EDIT: I want to highlight this take by someone who’s much more knowledgable than I am; you should probably read it before reading my comment.
First, the immediate stakes are far lower—in the Cultural Revolution, “counter-revolutionary revisionists” were sent cross-country to re-education camps, tortured, killed, even eaten. As far as I am aware, none of these things have happened recently in America to public figures (or made-public-by-Twitter figures) as a result of the sort of backlash you discuss.
This hasn’t happened yet, and probably won’t happen any time soon, but it’s conceivable to me that it might happen eventually if things get much worse. What if we saw a resurgence in targeted killings in a world where police have been abolished/shamed into inaction and discussing the killings in the media is seen as blowing a dog whistle? (However, even in this world, one could move to a part of the US where the rate of private gun ownership is high… from what I’ve seen, rioting hasn’t really been taking place in those areas.)
Third, at the moment, this cultural movement (whatever you want to call it) is not orchestrated top-down or directly backed by the formal structures of power (legislative, executive, and judicial branches of American government, and the military), in stark contrast to the Cultural Revolution.
The Cultural Revolution was not backed by the formal structures of power. The Red Guard organizations precipitating the revolution were frequently in opposition to established party structures (and each other). Here are some quotes from Mao: A Very Short Introduction:
All groups justified their policies and actions with reference to Mao’s works. When Mao gave a clear order they tried to obey it. Much of the time, however, Mao was careful to hide his hand. His comments were Delphic in their ambiguity leaving Red Guard organizations considerable room to act on their own initiative. Communist leaders vying for power or survival whether at local or national level tried to manipulate Red Guard groups, sometimes through their own children. Like gang members anywhere, Red Guard organizations developed their own rivalries and antagonisms, albeit with ideological rationalizations. In some cases, they imprisoned, tortured, and even murdered each other with disturbing brutality.”
When [Party leaders] were dragged before struggle meetings, Mao left the masses to do as they saw fit. He did not order their ill treatment but neither did he intervene to prevent it.
...At this point, however, Mao drew back from the abyss, condemning the commune and the free elections it had announced......
Finally in the summer of 1968, faced with near civil war in various provinces, Mao decided to call a halt. Work teams were sent onto the campuses to restore order but were sometimes viciously attacked. Mao called a meeting of Red Guard leaders in the capital. Confronting their complaint that a ‘Black Hand’ was attempting to suppress the campus revolution, he announced that he himself was that Black Hand.
Lack of top-down authority could be a bad thing. With the current situation, since there is no cult of personality, there is no one with the authority to be a ‘Black Hand’ if things get truly crazy. Memetic evolution seems to be the primary master.
On the other hand, there is the point that police, military, and privately-owned guns in the US all appear to not be very inclined to revolution, at least for the time being.
Secondly, effective altruists are disproportionately employed at companies like Google and Facebook. The policies of social media giants can influence discourse norms on the Web and therefore society as a whole. While EAs working at tech giants may not have enough power within the organizational hierarchy to make a meaningful difference, it’s something worth considering. Another way in this vein that EAs could make a difference is by creating or popularizing discussion platforms that promote rational argumentation and mutual understanding instead of divisiveness (related post).
I want to highlight reddit as a social network which could be especially valuable to get a job at. It seems to have a combination of
a very large userbase (bigger than Twitter according to this article)
a relatively small employee headcount (so larger per-capita employee influence)
a subreddit structure which could allow for experimentation with depolarization interventions—allow moderators to customize their subreddits in a programmable way, let many experiments bloom, see which experiments are associated with depolarization/improved discussion quality (I have experiment ideas if people are interested)
increasing the presence of public service broadcasting
I don’t know how well that would work in the US—it seems that existing public service broadcasters (PBS and NPR) are perceived as biased by American conservatives.
A related idea I’ve seen is media companies which sell cancellation insurance. The idea being that this is a business model which incentivizes obtaining the trust and respect of as many people as possible, as opposed to inspiring a smaller number of true believers to share/subscribe. One advantage of this idea is it doesn’t require any laws to get passed. (As polarization gets worse, I expect passing depolarization laws gets harder and harder.)
Here’s another idea for the list: https://twitter.com/JohnArnoldFndtn/status/1266701479404060678
Maybe you could choose to only vote in a party’s primary if you also precommit to voting for your chosen candidate in the general election if they win the primary.
I think if you’re in a blue state like California, it generally makes sense to register as Republican to vote in the Republican primary, because there will be fewer California Republicans voting in that primary, but California still contributes the same number of electoral college votes?
I think a good way to explore potential downsides of this proposal, and also potentially reduce the taboo around genetic enhancement, would be to steelman the concerns of people who are reflexively opposed to it.For example, how likely is it that talking about genes more (e.g. the genetic basis of intelligence) will cause people to associate moral value with genes or feel contempt for those are genetically unlucky? You could do psychology experiments where you tell participants that X% of variation in some trait is genetic and see how that affects their attitude towards people without that trait. Does the framing matter? Do some framings cause dehumanization and others cause compassion?You could also look at historical case studies and try to tease apart causality: Did the progressive eugenics movement amplify the racism of that time period or just reflect it? Did Hitler become interested in genes because he was racist, or did he become racist because he was interested in genes?You’re both looking for potential downsides to this kind of advocacy, and also looking for framings which will minimize potential downsides while framing genetic enhancement in a way that broadens support among those who might consider it taboo. For example, subsidize it as a way to decrease inequality. Genetic inequality is arguably more unfair than any other kind!Finally, regarding the We risk creating a race of enhanced humans who won’t care about (or will subjugate) the rest of us. point, one idea for mitigating this is to introduce genetic enhancement soon, before we are very good at it, so there is a gradual increase in the level of e.g. intelligence instead of a sudden one. That could decrease tribalism, since instead of there being an “ultra-enhanced” tribe and a non-enhanced tribe with nothing in between, there are many people with many different levels of enhancement in the middle to keep the peace and foster compassion and understanding.
I also hope your faith in Bennett is well-placed, that whatever mix of vices led him to write vile antisemitic ridicule on an email list called ‘morning hate’ in 2016 bear little relevance to the man he was when with Leverage in ~~2018, or the man he is now.
Perhaps it’d be helpful for Bennett to publish a critique of alt-right ideas in Palladium Magazine?
In Bennett’s statement on Medium, he says now that he’s Catholic, he condemns the views he espoused. If that’s true, he should be glad to publish a piece which reduces their level of support.
Since he used to espouse those views, he has intimate understanding of the psychology of those who hold them. So a piece he edits could help deconvert/deradicalize people more effectively than a piece edited by an outsider. And whatever persuaded him to abandon those views might also work on others.
Bennet might complain that publishing such a piece would put him in an impossible bind, because any attempt to find common ground with alt-righters, and explain what originally drew him to the movement to do effective deconversion, could be spun as “Jonah Bennett doubles down on alt-right ideology” for clicks. Bennet might also complain that publishing such a piece would make him a target for alt-right harassment. However, if Bennett is sincerely sorry for what he said, it seems to me that he should be willing to accept these risks. At least he could offer to publish a critique of the alt-right that’s written by someone else.
If he does publish such a piece, I personally would be inclined to tentatively accept him back into civil society—but if he’s unwilling to publish such a piece, I think it’s reasonable to wonder if he’s “hiding his true power level” and be suspicious/condemnatory.
I do feel we should have some sort of path to forgiveness for those who sincerely wish to leave extremist movements.
communal violence seems to be common in post-colonial contexts, where many borders have been drawn in disregard to geographic grouping of social groups.
Hmmm, would this reasoning also imply that immigration restrictions could reduce communal violence in some cases? If putting people of different social groups in the same country tends to cause conflict.
Ozy also wrote a response to this article which agrees with some of your points:
There are non-political ways to address this, such as better contraceptives like Vasalgel.
EA already has semi-official positions on intractable political issues like immigration. If stable two-parent families are indeed an effective way to prevent child abuse, I don’t see why we shouldn’t have a semi-official position on promoting those as well. It could help address conservative underrepresentation in the EA movement. I think if some positions are taken publicly on both sides, that increases our credibility as an independent source of truth. Otherwise we might be seen as “EA-washing” the political positions that we already held as coastal liberal types.
But really I think stable two-parent families are a bipartisan issue. For example, abortion probably helps reduce the incidence of single motherhood (though of course the ethics of abortion itself is another can of worms). I don’t think your average liberal person is actually against fatherhood or stable households, they just prioritize other outcome measures (perhaps incorrectly if the data here is right).
“Obviously we can’t say this is all causal—in general all good properties are correlated, so it’s likely there are shared genetic etc. causes.”
Possible causal mechanism:
Through infanticide, males can eliminate the offspring of their competition and get the female back to full baby-making capacity faster
Can you provide a reliable source supporting the claim that the UK legal system does not allow the accused access to all evidence?
I did some research of my own, and from what I can gather, it seems the provision you refer to is mostly about not letting the public know the name of the alleged victim. I find it hard to believe that the accused sometimes does not know the name of the alleged victim in the UK legal system.
FIRE has some discussion on their website if you search for “cross-examine” here. Maybe you can provide legal background on how this situation differs from a college disciplinary hearing.
But I’m less interested in legal technicalities and more interested in what the best policies for Effective Altruism are. There’s a decent chance this is the end of Jacy’s career as an EA. It’s important for CEA to wield its power in this area responsibly.
I’m not saying Jacy should definitely be allowed to cross-examine witnesses. I’m just saying it’s a complex issue that deserves careful consideration.
Two of FIRE’s conditions request that victims of sexual assault must face their assailant in order to have any hope of justice.
If I’m not mistaken, only one condition requires this (“Right to face accuser and witness”). I don’t see how the “Access to all evidence” condition requires this.
You seem to have strong feelings about this. I think these are complex issues that deserve careful consideration. Here in the US, the right to confront witnesses is a guarantee provided by the Sixth Amendment to our constitution. I’d want a good understanding of why it’s there before being confident in its removal.
Very few teenagers are formally accused of sexual misconduct, and even fewer expelled from a university following an accusation.
I searched for information on how Brown University handles sexual misconduct and quickly found two cases of judges siding with students who felt they were treated unfairly by Brown University tribunals.
A federal judge has reinstated a Brown University student after finding that the Ivy League school in Providence, R.I., improperly judged him responsible for sexual misconduct.
“After the preliminary injunction, this Court was deluged with emails resulting from an organized campaign to influence the outcome. These tactics, while perhaps appropriate and effective in influencing legislators or officials in the executive branch, have no place in the judicial process. This is basic civics, and one would think students and others affiliated with a prestigious Ivy League institution would know this. Moreover, having read a few of the emails, it is abundantly clear that the writers, while passionate, were woefully ignorant about the issues before the Court.”
It’s extremely rare for a judge to intervene in such a case against a private university because, unlike public schools, they are not bound by obligations under the Constitution to afford due process to the accused.John Doe’s suit was for breach of contract, one of the few avenues open to students at private universities.
From an article on Case #1 (Judge William E. Smith). The judge’s remark “having read a few of the emails, it is abundantly clear that the writers, while passionate, were woefully ignorant about the issues before the Court” appears to lend credibility to Jacy’s claim that “The stories against me snowballed into exaggerated rumors about me last year that I’m sure many in my class heard.”
A Brown University student suspended for alleged sexual misconduct has won an important victory: His lawsuit against the university, which makes some of the most eye-popping claims of unfair treatment that I’ve seen in my years of covering these issues, has survived a motion to dismiss.
From an article on Case #2 (Judge John McConnell).
FIRE is an organization which rates universities on whether they provide due process to those accused of sexual misconduct. They give Brown University a grade of D in this area (which seems to be the most common grade). Note that the process used in the Effective Altruism community appears to violate at least two of FIRE’s due process safeguards: “Access to all evidence” and “Right to face accuser and witness”. (I have complex feelings about this. Can elaborate if people are interested.)
Anyway, seems to me Jacy’s expulsion provides less evidence than you might think, because Brown’s process for deciding these things is not that great.
I don’t think it’s clear from this post which steps weren’t voluntary, and I don’t think we should make assumptions.
I’m familiar with a specific case in this area where CEA’s response seemed excessive to me. And I’ve heard of CEA employees, people who were middle-of-the-road politically, who began to tire of CEA’s excessive concern for its public image and the public image of the EA movement.
But the thing is that excessive concern for public image might not be a bad idea in this day and age. People have written books about this.
He has himself agreed to step back from the EA community more generally, and to step back from public life in general, which would be an odd move if these were minor misdemeanours.
Not necessarily, in the current cultural milieu.
I think enforcement of this stuff is very uneven and depends a lot on your social circle. Some social circles are underzealous in their enforcement, others overzealous. Given purity spiral dynamics which seem present in the animal rights movement, it seems possible their enforcement is overzealous.
Thanks for the info.
The way I’m reading these excerpts, only one refers to an alienating conversation of the sort discussed in Making Discussions Inclusive (the one about the “somewhat sexist” comment). The other three seem like complaints about the “vibe”, which feels like a separate issue. (Not saying there’s nothing to do, just that Making Discussions Inclusive doesn’t obviously offer suggestions.) Indeed, there could even be a tradeoff: Reading posts like Making Discussions Inclusive makes me less inclined to talk to women and queer men, because I think to myself “it’d be very easy for me to accidentally say something that would upset them… probably best to avoid opening my mouth at all, so I don’t screw things up for the entire EA movement.”
My intent was to point out that you can make the slippery slope argument in either direction. I wasn’t trying to claim it was more compelling in one direction or the other.
If you believe EA has Epistemic Honor, that argument works in both directions too: “Because EA has Epistemic Honor, any rules we make will be reasonable, and we won’t push people out just for having an unfashionable viewpoint.”
I do think slippery slope arguments have some merit, and group tendencies can be self-reinforcing. Birds of feather flock together. Because Scientology has a kooky reputation, it will tend to attract more kooks. See also Schelling’s model of segregation and this essay on evaporative cooling.
Perhaps it’s valuable to brainstorm compromise positions which guard against slipping in either direction. (Example: “Discussion that could be alienating should be allowed in EA Facebook groups if and only if the person who starts the discussion is able to convince a moderator that the topic is important enough to outweigh the costs of alienation.” That idea has flaws, but maybe you can think of a better one.)
We don’t want to dismiss how frustrating it can be to see people being wrong without it being sufficiently challenged, but we also believe that people are generally capable of overcoming these challenges and learning to adopt a broader perspective from where they can see that it usually isn’t actually very important if someone is wrong on the internet.
People typically have the choice of many different communities they could become a part of. So if one community seems consistently wrong about something in a frustrating way, it’s not surprising if someone chooses to move on to a different community which lacks this problem. Yes, I could overcome my frustrations with Scientologists, learn to adopt a broader perspective, and join the Scientology community, but why bother?
Even though certain rules may seem quite mild and reasonable by themselves, their mere existence creates a reasonable fear that those with certain viewpoints will eventually be completely pushed out.
How does this version sound? “Even though certain heterodox beliefs may seem quite mild and reasonable by themselves, their mere existence creates a reasonable fear that those with certain extreme viewpoints will eventually come to dominate.”