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Who's hiring? (May-September 2022)

Giving Green is hiring a student research intern!

We're an EA-aligned climate charity evaluator. We publish a guide to the most impactful, cost-effective donation opportunities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Our guide has been featured in the Atlantic, the New York Times, Vox's Future Perfect, and more.

We're looking for someone - ideally a current student who can secure funding or credit from their university - to support the research that will go into this year's giving guide. We're open to part-time or full-time, and we're happy with summer or fall or some other time interval in 2022 that works for you.

Applications received by June 1 (that's this upcoming Wednesday) will receive priority consideration!

Full job description and application: https://www.givinggreen.earth/careers

Bad Omens in Current Community Building

Thanks for writing this - this resonates a lot with my experience, as I was also exposed to and very put off from EA in college! But have eventually, slowly, made my way back here :)

I want to add that many of the "disconcerting" tactics community builders use are pretty well-established among community organizers (and larger student groups, like Greek life). So my sense is that the key problem lies in EA using well-proven community building tactics, but implementing them poorly. Having a scripted 1:1, a CRM, intro talks; making leadership asks of younger and newer members; measuring success by gaining new members; and trying our best to connect someone's interests to the values and goals of our community are all very standard practice in community organizing. (They're also very sales-y tactics, which is probably why they feel off-putting and slimy. I think most policy and entrepreneur types would be aware of this as long as they had some experience in the field, but perhaps students might not be.)

I'm not sure what exactly EA is doing wrong, or where the line between "wholesome supportive community" and "creepy cult" is, and I'd love to think about this more. My intuition is that EA student groups are fighting an uphill battle; the EA movement is somewhat unique in that it (1) already attracts a certain non-normative niche group of people; (2) asks people to change their careers without any clear offering in return (other than the resources available to help you... change your career); (3) espouses unusual beliefs. 

Most of the students I've talked to name the community as one of the main reasons they stay in EA, and I wonder if EA would be better off leaning into community-building messaging over cause-area and career messaging, at least on campus.

(Context: I'd consider myself new to the EA community, but I've been doing community building and community organizing for ~5 years, including, as a student, teaching student community organizing fellowships and running recruitment for a sorority. I'm also a recovering hyperrationalist of the sort that once would have found EA to be extremely appealing.)

Bad Omens in Current Community Building

I do community building with a (non-student, non-religious, non-EA) group that talks a lot about pretty sensitive topics, and we explicitly ask for permission to record things in the CRM. We don't ask "can we put you in our database?"; we phrase it as "hey, I'd love to connect you with XYZ folks in the chapter who have ABC in common with you, would you mind if I take some notes on what we talked about today, so I can share with them later?" But we take pretty seriously the importance of consent and privacy in the work that we're doing.

Also, as someone who was in charge of recruitment at a sorority in college where ~half the student body was Greek-affiliated... yeah, community builders should have CRMs. We just don't call them CRMs; we call them "Potential New Member Sheet" or something. 

It does feel a bit slimy, but I think this is pretty normal, and if done well, not likely to put off the folks we're worried about.

What is Intersectionality Theory? What does it mean for EA?

I think that's precisely what I'm saying - people have different preferences, but that doesn't negate the existence of broader dynamics of privilege, i.e. John's earlier comment, and doesn't negate that the facts of the matter are shaped by intersecting oppressions. 

Assuming that we take as true that systemic oppression is a real thing, the distinction is this: I don't consider myself to have a dating "advantage", but I do think that I have a larger dating pool than the average Asian man because of the ways in which Asian women sit at the intersection of racism and sexism. I'm sure plenty of 1950s housewives considered themselves to be advantaged personally, but that doesn't negate that they were structurally disempowered.

I am no philosopher, but I think it's a bit slippery-slope to go from "we disagree on whether larger dating pools have inherent goodness" to "everything is subjective"!

What is Intersectionality Theory? What does it mean for EA?

Ah, I apologize, I think I've phrased my first comment poorly. I believe that the difference in desirability is due to both fetishization of women and emasculation of men. My initial comment did not make that clear due to the word "mostly", which was the wrong word to use. I meant simply to highlight that desirability as an Asian woman is not without its downsides. 

Re: 

It doesn't predict that being a member of two "oppressed" classes can result in an intersectional "privilege"... In any case, there are disadvantages associated with fetishization, but acknowledging this group's relative dating advantage as an advantage would break the model*.

I actually think that this is perfectly compatible with intersectional theory:

  1. There's a distinction between "privilege" as a class, and "advantage" in certain areas of life. Intersectionality claims that Asian men have gender privilege, as a class, over Asian women, and that Asian women exist at the intersection of oppressions in a way that Asian men do not. It doesn't claim that Asian men are advantaged in every area of life over Asian women, or that every single experience of Asian women is due to disadvantage. (edit: John's comment below explains this way better than I did)
  2. In fact, I think an analysis of how Western gender ideals hurt Asian men via emasculation and Asian women via fetishization is an intersectional analysis, i.e. Asian men and women have different experiences of racism due to the ways in which racism and sexism intersect. (And both are still racism, and bad.)
  3. Acknowledging that Asian women empirically have larger dating pools is just a statement about the world. Whether you consider this to be an "advantage" or not is really subjective, and not addressed by a theory of systemic oppression. I would personally rather have fewer dates than have to wade through fetishizing weebs, but that's obviously a subjective judgment that you disagree with.

I do share the hope that in popular discourse we start to see more understanding of the nuances of the theory, because it is absolutely more sophisticated in academia than it is on Twitter (or in my EA Forum comments!).

What is Intersectionality Theory? What does it mean for EA?

I've been thinking about the (perceived or actual) tension between intersectionality and effective giving for a while now and haven't had the words to think through it productively, so thank you for providing those words and sparking this discussion!

One thing I would add that is relevant to EAs thinking about this:

Being both a part of the wealthy global elite and people of colour, they feel a special obligation to help people within their own communities who are not blessed with the same advantages. Whether or not this feeling of obligation cashes out in concrete ethical positions, the emotional force of the obligation has a real effect on their donation decisions, and this tension makes them feel uncomfortable when discussing donations in EA spaces. 

I think there is an argument that helping people within our own communities can be more effective; i.e. that, given two otherwise equal interventions, one within a community and one outside it, an EA should choose the one within the community. This is because:

  1. There is greater potential to form a relationship that will lead to further giving and/or the improvement of the intervention.
  2. We know more about our communities and the problems they face than we do about communities not our own, especially when thinking about issue areas outside the typical EA global health interventions; therefore, we are likelier to make effective choices within our communities. For instance, I am likely to make better giving decisions about charities in Chicago, where I live, than charities in New York, where I do not live, because I know more people in Chicago who can point me in the right direction.
  3. The EA's choice can influence non-EAs to give more effectively. If I choose the most effective charity working in Chicago, I can influence the giving decisions of Chicagoans that, for "valid" ethical reasons or otherwise, restrict their giving to Chicago.

Obviously, this advantage isn't enough to justify funding an extremely ineffective, intra-community intervention over an extremely effective, outside intervention. I'm using Chicago here as an example of a community, and not making the argument that anyone should fund charities in Chicago. 

tl;dr it seems to me that preferring intra-community giving should be compatible with EA principles. Curious what other folks think about this; I'm not totally confident in it.

What is Intersectionality Theory? What does it mean for EA?

To weigh in here as someone who had to read some race studies literature in college: 

the idea that privileged white men find it easier to take a universalising, impartial approach to doing good seems intuitively plausible

I think that's probably true - the theory I've read is based on the idea that white straight men are positioned as the "norm" under racial/gender hierarchy in Western society. Everyone else is othered and seen in relation to that norm. Some oversimplified examples: 

  • "Unisex" sizing is actually men's sizing.
  • Fresh Off The Boat is marketed as an ethnic, Asian-American story. Friends is just a show about some people who are friends, and doesn't need to justify its existence by discussing experiences peculiar to the White community.
  • Car crash dummies are usually shaped to the average man, meaning that women are more likely to die in car crashes.
  • The whole concept of "ethnic food".

Given instances like this, it makes sense to me that white men find it easier to be impartial, and PoC are more likely to be aware of and care about issues special to us communities, because knowledge, culture, and norms seen as "impartial" often exclude us.

That being said, I don't know if PoC feel a stronger desire to donate to their communities than Boy Scouts. Personally, I think that's just a reason for EA to figure out ways to appeal to Boy Scouts, not to appeal less to PoC. 

What is Intersectionality Theory? What does it mean for EA?

I think the theory of intersectionality actually does address this well, though perhaps for a different reason than John:

a) Intersectionality is explicitly about the idea that people can be both privileged and oppressed, e.g. Black men having privilege along a gender axis but oppression along a racial axis

b) Intersectionality is explicitly not about "double oppression", it is about unique forms of oppression. 

For instance, we can break down this idea that Asians earn more than white people in the US. When you consider factors like country of origin, class, and immigration status, there's actually substantial variability in earnings; in particular, East and South Asians tend to earn more than whites, and Southeast Asians tend to earn less. (I haven't read this study in detail, but it's an example of this finding.) Therefore, simply categorically ignoring Asians in analyses of economic inequality would (and does) leave Southeast Asians neglected. Southeast Asians will probably not be addressed by interventions to help low-income people in general or interventions to help Asian people in general, because the causes of their suffering are different.

And it's true that Asian women are seen as more desirable than Asian men in America, but that's mostly because of fetishization of Asian women. As an Asian-American woman, yes, it's nice to be able to get a Tinder date or whatever. But overall, being fetishized is rather undesirable, and sometimes involves unfortunate outcomes such as dying in a mass shooting. Addressing the emasculation of Asian men and fetishization of Asian women in American culture are two interrelated but separate problems, which is again what intersectional theory would posit.

Intersectionality is a word that has often been thrown around improperly over the years, so it's certainly possible that these misinterpretations of the theory would hamper nuanced discussion. But it wouldn't be due to the academic theory itself.

The Case for Rare Chinese Tofus

Ha, I never check my forum notifications - a belated thank you for responding and engaging with this, it's clear that you've already really thought through a lot of the potential harms folks are bringing up which is much appreciated. I definitely see the reasons why each word individually makes sense, but I do also wonder if there's a better synonym for rare.

The only thing I'd push back on is:

For folks in China, calling something "Chinese" is generally a symbol of pride, the same way American products might brag that they're "made in America." There are definitely cases where this isn't true (i.e. Trump's "China virus"), but bad examples don't seem like a reason to not use the label in positive ways.

I think this is 100% true, and also the reason why Chinese-Americans find it off-putting. A lot of what second-gen folks like myself would call "cultural appropriation", immigrants with stronger ties to their home country would say makes them proud to see their culture represented in American [media/culture/etc]. 

So I suppose I should clarify that I'm speaking from the POV of Asian-Americans, who might find it more distasteful (pun intended). Whereas native Chinese people and non-Asian Americans will probably resonate w/ the framing for all the reasons you share.

No need to respond to this one month later, just wanted to ~ close the loop ~ 

The Case for Rare Chinese Tofus

I'm part Chinese and I agree that the perception of appropriation is a significant risk - "rare Chinese tofus" is off-putting enough to me that I would be hesitant to try a product marketed as such. This is despite being otherwise excited about the idea - I love tofu and am on a long campaign to find a tofu dish that my white American partner will enjoy. I think that, beyond chefs, you'll need a base of everyday consumers who help the project take off, and IMO the most likely people to form that base are younger Asian-Americans. (For instance, I think the success of BTS and Korean skincare in the US was strongly predicated on an initial Asian-American base.)

For me personally, I think it's not "rare" that bothers me, but "rare" and "Chinese" together. It reminds me of the stereotype that Chinese people are perpetual foreigners who can't relate to Americans. I've heard a general rule to avoid implicitly playing into these stereotypes is to ask yourself whether the ethnic descriptor is necessary to get the point across. In this case, I don't think it is, because tofu is already Chinese.

IMO, an easy fix here is to call each tofu by its place of origin or its Chinese name, as Pranay suggested. It'll sound foreign enough to Westerners that it retains an "exotic" appeal (like gua sha, feng shui, or kung fu), and it'll also be accurate and expressly honoring the culture of origin.

I would second having Chinese people on your staff, as well as looking into ways your project can benefit the rural villages whose people developed the tofu.

I'd also potentially suggest looking into, if you haven't already:

  •  the popularization of seitan, which is also an Asian food now used as a meat substitute - I don't know anything else about it, but I assume that might be relevant!
  • the popularization of orange chicken, chow mein, and pad thai, all of which IIRC were coordinated by decentralized networks of immigrant-owned restaurants with the explicit goal of creating a food that bridged Asian and Western tastes
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