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John_Maxwell_IV comments on Concerns with Intentional Insights - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 25 October 2016 05:53:35AM *  2 points [-]

I don't think formal procedures are likely to be followed and I don't think it's generally sensible to go to all the trouble of building an explicit policy to kick people out of EA. It's a terrible idea that contributes to the construction of a flawed social movement which obsessively cares about weird drama that, to those on the outside, looks silly. Outside view sanity check: which other social movements have a formal process for excluding people? None of them. Except maybe scientology.

I'm not against online discussions on a structural level. I think they're fine. I'm against the policy of banding together, starting faction warfare, and demanding that other people refrain from associating with somebody.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 25 October 2016 08:01:13AM *  8 points [-]

I don't think formal procedures are likely to be followed

The impression I get from Jeff's post is that the people involved took great pains to be as reasonable as possible. They don't even issue recommendations for what to do in the body of the post--they just present observations. This after ~2000 edits over the course of more than two months. This makes me think they'd have been willing to go to the trouble of following a formal procedure. Especially if the procedure was streamlined enough that it took less time than what they actually did.

I don't think it's generally sensible to go to all the trouble of building an explicit policy to kick people out of EA

My recommendations are about how to formally resolve divisive disputes in general. If divisive disputes constitute existential threats to the movement, it might make sense to have a formal policy for resolving them, in the same way buildings have fire extinguishers despite the low rate of fires. Also, I took in to account that my policy might be used rarely or never, and kept its maintenance cost as low as possible.

It's a terrible idea that contributes to the construction of a flawed social movement which obsessively cares about weird drama that, to those on the outside, looks silly.

Drama seems pretty universal--I don't think it can be wished away.

Outside view sanity check: which other social movements have a formal process for excluding people? None of them. Except maybe scientology.

There are a lot of other analogies a person could make: Organizations fire people. States imprison people. Online communities ban people. Everyone needs to deal with bad actors. If nothing else, it'd be nice to know when it's acceptable to ban a user from the EA forum, Facebook group, etc.

I'm not especially impressed with the reference class of social movements when it comes to doing good, and I'm not sure we should do a particular thing just because it's what other social movements do.

I keep seeing other communities implode due to divisive internet drama, and I'd rather this not happen to mine. I would at least like my community to find a new way to implode. I'd rather be an interesting case study for future generations than an uninteresting one.

I'm against the policy of banding together, starting faction warfare, and demanding that other people refrain from associating with somebody.

So what's the right way to take action, if you and your friends think someone is a bad actor who's harming your movement?

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 25 October 2016 01:22:46PM *  1 point [-]

The impression I get from Jeff's post is that the people involved took great pains to be as reasonable as possible. They don't even issue recommendations for what to do in the body of the post--they just present observations. This after ~2000 edits over the course of more than two months. This makes me think they'd have been willing to go to the trouble of following a formal procedure. 

I mean for the community as a whole, to say, "oh, look, our thought leaders decided to reject someone - ok, let's all shut them out."

Drama seems pretty universal--I don't think it can be wished away.

There's the normal kind of drama which is discussed and moved past, and the weird kind of drama like Roko's Basilisk which only becomes notable through obsessive overattention and collective self-consciousness. You can choose which one you want to have.

There are a lot of other analogies a person could make: Organizations fire people. States imprison people. Online communities ban people. Everyone needs to deal with bad actors. If nothing else, it'd be nice to know when it's acceptable to ban a user from the EA forum, Facebook group, etc

Those groups can make their own decisions. EA has no central authority. I moderate a group like that and there is no chance I'd ban someone just because of the sort of thing which is going on here, and certainly not merely because the high chancellor of the effective altruists told me to.

I'm not especially impressed with the reference class of social movements when it comes to doing good, and I'm not sure we should do a particular thing just because it's what other social movements do.

We're not following their lead on how to change the world. We're following their lead on how to treat other members of the community. That's something which is universal to social movements.

 keep seeing other communities implode due to divisive internet drama, and I'd rather this not happen to mine. I would at least like my community to find a new way to implode. I'd rather be an interesting case study for future generations than an uninteresting one.

Is this serious? EA is way more important than yet another obscure annal in Internet history.

So what's the right way to take action, if you and your friends think someone is a bad actor who's harming your movement?

Tell it to them. Talk about it to other people. Run my organizations the way I see fit.

Comment author: Raemon 26 October 2016 03:12:14PM 3 points [-]

Tell it to them. Talk about it to other people. Run my organizations the way I see fit.

That's what we did for a year+. The problem didn't go away.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 26 October 2016 04:27:53PM *  1 point [-]

Not much of a problem except the time you wasted going after it. Few people in the outside world knew about InIn; fewer still could have associated it with effective altruism. Even the people on Reddit who dug into his past and harassed him on his fake accounts thought he was just a self-promoting fraud and appeared to pick up nothing about altruism or charity.

I'm done arguing about this, but if you still want an ex post facto solution just to ward off imagined future Glebs, take a moment to go to people in the actual outside world, i.e. people who have experience with social movements outside of this circlejerk, and ask them "hey, I'm a member of a social movement based on charity and altruism. We had someone who associated with our community and did some shady things. So we'd like to create an official review board where Trusted Community Moderators can investigate the actions of people who take part in our community, and then decide whether or not to officially excommunicate them. Could you be so kind as to tell us if this is the awful idea that it sounds like? Thanks."

Comment author: Carl_Shulman 26 October 2016 07:19:11PM *  3 points [-]

Even the people on Reddit who dug into his past and harassed him on his fake accounts thought he was just a self-promoting fraud and appeared to pick up nothing about altruism or charity.

Looking at the links you shared it looks like these accounts weren't so much 'fake' but just new accounts from Gleb that were used for broadcasting/spamming Gleb's book on Reddit. That attracted criticism for the aggressive self-promotion (both by sending to so many reddits, and the self-promotional spin in the message).

The commenters call out angela_theresa for creating a Reddit account just to promote the book. She references an Amazon review, and there is an Amazon review from the same time period by an Angela Hodge (not an InIn contractor). My judgment is that is a case of genuine appreciation of the book, perhaps encouraged by Gleb's requests for various actions to advance the book. In one of the reviews she mentions that she knows Gleb personally, but says she got a lot out of the book.

At least one other account was created to promote the book, but I haven't been able to determine whether it was an InIn affiliate. Gleb says he

didn't ask, I mean specifically that I did not in any way hint that they should do so or that doing so is a good idea 🙂 Again, I want to be clear that they might or might not have done so out of their own initiative

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 26 October 2016 08:37:57PM *  2 points [-]

Ok my goal was not to launch accusations, I just wanted to point out that even when people were saying this (they thought they were fake accounts) and looking into his personal info they didn't say anything about altruism or charity, so the themes behind the content weren't apparent, meaning that there was little or no damage to EA. Because most of the content on the site and book isn't about charity or altruism, it's not clear how well this promotes people to actually donate and stuff, but it can't be very harmful.

Comment author: Carl_Shulman 26 October 2016 08:58:19PM 1 point [-]

Right, I just wanted to diminish uncertainty about the topic and reduce speculation, since it had not been previously mentioned.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 27 October 2016 06:35:09AM *  5 points [-]

we'd like to create an official review board where Trusted Community Moderators can investigate the actions of people who take part in our community, and then decide whether or not to officially excommunicate them.

So here's your proposal for dealing with bad actors in a different comment:

Tell it to them. Talk about it to other people. Run my organizations the way I see fit.

You've found ways to characterize other proposals negatively without explaining how they would concretely lead to bad consequences. I'll note that I can do the same for this proposal--talking to them directly is "rude" and "confrontational", while talking about it to other people is "gossip" if not "backstabbing".

Dealing with bad actors is necessarily going to involve some kind of hostile action, and it's easy to characterize almost any hostile action negatively.

I think the way to approach this topic is to figure out the best way of doing things, then find the framing that will allow us to spend as few weirdness points as possible. I doubt this will be hard, as I don't think this is very weird. I lived in a large student co-op with just a 3-digit number of people, and we had formal meetings with motions and elections and yes, formal expulsions. The Society for Creative Anachronism is about dressing up and pretending you're living in medieval times. Here's their organizational handbook with bylaws. Check out section X, subsection C, subsection 3 where "Expulsion from the SCA" is discussed:

a. Expulsion precludes the individual from attendance or participation in any way, shape or form in any SCA activity, event, practice, or official gathering for any reason, at any time. Expulsions are temporary until the Board imposes a Revocation of Membership and Denial of Participation (R&D). This includes a ban on participation on officially recognized SCA social media (Facebook) sites, officially recognized SCA electronic email lists, and officially recognized SCA webpages.

b. For more details see the SCA Sanction Guide.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 27 October 2016 06:32:54PM 0 points [-]

You've found ways to characterize other proposals negatively without explaining how they would concretely lead to bad consequences.

Sure I did. I said it would create unnecessary bureaucracy taking up people's time and it would make judgements and arguments that would start big new controversies where its opinions wouldn't be universally followed. Also, it would look ridiculous to anyone on the outside.

I think the way to approach this topic is to figure out the best way of doing things, then find the framing that will allow us to spend as few weirdness points as possible. I doubt this will be hard, as I don't think this is very weird.

Is it not apparent that other things besides 'weirdness points' should be factored into decisionmaking?

The Society for Creative Anachronism is about dressing up and pretending you're living in medieval times. Here's their organizational handbook with bylaws. Check out section X, subsection C, subsection 3 where "Expulsion from the SCA" is discussed:

You found an organization that excludes people from itself. So what? The question here is about a broad social movement trying to kick people out. If all the roleplayers of the world decided to make a Roleplaying Committee whose job was to ban people from participating in roleplaying, you'd have a point.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 27 October 2016 07:48:39PM *  3 points [-]

Sure I did. I said it would create unnecessary bureaucracy taking up people's time and it would make judgements and arguments that would start big new controversies where its opinions wouldn't be universally followed. Also, it would look ridiculous to anyone on the outside.

That's fair. Here are my responses:

  • Specialization of labor has a track record of saving people time that goes back millenia. The fact that we have police, whose job it is to deal with crime, means I have to spend a lot less time worrying about crime personally. If we got rid of the police, I predict the amount of crime-related drama would rise. See Steven Pinker on why he's no longer an anarchist.

  • A respected neutral panel whose job is resolving controversies has a better chance of its opinions being universally followed than people whose participation in a discussion is selected on the basis of anger--especially if the panel is able to get better at mediation over time, through education and experience.

  • With regard to ridiculousness, I don't think what I'm suggesting is very different than the way lots of groups govern themselves. Right now you're thinking of effective altruism as part of the "movement" reference class, but I suspect in many cases a movement or hobby will have one or more "associations" which form de facto governing bodies. Scouting is a movement. The World Organization of the Scout Movement is an umbrella organization of national Scouting organizations, governed by the World Scout Committee. Chess is a hobby. FIDE is an international organization that governs competitive chess and consists of 185 member federations. One can imagine the creation of an umbrella organization for all the existing EA organizations that served a role similar to these.

Is it not apparent that other things besides 'weirdness points' should be factored into decisionmaking?

I'm feeling frustrated, because it seems like you keep interpreting my statements in a very uncharitable way. In this case, what I meant to communicate was that we should factor in everything besides weirdness points, then factor in weirdness points. Please be assured that I want to do whatever the best thing is, I consider what the best thing is to be an empirical question, and I appreciate quality critical feedback--but not feedback that just drains my energy.

You found an organization that excludes people from itself. So what? The question here is about a broad social movement trying to kick people out. If all the roleplayers of the world decided to make a Roleplaying Committee whose job was to ban people from participating in roleplaying, you'd have a point.

Implementation of my proposal might involve the creation of an "Effective Altruism Assocation", analgous to the SCA, as I describe here.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 27 October 2016 11:44:08PM *  -1 points [-]

Specialization of labor has a track record of saving people time that goes back millenia.

Sounds great, but it's only valuable when people can actually specialize. You can't specialize in determining whether somebody's a true EA or not. Being on a committee that does this won't make you wiser or fairer about it. It's a job that's equally doable by people already in the community with their existing skills and their existing job titles.

A respected neutral panel whose job is resolving controversies has a better chance of its opinions being universally followed than people whose participation in a discussion is selected on the basis of anger

It's trivially true that the majority opinion is most likely to be followed.

With regard to ridiculousness, I don't think what I'm suggesting is very different than the way lots of groups govern themselves.

Sure it is. You're suggesting that the FIDE start deciding who's not allowed to play chess.

In this case, what I meant to communicate was that we should factor in everything besides weirdness points, then factor in weirdness points.

I don't think the order in which you factor things will make a difference in how the options are eventually ranked, assuming you're being rational. In any case, there are large differences. For one thing, the SCA does not care about how it is perceived by outsiders. The SCA is often rewarded for being weird. The SCA is also not necessarily rational.

Implementation of my proposal might involve the creation of an "Effective Altruism Assocation", analgous to the SCA, as I describe here.

Then you're suggesting something far larger and far more comprehensive than anything that I've heard about, which I have no interest in discussing.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 28 October 2016 12:56:52AM *  2 points [-]

Being on a committee that does this won't make you wiser or fairer about it.

I actually think being on a committee helps some on its own, because you know you'll be held accountable for how you do your job. But I expect most of the advantages of a committee to be in (a) identifying people who are wise and fair to serve on it (and yes, I do think some people are wiser and fairer than others) (b) having those people spend a lot of time thinking about the relevant considerations (c) overcoming bystander effects and ensuring that there exists some neutral third party to help adjudicate conflicts.

If there's no skill to this sort of thing, why not make decisions by flipping coins?

It's a job that's equally doable by people already in the community with their existing skills and their existing job titles.

Well naturally, the committee would be staffed by people who are already in the community, and it would probably not be their full-time job.

Sure it is. You're suggesting that the FIDE start deciding who's not allowed to play chess.

Do you really think chess federations will let you continue to play at their events if you cheat or if you're rude/aggressive?

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 27 October 2016 06:17:33AM *  3 points [-]

There's the normal kind of drama which is discussed and moved past, and the weird kind of drama like Roko's Basilisk which only becomes notable through obsessive overattention and collective self-consciousness. You can choose which one you want to have.

I think the second kind of drama is more likely in the absence of a governing body. See the vigilante action paragraph in this comment of mine.

Is this serious? EA is way more important than yet another obscure annal in Internet history.

If the limiting factor for a movement like Effective Altruism is being able to coordinate people via the Internet, then coordinating people via the Internet ought to be a problem of EA interest.

I see your objections to my proposal as being fundamentally aesthetic. You don't like the idea of central authority, but not because of some particular reason why it would lead to bad consequences--it just doesn't appeal to you intuitively. Does that sound accurate?

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 27 October 2016 06:42:17PM *  -1 points [-]

I think the second kind of drama is more likely in the absence of a governing body.

The second kind of drama was literally caused by the actions of a governing body. Specifically, one that was so self-absorbed in its own constellation of ideas that it forgot about everything that outsiders considered normal.

See the vigilante action paragraph in this comment of mine.

So you're trying to say that the worst case scenario of setting up an official EA panel is not as bad as the worst case scenario of vigilantism. That's a very limited argument. First, merely comparing the worst case scenarios is a very limited approach. Firstly because by definition these are events at the extreme tail ends of our expectations which implies that we are particularly incapable of understanding and predicting them, secondly because we also need to take probabilities into account, and thirdly because we need to take average, median, best case, etc. expectations into account. Furthermore, it's not clear to me that the level of witch hunting and vigilantism currently present in programming, atheist, etc. communities, is actually worse than having a veritable political rift between EA organizations. Moreover, you're jumping from Roko's Basilisk type weird drama and controversy to vigilantism, when the two are fairly different things. And finally, you're shifting the subject of discussion from a panel that excommunicates people to some kind of big organization that runs all the events.

Besides that, the fact that there has been essentially no vigilantism in EA except for a small number of people in this thread suggests that you're jumping far too quickly to enormous solutions for vague problems.

If the limiting factor for a movement like Effective Altruism is being able to coordinate people via the Internet, then coordinating people via the Internet ought to be a problem of EA interest.

That's way too simplistic. Communities don't hit a ceiling and then fail when they run into a universal limiting factor. Their actions and evolution are complicated and chaotic and always affected by many things. And hardly any social movements are led by people who look at other social movements and then pattern their own behavior based on others'.

I see your objections to my proposal as being fundamentally aesthetic.

I prefer the term 'common sense'.

You don't like the idea of central authority, but not because of some particular reason why it would lead to bad consequences--it just doesn't appeal to you intuitively.

It rings lots of lots of alarm bells.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 27 October 2016 09:24:24PM *  4 points [-]

The second kind of drama was literally caused by the actions of a governing body. Specifically, one that was so self-absorbed in its own constellation of ideas that it forgot about everything that outsiders considered normal.

If selection of leadership is an explicit process, we can be careful to select people we trust to represent the EA movement to the world at large. If the process isn't explicit, forum moderators may be selected in an incidental way, e.g. on the basis of being popular bloggers.

So you're trying to say that the worst case scenario of setting up an official EA panel is not as bad as the worst case scenario of vigilantism. That's a very limited argument. First, merely comparing the worst case scenarios is a very limited approach. Firstly because by definition these are events at the extreme tail ends of our expectations which implies that we are particularly incapable of understanding and predicting them, secondly because we also need to take probabilities into account, and thirdly because we need to take average, median, best case, etc. expectations into account.

Governance in general seems like it's mainly about mitigation of worst case scenarios. Anyway, the evidence I presented doesn't just apply to the tail ends of the distribution.

Furthermore, it's not clear to me that the level of witch hunting and vigilantism currently present in programming, atheist, etc. communities, is actually worse than having a veritable political rift between EA organizations.

This is an empirical question. I don't get the impression that competition between organizations is usually very destructive. It might be interesting for someone to research e.g. the history of the NBA and the ABA (competing professional basketball leagues in the 1970s) or the history of AYSO and USYSA (competing youth soccer leagues in the US that still both exist--contrast with youth baseball, where I don't believe Little League has any serious rivals). I haven't heard much about destructive competition between rival organizations of this type. Even rival businesses are often remarkably civil towards one another.

I suspect the reason competition between organizations is rarely destructive is because organizations are fighting over mindshare, and acting like a jerk is a good way to lose mindshare. When Google released its Dropbox competitor Google Drive, the CEO of Dropbox could have started saying nasty things about Google's CEO in order to try & discredit Drive. Instead, he cracked a joke. The second response makes me much more favorably inclined toward Dropbox's product.

Vigilantes don't typically think like this. They're not people who were chosen by others to represent an organization. They're people who self-select on the basis of anger. They want revenge. And they often do things that end up discrediting their cause.

The biggest example I can think of re: organizations competing in a nasty way is rival political parties, and I think there are incentives that account for that. Based on what I've read about the details of how Australia's system operates, it seems like Australian politicians face a slightly better set of incentives than American ones. I'd be interested to hear from Australians about whether they think their politicians are less nasty to each other.

Was there a particular case of destructive competition between organizations that you had in mind?

the fact that there has been essentially no vigilantism in EA except for a small number of people in this thread suggests that you're jumping far too quickly to enormous solutions for vague problems.

Part of the reason this hasn't been much of a problem is because the EA movement is sufficiently "elitist" to filter out troublemakers during the recruitment stage. (Gleb got through, which is arguably my fault--I'm the person who introduced him to other EAs and told them his organization seemed interesting. Sorry about that.) Better mechanisms for mitigating bad actors who get through means we can be less paranoid about growth.

Also, it makes sense to set something like this up well before it's needed. If it's formed in response to an existing crisis, it won't have much accumulated moral authority, and it might look like a play on the part of one party or another to create a "neutral" arbiter that favors them.

And hardly any social movements are led by people who look at other social movements and then pattern their own behavior based on others'.

People in EA have done this a fair amount. I've heard of at least two EAs besides Jeff who have spent significant time looking at the history of social movements, and here is OpenPhil's research in to the history of philanthropy. I assume a smart EA-type movement of the future would also do this stuff.

I also think that contributing to society's stock of knowledge about how to organize people is valuable, because groups are rarely set up for the purpose of doing harm and often end up incidentally doing good (e.g. charitable activities of fraternal organizations).

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 27 October 2016 11:42:37PM -1 points [-]

Governance in general seems like it's mainly about mitigation of worst case scenarios.

Doesn't seem like that to me. And just because "governance in general" does something doesn't mean we should.

This is an empirical question.

Yeah, and it's unclear. I don't see why it is relevant anyway. I never claimed that creating an EA panel would lead to a political divide between organizations.

Part of the reason this hasn't been much of a problem is because the EA movement is sufficiently "elitist" to filter out troublemakers during the recruitment stage.

Better mechanisms for mitigating bad actors who get through means we can be less paranoid about growth.

We're not paranoid about growth and we're not being deliberately elitist. People won't change their recruiting efforts just because a few people got officially kicked out. When the rubber hits the road on spreading EA, people just busy themselves with their activities, rather than optimizing some complicated function.

People in EA have done this a fair amount. I've heard of at least two EAs besides Jeff who have spent significant time looking at the history of social movements, and here is OpenPhil's research in to the history of philanthropy. I assume a smart EA-type movement of the future would also do this stuff.

Yeah, EA, which is not a typical social movement. I've not heard of others doing this. Hardly any.

Saying that you want to experiment with EA because risking the stability of a(n unusually important) social movement just because it might benefit random people with unknown intentions who may or may not study our history is taking it a little far.

I also think that contributing to society's stock of knowledge about how to organize people is valuable, because groups are rarely set up for the purpose of doing harm and often end up incidentally doing good (e.g. charitable activities of fraternal organizations).

Well most of them are relatively ineffective and most of them don't study histories of social movements. As for the ones that do, they don't look up obscure things such as this. When people spend significant time looking at the history of social movements, they look at large, notable, well documented cases. They will not look at a few people's online actions. There is no shortage of stories of people doing online things at this low level of notability and size.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 28 October 2016 01:04:00AM 1 point [-]

Saying that you want to experiment with EA because risking the stability of a(n unusually important) social movement just because it might benefit random people with unknown intentions who may or may not study our history is taking it a little far.

That's fair.