R

Richenda

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Bio

UK Civil Servant. Former EA Hub Product Manager. Former Manager of LEAN. Wife of David Moss. Cambridge alumna. Sociology PhD (expertise in digital reputation, qualitative research, social theory). Apologetic left wing representative of the global elite.

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I have read the OP. I have skim read the replies. I'm afraid I am only making this one post because involvement with online debates is very draining for me.

My post is roughly structured along the lines of:

  • My relationship to Kat
  • My opinions about Kat's character
  • My opinions about EA culture and risky weirdness
  • My opinions about how we go about ensuring good practices in EA

Kat is a good friend, who I trust and think highly of. I have known her personally (rather than as a loose acquaintance, as I did for years prior) since summer 2017. I do not know Emerson or his brother from Adam.

I see somebody else was asked about declaring interests when they spoke positively about Kat. I have never been employed by Kat. Back in 2017, Charity Science had some legal and operational infrastructure (e.g. charity status, tax stuff) which was hard to arrange. And during that time, .impact - which later became Rethink Charity, collaborated with Charity Science in order to shelter under that charitable status in order to be able to hire people, legally process funds and so forth. So indirectly the entity that employed me was helped out by Charity Science.

However, I never collaborated in a work sense with Charity Science. Professionally I was employed by Tom Ash to do temporary project coordination on LEAN in 2015/16 while I was completing my PhD. In 2017, LEAN was incorporated into SHIC and rebranded as Rethink Charity, under Tee Barnett and Baxter Bullock. (For those of you who are new, Rethink Priorities incubated with Rethink Charity at it's inception before operational aspects were in place for it to separate, hence the similar name. .impact was also co-founded by Peter Hurford prior to his co-launch of RP). Tee and Baxter hired me as project manager for LEAN, which I did for a year and a few months, after which I product managed the first stages of the reboot of eahub.org. So basically... my opinions in this post are biased by my personal friendship with Kat, but not by any other aspects of my position.

When I met Kat she was working on/leading Charity Science: Health. We struck up a friendship and, over my 2 and a half years of living in Vancouver, we socialised regularly. Mostly one to one, going on hikes together. But also in group contexts, such as dinner parties. Since I left Canada (in August 2019) we have kept in touch through video calls every few months.

My assessment of Kat's character is that she is very moral and honest individual. I do not recognise any characterisation of her as manipulative or passive aggressive or threatening. Kat is direct. She is highly rational and principled. She is also a very creative, out of the box thinker who sees things through a completely unique lens which makes her very radical. She is extraordinarily committed and disciplined in adhering to her values and beliefs. I consider her to be a demonstrably objective and fair person. As the author mentioned, she is very positive and high energy. I have never met a more 'bubbly' person. Even during times when she has been going through really awful ordeals, she has always taken a more upbeat and optimistic outlook than others in her situation would have done. Like a lot of EAs, Kat feels deeply and is very impacted by her conscientious drive to do the right thing. I have seen her go through prolonged periods of turmoil and anxiety over a difficult decision where personal needs were in conflict with what she thought she ought to do. In my observation this has often led to extreme self-exploitation in terms of how hard she has worked, including when ill, because of her commitment to the cause she was working on and the people she was trying to help.

I find that Kat is slow to criticise or judge others. There have often been times where I have needed to encourage Kat to put her own needs first, to recognise them and to take less shit from other people around her.

Kat has, herself, endured living and working arrangements that I would see as inadvisable and unacceptable. This is important, because the stuff that Kat is being accused of inflicting on others is consistent with the choices and sacrifices that she imposes on herself. To give you an example, Kat is one of the people who really earned my respect for living an ascetic life in order to give her time and money to charitable causes. For many years (I don't know about now) she and Joey gave themselves incredibly low salaries which I would definitely not have made do with. Dig up old posts by Kat on this forum and you will see advice and write-ups on how to live on next to nothing while staying happy, because that is how she lived. They both treated their own time similarly.

When I was living in Vancouver, I lived in a shared house with some other EAs (including Tom Ash, Kieran Grieg, Mat Carpendale, Marylen Reid) who had been part of a shared working/living arrangement with Joey and Kat in the early days of Charity Science and of the Vancouver EA community. They described having taken over a set of apartments in a block of housing, and each thinking of a funny name for their apartments that symbolised something about them. The one Kat and Joey lived in was called 'the sweatshop' because of the insane hours they worked.

I know some former employees of Charity Science who had some grievances and criticisms of how the charity was run. I remember a lot of these were around the org's slightly blase attitude towards legalities. As with what I said two paragraphs back, my observation was that Kat and Joey took all the risks for themselves and their own wellbeing that they asked of others. So I think you might question those risks or judgement calls, but I am sceptical that anything Kat has asked her employees to do wasn't something that lines up entirely with what she puts herself through.

My overall interpretation of any 'weirdness' to do with issues such as casual contracts, terrible hours, unsafe working conditions, poor pay etc etc. is that I would not personally endorse nor work in that way. And I would personally be cautious towards an employer which had those views towards hours, pay, and legal irregularity.

I do not see Kat as at all unusual in this attitude towards risk and compliance with conventions compared to other EAs. In my experience A LOT of people in the EA and rationalist space have similar views and attitudes to a whole range of things.

In Vancouver, my sense of rationalists, and the EAs I lived with, is that people were quite keen to throw a lot of conventions and social norms in the dustbin as part of their interpretation of rationalism. This was pretty exasperating at times, but I do not put any of the individuals who I include in this generalisation into the category of 'bad actors' in my mind. Naive actors maybe... open minded to a fault? Socially blind? But each of them... people who are the first in line to live out the experiment that puts their rationalist beliefs to the test. I think that many people in this space have a poor grasp or appreciation of emotional and personal boundaries, but that this harms them as much as it harms others. A soft example of this in the shared house in Vancouver was when I walked into a room with a couple of my housemates and a large number of guests who were complete strangers. One of my housemates then turned to me and asked me on the spot to share the most embarrassing/irrational thing I had believed during my evangelical Christian childhood. While I understand the logic of why this kind of thing is a norm in rationalist communities, it was obviously hurtful and humiliating to me because a personally difficult time of my life was put under the spotlight in front of strangers, leading me to feel very unsafe. My housemate was doing something which they genuinely thought was promoting a good norm and a good culture, but in doing so they unintentionally hurt me. In my view many people in this thread are in that general category too, and it is somewhat of a spectrum.

You may or may not be able to tell from how I frame this, that I'm a somewhat more conservative (small c) person myself. For example, I think polyamory is a terrible idea 99.9999999% of the time and that it would probably require several significant phases of actual species evolution for that to change. I think recreational drug use is needlessly risky. I could not get far enough away from the 'cuddle piles' my housemates were keen on. I'm very picky about my living arrangements and food, and my performance on the OCEAN test is basically sky high conscientiousness and neuroticism, paired with introversion and low agreeability. For openness I'm very high on openness to ideas but not to experiences. All of this is to say that lots of things about how many EAs and rationalists lived and did business (including Kat) would be most definitely 'weird' in my books, and 'oh hell no' in terms of how far I'd engage.

I would also like to share that, despite the general views I've shared in this post, I actually did choose to work in an employment arrangement which was unorthodox when I was working for .impact under Tom Ash. When I initially worked for Tom on .impact, my pay was also very low. I was initially offered the LEAN project management job under some kind of set up where my accommodation and some food would be offered in Vancouver (living in the same house as Tom), to mitigate low pay. There was a contract (I'd never work without one), but there definitely were irregularities and short cuts that some might criticise. I am in no way mentioning this to shame or call out .impact, or Tom or any of it.

The point I'm trying to make is that if you start to go over all EAs and EA orgs with a microscope, you'll find a lot of people have coloured outside the lines at some point in the last 15 years without anything going amiss. If I did not like my low pay, I didn't have to take the job! If I didn't want to live in a house with Tom, I didn't have to. In fact, when Tee offered me a job on LEAN months after I stopped working for Tom, my first question was whether he could coordinate something similar to what I had been offered by Tom.. namely accommodation in a foreign country I quite fancied trying out, with housemates and a social network thrown in, in exchange for a modest salary. If Time magazine was doing a feature on my job I'm sure this would all have sounded twisted and wrong. And when I moved into that EA house people WERE weird did do things differently... sometimes involving substances and physical intimacy. But that was completely fine, because I simply didn't go along with the things I didn't like (for the record I like none of those things and gave them a grossed out facial suggestion when they were brought to my attention. Hopefully they have now forgiven me). Had I found it weird living with Tom who had previously employed me (by the time I moved there he was on the board of Rethink Charity but no longer directly working with me) I would have moved out.

Overall I think that unconventional working and living practices do come with high risks of misunderstandings. But they aren't enough in and of themselves to condemn people who run their lives and workplaces in this way, many of who do so because they sincerely think it is the best way to optimise the good. I also think that there is a level of responsibility on all sides in such an arrangement, which includes that of the employee to own their choices regarding what contracts they sign (or don't) and under what conditions they labour.

I don't know the ins and outs of how Kat and Non Linear employed people. For the record, I have heard about either Alice or Chloe once from Kat before, very briefly, aside from today.

Nevertheless, a lot of things are completely off to me about this whole thread.

I disagree with the suggestion that there was something sinister about a policy of 'we don't talk badly about you and you don't talk badly about us'. That is a rephrasing of a fairly standard social (and literal) contract which exists between the majority of people all around the world. As somebody who works for the government making policy, you bet I'd lose my job outright if I publicly criticised them. But I would also expect a variation of this from most employers.

On a personal and ethical level, I think it is completely unacceptable to slander or badmouth any person or organisation without first giving them a chance to resolve things and settle things privately. I have been on the receiving end, many times, of hurtful public confrontations from people who I thought I was on good terms with. In each case the first time I had any inkling at all something was amiss was when I was challenged in a public setting and completely blindsided. Those experiences were devastating and entirely unfair (none of them happened in EA... one of them was on a fan online community, and the others were at school and in my faculty while I was on my PhD. I feel pain and sorrow from these events to this day, and they have significantly affected my trust and sense of security in social environments.

Kat says that each of these things were true about how she learned about the grievances of 'Chloe' and 'Alice'. As I understand it, she also had no idea this post was coming from Ben before it was made, and was not given a fair chance to provide evidence to refute a lot of the accusations made. And even when she is able to disprove them, the shape of the accusation is now out there and will have consequences and live on in peoples' perceptions and memories.

To me, aside from how unfair and cruel I think this was to Kat, I am also very uneasy about the way the EA community seems to be approaching a lot of adjacent issues.

It seems to me that (gradually but most obviously) since FTX there was this switch to thinking that its somehow healthy or appropriate to launch a kind of autophagic self-immolation process whereby bits of the community launch toxic witchhunts against other bits. It's not healthy. It's not constructive. It's not effective, and to add insult to injury - it's not necessary.

I am completely for improving the practices, standards, conventions etc. in the EA community, but I am deeply disappointed that people think that a constructive way to do this is via call out culture. I had rather hoped that the one place on the internet I could trust people not to engage in pillory and vigilantism would be in EA! I use those words completely literally, not to be inflammatory. That is what I think this approach amounts to in practice.

All people, regardless of their position of power, privilege or status, deserve to be treated and considered innocent until proven guilty by some mechanism that is most certainly not Concerned Neighbour #5 or the equivalent. Of course we need a mechanism for people to challenge abuses of power or severe malpractice, but public speculation about specific people or organisations doesn't constitute a professional, fair or reliable vehicle for delivering that outcome.

This is aside from the fact that Kat and Non Linear are not all-powerful in this set up. Chloe, Alice and friends have intentionally or otherwise caused huge devastation to their reputation and wellbeing. And when I opened this thread, it jumped out as unfair that the two accusors were anonymised while Kat and Non Linear were not. I believe it is out of order for Kat's personal and professional reputation to be publicly attacked this way. This is not just because I believe that Kat is being mischaracterised. It is also a point of principle regardless of the particulars.

I also don't want to see any other orgs or EAs subject to this either, in the future.

"Going forward I think anyone who works with Kat Woods, Emerson Spartz, or Drew Spartz, should sign legal employment contracts, and make sure all financial agreements are written down in emails and messages that the employee has possession of. I think all people considering employment by the above people at any non-profits they run should take salaries where money is wired to their bank accounts, and not do unpaid work or work that is compensated by ways that don’t primarily include a salary being wired to their bank accounts."

To be fair, this should be a fairly universal assumption for any individual considering any employment arrangement. I don't think it is for me or for you or me to form opinions about what went down between Non Linear and it's employees, but if Non Linear employees didn't see to the above then I do think they exercised poor judgement.

I'll conclude by referring back to my paragraph where I reflected on common kinds of weirdness among EAs and rationalists. I do completely trust that Kat was honest, honourable and conscientious in all of her dealings with her employees. However, I see it as quite likely that she and multitudes of others in this community have approached things in an unorthodox way which we might describe as 'unwise'. But 'unwise' is a very far cry from the portrait painted in this thread, and the consequences of the maverick practices of many EAs and rationalists backfire on them just as they do on others. Conventions, regulations, codes of practice, norms... these are safety rails which live on because they produce good outcomes on average. I think many EAs and rationalists could learn from well honed systems in other industries and institutions. That's something this debacle really highlights. However, the same point applies to dealing with disagreements and accusations in a professional, fair and systemetised manner.

As I've been drafting this post for 4 hours and counting, this concludes my engagement with Internet drama for 2023.

the pain of rejection makes them reinterpret this as “You’re crap. Go away”. In fact my actual sentiment is so viscerally the opposite of this.

Bless you for posting this. That's exactly what it's like for applicants!

I'm a UK civil servant working on housing policy. I am flattered by this post 😂

Strongly agree with this. While I was working on LEAN and the EA Hub I felt that there were a lot of very necessary and valuable things to do, that nobody wanted to do (or fund) because they seemed too easy. But a lot of value is lost, and important things are undermined if everyone turns their noses up at simple tasks. I'm really glad that since then CEA has significantly built up their local group support. But it's a perennial pitfall to watch out for.

Choosing how much and what of previous data to keep and use was a challenging decision which the team took very seriously. GDPR changed things quite a lot, and we have to factor in our responsibility to keep data private and secure. If people don't come back and reclaim old accounts, some on the team feel leery of holding onto data indefinitely because that might not be the most responsible thing to do. Additionally, we made functional and structural improvements to the site when we rebuilt that means it does not perfectly follow on from what was before, and we needed to prioritise.

In addition to what Peter describes, if we do a simple content analysis of forum threads or blog posts in the last 3 or so years, ETG feels like it's become invisible. Long term EAs like you and me most likely do still think it's cool because when we became EAs it was a huge part of it and probably a big part of what drew us in (in my case, certainly - I became an EA the year GWWC was launched). But that doesn't mean that this is the subtext that newer EAs are getting. I feel like the opposite is true, and I find that deeply concerning.

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