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This post feels structurally misleading to me. You spend most of it diving into reasonably common but useful technical critiques before, in the final paragraphs, shifting abruptly to what appears to be the substance of your dispute: that you would prefer to exclude some people from events connected to it. In contrast to your data-driven, numbers-heavy analysis of its predictive power, you assert in brief and without evidence that "neoliberal ideology" and the participation of people you consider bigots has meaningfully reduced its accuracy as a market.

I think both topics in isolation are worth discussing, and perhaps there would be a productive way to combine the technical and cultural critique, but a response to your first fifteen paragraphs looks dramatically different to a response to your last two paragraphs, such that combining the two clouds more than it elucidates.

Sure—but a debate over one guest last year says little about the reception of the conference as a whole. The New York Times paid much more attention to the presence of an orgy and Aella than to Hanania, glossing him over in a single line.

Most conferences—not least EAG—wind up with debates like that on the margins.

The suggestion of "My experience at Manifest 2024" seems like a maximally neutral one, if information-light. "Issues with controversial guests at Manifest 2024", perhaps, if you want to be more direct.

I meant "public" in a broad sense of examining reactions to the conference, inclusive of "public within EA." I agree that many disputes tend to lurk beneath the surface, but not that there was any discussion sufficient to justify the title prior to OP encouraging it. In the same way that I imagine you wouldn't be thrilled with a label of "Ben Stewart, who works for the controversial Open Philanthropy" or "Ben Stewart, adherent to the controversial philosophy effective altruism"—even though both OpenPhil and EA have plenty of controversies that bubble up here and there—I think it's better to raise this sort of discussion around Manifest without proactively centering controversy as its most salient feature.

I very much appreciate you sharing your thoughts here. While I see a fair bit of personal value in engaging with eg Hanania, I agree that there's nothing dishonorable or shameful about not wanting to be in a place with the dynamic you describe. I agree that people who are skeptical towards speakers who have made edgy, offensive, or extreme statements should not be assumed to lack intellectual rigor or curiosity. I'm also glad to hear, and take it as a good sign, that many of the "edgy" people were nice to you and people were receptive when you raised the issues you saw at Manifest. Your comment touches on a lot of valuable points.

As for the path forward, I'm personally impressed by the call for "pluralist civility" in Folded Papers:

There is no universal safe space, nor should we try to make one. To do so would be to engage in a new version of the fallacy that made the old "rules of debate" so infuriating. "If you can't make your point in this safe space, then it must be hateful and wrong" is just as false as "If your viewpoint can't survive these debate rules, then it must be irrational."

The only way out is to allow multiple sets of rules. That way, truths that are unsayable in one context can still be said in another. Other people can then respond, and the ideas can have the opportunity to be refined or critiqued from the local viewpoint. If we have multiple fora, we can have a system where pretty much anything can be said somewhere. [...]

  • Respect that discussion norms are local. Don't try to make them universal.
  • Be part of the overlap. Belong to more than one community.
  • Encourage other people to recognise that discussion norms can and should differ from place to place.
  • Encourage other people to recognise that broad discussion norms are incredibly valuable and should be nurtured wherever they are compatible with community aims.

My own impression is that Manifest strikes a good balance for its goals. In the context of prediction markets, it's uncommonly valuable to have people with a wide range of assumptions, some of whom are willing to go against consensus, even if that leads some into hot water. I don't think controversial speakers should be sought out for their own sake, but if someone who has worthwhile, relevant things to say has also courted controversy, I think in the context of Manifest it would be a mistake not to invite them as a result. This seems to be the approach Manifest has taken. I don't think those norms are appropriate everywhere, but I do think they're appropriate somewhere, and Manifest has built something successful, rewarding, and compelling as a result, something that fits a niche other spaces do not. 

I think it's possible to assert that the approach Manifest takes is not the only appropriate approach to take, that inviting and excluding people always carry trade-offs and that some good people may not want to be in every environment, and that as it stands the conference accomplishes something wholly worth doing. That's where I land.

"Basic human decency"? Jeez, mate. I understand not wanting to engage with right-wingers personally, but treating it as a deep affront when others choose to do so is off-putting, to say the least.

My comment was in response to OP's explicit note that the controversy around the Guardian article is what made him change the title.

I believe you, but “Ben Stewart dislikes it” is not typically the standard for declaring a conference controversial. Was there public controversy around the conference not connected to the article?

I'm not particularly happy to see people within this community immediately present and accept the framing that Manifest was controversial because people reacted harshly to an article explicitly aimed at smearing a community I belong to with reckless disregard for truth and bizarrely sinister framing of mundane decisions, written by people who proceeded simply by reading a guest list without even bothering to attend the event they were writing about. In that regard, Manifest is only controversial in the same sense Scott Alexander was controversial when the New York Times wrote about him.

To name something is often to make it so; to lead with the framing that Manifest was controversial is to encourage other people to see it that way, yielding to the frame of people who treat EA itself as controversial. That has an impact on everyone who attends, organizes, and puts effort into it. I recognize that your own experience was mixed and have no problem with you sharing that and exploring it, but I think it's worth being cautious about frame-setting in the title in that way, particularly given its potential impact on early-career organizers or guests.

I was excited and honored to be invited to Manifest. It's the first conference that went out of its way to invite me as a special guest, more-or-less the first place I spoke openly under my own name, and a place that gave me the opportunity to meet and speak with people I have read and admired for years. It was an extraordinarily valuable experience for me, one where I seized the opportunity to give a light-hearted presentation on a niche topic, chat with and learn from many of my role models, and generally enjoy meeting people in person who I have only had the chance to interact with online.

I am extremely confident that an article aimed not at attacking the conference but at presenting an even-handed, cohesive picture of the experience as a whole would read very differently to the Guardian article and would include many more stories like my own and like the descriptions provided by other attendees.

Were some guests controversial? Yes, though I am happy to defend their inclusion on the merits. Does the presence of a few controversial guests or a harsh reaction against an article aimed at creating a mess merit framing the conference as a whole as controversial? I'm not at all convinced that's fair, accurate, or helpful.

I respect that and agree that those comments cross a line that should not be crossed. I'm sympathetic to the value of red lines and taboos, and I regularly put active effort into defending the sentiment that racism is bad and should be condemned (though I am extremely cautious about tabooing people as a whole based on specific bad sentiments).

It's more complicated for me here because as mentioned above, I find Hanania's commentary on other topics unusually valuable and think I have had valuable, worthwhile interactions with him such that I am glad for opportunities to do so.

More than that, I am conscious that many who most eagerly pursue the taboo, including the writers of the Guardian article and people like David Gerard who provided background for it openly despise you, me, and others in these spheres, and given taboo-crafting power would craft a set of norms emphatically disagreeable to me. I think parts of the EA community have themselves shown some susceptibility to similar impulses, throwing people like Nick Bostrom under the bus to do so. That post in particular actively made me more wary of EA spaces and left me wondering who else would be skewered.

The individual who wrote that post no longer works at CEA but openly demands that EA cut ties with the entire rationalist community. I like you and broadly trust your own instincts here, even where we might disagree about where to draw specific lines, but I am extremely wary of yielding norm-setting power to people who treat my approach (engaging seriously with anyone) as worthy of suspicion and condemnation, and I think when they succeed in setting the frame, it works against a lot of the rationalist and rationalist-adjacent community norms I value.

Because others here are unlikely to do so, I feel like I ought to explicitly defend Hanania's presence on the merits. I don't find it "fun" that he's "edgy." I go out of my way, personally, to avoid being edgy. While I tread into heated territory at times, I have always made it my goal to do so respectfully, thoughtfully, and with consideration for others' values. No, it's not edginess or fun that makes me think he belongs there. He unquestionably belongs at a prediction market conference because he has been a passionate defender of prediction markets in the public sphere and because he writes to his predominantly right-leaning audience in ways that consistently emphasize and criticize the ways they depart from reality.

Let me be clear: I emphatically do not defend all parts of his approach and worldview. He often engages in a deliberately provocative way and says insensitive or offensive things about race, trans issues, and other hot-button topics on the right. But I feel the same about many people who you would have no problem seeing attend Manifest, and he brings specific unusual and worthwhile things to the table.

My first real interaction with Hanania, as I recall, came when he boosted and praised my affirmative defense of surrogacy, a topic very personal to me and one online public figures are much more likely to attack or stay silent on than defend when I speak about it. Later, I went on his podcast to discuss my path out of Mormonism and my sexuality, my essay on how the Republican Party is doomed, the importance of a spirited defense of liberalism in the public sphere, and other ideas that would challenge his right-leaning audience and encourage norms I believe the EA sphere would approve of. This is also true of some areas where I can't claim to be as emphatically EA-aligned as he is, as with his treatise against factory farming and animal suffering.

Someone below pointed out that you misrepresented his pronouns/genocide essay, which I saw as an unusually self-reflective look at why he and others have, as he puts it, "deranged" priorities in getting the most animated not about objectively the most important ideas but about emotionally salient topics close to home. The point of the essay is not "they/them pronouns are worse than genocide," but "it is in one sense deranged, but human and important to understand, that people get so much more emotionally invested in issues like they/them pronouns than about genocide."

I understand perfectly well why people dislike him and I have no problem with robust criticism and even condemnation of much of what he says. But while his actions look from your angle like mainstreaming far-right ideas, they look to the far-right like mainstreaming animal suffering concerns, prediction markets, abortion and surrogacy, open borders, and rather a lot more. You may discount those as trivial, but the people in his audience certainly do not.

You seem smart, capable, and knowledgeable about prediction markets. I think Manifest would benefit from having you in attendance. But my own intellectual life is richer for the opportunity to read, engage with, and argue with people like Hanania. I'm glad he was there, I'm glad I had the chance to say hi to him and chat a bit, and if a precondition for your engagement is that it's either you or him, I would rather you not attend than that you use your reputational sway to prevent me from having those interactions.

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