About 4 months ago I applied for funding from EAIF to do community building in Romania and got rejected. I now realize that my application was indeed a bit premature, since I am relatively new to EA. I have talked to many people since then and got a lot of great feedback that helped me redefine and improve my plans. Recently, however, I learned of a couple of factors that counted against my application and that I'm struggling a bit to understand and I would like your opinion on.
Disclaimer: For the sake of brevity, I will use language in this post that some might find a bit blunt. I want to make it clear that the people who gave me the feedback were careful to be kind and polite with their words and that I appreciate their honesty and care and hold no personal grudges. I am not posting this here to accuse anyone, but to hear more diverse opinions in hopes that this will help me figure out more clearly how I can improve.
One of the factors that counted against my application was my blog, which was considered to be “too edgy” and to make me look like a "naive utilitarian". This is a bit surprising to me because I have received positive feedback about my blog from other EAs, so I'm wondering if this opinion is really universal. You can find my blog here, and the article that was viewed as most problematic was this one:
UPDATE: I have now updated the article to make it less graphic. You can find the new version here.
To be clear, I argue in favor of meat offsets but against rape offsets, and I only talk about rape at all because the main argument used by vegans so far against my defense of meat offsets has been the analogy with rape. I am perfectly aware that this is a sensitive topic and I wouldn't have brought it up gratuitously just to be edgy. Perhaps I should have made this more explicit. The trigger warning was added later in response to Tobias Leenaert's comments (which were otherwise supportive of my main thesis).
In case you agree that this article is too "edgy", I would be curious to understand your arguments for supporting this view so that I can make better decisions in the future.
- Is it the fact that I use the word "rape" right in the subtitle? If it was only brought up further in the text would it have been OK?
- Is it the fact that I respond to the rape analogy at all? Should I have used a less sensitive example, like maybe "murder offset"?
Another article that caused some uproar in some secular humanist groups was this one:
This article wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the feedback, however, so I won’t focus on it here. I just thought a few concrete examples might give people a better feel of the level of controversy in my blog. To be clear though, if I consider my last 10 articles, I can’t think of any really controversial ones besides these two.
Regarding the perception that my blog promotes “naive utilitarian” views, I am really curious to understand what could prompt this consideration. I've written an entire series of posts explaining my position on utilitarianism and criticizing most of the views that are generally framed as "naive". If you spot anything specific in this article or any other that makes you feel that my view on it is naive, please do let me know because I would really like to address it.
After attending a few conferences and completing the virtual programs, I am now more aware that EAs tend to be very academic and private about their discussions. Most content is posted in obscure specialized forums/blogs like LessWrong, Slate Star Codex, EA Forum, etc. The language is generally quite technical and the content seems to mostly target other members of the community rather than people who have never heard of EA. It is a very different world from that of atheist bloggers, YouTubers, etc, which I'm more familiar with and might have influenced me.
My articles are probably somewhere in between these two worlds. Most of them target the general public and I roam in many different circles. If anything, most of the feedback I get is that my language is too complex and academic. So yeah, I still have a lot of progress to make in terms of defining exactly what my target audience is and how technical I want to be, but at this point I am more worried about sounding too technical than sounding too informal or simplified. This has all made me wonder:
- Do I sound like a naive utilitarian to EAs because of my unusually informal and non academic style? Or is it some other reason?
- Is it bad for group organizers to have their own blogs and speak publicly about controversial topics?
- Should group organizers be more low profile and avoid expressing their opinion on divisive issues unrelated to EA?
- Should EAs avoid having their public persona associated with other, unrelated and potentially controversial causes or lifestyles such as LGBT+, polyamory, sex positivity, decriminalization of drugs and sex-work, etc? Or should EAs have the freedom to express themselves openly about these issues? What should be an ideal trade-off?
- In order to become a better and less controversial community organizer, is it sufficient if I tone down the level of controversy in my articles from now on? Or is it too much a liability to have these articles still listed in my blog at all?
I understand that being a full-time group organizer on an EAIF grant brings certain responsibilities and requires some diplomacy and PR skills, and I will be the first to admit that I've had my edgy atheist phase, but this was a long time ago and I am more than willing to tone down the provocativeness of my articles if this is important. I have been doing that for a long time anyway. In fact, the edginess of the atheist movement is one of the very factors that made me gravitate more towards EA in the last few years.
I do think it's important, however, to balance diplomacy with intellectual courage. One of the things that attracted me to the EA movement was the boldness of philosophers such as Peter Singer who, as you probably know, co-founded the Journal of Controversial Ideas and defends unpopular views such as the euthanasia of severely disabled newborns. I feel this commitment to freethinking and intellectual openness is an extremely important value for any movement that hopes to make progress rather than stagnate and become dogmatic.
If you think I'm erring too much on the side of openness at the expense of caution and PR concerns, please feel free to share any tips you might have to help me make better trade-offs in the future. Thank you :)