Derek Thompson’s short, pensive essay on his own entanglement with effective altruism (EA) and Sam Bankman-Fried leaves off before getting to a problem that enabled both, a problem with the Internet in general: we humans just seem to be at our best when operating locally, in-person.
Just as crypto’s promise of “trust in a trustless world” struck many as ridiculous, so too EA has been ridiculed for its impersonal approach to altruism. George Eliot in Middlemarch; Dickens in Bleak House; Trollope in The Way We Live Now: each of these novelists understood & satirized the ways in which, aided by finance, we are always tempted to abstract ourselves away from our local communities and traditions.
Heeding their warning may make our altruism less “efficient,” but perhaps that’s ok—perhaps less altruism is required when our communities are healthy, robust, and based on trust, rather than writing it off as an impossibility in a “global age”?
In other words, perhaps the problem isn’t that Thompson was taken in by two major Internet-based movements that both just happened to be off in ways that permitted someone like SBF to trick his way through. Perhaps it’s simply that the SBFs in our society who are most perfectly situated to exploiting the “trustless” (impersonal, inscrutable) frameworks we inhabit. After all, SBF seems not to have flourished in the more traditional institutions he inhabited.