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Don't ask what EA can do for you, ask what you can do for EA.

An obvious-in-hindsight statement I recently heard from a friend:

"If I'd believe that me being around was net negative for EA, I'd leave the community."

While this makes complete sense in theory, it is emotionally difficult to commit to it if most of your friends are in EA. This makes it hard for us to evaluate our impact on the community properly. Motivated reasoning is a thing.

So, it may be wothwhile for us to occasionally reflect on the following questions:

  • If I were to look back in ten years and find that my presence, in hindsight, was bad for EA. What were the reasons?
  • Who could I ask for an honest evaluation of which bits of my behavior serve the cause, and which harm it?
  • If I were to decide that my presence harms the community. How would I get my social needs met anyways?

Yeah I've definitely stopped doing things that I think will harm the community (I've reduced flirting a lot). But that said I think the kinds of people likely to reduce behaviours are (unlike me) the people who least need to.

I think for most people, they need not worry. And for those that do, there are ways they can avoid harmful patters - avoid events where those patterns occur, go on courses, talk to friends and develop strategies to avoid them.

I don't think we need to be martyr's here, and for 99.9% of people there is a way for their social needs to be met in the community. But like 1% of people will have to change a bit.

My personal gold standard of good organizing is the Advice Process. Description by Burning Nest:

"The general principle is that anyone should be able to make any decision regarding Burning Nest.

Before a decision is made, you must ask advice from those who will be impacted by that decision, and those who are experts on that subject.

Assuming that you follow this process, and honestly try to listen to the advice of others, that advice is yours to evaluate and the decision yours to make."[1]

One of the problems the Advice Process tackles is what anarchist visionary madman Robert Anton Wilson calls the SNAFU-principle ["Situation Normal, All Fucked Up"]:

"Communication only occurs between equals–real communication, that is–because when you are dealing with people above you in a hierarchy, you learn not to tell them anything they don’t want to hear. If you tell them anything they don’t want to hear, the response is, “One more word Bumstead and I’ll fire you!” Or in the military, “One more word and you’re court-martialed.” It’s throughout the whole system.

So the higher up in the hierarchy you go, the more lies are being told to flatter those above them. So those at the top have no idea what is going on at all. Those at the bottom have to adjust to the rules made by those at the top who don’t know what’s going on. Those at the top can write rules about this, that and the other, while those at the bottom have got to adjust reality to fit the rules as much as they can."

"So I call this the burden of omniscience: those on the top are supposed to be doing the seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and all the sensing, apprehending and conceptualizing for the whole society and those at the bottom have to adjust to what those at the top think based on all the misinformation flowing up in a hierarchy where any speaking of the truth can get you punished."[2]

And the Advice Process does more than just prevent SNAFU: It also prevents the eternal deadlock of consensus-based decisionmaking I've suffered through in nonhierarchical collectives of the political left, the eternal bad compromises of basic democracy, and incredible amounts of time wasted on having to be in the room while decisions are made that you don't actually care about all that much.

1947, Churchill said:

"Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…" [3]

Luckily, it is not 1947 anymore. Now, we have the Advice Process. It is very good, so you might want to use it.

  1. ^
  2. ^

    Cited after , because most of my books are currently buried in cardboard boxes.

  3. ^

Cool! I've never heard of this, and it does indeed sound like a good process.

Yep - it reflects how many things in EA already work implicitly. That's one of the things I love about EA. And, I think it would be good if we use this as an explicit model more often, too.

If you want to dive a little bit deeper into these kinds of management practices, you may want to have a look into the Reinventing Organizations-wiki:

If you want to dive very, very deep, Frederik Laloux's "Reinventing Organizations" might be a worthwhile read. I'm halfway through, and it helped me build a whole bunch of intuitions for how to do community building better.