CFAR Internal memo RE: Brent Dill
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- Hello friends and associates (and a few strangers).
- Please note that this email is going out to a bunch of people (mutually visible for the sake of common knowledge). Please do not reply-all accidentally!
- This email is basically an FYI to help the community be more sane and informed when making decisions about this conflict. There are a lot of failure modes here, and we'd like to help steer around them.
- Feel free to share this with people you think ought to see it. I'm happy to (in a one-on-one thread) try to answer any/all questions you or others have.
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- Earlier this year the CFAR Alumni Community Dispute Council (ACDC) held an investigation into a conflict between Brent Dill and D that happened in 2016 and also involved A. The goal of the investigation was twofold:
- 1. To listen to D and Brent (and others) with the hopes of mending wounds and helping peaceful coexistence.
- 2. To judge whether Brent was a danger to those in the community, or otherwise malicious, for the purposes of keeping CFAR community spaces safe for people to develop themselves and help the world.
- We believe we succeeded at the second mission, but not the first. D didn't feel she had the space/energy to engage in (mediated) dialogue, and by the time we'd finished our deliberation she seemed inclined to drop the matter entirely.
- That appears to have changed recently with a few new posts to Medium, including the perspectives of A and her partner. Since this case is now in the public eye, we on the council thought it'd be a good idea to share the conclusion we came to regarding Brent's maliciousness/safety. The content of the Medium posts is not news to us, and our decision was made after incorporating Brent Dill's perspective as well as third-parties who were present at the time.
- What follows is a direct transcript of what we sent to CFAR leadership, plus an additional follow-up note:
- - We think Brent and D had a relationship that caused lasting damage to D; we think Brent was partially culpable in this (we also think that both Brent and D would agree with both of these sentiments)
- - We do not think Brent is a “bad actor,” or “malignant psychopath” or similar
- - We are choosing not to ban Brent from any of CFAR’s spaces
- - We do feel that Brent may have some kinds of “poor judgment” that might adversely impact his appropriateness for some kinds of authority positions within CFAR; see below for a more nuanced (though still limited, of course) description
- We believe that Brent is fundamentally oriented towards helping people grow to be the best versions of themselves. In this way he is aligned with CFAR’s goals and strategy and should be seen as an ally.
- In particular, Brent is quite good at breaking out of standard social frames and making use of unconventional techniques and strategies. This includes things that have Chesterton’s fences attached, such as drug use, weird storytelling, etc. A lot of his aesthetic is dark, and this sometimes makes him come across as evil or machiavellian.
- Brent also embodies a rare kind of agency and sense of heroic responsibility. This has caused him to take the lead in certain events and be an important community hub and driver. The flip side of this is that because Brent is deeply insecure, he has to constantly fight urges to seize power and protect himself. It often takes costly signalling for him to trust that someone is an ally, and even then it’s shaky.
- Brent is a controversial figure, and disliked by many. This has led to him being attacked by many and held to a higher standard than most. In these ways his feelings of insecurity are justified. He also has had a hard life, including a traumatic childhood. Much of the reason people don’t like him comes from a kind of intuition or aesthetic feeling, rather than his actions per se.
- Brent’s attraction to women (in the opinion of the council) sometimes interferes with his good judgement. Brent knows that his judgement is sometimes flawed, and has often sought the help of others to check his actions. Whether or not this kind of social binding is successful is not obvious.
- Brent has rough patches and occasional spells of depression. In 2016 he was in a particularly bad place, dealing with a very toxic relationship with A.
- In 2016 he hurt D, mostly in the course of experimenting with ways to help her. He got verbal/written consent for everything that happened, and did nothing that could be seen as directly or obviously violating that consent. That said, we believe some of Brent’s choices in that relationship were quite bad, and he did not exercise the sort of caution that we might hope for when working with others, especially those in D’s circumstances.
- Kenzi (as acting mouthpiece for ACDC)
- Adendum (written by Max Harms):
- The investigation of the council was partially because, at the time of investigation, Brent was in a relationship with Hanna Yanglou, and we were worried that another toxic relationship was brewing and that Brent might be hurting her in a way that would echo previous harm. That relationship (which included serious BDSM and had a significant age gap) turned out to be pretty good, or at least worth trying. This reflects a way in which the toxic dynamic in 2016 was not solely on Brent, and that treating Brent as a villain is an unfair caricature.
- Furthermore, Brent has been very cooperative and proactive in our eyes in working towards a place of healing and mutual understanding. In our attempts to resolve this conflict, D has been the sticking point on things like having conversations--not Brent. (This is meant to be a point of praise for Brent, not a slam on D; setting barriers is important to staying safe, and we recognize that it's hard to talk with, or even about, someone who has hurt you.)
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- Our investigation included many hours of interviews and deliberation about the acceptability of things such as consensual engagement in contracts, romantic relationships with age gaps, and the risks of letting people make their own mistakes. While we spared much of the details for the sake of brevity and protecting the identities of the people who we talked with, we recognize that many of you will still have burning questions.
- I'd be happy to say what I can, and help satisfy curiosity, either in email, chat, or in person. I think it's important that we, as a community neither over-react nor under-react to the painful experiences in these people's lives, both for the sake of the people involved now, and also for the sake of broader community norms and those affected in the future.
- - Max Harms, CFAR Alumni Community Disputes Council
- Subject: Re: Outcome of investigation of conflict between Brent Dill and D
- That was a very tactless email to send. Insofar as ACDC is associated with CFAR, this makes CFAR look bad.
- I talked to Max as a rep of ACDC early in the year, and was not seeking their input at this time. ACDC had a place in this conversation as the holder of private information, which is no longer the case.
- You don't need to outsource your judgment. [REDACTED] have written up our experiences. Read them and judge them for yourself.
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