Comment author: Fluttershy 08 March 2017 01:44:16PM *  2 points [-]

I'd like to respond to your description of what some people's worries about your previous proposal were, and highlight how some of those worries could be addressed, hopefully without reducing how helpfully ambitious your initial proposal was. Here goes:

the risk of losing flexibility by enforcing what is an “EA view” or not

It seems to me like the primary goal of the panel in the original proposal was to address instances of people lowering the standard of trustworthiness within EA and imposing unreasonable costs (including unreasonable time costs) on individual EAs. I suspect that enumerating what sorts of things "count" as EA endeavors isn't a strictly necessary prerequisite for forming such a panel.

I can see why some people held this concern, partly because "defining what does and doesn't count as an EA endeavor" clusters in thing-space with "keeping an eye out for people acting in untrustworthy and non-cooperative ways towards EAs", but these two things don't have to go hand in hand.

the risk of consolidating too much influence over EA in any one organisation or panel

Fair enough. As with the last point, the panel would likely consolidate less unwanted influence over EA if it focused solely on calling out sufficiently dishonestly harmful behavior by anyone who self-identified as an EA, and made no claims as to whether any individuals or organizations "counted" as EAs.

the risk of it being impossible to get agreement, leading to an increase in politicisation and squabbling

This seems like a concern that's good, in that a bit harder for me to address satisfactorily. Hopefully, though, there would some clear-cut cases the panel could choose to consider, too; the case of Intentional Insights' poor behavior was eventually quite clear, for one. I would guess that the less clear cases would tend to be the ones where a clear resolution would be less impactful.

In response, we toned back the ambitions of the proposed ideas.

I'd have likely done the same. But that's the wrong thing to do.

In this case, the counterfactual to having some sort of panel to call out behavior which causes unreasonable amounts of harm to EAs is relying on the initiative of individuals to call out such behavior. This is not a sustainable solution. Your summary of your previous post puts it well:

There’s very little to deal with people representing EA in ways that seem to be harmful; this means that the only response is community action, which is slow, unpleasant for all involved, and risks unfairness through lack of good process.

Community action is all that we had before the Intentional Insights fiasco, and community action is all that we're back to having now.

I didn't get to watch the formation of the panel you discuss, but it seems like a nontrivial amount of momentum, which was riled up by the harm Intentional Insights caused EA, went into its creation. To the extent that that momentum is no longer available because some of it was channeled into the creation of this panel, we've lost a chance at building a tool to protect ourselves against agents and organizations who would impose costs on, and harm EAs and EA overall. Pending further developments, I have lowered my opinion of everyone directly involved accordingly.

Comment author: Fluttershy 07 March 2017 01:57:56PM 4 points [-]

Noted! I can understand that it's easy to feel like you're overstepping your bounds when trying to speak for others. Personally, I'd have been happy for you all to take a more central leadership role, and would have wanted you all to feel comfortable if you had decided to do so.

My view is that we still don't have reliable mechanisms to deal with the sorts of problems mentioned (i.e. the Intentional Insights fiasco), so it's valuable when people call out problems as they have the ability to. It would be better if the EA community had ways of calling out such problems by means other than requiring individuals to take on heroic responsibility, though!

This having been said, I think it's worth explicitly thanking the people who helped expose Intentional Insight's deceitful practices—Jeff Kaufman, for his original post on the topic, and Jeff Kaufman, Gregory Lewis, Oliver Habryka, Carl Shulman, Claire Zabel, and others who have not been mentioned or who contributed anonymously, for writing this detailed document.

Comment author: Fluttershy 24 February 2017 04:25:04AM 9 points [-]

I believe you when you say that you don't benefit much from feedback from people not already deeply engaged with your work.

There's something really noticeable to me about the manner in which you've publicly engaged with the EA community through writing for the past while. You mention that you put lots of care into your writing, and what's most noticeable about this for me is that I can't find anything that you've written here that anyone interested in engaging with you might feel threatened or put down by. This might sound like faint praise, but it really isn't meant to be; I find that writing in such a way is actually somewhat resource intensive in terms of both time, and something roughly like mental energy.

(I find it's generally easier to develop a felt sense for when someone else is paying sufficient attention to conversational nuances regarding civility than it is to point out specific examples, but your discussion of how you feel about receiving criticism is a good example of this sort of civility).

As you and James mention, public writeups can be valuable to readers, and I think this is true to a strong extent.

I'd also say that, just as importantly, writing this kind of well thought out post which uses healthy and civil conversational norms creates value from a leadership/coordination point of view. Leadership in terms of teaching skills and knowledge is important too, but I guess I'm used to thinking of those as separate from leadership in terms of exemplifying civility and openness to sharing information. If it were more common for people and foundations to write frequently and openly, and communicate with empathy towards their audiences when they did, I think the world would be the better for it. You and other senior Open Phil and GiveWell staff are very much respected in our community, and I think it's wonderful when people are happy to set a positive example for others.

(Apologies if I've conflated civility with openness to sharing information; these behaviors feel quite similar to me on a gut level—possibly because they both take some effort to do, but also nudge social norms in the right direction while helping the audience.).

In response to comment by Telofy  (EA Profile) on Why I left EA
Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 21 February 2017 09:46:23PM *  2 points [-]

but reading about religious and movement dynamics (e.g., most recently in The Righteous Mind), my perspective was joined by a more cooperation-based strategic perspective.

This not about strategic cooperation. This is about strategic sacrifice - in other words, doing things for people that they never do for you or others. Like I pointed out elsewhere, other social movements don't worry about this sort of thing.

All the effort we put into strengthening the movement will fall far short of their potential if it degenerates into infighting/fragmentation, lethargy, value drift, signaling contests, a zero-sum game, and any other of various failure modes.

Yes. And that's exactly why this constant second-guessing and language policing - "oh, we have to be more nice," "we have a lying problem," "we have to respect everybody's intellectual autonomy and give huge disclaimers about our movement," etc - must be prevented from being pursued to a pathological extent.

People losing interest in EA or even leaving with a loud, public bang are one thing that is really, really bad for cohesion within the movement.

Nobody who has left EA has done so with a loud public bang. People losing interest in EA is bad, but that's kind of irrelevant - the issue here is whether it's better for someone to join then leave, or never come at all. And people joining-then-leaving is generally better for the movement than people never coming at all.

When someone just sort of silently loses interest in EA, they’ll pull some of their social circle after them, at least to some degree.

At the same time, when someone joins EA, they'll pull some of their social circle after them.

Lethargy will ensue when enough people publicly an privately drop out of the movement to ensure that those who remain are disillusioned, pessimistic, and unmotivated.

But the kind of strategy I am referring to also increases the rate at which new people enter the movement, so there will be no such lethargy.

When you speculate too much on complicated movement dynamics, it's easy to overlook things like this via motivated reasoning.

Infighting or frgmentation will result when people try to defend their EA identity. Someone may think, “Yeah, I identify with core EA, but those animal advocacy people are all delusional, overconfident, controversy-seeking, etc.” because they want to defend their ingrained identity (EA) but are not cooperative enough to collaborate with people with slightly different moral goals.

We are talking about communications between people within EA and people outside EA. I don't recognize a clear connection between these issues.

Value drift can ensue when people with new moral goals join the movement and gradually change it to their liking.

Sure, but I don't think that people with credible but slightly different views of ethics and decision theory ought to be excluded. I'm not so close minded that I think that anyone who isn't a thorough expected value maximizer ought to be in our community.

It happens when we moral-trade away too much of our actual moral goals.

Moral trades are Pareto improvements, not compromises.

Someone who finds out that they actually don’t care about EA will feel exploited by such an approach.

But we are not exploiting them in any way. Exploitation involves manipulation and deception. I am in no way saying that we should lie about what EA stands for. Someone who finds out that they actually don't care about EA will realize that they simply didn't know enough about it before joining, which doesn't cause anyone to feel exploited.

Overall, you seem to be really worried about people criticizing EA, something which only a tiny fraction of people who leave will do to a significant extent. This pales in comparison to actual contributions which people make - something which every EA does. You'll have to believe that verbally criticizing EA is more significant than the contributions of many, perhaps dozens, of people actually being in EA. This is odd.

So I should’ve clarified, also in the interest of cooperation, I care indefinitely more about reducing suffering than about pandering to divergent moral goals of “privileged Western people.” But they are powerful, they’re reading this thread, and they want to be respected or they’ll cause us great costs in suffering we’ll fail to reduce.

Thanks for affirming the first point. But lurkers on a forum thread don't feel respected or disrespected. They just observe and judge. And you want them to respect us, first and foremost.

So I'll tell you how to make the people who are reading this thread respect us.

Imagine that you come across a communist forum and someone posts a thread saying "why I no longer identify as a Marxist." This person says that they don't like how Marxists don't pay attention to economic research and they don't like how they are so hostile to liberal democrats, or something of the sort.

Option A: the regulars of the forum respond as follows. They say that they actually have tons of economic research on their side, and they cite a bunch of studies from heterodox economists who have written papers supporting their claims. They point out the flaws and shallowness in mainstream economists' attacks on their beliefs. They show empirical evidence of successful central planning in Cuba or the Soviet Union or other countries. Then they say that they're friends with plenty of liberal democrats, and point out that they never ban them from their forum. They point out that the only times they downvote and ignore liberal democrats is when they're repeating debunked old arguments, but they give examples of times they have engaged seriously with liberal democrats who have interesting ideas. And so on. Then they conclude by telling the person posting that their reasons for leaving don't make any sense, because people who respect economic literature or want to get along with liberal democrats ought to fit in just fine on this forum.

Option B: the regulars on the forum apologize for not making it abundantly clear that their community is not suited for anyone who respects academic economic research. They affirm the OP's claim that anyone who wants to get along with liberal democrats is not welcome and should just stay away. They express deep regret at the minutes and hours of their intellectual opponents' time that they wasted by inviting them to engage with their ideas. They put up statements and notices on the website explaining all the quirks of the community which might piss people off, and then suggest that anyone who is bothered by those things could save time if they stayed away.

The forum which takes option A looks respectable and strong. They cut to the object level instead of dancing around on the meta level. They look like they know what they are talking about, and someone who has the same opinions of the OP would - if reading the thread - tend to be attracted to the forum. Option B? I'm not sure if it looks snobbish, or just pathetic.

In response to comment by kbog  (EA Profile) on Why I left EA
Comment author: Fluttershy 22 February 2017 02:43:18AM 1 point [-]

When you speculate too much on complicated movement dynamics, it's easy to overlook things like this via motivated reasoning.

Thanks for affirming the first point. But lurkers on a forum thread don't feel respected or disrespected. They just observe and judge. And you want them to respect us, first and foremost.

I appreciate that you thanked Telofy; that was respectful of you. I've said a lot about how using kind communication norms is both agreeable and useful in general, but the same principles apply to our conversation.

I notice that, in the first passage I've quoted, it's socially (but not logically) implied that Telofy has "speculated", "overlooked things", and used "motivated reasoning". The second passage I've quoted states that certain people who "don't feel respected or disrespected" should "respect us, first and foremost", which socially (but not logically) implies that they are both less capable of having feelings in reaction to being (dis)respected, and less deserving of respect, than we are.

These examples are part of a trend in your writing.

Cut it out.

In response to comment by Fluttershy on Why I left EA
Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 21 February 2017 03:05:28AM *  1 point [-]

I'm not going to concede the ground that this conversation is about kindness or intellectual autonomy. Because it's really not what's at stake. This is about telling certain kinds of people that EA isn't for them.

there are only some people who have had experiences that would point them to this correct conclusion

But this is about optimal marketing and movement growth, a very objective empirical question. It doesn't seem to have much to do with personal experiences; we don't normally bring up intersectionalism in debates about other ordinary things like this, we just talk about experiences and knowledge in common terms, since race and so on aren't dominant factors.

By the way, think of the kind of message that would be sent. "Hey you! Don't come to effective altruism! It probably isn't for you!" That would be interpreted as elitist and close-minded, because there are smart people who don't have the same views that other EAs do and they ought to be involved.

Let's be really clear. The points given in the OP, even if steelmanned, do not contradict EA. They happened to cause trouble for one person, that's all.

I have some sort of dispreference for speech about how "we" in EA believe one thing or another.

You can interpret that kind of speech prescriptively - i.e., I am making the claim that given the premises of our shared activities and values, effective altruists should agree that reducing world poverty is overwhelmingly more important than aspiring to be the nicest, meekest social movement in the world.

Edit: also, since you stated earlier that you don't actually identify as EA, it really doesn't make any sense for you to complain about how we talk about what we believe.

In response to comment by kbog  (EA Profile) on Why I left EA
Comment author: Fluttershy 21 February 2017 06:30:06AM 7 points [-]

I agree with your last paragraph, as written. But this conversation is about kindness, and trusting people to be competent altruists, and epistemic humility. That's because acting indifferent to whether or not people who care about similar things as we do waste time figuring things out is cold in a way that disproportionately drives away certain types of skilled people who'd otherwise feel welcome in EA.

But this is about optimal marketing and movement growth, a very empirical question. It doesn't seem to have much to do with personal experiences

I'm happy to discuss optimal marketing and movement growth strategies, but I don't think the question of how to optimally grow EA is best answered as an empirical question at all. I'm generally highly supportive of trying to quantify and optimize things, but in this case, treating movement growth as something suited to empirical analysis may be harmful on net, because the underlying factors actually responsible for the way & extent to which movement growth maps to eventual impact are impossible to meaningfully track. Intersectionality comes into the picture when, due to their experiences, people from certain backgrounds are much, much likelier to be able to easily grasp how these underlying factors impact the way in which not all movement growth is equal.

The obvious-to-me way in which this could be true is if traditionally privileged people (especially first-worlders with testosterone-dominated bodies) either don't understand or don't appreciate that unhealthy conversation norms subtly but surely drive away valuable people. I'd expect the effect of unhealthy conversation norms to be mostly unnoticeable; for one, AB-testing EA's overall conversation norms isn't possible. If you're the sort of person who doesn't use particularly friendly conversation norms in the first place, you're likely to underestimate how important friendly conversation norms are to the well-being of others, and overestimate the willingness of others to consider themselves a part of a movement with poor conversation norms.

"Conversation norms" might seem like a dangerously broad term, but I think it's pointing at exactly the right thing. When people speak as if dishonesty is permissible, as if kindness is optional, or as if dominating others is ok, this makes EA's conversation norms worse. There's no reason to think that a decrease in quality of EA's conversation norms would show up in quantitative metrics like number of new pledges per month. But when EA's conversation norms become less healthy, key people are pushed away, or don't engage with us in the first place, and this destroys utility we'd have otherwise produced.

It may be worse than this, even: if counterfactual EAs who care a lot about having healthy conversational norms are a somewhat homogeneous group of people with skill sets that are distinct from our own, this could cause us to disproportionately lack certain classes of talented people in EA.

In response to comment by Fluttershy on Why I left EA
Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 21 February 2017 02:18:26AM *  1 point [-]

I'm certainly a privileged Western person, and I'm aware that that affords me many comforts and advantages that others don't have!

This isn't about "let's all check our privileges", this is "the trivial interests of wealthy people are practically meaningless in comparison to the things we're trying to accomplish."

I also think that many people from intersectional perspectives within the scope of "privileged Western person" other than your own may place more or less value on respecting people's efforts, time, and autonomy than you do, and that their perspectives are valid too.

There's nothing necessarily intersectional/background-based about that, you can find philosophers in the Western moral tradition arguing the same thing. Sure, they're valid perspectives. They're also untenable, and we don't agree with them, since they place wealthy people's efforts, time, and autonomy on par with the need to mitigate suffering in the developing world, and such a position is widely considered untenable by many other philosophers who have written on the subject. Having a perspective from another culture does not excuse you from having a flawed moral belief.

But don't get confused. This is not "should we rip people off/lie to people in order to prevent mothers from having to bury their little kids" or some other moral dilemma. This is "should we go out of our way to give disclaimers and pander to the people we market to, something which other social movements never do, in order to save them time and effort." It's simply insane.

(As a more general note, and not something I want to address to kbog in particular, I've noticed that I do sometimes System-1-feel like I have to justify arguments for being considerate in terms of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism does justify kindness, but feeling emotionally compelled to argue for kindness on grounds of utilitarianism rather than on grounds of decency feels like overkill, and makes it feel like something is off--even if it is just my emotional calibration that's off.)

The kind of 'kindness' being discussed here - going out of one's way to make your communication maximally considerate to all the new people it's going to reach - is not grounded in traditional norms and inclinations to be kind to your fellow person. It's another utilitarian-ish approach, equally impersonal as donating to charity, just much less effective.

In response to comment by kbog  (EA Profile) on Why I left EA
Comment author: Fluttershy 21 February 2017 02:47:18AM *  2 points [-]

There's nothing necessarily intersectional/background-based about that

People have different experiences, which can inform their ability to accurately predict how effective various interventions are. Some people have better information on some domains than others.

One utilitarian steelman of this position that's pertinent to the question of the value of kindness and respect of other's time would be that:

  • respecting people's intellectual autonomy and being generally kind tends to bring more skilled people to EA
  • attracting more skilled EAs is worth it in utilitarian terms
  • there are only some people who have had experiences that would point them to this correct conclusion

Sure, they're valid perspectives. They're also untenable, and we don't agree with them

The kind of 'kindness' being discussed here [is]... another utilitarian-ish approach, equally impersonal as donating to charity, just much less effective.

I feel that both of these statements are untrue of myself, and I have some sort of dispreference for speech about how "we" in EA believe one thing or another.

In response to comment by Telofy  (EA Profile) on Why I left EA
Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 20 February 2017 09:34:20PM *  1 point [-]

it’s also important to prevent the people who are not sufficiently aligned from taking it – for the sake of the movement

How so?

If they're not aligned then they'll eventually leave. Along the way, hopefully they'll contribute something.

It would be a problem if we loosened our standards and weakened the movement to accommodate them. But I don't see what's harmful about someone thinking that EA is for them, exploring it and then later deciding otherwise.

and for their own sake.

Seriously? We're trying to make the world a better place as effectively as possible. I don't think that ensuring convenience for privileged Western people who are wandering through social movements is important.

In response to comment by kbog  (EA Profile) on Why I left EA
Comment author: Fluttershy 21 February 2017 12:21:26AM 1 point [-]

We're trying to make the world a better place as effectively as possible. I don't think that ensuring convenience for privileged Western people who are wandering through social movements is important.

I'm certainly a privileged Western person, and I'm aware that that affords me many comforts and advantages that others don't have! I also think that many people from intersectional perspectives within the scope of "privileged Western person" other than your own may place more or less value on respecting people's efforts, time, and autonomy than you do, and that their perspectives are valid too.

(As a more general note, and not something I want to address to kbog in particular, I've noticed that I do sometimes System-1-feel like I have to justify arguments for being considerate in terms of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism does justify kindness, but feeling emotionally compelled to argue for kindness on grounds of utilitarianism rather than on grounds of decency feels like overkill, and makes it feel like something is off--even if it is just my emotional calibration that's off.)

In response to Why I left EA
Comment author: Fluttershy 20 February 2017 10:51:16AM 2 points [-]

For me, most of the value I get out of commenting in EA-adjacent spaces comes through tasting the ways in which I gently care about our causes and community. (Hopefully it is tacit that one of the many warm flavors of that value for me is in the outcomes our conversations contribute to.)

But I suspect that many of you are like me in this way, and also that, in many broad senses, former EAs have different information than the rest of us. Perhaps the feedback we hear when anyone shares some of what they've learned before they go will tend to be less rewarding for them to share, and more informative to us to receive, than most other feedback. In that spirit, I'd like to affirm that it's valuable to have people in similar positions to Lila's share. Thanks to Lila for doing so.

Comment author: Fluttershy 16 February 2017 02:22:34AM 5 points [-]

Personally, I've noticed that being casually aware of smaller projects that seem cash-strapped has given me the intuition that it would be better for Good Ventures to fund more of the things it thinks should be funded, since that might give some talented EAs more autonomy. On the other hand, I suspect that people who prefer the "opposite" strategy, of being more positive on the pledge and feeling quite comfortable with Givewell's approach to splitting, are seeing a very different social landscape than I am. Maybe they're aware of people who wouldn't have engaged with EA in any way other than by taking the pledge, or they've spent relatively more time engaging with Givewell-style core EA material than I have?

Between the fact that filter bubbles exist, and the fact that I don't get out much (see the last three characters of my username), I think I'd be likely to not notice if lots of the disagreement on this whole cluster of related topics (honesty/pledging/partial funding/etc.) was due to people having had differing social experiences with other EAs.

So, perhaps this is a nudge towards reconciliation on both the pledge and on Good Ventures' take on partial funding. If people's social circles tend to be homogeneous-ish, some people will know of lots of underfunded promising EAs and projects (which indirectly compete with GV and GiveWell top charities for resources), and others will know of few such EAs/projects. If this is case, we should expect most people's intuitions on how many funding opportunities for small projects (which only small donors can identify effectively) there are, to be systematically off in one way or another. Perhaps a reasonable thing to do here would be to discuss ways to estimate how many underfunded small projects, which EAs would be eager to fund if only they knew about them, there are.

Comment author: Fluttershy 09 February 2017 11:36:25AM *  2 points [-]

You're clearly pointing at a real problem, and the only case in which I can read this as melodramatic is the case in which the problem is already very serious. So, thank you for writing.

When the word "care" is used carelessly, or, more generally, when the emotional content of messages is not carefully tended to, this nudges EA towards being the sort of place where e.g. the word "care" is used carelessly. This has all sorts of hard to track negative effects; the sort of people who are irked by things like misuse of the word "care" are disproportionately likely to be the sort of people who are careful about this sort of thing themselves. It's easy to see how a harmful "positive" feedback loop might be created in such a scenario if not paying attention to the connotations of words can drive our friends away.

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