Concern, and hope

by willbradshaw1 min read5th Jul 202027 comments

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I am worried.

The last month or so has been very emotional for a lot of people in the community, culminating in the Slate Star Codex controversy of the past two weeks. On one side, we've had multiple posts talking about the risks of an incipient new Cultural Revolution; on the other, we've had someone accuse a widely-admired writer associated with the movement of abetting some pretty abhorrent worldviews. At least one prominent member of an EA org I know, someone I deeply respect, deleted their Forum account this week. I expect there are more I don't know about.

Both groups feel like they and their sacred values are under attack. Both groups are increasingly commenting anonymously or from throwaway accounts, and seeing their comments mass-downvoted and attacked. It's hard not to believe we're at risk of moving in a much more unpleasant direction.

I'm not going to pretend I don't have my own sympathies here. I've definitely been feeling a lot more tribal than usual lately, and it's impaired my judgement at a couple of points. But I think it's important to remember that we are all EAs here. We're here because we endorse, in one form or another, radical goodwill towards the rest of the world. I have never been among a group of people at once more dedicated to the wellbeing of others and the pursuit of the true. I admire you all so much.

Many people here feel their membership in EA is a natural outgrowth of their other beliefs. Those other beliefs can differ quite a lot from person to person. But I implore all of you to see the common good in each other. There are many people in EA who hold beliefs and political opinions significantly different from mine. But with very few exceptions they have proven among the most open, honest and charitable proponents of those views I've ever encountered. We can have the conversations we need to have to get through this.

The Forum is probably not the place to have those conversations. Too many people are too worried about their words being used against them to speak too openly under their own names – an indictment of our broader culture if ever there was one. But you can reach out to each other! Schedule calls! Now is a bad time to not be able to have in-person conferences, but it's not impossible to make up the difference if we try.

(And on the Forum, please try to be charitable, even if your conversation partner is falling short of the standards you would set yourself. Strive to raise the tone of the conversation, not just to match it. I have sometimes failed in this recently.)

I'll start. If I say something on the Forum you disagree with, and you don't think it's productive to discuss it in comments, please feel free to reach out to me by private message, or schedule a call with me here.

Our epistemic norms are precious. So are our norms of compassion, justice, and universal goodwill. We need both to achieve the lofty goals we've set ourselves, and we need each other.

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