A CFAR board member asked me to clarify what I meant about “corrupt”, also, in addition to this question.
So, um. Some legitimately true facts the board member asked me to share, to reduce confusion on these points:
There hasn’t been any embezzlement. No one has taken CFAR’s money and used it to buy themselves personal goods.
I think if you took non-profits that were CFAR’s size + duration (or larger and longer-lasting), in the US, and ranked them by “how corrupt is this non-profit according to observers who people think of as reasonable, and who got to watch everything by video and see all the details”, CFAR would on my best guess be ranked in the “less corrupt” half rather than in the “more corrupt” half.
This board member pointed out that if I call somebody “tall” people might legitimately think I mean they are taller than most people, and if I agree with an OP that says CFAR was “corrupt” they might think I’m agreeing that CFAR was “more corrupt” than most similarly sized and durationed non-profits, or something.
The thing I actually think here is not that. It’s more that I think CFAR’s actions were far from the kind of straight-forward, sincere attempt to increase rationality, compared to what people might have hoped for from us, or compared to what a relatively untraumatized 12-year-old up-and-coming-LWer might expect to see from adults who said they were trying to save the world from AI via learning how to think. (IMO, this was made mostly via a bunch of people doing reasoning that they told themselves was intended to help with existential risk or with rationality or at least to help CFAR or do their jobs, but that was not as much that as the thing a kid might’ve hoped for. I think I, in my roles at CFAR, was often defensive and power-seeking and reflexively flinching away from things that would cause change; I think many deferred to me in cases where their own sincere, Sequences-esque reasoning would not have thought this advisable; I think we fled from facts where we should not have, etc.).
I think this is pretty common, and that many of us got it mostly from mimicking others at other institutions (“this is how most companies do management/PR/whatever; let’s dissociate a bit until we can ‘think’ that it’s fine”). But AFAICT it is not compatible (despite being common) with the kinds of impact we were and are hoping to have (which are not common), nor with the thing that young or sincere readers of the Sequences, who were orienting more from “what would make sense” and less from “how do most organizations act” would have expected. And I think it had the result of wasting a bunch of good peoples’ time and money, and making it look as though the work we were attempting is intrinsically low-reward, low-yield, without actually checking to see what would happen if we tried to locate rationality/sanity skills in a simpleway.
I looked at the Wikipedia article on corruption to see if it had helpful ontology I could borrow. I would say that the kind of corruption I am talking about is “systemic” corruption rather than individual, and involved “abuse of discretion”.
A lot of what I am calling “corruption” — i.e., a lot of the systematic divergence between the actions CFAR was taking, and the actions that a sincere, unjaded, able-to-actually-talk-to-each-other version of us would’ve chosen for CFAR to take, as a best guess for how to further our missions — came via me personally, since I was in a leadership role manipulating the staff of CFAR by giving them narratives about how the world would be more saved if they did such-and-such (different narratives for different folks), and looking to see how they responded to these narratives in order to craft different ones. I didn’t say things I believed false, but I did choose which things to say in a way that was more manipulative than I let on, and I hoarded information to have more control of people and what they could or couldn’t do in the way of pulling on CFAR’s plans in ways I couldn’t predict, and so on. Others on my view chose to go along with this, partly because they hoped I was doing something good (as did I), partly because it was way easier, partly because we all got to feel as though were were important via our work, partly because none of us were fully conscious of most of this.
This is “abuse of discretion” in that it was using places in which my and our judgment had institutional power because people trusted me and us, and making those judgments via a process that was predictably going to have worse rather than better outcomes, basically in my case via what I’ve lately been calling narrative addiction.
I love the people who work at CFAR, both now and in the past, and predict that most would make your house or organization or whatnot better if you live or hire them or similar. They’re bringing a bunch of sincere goodwill, willingness to try what is uncomfortable (not fully, but more than most, and enough that I admire it and am impressed a lot), attempt better epistemic practices than I see most places where they know how to, etc. I’m afraid to say paragraphs like the ones preceding this one lest I cause people who are quite good as people in our social class go, and who sacrificed at my request in many cases, to look bad.
But in addition to the common human pass-time of ranking all of us relative to each other, figuring out who to scapegoat and who to pass other relative positive or negative judgments on, there is a different endeavor I care very much about: one of trying to see the common patterns that’re keeping us stuck. Including patterns that may be pretty common in our time and place, but that (I think? citation needed, I’ll grant) may have been pretty uncommon in the places where progress historically actually occurred.
And that is what I was so relieved to see Jessica’s OP opening a beginning of a space for us to talk about. I do not think Jessica was saying CFAR was unusually bad; she estimates it was on her best guess a less traumatizing place than Google. She just also tries to see through lines between patterns across places, in ways I found very relieving and hopeful. Patterns I strongly resisted seeing for most of the last six years. It’s the amount of doublethink I found in myself on the topic, more than almost any of the rest of it, that most makes me think “yes there is a non-trivial insight here, that Jessica has and is trying to convey and that I hope eventually does get communicated somehow, despite all the difficulties of talking about it so far.”
I have strong-upvoted this comment, which is not a sentence I think people usually ought leave as its own reply but which seems relevant given my relationship to Anna and CFAR and so forth.