Writing this under a fresh account because I don't want my views on this impact career opportunities.

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TLDR: We're all aware that EA has been rocked by a series of high profile scandals recently.  I believe EA is more susceptible to these kinds of scandals than most movements because EA fundamentally has a very high tolerance for deeply weird people. This tolerance leads to more acceptance of socially unacceptable behavior than would otherwise be permitted.

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It seems uncontroversial and obviously true to me that EA is deeply fucking weird. It's easy to forget once you're inside the community, but even the basics like "Do some math to see how much good our charitable dollars do" is an unusual instinct for most regular people. Extending that into "Donate your money to save African people from diseases" is very weird for most regular people. Extending further into other 'mainstream EA' cause areas (like AI safety) ups the weird factor by several orders of magnitude. The work that many EAs do seems fundamentally bizarre to much/most of the world.

Ideas that most of the world would find patently insane - that we should care about shrimp welfare, insect welfare, trillions 0f future em-style beings - are regularly discussed, taken seriously, and given funding and institutional weight in EA. Wildly unusual social practices like polyamory are common and other unusual practices like atheism and veganism are outright the default. Anyone who's spent any amount of time in EA can probably tell you about some very odd people they've met: whether it's a guy who only wears those shoes with individual toes, or the girl who does taxidermy for fun and wants to talk to you about it for the next several hours, or the the guy who doesn't believe in showers. I don't have hard numbers but I am sure the EA community over-indexes like mad for those on the autism spectrum.

This movement might have the one of the highest 'weirdness tolerance' factors of all extant movements today.

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This has real consequences, good and bad. Many of you have probably jumped to one of the good parts: if you want to generate new ideas, you need weirdos.  There are benefits to taking in misfits and people with idiosyncratic ideas and bizarre behaviors, because sometimes those are the people with startlingly valuable new insights. This is broadly true. There are a lot of people doing objectively weird things in EA who are good, smart, kind, interesting and valuable thinkers, and who are having a positive impact on the world. I've met and admire many of them. If EA is empowering these folks to flex their weirdness for good, then I'm glad. 

But there are downsides as well. If there's a big dial where one end is 'Be Intolerant Of Odd People' and one end is 'Be Tolerant of Odd People' and you crank it all the way to 100% tolerance, you're going to end up with more than just the helpful kind weirdos. You're going to end up with creeps and unhelpful, poisonous weirdos as well. You're going to end up with the people who casually invite coworkers to go to sex parties with them to experiment with BDSM toys. You're going to end up with people who say that "pedophilic relationships between very young women and older men are a good way to transfer knowledge" and also people whose first instinct is to defend such a statement as "high decoupling cognitive style". People whose reaction to accusations of misconduct is to build a probability model and try to set an 'acceptableness threshold'. You know what should worry EA? I was not the least bit surprised to see so many accusations of wildly inappropriate workplace behavior or semantic games defending abhorrent ideas/people. I thought 'yeah seems like the EA crowd'.

Without going through every alleged incident, EA needs to acknowledge that it is inherently vulnerable to this kind of thing. Scott Alexander wrote once that if you create a community whose founding principle is 'no witch hunts', you're going to end up with a few committed idealists and ten thousand witches. To at least some extent, EA is seeing that play out now. Shitty people will abuse your tendency to accept odd behaviors and beliefs. They'll use your tolerance to take advantage of other people and behave inappropriately. If tolerated, they'll often graduate to more serious forms of assault or fraud. They've already been doing it. And EA is going to keep having embarrassing incidents that damage the movement until they get this under control.

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I think there are concrete changes the community should make in order to be less susceptible to this sort of terrible behavior.

  • Be marginally less accepting of weirdness overall.
    • Broadly speaking, EA already has a massive surplus of people generating weird new ideas, strange new cause areas or just bizarre stuff in general. EA has a much larger challenge in addressing existing areas competently and professionally. On the margin EA would benefit from basically just growing up. From becoming less of a counter-cultural social scene and becoming more a boring, professional environment. EA still has extremely large gaps in basic cause areas, and EA needs to scale boring competency more than it needs to scale weirdness at this stage of the movement.
  • Related: Be less universal in assumptions of good faith. 
    • Assuming good faith is a very good rule of thumb for the community to have. It's a good starting point. But having it as a universal rule is dangerous, because people can and will abuse it. An example: I have directly, personally observed white nationalists talking about infiltrating rationalist spaces because they know they can abuse assumptions of good faith and use the 'debate it out' culture to their advantage. Be more willing to call out inappropriate, weird and/or off-putting behavior, and more willing to simply shut down certain types of people without needing to endlessly discuss or justify it. Be more willing to call obvious red flags as red flags.
  • Be much, much less accepting of any intersection between romance and office/network
    • EA seems to have a massive problem with people's romantic/sex lives intersecting with their professional lives. This is not normal, it's not healthy, and it shouldn't be widely accepted. Virtually every major company, university, or large organization has strict fraternization rules because they recognize that relationships + careers are a ticking time bomb. Executives at major institutions and multi-billion dollar companies are often fired in disgrace for having unethical office relationships that wouldn't even warrant a mention in EA circles.
    • It shouldn't be acceptable to casually invite coworkers into your polycule. It shouldn't be acceptable to casually invite coworkers to a sex party. A company's executives sleeping together should be a major red flag, not a fun quirk. There should never have to be questions raised about whether a funder and a grantee are romantically linked. This is basic stuff out of normal society that EA seems to struggle heavily with. EA's tolerance of this sort of thing is a key reason EA is now in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal.
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Be marginally less accepting of weirdness overall.

I agree that a low-weirdness EA would have fewer weird scandals. I'm not sure whether these would just be replaced by more normal scandals.  It probably depends a lot on exactly what changes you make? A surprisingly large fraction of the "normal" communities I've observed are perpetually riven by political infighting, personal conflicts, allegations of bad behavior, etc., to a far greater degree than is true for EA.

Choosing the right target depends on understanding what EA is doing right in addition to understanding what it's doing wrong, and protecting and cultivating the former at the same time we combat the latter.

I'm skeptical that optimizing against marginal weirdness is a good way to reduce rates of sexual misconduct, mostly for two reasons:

  • The proposal is basically to regress EA to the mean, but I haven't seen evidence that EA is worse than the mean of the populations we'd realistically move toward. This actually matters; it would be PlayPump levels of tragicomic if EA put a ton of effort into Becoming More Normal for the sake of making sex and gender minorities safer in EA, only to find out that the normal demographic w
... (read more)

Rob - I strongly agree with your take here. 

EA prides itself on quantifying the scope of problems. Nobody seems to be actually quantifying the alleged scope of sexual misconduct issues in EA. There's an accumulation of anecdotes, often second or third hand, being weaponized by mainstream media into a blanket condemnation of EA's 'weirdness'. But it's unclear whether EA has higher or lower rates of sexual misconduct than any other edgy social movement that includes tens of thousands of people.

In one scientific society I'm familiar with, a few allegations of sexual conduct were made over several years (out of almost a thousand members). Some sex-negative activists tried to portray the society as wholly corrupt, exploitative, sexist, unwelcoming, and alienating. But instead of taking the allegations reactively as symptomatic of broader problems, the society ran a large-scale anonymous survey of almost all members. And it found that something less than 2% of female or male members had ever felt significantly uncomfortable, unwelcome, or exploited. That was the scope of the problem. 2% isn't 0%, but it's a lot better than 20% or 50%. In response to this scope information, the socie... (read more)

Historical note: If EA had emerged in the 1970s era of the gay rights movement rather than the 2010s, I can imagine an alternative history in which some EAs were utterly outraged and offended that gay or lesbian EAs had dared to invite them to a gay or lesbian event. The EA community could have leveraged the latent homophobia of the time to portray such an invitation as bizarrely unprofessional, and a big problem that needs addressing. Why are we treating polyamory and kink in 2023 with the same reactive outrage that people would have treated gay/lesbian sexuality fifty years ago?

I agree with this. Though the thing I'd want to push for isn't "treat it as an axiom that poly and BDSM are exactly as socially and psychologically healthy and good as LGBT things, and accuse people of bigotry if they ever criticize those practices".

The thing I'd push for instead is: Err on the side of treating EAs' consensual choices in their personal lives as None Of The Movement's Business. But if topics like "what are the costs and benefits of poly?" come up (either because EAs are trying to make personal decisions, or because they're trying to understand the world at large), try to make it socially safe for people to express their actual views (both pro and con), as long as they're civil, willing to provide supporting arguments and hear counter-arguments, and otherwise following good epistemic norms in the conversation.

Rob -- Yep. Fair point. 

I'd strongly endorse your suggestion that we should 'Err on the side of treating EAs' consensual choices in their personal lives as None Of The Movement's Business'.

Most EAs are adults who are old enough to vote, drive, join the military, own property, take out loans, invest in stocks, get married, have children, and consent (or not) to sex. 

IMHO, we should treat each other as adults, and the EA community should not put itself in a position of policing our social/sexual lives.

Side-note: the OP says "Wildly unusual social practices like polyamory", but I think poly is fairly common in the Bay Area outside of EA/rat circles.

I suspect it's fairly common in other young, blue-tribe, urban contexts in the US too? (Especially if we treat "polyamorous", "non-monogamous", and many "monogamish" relationship styles as more-or-less the same phenomenon.)

Rob -- yes, among under-30s in the US, UK, and Europe, consensual non-monogamy is pretty popular; good reliable data are hard to come by, but it's certainly NOT the case that polyamory is a 'wildly unusual social practice'. 

The most recent Census-based quota sample (Moors et al, 2021) of single adults in the US (N = 3,438) shows that about 17% of people would like to engage in polyamory, and about 11% have done so at some point. (Compare that to circa 4.5% of Americans being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans). So, polyamory as a relationship orientation is arguably about as common as (or maybe more common than)  gay/lesbian as a sexual orientation.

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Davis_Kingsley
I've heard this argument before but I think it's quite overstated. I grew up in the SF Bay Area and still am in touch with many friends from childhood. They are generally young, blue-tribe, urban/suburban, etc. Of that group, I think zero of them are polyamorous, with perhaps one exception (though I'm not sure if this person actually practices polyamory or has merely thought about doing so/been attracted to the idea) -- and that one exception is also the one member of the group, other than myself, with by far the most contact with the Bay Area rationality/EA scene. (Of course, it's possible and perhaps indeed somewhat likely that some people I knew in childhood are now polyamorous but I haven't learned about this, as they keep it quiet or we've fallen out of contact or whatever? But it certainly does not seem to be a big mainstream thing.)
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Anthony Repetto
Third Generation Bay Area, here - and, if you aren't going to college at Berkeley or swirling in the small cliques of SF among 800,000 people living there, yeah, not a lot of polycules. I remember when Occupy oozed its way through here that left a residue of 'say-anything-polyamorists' who were excited to share their 'pick-up artist' techniques when only other men where present. "Gurus abuse naïve hopefuls for sex" has been a recurring theme of the Bay, every few decades, but the locals don't buy it.
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agunning
if I'm going to be nervous about anything it's doing things like poly and kink when you don't have a good sense of how these things ~typically look. fortunately there is plenty of cultural infrastructure for fixing this in EA/rat circles.

This is a great idea. EA already runs an annual community survey. So it wouldn't necessary to create a whole new survey to get this data --just add some questions to the existing community survey. If they aren't already on there it would be great to see them on the next survey.

I am now also very curious about what value the community gets from various kinds of experiences in EA spaces.

For example, I'm curious how most women would weigh being in a community that lets them access healthy professional networks free from the tensions of inappropriate* sexual/romantic advances against being in a community where they are able to find find EA partners. (I am implying that there is a tradeoff here.)

I am also curious if the men in the community have an opposing view - if so, it might be important to think about how  the existing state of the community  (that may have been shaped by the views of the majority gender) may make it less attractive to women considering joining the community.

(I personally gain a lot from interacting with the EA community in a professional way and would weigh having healthy EA professional networks a lot higher than the chance to date within the community.)

*eg of inappropriate - young EA job seekers being propositioned by potential bosses in their field after making it clear that they are looking for opportunities in that field.

Ben -- good idea. I think the crucial thing would be to phrase the questions about these issues as neutrally and factually as possible, to avoid responses biases in either direction. 

Ideally EA would ask just about actual first-hand experiences of the individual, rather than general perceptions, impressions based on rumors and media coverage, or second/third-hand reports.

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ben.smith
Here's something else I'd like to know on that survey: * what proportion of respondents wants to post on EAF or engage in other discussions they think are important for EA's goals, but don't, or will only do so anonymously because they are worried about the consequences? * how does that compare to the proportion who feel free to contribute without fear of retribution? * what proportion thinks they have been in fact passed over for an opportunity because they have criticized EA or said something else "politically incorrect" here?
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Arturo Macias
If you have not a Census of EA, you can not do this kind of survey. The EA Survey is donde on a voluntary basis on the Forum, and false identities can be used to manipulate results. Any EA survey shall be based on a anonymous answers but verified identity.
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ben.smith
Surveys of these types are often anonymous, because  * while it is possible for people to make false responses, that doesn't happen very much, because it is time consuming, and unethical, and there just aren't that many people out there who are all of unethical, have lots of time on their hands, and want to manipulate our survey. Manipulated responses are generally more of a danger for short polls (e.g., "which political party would you vote for"), but less of an issue for 10 minute + surveys. * there are means of probabilistically filtering false responses out, including eliminating identical copies of responses, comparing IP addresses, and so on * It is quite expensive, difficult, and risky to verify identities and at the same time, guaranteeing anonymity * For that reason verifying identities can discourage genuine responses
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Arturo Macias
In my view you underestimate the degree of intentionality and coordination of the offensive against EA.
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Jason
What you're suggesting -- some sort of census and then restricting access to the poll -- would be rather expensive and time-consuming. Is there any evidence for someone wanting to fund what I expect would be a six-figure endeavor?
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Arturo Macias
Why do you think an anonymous survey for physical gatherings and meeting attendants (real humans taking part in physical EA activities ) with paper sheets would be so expensive? You go to a gathering, ask people their names (ideally ask for a ID), write them in a list, then give them envelopes and the survey, and collect the written answers.  An additional issue is than the "at risk" population is not all EAs and EA adjacents, but only those physically involved.  
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Jason
You'd have to distribute at a lot of events to get a representative sample, and then would need the completed forms mailed to a trusted third party organization (having site-level distribution would risk deidentification, and people need privacy to complete surveys on particular topics). Unless you're limiting yourself to multiple-choice, someone then needs to transcribe all the written responses before running the scantron sheets through. There are reasons that mail-in surveys aren't popular nowadays.
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Arturo Macias
Well, it is hard to believe that a random chosen person would try to do “deidentification”. What I have described is routinely done for calification of university professors at end course in countless universities!
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Jason
Do those surveys ask people if they are survivors of sexual assault? That is extremely sensitive information that requires a very high level of assurance that one's identity cannot be attached to one's responses.

Historical note: If EA had emerged in the 1970s era of the gay rights movement rather than the 2010s, I can imagine an alternative history in which some EAs were utterly outraged and offended that gay or lesbian EAs had dared to invite them to a gay or lesbian event.

I think the comparison here is somewhat inapt. The actual case listed in the OP is "casually invit[ing] coworkers to go to sex parties with them to experiment with BDSM toys". If someone now invited a coworker to a gay sex party I think it would be quite reasonable to consider that unacceptable behaviour, even in the complete absence of homophobia.

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Davis_Kingsley
This comparison seems quite misleading to me because it glosses over the type of "event" in question. The OP was calling for people to avoid casually inviting coworkers to sex parties, not just "events". I certainly hope that casually inviting a coworker to to attend a sex party  -- whether that be gay, lesbian, straight, or whatever -- would be considered inappropriate and grossly unprofessional even today!
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Burner1989

I agree that a low-weirdness EA would have fewer weird scandals.

Caveat: "a low-weirdness EA would have fewer weird scandals" is compatible with "trying on the margin to make EA less weird will increase the number of weird scandals".

It's important to keep in mind that a lot of scandals are happening at around the same time right now because a few known individuals are trying to make a lot of scandals happen for EA right now, including via saying a lot of things that are not true. (And a lot more things that they know will mislead their reader on a local point, albeit I assume they think this is justified because they genuinely believe in the gist / the high-level claims they're trying to establish.)

In an adversarial game where the other party is trying to pressure you into doing something by bending the truth in some convenient direction, capitulating won't necessarily get you what you want. Game-theoretically, this encourages any adversaries you have to crank up the juice and try to pressure you to do even more of what they want. And socially, signs of eagerness to capitulate and optimize-for-optics often feel like "blood in the water", an opportunity to go after a group more becau... (read more)

In the long run, I think the best way to make the EA community a healthy place is to optimize somewhat for weirdness as a secondary consideration, but mostly just optimize for a community that's honest, high-integrity, brave, compassionate, smart, skillful, thoughtful, self-aware, etc.

One thing I'd add is that optimizing directly for *safe for everyone* is also important.

(I also think we should be better about reducing conflicts of interest, which is different than "high-integrity" in that it is verifiable.)

uh
speaking as a "gender and sex minority"

i would not feel safer if EA regressed to the mean of how we culturally treated sexuality

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agunning
in general I model poly/kink communities as unusually sane about this stuff compared to the culture at large and I think trying to discourage these practices is honestly likely to hurt EAs/rats on the margin rather than help
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AnonymousQualy
This is something of an argument for not including such different cause areas under the same banner.
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RobBensinger
Yep, it's definitely an important consideration that points in that direction! I'm not sure what the balance of arguments favors here, though I lean toward thinking it's good EA is a thing. Since people have different visions of what they'd like EA to become, I think the best option is for people to articulate their visions and argue for them, and then we can try to converge; and to the extent we persistently disagree, we try to negotiate and plan some fair compromise. (Keeping in mind that it's hard to bind a huge informal community/movement to anything, no matter how much a small subset wants to negotiate a specific plan!)
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This post presents as the only counterargument to expelling weirdness from our community that we might have less good ideas about how to make the world better. Obviously a big and serious concern! Seems important to include it. But I didn't hear two other important reasons (in my view) to tolerate weirdness:

  • Dialling down weirdness is often difficult and stressful, and in some cases effectively amounts to excluding people entirely (whether intentionally or not),
  • Cultural designation of harmless lifestyles, or beliefs, or neurodivergence, as weird or inappropriate is immoral, and we should not tolerate it lightly.

I agree you shouldn't do weird bad things, but you shouldn't do ordinary bad things either. A general campaign against weirdness will hurt people who do not deserve to be hurt, and that's wrong regardless of whether it will overall be better or worse for the prospects of the movement as a whole.

When the culture you live in is (e.g.) homophobic, or transphobic, or stigmatizes autism, being counter-cultural is a moral obligation.

  • Dialling down weirdness is often difficult and stressful, and in some cases effectively amounts to excluding people entirely (whether intentionally or not),
  • Cultural designation of harmless lifestyles, or beliefs, or neurodivergence, as weird or inappropriate is immoral, and we should not tolerate it lightly.

I strongly agree with this.

I do think it's important to keep in mind that there are competing access needs here: you can't fully optimize EA for feeling emotionally safe, low-stress, etc. to one group, without giving up on fully optimizing EA for feeling emotionally safe and low-stress to at least one other group.

A classic example is 'groups for male survivors of rape by women' and 'groups for female survivors of rape by men'. Rather than "safe space" being a person-invariant property, it's relative to what group you're optimizing the space for. Ditto for spaces that are extra welcoming to left-wing people (which for that very reason tend to feel less comfortable to the average right-wing person), vs. spaces that are extra welcoming to right-wing people (and for that reason are less cozy on average for left-wing people).

It's possible to create social spaces that are physically s... (read more)

Yeah, there are certainly some difficult choices in this domain, but (and I don't think you said otherwise) not all access needs are competing, not all choices are difficult. My guess is that a general push against weirdness would make some potentially-correct pushes on a few important tradeoffs, a few pushes on tradeoffs that serve to make life slightly easier for a few people and substantially harder for others, and also a few totally unnecessary pushes in directions that benefit no-one. We should target the tradeoffs more precisely and carefully.

I think we have a bunch of unusual norms, but I'd prefer to:

A. Focus on the norms that are causing the most harm (like maybe the professional/personal overlap has some interesting potential interventions that take seriously how enmeshed things are and how costly it is not to be able to date in your community, this is just one potential intervention point, I don't have a strong take yet on what the highest leverage thing is). I will say that romance within organizations I think it's already taken pretty seriously in my experience, and then the question is the network/all the social overlap, which is much more complicated and has a whole spectrum of how intense the overlap is (grantmakers are in a different position, some people are independent researchers and more/less reliant on organizational leadership goodwill, the list goes on)

B. Treat intervening there as an experiment, and pull back if we think it's not worth it

Overall pushing back on weirdness seems to me trying to address too broad of a thing without focusing on the highest leverage parts, and might take away from things that feel important, plus could end up instantiated cruelly, though that's not my crux. Also seems subje... (read more)

Great point! As well as "focus on the norms that are causing the most harm" I'd want to also add  "focus on the norms that promise the least benefit".

Doing weird things like giving away 10% of your income, or talking about shrimp welfare, or raising the alarm about the dangers of AGI are all very weird, but there are credible worldviews in which it's really important to do them anyway. 

Whereas weird things like having sex with multiple people within your professional network on a regular basis promise mild benefits at best, even according to worldviews which endorse them.

You're focusing on the wrong thing here. The problem for bad behavior isn't "weirdness" itself, it's that people are using "weirdness" as an excuse for unprofessional and toxic behavior, and that other people are going along with it. Whether people are weirdly into trains, or in a polyamorous relationship at home, has nothing to do with it. 

The norms for an organisation where you are responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars should be different from those of some rationalist hobby group, but it looks like far too many people are jumping from one to the other with no change. 

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alexherwix
I generally agree but I think it might also be interesting to take a memetic perspective and look at the incentives and consequences that some of the ideas might cause as a product of their information content interacting with a dynamic environment. Sometimes we tend to think of ourselves as the masters of our own behaviors (e.g., we have „free“ will) but underneath it all, we may just be carriers for the information and rules encoded in genes and memes. In this view, „weirdness“ relating to the distribution of memes may actually be an informative perspective because it highlights novel dynamics that might be at play here. I think that the call for more self-awareness regarding weirdness and how this might be viewed by other people is quite important. However, I also think it has been discussed before and quite a few people are aware of it. The recent situations have highlighted that we should maybe aim for clearer guidelines and rules how to handle this in practice. But it’s not really easy to find appropriate tradeoffs between the different interests here (weird vs. non-weird).
[anonymous]32
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5

I strongly agree with a lot of your points here. To pick up on one strand you highlight, I think the fact that EA is very nerdy, and lacking 'street smarts' has been at the root of some (but not all) of the problems we've been seeing. I think it might be this rather than an intellectual commitment to assume good faith and tolerate weirdness that is the main issue, though maybe the first causes the second. Specifically, EAs seem to have been pretty naive in dealing with bad actors over the last few years and that persists to this day. 

If the problem is lack of street smarts, then we don't need to get into debates about being less weird because it's kind of unclear what it means, and hard to judge what margin of weirdness you want to move, which makes general debates about weirdness difficult. But it's pretty clear that we need to be more street smart. 

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Jason
Do you think the presence/extent of certain types of "weirdness" create a disinclination for people with high "street smarts" to associate with EA? If so, is there any good way to mitigate that issue?

This is cribbing a bit from Sam[]zdat's summary of Hoffer's "The True Believer", but in brief: I'm skeptical of pushes to make EA more normal because normal people don't join social movements or intentional communities. Alternative lifestyles like polyamory, atheism and veganism are already largely drawing from people who are alienated from mainstream society enough to start doing things differently. High tolerance for weirdness + a desire to sacrifice in favor of the cause enables abuse in EA, sure. It also enables abuse and grift in your local anarchist co-op, your local BLM circle, probably even your local fusion dance scene. 

Joining a demanding community or cause is something that is most appealing to people who are already having trouble fitting into society. That fact creates a lot of problems in any kind of intentional community or cause--I will always be the first to admit this. But not tolerating weirdness probably means paying the price of not really having a movement at all.

This is repeating some of what's already been said, but I worry that this is targeting the wrong thing. 

I do believe that lots of the abusers or boundary-pushers in EA probably justified their behaviour by just saying they were 'weird' or 'high-openness' or 'high decoupling' or whatever. But I think behaving like this involves not just weirdness, but also other traits - at the less serious end, lack of social skills and empathy (and just good-old fashioned lack of feminist consciousness), and at the more serious end, manipulativeness and being an asshole. Like, I'm weird but I know that you probably shouldn't invite your coworkers to sex parties, because I've managed to absorb the general world knowledge that 'lots of people are weird about sex and consider it private and stuff so you probably should be a bit circumspect about the contexts and ways in which you mention it'. 

There's a lot I disagree with in this post, but there's one part I super agree with:

Be much, much less accepting of any intersection between romance and office/network

Traditionally dating happens with your 2nd and 3rd order connections, not your first. Also, dating in a professional (or related) setting is very likely to lead to bad outcomes. We know this.

I realize people want to date like-minded people. There are lots of them out there who aren't in EA! You just have to look for them.

This comment and the OP are blurring the line between "office" and "network". I think some people want a strong taboo within EA against dating co-workers, and other people want a strong taboo within EA against dating other EAs. "Network" makes it sound like folks are proposing the latter, but most of the specifics so far are about workplace relationships. Regardless of the merits of the different views, it seems helpful to clearly distinguish those proposals and argue for them separately.

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Gordon Seidoh Worley
To be clear, I am mostly saying don't date other EAs most of the time, especially if you are doing more than small scale earning to give. If you plan to work in EA, then EA is your office. EA is too small to think of it as an ecosystem where people can find other opportunities. There's one EA game in town. That's the place I think it's fraught to date.

What problem are you trying to solve by recommending to not date within EA? 

If it's conflicts of interest, it seems like you'll get more mileage directly promoting norms of avoiding conflict of interest by disclosing what would bias judgement and avoiding being a decision maker in that situation.
As one anecdote, I worked in a typical enough non EA startup in which multiple coworkers had romantic relationships with each other, and multiple coworkers had strong friend relationships with each other. In my experience management decisions were more highly influenced and biased by friend relationships than by romantic relationships. Many companies and institutions have cliques and friend networks that try to gain power together, and I do think it makes sense to have strong norms on disclosing that and reducing those conflicts of interest. 

On one hand I agree that avoiding conflicts of interest is important, on the other I think you're approaching it too narrowly if you focus on romantic/sexual relationships. But I wouldn't bite the bullet of saying one shouldn't have friendly or romantic/sexual relationships in the EA community, as that just seems too high a cost to pay. 

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Gordon Seidoh Worley
Conflicts of interests is a way to put it, but I think it massively undersells it. To me the thing not dating in EA (or at your company) is it upholds an extremely valuable professional norm of preventing your personal and work life from colliding in messy ways. The trouble is that breakups happen, they are messy, people do and say things they will regret, and you want as much separation between the personal and professional parts of your life in such a situation. That way only a part of your life is on fire. If you're like many people and only really have personal and professional lives (and don't have, say, a religious life) then you may find your whole world has fallen apart. The downside risk is high. The upside is low. The world is full of people. Go out and find some of them who aren't going to put you at risk of wrecking both parts of your life at once.

The upside is huge for a lot of people. And EA is the social life, not professional for a lot of us.

Have you actually tried to quantify either the downside or the upside here, or are you saying that one is small and the other is big based on a general intuition?

As someone who thinks banning dating in EA would be bad, I really, really want to see people on the other side of this issue try harder to make their argument as rigorous as possible.

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Gordon Seidoh Worley
I've not tried to quantify this, but I've lived in a bunch of rationalist/EA houses. I've seen the dynamics up close. The downsides are very large and massively outweigh the upsides based on what I've seen. The only thing that makes people think the upsides outweigh the downsides is, I suspect, that they are desperate. This isn't really weird, though. This is just what seems to happen in lots of communities. Dating within a community is usually dangerous to the community, and this holds for lots of communities. This is a fully general phenomenon among humans: exogamy is the strategy most often adopted by societies that grow, expand, progress, and make the world better; endogamy by societies that isolate and rarely change. Given that the goal of EA is to make the world better, we should have a strong prior against endogamy being a successful strategy.
2
timunderwood
So why do you think dating within a church, or an university community, or maybe a high school, for example, works fine? Or is the argument that my impression that these things are fine is incorrect? More to the point: It seems like the minimalist approach to dealing with issues of dating other people in a group house is to encourage group houses to form specific rules around that, and not to change the general culture of the community. This  also still isn't a clear attempt to look at the downsides of making it very clear to everyone that you should not ask anyone out at an EAGx event, and that it is very bad juju if you even think that sleeping with the professional partner you just met at one of them would be a nice thing to do. Phrased in better corporate speak, of course. Also telling local community organizers to make sure they regularly announce at groups that we don't want anyone who meets someone here to date someone else here. That would be bad, and Time Magazine might someday find the worst thing that ever happened in such a situation and write about it, and we are now optimizing to avoid that. I mean I organize a LW/ACX meetup, and if I was told that, I'd ignore it, possibly rename my group to add 'unofficial' to the title, and be seriously annoyed with the meetup meta organizer person. And this is despite the point that there is only one woman who regularly shows up at the events. And if that is not what you think should be done, then what is the specific set of policy changes we are proposing? Or is it just giving people a cultural vibe that dating people who you might interact with professionally can have serious downsides? I mean sure, and we've made a general cultural attempt to make a big chunk of the individual upsides illegal at the same time because they are seen as being bad systemically. But this is completely irrelevant to me, since I have no expectations of being professionally involved with people who I might date in the community. I
0
Gordon Seidoh Worley
I want to say something specifically in response to this. It's great that EAs can be friends with each other. But EA has a mission. It's not a social club. We're here to do good better. Things that get in the way of doing good better should be dropped if we actually care about the mission. The trouble is I know lots of people have impoverished social lives. They have maybe one or maybe two communities to build social bonds within. So when you're in that stance the natural thing is to try to extract as much value from the one community you have, whether or not that is well advised. The better strategy is to get some more communities! I've seen this a lot within rationalist spaces. People come in and want to make rationality their whole identity. This isn't a unique phenomenon. People try to do it with religion, hobbies, all kind of stuff. It's almost always a mistake. We have the common wisdom against putting all your eggs in one basket for a reason. Be friends with fellow EAs. Have a social life with some of them. But don't let that be the whole social scene! That's why we're in this mess in the first place! We've got people who've mixed up their only personal and professional settings and now trouble in one means trouble in all of it. People's whole lives fall apart because one part goes bad and they have no where to turn. And that's just how it is, there's nothing unusual about it; would happen anywhere and anytime someone wraps their entire life around a single thing. That's not the way to have resilient social bonds that enable a person to do the most good in the world. It's a way to do some good for a while until something goes wrong and then burnout or be ostracized and then do less good. (I know this is perhaps a bit ranty, but I see people fucking this up all the time in EA and I just want to shake some sense into everyone because this is extremely obvious stuff that nerd-like people mess up all the time.)

"The better strategy is to get some more communities!"

Does this really work for most people?

I think my life over the past year or so has been substantially enriched as I've gone from seeing my rationalist group friends in my city from once a month or so to 1-2 times a week, but at the same time, as a reasonably introverted and Aspie person, who also has a three month old who always wants to be carried, this has close to maxed out my social meter. I don't think normal people can maintain having more than one or two real space communities that they are really  deeply involved in.

Though, I do have a group of friends outside of the rationalist group, and I'm connected through my wife to other communities, so I suppose I'm not failing to follow your advice of having other social groups.

8
RobBensinger
As a poly person whose main relationship over the last seven years has been with a non-rationalist non-EA, I want to say: Ingroup and outgroup people are both great. I think it would impoverish the community, and be a tragic loss of a lot of beautiful friendships and relationships, if people tried hard to avoid dating anyone from one group or the other.

(I'm interested in the counter-argument, and don't mean to use platitudes to shout down what sounds like a complicated model I don't yet understand. But I wanted to at least voice my view.

Normally I would feel less need to speak up and note disagreement, but right now I think a lot of EAs are feeling a lot of emotional conflict and shame about various EA-related things, so I'm unusually wary of pushes for people to cut ties with tons of their friends or partners or radically restructure their life based on a high-level theory about what's good for them.

I think this is a good discussion to have, but I want to encourage EAs to be skeptical of contentful one-size-fits-all arguments about what's good for them, compared to their own individual-specific sense of what's helping them flourish in life. I trust individuals to build up self-expertise and steer by their taste more than I trust relationship or sociology experts to give useful advice.)

I realize people want to date like-minded people. There are lots of them out there who aren't in EA! You just have to look for them.

source?

This article seems to presuppose that EA has a worse time with bad behavior than other "less weird" groups. But is that actually true? For example Scott Alexander's evidence (very limited though it is) seems to point the other way.

Strong upvote.

Three additional arguments in favor of (marginally!!!!) greater social norm enforcement:

(1)

A movement can only optimize for one thing at a time.  EA should be optimizing for doing the most good.

That means sometimes, EA will need to acquiesce to social norms against behaviors that - even if fine in isolation - pose too great a risk of damaging EA's reputation and through it, EA's ability to do the most good.

This is trivially true; I think people just disagree about where the line should be drawn.  But I'm honestly not sure we're drawing any lines right now, which seems suboptimal.

(2)

Punishing norm violations can be more efficient than litigating every issue in full (this is in part why humans evolved punishment norms in the first place).

And sometimes, enforcing social norms may not just more efficient; it may be more likely to reach a good outcome.   For example, when the benefits of a norm are diffuse across many people and gradual, but the costs are concentrated and immediate, a collective action problem arises:  the beneficiaries have little incentive to litigate the issue, while those hurt have a large incentive.  Note how this interacts wi... (read more)

I would look again at your opening sentence for a more fundamental clue as to why the EA community is susceptible to bad behaviour.

I'm not sure that your ideas regarding the romance and professional relationships separation would work in practice.

  1. As EA is international, I'm worried about European Vs American cultural norms. Attitudes concerning sexuality vary greatly and it is not clear that enforcing the more conservative US norms is optimal. Looking at military regulations concerning this there are huge differences in how organizations from those different cultural spheres handle this. In the US Military relationships are heavily restricted, in the German Federal Army for example, only relationships between directly superior commanding officers and enlisted soldiers are considered problematic. In theory those should result in transfering the enlist into another unit, but not in disciplinary measures. The reality is even more lax.

  2. If there is a norm against it, what is the base rate of sexual happenings in those organisations where it is considered unprofessional? Speaking from my experiences in the military, it is high. While the skewed gender ratio might be a factor (it's unlikely to be a strong one as the behaviour is also common in units heavy on females), the rule is that sexual relationships pretty

... (read more)

I think we should slightly narrow the Overton Window of what ideas and behaviours are acceptable to express in EA spaces, to help exclude more harassment, assault and discrimination.

I also think EA at its best would primarily be more of a professional and intellectual community and less of a social circle, which would help limit harmful power dynamics, help limit groupthink and help promote intellectual diversity.

I think we should slightly narrow the Overton Window of what ideas and behaviours are acceptable to express in EA spaces, to help exclude more harassment, assault and discrimination.

Does 'narrowing the Overton Window of acceptable behaviours in EA, to help exclude more harassment, assault and discrimination' just mean making harassment, assault, and discrimination socially unacceptable within EA? Because that seems like a no-brainer to me.

But then I don't really know what "ideas" you have in mind. Is the idea just to generically reduce the size of the Overton window / the diversity and weirdness of ideas in EA, in the hope that this will by some indirect path reduce rates of bad behavior?

Mostly my response here will echo Zack Davis' in a LW thread in 2019:

"overton-window fights"

So, sorry in advance if I'm reading way too much into a casual choice of words, but—this is an incredibly ominous metaphor, right? (I'm definitely not blaming you for anything, because I've also used it in just this context, and it took me a while to notice how incredibly ominous it is.)

Maybe my rationality realism is showing, but I thought the premise and promise of the website is that there are laws of sys

... (read more)

I think you're assuming we can disentangle the professional community and social circles. I also strongly disagree with the claim that professional communities "help limit groupthink and help promote intellectual diversity." In fact, the opposite is true.

Be more willing to call out inappropriate, weird and/or off-putting behavior, and more willing to simply shut down certain types of people without needing to endlessly discuss or justify it. Be more willing to call obvious red flags as red flags.

I think the right approach is something like a legal trial: have a context devoted to figuring out if there was wrongdoing, then determine any punishment, then mete it out.

Concretely, this could look something like: "I propose we set a timer and discuss for X minutes. When it rings, we make a list of possible p... (read more)

Overall, I wish there would have been less focus on trying to portray polyamory negatively - both in the article and in all the discussions about the article on the forum. Both because it was unnecessary and unhealthy to pass judgemental of people's personal dating preferences and because  it has detracted from the conversations about sexual harassment/assault. IMO, the behavior described in the article can be considered unacceptable irrespective of people personal views about mono/poly.

The first few comments on this post are also understandably hung ... (read more)

I struggle to believe this article would have as many upvotes if it was about almost any other immutable characteristic than weirdness. 

Weird people have relatively little control over how weird they are.

I think that many upvoting this probably understand what it is to feel judged or unsafe. I am confused how this doesn't apply to "Be marginally less accepting of weirdness overall". Say that sentence in your head with any other word than [weirdness]. 

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