262Joined Nov 2022


Your comment made false claims, and these false claims substantially exaggerated the issue (which isn't to say there isn't a serious issue left worth addressing after the claims are corrected and the exaggerated removed). I assumed (and still assume) this was just a well-intentioned mistake on your end. 

I pointed out that these claims were false. This wasn't intended as an attack on you (people can go back and look at the comment and judge for themselves whether it was appropriate). Because I assumed (and still assume) you are interested in the truth, my assumption was that you would reply with something like, "Oh, that's my bad. I've edited accordingly", before turning back to discuss the substantive issue.

Had you done that, I think that people would have moved on to discussing the substance of your concern (I doubt that anyone much cares about this discussion of clarifications, in and of itself).

Instead, your response  felt to me fairly dismissive. It did not feel to me like you truly acknowledged that you'd made a mistake here. I think this choice on your end was well intentioned, and I can see where you were coming from: I think you were just trying to drag people's attention back to what you see as the core issue. 

Unfortunately, I think that not simply acknowledging the mistake can be misinterpreted as you not really being interested in the truth and as instead just trying to score points. It is somewhat natural that this might make people uninterested in engaging with you, because you might not look to them like a good faith actor.

I think the EA Forum is far from perfect, in many ways (perhaps including some that you point to), but I do think you're underestimating how much this is a reaction to what looks like a failure to acknowledge misrepresentation.

By the way, I'm not sure whether it will come across this way, but the fact that I'm writing this message reflects the fact that I do genuinely believe you're a good faith actor, and also reflects the fact that I think you deserve an attempt at an explanation. I hope that my genuine desire for productive conversation comes across, though I wouldn't be surprised if I have communicated poorly at some point in this message. If so, I apologise.

There's no debate over the definition of a castle: Wytham Abbey is not a castle (it is not a form of military fortification). Roughly, Wytham Abbey is a castle in the way that an underground eco-house is a nuclear bunker. Which is to say: not at all (it's not some mere technicality that makes it not a castle; it is radically not a castle). There is no debate about definition to be had here.

So I'm not having a debate about definition; I'm noting a misrepresentation. I agree that the optics issue is already lost.  I also think that we should not be misrepresenting things on the forum, and I think this misrepresentation is not totally irrelevant.

To give a comparison: I think calling Wytham Abbey a castle it's roughly as big a misrepresentation as claiming that Wytham Abbey cost £80 million rather than £15 million. A castle is a much more expensive, much rarer structure than a mansion (which is basically what Wytham Abbey would be accurately described as: a mansion).

As noted, I agree that the optics battle is lost, but I find it a little odd that people seem to think it's totally irrelevant that a comment misrepresented things in a way that radically overstates the case (a castle owned by Elizabeth I is more than an order of magnitude more ostentatious than a manor house visited by Elizabeth I). This sort of misrepresentation is not good epistemics (just as it would be bad if a forum comment misstated the price as being £80 million and it would be reasonable to correct this misstatement).

My statement is the following: let's just represent things correctly and then have the perfectly reasonable discussion from that starting point. If £15 million is too much to spend, let's say that (rather than discussing whether £80 million is too much to spend). If a manor house is the wrong thing to buy, let's say that (rather than discussing whether it would be wrong to buy Elizabeth I's castle).

To be clear, the distinction isn't between resident and owner. It's between owner and guest. I do not believe Elizabeth I resided at Wytham except in the sense that she stayed as a guest. So unless people in the US use "reside" to mean "stayed in the house once as a guest" then I do not think Elizabeth ever resided at Wytham Abbey.

On the more general point, I agree that my comment didn't address your central claims. It wasn't intended to. I think the central claim is worth making and discussing, I also just think it's worth discussing it in accurate terms. My comment was intended to address this issue of accuracy.

It may be true that people won't generally investigate the claims they make, but I believe that we should care about what the truth actually is in forum discussions. I think as much as possible, forum posts and comments should not misrepresent. Of course, it will happen sometimes and is no big deal, but in such cases I think it is a good thing if someone corrects a misrepresentation.

Just for clarity's sake: it is not a castle and it was never owned by Oliver Cromwell or Elizabeth I.

On the first point, castles and manor houses are quite different things.

On the second point, Cromwell and Elizabeth were both visitors to the building. They never owned it.

Relatedly, there's a common joke told in UK manor houses: "And this, this is the one bed in England that Elizabeth I never slept in". The point is that Elizabeth did yearly tours where she would travel the country and stay in lots of manor houses (it meant she didn't have to pay for her own upkeep but could instead make the lords host her). For this reason, quite a lot of manor houses have a room that Elizabeth I slept in. I'm not claiming it's not a big deal at all, but I am noting that I think without context it's easy to misstate how big a deal it is.

A few brief comments.

1.) Clearly this is better than the alternative where the same considerations are applied to other ways of participating in the community.

2.) My issue isn't particularly with the community health team, but with a general attitude that I've often encountered among EAs in more informal discussions. Sadly, informal discussions are hard to provide concrete evidence of, so I pointed to an example that I take to be less egregious, though I still think on the wrong side of things here. I am more concerned by the general attitude that is held by some EAs I've spoken to than two specific lines of a specific post.

3.) People are banned from the forum for being rude in relatively minor ways. And yet let's imagine a hypothetical case where someone is accused of serious wrongdoing and further are specifically accused of carrying out some elements of wrongdoing via online social networks. It would seem weird to ban the first person for minor rudeness, but give the second person access to a platform that can allow them to build status and communicate with people via just the sort of medium that they allegedly used to carry out previous wrongdoing. Yet I think this is a plausible outcome of the current policies on when to ban people and how to react to interpersonal harm.

4.)  I agree that it's a different question; I still don't think it's a difficult one. For a start, I think it's a little odd to conceive of this as "suppressing" content. People  can still post content in lots of other places, and indeed other people can share it on the EA forum if they want to. Further, I don't think you can separate out enabling harm from posting to the forum, given that forum posts can confer status to people and status can help people to commit harm. So I think that the current policy just does enable harm. I think enabling this harm is the wrong call.

5.) I also think we could run the consequentialist case here, pointing to the fact that other people might not contribute to EA because they find the EA attitude to these cases concerning and don't feel safe or comfortable in the community.

All of that said, I think it's important to say again, per point 1, that I do agree that the issue is much less concerning when it doesn't involve real world contact between people, and that I appreciate you taking the time to reply.

This will be my last message in this thread, because I find this conversation upsetting every time it happens (and every time it becomes clear that nothing will change). I find it really distressing that a bunch of lovely and caring people can come together and create a community that can be so unfriendly to the victims of assault and harassment.

And I find it upsetting that these lovely and caring people can fall into serious moral failure, in the way that this is a serious moral failure from my perspective on morality (I say this while also accepting that this reflects not evilness but rather a disagreement about morality, such that the lovely, caring people really do continue to be lovely and caring and they simply disagree with me about a substantive question).

To reply to your specific comments, I certainly agree that there is room for nuance: situations can be unclear and there can be clashes of cultural norms. Navigating the moral world is difficult and we certainly need to pay attention to nuances to navigate it well.

Yet as far as I'm concerned, it remains the case that someone's contributions via their work are irrelevant to assessing how we should respond to their serious wrongdoing. It's possible to accept the existence of nuance without thinking that all nuances matter. I do not think that this nuance matters.

(I'm happy to stick to discussing serious cases of wrongdoing and simply set aside the more marginal cases. I think it would represent such a huge step forwards if EA could come to robustly act on serious wrongdoing, so I don't want to get distracted by trying to figure out the appropriate reaction to the less crucial cases.)

I cannot provide an argument for this of the form that Oliver would like, not least because his comment suggests he might prefer an argument that is ultimately consequentialist in nature even if at some layers removed, but I think this is the fundamentally wrong approach.

Everyone accepts some moral claims as fundamental. I take it as a fundamental moral claim that when a perpetrator commits a serious wrong against someone  it is the nature of the wrong (and perhaps the views of the person wronged, per Jenny's comment) that determine the appropriate response. I don't expect that everyone reading this comment will agree with this, and I don't believe it's always possible to argue someone into a moral view (I think at some fundamental level, we end up having to accept irreconcilable disagreements, as much as that frustrates the EA urge to be able to use reason to settle all matters).

(At this point, we could push into hypothetical scenarios like, "what if you were literally certain that if we reacted appropriately to the wrongdoing then everyone would be tortured forever?".  Would the consequences still be irrelevant? Perhaps not, but the fact of the matter is that we do not live in a hypothetical world. I will say this much: I think that the nature of the wrongdoing is the vastly dominating factor in determining how to respond to that wrongdoing. In realistic cases, it is powerful enough that we don't need to reflect on the other considerations that carry less weight in this context.)

 I've said I don't expect to convince the consequentialists reading this to accept my view. What's the point then? Perhaps I simply hope to make clear just how crucial an issue of moral conscience this is for some people. And perhaps I hope that this might at least push EA to consider a compromise that is more responsive to this matter of conscience.

It's perhaps worth noting that I think there's a pretty strong consequentialist case against considering impact in these cases. I think doing so has reputational costs, I think it encourages future wrongdoing, and I think it discourages valuable contributions to the community from those who are driven away. (This is just the point that consequentialist EAs are making when they argue against being "naive" consequentialists).

But I will leave someone else to make this case in detail if they wish to, because I think that this is not the point. I personally find it disturbing that I would have to make  a case in impact terms in order to encourage robust action against perpetrators, and I don't feel comfortable doing so in detail.

My view is that this is false.  Whether or not someone's work is useful should play no role in determining the appropriate reaction to predatory behaviour, so there's just no tradeoff we should be reflecting on here. I don't think this is a difficult question. I don't think that (for example) the talent bottleneck is relevant to how EA should respond to predatory behaviour: if people act in a predatory way, that should be acted on even if it makes it harder to find talent. The tradeoff is simple because one side of it should be entirely ignored.

I'm sure that many of the readers of this forum will disagree with me about this. But my view is that the community will never robustly act on predatory behaviour while it continues to treat impact as one of the relevant factors in determining how to respond to such behaviour.

(I also think this is an example of how, despite some people's protestations, EA does in fact engage in a sort of means-end reasoning that is in violation of common sense morality and that does involve a failure of what many people would see as integrity).

I think it's important to be clear about this viewpoint, but I do worry that in doing so it will sound like I'm attacking Neel. So I want to be clear that this is not the case; I don't know Neel but I imagine he's an excellent and lovely human being. I just happen to think he's wrong about this specific issue, and I happen to think that the fact that many EAs hold this view has had serious and negative effects. 

ETA: Even with all of that said, I do agree that the full post from the community health team contains much more detail than I summarised in my brief reference, and I think people should not judge the full contents of the post based on my comment (instead, I would encourage people to read the post itself).

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