- A token effort is defined as an effort which has social signaling benefits (you can show people the token), is easy to execute and has little effect on the world.
- Often token efforts are ineffective and done mostly for the satisfaction and social approval. (this is standard EA doctrine)
- If you plan to pursue an altruistic career, investing in your education may be higher impact then donating directly (at the very least, don't feel bad about it)
- Actions like being vegetarian remind you that you are the kind of person who cares. Which has high, but hard to quantify value.
Suppose you care about climate change, A token effort you might take is to sign up for carbon offset credits, rather than spent money in the highest expectancy way (including ways that aren't directly altruistic) It's easy to take token efforts, in fact it is the default given how much better they make you feel compared to actual efforts.
What about ways that aren't actively altruistic? This might be controversial, but given that I want to pursue an altruistic carrier, spending money on my education in order to accelerate and amplify my later impact is probably higher leverage then donating to charities now.
Throwing out some numbers, If I make $100k/year1 in impact as an adult, accelerating reaching that point by a year has a value of $100k. If my impact compounds (from accumulation of financial capital, career capital, networking, etc.) you get even higher numbers here.
When I realized my mistake with carbon capture I cancelled my subscription and installed a mental heuristic to avoid token efforts. This heuristic made me stop being vegetarian, which is what I'm going to talk about next.
Vegetarianism seems at first brush seems like a token effort, it checks the social and visibility boxes (hence activating my heuristic) but effectiveness I did not consciously think about until recently.2
The cost to eating less meat is low relative to the effect on factory farming. However, without going into a deep analysthere is something else I failed to consider: Being vegetarian reminds you that you're the kind of person who cares about animal suffering. While hard to estimate an impact value of seeing yourself as someone who cares, I expect it to be high.