I'm asking about how to efficiently signal actual pacifism.



Donation tradeoffs in conscientious objection

by [anonymous] 3 min read27th Dec 201252 comments


Suppose that you believe larger scale wars than current US military campaigns are looming in the next decade or two (this may be highly improbable, but let's condition on it for the moment). If you thought further that a military draft or other forms of conscription might be used, and you wanted to avoid military service if that situation arose, what steps should you take now to give yourself a high likelihood of being declared a conscientious objector?

I don't have numbers to back any of this up, but I am in the process of compiling them. My general thought is to break down the problem like so: Pr(serious injury or death | conscription) * Pr(conscription | my conscientious objector behavior & geopolitical conditions ripe for war) * Pr(geopolitical conditions ripe for war), assuming some conscientious objector behavior (or mixture distribution over several behaviors).

If I feel that Pr(serious injury or death | conscription) and Pr(geopolitical conditions ripe for war) are sufficiently high, then I might be motivated to pay some costs in order to drive Pr(conscription | my conscientious objector behavior) very low.

There's a funny bit in the American version of the show The Office where the manager, Michael, is concerned about his large credit card debt. The accountant, Oscar, mentions that declaring bankruptcy is an option, and so Michael walks out into the main office area and yells, "I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY!"

In a similar vein, I don't think that draft boards will accept the "excuse" that a given person has "merely" frequently expressed pacifist views. So if someone wants to robustly signal that she or he is a conscientious objector, what to do? In my ~30 minutes of searching, I've found a few organizations that, on first glance, look worthy of further investigation and perhaps regular donations.

Here are the few I've focused on most:

Center on Conscience and War

Coffee Strong

War-Resister's International


The problems I'm thinking about along these lines include:

  1. Whether or not the donation cost is worth it. There's no Giving What We Can type measure for this as far as I can tell, and even though I know from family experience that veteran mental illness can be very bad, I'm not convinced that donations to the above organizations provide a lot of QALY bang for the buck.
  2. Another component of bang for the buck is how much the donation will credibly signal that I actually am a serious conscientious objector. If I donate and then a draft board chooses to ignore it, it would be totally wasted. But if I think that 'going to war' is highly correlated with very significant negative outcomes, then just as with cryonics, I might feel that such costs are worth it even for a small probability of avoiding a combat environment.
  3. Even assuming that I resolve 1 & 2, there's the problem of trading off these donations with other donations that I make. In a self-interest line of thinking, I might forego my current donations to places like SIAI or Against Malaria because, good as those are, they may not offer the same shorter term benefits to me as purchasing a conscientious objector signal.


I'm curious if others have thought about this. Good literature references are welcome. My plan is to compile statistics that let me make reasonable estimates of the different conditional probabilities.



Several people seem very concerned with the signal faker aspect of this question. I don't understand the preoccupation with this and feel tired of trying to justify the question to people who only care about the signal faker aspect. So I'll just add this copy of one of my comments from below. Hopefully this gives some additional perspective, though I don't expect it to change anyone's mind. I still stand by the post as-is: it's asking about a conditional question based on sincere belief. Even if the answer would be of interest to fakers too, that alone doesn't make that explanation more likely and even if that explanation was more likely it doesn't make the question unworthy of thoughtful answers.

Here's the promised comment:

... my question is conditional. Assume that you already sincerely believe in conscientious objection, in the sense of personal ideology such that you could describe it to a draft board. Now that we're conditioning on that, and we assume already that your primary goal is to avoid causing harm or death... then further ask what behaviors might be best to generate the kinds of signals that will work to convince a draft board. Merely having actual pacifist beliefs is not enough. Someone could have those beliefs but then do actions that poorly communicate them to a draft board. Someone else could have those beliefs and do behaviors that more successfully communicate them to draft boards. And to whatever extent there are behaviors outside of the scope of just giving an account of one's ideology I am asking to analyze the effectiveness.

I really think my question is pretty simple. Assume your goal is genuine pacifism but that you're worried this won't convince a draft board. What should you do? Is donation a good idea? Yes, these could be questions a faker would ask. So what? They could also be questions a sincere person would ask, and I don't see any reason for all the downvoting or questions about signal faking. Why not just do the thought experiment where you assume that you are first a sincere conscientious objector and second a person concerned about draft board odds?

Stated another way:

1) Avoiding combat where I cause harm or death is the first priority, so if I have to go to jail or shoot myself in the foot to avoid it, so be it and if it comes to that, it's what I'll do. This is priority number one.

2) I can do things to improve my odds of never needing to face the situation described in (1) and to the extent that the behaviors are expedient (in a cost-benefit tradeoff sense) to do in my life, I'd like to do them now to help improve odds of (1)-avoidance later. Note that this in no way conflicts with being a genuine pacifist. It's just common sense. Yes, I'll avoid combat in costly ways if I have to. But I'd also be stupid to not even explore less costly ways to invest in combat-avoidance that could be better for me.

3) To the extent that (2) is true, I'd like to examine certain options, like donating to charities that assist with legal issues in conscientious objection, or which extend mental illness help to affected veterans, for their efficacy. There is still a cost to these things and given my conscientious objection preferences, I ought to weigh that cost.