The last week has created a huge mix of emotions for people in EA, myself included. It is really difficult to know how to respond to the cognitive dissonance created when a "good guy" is accused of bad things.
I have seen this happen to another global altruistic movement that I'm part of, the church. Over the centuries, many actions have been carried out in the name of God despite directly contradicting Jesus's clear teachings. In more recent decades, there have been numerous cases of child sex abuse carried out by people in a position of trust that have subsequently been covered up in an effort to pretend that people in church are in some way faultless.
Yet, Christianity also offers an explanation for all this that I have found powerful. For as long as mankind has existed, there has been a spiritual battle between good and evil, but we as people do not fall neatly into one side or the other. We all fall short of perfection. Human nature frequently conflicts with good morality. Both Peter Singer's drowning child story and Jesus's Parable of the Good Samaritan advocate the position form of the Golden Rule: not just "don't do anything to anybody that you would not want done to yourself", but "do to others what you want them to do to you" (Matthew 7:12). I know I sometimes don't get it right and I'm sure everyone reading this will be in the same position.
Irrespective of your own religious beliefs, I think Christianity offers some helpful advice on how we should respond:
- Focus on making ourselves better - Jesus told us not to be hypocrites when it comes to faults (Matthew 7:5). When a woman was brought before him accused of adultery, he told the crowd that the first person to stone her shall be a person who hasn't sinned. One by one everybody left (John 8:3-11). Let's condemn the action but not the person, i.e. avoid ad hominem attacks. Let's take lessons from it about how we can avoid making the same mistake and make ourselves better as a result.
- Implement good governance structures - The bible tells us "do not put your trust in princes, in human beings who cannot save" (Psalm 146:3). Once we recognize that humans are flawed, we appreciate the value in putting in place strong measures to safeguard important institutions and avoid centralization of power. We learn not to idolize individuals as it risks reducing the objectivity of our judgement (I was too slow to accept that SBF might have done something wrong). We should use this time to strengthen EA institutions and build resilience in the movement.
At this stage, I should plug the EA Good Governance Project, which is trying to achieve just that
I partially agree, in that I want to see EA avoid making SBF a scapegoat for systemic problems in our organizations or ideology that could have led to the current series of events.
At the same time, if someone does something bad, character judgements are unavoidable. We all fall short of most particular ideals of moral perfection, but whatever your theological views on sin, someone's past actions are one of the best guides we have to predict their future actions, and we're going to need to make some inferences based on actions in the past to determine how much we trust what they'll do in the future.
My primary concern is that--if we consider, for instance, that EV-maxxing or naive consequentalism was part of the ideology that led to the disaster, we have to correct the problem where-ever it is and not just condemn the singular person who happened to live by an ideology that many people in the movement might share.
I think we're pretty much in agreement. Forgiveness does men forgetting and failing to learn the lessons. I certainly don't in any way want to condone the actions. I just want to make sure we direct our energy to the future and how to move on from this.