Taking time for thought

Young Thoughts

Ideas are precursors to action.

Many of the ideas we share are not immediately actionable. This is in part due to the nature of ideas, which are precursors to action. It's also intentional. We acknowledge this is frustrating, especially for people trying to build a better world, the kind of mission that necessitates action.

Faced with an uncertain future, there is a sense of peace and control that comes with reading a list of things you can do right now. Compost, switch jobs, donate, and so on.

The irony of our desire to act to reduce uncertainty is that there's uncertainty around what actions are actually helpful. Complex systems have complex effects. There are a thousand ways well intentioned actions could go wrong, and it's hard to foresee them. Alas, we have another great modern struggle: the desire to achieve certainty in complexity.

Of course, embrace whatever small wins you can. But we believe it's more helpful in the long run to learn to sit with the discomfort of not knowing exactly what to do. Most important experiences in life are filled with uncertainty: love, joy, trust, friendship, creativity. Building a better world is worthy of being included in that list.

Holden Karnofsky, the co-CEO of Open Philanthropy, summarises this idea well in his Cold Takes article, Call to Vigilance:

"Don't rush to "do something" and then move on. Instead, take whatever robustly good actions you can today, and otherwise put yourself in a better position to take important actions when the time comes."

Though written in the context of AI, we believe Karnofsky's Call to Vigilance broadly applies to all people seeking to do more good.

Understanding the ideas underpinning the world is a good way to put yourself in that better position - and that's why we focus on spreading ideas.

In time, we believe this mindset is freeing, as it removes the guilt that comes from feeling like you're not doing enough.