I’m Tejas Subramaniam. I’m a seventeen-year-old Indian high school student interested in economics, statistics, political science, global development, and effective altruism. I’ve been on the Indian schools debating team for three years (2017–2019). Follow me on Twitter. I also occasionally write for Feminism in India.
I think people have a moral obligation to assist those in need—and that’s my predominant goal in life, to help as many people as I can. Currently, the problems I want to direct my efforts toward are sexual violence, threats to animal welfare (both wild and farmed), and global poverty/health.
I’ve blogged before. You can find some of my earlier work archived on GoTejas.com (forgive the title—that’s something I came up with when I was eight). I currently disagree with many of the articles on there and I hope to adopt a more epistemically modest approach to blogging with this blog.
Note: If I say anything that anyone thinks is demeaning or offensive, particularly if perceived as racist/sexist/homophobic/etc., please contact me immediately; I’m willing to correct it if I agree.
My beliefs and values
I place a lot of value in epistemic humility. I’ve had a problem for a large portion of my life in which I jumped to conclusions and judgments—whether about ideas, news events, or people. I’m trying, not entirely successfully, to get over that. That means I have very few opinions, and even fewer strong opinions.
I come from a starting point of epistemic realism. No purely logical reason since that would probably be self-contradictory. We all just accept it. So I accept it, out of faith.
I similarly start from moral realism, for a few, not entirely rational, reasons. First, whether we admit it or not, we all make decisions as if those it is true. Second, I’m not sure what the precise distinction is between sensory/empirical perception and moral intuition, at least on an epistemic level. Third, lots of other smart people whose opinions I trust, philosophers included, agree with it.
In terms of normative ethics, I’m a bit of a pluralist and intuitionist. In this respect, I’m influenced by Will MacAskill’s suggestion that, in the face of moral uncertainty, our decisions should depend on (1) the credence we have in a particular moral theory and (2) the degree to which the action is praised/condemned by said moral theory. In general, I believe that societies undergo moral progress, and that our understanding of ethics deepens in a manner similar to our understanding of science (“philosophical progress”). I also think that the optimal moral theory could potentially be obtained by long periods of unbiased reflection given perfect knowledge of existing theories and their attributes—that’s an unattainable standard, a bit like a simplified model of philosophical progress, but that also means that I value consensus among moral philosophers. Thus, I place my highest credence in utilitarian theories of morality, virtue ethics and communitarianism, deontological theories such as liberalism and libertarianism, and common sense morality, in no particular order (though my intuition tends to align with some form of preference utilitarianism, in part influenced by this).
My views on science and social science typically also align pretty well with the consensus (because the experts know more than I do). I also firmly believe in animal welfare—I have for much of my life, since, as a five-year-old, I read Ingrid Newkirk’s 50 Easy Ways Kids Can Help Animals. Since then, I’ve read the writings of people such as Peter Singer, Martha Nussbaum, and Tom Regan on animal welfare, volunteered for organizations such as the Blue Cross of India, and attended workshops at places like the Madras Crocodile Bank. I underwent different periods of deep interest in herpetology (with a specific interest in Indian snake species), evolutionary biology, and ethology (with a specific focus in interspecies interaction among large predators)—and while I’m quite rusty on these subjects, I like to think I have a fair amount of knowledge still. My goal throughout these periods was primarily to understand the nature of wild animal welfare, which I am passionate about (though I’m deeply uncertain about any solutions to wild animal suffering, and whether humans should intervene at all).
I’m influenced, in many respects, as you might have guessed from the names I named above, by thinkers in the effective altruist community (e.g., Scott Alexander, Kelsey Piper, Ozy Brennan, Julia Galef, and Will MacAskill), though I’m not entirely sold on effective altruism. I think the obligation–opportunity question in effective altruism is underrated and important, and I don’t know what the right answer is. My other influences come from the world of debating, both online (I was once quite active on the forum Debate.org) and in real life (where I have predominantly debated in the World Schools format), and from economists (such as Tyler Cowen and Esther Duflo).
In other people, the things I value most are kindness/compassion/empathy, as well as a commitment to work hard to help other people. In this respect, I think it could be counterproductive to take the clinical approach some members of the effective altruist community like. I think, for example, that someone taking time off to volunteer at a soup kitchen is doing something of tremendous moral value even if the “net utility to the world” they produce might not be, on the margin, huge. I’m particularly lucky, in this respect, to be surrounded by exceptionally intelligent, hardworking, and empathetic friends, and I hope to emulate them.
As far as my politics goes, I’m slightly left of center on most social issues, centrist and somewhat neutral on economic issues, and entirely neutral on issues relating to foreign policy. I think international development, animal welfare, and climate change are major priorities.
I have personal experience with sexual violence—I have been a victim and friends and family have also been hurt by it. As a result, I have a personal commitment to do what I can to reduce its occurrence. I think there’s utilitarian value in taking actions based on your personal experiences surrounding particular problems. For one, it is likely to increase one’s subconscious commitment to the issue. For another, experience often gives people knowledge, on a personal level, about issues, giving them a comparative advantage in dealing with them.
Apart from that, I’m passionate about health issues that target particular communities of marginalized individuals, economic growth on an international scale, and promoting the welfare of nonhuman animals, both captive and wild.
My life priority is to do good in this world. One of my strongest-held views, perhaps, again, not entirely due to logical reasons as much as moral intuition, is that individuals have a moral obligation to help others in need. In this respect, through my life—whether through my career or in my personal interactions—I wish to do what I can to help other people.
My learning plan
I am a high school student, as I mentioned before. About a year ago, I came across Patrick Collison’s “advice” post—in which one of his pieces of advice for 10–20-year-olds is to “go deep on things.” While I have sort of been doing that for much of my life—and have mostly gone deep into debate and related subjects, as well as some sub-branches of zoology, and some mythology across many cultures—coming across this explicit advice has driven me to take a more systematic approach. In that respect, I have created a list of things I want to learn more about over the next one and a half years or so (before I start going to college, that is). A strikethrough indicates that I have completed it.
Introductory microeconomics (at the level of AP Microeconomics) Introductory macroeconomics (at the level of AP Macroeconomics)
- Some issues in gender, sexuality, and sexual violence
- Prevalence of sexual violence
- Relationship between sexual violence and public health issues
- Distributional effects of sexual violence
- Public policy relevant to sexual violence, and how seemingly unrelated public policy affects it
- The effects of various legal approaches to prostitution and pornography
- The inclusion of LGBTQ+ students in Indian school education
- The interaction between sexual harassment and social media platforms
- Effective strategies to reduce sexual harassment and bullying in school environments
- Public health issues relevant to the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community
- Microeconomics (at the level of an intermediate undergraduate college course with calculus)
- Game theory (at a very basic, introductory level)
- Psychology (at the level of CrashCourse Psychology)
- Comparative politics (at the level of Clark, Golder, and Golder’s textbook on the subject)
- Climate change
- Animal welfare
- Development economics (I wish to complete Todaro and Smith’s textbook on the subject, as well as MITx’s “Foundations of Development Policy” course)
- Statistics and econometrics, using:
- Darrin Speegle’s Foundations of Statistics with R
- James Stock and Mark Watson’s Introduction to Econometrics
- Sheldon Ross’s A First Course in Probability
- Mathematics, specifically:
- Introductory applied single- and multivariable calculus
- Introductory linear algebra
- My high school mathematics course
- Public economics, at the level of an introductory undergraduate course in public economics
- Non-calculus-based intermediate macroeconomics, at the level of Greg Mankiw’s textbook Macroeconomics
- Global health, at the level of Richard Skolnik’s introductory textbook Global Health 101
- Sociology, at the level of CrashCourse Sociology
- World history, at the level of Khan Academy and CrashCourse’s World History courses
- Biology, at the level of the SAT Subject Test in biology
Anyway, that’s me. I hope you enjoy what you find here.