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Rivka_M comments on Pitfalls in Diversity Outreach - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Rivka_M 18 August 2015 10:23:32PM 8 points [-]

It seems to me that often conversations about diversity outreach are offputting not because anyone accidentally says something wrong but because lots of people sincerely think diversity outreach is a bad idea, and argue so.

For example, in a recent discussion someone said "for example, here's how I think we could do outreach to religious people." Someone else said "honestly, I think we shouldn't do outreach to religious people; religiosity is incompatible with effective altruism". The first person said "some religious people have the same values as we do, and don't take that Biblical law stuff seriously". The second person said "and some of them have horribly divergent sexist Stone Age values and welcoming them would destroy everything that makes EA appealing".

This conversation, I suspect, was not encouraging to religious would-be EAs. But I don't think the first speaker did anything wrong (and the second speaker did everything right, given his/her values). Should there be an expectation that we not publicly argue when someone talks about the merits of diversity, lest our public disagreement make diversity impossible to achieve even if the community ends up concluding it is beneficial?

Comment author: Bernadette_Young 19 August 2015 08:57:19AM 6 points [-]

I think anybody wanting to raise a potentially divisive or negative discussion should think carefully about how likely a given discussion is to be self-defeating, or to yield negative results that outweigh the benefits.

The setting matters a lot to this: if you post on Facebook, the discussion gets published in lots of people's feeds in a manner that posters don't control (I find 'likes' on comments I make in the EA FB group from friends I know are not members of that group). Also, the FB policy of only allowing 'upvoting' means that the degree to which people's statements are well or badly received is not well reflected. Finally the listing of threads by order of most recent comment keeps pile-ons in the current discussion.

(This also creates an important asymmetry: those who don't care about the discussion being damaging are more likely to continue it, while those who disagree might avoid voicing their disagreement in the hopes that the thread will die away.)

This forum doesn't suffer any of those drawbacks, so I believe it is a better arena for raising these issues for discussion if you reasonably believe there is something important at stake.

Comment author: KelseyPiper 21 August 2015 04:47:53AM *  3 points [-]

I really agree here - other factors that make Facebook conversations particularly inflammatory include Facebook's lack of threading, so you can't easily see who a person is responding to and if the tone of the response is appropriate to the original post, the way Facebook comment threads rapidly stack up with hundreds of comments, some only tangentially related to the original post, and the wide variance in moderation schemes. I've been disillusioned by some of the conversations on Facebook, but this comment made me more optimistic that is a platform issue, not a problem with open discussion of EA concerns.

Comment author: Ben_Kuhn 22 August 2015 01:24:04AM 2 points [-]

Empirically, discussions of diversity here do seem to be doing a lot better than the ones on the FB group. (I'm thinking particularly of this thread and AGB's post from a while ago.)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 25 September 2015 04:04:07AM 0 points [-]

I've noticed that Facebook seems to "bump" discussions that get new comments to the top of the group feed. This seems like a sufficient explanation: a topic that's controversial will get more comments, which will bump it to the top of the group, which will get it more attention, which will get it more comments, etc. Controversy feedback loop!

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 18 August 2015 11:18:23PM 2 points [-]

For the record, this happens enough on, e.g., social media without headway being made in the debate I don't believe the most influential or well-connected effective altruists pay mind to these discussions, or expect them to make new insights. Since, e.g., CEA or EA Global conferences are unlikely to discuss effective altruism and diversity issues in a damaging way, I doubt these conversations will cause outsized damage to the community's potential at large. I do believe it would pay off, though, to be as courteous as possible in these cases, even if people disagree with each other. This is not likely an enforceable policy, though. For us, Rivka, I believe the best we can do is that when we witness or participate in these conversations, we translate opposing viewpoints into charitable interpretations of the other side on behalf of debaters, steelman positions when possible, and promote civility as much as possible. Seeing there are other stewards in effective altruism who are just as willing not to accommodate, but see eye to eye and empathize with other perspectives, as others are to bash the worldviews of would-be effective altruists, is the best we can do to show a divisive opinion only represents one individual, and doesn't imply what effective altruism as a whole thinks.

There have been debates on purely intellectual grounds about how if one doesn't favor a specific cause, acting on another because of a difference of value constitutes a monstrous failure to do good. Effective altruism has and is surviving and becoming more robust against such debates which would otherwise threaten to break effective altruism as a union and an alliance. Sociopolitical movements have thrived on pluralism and diversity. Just look at how successful, e.g., Obama's presidential (re-)election campaign went, relative to his Republican rivals, who didn't as much make explicit how much they would try to welcome others regardless of their creed, disposition, or ethnicity. Effective altruism can be that too.

On the object-level subject of religion and effective altruism, here are my takes:

  • Religiosity is compatible with effective altruism. Effective altruism is about practical prescriptions or recommendations for ethical behavior, controlling for the vast majority of presently popular ethical worldviews. This includes religion. While effective altruism does borrow assessment tools from utilitarianism, and thus effective altruism has a large contigent of secularists, avowed atheists, other non-religious persons, and utilitarians, effective altruism borrows just as many tools from social science and normative rationality, which have little to do with philosophical precepts for ethics. What effective altruism borrows from pure philosophy is mostly just that: tools for thinking, not absolutes which would preclude religion.

  • A religious person with "horribly divergent sexist Stone Age values" may likely have those values on the basis of religious arguments and evidence, which effective altruism doesn't consider. There are just as many, if not more, religious people on Earth who consider lessons taken science, philosophy, politics, and other ideologic frameworks as think lessons for how to behave in the world can only come from their religion. The former group will naturally accommodate effective altruism in their lives, not by pulling effective altruism in the direction of their religious doctrine, but by perceiving how the imperative of effective action is consistent with the moral intuitions they already hold, as the rest of us currently do. I expect belligerent religious persons will be turned of from effective altruism. Not because those of us already here would be pernicious, or unwelcoming, or uncharitable, but because we simply ask them questions to demonstrate the effectiveness of adopting their methods and values. I believe in being unable to answer such questions without relgious evidence, they would find effective altruism isn't compatible with their particular interpretation of their own religion. Thus, the sort of religious persons hardline atheists or secularists wouldn't want in effective altruism are also the sort of religious persons who will self-select themselves to not join. Thus, I think it's unnecessary and ill-advised for any effective altruist to bash religious peoples' general involvement with effective altruism.

  • The Effective Altruism Survey results confirm effective altruists are by and large a liberal and pluralist bunch, who personally and politically, are likely to reject advances of allegedly "horribly divergent sexist Stone Age values", all else equal. This and the above consideration ensure it's unlikely the most belligerent religious persons would become even a significant minority of effective altruism, let alone a major force or any other belligerent class of persons.

  • There are religious discussion groups for effective altruism, such as the Christian effective altruism group on Facebook. It's got over 100 people, if I recall correctly. I think engaging more religious effective altruists is best left to organizations who explicitly have a goal of growing the community, such as Giving What We Can, and the Centre for Effective Altruism, and the general community of already religious effective altruists. The rest of us simply don't have the nuanced take or comparative advantage of assessing the issue of religion and effective altruism, without also shooting ourselves in the foot.