kbog comments on Why & How to Make Progress on Diversity & Inclusion in EA - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 27 October 2017 08:30:54AM *  10 points [-]

On one hand, it is technically better to change things if that motivates people to become involved in the community. But on the other hand, if someone is ethically motivated to do the right thing, and they find that EA is plausibly in the right lane for this purpose, then you would expect them to be involved in productive activities regardless of whether their personality types are similar or not. That's not any more of a sacrifice than we make in other sorts of things: I recruited for a finance career, despite the fact that the personality types and culture are antithetical to my own, I am in the military, despite the fact that the personality types and culture are antithetical to my own, I donate money, despite the fact that I would have more personal happiness than if I didn't, and so on.

The kinds of people who would be doing EA things if and only if we were a little bit more appealing are the kinds of people who won't take the ethically optimal career route, because the ethically optimal career route is not likely to be optimally appealing, and that is something that we can't change. If someone can only be brought into the movement by catering, they're not going to suddenly change and automatically act as forcefully and positively as the rest of us; they'll still need to be catered to for additional steps on and on into the future. You can see examples of this with activist groups on college campuses, where administrations make costly room and concessions to activists and yet continually face additional demands and disruption.

This, of course, is not a statement that all people who are motivated in such a way are like this nor is it a statement that such people would not bring substantial positive value to the movement on balance. And I'm not making any judgements about character, just observing the ethically relevant facets of human behavior. The point is that the positive impact of such expansion is more limited than you would naively think and therefore warrants less resource allocation than expansions which would attract similar numbers of other types of people.

I'm also skeptical that concessions like this actually do much. If you want an example, look at the early criticisms of EA, where people talked about how we 'neglect systemic change'. Over and over and over again, we explained that you can do systemic change in EA, please come and do systemic change with us, we're compatible, and so on. There were a couple articles saying "Can EA change the world? It already has" and "We love systemic change." Now there have even been two peer-reviewed published philosophy papers driving this point home, by Joshua Kissel and Brian Berkey. Then 80,000 Hours said "hold up guys, only 15% of people should earn to give, we don't want to be misunderstood." And on and on and on. This was all a fine response, of course.

But has it actually changed the behavior of the people who raised those critiques? Have any of the critics recanted and said "okay, I'll join EA now, and develop some EA-based systemic change"? Are EA's ranks swelling with a new crop of excited leftist revolutionaries? No! This kind of movement growth is nowhere to be found! When was the last time you heard ANY Effective Altruist argue that poverty alleviation is neutral or harmful because it reduces the probability that capitalism will be superseded? Never! Yes, there are a few EA leftists whose main priority is to systemically reform capitalism, but not significantly more than there were in the first place, and they are a tiny group in comparison to the liberals, the conservatives, the vegans, the x-risk people, and so on. As far as I can tell, the impact of all these articles and comments in bringing leftists into active participation with EA was totally nonexistent.

So while there is a difference between the demographics under consideration here and the progressive-leftist political group in this example, don't expect to work any wonders from piling on disclaimers and bureaucracy and openness and other things. You can look outside EA for other examples. The US military does many of the things that you suggest. SHARP/EO representatives, briefings, policies, and on and on and on. But that didn't substantially change our demographics, culture, sexual assault rates, or anything of the sort. It didn't stop PVT Manning from going sufficiently crazy and disassociated with military culture on the basis of gender dysphoria to decide to harm the organization.

So instead of engaging in the knee-jerk logic of "there's a diversity problem - let's start doing pro-diversity things!" we should be focusing on reason and evidence so that we only spend time and money on solutions where we have a significant expectation of something meaningful being accomplished.

Of course you are pretty clear in your post that, yes, things should be evidence based, there is weak-but-mounting evidence supporting interventions like this, and so on. But I want to emphasize a higher bar of skepticism than what people are likely to take away from your post, especially since the opportunity cost for EA resources is much higher than it is in other contexts.


● CEA and EAF could both, or jointly, hire a Diversity & Inclusion Officer

● All organizations should hire communications staff who are versed in inclusionary communications practices. Alternatively, the Diversity & Inclusion Officer could train them.

These are both moderately costly additions to bureaucracy, and I don't really see what their value is. I'm aware that lots of organizations put emphasis on these types of things, but what are the exact outputs and impacts?

● Adopt and enforce a clear policy — as organizations and individuals — for dealing seriously and fully with illegal actions like sexual harassment and explicit discrimination or discrimination revealed by HR or legal counsel.

While I'm not saying this is a bad thing, I don't see what the motivation is. If the problem is gender bias, or ineffective marketing, or narrow appeal, or things of that nature, then they should be dealt with appropriately. What we should not do is lump together every gender-related problem as part of a monolithic reason to implement all gender-related solutions. It's simply less efficient.

For instance, it should be outright unacceptable for someone to say that women do not contribute to society and are leeches if they don’t offer men sex. This actually happened, recently,

So I was the one who, more than anyone else, told that person that they were an idiot who ought to shut up. But it wasn't just because they were sexist. I think one of the underlying problems here is not just sexism but people who just don't care enough about the EA movement itself. I would expect any sexist or racist to at least be decent and intelligent enough to know that there are some pots you don't stir, purely as a practical means of maintaining a productive movement. I see lots of people talk about making EA more appealing or more diverse, which is fine, but one of the underlying causes of all of these issues, both when it comes to sexists picking fights and when it comes to members of marginalized groups refraining from contributing, is that people care more about things like lifestyle, community and tribal affiliation than they do about sitting down to do productive ethical work. And that's a super hard thing to change, but it warrants some attention. We can't just sit around and rely on a shaky combination of atypical saints on one hand and clever marketing on the other.

Edit: also, I have to add that you are being a little bit uncharitable to the person who said that. They said something bad, but not quite how you describe it. I'm not saying this because I care about them, but just because it's bad if people read this and think "omg, an effective altruist said this! Look how sexist EAs are!" and it gets repeated and spread as a false rumor.

Comment author: WillPearson 27 October 2017 07:44:03PM *  4 points [-]

Yes, there are a few EA leftists whose main priority is to systemically reform capitalism, but not significantly more than there were in the first place, and they are a tiny group in comparison to the liberals, the conservatives, the vegans, the x-risk people, and so on. As far as I can tell, the impact of all these articles and comments in bringing leftists into active participation with EA was totally nonexistent.

I'm not sure I count or not. My work on autonomy can be seen as investigating systemic change. I've been to a couple of meetups and hung around this forum a bit and I can tell you why the community is not very enticing or inviting from my point of view, if you are interested.

Edit to add:

I can only talk about EA London which I went to a couple of the meetups. To preface things I had generally good interactions with people they were nice and we chatted a bit about non-systemic EA interests (which I am also interested in). There was lots of conversation and not too much holding-forth.

I was mainly trying to find people interested in discussing AI/future things as any systemic change has to take this into consideration and there is lots of uncertainty. I was asked what I was interested in by organisers and asked if anyone knew people primarily interested in AI, and I didn't get any useful responses. At the time I didn't know enough about EA to ask about systemic change (and wasn't as clear on what I exactly wanted).

This slightly rambling point is to illustrate that it is hard to connect with people on niche topics (which AI seems to be in London). There probably needs to be a critical mass of people joining at once for a locality to support a topic.

I've joined a London EA facebook group focused on the future so I have my hopes.

That is pretty benign, a problem but not a large one. More could be done, but more could always be done.

The second, which I think might be more exclusionary, is EAG. I applied for tickets and to volunteer but I've heard nothing so far. I'm unsure why there is even selection on tickets.

I suspect I don't look like lots of EAs on an application form: I don't earn to give, but have taken a pay cut to work part time on my project, which I hope will help everyone in the long run. I may not have quite the same chipper enthusiasm.

I suspect other people interested in systemic change will look similarly different from lots of EAs, and the curation of EAG might be biased against them. If it is, then I probably have not lost out much by not going!

I mainly wrote this comment to try and give some possible reasons for the lack of a significant group interested in systemic change (despite articles/comments to the contrary). I'm not expecting EA to change, you can't be a group for everyone and you do interesting and good things. But it is good to know some of the potential reasons why things are how they are.

Edit2: I got a polite email from Julia Wise telling me that the reason I didn't get an invite was because London was a smaller event and that people were selected on the basis of "those who will benefit most from attending EA Global London." It would be nicer if these things were a little more transparent, e.g. you are applicant #X we can only accept #Y applicants, to give you a better idea of the chances. From my own perspective for the people that are interested in current niche EA topics it is important to be able to potentially meet other people from around the world interested in their topics. EAG might not be the place for that though.

Comment author: Lila 27 October 2017 01:14:38PM *  0 points [-]