I’m a freelance writer and editor for the EA community. I can help you edit drafts and write up your unwritten ideas. If you’d like to work with me, book a short calendly meeting or email me at email@example.com. Website with more info: https://amber-dawn-ace.com/
Where I’m at with AI risk: convinced of danger but not (yet) of doom
Some problems in operations at EA orgs: inputs from a dozen ops staff
Women and underrepresented genders meetup @ EAGx Cambridge
This is a great post and I really agree. I’m becoming more suspicious lately of my former beliefs (aliefs?) of ‘if you’re not feeling emotional urgent about x cause or y activity, it’s because your emotions are wrong’. Now, I see my felt senses of eagerness or interest or motivation as containing more information, even if they tell me to work on or care about things that EAs don’t usually work on or care about.
(I’m making a separate comment for a separate point)
Something I think about a lot, with regard to this, is secrecy. I feel like there’s a big culture of secrecy or confidentiality around both questions of sexual misconduct, and other issues in the community, and I wonder whether we might be a healthier community if there was just more open, specific, name-attached discussion of bad things that people in the community have done. The problem, of course, is that calling for survivors to make open accusations plays into the same dynamic you are criticizing here—of placing most of the burden of getting justice on survivors.
For example: I personally know of someone in the community who has done some bad stuff. Not ‘calling-the-police’ bad, but ‘I kinda wanna hang a red flag on him’ bad. And part of me wants to just, idk, make a public post about this, or tell everyone I know: not because I want to ruin his life, or because I’m angry/vengeful, but because I want to protect others, and I think others might want to change their interactions with him, if they knew. And part of what prevents me from doing that is that it’s not my story to tell; but part of it, I think, is a feeling that ‘call-outs’ of that kind are too big and dramatic and overkill-y, if the harm hasn’t crossed over a certain threshold. But is that right? Do people have the right to be protected from people’s reactions to their actions?
Similarly, I notice that when you described two (!) instances of sexual harassment you experienced at the recent EAG, you didn’t say who it was. And it’s completely your right not to reveal that and I really don’t intend to pressure you to do so, but I have to confess part of me is like ‘what the FUCK, after ALL that’s happened and all the discussions we’ve been having, people had the audacity to behave like that?! Name and shame!’
And I have similar questions in my mind about stuff NOT related to sexual misconduct. For example, I’ve heard some bad stories about people’s experiences working for EA organisations, and I wonder whether we might be a healthier community if more of these conversations were openly had.
Anyway, this makes me think that something the community could do is ensure to survivors (and others who’ve suffered bad behaviour) that telling people what happened, with their own and the perpetrator’s name attached, won’t harm their career. I’m not sure how to do this. One part is probably just expressing support for survivors and believing reports of misconduct by default (rather than having scepticism as a default). This might be another reason to distribute power more equitably within the community—if more people run organisations, control money, and have social power, then it might feel less costly to piss off one powerful person. Another part is perhaps for powerful people to make convincing signals that they won’t punish people who criticize them and call them out for bad behaviour.
Anyway, very confused about all this. I’m interested in people’s thoughts.
Thank you for writing this. I’ve been thinking a lot about what ‘average EAs’ (as opposed to e.g. formal Community Health) can do to make the community better—with regard to sexual misconduct and other things. If there is anything that you, or other survivors reading this, would like me to do to ease your burden, let me know (for example, spreading warnings about people, or communicating with people who’ve harmed you, or people in power, on your behalf, or anything else you might think of). I’m also just happy to hear people’s stories.
Tyler Johnston on helping farmed animals, consciousness, and being conventionally good
This is an interesting idea and I’d be in favour of at least some version of it.
A distinction I think about often is: who is initiating? Where there is a power dynamic, it seems more risky if the more powerful person initiates romance, and less risky if the less-powerful person does and the more-powerful one just reciprocates. So I might be in favour of versions of these rules which say ‘the more-powerful person shouldn’t initiate for X time (maybe never, in cases where the power relationship is particularly pronounced), but if the less-powerful person initiates, they may reciprocate’.
There are some complications here: e.g., maybe it would encourage more-powerful people to kind of ‘fish’ for interest from the other. But still: ‘this powerful person is into me and is sort-of flirting with me, but in a plausibly-deniable way I can ignore’ seems a lot better than ‘this powerful person asked me out and now I have to turn them down’.
Fwiw, I don’t viscerally feel like there’s a strong power dynamic between me and my local community builders—or at least, no more than the dynamic between me and other people who have more general ‘EA community status’ than me (e.g., people who work at 80k). I don’t think I’d find being hit on by a community builder massively fraught. I’m not claiming that others should or do feel this way—just adding my data point.
I strongly disagree that the meme or post trivializes that discussion. If you read the post, you’ll see that Ozy (the writer) doesn’t think the discussion is silly, they just object to people dragging polyamory into it and making unreasonable demands. (Fwiw I’m a woman and Ozy is non-binary, so we are both part of the constituency that these discussions are supposed to help).
“A fishing rod is no use in the fields; seeds are no use at sea. But with cash, the fisher can buy a rod and the farmer can buy seeds.”
I wrote some thoughts on this + the whole related conversation here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/4towuFeBfbGn8hJGs/amber-dawn-s-shortform?commentId=bHmWcHYnQkaGWjbcQ
I wrote some thoughts on this + the whole related conversation here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/4towuFeBfbGn8hJGs/amber-dawn-s-shortform?commentId=bHmWcHYnQkaGWjbcQ
Some stuff that frustrates me about the ‘dating within EA’ conversation
This post is related to ‘Consider not sleeping around within the community’, to the smattering of (thankfully heavily downvoted) posts unironically saying there should be less polyamory in EA, and to various conversations I’ve had about this, both in public and private. It’s less polished and more of an emotional snapshot. I feel extremely triggered/activated by this and I’m a bit wary that I’m earning myself a reputation as the unhinged-rants-about-polyamory woman, or that I’m sort of arguing against something that isn’t substantively “there”.But I also think that emotions are information, and since these conversations are nominally about “making EA good/safe for women”, my perspective as a woman matters.
-We are all talking past each other. Some people are talking about power dynamic relationships. Some are talking about conflicts of interest. Some are talking about polyamory. Some are talking about casual sex or dating within EA. I’ve even seen one comment saying ‘no-one should date anyone within EA’. I’m likely part of the problem here, but yeah, this is aggravating.
-I’m generally very wary of somewhat-vague admonishments addressed to a large group, with the assumption that the people who “need to hear” the admonishment will accurately self-select in and those to whom it doesn’t apply will accurately realise that and ignore it. Like, consider a feminist inveighing against vaguely how men are “trash” and/or need to “do better”. I’m pretty against this kind of rhetoric (unless it comes with a *hyper-specific* call to action or diagnosis of the bad behavior), because I think that this will cause anxiety for conscientious, neurotic, feminist men who wouldn’t hurt a fly (and sometimes queer women and NBs, if it’s relating to attraction to women), whereas abusive and/or misogynistic men are just not going to care.
Similarly, I do not think men will correctly self-assess as socially clumsy or as having lots of power. Owen Cotton-Barratt’s statement is instructive here: he completely failed to see his own power. (Also, incidentally, if I understand right he was monogamously partnered and wasn’t deliberately trying to hit on the women he made uncomfortable, so a ‘don’t sleep around in the community’ norm wouldn’t have helped, here). I think the advice ‘avoid hitting on people if you’re socially clumsy’, if taken seriously, would lead to lots of kind, reasonable men neurotically never hitting on anybody—even in appropriate social contexts when those advances would be welcome—whereas boundary-pushers and predators won’t care.
This sort of thing is especially dangerous in an EA context, since EAs take moral injunctions very literally and very seriously. I think this is why I feel defensive about this.
-These conversations are supposed to be about “making EA better/safer for women” whereas (a) it’s not clear that most of the posts are even by women (some are anon, and lots of the comments are from men) and (b) as a woman who dates people in the community, this just feels deeply counter-productive and Not Helpful. It’s possible that there are norms that are good for women overall but not me specifically, but I think this is far from established and I’m still not crazy about being collateral damage.
The object level
-I do think that if I had taken some people’s views about dating within the community seriously, I wouldn’t have the relationships I do. I want to defend the attitudes and behaviours that led to me and my partners forming positive relationships with each other.
-I think this kind of critique implies a view of the world I disagree with.
(I) it implies that a large part of the problems in EA come from social clumsiness, or maybe social clumsiness + power. I’m just more cynical about this: while I don’t want to minimize the harm done by ‘off’ comments and awkward advances, I’m more concerned about stuff like rape, assault, or ongoing abuse (in workplaces, homes or relationships). And there have been plenty of allegations of those things!
I don’t subscribe to an overly black-and-white view of people where the are either bad villains or good well-meaning citizens, but I don’t think that you end up raping or abusing people through ‘social clumsiness’.
(Ii) it implies that power is inevitable and relationships are not. Like, one way to prevent the unsavory interaction of power + relationships is to dissuade relationships. Another is to try to distribute power more equitably and give more power to people who are newer to the community, lower within organisational hierarchies, and who are structurally disadvantaged by things like gender. Similarly, in situations where a relationship conflicts with a professional role, I’d strongly want to prioritize preserving the relationship over preserving the role, just because for most people romantic relationships are very important and meaningful, whereas work relationships are instrumental.
I also think this kind of attitude takes responsibility and agency away from men? It assumes that drama and offence is just a necessary consequence of sexual interaction, rather than *something that can be mitigated* when people develop a feminist consciousness (and other progressive consciousnesses like anti-racism) and work on their empathy and social and emotional skills. The view ‘to solve gender problems we need to stop/limit sex’ seems both very pessimistic and kind of sexist against men. Rather than telling men not to date or even not to have casual sex, I’d rather tell men (and other genders! Other genders aren’t exempt from this!) to try to build the maturity to handle these encounters well, while empowering women so that they feel they can push back directly against minorly-inappropriate behaviour, and be supported in the case of suffering majorly inappropriate or harmful behaviour.
- 1 Mar 2023 14:26 UTC; 2 points)'s comment on Consider not sleeping around within the community by (
I guess I think this reply is sort of not helpful. The OP was clearly about more than grantmakers and grantees, and other situations where there’s a clear power dynamic. I feel like in a lot of these interactions you are bringing up hypotheticals to refute people’s firm statements, but it’s hard to see what you actually think. Like do you disagree with OP? If so, why are you nitpicking people who also disagree with OP? Do you agree with OP? Or a limited form of it? If so, just say that and let other people have their emotional reactions.
Anyway I want to say I agree with Liv throughout this comment section.
I would feel surprised if people felt pressure to be part of a cuddle puddle just because there was one at a party, and inclined to say it was their problem if so. I think it’s different obviously if people are verbally pressuring them to join (and I think “awww come on! it’s fun” counts as verbal pressure). But I’d be sad if people stopped having cuddle puddles/hot tubs because of a worry that some hypothetical person might feel uncomfortable with them.
I think offering people couchsurfing is good and nice, but you should do it before they arrive.
I basically think the masturbation comment is bad and was made especially bad by the other things. I think it’s not exactly additive or multiplicative but that the three of them together created a Situation that was worse than either of them individually. The masturbation comment disturbed her, AND because she was staying at his house she couldn’t easily remove herself from the disturbing situation, AND because he was powerful it was hard for her either to ask to be re-accommodated or to say “eww, don’t make gross comments like that”.
I think it can be somewhat useful to talk explicitly about factors likely to make flirting welcome or unwelcome. But a problem I have with this is that it’s wrong to interact with people based on averages, basically. If 70% of EA women like or dislike being flirted with in X way, what do you do? Do the 30% minority just have to put up with discomfort (or, less seriously, a lack of enjoyable flirting)? Are you 70% flirtatious (pleasing no-one fully)?
I think the problem with checklists is that fundamentally, negotiating social interactions so that everyone is happy and comfortable, and flirting and appropriate escalation, are social skills. And social skills tend to be fuzzy and involve very different types of thinking than analysis, or rule-following. So when people throw their hands up in despair, or ask for explicit rules, it feels a bit like they’re getting annoyed that they can’t just throw their technical skills at a social-skills problem. (Written as someone who finds some social skills hard, including in the areas of flirting/romance)
I’m not sure that adding impaired/unproductive people would counterfactually reduce others—if a person with a disability refrains from having a child, that doesn’t mean that some healthy person elsewhere has an extra child.
Re being happy to be alive, I kind of want to distinguish ‘being unhappy with one’s life’ and ‘being happy to be alive’. I think you can have net-negative wellbeing and broadly think your life sucks, but still not sincerely want to die, or wish you’d never been born. This hunch is mainly based on my own experience: I’ve had times in my life where I think my wellbeing was net-negative, but I still didn’t wish I hadn’t been born. Basically I have a sense that there’s a value to my life that’s not straightforwardly related to my wellbeing.
This is interesting! What is your guess of 2.5/10 based on? I guess this fuzziness makes me feel innately sceptical about such scales—I think one can get well-calibrated at tracking mood or wellbeing with numbers, but I think if you just ask a person who hasn’t done this, I wouldn’t expect Person A’s 5 and Person B’s 5 to be the same.
I wonder if it might help you to talk to someone from Community Health and ask them to tell you (anonymized) stories about the sort of things that led them to ban people from conferences, or enact other penalties. Maybe this would reassure you that you’re not likely to be “close to the line” in your default behaviour—or, flag to you that some common things you do could make people very uncomfortable. (fwiw tho, please don’t mask your excitedness—I really don’t think people will interpret that as flirtatious by itself)
Maybe you’ll say ‘that won’t help me, because even if I can avoid those specific actions, I won’t know the rules that they violated’. Maybe CH can tell you what rule or heuristic was violated too! But partly… like I sympathise with you—I am also an enjoyer of explicit social norms—but I’m not sure if it’s possible to come up with a set of rules for social behaviour that are perfectly comprehensive like this. (This is a big part of the AI alignment problem, right—turns out trying to very-precisely specify what you want an entity to do and not do, with no misunderstandings or rules-lawyering, is really hard).
If it would help, I’m happy for you to message me and ask me questions about stuff like this, no question too silly. This goes for readers of this comment too. Caveat: I’m pretty high-openness and probably at least a bit neurodivergent, so you shouldn’t necessarily trust my answers.