Saturday, October 07, 2023

People Like Us

It kind of enraged me, but Dylan did us a favor by being dumb enough to write it up so clearly.
But for me, the most disturbing aspect of the Bankman-Fried saga, the one that kept me up at night, is how much of myself I see in him.

Like me, Bankman-Fried (“SBF” to aficionados) grew up in a college town surrounded by left-leaning intellectuals, including both of his parents. So did his business partner and Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison, the child of MIT professors. Like me, they were both drawn to utilitarian philosophy at a young age. Like me, they seemed fascinated by what their privileged position on this planet would enable them to do to help others, and embraced the effective altruism movement as a result. And the choices they made because of this latter deliberation would prove disastrous.

Something went badly wrong here, and my fellow journalists in the take mines have been producing a small library of theories of why. Maybe it was SBF and Ellison’s choice to earn to give, to try to make as much money as possible so they could give it away. Maybe the problem was that they averted their gaze from global poverty to more “longtermist” causes. Maybe the issue is that they were not giving away their money sufficiently democratically. Maybe the problem was a theory of change that involved billionaires at all.

It took me a while to think through what happened. I thought Bankman-Fried was going to commit billions toward tremendously beneficial causes, a development I chronicled in a long piece earlier this year on how EA was coping with its sudden influx of billions. The revelation that his empire was a house of cards was shattering, and for weeks I was too angry, bitter, and deeply depressed to say much of anything about it (much to the impatience of my editor).
People like us can't be bad!

Think about the premise of "earn to give." It isn't simply that if you're a rich guy you can do good by donating to worthy causes. That's the "give" part. It's that you, a very special person, can EARN and EARNING is good because you can (maybe, haha, sure, suckers) maybe GIVE.

More than that, these stunted freaks imagine that they are UNIQUELY talented in the expertise of giving.

This became especially hilarious as Effective Altruism morphed into Longtermism which is, basically, fuck the problems of today we have to worry about the Robot Apocalyse of 4088!

Great men (like us) can solve the world's problems (defined by us) and this is best achieved if we're all fucking rich!

Amazing stuff. Prosperity Gospel for atheists and Vox journalists.