What Does Make a Difference? It’s Really Simple

This is re­ally sim­ple:
Sup­pose you want to check if some ac­tion of yours makes a differ­ence.
How to do it?
The wrong thing to do:
Think of the con­se­quences of your ac­tion and eval­u­ate them to see if they fit your pur­poses. If they do, go on and do it.

The rea­son for this be­ing wrong: If some­one else does some­thing with the same con­se­quences, and if your do­ing or not your ac­tion makes no differ­ence to the fact that THAT per­son will do it, then you are not nec­es­sary for those con­se­quences, they would hap­pen any­way.
This is also true if some­thing, not a per­son, would do an ac­tion with the same con­se­quences.

The right thing to do: Con­sider what would hap­pen if you DIDN’T do your ac­tion. Sub­tract that from what would hap­pen if you DID do your ac­tion.
This is the differ­ence it would make if you did it.

There is a rea­son it is called a ‘differ­ence’, it is the differ­ence be­tween you do­ing it and you not do­ing it.

Ex­am­ple: Sup­pose you think you will make a differ­ence by care­fully con­sid­er­ing your vote, and vot­ing.

Wrong: Well, I’m par­tially causally re­spon­si­ble for the elec­tion of X so my ac­tion would make a differ­ence.

Right: If I do vote or if I don’t vote, the same can­di­dates will be elected. There­fore my vote makes no differ­ence.
(In more than 16000 elec­tions in the USA it was NEVER the case that one vote would have made a differ­ence)

The AWFUL ar­gu­ment peo­ple usu­ally say: But what if ev­ery­one did it?

The rea­son it does not work: Every­one will NOT do it. Yes. That sim­ple.

The rea­son it is awful: Com­pare “I don’t think I should go to the movies to­day, what if ev­e­ri­one did it?”

So, when you are will­ing to make a differ­ence, not feel good, not do what ev­ery­one does, not clean your con­scious­ness. When you want to REALLY, REALLY make a differ­ence, you should con­sider the differ­ence be­tween do­ing and not do­ing it.

It is that sim­ple.

(Note to the Less Wrong en­try: I know most peo­ple here know that poli­tics is a mind kil­ler, but delv­ing deeper into the sim­ple ar­gu­ment, no­tice it works for any case of overde­ter­mi­na­tion, such as post­ing a com­ment or en­try that some­one else would. If you re­al­ize now how im­por­tant it is to figure out what is im­por­tant, don’t for­get more than one per­son have already done it, use them.)