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the heavily downvoted 'Women and Effective Altruism' post

There's a classic male/female dilemma where women mention problems, men attempt to solve them, but women feel unsatisfied because they are actually seeking emotional support.

I often feel like that's what's going on in these discussions. E.g. if I was to mention that the post was not exactly heavily downvoted, from a problem-solving perspective, that makes sense because the first step for solving a problem is usually to understand it accurately. From an emotional-support perspective, it could be helpful as a reminder that people are actually pretty concerned about these issues (and willing to upvote posts about them). Or it could be taken as an "attempt to defend the culture".

I think people in EA are often problem-solvers by nature. From my perspective, working to understand and solve a problem is generally an expression that I care about something. For whatever that's worth.

Her post was strongly downvoted, and she eventually removed it.

This claim seems misleading at best

Edit: That's not to say I disagree with the central thrust of the article -- I find it plausible, and I wish the community health team was able to handle this problem more effectively. I hope they are trying to figure out want went wrong in cases like Angela Pang's.

Wokeism has been a on/off discussion topic in EA for about as long as I can remember. My woke friends complain that EA is hopelessly anti-woke, and my anti-woke friends complain that EA is hopelessly woke. The predictions of political schism or ideological takeover keep being made, and keep being false.

In my opinion, we've already found a "third option" which works: the empathy to seek mutual understanding, the philosophical sophistication to critique fashionable ideas, and the willingness to share our perspective even when it seems unpopular.

But a problem I have with this is that it's wrong to interact with people based on averages, basically. If 70% of EA women like or dislike being flirted with in X way, what do you do? Do the 30% minority just have to put up with discomfort (or, less seriously, a lack of enjoyable flirting)? Are you 70% flirtatious (pleasing no-one fully)?

I agree this is a problem, but I don't think we solve this problem by ignoring it.

Right now men are choosing to flirt with women/not flirt with women based on some mishmash of: past experiences, flirting intuitions, cultural conditioning, etc. My claim isn't that the approach I suggested is perfect. My claim is that it's likely an improvement on this baseline.

I'd suggest getting the community health team to analyze the survey results and generate some guidelines that are acceptable to, say, 95% of women surveyed. Publish the guidelines and say "if you don't like the guidelines, we recommend you avoid EA events".

I think if EA has a major problem with sexual harassment, an approach like this could be really effective. On the other hand, if sexual harassment is not actually much of a problem in EA, we may as well continue with the current approach.

I think the problem with checklists is that fundamentally, negotiating social interactions so that everyone is happy and comfortable, and flirting and appropriate escalation, are social skills. And social skills tend to be fuzzy and involve very different types of thinking than analysis, or rule-following. So when people throw their hands up in despair, or ask for explicit rules, it feels a bit like they're getting annoyed that they can't just throw their technical skills at a social-skills problem. (Written as someone who finds some social skills hard, including in the areas of flirting/romance)

First, I suspect there are cultures in which romantic interactions are much more ritualized than our current culture. Flirting doesn't have to be this super fuzzy thing if we don't want it to be.

I also think there's room for social skills in the approach I suggested. People seem to believe there are situations where you shouldn't flirt with someone even if you think they're trying to flirt with you -- some examples might be: when you're interviewing them for a job, when you're in a confined space, when you're on a deserted street late at night, etc. Basically, social perception can just be another factor on the list of factors to consider. But, as you state, it's an inherently fuzzy factor, so it probably shouldn't be as load-bearing as it currently is.

I don't know Owen that well -- I've probably interacted with him for half an hour or something -- but he never struck me as particularly deficient in social skills. My guess is if he had read this situation accurately, and the woman in question appreciated his edginess, we never would've heard about any of this. People seem to favor a really punitive approach to Owen's actions, but the problem is that even if you're really good at reading social situations, say 99% accurate, there are always going to be those 1% misreadings which show up if you have a large enough number of social interactions.

Speaking for myself, I don't think I am notably deficient in social skills. I enjoy social deduction games, acting classes, etc. In my mind, the issue has more to do with differing moral intuitions, especially regarding when harsh punishments are appropriate. (My own moral intuitions would be along the lines of: "First, there is no such thing as a romantically or sexually successful person who has never ever creeped anyone out. Give yourself permission to be creepy. I am not saying that you should go around trying to creep people out... [but, stuff happens].") I'm usually comfortable trusting my social intuitions, but when so many condemn so harshly based on a short description of a situation with very little social context, that's when I wonder if social intuitions are really enough.

Maybe a good intuition pump is: Imagine if people could send you to jail if they thought you were being kind of an asshole. Can you see how you would be tempted to stop posting on social media and never leave your room? Even if you're fairly skilled socially, it's inevitable that people will sometimes think you're being kind of an asshole, unless you have an unhealthy obsession with what others think. Now consider that, as far as I can tell, Owen's crime was essentially "being kind of an asshole", but in the romantic/sexual domain. If the costs of "being kind of an asshole" in the romantic/sexual domain are much higher than in other domains -- I have no particular reason to doubt that -- then maybe it's worthwhile to add in additional precautions beyond just "use social skills"?

this comment is frustrating to read as a woman who has experienced unwanted sexual harassment/attention in the EA community

Sorry to hear that.

To clarify my perspective more broadly, I'll link to an older comment I made: "Even in the hypothetical where you dotted every possible i and crossed every possible t, getting affirmative verbal consent for every individual muscle movement as though you were in some sort of parody video -- if she feels violated afterwards, something went wrong."

I personally have spent so much of my own time gently and patiently trying to explain to "awkward" men why their behaviour sucks. I'm so tired.

It seems to me that this is a valuable activity and it would be good if it was possible to do it in a more scalable way, to improve the benefit-to-effort ratio. Obviously if you're feeling burnt out on it, you should take a break.

I'm sorry you're feeling tired.

(Side note: I had some responses to your other points, but I kept deleting them because I didn't have a good theory of how they would help move the discussion forwards. It felt like there was a danger of getting lost in the weeds in an "ordinary internet argument" which didn't contribute to any "action-relevant" important broader point. If you want to discuss more, maybe you could articulate specific important broader points you think we disagree on that would be good to hash out. Alternatively, if you want to have an ordinary internet argument, we could move this to a different medium, e.g. you can send me a private message.)

I largely agree. I think the thing to do is to poll a representative sample of women in EA regarding when they would / would not want a guy to flirt with them (and how), then formulate some guidelines based on the poll results and publish the guidelines.

Julia Wise previously expressed skepticism, saying:

My sense is that pre-specified criteria for what constitutes something like “offensive actions” or “unwanted sexual attention” and what the response should be isn’t realistic or a good idea. A lot of factors play into what constitutes a problem — words, body language, setting (the career fair vs. an afterparty vs. a deserted street outside the venue at night), power and status differences between the people, etc.

However, I don't think this has to be an obstacle in principle. It's easy to imagine separating these factors out into a point system or rubric -- some sort of checklist, decision rule, or decision tree that I can memorize and go through in my head before flirting with someone.

As a side note, I see this as more of an issue with society than with EA. I'd love to see the poll idea done for the general population as well, and given the place we're at right now as a society, I'm not sure I would expect anyone to reliably forecast the results of such a poll. (As an intuition pump, consider the massive standard deviation values found in Aella's rape spectrum survey.)

EDIT: I did some introspection on this, and it seems to me like positive "do this" guidelines (like "prioritize ensuring that the other person is comfortable") could be a lot more effective than negative "don't do this" guidelines.

How do you define "decent"?

I'm a straight guy, and I grew up in an era of pre-#metoo, sex-positive feminism. The doctrine of the day was "men and women are pretty much the same in every way and it's sexist to claim otherwise". "Slut shaming is bad, women can be just as horny as men, wanting women to be chaste and pure is patriarchical and bad, trying to give women special protection from harm is benevolent sexism and therefore bad, treating people the same regardless of their gender is good and desirable."

An anecdote from this era of feminism -- I once read a woman claim something like: if a man hears a new dirty joke, and he tells it to his male friends but not his female friends, that's sexism.

I figured: "OK, well if men and women are pretty much the same in every way, and treating women as delicate flowers is sexist and bad, that means I can model women's dating preferences by just putting myself in their shoes and asking myself how I would feel if I was in their situation. Women are just people, after all!"

Obviously, at a certain point I figured out that this was a bad heuristic. I believe I've technically been the victim of sexual assault (rot13'd: n qehax thl ng n cnegl tenoorq zl pebgpu bhg bs gur oyhr nsgre V gbyq uvz ur jnf cneglvat gbb uneq -- V unir ab vagrerfg va thlf naq jnf tvivat fvtanyf bs naablnapr, abg frkhny vagrerfg). I found it about as unpleasant as brushing off a persistent insect. I basically forgot about it for years, until #metoo came along and I thought to myself "huh, I guess maybe I've been assaulted too."

I've also been catcalled by women a few times -- those are fond memories that I recall when my self-esteem is low.

I hesitate to share this, because I fear readers will think I'm suggesting that women's preferences are somehow less important or legitimate. That's not the case. I recognize that society is full of diverse peope with diverse preferences, and I think we should work to satisfy everyone's preferences in a harmonious way.

Rather, what I'm trying to say is: I think society underrates how often men have trouble modeling women's preferences. It looks to me like a preference modeling failure at least partially explains the OP. I think failure to model preferences accurately is a mistake that decent people sometimes make. The OP doesn't read at all to me like an instance of premeditated, deliberate harm. (And, separately, I wish women would invest more in helping men model their preferences. It seems like if a guy says "that doesn't seem bad to me", the most common response is some variant of "you're a horrible person!", which is counterproductive for learning. It doesn't communicate any general rule which could allow me to extrapolate from this instance and accurately model your preferences in other situations.)

This post is an interesting case study of how important branding and idea presentation are if you want EAs to buy into your ideas. I proposed something vaguely similar but called it a "giving circle" and got a bunch of upvotes; this post's score is currently negative. If I was the post author, I think I would probably feel a bit annoyed by this -- props to him for responding with good cheer.

I admire the audacity and vision of someone who learned about EA 5 months ago and now has the ambition of affecting $1 billion in EA funds. But realistically, this is an incredibly ambitious goal and you shouldn't take it personally if you fail!

To maximize your chances of success, you might try taking more of a consensus-building approach: reach out to people like ConcernedEAs, try to get on a video call with one of them, pitch your idea, listen and respond to objections (including improving your idea based on their input). Once you've done enough calls like this, you'll understand the most common objections -- and if you've found convincing responses to those objections, you can build your next post around those responses, and try to gather advisors and team members.

The information from her included serious concerns about various people in the Bay Area, most of whom had no connection to EA as far as we know.

I'm concerned that predators may be claiming EA affiliation to gain the trust of victims.

I'm concerned about situations where something goes very wrong with EA, outsiders notice this and experience+express strong negative emotion, but the expression of emotion causes people within EA to disregard the outsider because "obviously their thinking is clouded by emotion".

It's probably true that strong emotions cloud judgement, but they're also evidence that something is very wrong.

Reduced accuracy, combined with increased potential importance, could mean that the expected value of listening to an emotional person is about as high overall.

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