"Good enough" is the enemy of "At all"!
This is an important truth which bears repetition, and to which I shall return.
"Rationalists should win"
Now, I have a couple of issues with the question being framed in such a way.
- Benefits of rationality are often negative benefits - in the sense that they will involve not being stupid as opposed to being especially smart. But "Why I didn't take on that crippling mortgage" doesn't make a very good post.
- Weapons-grade rationality à la LessWrong is a refinement to the reactor-grade rationality practiced by self-described skeptics - for most cases, it is not a quantum leap forward. The general skeptic community is already winning in certain senses (e.g., a non-religious outlook correlates strongly with income and level of education), although causal direction is hard to determine.
- Truth-seeking is ethical for its own sake.
- I, for one, am having a hell of a good time! I count that as a win.
Nonrandom acts of rationality
The LessWrong community finds itself in the fairly privileged position of being (1) mostly financially well-off; (2) well-educated and articulate; (3) connected; (4) of non-trivial size. Therefore, I would like to suggest a project for any & all users who might be interested.
Let us become a solution in search of problems.
Perform one or more manageable & modest rationally & ethically motivated actions between now and July 31, 2010 (indicate intent to participate, and brainstorm, below). These actions must have a reasonable chance of being an unequivocal net positive for the shared values of this community. Finally, post what you have done to this thread's comments, in as much detail as possible.
- Write a letter on behalf of Amnesty International in support of their anti-torture campaigns.
- Make an appointment to give blood.
- Contact and harangue one of your elected representatives. For example, I may write to my Minister of Health about the excellent harm-reduction work being done in Vancouver by Insite, a safe-injection site for IV drug users whose efficacy in decreasing public drug use and successfully referring patients to detox has been confirmed in published articles in the Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine. (Insite is controversial, with people like the previous minister opposing it for purely ideological reasons. Politics is the people-killer.)
- Donate a one-time amount somewhere around 10% of your weekly disposable income to a reputable charity - I may go with Spread the Net - or to an organization promoting our values in your own area (e.g., the NCSE, or indeed the SIAI).
- Give your Air Miles to the Amanda Knox Defense Fund.
What about LessWrong acting as a group?
I would love to see a group-level action on our part occur; however, after some time spent brainstorming, I haven't hit upon any really salient ones that are not amenable to individual action. Perhaps a concerted letter-writing campaign? I suspect that is a weak idea, and that there are much better ones out there. Who's up for world-optimization?
These actions are mostly sub-optimal, consequentially speaking. The SIAI/[insert favourite cause here] is a better idea for a donation, since it promises to solve all the above problems in one go. These are just band-aids.