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Should We Have More Expansive Laws as an Alternative to Cancel Culture?
Answer by LarksSep 23, 202113

You might be interested in reading Robin Hanson's extended writings on this and similar subjects, for example here:

I’ve said before that it might be better if we had formal laws against the kinds of evil that cancel crowds now seek to punish. Because at least then there’d be a formal trail before punishment, which could exonerate many of the accused. But it doesn’t look like such laws will be passed anytime soon.

I agree with him that this solution is unlikely to satisfy people's desire for cancel culture:

  • People engaging in cancellations enjoy doing so; they would not get this benefit from passively watching a court proceeding.
  • Court proceedings give defendants the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, present their own evidence, be judged by their peers, and so on, which increase their likelihood of being exonerated.
  • Often people are cancelled for activities that either were not a norm violation at the time, or are not in broader society, and hence would not be against the law. 
  • Cancel culture allows a small number of crazy people to exert disproportionate influence because they care more; laws determined by the median voter would be and are much more moderate.
  • Engaging in a cancellation mob allows people to signal how woke they are; passively accepting an institutional process would not.
  • Enforcement through highly random bullying creates a climate of fear, where people aggressively self-censor to avoid falling anywhere near the line. Encoding this in law would allow people to say things that were just on the permitted side of the line without fear.
  • Because there is little logic to cancellation, allies and high status people can be exempted from punishment for the same behaviour which would be cancellably 'creepy' or 'racist' from others.
  • Laws can take many years to pass; cancellation mobs sometimes want to punish people for things that were not forbidden very recently.
  • Passing such laws would require them to be debated, and many of them might seem absurd. By instead only raising these rules in the context of individual transgressors, principled opposition can be dismissed as supporting the bad person.
Does the Forum Prize lead people to write more posts?

Perhaps the most plausible way in which this could happen is that the authors of prize-winning posts are incentivized to post more frequently. We therefore examined whether prize-winning authors post more frequently in the six months following their prize than in the six months prior to it, relative to a control group.

I'm surprised this seemed the most plausible mechanism. Surely the incentive should have occurred prior to winning the prize? For my own case, I observed the existence of the prize, which encouraged me to put more work into making my post better, and the winning came later, presumably in part due to this extra effort. Is your idea that winning signals that you are high enough quality to be able to win, and hence its worth trying again?

In fact if winners suspected the Judges would be averse to letting them win 'too often' out of some egalitarian sentiment the effect might go in the opposite direction (though I think this would be very small, and I don't think I used this as a judging criteria).

Suggested norms about financial aid for EAG(x)

You should think of paying for your EAG ticket as equivalent to making a donation to EA community-building.

If we adopt this line of thought, wouldn't basically no-one end up paying?

  • Most people do not donate to community-building.
  • Personally attending doesn't significantly increase the cost-effectiveness of community-building from an impartial point of view.
  • Even if you were donating to EA community building anyway, you were probably donating more than the ticket price, so you are already 'covered'.
  • If you are going to donate, you should do so directly, because of the tax advantages. For higher income people this could effectively almost double the cost of buying the ticket directly.
Guarding Against Pandemics

I've read a lot of what Warrens thinks we should do, and it seems.... underwhelming?  It seems like a ton of it is "giving people money to mitigate the negative effects of the  pandemic" and almost nothing about preventing actual pandemics?  

Indeed, she said she was opposed to the US paying more for vaccines, and supported IP expropriation, both of which reduce the incentives to invest in vaccines for next time.

Guarding Against Pandemics

Ahh. You said in the post that the group was supporting both parties:

Guarding Against Pandemics (GAP), which does non-partisan political advocacy ... another important part of GAP’s work is supporting elected officials from both parties who will advocate for biosecurity and pandemic preparedness. [emphasis added]

... which makes this decision a bit confusing. I think it is very easy to get sucked into partisanship and just going for one side; avoiding this requires consistent effort from the beginning. Do you expect that over the long run you will support roughly equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats? I could imagine it being useful to have some kind of promise to spend equally between the parties. Otherwise I think you're in danger of just looking like another Democrat front group.

Guarding Against Pandemics

Very important topic, thanks for putting together this great idea!

Could you explain in a bit more detail how the $5,000 gating issue works? My understanding was that multi-candidate PACs topped out at giving $5,000 to each candidate, regardless of how many extra small donors they had (assuming they hit the 51 threshold). Once you have e.g. 100 donors giving $5,000, what can you do with an additional $5,000 donor?

Perhaps it might be useful for you to share the list of candidates you think are good? This would allow people to donate to them directly, allowing each top candidate to receive more than $5,000, because each individual can give $2,800 to each candidate. Donors could then write 'for supporting pandemic preparedness' in the notes field, so the politicians understand what behaviour we are supporting.

It would also allow people to customize who they donate to; people might want to support pandemic-aware politicians in general, but have other reasons for vetoing one or two on the list.

Finally, the post says:

Reminder: due to federal election law, only U.S. citizens are allowed to donate

But the donate link says:

I am a U.S. citizen or lawfully admitted permanent resident (i.e., green card holder).

Could you clarify whether green card holders can donate?

editted to add:

I notice you are using ActBlue to handle payments. My impression was they only allowed people to support Democrats - for example Phil Scott, the governor of Vermont, doesn't even show up on their website, even though he has been very good on covid. Are ActBlue happy with a non-partisan PAC using their systems to donate to Republican politicians?

EA needs consultancies

[T]he intersection of people who were very concerned about what was true, and people who were trying hard to make the world a better place, was negligible. 

Seems pretty plausible to me this is true. Both categories are pretty small to start with, and their correlation isn't super high. Indeed, the fact that you think it would be bad optics to say this seems like evidence that most people are indeed not 'very concerned' about what is true.

The motivated reasoning critique of effective altruism

Certainly we still do lots of them internally at Open Phil.

It might be helpful if you published some more of these to set a good example.

EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $10,000 in prizes for good stories

In the couple of past cases where people have shared fiction here, it's been on the frontpage and people haven't generally seemed to mind.

Presumably we are expecting a much higher volume than in the past. It might be a bit strange for newcomers to the movement, expecting to find a forum for serious idea discussion, instead find themselves on a strange version of AO3.

edit: perhaps entrants should have [Creative Writing Entry] as the start of their title, so it is easy to distinguish on the frontpage?

First vs. last name policies?
Answer by LarksSep 11, 202114

I essentially always just use first name, including CEOs or professors. I actually find it quite strange how insistent some otherwise extremely egalitarian people are on the use of professional titles as a mark of social status. 

For actual nobility I guess I might use titles.

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