Freer-Than-Thou

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The Importance of Truth-Oriented Discussions in EA

In study after study, people are very bad at predicting the experiences of other groups. I think this shows the importance of listening to other people's experiences - there's clearly a systematic gap in the average ability of men to predict what kinds of barriers and issues women face, heterosexuals to predict what others face, etc. Because of this, I think it is entirely appropriate to discount what someone says about another group unless they are themselves a member of that group as a general heuristic, and likewise to be cautious about what one says about another group if one is not oneself a member of that group. That may be simplistic, but it seems a good first rule of thumb.

I'm pretty sure I've been EA since before some newer EAs were born. I think it's nice that there's a label, but if EA gets colonized and warped, I have no problem abandoning the label and community. Not wanting to be associated with the movement is entirely different than not being committed to the cause. You can be EA without a label and without participating in debates. I don't participate much online because I don't have the time for that and don't think it's a way I can do the most good. I don't know how many people are like me in that respect, but since most of them will probably be quiet (as I am 999 times out of 1,000), I thought it good to speak up to be represented. I am not interested in engaging in debate on these kinds of issues as I deem it frankly a waste of time. This comment is probably also a waste of time, and I may come to regret it. I quickly disengage with things that are both irrelevant to my actual work and attention-sucking. I don't appreciate the suggestion that if I were truly committed and a good EA, I would be busy responding to every possible thing that I disagree with. I think I'm a better EA for disengaging and keeping busy where I can have a bigger impact. I don't think I have some special secret amazingly-wonderful-most-productive-of-all thing I'm working on - I think almost all people have something better they could be doing with their time, so it isn't at all guaranteed anyone will be left to engage with these arguments.

I also think that having fewer unproductive conversations is conducive to having more productive conversations, both because time is a scarce resource and because of social capital depletion; if someone wastes a lot of my time I am less inclined to wish to listen to anything they might have to say in the future, even on different topics, because of the base rate being higher that it will be a lousy argument and a net negative.

I have framed this in terms of unproductive vs. productive conversations, but in part this is a credibility issue. See: failure to predict other groups' experiences. Why would I trust people to credibly speak about other groups? I would generally encourage people to talk more about topics they know more about, and my advice would not be any different in this setting: talk more about your own group, less about others. So how come the opposite pattern seems to be observed in practice? How come there seem to be some people who go after group X, group Y, group Z, none of which is their own group, and still claim to be unbiased? It's not a bad look because of the contents (though others have already expressed concerns about how the contents look, separately), it's a bad look because it looks irrational and biased. I think that people who want to be perceived as rational/rationalist have to put a lot of effort into not undermining that image, and casual conversation about difficult topics without recognizing the hubris of that really hits one right in the credibility.

P.S. I hate to say this as it may undermine my own social capital and how my arguments are perceived, but as a separate matter, if you can separate it out, please take my username as gentle tongue-in-cheek criticism of the username Freethinkers of EA. What kind of name is Freethinkers of EA? Does that name not sound offensive? I mean no offense, but if the Freethinkers of EA can pick such a handle, so can I. I think their arguments can be separated from the name, and in general the arguments are better than their name (though still not good). Nonetheless, I'm surprised no one has yet criticized the attempt to position themselves as the sole purveyors of Truth, and I think it's important someone push back against that as it is clearly incorrect. Their name is kind of illustrative of the issue in microcosm: shitting on those who disagree with them, extreme arrogance, and myopia. I do not want the lovely word "freethinker" to pick up these narrow-minded connotations. We are all freethinkers here.