Consent Isn’t Always Enough
After the Time article on sexual harassment and abuse within Effective Altruism and Owen Cotton-Barratt’s resignation there’s been a lot of discussion around the extent to which EA culture did or didn’t contribute. This has included proposals that EA try to be more conventional, such as discouraging polyamory or hookups within the community. At which point others naturally bristle: what happens between consenting adults is no one else’s business, and it’s wrong to try and influence others here. For example:
I don’t see any way you could meaningfully “address” the work/social overlap without trying to get people not to date, live with or befriend people they otherwise would have dated, lived with, or befriended. And if you put it in those terms, it seems messed up, right?
I will not be a part of community which treats conscious and consensual behavior of adult people as their business.
Perhaps consider minding your own business about whether or not consenting adults sleep together.
Now, the people who wrote these have more nuanced views than these quotes suggest, and I think we don’t actually disagree much when it comes to views on detailed situations. Still, I think it’s worth getting some of that nuance out there.
Specifically, consent isn’t always enough. Even consent plus a mature awareness of power dynamics isn’t always enough. Consider a case of someone whose job it is to direct funding for a foundation sleeping with one of the people who runs an organization they might recommend funding. And let’s further imagine that the grantmaker and grantee both have a sophisticated understanding of power dynamics, great communication, solid introspection, strong self-confidence, and the best of intentions. Even then, this has corrosive effects on the community, including:
Other grantees would then feel pressure to sleep with grantmakers, leading to bad interactions, including ones where all the signals that the grantmaker receives are that the grantee wants this.
The funders behind the grantmaker may reasonably worry that the grantmaker’s judgement is clouded by their otherwise positive views towards this grantee or that there was quid pro quo.
People with unsavory intentions may choose to become grantmakers because a norm of “it’s ok to sleep with grantees” is very vulnerable to abuse.
These are harmful enough that we can’t leave it to the couple to determine whether their roles as grantmaker/grantee and lovers are compatible. That sometimes someone’s role conflicts with a relationship they would like to have is unfortunate, but not always avoidable and not unique to this case: other examples of romantic relationships with similar issues include ones between managers and their reports or professors and their students.
Organizations handle these conflicts in a range of ways, often depending on how they think about the effects of these relationships on others and whether they can satisfactorily mitigate the professional consequences of a particular relationship. For example:
A university might consider the initiation of any relationships between students and professors to have a harmful effect on their culture, and that students should be able to trust that professors are interested in them only academically. If they prohibit them, a professor would need to choose between avoiding such relationships and resigning their post.
A large funder might require disclosure and recusal: when a relationship relevant to a grantmaker’s work comes up they work with their manager to transfer responsibilities so that the grantmaker is no longer influencing outcomes for the grantee. This is also how larger organizations usually handle employee relationships that interact with formal power.
A small funder might not be able to do this, perhaps because they only have one grantmaker in an area. Options for handling this could include committing not to fund the relevant organization, the grantmaker leaving, or the grantmaker passing up the relationship. All of these have significant downsides. Smaller organizations, or specialized departments within larger organizations, can have similar issues that would keep them from being able to mitigate the effects of an employee relationship.
There are also other areas where we accept people have a valid interest in discouraging some kinds of consensual interpersonal behavior, where power dynamics and conflicts of interest are not the concerns. For example, norms against cheating in relationships, sleeping with your bandmates, or hookups within a military unit.
As I wrote above, I don’t think this is especially controversial. But it shows that the question is what norms we should have and not whether it is legitimate to have norms beyond consent. This is the approach we need when considering the actually controversial cases.
On the more specific question of what norms to have, I don’t know. This requires weighing harms like the departure of people frustrated by excessive romantic attention, abuse of ambiguous power, loving relationships that don’t happen, exclusion of unconventional thinkers, and delay in ejecting jerks. I think the discussion has shown both that we didn’t have much agreement on what norms we’d been operating under and that we have a wide range of opinion on what’s reasonable behavior. I’m hoping we can get closer to figuring out what sort of norms would best make a thriving community that supports all of us in making the world better.
Disclosure: my wife is on the Community Health Team at the Centre for Effective Altruism. I haven’t run this post by her and don’t know her views.
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I think I found the crux.
I treat EA as a community. And by “community” I mean “a group of friends who have common interests”. In the same time, I treat some parts of EA as “companies”. “Companies” have hierarchy, structure, money and very obvious power dynamics. I separate the two.
I’m not willing to be a part of community, which treats conscious and consensual behavior of adult people as their business (as stated under the other post). In the same time, I’d be more than happy to work for a company which has such norms. I actually prefer it this way, as long as they are reasonable and not i.e. sexist, polyphobic and so on.
I think a tricky part is, EA is quite complex with this regard. I don’t think the same rules should apply to interest groups, grant-makers, companies. I think a power dynamic between grant-maker and grantee is quite different from the one which applies to university EA group leader and group’s member. I believe, that the community should function as a group of friends, and companies/interest groups should create their own, internal rules. But maybe it won’t work for the EA. Happy to update here, I, however, want to mention that for a lot of people EA is their whole life and the main social group. I would be very careful while setting the general norms.
(When it comes to “EA celebrities”, I think it’s a separate discussion, so I’m not mentioning them here as I would like to focus on community/workplace differences and definitions first. )
EA is my community, most of my friends are in EA, and it is so much fun. But if I had to choose between EA as “professional” or “fun,” I would choose professional in a heart beat. What has brought us together is a commitment to doing good, and doing good in the world, not personal enjoyment, should be the guiding star for choices we make in regard to the EA community.
If a norm is important for a professional community to have, even if it means that community might end up being less fun for me, we should absolutely institute that norm.
Just wanted to clarify, I don’t think that the resistance to the stricter norms is only about “wanting to have more fun”. I agree with your comment. Yet, I think you are missing at least couple of important aspects of the situation.
Can you share more about what important aspects you think I’m missing? My best guess is you’re reading my use of the word “fun” narrowly (which is probably poor word choice on my part), thinking I mean something like sex/parties/drugs. So to clarify, what I mean is “personal enjoyment” which can include things like meaningful relationships. I obviously like personal enjoyment and want more of it for myself and others. But when, on a community level, we find personal enjoyment in conflict with doing good in the world, I want the community to choose doing good.
But that might not be what you’re saying I’m missing.
Hm, I understand now. I, however think that things like meaningful relationships are not a matter of personal enjoyment but mental health. So for me the price of what you call “the norms which diminish fun” would be much higher and may actually minimize community’s impact in the long term. We already have the issue with burnouts.
Hm, I also struggle with mental health and I know it’s hard. I absolutely do not want to suggest that your mental health is not important. I do want to know more about what you view as the primary purpose of the community. While improving mental health is a value of mine, I do not see EA’s primary function as a place to improve one’s mental health. I think that can often be a benefit of EA, and I think EA has a duty to not worsen people’s mental health. But the main purpose of EA is not to improve the mental health of the community members. If that makes sense.
Friends and meaningful relationships are absolutely important to have in one’s life, and I derive so much value from the meaningful relationships I have within EA. But there are many ways to both (1) develop meaningful relationships within EA that don’t violate any of the norms people have suggested and (2) develop meaningful relationships with people outside of EA. It might mean some people have to change some of their behavior, but not in a way that would ruin their life. It might limit the number of potential romantic options, but it doesn’t preclude you from romance altogether. If we see the primary purpose of EA as doing good, and not as a place to develop meaningful relationships, setting norms that limit certain types of conduct is reasonable.
I didn’t take your comment personally :). I think it will be very hard for many EA people to find meaningful relationship outside the crowd for many various reasons, pretty unusual worldview being one of them. As for meaningful relationships who don’t violate the norms—sure. They will do it also . But who people fall in love or desire with is not guided by “community norms” but biology ect. Yeah, we can control ourselves—but to the certain extent. So too strict or unskillfully placed norms don’t solve the issue but end up in shame, frustration and lying. Which does everything but contributes to mental health and effectiveness. So I am pro loose norms and constant work on emotional maturity, communication and systemic, flexible and adjustable intervention systems.
In my oppinion—a very attractive compromise which many other cultures adopt is to keep everythign you love about the deep relationships except for the sex. People having sex with each other is uniquely prone to causing harm+drama+conflict.
I don’t think we’ll ever see a TIME article exposing the problem that someone in EA had too many people offer to help them move house, or that community events were filled with too much warmth and laughter, or that people offered too much emotional support to someone when they lost a parent.
More friendship and loyalty and support and love and fun and shared moments of vulnerability is fine! Just leave out the sex part!
I don’t think this fixes all of it. For example, imagine someone describing being expected to load their boss’ personal belongings into a moving truck, on a weekend, with pizza and beer for compensation.
Also, many people will want to participate in EA professionally but not socially, and the stronger the community is socially the harder that will be.
Which isn’t to say that we should avoid doing nice things for each other and having fun together, but it doesn’t free us from thinking about how people might feel pressured.
Agreed, but there is something—if not uniquely, then at least particularly—problematic with respect to people feeling pressured with respect to sexuality. Both that sexuality is pretty central to personal self-determination and that the harms from sexuality pressure are more concentrated on a minority-within-EA population.
We should be careful to avoid dismissing a simple easy solution to a real problem because it might fail to solve an imaginary one. Do you really think the community currently has a problem with bosses pressuring their direct reports to help them move house?
How do you know we don’t live in a world where >90% of the problem is specifically due to people having sex / trying to have sex with each other? What would convince you that sex is the culprit, rather than interpersonal relationships in general?
If you take this as your point of departure, I think that’s worth highlighting that the boundaries between community and organizations can become very blurry in EA. Projects pop up all the time and innocuous situations might turn controversial over time. I think those examples with second-order partners of polyamorous relationships being (more or less directly) involved in funding decisions are a prime example. There is probably no intent or planning behind this but conflicts of interest are bound to arise if the community is tight knit and highly “interconnected”.
While I think that you have a good starting point for a discussion here, I would expect the whole situation to be not as clear cut and easy as your argument suggests. So, I really agree with the post that getting to a state most people are happy with will require some muddling through.
Yeah, totally agreed that it’s not that clear and easy. My comment was meant to be a starting point. I purposefully kept it pretty short and focused on one, easy conclusion, as the whole issue is super complex, I don’t have it well-thought through and I’m probably missing a lot of information and context.
I think however, that the whole discussion is over-focused on sex and polyamory, and not focused enough on other interpersonal connotations which for sure happen in a community like that (friendships? living together? Ex-partners?).
Agree that the discussion has been overfocused on polyamory. However, I think sex in general has an element than friendship or platonically living together generally lack. I don’t think we have seen many, if any, stories about power differentials contributing to significantly problematic situations in those areas in the same way we’ve heard about problematic situations involving sex. So while I think all of these interactions can cause conflict of interest, the harassment risk seems much higher with sex.
What problematic situations involved sex? Or do you mean “sexuality” ?
Somewhat related, I really liked these two posts:
The Craft is Not The Community
Community vs Network
Also (though I’m not sure I fully agree): https://thingofthings.substack.com/p/on-demandingness-polyamory-and-effective
I mostly like and agree with Ozy’s post (thanks for linking!) though it’s a bit unclear which norm proposals it is objecting to. For example, if it’s the “don’t be poly” norm then totally, but the “sleep around less within the EA community on the margin” then it’s less convincing. (Still may be right in this case, but it would help to address it specifically.)
Yeah, broadly agree (and feel confused about how much I feel like it applies to me personally—like, I feel reasonably comfortable making personal sacrifices in how I organize my personal life for EA reasons, and I imagine others do, too, including with the frame of personal obligation. I just think it’s can also be quite healthy for people to have a more protective attitude towards their private life—noting that Ozy points to a lot of constraints on people’s personal behaviors they are with and also that depending on what Ozy means I’m not necessarily in full agreement with the piece).
I feel like there’s also an ambiguity in the term “community” being used to both mean:
A relatively small and tightly knit social group of people in specific areas who know each-other in real life;
And a larger global community of people who are involved in EA to varying levels, but it doesn’t make up the majority of their social life.
A lot of the posts about EA community issues seems to be implicitly about the stereotypical “people who go to Bay Area house parties” community. Which is not representative of the wider community of people who might attend EA conferences, work/volunteer in EA orgs or donate.
Good point! I’m trying to talk about the second category here, though that does include the first to some extent.
A bit of side topic here, but thank you very much Jeff for writing this post and making an effort to understand everyone, structure this discussion and come to some agreement/conclusions. I see a lot of value in it. Plus, it was very comforting for me personally, as some previous talks left me quite upset.
I don’t think that’s fair as a general rule. EA group leaders have access to opportunities that they can deny to group members, such as recommending who attends paid retreats with EA funders, or who has leadership opportunities in coming years. They may not actually abuse the power, and I expect such abuse to be rare, even if subconscious bias is very likely—but either way, it’s impossible for the group leaders to fairly evaluate the perception of other members or potential members. It’s also probably not the right place to have 21 year old students make judgement calls.
So what should the rules be? Banning relationships? Requiring people to leave leadership positions? Disclosure? And before I answer, I want to ask how it feels for these to be proposed.
I think that the reflection is a critical issue. Because my answer is that any of these would go much too far. I suspect that simply adding a few cautions to handbooks and ensuring that everyone has access to an external ombudsman to register concerns would be enough. But I worry that instead of viewing it as a tradeoff, where discussion of rules is warranted, and and instead of seeing relationships as a place where we need caution and norms, it’s instead viewed from a lens of meddling versus personal freedom, and so it feels unreasonable to have any rules about what consenting adults should do. But that lens seems far worse for community health than openly acknowledging that consent is only one part of the question.
To me, at least, the current suggestions (in top level posts) do feel more like ‘meddling’ than like reasonable norms. This is because they are on the one hand very broad, ignoring many details and differences—and on the other hand don’t seem to me like they’ll solve our problems.
For example, I almost agree with you regarding relationships between uni group leaders and members—I think disclosure (to whom?) might be reasonable, but anything beyond that wouldn’t be. On the other hand, I think the main factor here, which these suggestions ignore, isn’t just the difference in power that comes from the hierarchy, but rather the difference in seniority. I’m much more worried about people who have an established place in the community starting relationships with newcomers, because it seems much easier to cause harm there.
I don’t think there were suggestions, really. From what the post actually said, “Organizations handle these conflicts in a range of ways… On the more specific question of what norms to have, I don’t know.”
But in defense of rules, I think it’s fine to make rules to deal with the normal cases, and then you tell people you expect them to use their judgement otherwise. Because clearly power differentials are more complex than whether someone has an established place, or is older, or is more senior in an organization. For example, when I was working for 1DaySooner, I was technically junior to a number of people who worked there, but I still had much more community influence than they did. I’ve also been in plenty of situations where people significantly younger than me were in more senior roles. Rules that try to capture all the complexity would be stupid, but so would having no rules at all.
I read Guy as talking about the top level posts Consider not sleeping around within the community and EA’s weirdness makes it unusually susceptible to bad behavior but, yes, if he’s talking about me I haven’t actually gotten far enough to figure out what sort of suggestions I might make.
Thanks for pointing out the nuance here, and I strongly agree with your points. These sorts of issues are as you said extremely corrosive, and make it difficult for outsiders not to have a frustrated and bitter view of the elite in EA.
Also as has been pointing out, this type of casual disregard of any sort of restriction on relationships disproportionately drives away women, since so many people in powerful positions in EA are men.
Finally, the optics are awful. I don’t have a strong stance on wokeism per se, but if we get more and more scandals like the TIME article I worry about EAs ability to grow and convince large decision makers. Reputation matters.
Ok, I have a question, which is a bit crucial in this whole discussion. I know it may be unpleasant to see it being asked, but I think sbd should do so, doesn’t matter if the answer seems obvious for some. Are we trying to solve an actual problem here and how sure are we about it? For example, do we have an actual evidence, such as hard data (but may be other), or a very strong understanding that consent or relationship norms in the EA are problematic? How possible is it that we all just reacted emotionally and randomly focussed on this issue? Maybe consent norms are ok but we have a problem with a group of people who cannot healthily implement them. Or something similar. I’m sure there’s some issue, but I think it’s important to define it well.
I think so, specifically related to this point from the OP (but would be interested to hear if people don’t really think there’s any COI in either of these cases):
See this comment and this comment (below- use rot13) from this post.
I think we don’t currently have much agreement on how to consider metamour CoIs. For example, Power dynamics between people in EA has:
And I’ve seen comments in the last few weeks that treat it as clearly an important CoI and others as clearly not.
A good intuition pump here is to imagine you are a student who is hit on by their professor. Some students might be complimented by this, but others might worry that their academic value is predicated on their sexual status. Seems this happens too often to people.
Amia Srinivasan writes well on this in The Right To Sex.
I used to think that it was really unfair how people characterized ea as cultish but seeing the discussion lately around dating in ea/polyamory and the public shaming of individuals who have made some missteps just really reminds me of religions including the one I grew up in where people inexplicably feel justified in inserting themselves into other peoples private lives and then using public shaming to enforce these norms.
It’s one thing for an institution (grant maker, employer, university, etc.) or relationship (e.g. monogamous) to have a policy on what kind of relationships are forbidden on the grounds of conflicts of interest or unit cohesion or concerns about power dynamics because that is their business. I still fail to see where the rest of us have standing to “establish norms” about this matter.
I don’t like cheating or sleeping with your grantees or employee any more than the next person but these things are not my business and they aren’t yours either.
I say this all as someone who has been off the dating market for over a decade, so nothing directly applies to me but as someone raised in an oppressive religion, this is looking like my cue to exit.
Thanks for your input! From my perspective as one of the people talking about “establishing norms,” I can definitely do better to add nuance here.
As others have mentioned the issue is the blended lines between the professional roles and personal community is tough to navigate. I generally am in favor of classical liberal approaches to personal morality, but I do think that, as Jeff points out, these sorts of things can be other people’s business in a professional setting.
Imagine you rely on an EA grant for your job/livelihood, or work at an EA organization. You work extremely hard but don’t manage to get you grant renewed or get fired. Then you find out that someone else in a similar role slept with a grantmaker or a grantmaker’s friend, and won the grant over you.
How would that make you feel? Would you still feel it isn’t your business?
It’s one thing to say that it is my business that the grantmaking organization has a bad policy or bad enforcement of existing policy. In fact I do endorse organizations having robust and well-enforced conflict of interest policies.
What I do not endorse is the notion that, supposing I am in the situation you describe, I have standing to directly take issue with the people involved or their behavior. I don’t. If they are violating a policy and their employer doesn’t know about it, I have standing to notify the employer. If the employer has a bad policy, I have standing to publicly not support the employer. What I object to is the idea that “community norms” are an acceptable way of handling this situation (through direct shaming/socially sanctioning/publicly judging of the individual behavior rather than the organizational policy).
Organizational policies are explicit and governed by consent. If I don’t like the policy, I don’t have to work there. If I am unclear on what the policy is, I can read the employee manual. “Community norms” in contrast are murky/non-explicit and no one ever signs a form saying they now agree to enter this community with these rules. For this reason, they are vulnerable to arbitrarily expanding and being used in service of signaling conformity and allegiance rather than serving their alleged purpose. Similarly, organizations also only have jurisdiction over people for whom they actually have reason to care about these matters with and they do not have jurisdiction over people for whom they randomly decide to moralize about. “Community norms”, in contrast, invite everyone to be a busybody about everyone else. Count me out.
One concern about this approach is that much “soft power” does not flow through organizations. So expecting someone’s employer to regulate their independent “soft power” doesn’t seem right, even if the employer were willing to try. One potentially useful test is how much power and influence the person would wield tomorrow if they were fired today.
The origins of “soft power” are often nebulous, but it’s plausible to say that large portions of it come from the community itself, or at least from enough individual sources that the community is a decent proxy. So it’s plausible that, at least where “soft power” is concerned, the community is the closest analogue to the employer.
That’s a good point! For example, to the extent that people listen to me, very little of it comes via my employer, even though I’m doing direct work.
Policing the differentials in the “soft power” of other people’s relationships is precisely the sort of busybodying that I find so toxic and intrusive. Are rich, well-connected, influential people only allowed to date other rich, well-connected, influential people? That’s the logical conclusion of this line of reasoning and it strikes me as ugly. Besides, soft power is complicated and sometimes the person who looks more powerful from the outside is less powerful in the relationship. But more importantly, if you are not in the relationship, it is not your business.
Of course if a person is pushy or unwilling to take a no, then it’s not a matter of consenting adults and it’s a different story.
Enforcing some sort of social sanction against other people’s private relationships on the basis of power differentials seems just incredibly outside the realm of common decency or healthy boundaries.
Hmm, we might be trying to use “community norms” differently? For example, if I thought we should have a norm that managers should abstain from alcohol at social events with people they manage I wouldn’t approach this by trying to get a group together to shame drinkers. Instead I’d talk casually with other EAs about whether this was a good norm to advocate for, ask in the EA Managers Slack, maybe write up something for the Forum (“Avoid Drinking With Reports?°”). Then if that got broad support (which it wouldn’t, but continuing) I’d try to convince orgs to have policies on this.
For a norm to be a norm, it needs to be enforced via social pressure (most commonly using shame, but other forms too) or else it is not really a norm. What would it mean to have a norm against drinking with reports if someone repeatedly and publicly got drunk with reports and proceeded to receive no social sanction of any kind? If by “norm” you strictly mean “advocacy for organizational policy” and not “exerting social pressure” then I am with you. However, that is not how most people use the term. Personally, I would react much more positively to a post that said “orgs should have policies against drinking with reports” vs. “avoid drinking with reports” (and for the record I fully support orgs having policies of not drinking with reports).
Maybe I should be saying “meta norm” or something? For many of these where I’d like it to be is something like “we agree that organizations should have policies against their employees from doing X”. So these would be norms about what policies EA orgs should have?
But there are also cases where I do think norms among individuals make sense (and should have included this in my comment above). For example, norms against people at EA meetups, especially organizers, hitting on first-timers.
Yes. I’d agree with that. Strong push for organizations, competitions, grant-makers and events to have norms addressing certain set of issues (i.e. we could have a “must address list”). Norms should be adjustable to a group character and stuff like the country’s culture. Plus some gentle community norms (it’s not ok for an event organizer/special guest to hit on first-timers). Plus empathetic helpline and even resource center for those, who ended up being in an ambiguous situation with regard to those norms, or have trouble setting them due to i.e. pre-existent interpersonal dynamics or even personal traits. So they are encouraged to be mindful, address problems, acknowledge mistakes and seek best solutions instead of being ashamed and try to sweep things under the rug. Would you agree? :)
While I agree that it’s good for this not to happen, a guest is probably the person there who has the least information about who the first timers are.
Yes, I’d agree. It wasn’t a very well thought-through example. If we remove a “special guest” part, would it make the whole comment more solid and understandable?
I took part of Jeff’s point to be that other people are affected when, e.g., a grantmaker sleeps with a grantee. The fact that we’re affected is what gives us standing to establish norms (and by “establish norms” we’re talking “politely discuss” not “create a norm-enforcing militia”).
We’d have standing to establish norms even if we weren’t part of a community; if the people renting the Airbnb next door throw a rager at 3am, I have standing to ask them to be quiet because their behavior affects me. When you add to this that EA is a social movement—a community of people working in concert with one another to achieve certain goals—we have even more standing (and arguably a responsibility) to help establish norms that facilitate the realization of these goals.
I would strongly push back against the idea that norms are about “politely discussing” appropriate behavior. Norms are about social pressure and getting into other peoples business. It is a contradiction in terms to say “doing or not doing x is a private decision that should be left up to the individual with no external social pressure to do x” and “it should be a norm to do x”.
Regarding the grant example, I have said and continue to believe that it is totally appropriate for organizations to impose conflict of interest policies including limiting romantic relationships between grantees and decision makers. But if the organization has no such policy then that is the issue.
I think the idea that people who are not you simply being in a relationship has anything like an effect on you that playing loud music at 3 am does is both wrong and unhealthy. If a grant-making organization doesn’t have a robust conflict of interest policy, isn’t that the organization’s fault? If it does have one, why do you need these norms on top of that?
People in the EA community can and should try to influence organizations when we think they could be doing better; we don’t just consider it “their business” what they do. For example, StrongMinds should not be a top-rated charity (yet) was trying to convince GWWC to change an endorsement, and I’ve written some and myself. Approaches to interpersonal relationships have effects outside specific organizations, and individual organizations are often too small to put lots of time into carefully coming up with the ideal policies around these issues.
We do need to be careful not to flood organizations with nosy feedback, but if after talking on the Forum and elsewhere in the community it becomes clear that there’s wide support for a norm I think it’s pretty reasonable to try to make that case to organizations we think could benefit from it.
I have no problem advocating influencing other organization’s policies around behavior. I have a problem with trying to directly influence individuals’ behavior through community norms. As I said above, organizational policies are a) explicit, b) governed by consent, and c) structurally limited in scope whereas “community norms” that attempt to directly alter behavior through social sanction, public shaming, etc. are a) inherently murky, b) not governed by consent, and c) limitless in scope. For these reasons, organizational policy is much less likely to create a community full of intrusive and toxic behavior than the encouragement of community norms.
I think this is something that mostly needs to be left up to individual organizations, and the media’s framing of “EA has a sexual harassment problem” is really misleading. It should be “Organizations X and Y have a sexual harassment problem”; if people didn’t want to name specific orgs then it never should’ve been published, and if people are going to try to tar others who were uninvolved that should be treated as the dishonest garbage it is. The media coverage and the community debate on this have been like if someone said “Democrats have a sexual harassment problem” and tried to paint Obama as a rapist based on what Clinton did.
Certainly employers do have an interest in their employees’ romantic relationships in the examples you cite and have a right to limit them. But I don’t think you can make a blanket rule that works community wide; informal power is often more important than formal power, especially in a small community, and if you start limiting relationships where there’s even informal power dynamics you get either infinite complexity or a total ban on intra-community relationships, neither of which is healthy. Individual employers should make their own decisions about HR policies and people can make their own decisions about how much protection they want.
Now, on an individual level I think a lot of people should be thinking more about how their relationships/hookups limit their ability to do the most good they could do, and should take a hard look at whether being able to sleep with whoever they want is really worth the losses it may cause in their effectiveness. This is true for all the reasons you cited that an employer may have an interest, but ALSO because public perceptions of them/the community may matter, and for long-term relationships it goes even beyond that because you need to think about the sacrifices people sometimes have to make for their SO. Who is supposed to take the career hit if one of you gets a great job offer far away and the other doesn’t have anything comparable to/better than their current job available there? For an EA dating a non-EA, the solution is you demand that your career take precedence and you do everything in your power to make it up to them somehow, but for an EA dating another EA who is approximately their equal in ability and dedication (and presumably you’re dating your equal...), you’ve created a dilemma that you could have avoided with different relationship choices.
Side note: “Hookups within a military unit” is an interesting example because those are mostly permitted, and not just in ancient Greece. At least when I was in service, the rule was no sleeping with anyone in your direct chain of command and no officers sleeping with enlisted even not in chain of command. Now, maybe this is a bad idea; the military does have a sexual assault problem and perhaps you’d reduce that by saying no one in the same platoon/company/whatever can sleep together, period. But that’s not the established rule.
There’s no way people could have named specific organizations in the Time article without compromising their anonymity.
In the US military at least, fratnerization (which covers a lot more than sex) between people of significantly different rank isn’t generally allowed. That’s the closer analogue to most situations discussed here.
That’s the tradeoff you have to accept when you decide to go on the warpath. Smearing completely uninvolved people because they have an ideological orientation in common with the guilty parties makes you the bad guy. Being a victim of one bad thing doesn’t give you a free pass to victimize other innocent people with a different bad thing. Again, it would be like if they published an article saying “Democrats have a sexual harassment problem” without specifying that they mean Bill Clinton and not Barack Obama.
The military’s policy is what I said it is, not the thing you’re trying to make it.