, the global 1%.

So I'm trying to reconcile a slew of contradictory wants: a desire to help the world, FIRE goals / not wanting to work full time forever.

Some options include:
1. Continue in consulting, continue down a path I'm on towards more intellectually stimulating (data) work, and consider earning to give, at least part time
Good: means I'm doing the right thing now
Bad: probably won't be able to keep up consulting that long

2. Pursue a grad degree (probably econ) and apply that to more directly impactful work
Good: intellectual stimulation because I want to learn ALL THE THINGS; I suspect it would lead me to a day job that I would be happy to keep up for the longer term; having a PhD would be really cool
Bad: I could get through grad school and still be unhappy; HUGE personal/logistical/financial sacrifices (potentially including things like delayed FIRE, having kids and doing grad school at the same time which sounds completely miserable)

3. Switch to another high-impact career that uses my brain and isn't as lumpy as grad schoolGood: solves lots of problems
Bad: potentially mythical? 

4. Continue to wallow in my misery
Good: no need to do anything!
Bad: the slow process of being consumed by guilt at not giving the requisite effort at my job and not feeling like I'm making meaningful contributions to the human existence with my life (ha) 

With all of that floating around in my head at present, I'm thinking that it would help to get my framework straight re: relative priorities about financial independence, leisure time, intellectual stimulation, and a moral obligation to help those without the good fortune of being born into the global 1%.

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Vashy

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2019, 01:24:25 AM »
Itís an interesting problem and definitely what some peers call a quarter-life crisis. If youíre intellectually hungry, I think pursuing further education will feed that craving. Maybe there's a way to do it part-time. Maybe your current employer has programmes in place to support staff getting more educated. That could boost both your salary and your happiness and open further doors.

Regarding charity - thereís a big ďput your own oxygen mask on firstĒ thinking in MNM. Nobody keeps you from reaching FIRE and then do pro bono consulting. I heard once about an initiative where managers/consultants would work to make charities more efficient so the bucks yield more bang. I imagine that could be very satisfying and I think the big consultancy firms have such initiatives.

Lastly, as a DINK with zero kids and no plans for kids, I can assure you that having kids is not mandatory. If you are not interested in that, you donít have to. I never did, have zero regrets, and know plenty of people who never had children and never regretted it either. Arguably one of the best things we can do for the planet is to limit the amount of high-impact humans that devour lots of resources. Personally, I rather take care of small humans that other people brought into the world by making sure the money is in place to support them at a high level.

Freedomin5

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #2 on: December 18, 2019, 05:38:37 AM »
I donít understand the problem as I do not see FIRE and EA as mutually exclusive ideas. EA is about determining the best way to use your resources to impact others, not about whether or not to use resources. It only applies to the portion of resources that you were planning to dedicate to helping others.

In addition, to me, EA is not about retiring and serving at a soup kitchen when you have other skills. If youíre a consultant, maybe itís about sitting in the board of the soup kitchen so it can help more people or make operational practices more efficient...so that it can help more people.

Itís like what I do. I didnít spend several years in my life getting a doctorate and specialized training so that I can sort clothing (though I might do that for fun). FIRE, however, gives me the freedom to work in underserved areas of the world and to work for next to nothing. In my field we use a ďtrain the trainerĒ model. I spend my time training locals so they can work in their communities. Thatís more effective than me working directly with the locals. Training the trainer reaches more people more effectively.

DadJokes

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #3 on: December 18, 2019, 06:47:21 AM »
You can read the responses in this thread, as this was recently discussed. Overall, I think the consensus is that you can do good while also earning money, and then having a lot of money means that you can do a lot more good in the world (similar to Bill Gates, though probably on a smaller scale).

Malcat

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #4 on: December 18, 2019, 07:57:01 AM »
Brace yourself, this will be long...

Okay, first, let's establish what FIRE and Mustachianism are and what they aren't.
FIRE isn't purposelessly amassing as much wealth as possible as quickly as possible for the sake of quitting and never doing anything of value ever again. That's ONE life path of many.

FIRE and Mustachianism are about having a basic understanding of personal finance, and taking responsibility for your spending instead of being a mindless consumerist who obliges themselves to work into their senior years to service their purposeless and wasteful spending.
Rampant, mindless consumerism *is* the antithesis of EA, so moving away from that is a move in the right direction. How altruistic someone decides to be from there on is really up to them.

Okay, cool. Now that that's settled, let's talk about your actual issue, which is that you don't know what you want to be when you grow up. This is a tough question for everyone, it just is. Pretty much everyone struggles with what to do with their lives to be happy and have some meaning. Welcome to the fundamental existential angst of being human.

Next, I just want to get this out of the way: if the advice you are getting is to care less about others, then start asking advice from different people.

Okay, so now for the meat of the question: what should you do with your life to help people and have meaning.
Well shit, I don't know, but the reason I don't know is because I don't understand why you find helping people a difficult thing to do.

I have 4 jobs, all of which involve pretty high-level helping people. I'm also an executive level volunteer, have multiple helping-people projects, and generally just make myself useful to those around me who need help. I started volunteering and being involved in community projects as a small child, so this has literally been my entire life, and every decision I've ever made along the way has cultivated and curated an existence that revolves around *being helpful*.

If you want to do good, then do good. Look for opportunities in everything you do and everyone you talk to to do good.

Yeah, volunteering at a soup kitchen is pretty low-level value to be adding to the world, unless said soup kitchen is hurting for volunteers, in which case it can be a life saver. However, it's a great way to get your foot in the door of an organization, figure out what they actually need, and be useful from there. I once landed myself an executive level position at a non profit during undergrad because I volunteered to be boots on the ground for one event, discovered that what they really needed was extra funding that year, raised several thousand dollars from the professors that I also volunteered for and the large corporation that I worked part time for, and voila, I provided far more value than my minimum wage man-hours were worth.

In addition, I was also the president of a student club, and had a small army of science students desperate for volunteer activities that would make them more appealing to med schools, so I had a crew of bodies that I could volunteer for whatever events the non profit needed. I could also deploy them to raise funds, and most of them were kids of doctors, so the snowball of my value to the organization just kept rolling and growing.

It all started with the volunteer equivalent of ladling soup. My first gig with them was to put name tags and room keys into envelopes and cross names off of a list.

As for the "mythical" doing-good career, lol, it's not at all mythical, and thinking that it is is what's keeping you from seeing it. I'm in a major career shift right now, facing a huge range of possibilities now that I've walked away from my main career in helping people, the one I got a doctorate to be able to do (long story). The point is, I'm looking at a huge range of jobs including corporate consulting, further specializing my skills, working for non profits, contributing to a book, etc, and in all of my options, I see opportunities to do important work.

It's not about finding the perfect unicorn job that comes pre-packaged with a detailed job description that outlines exactly how you will leave each work day feeling maximally fulfilled. It's about relentlessly forging opportunities to do good in whatever your environment, whatever your surroundings. It's having the goal of every time you speak to anyone, thinking about how you could be useful to them, how someone you know might be useful to them, how they might be useful to someone you know, how there might be *some* form of synergy possible to do something good.

Now, after a few decades of this kind of thing, I do it at a pretty intense level, where I can pretty much make or break a fledgling non profit, or just decide that an initiative should exist, and more than once, I've just made up a role for myself within a major organization. It does take time to generate an entire personal and professional ecosystem that revolves around doing good, but it's more of a product of who you are rather than what path you decide to take.

If you are consulting with big business, then you are missing out on enormous charitable synergies by limiting your work to only that which is personally profitable to you.

So if you want to be someone who does good in the world and lives a life of meaning, then be that person, and be that person today. It's not an end goal or a rare job to discover and train for, it's a way of living that self perpetuates through every interaction you have every single day. The great thing is that living this way means not really having to search for opportunities to do good, they really will just spontaneously come to you because everyone who knows you will always think of you first when there's a chance to do some good.

BTW, I worked full time for only 3 years and hated every second of it until I realized that FT work vs FIRE was total nonsense for me. You're debating a false dichotomy that doesn't exist except in that you made it up for yourself. Life is comprised of an infinite number of options, if you can't see that, it's not a lack of options, but a lack of imagination.

I don't give myself hypothetical options that don't involve doing good and finding a lot of meaning from my efforts. I just don't.

BECABECA

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #5 on: December 18, 2019, 10:01:49 AM »
Lots of good advice here already. One thing that hasnít been touched on is Effective Altruism vs. Your Lifeís One Optimal Solution Altruism. I think youíre putting too much pressure on yourself, EA is about being effective, and youíre already being effective.

Even Peter Singer admits thereís a practical limit to what is morally expected of each of us. He donates about a third of his income and admits thatís an amount that allows him to feel at peace about. And he admits that if he had been more focused on optimizing his career for EA, he likely wouldnít have gone into philosophy, wouldnít have had a platform to promote EA, and likely wouldnít have had as large an altruistic impact as a result.

So if you feel that your 80,000 hours career isnít going to be effective enough, make sure to supplement your altruism with charitable giving to the EA organizations that will be able to do maximum good.

Donít assign zero utility to work you could do here... if youíre able to bring some people into the EA fold, youíre able to greatly magnify your contribution.

shelbster

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #6 on: December 18, 2019, 12:03:29 PM »
This is all super good stuff -- thanks!

A few specific responses...

Lots of good advice here already. One thing that hasnít been touched on is Effective Altruism vs. Your Lifeís One Optimal Solution Altruism. I think youíre putting too much pressure on yourself, EA is about being effective, and youíre already being effective.

Even Peter Singer admits thereís a practical limit to what is morally expected of each of us. He donates about a third of his income and admits thatís an amount that allows him to feel at peace about. And he admits that if he had been more focused on optimizing his career for EA, he likely wouldnít have gone into philosophy, wouldnít have had a platform to promote EA, and likely wouldnít have had as large an altruistic impact as a result.

So if you feel that your 80,000 hours career isnít going to be effective enough, make sure to supplement your altruism with charitable giving to the EA organizations that will be able to do maximum good.

Donít assign zero utility to work you could do here... if youíre able to bring some people into the EA fold, youíre able to greatly magnify your contribution.

This is a really good point and I appreciate the perspective. :) I am 100% putting too much pressure on myself.
But I still wonder if the thing I want (to largely stop working after reaching FIRE) is at odds with the moral obligations of EA.

FIRE isn't purposelessly amassing as much wealth as possible as quickly as possible for the sake of quitting and never doing anything of value ever again. That's ONE life path of many.

FIRE and Mustachianism are about having a basic understanding of personal finance, and taking responsibility for your spending instead of being a mindless consumerist who obliges themselves to work into their senior years to service their purposeless and wasteful spending.
Rampant, mindless consumerism *is* the antithesis of EA, so moving away from that is a move in the right direction. How altruistic someone decides to be from there on is really up to them.

Okay, cool. Now that that's settled, let's talk about your actual issue, which is that you don't know what you want to be when you grow up. This is a tough question for everyone, it just is. Pretty much everyone struggles with what to do with their lives to be happy and have some meaning. Welcome to the fundamental existential angst of being human.

Next, I just want to get this out of the way: if the advice you are getting is to care less about others, then start asking advice from different people.

...

BTW, I worked full time for only 3 years and hated every second of it until I realized that FT work vs FIRE was total nonsense for me. You're debating a false dichotomy that doesn't exist except in that you made it up for yourself. Life is comprised of an infinite number of options, if you can't see that, it's not a lack of options, but a lack of imagination.

I donít understand the problem as I do not see FIRE and EA as mutually exclusive ideas. EA is about determining the best way to use your resources to impact others, not about whether or not to use resources. It only applies to the portion of resources that you were planning to dedicate to helping others.

Lots to work through here, and I also appreciate the perspective. Freedomin5, that was a really well-stated bit.

I think they key thing here for me is that I was introduced to EA through 80,000 Hours. For me, EA isn't just about how I allocate the resources that I dedicate to helping others; it is also about planning a career around helping others. When I envision my career to be very short (I don't want to quit then never do anything, but I'm definitely towards that end of the spectrum of FIRE folks), that's where I start to wonder if I'm being a little too self-centered. It is a problem of figuring out competing priorities.

It's not like the people I've asked for advice are telling me not to care about others. It's more like their standard is "when I die, will I have done more good in the world than bad?" whereas mine is more like "when I die, will I have done the most good in the world that I could have done given the resources I had?" Obviously, you have to take a wide view of "the most good" (I could work 24/7 doing good, but I'd die quickly and that would not have optimized my resources... but overall, I think my standards are pretty high in terms of what I feel morally obligated to give to the world. Maybe they're too high, but I'm curious if there are other people with similarly high standards and a lack of desire to work their life through.

Itís an interesting problem and definitely what some peers call a quarter-life crisis.

...

Regarding charity - thereís a big ďput your own oxygen mask on firstĒ thinking in MNM. Nobody keeps you from reaching FIRE and then do pro bono consulting.

Oh, definitely a quarter-life crisis. Fortunately, this is like my 3rd one so I guess I'm getting better at knowing how to handle them? :shrug:

Totally agree with you about the oxygen mask analogy. And that's part of why I am in consulting today rather than having gone to a nonprofit or something.
The crisis sort of wormed its way in, however, when I realized that I don't really have a plan for how I might keep up my effective altruism at a point where I've hit FIRE, might only be working part time (so earning to give potential would be limited), and don't know how I might apply skills to a more directly impactful role (it seems like you need a PhD for a lot of those).

Again, I'm talking really high-impact here. Even if I were on the board of a soup kitchen or doing pro bono consulting or whatever... part of the schtick of EA is that there is only a handful of really, truly effective charities. Maybe I'm taking this to an extreme (would not be the first time), but it seems like if I were doing charitable work and it were not part of one of those highly effective charities doing data-proven work in the developing world where a dollar goes farther... it seems like it wouldn't really be worth the effort.

BrightFIRE

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2019, 01:44:30 PM »
Maybe I'm taking this to an extreme (would not be the first time), but it seems like if I were doing charitable work and it were not part of one of those highly effective charities doing data-proven work in the developing world where a dollar goes farther... it seems like it wouldn't really be worth the effort.

Note: I think this may come across as harsh, but try to read it in a "tough love" tone.

Wouldn't be worth it to whom? Consider that this overthinking is quite self-indulgent - *you* could be making a difference, but if *you* don't feel that *you* are giving 100%, *you* feel your contribution is worthless. Which, btw, conveniently lets you not do anything at all, while saying you sure wish you could!

This is a perfect example of all or nothing/black & white thinking, aka letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you can't do the best thing ever, then you'll do nothing at all. That... doesn't help anyone.

Either help or don't, but stop wringing your hands over being theoretically "only" 85% effective instead of 87% when you are currently being 0% effective. Get out of your head and do something, anything, even if it isn't perfect. Also consider cognitive behavioral therapy for your b/w thinking and possible perfectionist tendencies.


Malcat

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2019, 02:11:18 PM »
Maybe I'm taking this to an extreme (would not be the first time), but it seems like if I were doing charitable work and it were not part of one of those highly effective charities doing data-proven work in the developing world where a dollar goes farther... it seems like it wouldn't really be worth the effort.

Note: I think this may come across as harsh, but try to read it in a "tough love" tone.

Wouldn't be worth it to whom? Consider that this overthinking is quite self-indulgent - *you* could be making a difference, but if *you* don't feel that *you* are giving 100%, *you* feel your contribution is worthless. Which, btw, conveniently lets you not do anything at all, while saying you sure wish you could!

This is a perfect example of all or nothing/black & white thinking, aka letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you can't do the best thing ever, then you'll do nothing at all. That... doesn't help anyone.

Either help or don't, but stop wringing your hands over being theoretically "only" 85% effective instead of 87% when you are currently being 0% effective. Get out of your head and do something, anything, even if it isn't perfect. Also consider cognitive behavioral therapy for your b/w thinking and possible perfectionist tendencies.

Yeah...I agree. A lot of this over thinking and analysis paralysis is basically just holding you back from doing anything.

Stop trying to solve for "X" and just jump in and do it. You really can't plan your trajectory towards maximal success, you just start working, go with what works, walk away from what doesn't and dedicate yourself to always doing something that matters.

You're not doing any good for anyone by getting all up in your own head about it.

I've never read anything about 80,000 hrs or anything about EA either. In fact, I've never read a single book about how I should live. I just do it, course correct as needed, and roll with the punches.

I like a good plan as much as anyone, but I don't let lack of certainty ever get in the way of action.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2019, 02:14:16 PM by Malkynn »

Sailor Sam

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2019, 06:23:40 PM »
Maybe they're too high, but I'm curious if there are other people with similarly high standards and a lack of desire to work their life through.

Yes, though itís possible you donít agree with my standard. Iíve given away tens of thousands of dollars, certainly greater than $50k, certainly less than $100k, though Iíll get there eventually.

Iíve also chosen a public service professional path that pays me far less than doing the same thing in private industry would pay. I did this because I believe in my organizations motto of: Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty.

That said, when I hit my 20 year cliff vesting of my retirement benefits, Iím fucking gone. Twenty years is enough sacrifice. I donít know how Iíll adjust my donations once retired, but Iíll figure it out.

Again, I'm talking really high-impact here. Even if I were on the board of a soup kitchen or doing pro bono consulting or whatever... part of the schtick of EA is that there is only a handful of really, truly effective charities. Maybe I'm taking this to an extreme (would not be the first time), but it seems like if I were doing charitable work and it were not part of one of those highly effective charities doing data-proven work in the developing world where a dollar goes farther... it seems like it wouldn't really be worth the effort.

I mean this with the upmost of compassion, but what a terrible fucking paradigm to force yourself into. Effectiveness is nothing but metrics, and humans are the flawed meatsacks that doing the choosing. Charity is charity. Full stop. Period. There are certain charitable organizations that can convert donations into a larger amount of stuff - nets, inoculations, units of gonkolators - than the same $10 used to feed the neighbour kid. Deciding that neighbour kid is unworthy of charity, because feeding the little shit dinner is ineffective is a stance that had never sat very well with me. It does not strike me as humility.

Trying to shoehorn a metric of Ďeffectivenessí onto charity, and then use that as the only metric, kid, thatís turtles all the way down. You need to figure out your own morality, and stand by that harder than you stand by anything else in your life. Posting this means youíre thinking, and thatís great, youíre ahead of most fuckers, but right now youíre wholesale adopting someone elseís morality, and thatís why youíre so uncomfortable.


Freedomin5

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #10 on: December 20, 2019, 12:39:31 AM »
Amen @Sailor Sam !

Itís almost like analysis paralysis. Youíre so busy analyzing which charity to ďinvestĒ in that you end up investing in none and doing nothing. Sometimes you just have to Do Something, even if itís not the best or most effective way of going about it. And with charity, sometimes what you do and who you help wonít bear fruit until long after youíre gone. You help not because itís effective; you help because you care about the world and the people in it, and itís the right thing to do.

shelbster

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #11 on: December 20, 2019, 09:30:29 AM »
That said, when I hit my 20 year cliff vesting of my retirement benefits, Iím fucking gone. Twenty years is enough sacrifice. I donít know how Iíll adjust my donations once retired, but Iíll figure it out.

That is interesting to me, and echoes what BECABECA said earlier about there basically being a limit, somewhere, about how much you can actually be expected to give. Good to keep in mind.



For the rest, there are some good points in there. Calling out perfection as the enemy of good is germaine to this discussion. I admitted at the beginning that I was overthinking this. And quarter/mid/whatever stage-life crises are inherently self-centered; they are necessarily about yourself.

That said, I donít think we need to get into patronizing or ad hominem territory. It is not the case that Iím so wrapped up in finding the perfect thing to do that Iím not doing anything. Not that it matters that much, because we are strangers talking on the internet, but I have logged probably hundreds of volunteer hours in my life, participate in a few civic organizations, generally try to help other people, and currently donate a few thousand dollars a year to the most effective charities working on what I believe are the worldís most pressing problems. (Could have donated more, but it would get in the way of my FIRE goals, this bringing us back to the beginning of this thread.)

My question is, ďgiven that I already want to help other people, what is the most effective way I can do that? How can I apply my resources so that they go furthest?Ē Itís going to be a hard sell to convince me that thatís self-centered.
If anything, the more self-centered approach in my view is to say, ďsure, I want to help people, and I have done so. Could I have had more of an impact if I pivoted my approach or adopted a more global mindset? Sure, but my helping people has made me feel good
(The fact of the matter, of course, is that neither of these things need to be self-centered. The thread was about ďam I giving enough?Ē, not ďshould I bother giving at all?Ē. Do not mistake the two.)

I am coming at this from a particular philosophy, as I stated in the beginning. Not everyone has to agree with it ó thatís the beauty of ideas! ó but it is well thought-out and sincerely held (both in general, by its creators, and in this application, by me).

If other Effective Altruists would like to weigh in with their perspective, I would love that. If you donít consider yourself an Effective Altruist, I recommend reading a bit about it before jumping in fully here: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/introduction-to-effective-altruism/ 

Malcat

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2019, 09:43:36 AM »
Dammit, I accidentally deleted my own damn post.

Ugh.

Well, good luck figuring out what you want to do.

shelbster

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #13 on: December 20, 2019, 09:50:38 AM »
Dammit, I accidentally deleted my own damn post.

Ugh.

Well, good luck figuring out what you want to do.

Bummer. I hate that.
And thanks.

You can read the responses in this thread, as this was recently discussed. Overall, I think the consensus is that you can do good while also earning money, and then having a lot of money means that you can do a lot more good in the world (similar to Bill Gates, though probably on a smaller scale).
Btw, DadJokes, I skimmed over this thread this morning and there are lots of good responses there. That thread did a better job getting into the philosophy of charitable giving, FIRE, etc. than this one. Will read over it more in depth later, but I appreciate the link!

BECABECA

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #14 on: December 20, 2019, 10:08:36 AM »
...
I think they key thing here for me is that I was introduced to EA through 80,000 Hours. For me, EA isn't just about how I allocate the resources that I dedicate to helping others; it is also about planning a career around helping others. When I envision my career to be very short (I don't want to quit then never do anything, but I'm definitely towards that end of the spectrum of FIRE folks), that's where I start to wonder if I'm being a little too self-centered. It is a problem of figuring out competing priorities.

It's not like the people I've asked for advice are telling me not to care about others. It's more like their standard is "when I die, will I have done more good in the world than bad?" whereas mine is more like "when I die, will I have done the most good in the world that I could have done given the resources I had?" Obviously, you have to take a wide view of "the most good" (I could work 24/7 doing good, but I'd die quickly and that would not have optimized my resources... but overall, I think my standards are pretty high in terms of what I feel morally obligated to give to the world. Maybe they're too high, but I'm curious if there are other people with similarly high standards and a lack of desire to work their life through.

Okay, I see where youíre having the hang up: youíre on board with EA specifically as it pertains to 80,000 hours. In that case, then yes, if youíve narrowed your view to EA only being achieved through working a high impact career for 40 years (to total 80,000 lifetime hours), then retiring early after only 10 years worked would not be in line with that goal.

I came to embrace EA from the avenue of cash donation to the most effective charities addressing the most impactful causes. I only worked a 15 year career, and most of what I did wasnít particularly important for humanity, in my view. So my strategy for still achieving EA is to donate money every year to the EA charities (in my retirement planning, I included a separate donor advised fund that I have 4% safe withdrawal coming out of every year for that). In FIRE I plan to live comfortably on a 3% withdrawal rate, and my projections have my stash growing 10x by the time I die. With the exception of my house, I plan to leave everything to EA charities, and will inevitably be increasing the annual charity donations in the meantime as I pass certain milestones that mitigate sequence of return risks.

If I had constrained myself to instead achieve my EA through a 40 year high impact career, I would have certainly disappointed myself.

My wife, on the other hand, does not want to retire so early. Her career has been in important research on drinking water recycling, and is at the point where she is steering a research group of her own now. My 15 year low impact career enabled her to focus on getting her PhD without worrying about lucrative career options, enabled her to leave initial jobs that were low impact, and set us up to be able to move to a new location where she could have very high impact.

In terms of EA, I do feel like I can sit on my ass for the rest of my life and as long as I donít increase my personal spend rate and change my estate plan, I will have a much higher impact than I required myself to have.

But I donít just sit on my ass now. I can do things here and there with my time to help out people that could benefit from it. Yes, itís not as productive as going back to work and donating all my salary to an EA charity. But my conscience doesnít require that.

So Iíd recommend either changing your view of EA to shift to the donation route if you want to retire early. Otherwise, if you want to stay with 80,000 hours as your EA route, you need to keep moving jobs until you find something you are absolutely passionate about that you can keep at for decades.

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #15 on: December 20, 2019, 10:39:49 AM »
I've re-read your posts in this thread, and you've actually got two themes.

1. How much am I required to personally sacrifice, in order to maintain morality.  This is the interesting one, and something that overlaps you and I in the Venn diagram of life. Finding my own answer took a full metric fucktonne of soul searching, and thinking, and whining all over my forum journal about my (delicate shudder) feeeeeeelings.

In the end, I'm very happy with my solution. Your posts have made it clear that charity and morality are important to you, for which I applaud you. You've found EA, and that organizing methodology speaks to you, and that's totally cool, my dude. Unfortunately, muckeling onto a philosophy (EA for you, 10% gross for me) won't save you from having to flail around, and discover how you will apply that to your personal life. You still have to find your own application of the theory. It's uncomfortable, but it's worthy. Again, I applaud you.

2. Effective Altruism is the sole, single, and only moral way to give to charity. For everyone. Always.  I don't agree, but eh. This guy, @arebelspy, does agree with you.

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #16 on: December 20, 2019, 11:28:53 AM »
Effective Altruism is the sole, single, and only moral way to give to charity. For everyone. Always.  I don't agree, but eh. This guy, @arebelspy, does agree with you.

(Emphasis original.)

Well that certainly isn't true, and it didn't feel great reading this, having words put in my mouth. =/

Regarding my actions, I do tend to support a fair amount of Effective Altruism charities (particularly Against Malaria, GiveDirectly, and EvidenceAction), but I also donated to a number of organizations this year that isn't necessarily the "highest and best" use of my dollars, but I wanted to support (various friends' fundraisers via marathons or whatnot for charities, Planned Parenthood, ACLU, EFF, NAACP, Wikimedia, Internet Archive, etc. etc. -- all of whom I don't think needs my money as much as some other places, but I support their mission).

I do think Effective Altruism is a fantastic movement that has made charities and donations in general a whole lot better and more effective over the last decade+, and am happy to donate to and support their many causes. But the very extreme, almost hyperbolic statement in italics? I don't subscribe to, and don't know why it specifically called me out by name.


EDIT: Tried to search my posts for where I commented on Effective Altruism, and found these:
https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/off-topic/does-charity-cause-more-harm-than-good/msg911149/#msg911149
https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/off-topic/'charity-starts-at-home'-vs-givewell-philosophy/msg1727351/#msg1727351

I just don't see them saying/implying anything close to what you've stated, and sometimes imply the opposite (e.g. mentioning me donating to the EFF). I'm not sure where you got that opinion to ascribe to me; maybe I said something in the past that implied something, but  but hopefully this post cleared it up? Feel free to PM me or post more, I'm happy to discuss my views on charity, if you were actually curious. :)
« Last Edit: December 20, 2019, 11:46:00 AM by arebelspy »
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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #17 on: December 20, 2019, 11:58:01 AM »
@arebelspy I think the intention of calling you over to this thread was so you could give the OP some advice from the starting perspective of also considering oneself an Effective Altruist. So far, Iíve been the only commenter on this thread that meets that criterion. The other posters have bristled at the OPís passion for EA and youíre sensing some of that (as a bit just got directed at you).
« Last Edit: December 20, 2019, 12:06:32 PM by BECABECA »

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #18 on: December 20, 2019, 03:52:25 PM »
I lean toward EA, although like ars I also donate to less "efficient" causes, both with money and time. I've had the same struggle between FIRE and EA, because I could donate a LOT of money if I kept working FT for the next 30 years. For now I'm FIRE'd and donating a portion of my investment growth. I went to work for a cause last year, and it's not sustainable long-term. It wasn't one of those efficient charities either. My interests and resume don't fit with groups like AMF.

I'm still vacillating between going back to a regular job and donating money, going back to work for a cause and donating (probably less) money, and staying FIRE'd. No real advice for you, though.

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #19 on: December 21, 2019, 08:40:58 AM »
I don't think FIRE and EA are compatible. That's why I no longer consider myself and EA. You can do bothóbut you can't do both at the same time in life. Personally, I enjoy working, so once I am FI (~1m), I plan to continue working to give. If you are the sort of person who hates conventional work, you could consider going into less conventional work after FI and giving the income from that (like MMM).

IMO, giving to charities that are not effective isn't really giving. Sure, donate to the food drive or your college or the art museum or Planned Parenthood, but that should be categorized as discretionary spending more than true charity.

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #20 on: December 21, 2019, 12:45:49 PM »
I don't think FIRE and EA are compatible.

You could think of it as putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others.  Secure your retirement, then give.

IMO, giving to charities that are not effective isn't really giving. Sure, donate to the food drive or your college or the art museum or Planned Parenthood, but that should be categorized as discretionary spending more than true charity.

I think this is the type of statement that turns people off from the effective altruism movement.

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #21 on: December 21, 2019, 01:39:10 PM »
I don't think FIRE and EA are compatible.

You could think of it as putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others.  Secure your retirement, then give.

Putting on a financial oxygen mask would be equivalent to getting out of debt and building an emergency fund. You can then handle issues that crop up and are in a much better place than most people. Waiting until you have saved enough to never work another day in your life is like putting on your oxygen mask, surviving the crash, living your life for decades, and then donating some oxygen masks in your will.

For people who want to save as much as possible for FIRE, then *stop working*, where is the money for charitable giving coming from? Investment gains can provide some, but if you've left a high-paying job, that's a ton of money being left on the table.

(I understand the people who donate oxygen masks in their wills. I am one! Thus my waffling on whether and how to go back to work.)

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #22 on: December 21, 2019, 04:10:58 PM »
IMO, giving to charities that are not effective isn't really giving. Sure, donate to the food drive or your college or the art museum or Planned Parenthood, but that should be categorized as discretionary spending more than true charity.

I think this is the type of statement that turns people off from the effective altruism movement.
[/quote]

People who are "turned off" by accurate assessments of costs and benefits probably aren't hard-headed enough to be EA no matter how tactful the presentation is.

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #23 on: December 21, 2019, 04:52:26 PM »
I don't think FIRE and EA are compatible. That's why I no longer consider myself and EA. You can do bothóbut you can't do both at the same time in life. Personally, I enjoy working, so once I am FI (~1m), I plan to continue working to give. If you are the sort of person who hates conventional work, you could consider going into less conventional work after FI and giving the income from that (like MMM).

An extreme end of EA, no. But neither is ever buying any luxuries. Or doing anything but living at poverty level and donating as much as fully possible. It's a spectrum. I'd say someone can ER, and still donate loads of money, time, and energy to their charities. Those charities might or might not be efficient.

I don't see a need to draw a particular line on what makes someone an effective altrusit. If they consider themselves one, and strive to help others, cool.

Quote
IMO, giving to charities that are not effective isn't really giving. Sure, donate to the food drive or your college or the art museum or Planned Parenthood, but that should be categorized as discretionary spending more than true charity.

As with the above, I'm okay with everyone deciding what of their giving or volunteering counts as "charity" for them, or not.

Certainly when I look at my own charity, some of them was very effective in terms of quality life-hours per dollar that it may have given some people, and other dollars may have only helped some in some small way. I'm okay with that. I'll try to maximize my dollars where I can, and be okay with when I'm not, because of choosing not to for a particular reason.

The Life You Can Save did have a big impact on me, and I do make sure to donate the majority of my dollars internationally, but for me, it isn't the be-all, end-all. If it is for you, or someone else, cool. More power to you.

Ditto my time. It might be a lot more helpful or effective for me to do certain things with my time, but I donated 320+ hours this year to my local Habitat for Humanity, and I was a big help to them, sometimes doing manual labor (on the donations truck), other times doing unique web or back end office work that others couldn't do (or being able to automate something or do it in 15 minutes what would have taken them 80+ man hours). I feel happy about my contributions there. If you tell me I could have been much more effective going to work for those hours, getting paid, and donating the money, I'd agree with you.

If that makes me unethical in your mind (I'll note here I mean the Royal You, anyone reading this, not necessarily the person I quoted here), okay. I'm okay with that, too. I'd even praise those standards, and hope that you hold yourself to them.

I hope everyone pushes themselves to do just a little bit more than might be easy, or comfortable.

Happy holidays, all!
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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #24 on: December 21, 2019, 06:10:59 PM »
IMO, giving to charities that are not effective isn't really giving. Sure, donate to the food drive or your college or the art museum or Planned Parenthood, but that should be categorized as discretionary spending more than true charity.

I agree with the first part. If your gift has no effect on the world, why bother? But just because a charity isn't on the EA movement's list of top ten most effective charities doesn't mean the charity is "not effective." It's just perhaps a little bit less effective (at least according to the EA movement's criteria, which may or may not line up with your own).

I try to imagine what would happen if everyone put 100% of their charitable efforts toward the "most effective" causes. Everyone who needed a malaria net would have one inside of a year, and then we'd solve the next problem down the list and then the next. That would be great! But in the meantime, there would be a lot of food pantries with empty shelves, Habitat homes not getting built, kids in my city not getting scholarships they need for college, etc. From a certain philosophical perspective this is the right tradeoff to make. If you can save a few dozen lives in Africa at the expense of letting a few Americans struggle with hunger or homelessness, the numbers don't lie. At the same time, if there are people in my community that need help, their problems seem more immediate and visible than the struggles of people I'll never meet in a country I'll never visit. So I try to find a balance. I do donate for malaria nets, but I also donate to the food bank a few blocks away. Just because that food bank isn't the most effective charity in the world doesn't mean I'm wasting my money by giving to them, or that my donation isn't "true charity."

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #25 on: December 22, 2019, 12:31:55 PM »
IMO, giving to charities that are not effective isn't really giving. Sure, donate to the food drive or your college or the art museum or Planned Parenthood, but that should be categorized as discretionary spending more than true charity.

I think this is the type of statement that turns people off from the effective altruism movement.

People who are "turned off" by accurate assessments of costs and benefits probably aren't hard-headed enough to be EA no matter how tactful the presentation is.
[/quote]

I fully understand maximizing your impact, but sometimes, saying "I got a lot from X and hope other people do as well" and supporting your own community (which is rarely the highest impact out there, unless you happen to live in the most underdeveloped country out there) feels good and does have an impact.

Just because the homeless guy in New York isn't at the absolute bottom of poverty worlwide doesn't mean it's not effective to help him out.

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #26 on: December 22, 2019, 05:50:51 PM »
Just because the homeless guy in New York isn't at the absolute bottom of poverty worlwide doesn't mean it's not effective to help him out.

Depending on your definition of effective.

I can absolutely see someone saying it's an inefficient use of charitable funds. That doesn't necessarily make it wrong.

As others have pointed out, efficiency may not be your number one metric.

For an effective altruist, it often is though (but perhaps not always).
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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #27 on: December 22, 2019, 07:36:04 PM »
There's a word, so far missing from this discussion that I think is at the heart of the OP's question and that word is "balance".  The post asks if FIRE and EA are at odds.  The answer seems to be both yes and no. 

If you are pursuing extreme FIRE, basically a few years of extreme labor at maximum sacrifice, in exchange for a long life of "ease", then yes, FIRE is in direct conflict with EA.  Similarly, if you are pursuing extreme EA, where you must find the one and only financially optimal profession and then dedicate a long career to that profession, while donating all of your excess earnings to "effective" charities, then yes EA is in direct conflict with FIRE.  But, neither of these options represent a balance and as a result both paths will likely lead to a short and unhappy life, failing to meet any of your true objectives.  For most people, both of these paths are more fantasy than reality.

On the other hand, can FIRE principles of saving, sacrificing, and working toward a long-term goal enhance EA?  Absolutely.  The freedom of FI might even allow you to take risks in the name of EA that would benefit the world far in excess of what might be found along a traditional path.  Similarly, planning for and even budgeting for Altruistic causes during the early years of FIRE can make you better at scrimping and saving.  Giving you a purpose that helps you stretch beyond what otherwise might be possible.  Striking the right balance is the key and only you can determine precisely where that balance might lie.

Finally, as has been touched upon, there are a few problems with EA.  First, how do you define maximum good?  If it's only about saving the most lives, what about the quality of those lives?  Is there no room for music, the arts, beauty, education?  Those are noble causes that may provide more good to humanity than we can imagine.  Second, EA seems to be a good way to justify pursuit of a profitable career that you love, but it seems a harsh task master if it's forcing you into a career you hate.  I would not recommend becoming a slave to EA.  Rather, find the right balance to use those principles that multiply your effectiveness, while ignoring those that would lead you to a life of unhappiness, since the consequences of that unhappiness may be far worse than  you imagine.

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #28 on: December 22, 2019, 11:10:01 PM »
Really well said, SCE!
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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #29 on: December 23, 2019, 05:49:32 PM »
My goal is to give away $1M in my lifetime.

I suspect as my career/life progresses and we are more financially stable, that the percentage of what we give away will go up.

We got a thank you this year from one of the families we gave a gift to earlier (we donated ~4k or so which went to all the families at our church who are adoptive parents - many/most who adopted orphans from various war-torn countries). We did this anonymously but someone gave our contact a thank you card, who then gave it to us.

Would that $4k have been "better" in VTSAX? Certainly more "optimal." But... I like to think that it means a lot more to me, my family, and the families who quite honestly are doing a helluva lot more to make the world a better place with their lives than we are to "spend" that $4k on something like that.


However, the problem in what you are thinking and reason I post this anecdote is that we still live more kingly than most of the world, even if we were to spend "only" FIRE level numbers as a family.  There will always be a better way to give or donate your time, money, talents, and resources. We could have afforded to give $8k instead of $4k. Or $15k. There's always an opportunity.

My wife and I have recently started to adopt a perspective of "if we see a cause we can give to, give money to it." Within reason, we want to make it a habit and discipline to give away money to those who are overwhelmingly less fortunate.

@shelbster my advice would be to think about it differently. Become a generous person. Life won't be binary where you either are super EA or entirely selfish. In fact, EA can straight up be selfish and so if your goal is actual altruism, you're going to struggle thinking about that too.

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #30 on: April 24, 2020, 04:54:48 PM »
Hi all,

I let this thread go dormant because it was intense and I needed to take a step back and get my own thoughts (and "my (delicate shudder) feeeeeeelings", as @Sailor Sam put it :D) in order. December was a weird time for me -- actually an even weirder time, in my own life, than the current coronavirus lockdown time, if that puts that into perspective.

That said, I wanted to follow up on a couple of things, for myself and for posterity. Maybe some other confused EA/FIRE person will stumble upon this later and find it helpful.

Tl;dr: EA and FIRE are only as much at odds as you make them, and you get to find your own peace re:how much to give is the right amount to give and which ways are the right ways, even following EA principles.

OK, onto the meat of it. 

First, there was some good stuff on this thread. Thank you!
(Side note: There was also some kind of snarky stuff. Extra compassion for people trying to get through something is a good thing -- especially on the internet, especially when the thing that somebody's trying to work through is about feelings of guilt and inadequacy regarding how to contribute to the world. I took a few of the early comments as calling me out for... not being altruistic enough or something, when I was explicitly trying to be more altruistic? I appreciate the time people put in to give responses, but less snark would have been nice. End of side note and mini-rant.)

Overall, the comments since my last post were really helpful. Without getting into the debate about the definition or relative merits of Effective Altruism, I particularly appreciated the comments about actually coming at this from the perspective of an EA and about balance between things (that's always big for me), and the ones that broke down what I was trying to say into their component parts. Thanks for the input, all. :)

Second, if anybody would like to know, here's what actually has happened with me since December.
Mostly, I got past my little psycho-emotional breakdown. A little time helped. Also, work got better and I felt better about my long-term prospects of pursuing a career that allows me to earn to give, even if that is at part time post-FIRE.

The silly thing is that the moment that I started to feel better about these thoughts is that I realized that one option is that I could simply achieve financial independence then donate my time to the Effective Altruism movement itself. It's funny how much clarity you tend to get about things when you realize you were looking at something as a binary (either early retirement or a career that maximizes EA, whether that be via direct impact or donations) rather than being intellectually creative and seeing different paths to things.

Specifically, while lots of more direct-impact jobs require advanced degrees, there's plenty of work that needs to be done for the EA movement at large, which is high-impact and doesn't necessarily require full-time work. Like, the whole movement basically needs some marketing. Get the message to more people and make sure it comes off well. And while we're at it, somebody needs to put together a list of high-impact volunteer opportunities so people who really want to give their time can do that effectively, too. Maybe when I hit FIRE and have more free time, I'll do that.

Or maybe I'll end up with an advanced degree and work a long time and love my job. Who knows? But I'm feeling much more level-headed about figuring that out as I go, which is a good thing for me.

Third, if anybody reads this and is struggling with the same questions, here's what I recommend:
  • Read The Life You Can Save. Seriously. Here's the link a free e-version of it: https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/the-book/. It's a short and easy read. Go do it.
    Somebody earlier on this thread mentioned a comment about how even Peter Singer says you can only really be expected to donate so much, and that was a helpful comment that eventually led to me looking up his work. I finally got around to it in January, and it was just such a good look at the reasoning behind EA. Doing Good Better was also great, but it's more tactical and gets into the philosphy/reasoning behind EA less. Also, the bit at the end where he actually talks about how much money, in concrete terms, you should ultimately think about donating was great for somebody like me (and presumably my theoretical reader struggling with the same questions) who looks for balance in things but tends to overanalyze and over-theorize her way to anxiety.
     
  • Don't let people talk you out of being an EA.
    One frustrating thing I've noticed about talking about EA is that there's a pretty big divide between people who already subscribe to the philosophy and people who don't. We just tend not to talk about things the same way and, at least in my own conversations, there's pretty high potential for non-EAs to get their tail over the fence because I basically end up telling them their approach to charity is wrong. (In part, that's my approach that I've been working on; in part, see my earlier comment about how the whole movement needs some marketing help.)

    The thing is that different perspectives can be valuable (especially when you're looking for balance!). But if the advice you're getting is to ignore the EA principles that has led you to this question anyway (like some of the earlier comments on this thread that were well-meaning but not actually from an EA perspective and suggested that I volunteer my time doing things that are... well, not really effective), then consider what you can get out of that advice when you work it into your own worldview, but don't feel like you need to follow it to the letter. Take what you need and leave the rest.

  • Don't pigeonhole yourself and try not to see things in extremes.
    As I alluded to earlier, one of the things that really caused me some anguish while I was struggling with these thoughts in December was the implicit understanding that my life could basically EITHER take the path of a highly optimal EA OR the path of a FIRE-ee and that if I wasn't doing THE MOST I COULD POSSIBLY DO then my life will basically have been an amoral waste.
    Oviously, I knew then that that couldn't be true, but the thing that got me out of that bad mental place was a little bit of creativity in terms of what I could contribute -- thinking about ways that I could contribute to effective work (again, not my local food bank) in a more accessible way than the sorts of jobs that tend to be advertised in the 80,000 Hours newsletter with high barriers to entry (e.g. PhDs).

    And with regards to seeing things in extremes... sometimes, you need your ass kicked. Sometimes you really need to read about the abject suffering that exists in the world and stop thinking that what you really need is a new gadget to waste time on because you don't have enough gadgets already. But at the point where you already are aware of some of the abject suffering in the world and you already are looking for ways that you, personally, can help, and you are already on board with EA... give yourself a little credit. Some people experience abject suffering and that's really bad. But not everybody is a saint, and not everybody is going to give from their bounty up to the point that they're one simple step above abject misery as well. And if you're in that larger group, it's OK to cut yourself a little slack. We can have some balance here. (Which brings me back to my first point: go read The Life You Can Save!)

OK, that's what I've got. Thanks for reading through -- I hope that's helpful for somebody some day.

In the meantime, y'all stay safe out there!

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Re: FIRE & Effective Altruism
« Reply #31 on: April 25, 2020, 08:01:25 AM »
Thanks for the update, shelbster, and thanks to all the posters for their thoughtful comments. These are questions many of us struggle with, and all the perspectives are thought-provoking.

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