Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0

I’ve spoken to people recently who were unaware of some basic facts about Leverage Research 1.0; facts that are more-or-less “common knowledge” among people who spent time socially adjacent to Leverage, and are not particularly secret or surprising in Leverage-adjacent circles, but aren’t attested publicly in one place anywhere.

Today, Geoff Anders and Leverage 2.0 are moving into the “Progress Studies” space, and seeking funding in this area (see: Geoff recently got a small grant from Emergent Ventures). This seems like an important time to contribute to common knowledge about Leverage 1.0.

You might conclude that I’m trying to discredit people who were involved, but that’s not my aim here. My friends who were involved in Leverage 1.0 are people who I respect greatly. Rather, I just keep being surprised that people haven’t heard certain specific, more-or-less legible facts about the past, that seem well-known or obvious to me, and that I feel should be taken into account when evaluating Leverage as a player in the current landscape. I would like to create here a publicly-linkable document containing these statements.

Facts that are common knowledge among people I know:

  • Members of Leverage 1.0 lived and worked in the same Leverage-run building, an apartment complex near Lake Merritt. (Living there was not required, but perhaps half the members did, and new members were particularly encouraged to.)

  • Participation in the project involved secrecy /​ privacy /​ information-management agreements. People were asked to sign an agreement that prohibited publishing almost anything (for example, in one case someone I know starting a personal blog on unrelated topics without permission led to a stern reprimand).

  • Geoff developed a therapy technique, “charting”. He says he developed it based on his novel and complete theory of psychology, called “Connection Theory”. In my estimation, “charting” is in the same rough family of psychotherapy techniques as Internal Family Systems, Coherence Therapy, Core Transformation, and similar. Like those techniques, it leads to shifts in clients’ beliefs and moods. I know people from outside Leverage who did charting sessions with a “coach” from Paradigm Academy, and reported it helped them greatly. I’ve also heard people who did lots of charting within Leverage report that it led to dissociation and fragmentation, that they have found difficult to reverse.

  • Members who were on payroll were expected to undergo charting/​debugging sessions with a supervisory “trainer”, and to “train” other members. The role of trainer is something like “manager + therapist”: that is, both “is evaluating your job performance” and “is doing therapy on you”.

  • Another type of practice done at the organization, and offered to some people outside the organization, was “bodywork”, which involved physical contact between the trainer and the trainee. “Bodywork” could in other contexts be a synonym for “massage”, but that’s not what’s meant here; descriptions I heard of sessions sounded to me more like “energy work”. People I’ve spoken to say it was reported to produce deeper and less legible change.

  • Using psychological techniques to experiment on one another, and on the “sociology” of the group itself, was a main purpose of the group. It was understood among members that they were signing up to be guinea pigs for experiments in introspection, altering one’s belief structure, and experimental group dynamics.

  • The stated purpose of the group was to discover more theories of human behavior and civilization by “theorizing”, while building power, and then literally take over US and/​or global governance (the vibe was “take over the world”). The purpose of gaining global power was to lead to better coordination and better outcomes for humanity.

  • The narrative within the group was that they were the only organization with a plan that could possibly work, and the only real shot at saving the world; that there could be no possibility of success at one’s goal of saving the world outside the organization.

  • Many in the group felt that Geoff was among the best and most powerful “theorists” in the world. Geoff’s power and prowess as leader was a central theme.

  • Paradigm Academy is a for-profit entity, and Leverage is a non-profit entity. Both were part of “the ecosystem”, which was the Geoff-led project behind Paradigm and Leverage. Reserve (a cryptocurrency) was founded by ecosystem members, with a goal of raising money for Leverage/​Paradigm.

  • [substantial edits, moved to end of list] Geoff, as the leader of the organization, dated employees/​subordinates. I’m aware of 3 women over the course of 10 years he had a sexual or non-platonic relationship with. I have no reason to believe these were non-consensual; I view these as questionable management decisions, not necessarily tangible harms. I refer people to Larissa’s comment. The specific section on “Dating policies” is clear, stated by a formal spokesperson for the organization, and accords with my understanding. I do not have evidence of any further pattern of non-platonic interactions with employees. I am glad that the nonexistence of any policy on dating within the reporting chain of the organization is now a matter of official record.

    • [annoyed, editorializing] I almost regret including this bullet point, as I feel it is drastically changing what people are modeling Leverage as, in an overall inaccurate direction. I feel if I removed it, this post would give a more accurate overall impression.

Why these particular facts?

One reason I feel it is important to make these particular facts more legibly known is because these pertain to the characteristics of a “high-demand group” (which is a more specific term than “cult”, as people claim all kinds of subcultures and ideologies are a “cult”).

You can compare some of the above bullets with the ICSA checklist of characteristics: https://​​​​articles/​​characteristics.

There are many good reasons to structure groups in ways that have some of these characteristics, and to get involved in groups that have these characteristics. But it alarms me if the presence of these characteristics is simply not known by people interacting with Geoff or with Leverage 2.0 in its new and updated mission, and so this information is not taken into account in an evaluation.

How I know these things

Between 2016 and 2018 I became friends with a few Leverage members. I do not feel I was harmed by Leverage in any substantive way. None of the facts above are things that I got from a single point-of-contact; everything I state above is largely already known among people who were socially adjacent to Leverage when I was around.

Focus on structural properties, not impacts or on-net “worth-it-ness”.

I try to focus my points above on structural facts about how the organization was set up, rather than what the result was.

I know former members who feel severely harmed by their participation in Leverage 1.0. I also know former members who view Leverage 1.0 as having been a deeply worthwhile experiment in world-improving. I don’t think it’s even remotely clear how “good” or “bad” the on-net impact of Leverage 1.0 was, and I don’t aim here to speak to that. Nor do I aim to judge whether that organization structure was, or was not, “worth trying” because of the potential of “enormous upside”.

I do worry about “ends justify the means” reasoning when evaluating whether a person or project was or wasn’t “good for the world” or “worth supporting”. This seems especially likely when using an effective-altruism-flavored lens that only a few people/​organizations/​interventions will matter orders of magnitude more than others. If one believes that a project is one of very few projects that could possibly matter, and the future of humanity is at stake—and also believes the project is doing something new/​experimental that current civilization is inadequate for—there is a risk of using that belief to extend unwarranted tolerance of structurally-unsound organizational decisions, including those typical of “high-demand groups” (such as use of psychological techniques to increase member loyalty, living and working in the same place, non-platonic relationships with subordinates, secrecy, and so on) without proportionate concern for the risks of structuring an organization in that way.

Going forward

I’m posting this anonymously because, at the moment, this is all I have to say and I don’t want to discuss the topic at length. Also, I don’t want to become known as someone saying things this organization might find unflattering. If you happen to know who wrote this post, please don’t spread that knowledge. I have asked in advance for a LW moderator to vouch in a comment that I’m someone known to them, who they broadly trust to be epistemically reasonable, and to have written good posts in the past.

If anyone would like to share other information about Leverage 1.0, feel free to do so in the comments section.