I do not feel well at all.
I first encountered effective altruism in 2011. Since then, I've personally given nearly $100k (in both direct and in-kind donations) to what I've considered effective causes, and I've raised tens of millions of dollars via the orgs I've worked with. I did all of this because I strongly believe it to be the right thing to do. I've dedicated an entire decade of my life to EA organizations. I moderate the r/effectivealtruism subreddit; I organize the EA wikiproject on Wikipedia; I've served on two boards of EA orgs; I've worked at several EA orgs and volunteered at several more. Quite frankly, the field of Effective Altruism has been my life for as long as I've taken charity seriously. It is perhaps what has defined me the most for a very long time.
But the betrayal of SBF makes me feel sick to my stomach. The mere possibility that there may have been some in the movement who knew SBF was crossing a line haunts me. Before, I suppose I had an unreasonable blind trust that others in EA would cooperate in the prisoner's dilemma, that superrationality would hold sway, that I could trust my fellow EAs to be honest. And maybe I still can trust these things. As far as I know, the fraud stops at SBF and those running FTX. But even if I'm 95% sure of this, the 5% chance that others are like him makes me feel ill.
I wasn't friends with him. We merely served on the same board of directors. Maybe it is unreasonable to think this, but I cannot help but to feel like I should have known. With knowledge of how things eventually ended up, maybe the things I experienced should have clued me in, but they seemed reasonable at the time.
But today I caught myself practicing motivated reasoning. A person I think highly of mentioned that purchasing Wytham Abbey is not consistent with doing effective altruism. Usually I just ignore these comments and move on, but for some reason I decided to try to explain why it might have been thought to have positive expected value. Keep in mind that I do not even know for sure that it is _true_ that CEA bought the place. I just started generating possible reasons unnecessarily. It was only a few minutes later that I realized that this is motivated reasoning. Even if my arguments were true, I had not thought of them at all until this situation had come up, and I gave them as responses to defend something when I don't even know if it is a good thing or not. What am I even doing by tweeting in this way?
There is a difference between being clever and being wise. Maybe it is clever to be able to come up with reasons for things. But it is not wise, for if you can equally come up with reasons for two sides of a dilemma then you do not have reason to choose either side. If you can just explain things, regardless of how things end up, then you don't have true understanding. Instead, you must be able to register your own confusion in order to tell the difference between fiction and reality.
What should have happened today is that I should have registered confusion. I should not have rushed to come up with explanations for things that I do not even know. I should have been modest. I should have not have commented.
It's true that I am clever. But I am so very far away from being wise. I feel sick by what has happened; I feel hurt and deceived and taken advantage of. The org I founded has experienced a huge loss from this entire FTX debacle and I am seriously wondering how I can in good faith continue forward with raising money for causes where I am no longer quite as confident in all of the people running them.
I still believe in the arguments underlying EA. I have for years, and they still ring true. But I am much less confident that my fellow EAs would cooperate in the prisoner's dilemma. I find myself looking with just a smidge more suspicion that the posts written on the EA Forum may not be completely honest. Really, the truth is that each time I look at EA content on Twitter or anywhere else these days, I find myself feeling not entirely well.
Perhaps I just need to step back for a bit. (But how can I even do that when I need to continue raising money with the org I run?)
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