Sep 22nd, 2018
- Someone asked for statements in Brent's defense. I can't say I like the guy and it's plausible we're better off without him, but here's what I would say if he hired me as his defense lawyer.
- When you're 18, you're a legal adult and you should take responsibility for your own decisions, even those you were "pressured into" (btw there's a fine line between "pressuring" women into sex and "taking the lead" in the way that most women want). Saying you felt "taken advantage of" in the context of sex works seems especially dodgy. I'm sure many of your followers are pro sex work. I'm a dude and I've never hired a sex worker, but if I do, how am I supposed to know whether she's gonna call for my exile later on the grounds that I was "taking advantage of" her? This sounds a lot like a fully general allegation that could be made against any john.
- "if I loved him or cared about him I’d do it"--do we believe Brent is lying? Because like, men also have emotional needs! I've spent many long hours thinking about killing myself due to never having a girlfriend--men need sex to feel loved. I don't usually tell people about my problems and folks typically read me as well-adjusted and emotionally stable. I don't think it's uncommon for men to feel the way I do. If a close female friend knew this and didn't care to do anything about it, I would in fact believe that she didn't care about me. (If there's something that someone could trivially do for you that would make your problem a lot better, and they're not doing it, in what sense do they care about you?) However, unlike Brent, I would bottle this up and simply start avoiding the female friend. I'm told that it's not healthy for men to bottle up their emotions and that this may be a contributor to the high male suicide rate, but my response to this is to say "fuck it" and continue bottling my emotions up. I don't actually think there is a better way--insofar as society talks about men's mental health issues, I think society is just pretending. Possible takeaway: maybe it'd be useful to clarify what emotional needs it is acceptable for men to open up about with their female friends without being exiled?
- "Safewording was never safe. It routinely led to him complaining, afterwards, about the fact that I’d ended the scene" - Oh please. In what sense does someone complaining that you ended the scene count as making you feel "unsafe"? And again, what thoughts & feelings am I even allowed to share as a man? Yes, ignoring safewords is not cool, but "Brent occasionally ignores my safeword" seems like a dubious justification for exile. Complaining about a BDSM scene you yourself proposed also seems dubious. If you punched Brent in the face, that seems like an shitty relationship all around, and I don't trust a person who was in _that_ kind of relationship to give a neutral perspective on exile.
- A lot of the characterizations in Warning 3 sounds like they came straight from a Robin Hanson post, i.e. it's behaviors that humans widely share. Brent has a strong personality. A lot of people in the rationalist community have weaker personalities. I have a pretty strong personality, I didn't get along well with Brent, and I found him obnoxious for similar reasons to the Warning 3 writer. Maybe this is just my bias as someone with a strong personality, but I tend to think people should take responsibility for how they spend their time; if you are choosing to stay up until 3-4 AM every night with someone who's clearly an emotional quagmire, frankly you should be blaming yourself.
- [ASIDE: I find Eliezer even more obnoxious than I find Brent--I think his personality/behavior fits a checklist for narcissism remarkably well, and the Bay Area rationalist community is a lot more of a personality cult than anyone wants to admit. Some time ago, I had an experience a bit like the Warning 3 writer where I realized what a strong grip Eliezer had on my brain, loosened that grip, and I haven't looked back since. However, I don't expect to be successful producing the same experience for others, nor do I regard it as much of a priority. At a recent internship, I had a boss whose intolerance for dissent was very similar to the way Eliezer will delete comments that disagree unless they do so in just the right way. This didn't particularly bother me; I immediately saw that this guy was someone who liked to have his ego stroked, chose not to stroke his ego because I didn't actually care if the company gave me an offer and I thought I might learn something through my vocal disagreement, and sure enough was not offered a full-time job at the end of my internship (despite my stellar performance on the projects I was assigned). From my perspective, this is all just how the game gets played and I am free to take it or leave it. Frankly, I think a big part of the problem here is that the rationalist community is full of spineless people. Maybe it's good for us to try to create extra safeguards insofar as we have an unusually high density of such people, but ultimately the root problem in all three of these essays is spinelessness on the part of the authors. If you don't want to do something, don't do it. It's not complicated. Doing it and then calling out the person who persuaded you to do it later is cowardly and passive-aggressive in my opinion. We should be encouraging people to grow spines and take responsibility for their own decisions instead of encouraging them to whine on social media.]
- Anyway, some concluding thoughts:
- * I don't necessarily think kicking Brent out of the community is unreasonable. Guy sounds like a jerk overall, and I doubt his bottomless pit of need is going to be filled any time soon (have thought this for a long time).
- * However, I do think it's valuable to try on a different frame for the experiences that the authors of these posts described.
- * As a community, the rationalists skew male very heavily. Women are more popular than men and maybe we should just be honest about the fact that we are going to prioritize their emotional needs more heavily.
- A note about my own bias: I think I once went on a date with one of these warning writers and got rejected for making the opposite mistake Brent made (i.e. I was rejected for being insufficiently dominant instead of being too dominant). And honestly I'm still kinda sore about this. Being dominant is something that I'm into, but I'm perpetually terrified of being called out in the way Brent is being called out here and therefore try to err consistently to the other side; it's quite frustrating to keep getting rejected (due to insufficient dominance) in a way that prevents me from gaining the relationship experience I need to learn to be dominant in an acceptable way! It feels like a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of situation. (I don't actually expect society to make any kind of provision for my emotional needs, especially gung ho feminist groups like the rat community--the last time I brought up my emotional needs with a female rationalist adjacent friend, she made fun of me, and I expect that any serious feminist reading this has already labeled me as an evil non-feminist and gives me zero credit for disregarding my own emotional needs to the point that it's making me suicidal in order to conform with their dogma. It is fine & expected for you to not care, I am just trying to give you a general idea of where I'm coming from.)
- Topher Hallquist once wrote a blog post (now deleted?) about how BDSM communities should ditch all the specific rules and replace them with "don't be a jerk". I agree with his post, because I think a lot of the specific instances of Brent's behavior are actually fine (I don't think we should exile people for hiring sex workers who are in serious need of money, opening up about their emotional needs, or complaining that a BDSM scene was ended prematurely). Maybe the most honest way to exile Brent would be to say something like "a number of women in our community felt he was being an abusive jerk" (i.e. "sorry bro you got voted off the fucking island") instead of trying to come up with more sophisticated rationalizations for rules he supposedly broke. (The only specific thing that really stood out to me as a dick move was not creating a good set & setting for people on psychedelics.)
- Thanks for reading my rant, it was nice to get some of this off my chest. Hopefully you've gained some insight into possible framings of this issue.
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