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It was confusing writing, and I'm surprised Miller didn't bring this up in his reply, but my interpretation is that the two aren't actually connected except by loose ideological affiliation. 

Blank Slate is mentioned as the "far-left" counterpoint to Bostrom's theory as the topic of discussion. It is, AFAIK, a considerably younger "theory" than communism and is not related to communism's failures. 

The example of communism is brought up because you only call out "far-right ideas" causing enormous suffering, while ignoring that "far-left" ideas have also caused enormous suffering. Communism is the last century's far-left failure mode and horror show; funny that people so often forget about all that.

Had you left out the partisan phrasing, I don't think Miller would've taken any issue with your post, and I would've found it a stronger post as well. EA doesn't require promotion of infohazards, and there's no reason to implicitly suggest that infohazards can only come from one side of the spectrum.

it unquestionably violated one of the strongest taboos that exists in the year 2023... Note that I'm not asking anyone to disregard epistemic integrity, or even necessarily compromise it... On this forum, that default should favor social welfare consequences.

If epistimic integrity violates a social taboo, then you are asking people to compromise it; you shouldn't just handwave that away because that's uncomfortable. Own the tradeoff if you're going to ask for it.

This also assumes that not violating a taboo is inherently supportive of the social welfare, which I do not believe is the case. Social taboos have been wrong many, many times before, and EA is already taboo-violating and offensive to various swathes of the population. How and by whom is it decided which taboos should be obeyed and which should be violated? 

I don't imagine you'd suggest EA, had it existed in 1950, should have ignored civil rights, but favoring segregation would've been the dominant social position at the time and fighting for desegregation was violating a strong taboo. Or I'm wrong, and you would suggest a policy of strategic silence where local taboos are concerned?

While AI safety has sucked up a lot of attention recently, EA's most famous and most well-funded efforts have been focused in Africa- malaria bednets, deworming, vitamin supplementation, etc etc. There's a post at least monthly, maybe weekly, about how EA isn't diverse enough, that it's a tragedy, and how they can and should improve that.

I find it difficult to consider the majority of EA actions could possibly be outweighed by one person's terribly stupid statement almost three decades ago, no matter how high-status that person is within the community. I find it difficult to think that a movement that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars improving the lives of the less-fortunate (mostly in Africa, but there was also that 300M$ experiment in criminal justice reform that would mostly help black people if it worked) has a racism problem, and that their hundreds of millions of dollars of actions, don't speak louder than one  goofus and his poor apology.

But if I try to put myself in that headspace, where this movement does have a serious racism problem despite all the evidence suggesting the contrary, one paragraph of PR-speak is not going to be the least bit comforting. 

Could you, or any readers, help me understand that mindset better?

Disagreevotes don't signal that you broke a discussion norm, just that people disagree.

I see the appeal for the separate voting values, but I haven't noticed a situation where a comment ends up with "this is a quality comment but I disagree," which is what I would think as the valuable quadrant of having the separate scores. While it does take more time I appreciate having elaboration for the disagreement. So, thank you for replying!


  1. Operating costs is flawed, yes, but not entirely inaccurate. Wytham isn't an existential need, but it is intended to attract and (temporarily) house talented people, and part of the justification was long-term savings compared to short-term venue rentals. Defenders in the original posts suggested it would assist in attracting better talent and generate better ideas/discussion/etc. Much discussion has been made over the years on the tradeoffs regarding CEO pay to attract talent versus funding going to the causes instead. It's not existential operating costs, but it's ... optional? Fringe? Preferred? operating costs. 

    I likely could have phrased it more clearly; after further reflection, the question I should've asked may have been better put as "Considering these grounds for disagreement with the purchase, would that also suggest that organized EA should also reduce emphasis on conferences more generally?" 
  2. Ridiculous is likely a bit strong, and rooted in my old-school considerations of "effective," but it was the criminal justice reform and subsequent spinoff that convinced me that OpenPhil is not an EA organization even though it often funds EA. I agree criminal justice reform is a good cause, a - ha - just cause, but I can't imagine anyone honestly thinking it would be within two or three orders of magnitude of a cost-effective cause. As the 800 pound gorilla in the room, and keeping them under the "EA umbrella," can make it seem like everything they do is "effective altruism." 

    That's not to say that OpenPhil shouldn't fund that kind of thing; it's not my money and they can fund what they want. But many of the same people running OpenPhil run the organizations telling EAs which organizations are "most effective," and some of these decisions call into question those other recommendations.  How much trust gets spent each time one of these decisions is made, and how long can they coast on reserves before the community gets too skeptical? I imagine it's been discussed here before, but I just recently came upon this essay by Benjamin Ross Hoffman raising similar concerns years ago.

Edit: Laziness is not a virtue; I checked, and yes, that essay was cross-posted here around the time it was published. 

It's that I think the low-budget aesthetic is superior.

Despite, or because? Culture has an immense effect, and MIT is pulling from a very different crowd than the state school I'm referring to. Sometimes, as with Building 20, the ramshackle nature of the building gives room for experiments not allowed elsewhere; other times, like the crumbling edifice next door to my dorm, it's just depressing, because MIT geniuses didn't go there. The kind of EA activities presumably planned for Wytham aren't going to be drilling through walls to run wire for some quirky experiment. 

And they replaced Building 20 with a Gehry eyesore. Sad!

The same is true of any overhead costs, right? Should they be running conferences at all? How much should CEOs of EA organizations be paid? 

I think this decision was poorly communicated and helps highlight the potential for schism in EA, but it's not a unique issue, either. It also highlights that, while they often fund EA causes, it's ridiculous at this point for anyone to consider OpenPhil an effective altruism organization itself or even one strongly influenced by effective altruism (it might be petty, but capital-EA versus lowercase is a simple way to highlight one distinction, too). 

Edit: I'm apparently insufficiently familiar with discussion norms here, and would appreciate a reply on the strength of disagreement with this comment.

In previous discussion, Geoffrey Miller mentioned the benefits of a luxurious venue. In my opinion, the benefits of a non-luxurious venue equal or outweigh those of a luxurious venue -- for example, as a method to deter grifters. 

It's notoriously hard to place a value on aesthetics, which is one problem here: it's a disagreement over what that value should be. You seem to be placing that value near-zero? 

A much smaller example and anecdote springs to my mind, from college. For logistical reasons, two adjacent dorms were administratively treated as one staff, but the buildings weren't very similar. One had been built in the late 1800s, beautiful brick building, nice hallways, etc etc. The other was built as an Army training barracks in the... 1930s, as I recall. It was supposed to be temporary but then sold to the university, renovated a couple times, and somehow (barely) still stood 80 years later. Want to take a guess which one students spent more time in, which one had the nice lounges always full, and which one students avoided as much as they could?

I've sort of come around on Wytham after my initial, reflexive revulsion. I'm still baffled that (supposedly) smart people can make what is to me such an obvious disaster in communication,but I do think aesthetics are an underrated (and perhaps deliberately ignored) aspect of a healthy movement that EA might finally be coming around on a bit. A non-luxurious venue could, in theory, be cheaper and maybe because it's plain as dry toast everyone focuses on work instead- or perhaps no one wants to go there because it's the aesthetic equivalent of an overgrown cubicle. 

“ Social movements are likely to overvalue efforts to increase the power of their movement and undervalue their goals actually being accomplished, and EA is not immune to this failure mode.”

While I am unaware of any actual studies supporting it (indeed, the nature of the problem makes it rather resistant to study), that statement sounds like a rephrasing or redevelopment of what's sometimes known as Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

Your last line, if I'm understanding you correctly, is to suggest that this is a good thing because of the nature of those in the second category in EA. One can imagine situations where this would be the case, such as Plato's philosopher-kings worthy of trust. 

On one hand, I think that's a lovely and important sentiment. This community does get bogged down in certain kinds of criticism and theorizing, and likewise can miss out on recognizing the good achieved. 

On the other, ignoring "controversial achievements" is... well. A rather slippery concept; what's controversial to one might be great to another. 

Thank you being willing to respond with actual words and not just voting.

For the people downvoting/disagreeing with this comment: 

Do you think these weren't achievements, per se? Why not? 

Do you disagree that they should be listed as achievements, and as such are inappropriate for this list? If so, under what conditions if any should community-building efforts be counted as EA achievements?

Do you disagree with the characterization of them as "stately homes"? That's a fair terminological disagreement, and I would agree that's misleading terminology as they're not intended to be permanent living quarters (AFAIK). Given the possibility of other explanations, however, clarification would be appreciated rather than or at least in addition to the silent downvote.

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