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I'm Cullen O'Keefe, a Policy Researcher at OpenAI, AMA

Example of institutions being taken over by cancel culture and driving out their founders:

Like Andrew Sullivan, who joined Substack after parting ways with New York magazine, and Glenn Greenwald, who joined Substack after resigning from The Intercept, which he co-founded, Yglesias felt that he could no longer speak his mind without riling his colleagues. His managers wanted him to maintain a “restrained, institutional, statesmanlike voice,” he told me in a phone interview, in part because he was a co-founder of Vox. But as a relative moderate at the publication, he felt at times that it was important to challenge what he called the “dominant sensibility” in the “young-college-graduate bubble” that now sets the tone at many digital-media organizations.

Some thoughts on the EA Munich // Robin Hanson incident

I think your earlier comments make sense from the perspective of trying to convince other folks here to think about these issues and I didn’t intend for the grandparent to be pushing against that.

I think this is the crux of the issue, where we have this pattern where I interpret your comments (here, and with various AI safety problems) as downplaying some problem that I think is important, or is likely to have that effect in other people's minds and thereby make them less likely to work on the problem, so I push back on that, but maybe you were just trying to explain why you don't want to work on it personally, and you interpret my pushback as trying to get you to work on the problem personally, which is not my intention.

I think from my perspective the ideal solution would be if in a similar future situation, you could make it clearer from the start that you do think it's an important problem that more people should work on. So instead of "and lots of people talk about it already" which seems to suggest that enough people are working on it already, something like "I think this is a serious problem that I wish more people would work on or think about, even though my own comparative advantage probably lies elsewhere."

Curious how things look from your perspective, or a third party perspective.

Some thoughts on the EA Munich // Robin Hanson incident

To followup on this, Paul and I had an offline conversation about this, but it kind of petered out before reaching a conclusion. I don't recall all that was said, but I think a large part of my argument was that "jumping ship" or being forced off for ideological reasons was not "fine" when it happened historically, for example communists from Hollywood and conservatives from academia, but represented disasters (i.e., very large losses of influence and resources) for those causes. I'm not sure if this changed Paul's mind.

When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds?

It's based on how I expect some people in the EA community to react (they would be less likely to consider me in a positive light, take my ideas seriously, be willing to lend me their cooperation when I need it, hire me, etc.), and also on the fact that I live in a very left-leaning area (as most EAs probably do) where being (or suspected of being) a Trump supporter can easily make someone socially ostracized, which would impact not just me but my family. And yes, I also expect and fear that my views will be tracked down, perhaps deliberately misinterpreted, and used against me, by someone who might hold a grudge against me in the future, or just think that's a good way to get what they want, e.g., in a policy dispute.

If you're still skeptical that people are reluctant or afraid to speak positively about Trump or Republicans in general, have you noticed that nobody has pushed back against the recent Democrat-promoting posts here on object-level grounds? I've seen the same on FB posts of prominent EA people promoting voting for Democrats, where every comment is some flavor of support. Can it really be that out of thousands of forum users and FB friends/followers, there is not one Trump or Republican supporter who might object to voting for Democrats on object-level grounds, or perhaps just someone who thinks that the authors are overstating their case for object-level reasons?

Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups

I urge those who are concerned about cancel culture to think more strategically. For instance, why has cancel culture taken over almost all intellectual and cultural institutions? What can EA do to fight it that those other institutions couldn't do, or didn't think of? Although I upvoted this post for trying to fight the good fight, I really doubt that what it suggests is going to be enough in the long run.

Although the post includes a section titled "The Nature of Cancel Culture", it seems silent on the social/political dynamics driving cancel culture's quick and widespread adoption. To make an analogy, it's like trying to defend a group of people against an infectious disease that has already become a pandemic among the wider society, without understanding its mechanism of infection, and hoping to make do with just common sense hygiene.

In one particularly striking example, I came across this article about a former head of the ACLU. It talks about how the ACLU has been retreating from its free speech principles, and includes this sentence:

But the ACLU has also waded into partisan political issues, at precisely the same time as it was retreating on First Amendment issues.

Does it not seem like EA is going down the same path, and for probably similar reasons? If even the ACLU couldn't resist the pull of contemporary leftist ideology and its attending abandonment of free speech, why do you think EA could, absent some truly creative and strategic thinking?

(To be clear, I don't have much confidence that sufficiently effective strategic ideas for defending EA against cancel culture actually exist or can be found by ordinary human minds in time to make a difference. But I see even less hope if no one tries.)

When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds?

Sorry, I did not mean to imply that someone who just wrote a whole post about opposing Trump's reelection will get into trouble for saying a few positive things about him. Should I have been more clear about that? I thought it would be obvious that the risk is in being taken as a Trump supporter, or creating doubt in others' minds that one might be a Trump supporter. Or do you think a healthy debate about whether EA should oppose Trump's reelection can be had that excludes every potential participant except those who are clearly at no such risk?

When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds?

but I think that the object-level case for engaging in the US election to get Donald Trump out of office is sufficiently strong that it – at the very, very least – deserves to be heard and discussed

Unfortunately I don't think "discussed" is possible in today's environment, due to reasons I wrote at ea.greaterwrong.com /posts/68TmDK6MrjfJgvA7p/introducing-landslide-coalition-an-ea-themed-giving-circle. For example I'm personally afraid to say anything that could be interpreted as being positive about Trump in public (or even in private), and I'm probably within the top percentile of EAs in terms of being less vulnerable to cancellation.

Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups

See also https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/2LtJ7xpxDS9Gu5NYq/open-and-welcome-thread-october-2020?commentId=YrRcRxNiJupZjfgnc

ETA: In case it's not clear, my point is that there's also an additional chilling effect from even smaller but more extreme tail risks.

When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds?

I happen to believe this is misguided, but first I want to point out the irony in believing that politicization makes a movement less effective and yet fearing the awesome power of the social justice warriors.

Something can be "less effective" and "powerful" at the same time, if the power is misapplied. I find it very surprising and dispiriting that this needs to be explicitly pointed out, in a place like this.

I also stand by my previous comments, which are now hidden on EA Forum, but can still be viewed at ea.greaterwrong.com /posts/68TmDK6MrjfJgvA7p/introducing-landslide-coalition-an-ea-themed-giving-circle.

  1. In general, partisan politics is far from neglected and therefore unlikely to be the most effective use of altruistic resources.
  2. Partisan politics is very tempting for people to engage in, due to basic human nature, hence the risk of a slippery slope.
  3. It's very hard to avoid bias when thinking/talking about partisan politics, both as individuals and as a community. For example, in many social circles, defending Trump on any aspect can cause someone to be branded as a racist, to be shunned, even to lose their livelihood (or at least to lose social status/prestige). A community that is considered insufficiently opposed to Trump can come to be seen as "toxic" and shunned by other communities that it has to interact with. Under these circumstances, open and reasoned debate becomes impossible, and one can easily come to believe that "EA and partisan values happen to be in alignment" to a much higher degree than is actually the case.
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