# Frame Control

Crossposted from my blog

When I mention my dad’s abuse, I mention salient things—physical pain, insults, and controlling behavior. These are “clearly bad”—if I tell you that he often told me I was lazy and would fail horribly at life once I left home, you know it’s bad, because it’s concrete, easy to imagine and obviously unkind. But this wasn’t the worst of the abuse; the most terrible parts were extraordinarily hard to understand or describe.

In his world, I felt insane—I couldn’t tell what was real, who was at fault, or why my heart hurt so much. My sense of clarity around my own intentions crumbled; everything I thought or did might have seemed good on the surface, but that goodness became just a disguise for my true, darker intentions—all helpfully revealed to me by my dad. And none of it was salient or concrete or easily understandable; I remember my mom once telling me, “I can’t describe what this is like to other people. The individual things seem so silly, I can’t put the important thing into words.”

I’m going to try to put it into words, and the words I personally use for “the important thing” are frame control.

This isn’t just about my dad, and he wasn’t even particularly good at it when children weren’t his targets; frame control pops up elsewhere. It’s a feature of cults, leaders, of some charismatic people, of abusers in relationships, of some parents, of some ideological movements. It’s hit communities around me, hurt friends of mine. I don’t know how to fight it, but I at least want to name it. And naming it is really hard, because at first glance frame control looks like completely normal behavior. Every individual instance is “not that bad”; and when the knife that wounds you is invisible, you might doubt that you’re bleeding at all. Frame control is inherently illegible; it’s not something that checks a few clear boxes, it’s only really visible through the experience of the receiver.

In this post I’m going to advocate for some perspectives that I think can also be really dangerous. I’m going to avoid too many disclaimers or safety warnings throughout, and will discuss safety altogether at the end.

Your frame is basically the set of assumptions you hold about the world around you, in every way there is—your values, your identity, your beliefs about meaning and social norms and economics and whatever, although most of it tends to be implicit or subconscious; probably only a small portion of your frame is directly expressible! Your frame might encompass anything from “Jesus is my savior” to “It’s bad to touch the sidewalk with your hands” to “I am valuable because I’m funny”

Imagine your frame exists as a box around you; when someone engages with you, they try to get you out of your box and into their box in various ways. This can be via stuff like:

• Debate: Trying to demonstrate, through reason and facts, how their box is better (“No, sex isn’t about power, it’s about sex, here’s a study!”)

• Recommendation: Showing that the box they’re in has been really good for them (“Viewing my body tension as actually about childhood trauma really cleared things up”)

• Pressure: Holding social alliance with them as conditional on them joining you in your box (“I only really respect people who believe all lives matter”)

• Rescue: Offering up their box as the solution for an issue you have (“Want to escape your suffering? Become aware of no-self”)

• Aggression: Trying to push you into their box (“You’re a piece of shit for denying climate change, you’re the reason we’re all going to die”)

These are all attempts to control your frame, but none of these is what I mean by frame control. These techniques can be manipulative or abusive, but they’re also broadcast clearly; in a similar way to how a man catcalling on a busy street alerts both the target and everyone else to their presence. It’s annoying, but clearly legible. It’s easy for you and everyone around you to say to each other, “Ah, that person wants something from you” and move on with your day.

No; frame control is the “man doesn’t announce his presence, he just stalks you silently” of the communication world. It’s when you end up in the other person’s box without knowing that it happened. It’s not violence you can feel, or coaxing you can reason with; it’s a slow build of their frame around you until you don’t remember what your box ever looked like. Frame control is a quiet subversion of your agency; instead of offering up their frame for you to consider, they pull you in without consent, into a world you probably would never have endorsed from the outside.

Frame control often results in doubt, denial, or suppression of your own feelings, as the frame controller has you in their frame and exerts a huge amount of energy to keep you there. Your own experience is warped to align with that of the frame controller, even (especially?) when this comes at cost to you.

For a very simple, obvious example (not all of them are so obvious!), my dad would sometimes command obedience in things that were very painful to obey (e.g., permanently ending all contact with my best friend). This made me angry, but his frame treated my anger as a sign that I was sinful and corrupt, and I thus experienced my anger as a failure on my part. I would get angry, and then feel guilty for being angry, and spend a huge amount of effort suppressing the anger and trying to convince myself I felt grateful for how much effort my dad was putting into his parenting.

How is frame control done in such a surreptitious way? Surely you would notice if someone was telling you it’s your fault for feeling bad, right?

Sometimes, frame controllers will make high-risk moves that serve to alienate 98% of people and draw in the other 2%. “My organization is going to save the world”—a maybe crazy claim, but if you’re one of the people who really believes it’s possible to save the world, you might instead process the claim as instead incredibly brave, because you know 98% of people will think it’s stupid. And maybe it is brave! My point is not that the moves are bad or good, only that high-variance, high-risk moves will fail most of the time, but be very effective when they don’t fail. This can make frame control strategies that fail on you seem to be very obvious and easy to avoid, but the frame control strategies that work will feel extremely exciting.

Also, frame control is often more likely to happen to vulnerable people. If you’re younger, or alienated from family, or don’t have a great social group, or if you’re very weird or neuroatypical and don’t easily feel seen, or if you end up in a system where your core needs are controlled by your compliance (romantic relationships and employment and MLMs can fit this), this makes you much more susceptible.

Before I’m more direct about identifying frame control, I want to clarify a few things.

One is that good frame controllers put a lot of effort into avoiding the appearance of control. They will explicitly say things that appear to validate your emotions and increase your degree of freedom. They might appear empathetic, self-reflective, open to negative feedback, genuinely caring. Skilled frame controllers track the quiet social understanding of how you have to act in order to be perceived as good, and they are very careful to fill this (Some are a bit less skilled; for example, see Geoff Anders dutifully including option C in this otherwise aggressive tweet). This causes the victims to justify all sorts of harmful behavior to themselves—“Well, my dad says he loves me and wants what’s best for me, so his discipline must be good for me”, “Well that person says they’re open to being wrong, and have pointed out when they were wrong before, so it’s unlikely they’re wrong about x”.

Frame controllers, typically after they get a good foothold, also can determine the standard by which you measure what is good. Instead of just replicating good behavior, they also tell you what good behavior is, e.g. “correcting your sins is good” or “not giving what you want is good for you.”

Second point is a doozy, and it’s that you can’t look at intent when diagnosing frame control. As in, “what do they mean to do” should be held separate from “what are the effects of what they’re doing”—which I know is counter to almost every good lesson about engaging with people charitably.

Frame control is an effect; very often, people who frame control will not be aware that this is what they’re doing, and have extensive reasoning to rationalize their behavior that they themselves believe. If you are close to a frame controller and squinting at them to figure out “are they hiding intent to control me,” you often will find the answer is “no.”

This often functions as a trap to keep people in a controlled frame. For example, I once hung out for a while with a cult (which nobody, including me, viewed as a cult at the time), where their cult leader was doing a lot of really bad frame control stuff. The narrative inside the group (which is not universal across cults!) was that the cult leader was both deeply flawed and perceptive, and the things he did that hurt people were either for their own good, or an unintentional byproduct of him genuinely trying to do good. “He means well” was a crucial element of keeping people in this cult; focusing on his good intent functioned to dismiss and downplay the damage that was being done to its members.

And so, when evaluating frame control, you have to throw out intent. The question is not “does this person mean to control my frame,” the question is “is this person controlling my frame?”. This is especially true for diagnosing frame control that you’re inside of, because the first defense a frame controller uses is the empathy you hold for them.

This all might sound pretty dark, like I’m painting a reality where you might go around squinting at empathetic, open, caring people who have zero ill intent whatsoever and trying to figure out how they are ‘actually bad.’ And this is kind of true, but if only because “I am an empathetic, open, caring person with zero ill intent” is exactly the kind of defense actual frame-controllers inhabit. The vast majority of good people with good intent aren’t doing any significant kind of frame control; my point is just that “good person with good intent” should not be considered a sufficient defense if there seems to be other elements of frame control present.

Much of frame control occurs in the land of things not said. We’re constantly, unconsciously making strategic moves in conversation that shift ourselves into more favorable positions. For example:

You have a bad fight with your romantic partner, and things are tense. Shortly after the fight, you’re hanging out in a group of friends. Your partner suggests the group should set up a fund where everyone can contribute to group trips, and the excess in the fund can cover emergencies. You announce that this sounds like a great idea, that communal bonding is great.

You publicly announcing reinforcement of your partner’s idea has a secondary function of aligning yourself with your partner and communicating to your partner you’re still affectionate despite the fight you just had.

And maybe your partner says that no, this isn’t about communal bonding, this is about handling emergencies.

Your partner’s words were just clarifying their own meaning, but the secondary function is un-aligning themselves with you, pointing out your understanding failure, and implying the fight is still ongoing. On the surface the conversation is normal, but other communication is also happening, likely without conscious knowledge of the participants. The above example is from a personal experience, and when it happened I had zero conscious knowledge of the secondary functions.

Conversation, action, and context are overflowing with secondary functions. Words have effects that aren’t just about the words, and so we get things like greeting rituals (hello how are you im fine how are you) designed to indicate alliance, “I’m busy again” means “I don’t want to date you,” telling the unattractive person they’re beautiful just the way they are indicates you are magnanimous and virtuous and value people for their inner spirit or whatever. We often ‘hear’ these by gut instincts; feeling uncomfortable, feeling affectionate, calm, agitated. We instinctively know the kinds of things to say to communicate the right unspoken functions. We get weird feelings around some people even if we can’t put a finger on it.

Those examples are more obvious, but the vast majority are trivial. For example, if I tell my friend “I can’t talk right now I’m about to run to a doctor’s appointment”, it’s full of mundane implications. My priority right now is the doctor’s appointment, not you. I am taking time to tell you this. I want you to know about my life. I take care of my health.

Frame control heavily relies on apparently trivial secondary functions. Frame controllers will say very normal sounding things with trivial secondary functions that also happen to give them more power.

Or, Aubrey De Grey’s Facebook post. (Aubrey De Grey is a high profile man who was recently accused of harassment). He wrote a defense of his behavior in which he argues that the accusers are not at all malicious, but rather were deliberately ’set up” by a third party who fed them misinformation.

This has the effect of establishing Aubrey as more authoritative than the accusers (he can see the real guilty party and his accusers cannot); it frames his accusers as innocent and mistaken victims (thus subverting their accusations as valid) and positions Aubrey as firmly determined to bring the true guilty parties to justice (why would you oppose him if you want to pursue the guilty?).

The examples I’m giving are obvious, salient ones, because they stood out and I remembered them. But most of the time it’s a quieter accumulation of a thousand tiny implications, each one so small that to point one out would sound insane. It might be something like asking the frame controller if they want to go to the store with you, and they respond “no thanks, because I went last time.”—a completely innocuous comment, but in the right context it might be an implication that last time they went with you was doing you a favor and making a sacrifice. A lot of it is also not explicitly verbal—it can be how they say it, their body language, where they’re placing their attention.

Of course, everybody does things that I could recount here and assign a frame control frame to it; we constantly manipulate each other, asking implicitly to be viewed as competent, or kind, or insightful. And maybe it’s good to pay closer attention to this too! But the difference between this everyday thing and the frame control that traumatizes people is generally that of intensity, frequency, and practical control. If it occurs regularly, and in a direction that consistently reduces trust in your own mind, if it hands the frame controller power over your reality and devotion, and if this is backed up with credible threats to your needs (social acceptance, income, etc.), then I’m much more likely to give it a ‘frame control’ label. I provide examples of what’s not frame control, later.

If you try to point out the secondary effects, frame controllers typically have a more advanced version of the “it’s just a joke” defense. Why are you taking such a normal thing in such an uncharitable light? What issues do you have that are causing you to be so resistant (à la the NXIVM flip)? If this happens in a culture of intense self-improvement, where people are used to finding actual insights by investigating their own resistance to things, this can be a very effective tactic, because it’s a question that points to a legitimately useful direction—there is always something interesting going on in your own experience. Parallels are drawn to sympathetic situations; for example, perhaps once you finally established a necessary boundary for your own good in a relationship with someone you cared about, and this person got agitated, accused you of making them feel bad and limiting their self expression. This is unfortunate, but you believe with your whole being that this person really should investigate their own resistance to your boundaries. And thus “investigate your resistance” is a powerful and well-known rule that people widely agree with, and this is why it’s so effective as a frame control defense.

The problem is if your goal is to end your suffering, and the actual best way to end your suffering is to change your circumstances, then “investigate your own resistance” is a distraction; it’s a frame where your circumstances are not considered as a changeable option.

A related strategy is pushing the painful update button. I’m sure you’ve had experiences where you learned and grew, and it was really painful to do so. You had to face some hard truths, let go of how you saw yourself, and maybe even do a bit of surrendering your ego. This is legitimately good! But a key aspect of frame control is reframing harm as good—and so the pain from beneficial updates becomes an easy candidate. You might be promised insights about yourself (usually handed to you by the frame controller), and pain from those insights gets reinterpreted as evidence that the insights are valuable. No pain no gain. This also tends to be more common in meditation communities where they might encourage things like very hard work or lack of sleep or no food; “what, did you think growth was going to feel good?” the norm is whispered from every corner. “The pain you feel from this community and its leader is what growth means.”

And to be clear, a lot of this is true. Frame control breaks your reality down to fit another one, and while I view this as poisonous, the act of breaking down your frame can have huge benefits—similarly to how forcing a child to sit through school might break their creativity but give them the ability to reliably perform boring tasks. When I first started doing LSD, I recognized a lot of parallels between the drug and my upbringing. “Oh, this is the same thing” I told my sister, who was tripping with me that first time. “Dad broke us in the same way, he just did it violently.” Being mentally broken by an abuser was super educational; it annihilated my sense of fight, it taught me surrender, how to handle huge amounts of pain without resistance, how to let go of everything I loved. And in LSD, though a vastly different tone and infinitely more healthy, I somehow encountered the same basic story.

This is part of the reason why escaping frame control situations can be so disorienting. Frame control situations can give you legitimate, valuable insight. It can open up deep, tender parts of your soul. You might genuinely love the frame controller. It can be some of the most meaningful experiences you’ve ever had. The basic story is a good one. It’s just that the goal of frame control is someone else’s power over you; the story is infused with poison. They grant you profound awe in exchange for serving them. And the combination of valuable insight at the level of your soul mixed in with poison and subjugation to someone else’s will can be a deeply traumatizing experience. People who escape frame control situations often have a really hard time making sense of the world or themselves or what is good or bad or how to feel; their own sense of judgment has been undermined so thoroughly they don’t trust themselves to hold their own frame anymore.

Zoe Curzi (who worked at Leverage) says “a key confusing feature of leaving is that you weren’t acknowledging the badness, and now you have to. And for a while, the badness is all-consuming, because it’s the main thing you weren’t allowed to acknowledge while maintaining your relationship to the community or person controlling you. But something about this is ALSO fucky for sense-making, because it doesn’t acknowledge the powerful soul insights. But if you acknowledge only those, you’ll never leave. So the extremes create a yo-yo in recovery that often makes sense-making and integration an extremely long process, possibly never finished, very incoherent along the way.”

In a lot of ways this is similar to an abusive upbringing. As a child, you bond tightly with the parent who teaches you, cares for you, molds your reality. You rely on them, and many wonderful things you value came from your relationship with them. So how do you come to terms with a world without them?

I’m talking a bit philosophically about frame control, but in an attempt to get more concrete, here’s a non-exhaustive list of some frame control symptoms. Keep in mind these are not the same thing as frame control itself, they’re just red flags. Some of these overlap strongly with traditional cult signifiers. Also not all frame control has all of these.

1. They do not demonstrate vulnerability in conversation, or if they do it somehow processes as still invulnerable. They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview. I once had a long talk with a very smart man who was widely perceived as deeply compassionate and kind, but long after the talk I realized at no point in the conversation he had indicated being impacted by my ideas, despite there being multiple opportunities for him to make at the very least small acknowledgements that I was onto something good. It took me a long time to realize this because he’d started out the conversation by framing me as special, telling me it was unusual to find someone else who had the ideas I did, that I must have taken a different path. “He is someone who respects me” was the frame he set up, and so I was blinded to the stark lack of reinforcement or vulnerability he actually displayed. This guy still has a lot of social power and I don’t feel comfortable yet publicly naming him.

2. They have status and power. A key component that makes frame control dangerous is when it’s linked to concrete consequences; maybe people really respect them, maybe they control resources, maybe they are the person throwing big events, maybe they gave you a new name, maybe they have the power to exclude you from your social group. Less powerful people can also do frame control, but it tends to be tighter (e.g., only in a romantic relationship).

3. Finger-trap beliefs; my term for beliefs where pulling against the belief only strengthens the belief. One example is how Christians say that Satan will make you doubt the existence of God. If you find yourself doubting the existence of God, this gets processed as evidence for Satan. Similarly, frame-controllers will instill beliefs designed to clamp down if you ever doubt the frame controller; “Other people will try to tell you we’re misguided because they’re too afraid of our power” results in “if I entertain the notion that the leader is misguided, does this mean I’m too afraid of their power?”. Frame controllers will often reframe ideas that challenge them as red flags that point to deeper flaws in the questioner. Often these defenses are established well in advance of the challenging idea, so that your memetic immune system gets disabled long before it has a chance to get activated.

4. Reframing harm as beneficial. I discussed this earlier but to reiterate: in normal life we have self-protection instincts that tell us to run away from things that hurt. We also have norms where we’re taught not to do this—spending your childhood sitting in school might suck, but it’s “for your own good” so we accept it (which is bad, imo). Frame controllers use our prior understanding that ‘sometimes things I don’t like are good for me,’ and they make sure to map this onto everything about the frame controller you don’t like. Your pain, through one narrative or another, is evidence of goodness.

5. Sometimes, when your pain is processed as evidence of goodness, you often stop processing it as pain entirely; if you’ve ever looked back on a period of your life with shock that you could have handled that, likely this is because you viewed the harm as beneficial and thus did not process it as pain at all. This is often actively reinforced by frame controllers, who inhabit a worldview where it’s just not an option that a thing might be causing you pain.

6. They are the teacher, and you the student. They might make perfunctory gestures towards learning from you, but the general attitude, upheld by them and also the culture around you, is that knowledge passes from them to you. Unlike in traditional teaching, this usually extends to all things; they are uncomfortable with you holding subcategories of expertise, and will tolerate it only insofar as they can take credit for your power in some way or maintain a narrative where they have the ability to ultimately judge the value or role of what you’re presenting. They might take steps to keep you in the position of student, such as deliberately giving you tasks you’re bad at, or placing you in situations that make you deeply uncomfortable (with good-for-you explanations included, of course). Insofar as they grant you actual authority, it will only be after they’re convinced of your absolute, unfailing loyalty.

7. A belief in their own importance. They often feel they have unique access to some knowledge that you can only get through them, whether it be religious or mystical or a complete theory of psychology.

8. A refusal to affirm ways in which your frame falls outside of theirs. In health(ier) relationships, people tend to “approach each other’s frames”; as in, set aside their own worldview for a moment, inhabit the other person’s, and talk to them “from that frame.” Frame controllers don’t do this; they do not come to you, they do not acknowledge or validate your frame. There might be some performative aspects of this; for example, saying “I know this is so hard” while the rest of their speech subtly doesn’t seem to indicate they actually understand that it’s hard.

9. When conflicts or disagreements happen, they operate from an assumption that you simply haven’t seen the light yet. They might be very magnanimous about this, or listen to you for a long time, or say things like “that’s a great point,” but their attitude seems to imply that there’s not actually a possible reality where you are correct. They are gently, caringly waiting for you to realize the thing that they knew all along. They are so helpful. They are so patient as they help you to see the one truth. And if they have the one truth, how many other things are they right about, that you simply can’t see yet because you haven’t tried hard enough?

10. There’s a narrative of openness and flexibility that deflects from areas of inflexibility. “I’m so kind and patient,” their actions imply, as they graciously sacrifice hours of their attention helping you work through why you don’t want to do a task they want you to do.

11. They orient around their turf; they prefer to decide location and method of debates, they want you to come to their house; maybe they sit while you stand, maybe they don’t give interviews with anybody slightly hostile, maybe they want you to come on their show and frame it as evidence of wrongdoing if you decline..

12. They consistently reroute pressure away from them. I once sat in on a dojo where I watched one of the students point out an error the teacher had made. The teacher then responded by asking the student a question that investigated what was behind the pointing out, what was really about them that caused this? The resulting discussion then was entirely about the student, and as far as I can tell everybody else forgot about the mention of the error. My dad used to refer to this tactic explicitly—“make sure they’re always on the defensive, don’t give them room to have energy for offense.”

13. Similar to the above, they ask questions with forced answers—a common tactic in police interviews, when explicit. “Did you leave your dish in the sink?” “You know that I don’t like that, right?” “You left your dish in the sink, knowing I don’t like it, right?” “So you admit you are intentionally upsetting me”. Sometimes it’s less explicit—for example, years ago I was at a large group dinner with acquaintances and a woman I didn’t like. She was talking about something I wasn’t interested in, mostly to a few other people at the table, and I drifted to looking at my phone. The woman then said loudly, “Oh, looks like I’m boring Aella”. This put me into a position where I had to choose between either being honest and drastically escalating the social tension, or to politely disagree and thus lend social validation to what she was doing.

14. They make “buried claims”—assertions that pressure you to jump through hoops to challenge the core. For example, “Everybody knows you’re sensitive” asks you to challenge everybody knowing before you can challenge being sensitive. If you angrily ask them to stop opening your door without knocking, they might say “Annoyance is understandable, it comes from a desire for privacy instilled into you by an isolated society.” If you want to tell them your annoyance is important, now you have to argue for an isolated society, or that no it’s not caused by society.

15. They constantly redirect to salient measures. This is a very classic example with abusive parents, when they point out how they’re feeding and clothing you as an appeal to being a good parent. I remember once, shortly after I went no-contact with my dad, he surprise visited me at the library where I worked. Upon seeing him, I fled into the staff area and hid under a table and curled into the fetal position and sobbed; when a coworker found me, all I could say was “Don’t worry, it’s okay, he didn’t hit me. He didn’t hit me”. I was worried my coworker would think I’d been “abused”, I was embarrassed at my “dramatic overreaction”, and I didn’t want to be misleading—at the time I didn’t process my childhood as abusive, because my dad had constantly redirected me to salient measures.

16. A refusal to collaborate with other perspectives. Most interactions have a normal push-pull of power, usually designed to distribute it evenly throughout the group; an obvious, simple example is responding to a compliment with a self-effacing joke. In this regard, frame controllers are antisocial rather than cooperative; they don’t participate with the group in evenly distributing power, they subvert other perspectives in service of their own power.

So if frame control looks so similar to just being a normal person, what are some signs that someone isn’t doing frame control? Keeping in mind that these are pointers, not absolute, and not doing these doesn’t mean someone is doing frame control.

1. They give you power over them, like indications that they want your approval or unconditional support in areas you are superior to them. They signal to you that they are vulnerable to you.

2. You feel really, deeply loved by them. Frame controllers often say they love you, or have demonstrations of love like loyalty, but often lack a subtle profound attention and selfless care. For example, both my mom and dad made terrible parenting mistakes, and both said they loved me, but I could feel the selfless care from my mom and it was notably absent from my dad.

3. They repeatedly validate your reality, wholeheartedly, without subtle implications otherwise, and even when they don’t agree. They defer to you as an authority on yourself.

4. Acceptance: in a sense, they view you as perfect the way you are, they assume your hidden intentions ultimately come from a place of deep goodness.While you might be attempting to fix things about yourself, they carry an attitude that you are fundamentally okay.

5. You don’t have to justify your preferences. While they might inquire about them, they respect what you want even if they don’t understand why, even if it seems irrational, even if you have no idea why. Your wants are treated as fundamentally valid regardless of what generated them.

Frame control is damaging when it’s invisible; if you are fully aware of it, it might affect you similarly to how most normal, salient attempts to move frames do, like debating or persuasion. For this reason I don’t think all frame control is inherently harmful; it’s possible, for example, to be close friends with a heavy frame controller while being fully aware of all of the frame control moves they might be doing. I think this is really hard to achieve, though; being very close with someone almost by default means vulnerability to each other’s frames. When you want to “get their world”, empathize with them, see things the way they do, and especially if you respect them—this is how the frame control slips through.

And this is why my general philosophy for people who frame control is “burn it with fire.” I don’t have this for any other human flaw—people with terrible communication skills, traumatized people who lash out, anxious, needy people who will try to soak the life out of you, furious dox-prone people on the internet—I believe there’s an empathic route forward. Not so with frame control.

Frame control uses the pathways of love, desire to do good, empathy—of any sort of human connection. Pushing the painful update button is effective because people genuinely want to grow. Finger trap beliefs snap shut because e.g. you were shown just how much the outside world persecutes this person and you are genuinely moved to be the one who shows them true kindness. You look for their human intent, you imagine what it’s like to be them, you empathically step into their world, and then it clamps down around you.

In this, I am a conflict theorist; this is not a mistake, this is war. And a part of me knows this isn’t “true”—as in, I could have been born into a brain that ended up doing strong frame control. I know they are real people with feelings and needs. But that “true” perspective will let them destroy you; when I run into strong frame control, I snap to an extremely antagonistic frame. No, you are not allowed into my life, my home, my friends, and I will try to remove you from the power you might use to hurt anybody else. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic about this because I’m more vulnerable to frame control than most, but another part of me simply doesn’t care. “They will use your fear of being overly dramatic to undermine your reality.”

Breaking out of frame control is really high cost. In cults this is often clear—you lose your community or financial support or whatever—but the cost can also be internal. With frame control, you have to decide between two worlds—“They are normal and I am bad”, and “They are fucked up and I am sane.” And if they are fucked up, you have to be able to believe you need to separate from them, to cut them off from you fully. This is really hard to do.

“For a normally empathetic person, the idea that someone could be so confused as to be so harmful that I have literally no idea how they could be healthfully allowed close to me or people I love is....very, very tragic.”—Zoe

Part of the motivation for inhabiting a world where anybody you love can be “saved” is that this means you yourself might be saveable. I have a wonderful friend who often invites questionable people to parties, and I suspect it’s because he views himself as questionable, and demonstrating inclusion of other questionable people is a way of demonstrating to himself that he also will be included. We want unconditional love and acceptance to be possible, because we want it for ourselves, and so solidly ejecting someone else is a destruction of that possibility. It means someone can be so bad that they’re ejected out into the dark, and you have to stand there staring at the decompression chamber as you press the button to open the doors into space. It’s brutal and it hurts and it’s terrifying; who are you, that you could do that to someone? Who are you, that you know your ship is surrounded by space?

A lot of things I’m pushing in this post are pretty dangerous. I’m handing you a label of frame control and giving it permission to cut off empathy, to stop investigating your own motivations, to squint super hard at possible subtle motivations in others, to stop looking at intent and only look at effect. This is basically the opposite of all good advice, and even worse it seems like it might give a license to use frame control as a weapon—not just on others, but also ourselves. Technically, everybody “frame controls” all the time; we can probably find numerous examples where every one of us—including me—does the things I outline as bad. And people who frame control may also accuse others of frame control as a weapon for sowing self doubt (and dismiss accusations of frame control at themselves as simply weapons for sowing seeds of self doubt).

I don’t know how to address this problem. This is partially because it’s a moving target—as soon as frame control is named and described, then it can get goodharted—frame controllers will use this as an instruction manual to become less visible. It’s also because frame control exists as a subversion of normal behavior; as the salient stuff is labeled bad, they stop doing the salient stuff, all the bad gets squeezed down into the cracks below our feet, and now you can’t tell which parts of the floor are poisoned just by looking at it. And if we manage to point at a spot and label the poison, it becomes salient, and the whole process starts again.

If someone tries to use this blog post to argue for someone doing frame control that you don’t see, it’s okay to still be skeptical. If they try to use it to argue that someone isn’t doing frame control, but you still feel a weird unsettledness you can’t name, it’s okay to still feel unsettled. Don’t let this post tell you how you should feel. Take this article lightly, take it as a pointer, take it as art. Ultimately, checking in with how you actually feel is the answer. I don’t mean to imply this is easy; it’s often really hard to know how you feel, and maybe it changes often and frame controllers put in a lot of effort to obfuscate this. But in the end, careful attention to your own sensations are your saving grace.

Given that inclusion of names doesn’t mean they endorse everything in the post: I’d like to thank Zoe Curzi, Lawrence Kesteloot, Malcolm Ocean, Daniel Filan, Alexander Zavoluk, Melody Trainor, Elizabeth Van Nostrand, Hrothgar, Kathryn Devaney, Catherine Olsson, and a few other anonymous contributors for leaving feedback and suggestions on this post as I developed it.

• I think this post was valuable for starting a conversation, but isn’t the canonical reference post on Frame Control I’d eventually like to see in the world. But re-reading the comments here, I am struck by the wealth of great analysis and ideas in the ensuing discussion

John Wentworth’s comment about Frame Independence:

The most robust defense against abuse is to foster independence in the corresponding domain. [...] The most robust defense against financial abuse is to foster financial independence [...] if I am in not independent in some domain, then I am necessarily dependent on someone else in that domain, dependence creates an opportunity for abuse.

Applying that idea to frame control: the most robust defense is to build my own frames, pay attention to them, notice when they don’t match the frame someone else is using, etc. It’s “frame independence”: I independently maintain my own frames, and notice when other people set up frames which clash with them.

[...] When we can’t rely on “frame independence”, we want to have a variety of people around providing different frames, so that it’s easy to move between them

Romeo Stevens on hungry ghost dynamics among teachers/​spirtual-communities:

People coming to a teacher often are looking for someone to fix everything wrong with their life. Even if the seeker logically rejects this narrative it can often be an emotional reality that they are looking for a dharma daddy.

Bad teachers can encourage this dynamic. [...] They don’t undermine seeker’s tendency to look to them for all the answers. I’ve seen this first hand where everything the teacher in a space said was a corrective, with the underlying principles never clearly expounded. This lead to an evaporative cooling process whereby people not susceptible to this sort of attack simply left, leaving an environment where everyone is deferring to the person all the time.

• Frame control is probably necessary for good leadership. A good leader is a Kegan 5 individual who can find the ontology that they can use to educate and motivate Kegan 4 and Kegan 3 underlings in an organization that will allow them to correctly respond to current conditions, and then help them to change that ontology as the conditions change.

• But frame control is also the thing that Kegan 4.5 sociopaths use to control the narrative in cults and moral mazes. It allows them to get all of the credit, take none of the blame, and keep less powerful or sophiscated people in the dark about their games, and even happy to give them more control and power.

• A well aligned Kegan 5 leader aware of the possiblity of capture by sociopaths, and skilled in frame control, is one of the best defenses against sociopaths, moreso than any specific communication rules, although rules like e.g. transparency of communication are helpful in this regard, as is Malcolm’s norm around honoring distrust.

Duncan Sabien notes:

often the frame controller is themselves stuck in the frame. They either don’t know another kind of frame could even exist, or rely on it for their own self-image or self-worth or something.

Which Kaj Sotala elaborates on:

Like there were moments when I said something, and they immediately claimed I had said something else, and I could tell their claim to be false because we were having a conversation in text form and I could see my own previous words right above their last message. But at times when our conversation was not in text form and I didn’t always remember what exactly had been said, the strength of their conviction would often make me doubt myself and wonder whether I really had told them some nasty thing they were claiming that I had said. (It did not help matters that my memory is often poor so there were occasions when they did genuinely point out something that I had misremembered.)

Lots of relationships and minor interactions have low-key frame control going on pretty frequently. I think it’s useful to be able to name that without implying that it’s (necessarily) that big a deal. I find myself wanting separate words for “social moves that control the frame”, “moves that control the frame in subtle ways”, “move that control the frame pervasively in a way that is unsettlingly unhealthy.”

This is harder because even the most pervasive frame control appears on a spectrum. A romantic partner or family member can consistently weave a frame that is slightly unhealthy, but that doesn’t hold a candle to a cult that systematically eliminates all your mental defenses.

[...] One of the most important, sad lessons I had to learn about this is that the person weaving a frame, or controlling, or abusing you, can be weak. Society taught me scripts for handling powerful, high status abusers who needed to be whistleblown. And society taught me scripts for handling predators who were… clearly villainanous. But it turned out the people I needed to be aware of were legitimately victims in their own right.

Anna Salamon’s top-voted comment essentially is a high level review of the post. If it hadn’t yet been written I’d have wanted someone to write it for the review.

I like this post fine for conversation-level discussion; it’s got some interesting examples and anecdotes and claims and hypotheses, seems worth reading and helpful-on-some-points. I don’t as much like it as a contribution to LW’s “vetted precedents that we get to cite when sorting through political cases”, because I think it doesn’t hit the fairly high and hard-to-hit standard required for such precedents to be on-net-not-too-confusing/​“weaponizable”/​something.

[...]

I am uneasy about the fact that many of the post’s examples are from a current conflict that is still being worked out (the rationalist community’s attempt to figure out how to relate to Geoff Anders). IMO, we are still in the process of evaluating both: a) Whether Geoff Anders is someone the rationalist community (or various folks in it) would do better to ostracize, in various senses; and b) Whether there really is a thing called “frame control”, what exactly it is, whether it’s bad, whether it should be “burned with fire,” etc.

I would much rather we try to prosecute conversation (a) and conversation (b) separately, rather than taking unvetted claims about what a new bad thing is and how to spot it, and relatively unvetted claims about Geoff, and using them to reinforce each other.

[...]

Hammering a bit more here, we get to my third source of unease: there are plenty of ways I can excerpt-and-paraphrase-uncharitably from the OP, that seem like kinds of things that ought not to be very compelling, and that I’d kind of expect would cause harm if a community found them compelling anyhow.

[...]
I like that you’re writing about something early-stage! Particularly given that it seems interesting and important. But I will wish you would do it in a way that telegraphs the early-stage-ness and lends momentum toward having readers join you as fellow scientists/​philosophers/​naturalists who are squinting at the phenomena together.

• Important topic. Needs some editing. At the very least, do not name Geoff, and possibly no one specific (unless the book editors want to expose themselves to a possible lawsuit). Also, links to Twitter and Facebook posts will not work on paper.

Perhaps there is a solution for both: quote the relevant parts of the Twitter and Facebook posts in the article, with names removed.

• I expect these topics are hard to write about, and that there’s value in attempting it anyway. I want to note that before I get into my complaints. So, um, thanks for sharing your data and thoughts about this hard-to-write-about (AFAICT) and significant (also AFAICT) topic!

Having acknowledged this, I’d like to share some things about my own perspective about how to have conversations like these “well”, and about why the above post makes me extremely uneasy.

First: there’s a kind of rigor that IMO the post lacks, and IMO the post is additionally in a domain for which such rigor is a lot more helpful/​necessary than such rigor usually is.

Specifically: I can’t tell what the core claims of the OP are. I can’t easily ask myself “what would the world look like if [core claim X] was true? If it were false? what do I see?” “How about [core claim Y]”? “Are [X] and [Y] the best way to account for the evidence the OP presents, or are there unnecessary details tagging along with the conclusions that aren’t actually actually implied by the evidence?”, and so on.

I.e., the post’s theses are not factored to make evidence-tracking easy.

I care more about (separable claims, each separately trackable by evidence, laid out to make vetting easy) here than I usually would, because the OP is about politics (specifically, it is about what behaviors should lead to us “burning [those who do them] with fire” and ostracizing those folks from our polity. Politics is damn tricky stuff; political discussion in groups about who to exclude and what precedents to set up for why is damn tricky stuff.

I think Raemon’s comment is pretty similar to the point I’m trying to make here.

(Key to my reaction here is that this is a large public discussion. I’m worried that in such discussions, “X was claimed, and upvoted, and no one objected” may cause many readers to assume “X is now a vetted claim that can be assumed-and-cited when making future arguments.” I’m not sure if this is right; if it’s false, I care less.)

(Alternately put: I like this post fine for conversation-level discussion; it’s got some interesting examples and anecdotes and claims and hypotheses, seems worth reading and helpful-on-some-points. I don’t as much like it as a contribution to LW’s “vetted precedents that we get to cite when sorting through political cases”, because I think it doesn’t hit the fairly high and hard-to-hit standard required for such precedents to be on-net-not-too-confusing/​“weaponizable”/​something.)

I expect it’s slower to try to proceed via separable claims that we can separately track the evidence for/​against, but on ground this tricky, slower seems worth it to me.

I’ve often failed at the standard I’m requesting here, but I’ll try to hit in in the future, and will be a good sport when people point out I’m dramatically failing at it.

Secondly, and relatedly: I am uneasy about the fact that many of the post’s examples are from a current conflict that is still being worked out (the rationalist community’s attempt to figure out how to relate to Geoff Anders). IMO, we are still in the process of evaluating both: a) Whether Geoff Anders is someone the rationalist community (or various folks in it) would do better to ostracize, in various senses; and b) Whether there really is a thing called “frame control”, what exactly it is, whether it’s bad, whether it should be “burned with fire,” etc.

I would much rather we try to prosecute conversation (a) and conversation (b) separately, rather than taking unvetted claims about what a new bad thing is and how to spot it, and relatively unvetted claims about Geoff, and using them to reinforce each other.

(If one is a prerequisite for the other, we could try to establish that one first, and then bring in the other.)

The reason I’d much rather they be done separately, is that I don’t trust my own, or most others’, ability to track evidence when they’re done at once. The sort of confusion I get around this is similar to the confusion the OP describes frame-controllers as inducing with “burried claims”. If (a) and (b) are both cited as evidence for one another, it’s a bit tricky to pull out the claims, and I notice myself getting sort of dizzy as I read.

Hammering a bit more here, we get to my third source of unease: there are plenty of ways I can excerpt-and-paraphrase-uncharitably from the OP, that seem like kinds of things that ought not to be very compelling, and that I’d kind of expect would cause harm if a community found them compelling anyhow.

Uncharitable paraphrase/​caricature: “Hey you guys. There’s a thing that is secretly very bad, but looks pretty normal. (So, discount your “this is probably fine”, “the argument for ostracism doesn’t seem very compelling here” reactions. (cf. “Finger-trap beliefs.)) I know it’s really bad because my dad was really bad for me and my mom during my childhood, and this not-very-specified thingy was the central thing; I can’t give you enough of a description to allow independent evaluation of who’s doing it, but I can probably detect it myself and tell you which people are/​aren’t doing (the central and vaguely specified bad thing). We should burn it with fire when we see it; my saying this may trigger your “wait, we should be empathetic” reactions, but ignore those because, let me tell you so that you know, I’m normally very empathetic, and I think this one vaguely specified thing should be burned with fire. So you guys should override a bunch of your usual heuristics and trust (me or whoever you think is good at spotting this vaguely specified thing) to decide which things we should collectively burn with fire.”

It’s possible there are protective factors that should make me not-worry about this post, even if I’m right that a reasonable person would worry about some other posts that fit my above caricature. But I don’t clearly see them, and would like help with that if they are here!

I like a bunch of the ending, about holding things lightly and so on. I feel like that is basically enough to make the post net-just-fine, and also helpful, for an individual reading this, who isn’t part of a community with the rest of the readers and the author — for such an individual, the post basically seems to me to be saying “sometimes you’ll find yourself feeling really crazy around somebody without knowing how to pin down why. In such a case, feel free to trust your own judgment and get out of there, if that’s what your actual unjustifiable best guess at what to do is.” This seems like fine advice! But in a community context, if we’re trying to arrive at collective beliefs about other people (which I’m not sure we’re doing, and I’m even less sure we should be doing; if we aren’t, maybe this is fine), such that we’re often deferring to other peoples’ guesses about what was and wasn’t “frame control” and whether that “frame control” maps onto a set of things that are really actually “burn it with fire” harmful and not similar in some other sense… I’m uneasy!

• To try to parse for me here, what I took away from each point:

1. “Where are the concrete claims that allow people to directly check”
2. Discomfort mixing claims about frame control with claims about Geoff, as lots of bad claims or beliefs can get sneaked in through the former while talking about the latter
3. I had a lot of trouble parsing this one, particularly the paragraph starting with “Uncharitable paraphrase/​caricature:”. I’m gathering something like “unease that I am making arguments that override normal good truth-seeking behavior, with the end goal being elevating my [aella’s] ability to be a discerner about things”

So re: one, this… seems true. I would prefer a version of this with concrete claims that allow people to directly check, and am interested in help generating this. I am driven by the belief that there is something—there seems to be a clear pattern of ‘what is my reality’ I’ve seen in me and multiple other people close to me, and there’s something that causes it. That’s about as concrete as I have the capacity to get. To me, the whole thing seems elusive by nature, and I had an option of “write vaguely about an elusive thing” or “not write about it at all.”

For the second point, I think I agree with your words but there’s something in me that… disagrees with the vibe? Or something? I’m not sure. And for what it’s worth, I’ve been brewing on this topic for many years, and made a few serious attempts to write it out well before the whole Leverage thing. Geoff feels kind of incidental to me. Maybe I am wondering if you perceive this as more central-to-Leverage than I perceive it.

But to understand better: if I’d posted a version of this with fully anonymous examples, nothing specifically traceable to Leverage, would that have felt good to you, or would something in it still feel weird?

Third, I’m not sure I understand due to parsing problems, but… I think I have uneasiness about it too? I had discussions with a few people before posting this and expressed things that sounded similar to what I imagine you’re trying to point at. I’m worried the concept is too fuzzy to be used judiciously, or that the self-protective mechanisms required to identify and react to frame control are very close to poison. I don’t know what to do about this exactly; I have another blog post brewing I’m hoping might help. But I think I believe frame control is dangerous enough that it’s worth ‘throw maybe dangerous defenses out there in response’. I am very interested in figuring out how to hone those defenses so they don’t backfire.

• But to understand better: if I’d posted a version of this with fully anonymous examples, nothing specifically traceable to Leverage, would that have felt good to you, or would something in it still feel weird?

I’d guess the OP would’ve felt maybe 35% less uneasy-making to me, sans Geoff/​Aubrey/​“current” examples.

The main thing that bothers me about the post is related to, but not identical to, the post’s use of current examples:

I think the phenomena you’re investigating are interesting and important, but that the framework you present for thinking about them is early-stage. I don’t think these concepts yet “cleave nature at its joints.” E.g., it seems plausible to me that your current notion of “frame control” is a mixture of [some thing that’s actually bad for people] and mere disagreeableness (and that, for all I know, disagreeableness decreases rather than increases harms), as Benquo and Said variously argue. Or that this notion of “frame control” blends in some behaviors we’re used to tolerating as normal, such as leadership, as Matt Goldenberg argues. Or any number of other things.

I like that you’re writing about something early-stage! Particularly given that it seems interesting and important. But I will wish you would do it in a way that telegraphs the early-stage-ness and lends momentum toward having readers join you as fellow scientists/​philosophers/​naturalists who are squinting at the phenomena together. There are a lot of kinds of sentences that can invite investigation. Some are explicit — stating explicitly something like “this is an early-stage conceptualization of a set of thingies we’re probably still pretty confused by, and so I’d like to invite you guys in to be fellow scientists/​philosophers/​naturalists with me about this stuff, including helping spot where this model is a bit askew.” Some are more ‘inviting it by doing parts of it yourself to make it easy for others to join’ — saying things like “my guess is that all of the examples I’m clustering under ‘frame control’ share a common structure; some of the reasons for my guess as [reasons]; I’m curious what you guys think about whether there’s a common structure and a single cluster here”. (A lot of this amounts to showing your scratchwork.)

If the post seemed mostly to invite being a fellow scientist/​philosopher/​puzzler with you about these thingies, while mostly not-inviting “immediate application to current events with the assumption that ‘frame control’ is a simple thing that we-as-a-group now understand” (it could still invite puzzling at current events, but would in my hoped-for world invite doing this while puzzling at where the causal joints are, how valid the ‘frame control’ concept is or isn’t and what is or isn’t central to it, a la rationalist taboo), I’d feel great about it.

• I think I agree with ~everything in your two comments, and yet reading them I want to push back on something, not exactly sure what, but something like: look, there’s this thing (or many things with a family resemblance) that happens and it’s bad, and somehow it’s super hard to describe /​ see it as it’s happening.… and in particular I suspect the easiest, the first way out of it, the way out that’s most readily accessible to someone mired in an “oops my internal organs are hooked up to a vampiric force” situation, does not primarily /​ mainly involve much understanding or theorizing (at least given our collective current level of understanding about these things), and rather involves something with a little more of “wild” vibe, the vibe of running away, of suddenly screaming NO, of asserting meaningful propositions confidently from a perspective, etc. And I get some of this vibe from the OP; like part of the message is (what I’m interpreting to be) the stance someone takes when calling something “frame control” (or “gaslighting” or “emotional abuse” or “cult” or what-have-you).

Which, I still agree with the things you say, and the post does make lots of sort-of-specific, sort-of-vague claims, and gives good data with debatable interpretation, and so on. But there’s also this sort of necessarily pre-theoretic theoretic action happening, and I guess I want to somehow have that [hypothesis mixed with judgement mixed with action] be possible as well, including in the common space. (Like, the action is theoretic in that you’re reifying some pattern (e.g. “frame control”). It’s almost necessarily pre-theoretic, in the sense that you don’t even close to fully understand it and it’s probably only very roughly joint-carving, because the pattern itself involves making you confused about what’s happening and less able to clearly understand patterns. It’s an action, a judgement that something is really seriously wrong and you need to change it, a mental motion that rejects something previously accepted, that catapults you out of a satisficing basin; and you’re doing this action in a way that somewhat strongly depends or is helped by the non-joint-carving unrefined concept, like “this thing, IDK what it is really, but it’s really bad and I have to get out of it, and after escaping I’ll think about it more”.)

I see you your comments as partly rejecting, or at least incidentally pushing against, this sort of action: to “do it in a way that telegraphs the early-stage-ness” is, when speaking from a pre-theoretic standpoint, in tension with the vibe/​action of sharply reclaiming one’s own perspective even when that perspective is noticeably incoherent (“something was deeply wrong, I don’t know what”). Like, it’s definitely a better artifact if you put in the right epistemic tags that point towards uncertainty, places to refine and investigate, etc.; but that’s harder to do and requires the author to be detailedly tracking a more complicated boundary around known and unknown, in a way that’s, like, not the first mental motion that (AFAIK) has to happen to get the minimum viable concept to self-coordinate on a narrative that says the thing is bad. Internally coordinating on a narrative that X-whatever-it-is is bad, seems important if you’re going to have to first push against X in big ways, before it’s very feasible to get a better understanding of X. (There’s bucket errors here, and it could be helpful to clarify that; but that’s maybe sort of the point: someone who’s been given a heavy dose of frame control is bucket-errored such that they doubt the goodness of holding their own perspective in part because it’s been tied up with other catastrophic things such as disagreeing with their social environment without having a coherent alternative or a coherent /​ legible grounds for disagreeing.)

• I liked both the points Anna made in her previous comment, and TekhneMakre’s comment here.

• First, let me disclose my position. I am very thankful that you wrote this article. It is about an important topic, it shows great insight and contains good examples. Also, I have already made up my mind about Geoff; I am still curious about the details, but in my opinion the big picture is quite obvious and quite bad. At some moment it just feels silly to be infinitely charitable towards someone who wastes no time deflecting and reframing to make himself a victim. That said...

I feel a bit “dirty” upvoting an article that is about the concept of frame control in general, but also obviously about Geoff. I would have happily upvoted each of these topics separately, but it feels wrong to use one button for both. (Because other people may feel differently about these two topics, and then it is not obvious what the votes mean.) I upvoted anyway, because from my perspective the benefits of the article dramatically exceed this objection, but the objection still makes sense. At least I will try to separate the topics in my comments.

Anna’s third point… it means that talking about “frame control” is itself an attempt to set a frame. (Similarly how e.g. the idea of a “meme” is itself a meme. Or how the word “word” is a word.) Some people do not have the concept of a “frame”, other people do, and you are trying to explain the concept to your audience and to make us actually use it. Making someone use a certain concept when looking at a certain situation… that is exactly what frame control is.

I guess the difference is in the degree of control. You have offered the frame… but if your audience decides to consider things from a different perspective, there is little you could do about it. In this sense, it is definitely not the same experience as when someone is pushing their frame on a helpless or unsuspecting victim. (A subset of your points 1-16 in the article.) But of course an uncharitable reader who aims to win the verbal fight would insist on the similarities, and indeed some similarities are there; and their frame would be that the mere “degree” of control does not make a substantial difference.

There are two very simple and popular reframing techniques: If you keep generalizing, everything will start looking similar to everything else… after you have abstracted away all the differences. On the other hand, if you overly focus on tiny specific details, then nothing is similar to nothing else. I guess the way to overcome them is to find the most general difference between the two things, and focus on that. -- So, applying this lesson on this very topic: The difference is that you are offering a frame, but your audience is free to either accept or reject it.

• Upvoted because Anna articulated a lot of what I wanted to say but didn’t have the energy or clarity to say with such nuance.

• IMO, we are still in the process of evaluating both: a) Whether Geoff Anders is someone the rationalist community (or various folks in it) would do better to ostracize, in various senses; and b) Whether there really is a thing called “frame control”, what exactly it is, whether it’s bad, whether it should be “burned with fire,” etc

Are you genuinely unsure whether or not there’s a bad thing aella is (perhaps suboptimally) pointing at? If yes, then I feel like that’s a cause for doom for whatever social communities you’re trying to moderate. (By contrast, I’d find it highly understandable if you think aella is onto something, but you’re worried she’s packing too many ingredients into her description.)

If not, then I find it interesting that you’re using this pseudo-neutral framing (“whether it’s bad”) even though you already have at least some agreement with the things aella is trying to say. It’s interesting that a post saying “There’s this insidious, bad, community-destroying thing” gets mainly reactions like “Careful, this is a weapon that misguided people could use to ostracize innocents” as opposed to ones that acknowledge the really bad thing exists and is really bad. It almost seems like people are saying the bad thing cannot be remotely as bad as the risk that some people get accused of it unfairly, so we should better not talk about it too much.

I’m open to being convinced that “unfair convictions” actually are the bigger problem. But I doubt it. My guess is that in instances where a person with benign cognition ends up unfairly ostracized, there’s someone with interpersonally incorrigible cognition who had their fingers in the plot somehow. Therefore, the entire risk here (that people illegitimately use what seems like “too easily applicable of a social weapon”) is a risk mostly because interpersonally incorrigible cognition /​ frame distortion exists in the first place. And I suspect that a good step at identifying solutions to the problem is by discussing it head-on and taking seriously the idea that it should be burnt with fire. I’m not saying we should already assume that this is the right answer. I’m just saying, maybe people are shying away from the possibility that it is the right answer. And if so, I want to urgently scream: STOP DOING THAT.

Edit: I no longer endorse what I wrote. I feel like I’m just complaining about “matters of emphasis,” which is not a very helpful way of disagreeing, and is the sort of thing that happens in politically charged discourse. Tl;dr, I can’t really find explicit faults in your comment, except that I find myself “clinging at” things you emphasize less and which ones you emphasize more. I think there’s something I should be able to say here that is useful and informative, but I’d have to think about it for a lot longer to avoid launching us into an unfairly started, unproductive discussion.

• I’m particularly frustrated by the thing where, inevitably, the concept of frame control is going to get weaponized (both by people who are explicitly using it to frame control, and people who are just vaguely ineptly wielding it as a synonym for ‘bad’).

I don’t have a full answer. But I’m reminded of a comment by Johnswentworth that feels like it tackles something relevant. This was originally a review of Power Buys You Distance From the Crime. Hopefully the quote below gets across the idea:

When this post first came out, I said something felt off about it. The same thing still feels off about it, but I no longer endorse my original explanation of what-felt-off. So here’s another attempt.

First, what this post does well. There’s a core model which says something like “people with the power to structure incentives tend get the appearance of what they ask for, which often means bad behavior is hidden”. It’s a useful and insightful model, and the post presents it with lots of examples, producing a well-written and engaging explanation. The things which the post does well more than outweigh the problems below; it’s a great post.

On to the problem. Let’s use the slave labor example, because that’s the first spot where the problem comes up:

No company goes “I’m going to go out and enslave people today” (especially not publicly), but not paying people is sometimes cheaper than paying them, so financial pressure will push towards slavery. Public pressure pushes in the opposite direction, so companies try not to visibly use slave labor. But they can’t control what their subcontractors do, and especially not what their subcontractors’ subcontractors’ subcontractors do, and sometimes this results in workers being unpaid and physically blocked from leaving.

… so far, so good. This is generally solid analysis of an interesting phenomenon.

But then we get to the next sentence:

Who’s at fault for the subcontractor(^3)’s slave labor?

… and this where I want to say NO. My instinct says DO NOT EVER ASK THAT QUESTION, it is a WRONG QUESTION, you will be instantly mindkilled every time you ask “who should be blamed for X?”.

… on reflection, I do not want to endorse this as an all-the-time heuristic, but I do want to endorse it whenever good epistemic discussion is an objective. Asking “who should we blame?” is always engaging in a status fight. Status fights are generally mindkillers, and should be kept strictly separate from modeling and epistemics.

Now, this does not mean that we shouldn’t model status fights. Rather, it means that we should strive to avoid engaging in status fights when modeling them. Concretely: rather than ask “who should we blame?”, ask “what incentives do we create by blaming <actor>?”. This puts the question in an analytical frame, rather than a “we’re having a status fight right now” frame.

The final paragraph there is the most interesting bit, so much so that I’m going to quote it again:

Now, this does not mean that we shouldn’t model status fights. Rather, it means that we should strive to avoid engaging in status fights when modeling them. Concretely: rather than ask “who should we blame?”, ask “what incentives do we create by blaming <actor>?”. This puts the question in an analytical frame, rather than a “we’re having a status fight right now” frame.

The object level has been helpful. But what’s particularly interesting to me is that example of “here is an attempt to come up with a rule that constrains conversation in a way that asymmetrically favors good epistemics.” This is a fairly specific rule that addresses one particular kind of (minor) frame control – the notion that ‘we should blame someone’ is a frame, John’s suggested rule* helps avoid being trapped in that particular frame without giving up the ability to model relevant classes of situations.

[edit: *worth noting that John’s suggested rule also comes embedded in a frame]

But I list this as a pointer to (hopefully) other types of engagement that might asymmetrically help navigate frame conflict in a broader sense.

• I think it would be helpful for the culture to be more open to persistent long-running disagreements that no one is trying to resolve. If we have to come to an agreement, my refusal to update on your evidence or beliefs in some sense compels you to change instead, and can be viewed as selfish/​anti-social/​controlling (some of the behaviors Aella points to can be frame control, or can be a person who, in an open and honest way, doesn’t care about your opinion). If we’re allowed to just believe different things, then my refusal to update comes across as much less of an attack on you.

One thing I think helps here is that even if someone is superior to you on many axes and doesn’t think much of your opinion, there should be multiple people whose opinions they do take seriously, and they should proactively seek those people out. Someone who is content, much less seeks out, always being the smartest one in the room no longer gets the benefit of a doubt that they just happen to be very skilled. Finding peers is harder the more extreme you are, but a lack of peers will drive even a really well-intentioned person insane, so deferring to them will not go well.

• I think it would be helpful for the culture to be more open to persistent long-running disagreements that no one is trying to resolve.

+1 to this. I have an intuition that the unwillingness-to-let-disagreements-stand leads to a bunch of problems in subtle ways, including some of the things you point out here, but haven’t sat down to think through what’s going on there.

• If we’re allowed to just believe different things, then my refusal to update comes across as much less of an attack on you.

I agree with this. As someone with whom the concept of frame control in the OP resonated a lot, I want to flag that some of the specifics of “refusing to update” seemed like they were worded too strictly and don’t seem central to the concept of frame control.

Said_achmiz also points this out in a comment here:

I think that the first red flag, and the first anti-red-flag, are both diametrically wrong. [Then quoting the OP:]

… here’s a non-exhaustive list of some frame control symptoms …

1. They do not demonstrate vulnerability in conversation, or if they do it somehow processes as still invulnerable. They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview.

I don’t think you have to conform to someone’s opinion or worldview in order to avoid frame control. I think what matters is that you listen to them attentively, try to understand what they believe, and give them a “fair hearing,” so to speak. And frame controllers often seem like they don’t remember anything you said about your opinion and worldview, except when it suits them. So you get the sense that discussions with them are beyond fruitless. And more so, you are made to feel small in a way that goes beyond just “the person happens to disagree with me.”

• I wish i had more to add: but this comment was so extraordinary that it got me to create an account to mention how extraordinary it was

• I’m particularly frustrated by the thing where, inevitably, the concept of frame control is going to get weaponized (both by people who are explicitly using it to frame control, and people who are just vaguely ineptly wielding it as a synonym for ‘bad’).

I think a not-sufficient-but-definitely-useful piece of an immune system that ameliorates this is:

”New concepts and labels are hypotheses, not convictions.”

i.e. this essay should make it more possible for people to say “is this an instance of frame control?” or “I’m worried this might be, or be tantamount to, frame control” or “I myself am receiving this as frame control.”

And it should less (though nonzero) be license to say “AHA! Frame control, right here; I win the argument because I said the magic word.”

(Duncan culture has this norm installed; I don’t think LW or rationalists or gray tribe in general does, though.)

• Yes. (Likewise in Malcolm culture!)

My main approach to this is to focus on honoring distrust:

“I can’t personally trust that this is not frame control, so to honor myself, I need to [get out of the situation /​ let you know that’s my experience /​ etc]”.

As with anything, this can also get weaponized depending on the tone & implicature with which it’s said, but the precise meaning here points at encouraging a given person to really honor their own frame and their own experience and distrust, while not making any claims that anyone else can agree or disagree with.

Like, if I can’t trust that something isn’t functioning as frame control, then I can’t trust that. You might be able to trust that it’s fine, but that doesn’t contradict my not being able to trust that, since we’re coming from different backgrounds (this itself is pointing at respecting others frames). Then maybe you can share some evidence that will allow me to relax as well, but if you share your evidence and I’m still tense, then I’m still tense and that’s okay.

• i.e. this essay should make it more possible for people to say “is this an instance of frame control?” or “I’m worried this might be, or be tantamount to, frame control” or “I myself am receiving this as frame control.”

Yeah, this sounds productive.

I guess one issue with the description given in the OP is that “frame control” seems to refer to a behavioral strategy that can sometimes be benign(!) on the one hand, and a whole package of “This means the person expresses a thoroughly bad phenotype (labelled by its most salient effects on victims)” on the other hand.

Probably it would prevent misunderstandings if there was a word for the sometimes-mostly-benign behavioral strategy (e.g., “frame control”) and a word for the claim about throughly bad phenotype (e.g., “This person is interpersonally incorrigible”).

(Or maybe one could mirror the distinction between “to manipulate” and “being a manipulator.” Most people employ manipulative strategies on rare occasions, but fewer people are deserving of the label “manipulator.”)

• I like the rule, and if it’s possible to come up with engagement guidelines that have asymmetrical results for frame control I would really like that. I couldn’t think of any clear, overarching while writing this post, but will continue to think about this.

And you’re right in that the concept of frame control will get inevitably weaponized. I am afraid of this happening as a result of my post, and I’m not really sure how to handle that.

• I like the rule, and if it’s possible to come up with engagement guidelines that have asymmetrical results for frame control I would really like that.

Some thoughts, based on one particular framing of the problem...

Claim/​frame: in general, the most robust defense against abuse is to foster independence in the corresponding domain. The most robust defense against emotional abuse is to foster emotional independence, the most robust defense against financial abuse is to foster financial independence, etc. The reasoning is that, if I am in not independent in some domain, then I am necessarily dependent on someone else in that domain, and any kind of dependence always creates an opportunity for abuse.

Applying that idea to frame control: the most robust defense is to build my own frames, pay attention to them, notice when they don’t match the frame someone else is using, etc. It’s “frame independence”: I independently maintain my own frames, and notice when other people set up frames which clash with them.

But independence is not always a viable option in practice, and then we have to fall back on next-best solutions. The main class of next-best solutions I know of involve having a wide variety of people to depend on and freedom to move between them—i.e. avoiding dependence on a monopoly provider.

Applying that next-best answer to frame control: when we can’t rely on “frame independence”, we want to have a variety of people around providing different frames, so that it’s easy to move between them. Social norms to support people offering alternative frames (for instance, making “I disagree with the frame” a normal conversational move) therefore provide value not only by letting me express my own frame, but giving me other peoples’ frames to choose from when I’m not ready to provide my own. Actively trying to include people who tend to have different frames should also help with this.

• ‘Monopoly provider of meaning’ also helps me understand why this is more widespread in spiritual scenes.

• When I started reading my first thought was, not independence but competitive alternatives. Then of course you pointed to the same. However, I’m wondering if that is really where it stops.

First I want to say I did not give the OP a full read and second that there are important parts of what I did read that I have fully digested. Given that, I have to wonder if the issue of frame control as raised by the author here is fully solved in the same way we think of economic problem solutions coming out of competitive supply and demand settings.

Am I really in a good place personally just because I can pick and choose among those controlling my frame? Or, put differently, is multiple support options (i.e., able to expose one’s self to multiple other frames) certain to eliminate the problem of frame control for that person? Something is nudging me in the direction of “not quite sure about that”. Then again, maybe what we have is that one never escapes frame control so we’re always talking about the best of a bunch of “bad” options.

• I appreciate this post. I get the sense that the author is trying to do something incredibly complicated and is aware of exactly how hard it is, and the post does it as well as it can be done.

I want to try to contribute by describing a characteristic thing I’ve noticed from people who I later realized were doing a lot of frame control on me:

Comments like ‘almost no one is actually trying but you, you’re actually trying’ ‘most people don’t actually want to hear this, and I’m hoping you’re different’.′ I can only tell you this if you want to hear it’ ‘it feels like you’re already getting it, no one gets that far on their own’ ‘almost everyone is too locked into the system to actually listen to what I’m about to say’ ‘I’ve been wanting to find the right person to say this to, but no one wants to listen, but I think you might actually be ready to hear it’: the common thread is that you, the listener, are special, and the speaker is the person who gets to recognize you as special, and the proof of your specialness is that you’re going to try/​going to listen/​going to hear them out/​ not going to instantly jump to conclusions

Counterexamples: ‘you’re the only Political Affiliation X I’ve ever found worth listening to’ does not at all seem to come from the same kinds of motivations as the above. Some people have said “[x writing] demonstrated a rare ability to Actually Get It” and weren’t doing weird manipulative shit at all; people who said it publicly in fact I think have in every case just been sincere/​being nice/​recommending a thinker they think highly of. The frame control people all said it privately or semiprivately, possibly because that way they can reuse the compliment on lots of people, possibly I’m just overgeneralizing from a small number of data points.

• Ahhh these are fantastic examples that clearly map onto frame controllers I know and I didn’t think of it when writing this post; really great points.

• the common thread is that you, the listener, are special, and the speaker is the person who gets to recognize you as special, and the proof of your specialness is...

The speaker has granted you a “special” status, and now they can also set the rules you have to follow unless you want that status revoked. How much are you willing to pay in order to keep that precious status?

Antidotes: “I am not special” or “whether I am special or not, does not depend on whether X thinks I am”.

• Antidotes: “I am not special” or “whether I am special or not, does not depend on whether X thinks I am”.

Or: “whether I’m ‘special’ or not is a red herring, a distraction; meanwhile, this person who’s trying so hard to make me feel special, is obviously trying to manipulate me, and must be viewed with exceptional scrutiny”.

• I really like this post. I’d been previously pointing people to the checklist from Bill Hamilton’s Saints and Psychopaths for lack of anything else readily linkable but will start linking this.

In trying to write some responses to some of the things I have personal experience with and feel like I want to add to it highlights what you said at the beginning, it is really really hard to think clearly and write clearly about this topic because there are always multiple interpretations of the behaviors in question. Thank you for the effort of writing it.

WRT positive things to look for I’ll add this: A palpable sense of the frame moving around organically. With frame controllers, if something threatens their frame there is a palpable sense of tension within the group.

Fuzzier: do people make fun of the leader(s)

1. To their face

2. Behind their back

3. Not at all

My favorite scenes have always had 1 as far as I can remember.

Below an excerpt from something I recently wrote about abusive patterns in spiritual communities:

Good teachers don’t encourage hungry ghost dynamics in students. This touches on a bunch of entangled dynamics which I’ll do my best to describe. The people coming to a teacher often fall into the category of looking for someone to fix everything that is wrong with their life. Even if the seeker logically rejects this narrative it can often be an emotional reality that they are looking for a dharma daddy. Bad teachers will encourage this dynamic in a few ways, an important one being that they don’t undermine seeker’s tendency to look to them for all the answers. I’ve seen this first hand where everything the teacher in a space said was a corrective, with the underlying principles never clearly expounded. This lead to an evaporative cooling process whereby people not susceptible to this sort of attack simply left, leaving an environment where everyone is deferring to the person all the time. New people entering who don’t know any better then copy what they see. There was also a sense of pride for masochistic tendencies, that others ‘couldn’t handle’ the ‘real’ things that were going on in the scene.

Hungry ghosts feel highly uncertain about themselves and the world, they always feel they are doing everything wrong. They are drawn towards the overconfident people who act as though they are doing everything correctly. This will select for narcissistic or exploitative teachers. This dovetails with the Guru model which, as I understand it, has been poorly translated to the west. A good teacher is less like a priest and more like a PhD advisor. This also ties in with the point about questions mentioned previously. Hungry ghosts will be satisfied by glossy answers, assuming that any lack of understanding is a failure on their part. They will also create an environment hostile to real questions as they don’t want anything deflating the bubble of the infallibility of the teacher. There will also be a lot of interactions that seem to be about mutual validation of being on the correct path instead of openness to multiple approaches.

Such hungry ghost dynamics can be detected by how engaging with a scene makes you feel. If you exit feeling agitated, like you are doing something wrong, like others are making more progress than you and you need to ‘hurry up’, like there is winning to be done, like you are overloaded with things you need to learn, these are all bad signs. Good teaching creates more relaxed looseness, more playfulness, more freedom, more feeling of confidence and the tractability of practice. In short, the teachings themselves creating a palpable sense of less dukkha.

This would seem to be counter to what I’ll call the high discipline focused schools. I won’t say there’s nothing to discipline, especially as specific periods of formal practice. But given how poor most schools are in producing people with obvious levels of insight I think the burden of proof lies with them to show that what they are offering works. A higher level of commitment that is asked for should also come with a higher level of demonstrated effects. (I’ll add here abusers will avoid any explicitness about the commitments they are actually asking for and receiving from you. This is for deniability later. After all, you did those things of ‘your own volition.’)

And just because it can never be said too many times: if something looks hierarchical, cloistered, with members sleeping with each other, and personal finances becoming entangled in the org run far far away very fast.

• someone grabbed a helpful img of the other checklist mentioned: https://​​imgur.com/​​a/​​hKu5U3c

• I appreciate that you shared the checklist so I did a positive vote, but I’d like to explicitly note that I disagree with a lot on this chart as a diagnostic tool. Is this from a study of cults or something? Things like “Saints tend to have 1 name, Psychopaths tend to have many names” seem “obviously dumb” to me, so I suspect there is either something I’m missing or I disagree more deeply with some of these ideas.

• (I like the above in part because I find it reassuring.)

• This phenomenological account of frame control doesn’t provide a causal model precise enough for me to understand what additional question someone would be trying to answer when asking “is this person doing frame control?” aside from noticing which of the features of “frame control” they satisfy.

Some of the “red flags” seem like they could equally well point to someone fanatically committed to totally dominating others, or someone whose perspective responds to evidence but not social pressure, and many of the signs that someone is not a “frame controller” seem like the opposite. From the description of the first red flag:

They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview.

These are signs of submission, as is the description of the first sign that someone isn’t “doing frame control”:

They give you power over them, like indications that they want your approval or unconditional support in areas you are superior to them. They signal to you that they are vulnerable to you.

This resembles a pattern I see across many contexts where the idea of listening to someone because they have something to say is replaced with the submissive behavior of believing someone out of loyalty. I don’t mean to say anything about your intent here, just to point out the general pattern, so we have a better chance of doing something else instead.

Second red flag:

A key component that makes frame control dangerous is when it’s linked to concrete consequences; maybe people really respect them, maybe they control resources, maybe they are the person throwing big events, maybe they gave you a new name, maybe they have the power to exclude you from your social group.

In general I would expect people whose beliefs are more responsive to valid evidence to have an easier time acting to produce the consequences they want. In environments that allocate credit straightforwardly I would also expect them to be more respected, entrusted with more resources, and have their concerns about others listened to more. In perverse environments I would expect the opposite.

The other red flags and opposite signs seem more ground-truth-oriented if I take them literally, as long as we don’t skip the step of investigating whether what the other person is saying is false or true. For instance, reframing “harm” as “beneficial” is helpful if I start out by mistakenly think that my discomfort confronting a criticism is a sign that the criticism is hurting me, but harmful if I’m being trained to treat the grinding-my-gears feeling of endorsing an incoherent narrative as a sign of healthy spiritual challenge.

If you can evaluate directly whether someone has more of a tendency to introduce errors or to correct them, then you can additionally judge whether they are introducing errors in a way calculated to make error-correction harder, to make themselves more central, and to make you more responsive to their commands. If they’re just giving commands and not making claims, then you can skip the first step and just see whether you think their commands are making you better off. In either case, it can help a lot to check whether you are behaving as though the other person is threatening you, whether they are behaving in a way optimized to produce that impression, and whether on reflection you believe that the threats are credible.

If you can’t evaluate that, then you’re in a more confusing situation. It can often be a good idea to switch contexts and see if things seem clear when outside that particular social field. If not, then you’re stuck, and at best you can decide which interactions seem to give you the best chance of achieving autonomy.

• Appreciating you pointing out via those first two quotes that some of these dimensions are pointing at someone being submissive rather than sovereign+respectful (not attached to these words).

Feels weird that I missed that when I was reading the draft, actually. Bullet points 2-5 of the “someone isn’t doing frame control” list still seem solid to me. On reflection, I actually think bullet 1 is actually completely misleading, because someone frame controlling can also do a bunch of these things, particularly if they have a victim energy as in Raemon’s comment.

This also feels off:

They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview.

I might try to steelman it as:

They can’t laugh at themselves, and don’t seem to give signals that they are interested in learning from you and seeing the world through your eyes.

• I stand by the thing I was trying to communicate in point 1, though I might have communicated poorly. I have met many people who are well established, very smart, who are not socially submissive, who still make the little moves that demonstrate vulnerability. I think Eliezer does this, for example.

• This phenomenological account of frame control doesn’t provide a causal model precise enough for me to understand what additional question someone would be trying to answer when asking “is this person doing frame control?” aside from noticing which of the features of “frame control” they satisfy.
Some of the “red flags” seem like they could equally well point to someone fanatically committed to totally dominating others, or someone whose perspective responds to evidence but not social pressure, and many of the signs that someone is not a “frame controller” seem like the opposite.

I feel like I understand aella’s points, but obviously it’s possible that I think of something slightly different. In any case, I’d answer this as follows:

The additional question is whether there’s a hidden (potentially non-conscious) exploitative intent to the person’s communication style, one that has a distortionary effect on susceptible people.

A person fanatically committed to dominating others may not be subtle about it. If you have the sense that a person is just trying to dominate you, you may be intimidated, but you don’t necessarily think “Oh this person is the kindest and most misunderstood person I’ve ever met, I better do everything possible to help them, OMG they are so good.” Or, alternatively, you don’t think “OMG this person seems so smart, perhaps misunderstood in some way, but they’ve got everything figured out and I can learn so much from them.”

As for disagreeable people: They would be disagreeable in almost all contexts. Frame controllers, by contrast, can seem very agreeable in contexts where it makes them look good, but disagreeable in contexts where it helps to erode your confidence, or where they know that your social standing is now small enough that they can allow themselves to be disagreeable towards you.

FWIW, I share others’ impression that some of the OP’s wording is unfortunate in that it lumps together signs of disagreeableness with frame control. In my experience, there’s something extremely genuine about certain highly disagreeable people. They say what they think, even if it doesn’t make them friends. As Anna said in a comment (I’m paraphrasing), disagreeableness can be a costly signal that someone has integrity. If you’re always disagreeable, it means you’re not exerting a lot of effort on subtle social cognition that can be used for “playing the audience.”

It’s often a massive red flag about someone’s character when you see them only be disagreeable towards people they consider “unimportant” or people they’re trying to exert influence over.

• FWIW, I share others’ impression that some of the OP’s wording is unfortunate in that it lumps together signs of disagreeableness with frame control.

It seems to me quite ironic that OP lumps together disagreeableness with abusive behavior, given that a disagreeable personality and interaction style is precisely the best antidote to the described abusive behavior. (A cynical, paranoid person might accuse Aella of attempting to engage in what she calls “frame control” herself, and pre-emptively disarming opposition by adding, to an otherwise accurate description of certain abusive behaviors, characteristics that match exactly the people most likely to resist the rest of the sort of thing she describes…)

• hidden (potentially non-conscious) exploitative intent

Sorry, what?

A non-conscious intent? What on earth does this mean?

This sort of idea seems to me like “let’s psychoanalyze people we don’t like to paint them in a bad light—and in such a way that they’re incapable of defending themselves”. It’s thoroughly toxic, and corrosive to productive or even remotely sane interaction.

If you have the sense that a person is just trying to dominate you, you may be intimidated, but you don’t necessarily think “Oh this person is the kindest and most misunderstood person I’ve ever met, I better do everything possible to help them, OMG they are so good.” Or, alternatively, you don’t think “OMG this person seems so smart, perhaps misunderstood in some way, but they’ve got everything figured out and I can learn so much from them.”

My view is that if you ever find yourself thinking any such thing, immediately stop and remind yourself not to put people on pedestals. Don’t do everything possible to help someone you just met, and don’t conclude that someone’s “got everything figured out” and that you can “learn so much from them”. Just, in general—don’t. This is orthogonal to anyone’s intent or what have you; it’s just a bad idea to approach interpersonal interaction in this way, and it will predictably lead you into bad situations, and generally cause you problems.

• There’s a literature on self-deception and hypocrisy in humans that I’m sure you’re aware of. By “non-conscious intent,” which I admit is a confusing/​poor phrasing, I wanted to point to that cluster of things.
I used the word “intent” because I meant to say that there’s some kind of optimization at work here (but again, “intent” is poor phrasing). Frame control, the way I think of it, looks like agentic behavior with a goal of gaining influence over the person in question. The optimization at work could be something evolution installed or something that people simply learned has desired effects, without necessarily understanding why it has those effects. (E.g., if “playing the victim” gives you lots of sympathy and attention, you may start to do this more often whether or not you’re explicitly aware that the situation isn’t black and white in terms of you being the victim.)

For instance, someone may feel extreme shame whenever they’re criticized, so their first instinct when criticized is to get outraged at the person who dares to bring something up, calling them out and trying to shame them, etc. Against certain susceptible people, that strategy works in that it makes them feel bad for bringing up criticism. But the person being criticized may not be thinking through these implications explicitly, instead, they’re (here) primarily experiencing shame and turn that into reactive rage. (This is more of the vulnerable narcissism phenotype. In other instances, the frame distortion happens more because someone seems immune to criticism because their regard of the other person is so low that they believe the only reason they’re being criticized is because others are jelous and/​or too flawed to see their greatness.)

My view is that if you ever find yourself thinking any such thing, immediately stop and remind yourself not to put people on pedestals. Don’t do everything possible to help someone you just met, and don’t conclude that someone’s “got everything figured out” and that you can “learn so much from them”. Just, in general—don’t. This is orthogonal to anyone’s intent or what have you; it’s just a bad idea to approach interpersonal interaction in this way, and it will predictably lead you into bad situations, and generally cause you problems.

I agree this is good advice. But to some degree, and for people who are very agreeable by disposition, it can feel really nice to try to help someone a lot or think very highly of them. Still, you’re right: I think the people susceptible to frame distortion tend to have low self-esteem (or something related, I think “self-esteem” is a complicated concept and maybe not unidimensional) and are too prone to seeing themselves as in the wrong. (Or, in three-party interactions, the people who most easily buy into someone’s frame control, thinking that the abuser is actually the victim, are people who are highly empathetic, but insufficiently cynical.)

• A non-conscious intent? What on earth does this mean?

A brain can run computations optimizing for an outcome without running the additional computations needed to represent this optimization target to itself in explicit self-models available to reflective cognition.

Robin Hanson’s developed extensive, detailed sociological models that include this component. I think that the entire Overcoming Bias archives, not just Eliezer’s Sequences, ought to be canonical here, both because of their intellectual merit and because most of the Sequences were originally written on the Overcoming Bias blog in dialogue with Robin and his other co-bloggers there. A Theory of Identity seems particularly relevant here, and develops a directly relevant claim:

Our conscious minds are the public relations department of our larger minds, presenting and managing a story of ourselves to others.

• This phenomenological account of frame control doesn’t provide a causal model precise enough for me to understand what additional question someone would be trying to answer when asking “is this person doing frame control?” aside from noticing which of the features of “frame control” they satisfy.

For one, “frame control” may draw a boundary around an empirical cluster in thingspace, in which case the question they would get evidence for is “are they also doing the other things in this cluster”?

But I think the claim the post makes goes further than that. It’s not just that people who do frame control thing #5 are more likely to do frame control thing #13, it’s also that both may be in service of common goals. The post doesn’t make it explicit what those goals are, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. (And they can exist even in cases where frame control is applied subconsciously.)

• This reply would be more interesting if it engaged with the last two paragraphs of my comment, in which I tried to develop a relevant causal hypothesis.

• This article gives me a strange feeling of looking through a mirror into a very different kind of world. I’m highly disagreeable. Vulnerability to frame control seems to stem from being agreeable/​conflict-avoidant/​unassertive. I personally find many of the situations where person A tries to frame control person person B and person B just silently takes it and doesn’t say anything (at least in the initial stages) really weird and hard to imagine myself doing. Further, while rationally I know people behave like this, I really can’t put myself in their shoes and see why. The reactions to situations just seem so different from what mine would be.

E.g:

• The burning man example. If I made a point and another person suggested people just listen to me because I’m tall/​eloquent/​have other trait X, I’d immediately confront them. I can’t imagine letting a shitty argumentative tactic like that slide, much less the insult it implies.

• The student who asks the master a question, the master then responds by asking the student what motivates them to seek problems. Again, my response would be to pointedly confront the master and point out that they haven’t answered my question.

• Yeah, instinctive accepting of other people’s frames seems like an important part of “agreeableness”.

Which is different from the skill of switching to different frames intentionally, which is generally useful for everyone (it allows one to consider a situation from multiple perspectives, and understand the thinking of other people), but agreeable people need to learn this as a self-defense skill—to switch away from other people’s frames and maintain their own frame when necessary.

• Fwiw I think it’s entirely possible to just get frame controlled by them using all the “right conversational moves” to push their frames. I don’t think there’s a set of communication norms that are fully protective against frame control.

• Agreed but it seems to me that agreeableness/​conflict-avoidance makes you far more susceptible to frame-control. Not that it’s the only factor which matters or that a disagreeable person is immune.

• Here is why I think that agreeableness/​conflict-avoidance is a useful but not complete defense against “frame control.”

I think there are two types of frame controllers:

• Assertive controllers

• Receptive controllers

For assertive controllers, think of the egotistical expert, eager to smack down ideas he thinks are bad, even when he’s thought about them for 3 seconds and is getting his facts mixed up. The assertive controller will insult, neg, and raise his voice. He demands not just respect, but deference. Other people find him intimidating. They lack the expertise, confidence, or power to take him on. He’s a good candidate for real leadership in his area of expertise, but he’ll also claim territory beyond his true area of competence, and he’s as invested in keeping his position in the hierarchy as in driving beneficial results for others. People make fun of him behind his back, but that may just reinforce the fact that nobody makes fun of him to his face.

I think Aella is talking about “receptive controllers.” These people don’t do the active, obvious turf-defending that you see with the assertive controller. They don’t necessarily have an area of real, recognized competence. What they attract is incompetence. They surround themselves with people who know very little, sell vague personal growth nostrums, and keep their cohort engaged not by bolstering the perception of their own expertise, but by reinforcing their followers’ self-perceptions of worthlessness. Offering them just a shred of worth or fake-status is only collateral, and will be used as a threat in the future.

Assertive controllers are frustrating, but often they seem to genuinely be necessary and net-beneficial. Being disagreeable or conflict-oriented won’t necessarily let you “win” against these people, or poke holes in their hierarchy. It will create an open, ugly power struggle that will just leave you both feeling resentful most of the time.

Receptive controllers are just revolting people. Fortunately, 98% of people actively find them revolting and see right through them. 2%, unfortunately, do not. They see a large cohort, a person who stands out through their manner of dress or their language or interior decorating style. They want to know what all those other people see in this person. And they stick around, and stick around, and stick around, trying to find out.

Disagreeableness or being open to conflict—or even just being able to ignore and turn the cold shoulder—will defend you against receptive frame controllers. The entire skill is in stripping them of their paper-thin mystique and excluding them from your life. They offer nothing of genuine value—or at least nothing you couldn’t find from many other fine sources. Meditation? It’s all over the place. Insight? There are thousands of books, podcasts, talks, and workshops, and many therapists you can engage with? Social access? There are other parties to go to.

For most of us, even a modicum of self-respect will serve to keep the receptive controllers out of our lives.

• I think both of those are underselling competent frame control. Good frame controllers are actually competent, can switch between styles of communication depending on the person, and offer genuine value along with the frame theyre offering.

• That you are this way is suggestive that you were not victim to a frame controller in your formative years.

(or maybe another way of putting that is, that you were raised by a benign frame controller who gave you a critical frame that you have never needed to question. I’m confused though. What’s control? Is it control if I engineer something grow up to do things I don’t expect?)

• This is an important concept that is tricky to describe. Some thoughts:

Minor vs Major Frame Control

Lots of relationships and minor interactions have low-key frame control going on pretty frequently. I think it’s useful to be able to name that without implying that it’s (necessarily) that big a deal. I find myself wanting separate words for “social moves that control the frame”, “moves that control the frame in subtle ways”, “move that control the frame pervasively in a way that is unsettlingly unhealthy.”

This is harder because even the most pervasive frame control appears on a spectrum. A romantic partner or family member can consistently weave a frame that is slightly unhealthy, but that doesn’t hold a candle to a cult that systematically eliminates all your mental defenses.

Abusers can also be victims

One of the most important, sad lessons I had to learn about this is that the person weaving a frame, or controlling, or abusing you, can be weak.

Society taught me scripts for handling powerful, high status abusers who needed to be whistleblown. And society taught me scripts for handling predators who were… clearly villainanous. But it turned out the people I needed to be aware of were legitimately victims in their own right. Society didn’t give me a script for “So-and-so is a victim and an abuser and it doesn’t matter that they’re sad and need help – you have a responsibility to help keep your social circle safe. You can also try to help them, but need to do so in a way that doesn’t put your friends or other vulnerable people in harms way.”

• I’d edit “victims” to “weak” in the second header, since I think that expresses your point way clearer. You’re not just pointing at the common-ish (& true!) refrains of “abusers are traumatized” or “abusers were once victims” but more specifically “abusers may be doing a bunch of frame control from the role of weak & vulnerable person”.

• Some people feel weak, and for some reason believe that they are going to be attacked by you, so they attack first. And they don’t update, because if you hit them back, it means “I was right about being in danger”, and if you don’t hit them back, it means “my clever defense was successful”.

• Yes this. Reframing the recipient of violence as a threat or an aggressor when theyve mistreated and/​or attacked them is a common frame control tactic.

Additionally, manipulating events through PR and telling stories about the person harmed to others that demonize them so that others won’t believe that you harmed them or will justify any harm you’ve caused is a common tactic used to frame events and your role in them as being different then what actually happened. (I.e. demonizing and excluding women who’ve been on the receiving end of sexual misconduct from an organizations leadership and/​or wealthy donors, framing oneself as “trustworthy” while not practicing transparency with many of its donors or they people they recruit, promoting “community” and “integrity”while lacking a functional accountability structure, actively enabling harmful patterns of negligence and abuse and silencing and getting rid of anyone who express criticism or dissent, ect)

• Here’s a few things I believe:

1. Frame control is definitely real. I think if I were to try to operationalize it, it’s something like the ability influence the ontologies people use and the valence they assign to objects with in those ontologies. This caches out as influencing how important and virtuous people find certain ideas and actions.

2. Frame control is probably necessary for good leadership. A good leader is a Kegan 5 individual who can find the ontology that they can use to educate and motivate Kegan 4 and Kegan 3 underlings in an organization that will allow them to correctly respond to current conditions, and then help them to change that ontology as the conditions change.

3. But frame control is also the thing that Kegan 4.5 sociopaths use to control the narrative in cults and moral mazes. It allows them to get all of the credit, take none of the blame, and keep less powerful or sophiscated people in the dark about their games, and even happy to give them more control and power.

4. A well aligned Kegan 5 leader aware of the possiblity of capture by sociopaths, and skilled in frame control, is one of the best defenses against sociopaths, moreso than any specific communication rules, although rules like e.g. transparency of communication are helpful in this regard, as is Malcolm’s norm around honoring distrust.

5. So I disagree that intent doesn’t matter—it matters supremely, as you actually want a leader who’s skilled in frame control to prevent you from getting taken advantage of. BUT, the caveat is that a Kegan 3 or 4 person trying to understand the intent of a Kegan 4.5 or 5 person skilled in frame control will most times not be able to—that’s the nature of hierarchical complexity. So in practice trying to “determine the intent” of your leader to figure out if they’re aligned with your interests or not isn’t useful, even if the intent itself is one of the most important things.

6. This is basically an unsolved problem and one of the causes of civilizational inadequacy. The inability to select between competent Kegan 5 leaders who apply aligned frame control, and competent Kegan 4.5 sociopaths who apply misaligned frame control, is the cause not only of unhealthy religious style cults, but also the cause of most of the Moral Mazes that cause harm to people in normal corporate contexts.

• I agree with all of this, and just wanted to note that there are Kegan 4 frame-controllers and Kegan 3 frame-controllers, too.

• Good point.

• Hm.. The idea that positive leadership also involves frame control is interesting. I never thought of it that way.

I suspect that you only get a cult-like group/​organization if the leader uses frame control, rather than something with independent-thinking, healthy group members.

Maybe good leaders are skilled at something frame-related, but it’s not frame control; rather, it’s about listening to what people’s motivations actually are and then crafting a frame for the group as a whole where people will be motivated to pursue the mission, based on their needs and so on.

Maybe this is the same thing you also mean. I guess I just assumed that in the “frame control as bad” connotation, there’s something coercive about it where the frame that is imposed over you is actually bad for you and your goals.

• In my experience very good organizations are cult-like in their very strong cultural practices. For instance, I was part of City Year in Boston, which has people wear bright red jackets everywhere, do physical training in the Middle of Copley Square every Wednesday, and has you answer “Fired Up!” when someone asks you how you’re doing. You are expected to memorize their values as you do your job.

In my experience the heads of City Year, people like Charlie Rose, are incredibly good at the thing I’m calling frame control in this post. They make you excited about the values of the organization when they speak, they’re charismatic, good at commanding a room and taking control of situations.

I’ve also been part of the Men’s Circle in San Francisco. Again, you have to memorize the values here to join. You have to go through an initiation process of cleaning up all the open loops or lapses of integrity in your life, THEN you can get voted in to join. You can’t speak about anything that happens (to other people) in the circles at the men’s circle. Again, these are all “cult-like” things. And the leaders are charismatic, good at frame control.

I’m now part of Monastic Academy, which has been called out in this very comment thread for “negative” frame control.

If you read Kegan’s book “An Everyone Culture”, you’ll also find that the groups do practices that are associated with cults, like processing their feelings at work. I would also venture to guess that e.g. Ray Dalio is good at frame control (and this seems apparent in e.g. reading Principles, he makes you think like he does and get excited about his way of seeing).

In my experience, none of those people are trying to craft motivations that fit the group as a whole necessarily (although there’s a little of that). Rather, they’re crafting a narrative that fits the situation and then working to attract people who fit into those values/​narrative. Again, this looks a lot like what “negative cult leaders” do, the difference being the intent.

There are a few differences of course. None of these recommend cutting off family or friends, or other ways of seeing. They have oversight on the leaders, and ethical rules in place to prevent issues (e.g. No dating between leadership and members).

In general, I think that e.g. Aella and the people she’s interviewed have been abused. They have an understandable trauma response to strong charismatic leaders, and so totalize around the negative aspects. Meanwhile, I’ve had largely positive experiences, managed to avoid “negative cults”, and seen how these sorts of behaviors can create powerful cultures that help people grow and do good in the world. So I don’t see it as “Frame Control is bad” but “Frame control is powerful, and sometimes people are bad.”

• Thanks for explaining! You’re definitely pointing out a real phenomenon and “skill,” but I feel like it’s different somehow than the thing aella was gesturing at. Maybe the main difference is that the neutral leaders you talk about try to set up frames that their subjects find positively exciting, whereas frame controllers set up frames that are disempowering and make the person smaller? For instance, I don’t necessarily think it’s “frame control” when Lucius Malfoy rallies his fellow death eaters around hating Dumbledore. He’s just being a good leader. It becomes frame control when he gaslights his underlings and underhandedly blames them for everything that when wrong with his latest plan.

But we might just be interpreting the OP differently. I can see why you want to use “frame control” for both the good thing and the neutral thing. Maybe it would be appropriate to coin a different term for the thing aella means. Maybe something like “frame erosion” or “frame distortion” that emphasizes the potential adverse effect on victims when someone uses frame control (a more neutral behavioral strategy under this meaning) in an exploitative and uncaring way.

Or maybe another dimension here has to do with consent. If you sign up for an organization that makes you learn special greetings or mantras, you give consent to let yourself be shaped in some kind of cult-like direction. By contrast, in the examples aella talks about, the frame controller starts to get more and more influence over aspects of the person’s thinking that seem like they shouldn’t be under someone else’s influence.

On the merits of the type of leadership you describe: I’m skeptical. I worry that whatever stated mission an organization has cannot be easily compressed into slogans or rituals, and if people have to do these things in order for the organization to work, then maybe it’s lacking in authentically mission-driven individuals, and that spells trouble.

Of course, the counterpoint is “authentically mission-driven individuals are rare and it would be highly valuable if a single mission-driven leader can recruit a large number of otherwise non-contributing people toward the mission.”

And my reply to that is “yeah, it would be great if it worked, but it’s not going to if the mission you’re after doesn’t have easily attainable (and hard-to-Goodheart) metrics that you can use to keep outputs in check.”

• Maybe the main difference is that the neutral leaders you talk about try to set up frames that their subjects find positively exciting, whereas frame controllers set up frames that are disempowering and make the person smaller?

Yeah this makes sense.

. I worry that whatever stated mission an organization has cannot be easily compressed into slogans or rituals, and if people have to do these things in order for the organization to work, then maybe it’s lacking in authentically mission-driven individuals, and that spells trouble.

I don’t think the point is to compress the mission into slogans or rituals, it’s to ensure a culture that screens for people authentically excited about the vision, and to continually steer the organization back towards it.

Of course, the counterpoint is “authentically mission-driven individuals are rare and it would be highly valuable if a single mission-driven leader can recruit a large number of otherwise non-contributing people toward the mission.”

And my reply to that is “yeah, it would be great if it worked, but it’s not going to if the mission you’re after doesn’t have easily attainable (and hard-to-Goodheart) metrics that you can use to keep outputs in check.”

FI think the merits of a DDO that’s run like this is that it:

1. Allows mission driven leaders to recruit people to the organization.

2. Alllows them to recruit people who are authentically mission driven—participating in these sorts of practices is an incredibly good way to find people who are ACTUALLY on board with the values and authentically excited about the mission

3. But more importantly, it creates a culture that can develop more Kegan 5 leaders who can drive the organization.

This is why they’re called deliberately developmental organizations, they help bring recruits UP to the level of the leader (perhaps this is the big difference, whereas negative cults try to push the underlings DOWN and prevent them from becoming powerful). So the real power of these organizations is “We can recruit people who think like us to help push the mission forward, and then teach them in the process teach them how to think for themselves and continually refine the mission).”

• I don’t think the point is to compress the mission into slogans or rituals, it’s to ensure a culture that screens for people authentically excited about the vision, and to continually steer the organization back towards it.

Right, I was strawmanning with that phrasing, sorry.

I guess the whole point of the strategy you’re describing is that it scales well, and my criticism of it is that it’s scaling too quickly, so is at risk of losing nuance. This seems like a spectrum and I happen to be at the extreme end of “if your mission is more complicated than ‘make money’, you’re likely doomed unless you prioritize hiring people with a strong ability to stay on the path/​mission.” (And for those latter people, activities like the ones you describe wouldn’t be necessary.)

• PITW #159 “This is hard, Be strong”

Fellow former City Year Member here who served in Columbia, SC. Reading your comment definitely brought up memories and makes me feel like I need to go back over that experience with a new lense now. City Year was definitely challenging to ones sense of individuality and had a very rigid structure. Yes they have very specific ways of building culture (red jackets, morning chants, PITWs, ect.) That could described as culty and definitely focus on instilling a particular view/​set of values—hadn’t quite thought about it that way at the time. There is definitely a clear hierarchy in structure and a bit of a glorified image put forward that is umm.. different then the experience. The work and the year also yielded a lot of important lessons. I can totally see how “frame control” showed up with certain leaders. That being said to my knowledge there were also clear agreements being made with consent, organizational and financial transparency, clear codes of conduct, people feel comfortable complaining and giving feedback, and at least within the branch I served at the overall cohort lacked many of the defining features of a cult (i.e the cult personality and many group dynamics). People still maintained a level of individuality and agency even within that and nobody was ever pressured to stay beyond their original commitment of one year. Even then people did not meet resistance if they chose to leave mid contract. Though given a particular leader with narcissistic and charismatic authoritarian qualities (like Soryu) I could totally see how a dynamic could easily become more cult like. There were things City Year was really good at - and then there were things that they really weren’t.

You mentioned above you think frame control is probably necessary for good leadership—but what if that’s based on a cultural script and model of leadership that doesn’t actually serve to create a better or more equitable world. What if that model of leadership is actually just perpetuating the same patterns of harm? The question is, is it beneficial to aspire to that level of frame control? Or are these types of hierarchical, power over structures in which heavily utilized frame control is actually outdated, limiting, lacking in diverse perspectives, and creating environments in which abuse of power is more likely to occur.

I’d say one difference between “frame control” and say sharing different points of view is “power” and the extent to which one (mis)uses their skills, talent, status, resources to overpower or control another person’s reality vs. them operating from a place of agency and engaging with one another.

Similarly, I’ve been a part of a many many Women’s Circle in the PNW that shared many multicultural elements, groups norms, ceremonies, common language, ect. We also have “agreements” of confidentially. Agreements being the keyword are often co-created. Creating shared realities is not the same thing as frame control. However, cause humans be humans obviously varying levels of frame control can happen in any relational or group environment. For all I know your men’s group might have been cult like. Who am I to say!

I have also worked with a number of nonprofits (8) over the past 10 years with various cultural and organizational dynamics I won’t go into here in direct services, as a Development Coordinator/​Director, Grant Writer, Strategic Planning and Organizational Development, board member, various other service leadership roles, ect which has yielded a lot of insight into how organizations develop at various stages and what best practices support functional dynamics a long the way. It’s been my observation that collaborative and egalitarian models which strongly represent the communities they serve, have strong accountability and grievance processes, and actively seek feedback and integrate community voices are most effective at achieving their mission, create healthier communities and are more stable over the long-term. They actually engage in LESS “frame control” and actively create spaces for very different perspectives and lenses to intersect—which seems to create more positive organizational cultures. While structures like City Year can scale quickly and get a lot done—there are also significant disadvantages to having a more hierarchal structures and they tend to leave many young people somewhat burnt out rather than ” Fired Up!”

Any group or community can evolve into cult dynamics within an authoritarian, hierarchal structure without clear safe guards and healthy, ethical leaders. It’s important to be clear about the difference between a culture and a “cult”. When we start talking about cults according to it’s current definition what is being talked about is a very specific set of structures and defined group behaviors. Usually it’s when these characteristics and behaviors are taken together that you get an actual “cult”. I’d highly recommend you aquaint yourself with what these are Friend, because you are in a very high risk situation.

I also happen to be a former Monastic Academy apprentice and am the one who brought them up earlier. In ten years of nonprofit service I have never personally encountered a more high risk, dysfunctional, authoritarian/​hierarchal, unethical, sexist and abusive organization. I have never encountered the level of flat out denial, silencing, disassociation, and “frame control” anywhere else other than maybe some fundamentalist Christian churches. City Year was NEVER anywhere close in terms of frame control and the kind of unethical behavior that happens at the MA would never have flown at CY. The one thing they do have in common is using an overly idealism driven and not entirely transparent narrative to recruit young people to engage in areas of work that they are under qualified for and far more inexperienced than what is actually needed which creates a lot of challenge and usually leaves people burnout or in some cases pretty fucked up leaving the Monastic Academy. Having existed for 7+ years and despite consistent feedback about harmful impacts from many past residents and apprentices the MA still does not even have a basic feedback process in place to gather either qualitative or quantitative data about the impact of their programs. At this point it’s leadership is actively aware that the program is actually harmful to a substantial number of people and does not communicate these risks upfront. People who dissent or share negative feedback are actively excluded and/​or forced to leave the community (especially in instances of ethical and organizational misconduct as happened in my own experience). This ensures that the community consolidates toward those who agree and are willing to be complicit or at least silent when faced with harmful practices. In the case of a former partner, yes multiple members of the community actively told him to cut any contact with me after I was forced to leave and after I spoke out publicly online about the organization and his complicity he did cut contact with me. Many former residents and apprentices experience symptoms of cPTSD and need to recover significantly after leaving. Longstanding patterns of domination, colonization, misogyny and sexism are very much present in the space. For example forcing women out of the community and actively using coercive methods to keep them silent when they are impacted by the sexual misconduct of leaders and wealthy donors. The relationship to power and money is extremely unhealthy—and their are no real accountability structures in place (i.e. no code of conduct for teachers that defines what abuse is, no established grievance process, and a nonfunctional board). As a fundraiser I definitely found their practices to be highly questionable and unethical—and are likely illegal in some cases according to Vermont State law regarding fiduciary duties and 501c3 compliance. The current board is currently primarily made up of former students and others who have direct conflicts of interest that can impact ones ability with board duties as defined by Vermont State law. This along with the fact that Soryu is head teacher, founder, AND board president creates major power imbalances and is not in alignment with nonprofit or Monastic best practices. Recommendations from most sources and nonprofit consultants say that a board should have at least 7 board members with 0 conflicts of interest—the MA has 2. Most people do not understand how board governance works or how important the make up of a board is to ensure a functional board and oversight. Soryu has zero sources of accountability and Shinzen Young is rarely on site and cannot provide adequate oversight either. He is not a part of legitimate Buddhist lineage and in fact his training history with Sogenji is actually pretty sketchy. It has been my experience that I have never witnessed the level of cognitive dissonance, disassociation, and failure to live up to ones stated mission and values anywhere else. And yet somehow they always find a way to frame themselves as ethical, trustworthy, compassionate, wise, and having integrity even whilst actively behaving otherwise. Frame control is by far one of the things they seem to exceed best at.

You talk about the advantages of a mission driven organization but you don’t seem to question whether or not that model of expansionist, authoritarian leadership is actually healthy—rather than simply perpetuating longstanding cultural patterns of harm that have been going on for a very long time. There are lot of ways nonprofits are shifting and need to shift away from being mission-driven to being community-centered—and to examine the history of colonization, patriarchy, racism, ablism, ect. That exist everywhere. I love nonprofits and working in this sector, but nonprofits are not inherently free of harm simply because they aspire to do good work. It takes active cultivation, addressing cultural patterns and bias, and listening deeply to ensure that one is actually having the impact that one intends to have!

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• I’d like to analogize this to a Turing Tarpit.

There is an idea that programming languages don’t get to make everything easy, they get to choose some things to make easy and some to make hard (following a loose invocation of the Pigeonhole Principle here).

You want a programming language to decide to make useful things easy and useless things hard.

This is why you would expect “Frame Control” to be useful in a “good” organization. A good organization should use a frame that encourages good things and discourages bad things. A neutral frame is harder to fight the good frame from than a “good” frame!

• I suspect that you only get a cult-like group/​organization if the leader uses frame control

I think it can happen even without the leader doing it, if the followers already have a cult-like frame they want to fit the leader in.

• Frame control is an effect; very often, people who frame control will not be aware that this is what they’re doing, and have extensive reasoning to rationalize their behavior that they themselves believe.

Of note: in my experience, as someone who accidentally did lots of frame control and now has it at least partly in his own view (and thus does a mix of “accidentally still doing it,” “endorsedly still doing it,” and “endorsedly specifically not doing it”), often the frame controller is themselves stuck in the frame. They either don’t know another kind of frame could even exist, or rely on it for their own self-image or self-worth or something.

(I know this is sort of addressed in the above but I wanted to pull it out and highlight it. This is a clinical explanation of what happens and why, not an attempt to justify or excuse.)

• Yes. When I think of the person who most strongly seemed to do something like frame control to me, it was exactly their extreme stuckness in a particular frame that made it so powerful. They way it felt like was, if anything happened or was said that might threaten the validity of their frame, the meaning of what had been said (or possibly even the literal words themselves) would get twisted around until it became compatible with the desired frame.

Like there were moments when I said something, and they immediately claimed I had said something else, and I could tell their claim to be false because we were having a conversation in text form and I could see my own previous words right above their last message. But at times when our conversation was not in text form and I didn’t always remember what exactly had been said, the strength of their conviction would often make me doubt myself and wonder whether I really had told them some nasty thing they were claiming that I had said. (It did not help matters that my memory is often poor so there were occasions when they did genuinely point out something that I had misremembered.)

There’s something like, if you and I disagree, then at least one of us is wrong. And if I am so convinced in my position that literally nothing you say can shift my view, then my absolute certainty may make you doubt your own, especially if my behavior seems to you so extreme that at least one of us has to be somehow crazy. In that situation, if you have the slightest tendency towards doubting yourself, it’s likely to get triggered.

I think Aella has previously mentioned that her father has narcissistic personality disorder, and one feature of narcissism is an inability to entertain the fact that you might be the one at fault. I recall once reading a post by a self-described narcissist, talking about the experience of his reality instantly rewriting itself to make the socially desirable thing seem utterly true to him when useful. E.g. he’s talking to someone he wants to make a good impression on, and suddenly it just becomes true to him that the other person’s favorite artist is also his favorite artist. It’s not that he is choosing to consciously manipulate, but his brain is automatically getting him stuck in whatever frame is the most convenient for manipulation.

All of which relates to the point about intent not mattering. If you interrogate the motives of someone who is compulsively stuck in their frame, to the point of their mind twisting all incoming sense data or all of their memories about themselves to match that frame, then there’s often no evil intent to be found. Just a very strong frame where they are right and you are wrong, and where literally everything in the world supports that conclusion, in their mind. (of course, I am describing the most extreme case, and less extreme frame controllers can have stuck frames that are still not quite that stuck)

• an inability to entertain the fact that you might be the one at fault.

This nails it, in my opinion. I think frame control (at least many instances of it, and possibly all of them) is some kind of confidence trick where the person under the influence is confronted with such a strong and unwavering frame that they can’t help but update a bit in their direction. The only way to refuse to update is when you clearly see “What is going on, this person’s thinking/​frame is completely out of the ordinary, probably they have some massive psychological issue.” Only when you see the extremity of it and stop taking it for granted because you are biased to treat things as “normal,” only the can you successfully refuse the frame.

• the self-described narcissist blog post sounds fascinating, do you have a link?

• Here’s the post I was thinking of.

Sometimes I sort of lie without realising it, like when I suddenly change to mirror someone, as mentioned in a recent post:

I can limit mirroring to some degree, however, as always, my reality twists to make sense in the moment […]. My favourite colour is red but when you tell me yours is blue, I suddenly remember that gorgeous sky-blue Porsche I had and, well, wasn’t it always my favourite car?

I don’t feel like I’m lying at all when I tell you about the grandiose car and how I love blue. It’s maybe a slight manipulation, however, it feels sincere at the time. This is what happens when you live in the present and have fuck all impulse control. It’s only now I’m considering the accumulative effects of these sorts of lies.

One of my exes was a huge U2 fan. I’m not that bothered about U2: I prefer the Red Hot Chili Peppers. However, the second she told me she liked U2, I could suddenly remember liking them. Except rather than appreciating her taste from afar, I blurted out that I’d seen U2 live. Total bullshit.

Immediately I was worried she was going to ask where or when, however, she didn’t and so I got away with it. These sorts of lies require two people: a mirror like me and a receiver. If a lie goes out and you believe it, affirmation comes back in. You’re happy that I love Bono and blue and so I feel better. Once that happens, I either believe it (if it’s really small) or I sort of believe it. It’s assimilated into my reality. I know I’ve never seen U2 live and yet I sort of believe I have. I’ve even repeated that to other people. You’ve affirmed the lie and so that makes it quasi-real.

When the relationship grows and the reality becomes more unstable, the lies get bigger. Or, there are other rifts in the reality. For example, some of what your husband says might be contradictory, however, he may believe what he is saying. I once dated two women at the same time and told each of them I loved them more than the other one. This is because who I loved more depended on who was in front of me at the time.

Your husband is likely doing the kid thing of lying to get out of those other lies he told. When lies get that big, I am 100% aware of them, however, I will keep digging a hole if there’s a chance I can “repair” the damage, restore my reputation and get my own way.

Another post from the same guy:

I think, for me, most of the injuries I cause to others are the side-effects of trying to keep my ludicrous version of reality ticking along. This means keeping people on side (trauma bonded) so my needs get met (and there are a lot of those). I have beliefs about myself that I need constantly affirmed so my false self can do its job and keep me feeling alive. For example, I’m super special and the best at everything I do.

Since this is objectively not the case, reality has to change. This is unfortunate to anyone who is nearby at the time.

The other day my friend beat me at chess, fair and square. This cannot happen. I am perfect, I am brilliant at chess, I never lose. If I lose, that makes me vulnerable. The false self wobbles and falls down. So at some point over the next few days I will probably bat my eyelashes and casually drop into conversation that I let her win because she seemed to be having a bad day and I wanted to cheer her up. The result:

• I am unbeatable at chess again

• I am a good guy who cheers people up

• She isn’t as good as me

• I don’t have bad days, she does.

She is currently in the very, very early stages of being devalued. That’s when this kind of gaslighting usually begins and I find it impossible to stop. I may have done this during idealisation as well if I felt especially injured. That is less likely to happen then, however, as my brain is dripping with dopamine.

I might pay her a compliment shortly after I take her chess win away, like telling her it was still a really good game and I miss seeing her beautiful smile. I might mean it, I might not. This is to ensure I keep her on side. It’s conditioning and I never had to learn to do it, I just do it.

For her, the side effect of this repeating over and over is that she will doubt both her gaming abilities and her mental health. I don’t set out to do this, however, I’m 100% aware that this results. Another long-term side effect for her is that this kind of abuse is like crack, making it easy for me to manipulate her.

And a third one:

My narcissistic boyfriend loves to rewrite history and make up things that didn’t happen, especially when it’s about the abuse he inflicts. Is this a common narcissistic trait?

Rewriting history is very common. As others have said, it’s part of the gaslighting arsenal. It involves something called magical thinking.

Magical thinking is any bollocks that defies logic and makes my perception of reality correct. My youngest daughter says there’s a unicorn in her wardrobe that threw her socks on the floor. She’ll believe it for a while: she wants it to be true so she can dodge getting in trouble for her crimes of the sock. This is adorable because she’s 3.

Mentally, I’m about the same age. Magical thinking is how I can support my perfect false self and avoid shame. Since nobody is perfect, especially not a hideous asshat like me, reality has to warp and out come the unicorns.

The same goes with your boyfriend: how can he be wrong? How can he be an abuser if he’s perfect? If you remind him he has abused you, he will experience a narcissistic injury. That pain can’t stay in so it has to go somewhere, probably on to you, so there will sometimes be projection and blame-shifting as well as gaslighting.

Smaller, more believable edits to reality are the most effective. So slamming you into the wall and screaming in your face becomes, “It was a reasonable reaction! I raised my voice SLIGHTLY because you put me in a corner!”

My mother can’t be bothered with small and believable edits, preferring to opt for, “That never happened”.

Your boyfriend probably doesn’t know he’s doing this, however, it doesn’t matter; I know I do this and still do it. It’s not easy to explain. A little voice inside knows I’m full of hot air. However, a bigger part completely believes what I’m saying. It’s like when you get to the pub at 7pm and say, “I’ll just have one”. Then at 3am the next morning your friends are trying to carry you into your house while you’re slurring, “Wha…? Haaa… kebab?”

The best way to deal with this, other than to avoid his kind, is to keep records. My ex, who I’m co-parenting with, will not have an important conversation with me in person or on the phone without recording it. It’s how you can really catch us out.

• I don’t know how to handle the fact that everything Aella said about vulnerability and reciprocity is true, and also some people are vastly better at things than other people, and some people are better at a lot of things than other people. If you insist on being treated as an equal in certain ways, you either rule out interacting with people who are sufficiently better at sufficiently many things than you, or demand they lie. Many people claiming vast amounts of power knowledge and wisdom are flat out wrong, but not all of them are. And even if you could distinguish between the two perfectly, being genuinely better at a lot of things doesn’t make someone inherently safe: in many ways it makes them more dangerous, either because they can use superior skill to manipulate you, or because sometimes doing the wrong thing because it feels right to you is long better than doing the right thing because someone told you to.

I’m not ruling out “just don’t interact with people who are sufficiently beyond you (especially if they won’t spend time proactively valuing you in ways you haven’t actually earned)”, but “only interact with your exact equals” can’t be right either- it removes the best people to learn from.

• I think there’s a difference here I didn’t really touch upon in the post; I think it’s possible for someone to clearly know a lot more than you, but still make their moves salient. For example; I know two men who are friends, both high status, have ‘followers’, are very smart, and hold extremely similar beliefs. One is the one I mentioned who I had a long talk with, and I consider him to have been doing frame control. The other similarly advocated for his own beliefs, wasn’t open to mine, but his frame was much more salient; he was clear about his moves, and didn’t feel like he was implicitly asking me to submit to him, or something?

Or they can make clear moves to equalize; I know many people with far more expertise than I do who do very subtle social moves constantly to hand power and respect back to me, somehow without pretending that they don’t know more than I do. I’m thinking of this one guy I respect a lot who is a teacher and coach and has a podcast, and he has way more experience and wisdom than me. I had lunch with him once and walked away with the sense that he had just… handed me his heart? Somehow he seemed to be actively imbuing me with power and surrendering himself before me, and at no point did it feel like he was attempting to conceal his own abilities or self-efface to make me comfortable. It was incredible.

• Yeah, there definitely is a difference, and this is part of it (another comment pointed to if they can take a joke about themselves, which I think is another good marker). I have a draft post about epistemic legibility that feels like it might be related to what you mean by salience but I’m not positive.

• I posted this elsewhere in comments, but I think there are two types of frame controllers: the assertive and the receptive types. Think of this comment as inspired by Aella’s, and a processing of some of my own experiences. I don’t know her at all, and won’t pretend to understand her experiences very deeply.

I interpret Aella as mainly referring to receptive frame controllers, while Elizabeth is referring to assertive frame controllers.

A key function of useful hierarchy is to make genuine capability legible and to improve our ability to coordinate around it. But not all hierarchies are formal, and even the formal ones need informal maintenance. Hence, you get genuine experts, who will make moves to establish their superiority and reinforce a subordinate’s place in the hierarchy. This isn’t always good, of course. Experts will fight for turf they haven’t really earned. Sometimes, this is just bad. Other times, it’s because what they’re doing isn’t so much trying to grab more territory, as to prevent someone who hasn’t earned it from doing so.

As an example from my life, think of the psychiatrist who makes authoritative-sounding pronouncements about the COVID-19 pandemic at the family dinner, even though he’s not 100% clear on the difference between the CDC and the FDA, because a master’s student in biomedical engineering has been voicing his own opinion on a narrow topic based on some careful research. The psychiatrist doesn’t want the MS student, who doesn’t even have a graduate degree in the field, to be mistaken for an expert on par with him, an experienced MD. Yet the psychiatrist doesn’t necessarily believe himself to be an expert on COVID-19. He just doesn’t want the MS student to overstep.

By contrast, the “receptive” frame controller doesn’t tend to have any significant concrete expertise, conventional formal status, or money. He might set himself up as a coach, guru, or religious figure. Fatherhood is also in this zone. Rather than being recognized for his tangible accomplishments or contributions, and engaging in assertive actions to make this recognition legible to others, he has to impress people who don’t know any better with some sort of intangible aura of mystery, wisdom, or social access.

The receptive frame controller has to make up for a lack of any tangible utility to attract people to him. He instead uses his own availability. He invites people over. He lets them stay. He makes himself enormously available to those who are willing to give him an even more enormous amount of their time. Most people have better things to do, but a few don’t, and they’ll get involved. Once the receptive frame controller has developed some sort of following, it becomes part of his aura. Everybody tries to figure out what everybody else is following him for, and trying to justify the time they’re all spending, searching for any sliver of value or meaning in the situation.

It would be unusual for people to stay long-term in situations that needed constant, ongoing justifications. If you were a monk in a monastery and had a deep, gut-level clarity about what you were doing there, the master wouldn’t need to convince you.

If that isn’t operating, then sometimes, there is at least a time-limited commitment. “Try it out for a year, and then you can quit if you don’t like it,” the parent might say to their child about an imposition of piano lessons.

What Aella describes is a frame controller who has to constantly exert his energy to justify the enormous amount of time and pain that his followers are throwing away on him. And there is no time-limited commitment. In theory, it goes on forever, and the commitment grows with time.

This, for me, is the key criteria that distinguishes a receptive frame controller from the normal give-and-take of social relationships. It’s the invitation to waste an unlimited amount of time, with no cutoff and no promise of a tangible outcome at a given time, with the experience being painful and consuming. The people who stay have no clear sense that they have alternatives.

This also helps me explain why I still find myself dealing with “frame control” on a daily basis, and yet feel as though I have become entirely immune to the dynamic Aella is describing in the OP. Having excluded receptive frame controllers from my life, or learned how to resist their tactics nearly effortlessly, I spend much more time in spaces where tangible competence is the main focus. This brings me into contact with lots of assertive frame controllers. That’s a form of hierarchy I don’t expect to ever be free of, but I also don’t resent it too much, because I understand that its basic purpose aligns well-enough with my own goals to be useful to me.

• The post is saying: “Here’s a very common thing that basically everybody does sometimes.”

Technically, everybody “frame controls” all the time; we can probably find numerous examples where every one of us—including me—does the things I outline as bad.

And then it’s telling us that, if you identify that someone is doing this thing, this should be sufficient evidence to cast them out of society. Even if they have good intent, even if there’s no evidence of harm, even if nobody has told them the thing they are doing is bad.

No, you are not allowed into my life, my home, my friends, and I will try to remove you from the power you might use to hurt anybody else.

I’m worried that this is basically a general-purpose tool for anyone to denounce anyone else.

I think the author should get a lot of credit for identifying that this is dangerous and admitting how dangerous it is right in the post. But I wish that she’d gone a step further and refined the post until it wasn’t dangerous in this way.

• But I wish that she’d gone a step further and refined the post until it wasn’t dangerous in this way.

I agree that Aella should have done this. Only I think refining the post until it wasn’t dangerous in this way, would have meant not writing it at all.

Honestly, this is a terrible post. It describes a made-up concept that, as far as I can tell, does not actually map to any real phenomenon (mostly this is because Aella, perplexingly, lumps together obviously outright abusive behaviors with normal, unproblematic things that normal people do every day, and then declares this heterogeneous lump to be A Bad Thing); gives an incoherent set of signs for identifying instances of the behavior described by this concept, that is guaranteed to match not only many ordinary people but in fact many of the best people; and then advocates (without anything resembling a sufficient justification) an insanely hostile attitude toward people who supposedly engage in the alleged behavior.

It perplexes me to see this post so highly rated, and it severely disappoints me to see people in the comments—apparently intelligent, sensible people—already using the provided concept, without so much as first subjecting it to the harsh and comprehensive scrutiny that it deserves. This is not how you deal with an attempt to introduce such a powerful (and power-warping!) new conceptual tool into your collective discourse. (Absolutely nobody should be using the term “frame control” at this point.)

• “Honestly, this is a terrible post. It describes a made-up concept that, as far as I can tell, does not actually map to any real phenomenon [...]”—if I am not mistaken, LessWrong contains many posts on “made-up concepts”—often newly minted concepts of interest to the pursuit of rationality. Don’t the rationalist all-stars like Scott Alexander and Yudkowsky do this often?

As a rationalist type who has also experienced abuse, I value Aella’s attempt to characterize the phenomenon.

Years of abuse actually drove my interest in rationality and epistemology. My abuser’s frame-controlling (or whatever it should be called) drove me to desperately seek undeniable truths (e.g. “dragging one’s partner around by the hair while calling them a stupid crazy bitch is objectively wrong”). My partner hacked our two-person consensus reality so thoroughly that this “truth” was dangerous speculation on my part, and he’d punish me for asserting it.

I think abuse is a form of epistemic hacking. Part of the ‘hack’ is detection avoidance, which can include use of /​ threat of force (such as “I will punish you if you say ‘abuse’ one more time”), he-said-she-said (“you accuse me of abuse, but i’ll accuse you right back”), psychological jabs that are 100% clear given context but plausibly denied outside that context, and stupid but effective shit like “this isn’t abuse because you deserve it.” In my experience, detection avoidance is such a systemic part of abuse that it is almost as if it could all be explained as a gnarly mess of instrumental goals gone wild.

My point is, abuse defies description. It is designed (or rather, honed) to defy description.

I don’t know if you’ll find this persuasive in the slightest. But if you do, even a tiny bit, maybe you could chill out on the “this is a terrible post” commentary. To invoke SCC (though I know those aren’t the rules here), that comment isn’t true, kind OR necessary.

• I’m sorry to hear about the things that happened to you.

However, neither that, nor Aella’s experiences, change anything about what I wrote…

I don’t know if you’ll find this persuasive in the slightest. But if you do, even a tiny bit, maybe you could chill out on the “this is a terrible post” commentary. To invoke SCC (though I know those aren’t the rules here), that comment isn’t true, kind OR necessary.

Thankfully, that rule does not apply here, because it’s a really bad rule.

(This aside from the fact that my comment is of course true, or at least I claim so—otherwise I wouldn’t have posted it! How, exactly, does one apply that rule to a forum where the whole point of most of the discussions is to determine what is, or is not, true…?)

As a rationalist type who has also experienced abuse, I value Aella’s attempt to characterize the phenomenon.

If there exists a bad thing, and if it is good to describe the bad thing, it does not follow from this that all attempts to describe the bad thing are good (much less that all apparent or purported attempts to describe the bad thing are good).

As I say in my comment: Aella describes some genuinely, obviously abusive behaviors. But she lumps them in with other things which are not abusive behaviors, but are instead normal, or even praiseworthy traits—traits that many people whom I admire and respect have, traits that I have, even… and then she declares war on anyone who matches this supposed pattern of hers! War! “Burn it with fire”, she says!

Sorry, but I entirely stand by my assessment of the post. I truly regret what happened to you, and I hope that you and people like you can avoid such things in the future. (Indeed, in several of my other comments I suggest patterns of thinking and behavior that—in my opinion—tend to reduce one’s susceptibility to such abuse. It seems to me that if my suggestions were generally adopted as rules of thumb for sensible approaches to life, incidence of such abuse—at least among “rationalists”—might decrease. Too much to hope for, perhaps, but…)

But the fact of someone having undergone abuse does not remove from them the burden of standards for how to speak and write and behave sanely—nor does it remove from the rest of us the responsibility to point out what we see as terrible mistakes.

• I think kindness is a good rule for rationalists, because unkindness is rhetorically OP yet so easily rationalized (“i’m just telling it like it is, y’all” while benefitting – again, rhetorically – from playing the offensive).

Your implication that Aella is not speaking, writing or behaving sanely is, frankly, hard to fathom. You may disagree with her; you may consider her ideas and perspectives incomplete; but to say she has not met the standards of sanity?

She speaks about an incredibly painful and personal issue with remarkable sanity and analytical distance. Does that mean she’s objective? No. But she’s a solid rationalist, and this post is appropriately representative.

But see, here we are trading subjective takes. You imply this post is insane. I say that it is impressively sane. Are we shouldering the burden of standards for speaking, writing and behaving sanely?

In other words, you’ve set quite a high bar there, friend, and conveniently it is to your rhetorical advantage. Is this all about being rational or achieving rhetorical wins?

--

Wrt “burn it with fire”—she goes on to say that she can’t have frame controllers in her life, not that she plans on committing arson. Her meaning was clear to me. If I detect that someone is attempting coercive control on me (my preferred phrasing), I block them on all channels. This has happened 2x in the last 5 years, since I escaped the abuser. I cut them out of my life with a sort of regret; not because I think they’re bad, but because I’ve determined that continued interaction puts me at risk. This is my personal nuclear option too (like Aella) because I’m not one to block people nor consider them irredeemable.

Perhaps you could re-read that part of her post with principle o’ charity /​ steel manning glasses on.

While I’m at it, your other criticism about normal or praiseworthy traits: she explicitly says “Keep in mind these are not the same thing as frame control itself, they’re just red flags.” A red flag doesn’t mean “a bad behavior” but rather means a warning sign. As is said elsewhere in the comment section (perhaps by you), some of those red flags might be exhibited by Aspie types or those who have successfully overcome some unhelpful social norms. As a different example, I have a friend who talks quickly, genuinely wants to help out even if there is nothing in it for him, and is polymathic—his rapidly covering lots of intellectual ground and wanting to help me out set off my “bullshitter” red flags. But that isn’t the case. He’s a good guy. And given that, the aforementioned traits are awesome. Red flags are signals and not necessarily bad behaviors.

• I think kindness is a good rule for rationalists, because unkindness is rhetorically OP yet so easily rationalized (“i’m just telling it like it is, y’all” while benefitting – again, rhetorically – from playing the offensive).

Accusations of unkindness are also, as you say, “rhetorically OP”… best not to get into litigating how “kind” anyone is being.

Your implication that Aella is not speaking, writing or behaving sanely is, frankly, hard to fathom. You may disagree with her; you may consider her ideas and perspectives incomplete; but to say she has not met the standards of sanity?

Not difficult at all, I think. “That person is controlling my mind with their words!” is, actually, typical of things that a delusional person would say (and if you add “… and they don’t even know it!”, that only adds to the effect).

This in addition, of course, to all the “kill it with fire” stuff, which is … either ill-considered, or deliberately hostile. (One may justifiably use stronger language here, but I prefer to avoid such, if possible.)

She speaks about an incredibly painful and personal issue with remarkable sanity and analytical distance. Does that mean she’s objective? No. But she’s a solid rationalist, and this post is appropriately representative.

I’m afraid I cannot agree with your assessment.

But see, here we are trading subjective takes. You imply this post is insane. I say that it is impressively sane. Are we shouldering the burden of standards for speaking, writing and behaving sanely?

We are doing better at it than the OP, at least for now. (And the “takes” are not so subjective as all that…)

Perhaps you could re-read that part of her post with principle o’ charity /​ steel manning glasses on.

Perhaps I could, but that would be unwise. These concepts, as commonly deployed these days (if not, perhaps, as originally intended), tend to be more detrimental than beneficial to effective reasoning and communication.

In this, I am a conflict theorist; this is not a mistake, this is war. And a part of me knows this isn’t “true”—as in, I could have been born into a brain that ended up doing strong frame control. I know they are real people with feelings and needs. But that “true” perspective will let them destroy you; when I run into strong frame control, I snap to an extremely antagonistic frame. No, you are not allowed into my life, my home, my friends, and I will try to remove you from the power you might use to hurt anybody else.

… as anything other than an expression of actual hostility, then I submit to you that said “glasses” are, in fact, blinders.

There is no way to read “I will try to remove you from the power you might use to hurt anybody else”, “extremely antagonistic frame”, “war”, as merely “I choose not to interact with such people, for my own personal idiosyncratic mental health needs”, or what have you—unless you’ve got blinders on.

As for “red flags” not necessarily meaning “bad behaviors”—for one thing, that is merely the motte in a very obvious motte-and-bailey scenario. In these sorts of discussions/​scenarios, people never consistently refrain from treating “red flags” as definitely bad; people never consistently stick to the “it’s just a neutral-in-itself possible-warning-sign”. They simply do not.

But we don’t even need to go that far, because the specific alleged “red flags” to which I objected are not even warning signs, but are instead (a) directly and straightforwardly good, and—as I pointed out elsethread—also (b) some of the best ways to resist the actually bad things that Aella describes!

• It describes a made-up concept that, as far as I can tell, does not actually map to any real phenomenon (mostly this is because Aella, perplexingly, lumps together obviously outright abusive behaviors with normal, unproblematic things that normal people do every day, and then declares this heterogeneous lump to be A Bad Thing)

Hmm, do you think frames are real phenomena /​ natural concepts? (As all concepts are made up, I assume you mean something like “natural” as the opposite.)

• Different people use this term “frame” in different ways. (The usage in the OP seems to me to be a mix of confused and wrong.)

Without knowing what you mean by the word, I cannot answer your question.

(My guess, however, is that this is a motte-and-bailey situation, where there’s a banal sense of “frame” which is a real thing but not terribly interesting, and also a provocative sense which is tendentious, at best. But that is only a guess, for now.)

• The meaning which makes the most sense to me in the context of this post is that a frame is just an ideology applied to a small interpersonal group, where an ideology is a set of ideas about what types of harms or disliked behaviors must be accepted as legitimate and what types may be responded to with self-protection or retaliation. When a political leader has ideas like that, it’s an ideology; when a meditation guru or father or boyfriend has them, it’s a frame. Or at least that’s how I’d try to steelman it.

• One thing that clarified part of what’s up with the word “frame” is that I think there are (at least) three different metaphors people are using when they say frame: Picture Frame, Window Frame (or Lens), and Framework, which each have slightly different connotations. (They roughly correspond to ways of communicating, ways of seeing, and ways of thinking). But I do think people inadvertently use the ‘frame’ metaphor without noticing that they are using it in slightly different ways.

I think John Wentworth’s Shared Frames Are Capital Investments is a post with a more precise articulation of what a frame is and why it’s useful, which I think is (slightly) more likely to land for you.

• I have now read John Wentworth’s post.

I am unconvinced. It seems like a classic case of “you could think of it as” (cf. my reply to Vaniver). One major objection I had when reading was: “aren’t you just talking about discovering various important truths (and then figuring out important consequences of those truths)?” Wentworth gestures at this in one or two places, but does not really grapple with it. After reading the post, I still don’t see any particularly good reason to think of things in terms of “frames”. (It’s perhaps notable that there are no examples given either of competing “frames” which are, in some sense, both “correct”, nor of any cases of intentionally creating a useful “frame”—this despite the section on creating frames!)

I am increasingly convinced that this “frame” business is a red herring—and “frame control” doubly so.

• Thank you for the links.

I read the first linked post (yours) and it seemed… muddled. There’s some interesting points to be made here, clearly, but I’m afraid that I don’t think that you succeed at making them well; and I am not sure that the whole “frames” metaphor (?) is particularly productive there. Indeed, I think that those points may be made more sharply without trying to tie them to “frames” (or to each other via “frames”).

I have not yet read the other post; I will report back when I’ve done so.

• So, according to me frames are a part of how people think about the world, and so it’s sort of hard to ground in words, mostly because of cognitive diversity. The concept is the mental generalization of frame of reference in physics and camera position and orientation in computer graphics (or real-world photography) to human perspectives.

So often people will have a ‘frame’ when they’re navigating the world; some things are salient, some things are ignored, there’s generally a dimension of value and relevance. This is particularly important for communication, because I’ll have some perception or conception in my frame, attempt to encode it into words, and then the reader will attempt to decode those words back into percepts and concepts. Sentences only make sense in context. The previous sentence was in English, for example, and someone trying to decode it using another language will be confused, but other, subtler contexts are also important. If I say something harsh to someone, this might be evidence that we’re enemies, or evidence that we’re close, and figuring out my meaning requires that additional detail.

Of course, with cameras we can talk about things like position and orientation and field of view and so on, and there are only a handful of variables. For human frames, there are many more variables that we understand in a less formal way, and so it becomes much harder to discuss.

IMO if you don’t think frames are real, you’re probably not going to think frame control is real. I think frames are a useful model, and so I think frame control (wherein one participant in a conversation is attempting to take control of the other participant’s frames) is also a useful model. [It is not obvious to me that frames are “the most obvious” model, or clearly carve reality at the joints, but I don’t have a better model yet.]

That said, I think there are lots of ‘design details’ that are hard to be clear on. Most communication, for example, involves trying to add details to the other person’s mind, and adding details is a way to ‘take control’, and so being totally against frame control basically means being totally against communication. One might try some simple rules like “things that attempt to delete details from the other person’s mind, or prevent them from changing their camera position, are frame control”, but I think this ends up proving too much, in that it militates against policing contradictions (and dissuading biases more generally). [Incidentally, I think this is where some ‘woke’ pushback against ‘rationality’ and ‘logic’ comes from, as it rhymes with frame control /​ is used to counter “lived experience”.]

• There are two problems I see: one with “frames”, and one with “frame control”.

Re: “frames”: here we have a (fairly typical, I think) instance of what I think of as the “you could think of it as” approach. This is where we have some posited concept, and in explanation of it, a proponent says “well, you could think of it as [some characterization /​ some conceptual structure /​ some supposed dynamics /​ whatever]”. The problem is: sure, maybe you could think of things in that way. But so what? You could also just as easily not think of things in that way.

Why should you, after all? You could think of lots of things in lots of different ways, after all. What’s so special about this one? Does it allow you to make unusually accurate predictions? Does it allow you to compress /​ transmit information unusually efficiently /​ accurately? Or does it, perhaps, instead provoke you into false analogies, mistaken conclusions, salience distortion errors, or flawed reasoning of other sorts? And, just as importantly, is there any particular reason why you should only think of things in that way, and not instead in some other way?

So, you can talk about supposed “frames” that we use when navigating the world, etc. Yes. You can think of things in that way. But is anything particularly special about this way of looking at the world? Predictions we can make, that we can’t make otherwise? Concise and accurate ways of describing situations, phenomena, etc., that otherwise are difficult to describe? Conversely, are there distortions we introduce by talking about “frames” and thinking in terms of “frames”?

These are not necessarily rhetorical questions! But they are pertinent questions, because stuff like “frames” just isn’t obviously correct /​ predictive /​ true /​ etc. It’s a way of looking at things. Maybe a useful one—but still just that. Reification is the danger here! It does not do to forget that this is just one perspective, and not at all a uniquely compelling one.

So, bottom line—my answer to “are frames real?” is “Eh. There’s some good points to be made here, sure.” A “natural” concept? I’m skeptical. Certainly it seems to me that if I think and talk about the world without mentioning “frames” (nor any stand-in concept), I will not have any large holes in my portrayal. Certain aspects of the picture may be blurrier, more awkwardly drawn; certain other aspects may be sharper, and shown more accurately. Everything that should be there will basically be there, though.

Re: “frame control”: it’s not out of the question that some sort of phenomenon, of some description, that could plausibly be named “frame control”, might be a real thing (under some account of “frames”, etc.). I can imagine certain such things, if I tried. Such a phenomenon might be bad; it might be good, and desirable; it might be neutral; it would depend on the particulars. I can imagine two different people coming up with a characterization of something that they each called “frame control”, but with the two descriptions being of two totally different (perhaps largely unrelated!) phenomena—and one of these might be clearly good, one clearly bad, etc.

But the description in the OP is incoherent and nonsensical. The post does not usefully describe anything real, as far as I can tell. There are various details, thrown together to create a picture that makes no sense. As it is described (or attempted to be described) in the OP, “frame control” is not a thing.

• Such a phenomenon might be bad; it might be good, and desirable; it might be neutral; it would depend on the particulars. I can imagine two different people coming up with a characterization of something that they each called “frame control”, but with the two descriptions being of two totally different (perhaps largely unrelated!) phenomena—and one of these might be clearly good, one clearly bad, etc.

My guess is the ‘natural’ version of frame control is neutral, and is mostly about interpersonal dependency. (That is, what Alice thinks about X is downstream of what Bob thinks about X, and we can look at the mechanisms by which the influence flows.) There’s then another natural distinction into the various sorts of influence relationships, some of which are mutualistic (“leadership”) and some of which are predatory or exploitative or simply destructive, and in order to differentiate between those you need a large and complicated theory of ethics and interpersonal relationships, and these things will be interdependent. (Whether or not something counts as an ‘attack’ might depend on the relationship between two of the parties, but you might want to figure out their relationship by counting up the number of attacks.)

You can probably imagine an employer-employee relationship that’s good for both parties, and then smoothly vary features until you get a relationship that’s only good for one party, and continue varying features until you get a relationship that’s good for neither party. There will be some areas where you’re uncertain in between the areas where you’re certain, and probably substantial disagreement between observers on where those boundaries actually are.

• This all seems reasonable. I don’t know that it would be particularly productive to use the phrase “frame control” to refer to any of the things you’re describing, or to think of them in terms of “frames”, etc. But yes, there are clearly various phenomena, more or less related to things mentioned in the OP, that do exist /​ occur (and I think your brief sketch shows something like the right direction in which to explore them, were we inclined to do so).

• My reply was getting long, so I’m going to break it into a few different comments. (woo threading)

The problem is: sure, maybe you could think of things in that way. But so what? You could also just as easily not think of things in that way.

Yeah; suppose I said “you can think of an elephant as a very large person with a single tentacle for a hand.” This will both capture something real about elephants, imply some things that are false about elephants, and point at many possibilities that are not realized on Earth. Without some actual elephants (and non-elephants) to look at, you’ll end up like the medieval bestiary artist.

What’s so special about this one? Does it allow you to make unusually accurate predictions? Does it allow you to compress /​ transmit information unusually efficiently /​ accurately? Or does it, perhaps, instead provoke you into false analogies, mistaken conclusions, salience distortion errors, or flawed reasoning of other sorts?

IMO having frames as a model helps counteract a naive bias in language, which is pointed at with 2-Place and 1-Place Words. If Fred describes a woman as sexy, I see that as a fact both about Fred’s frame and about the woman’s projection into Fred’s frame (in the geometrical /​ mathematical sense). General semantics makes a big deal out of this sort of ‘consciousness of projection’, and they recommend including markers of it in speech (as seems helpful when one isn’t operating in a context where the listeners would insert that by default). A bit from People in Quandaries:

Semantically, there is a great difference, for example, between saying “Poetry is silly” and “Poetry is silly—to me.” The latter leaves poetry a leg to stand on, as it were. It reminds both the speaker and the listener that the speaker is necessarily talking about himself as well as about poetry.

I think the majority of the value comes not from simple communication tricks, but the inferences upstream and downstream of communication; “what frame could cause Fred to emit that sort of sentence?”, “what can I say that will land in Fred’s frame?”, “how can I direct Fred’s attention to his own frame?”, “what’s going on with my frame around this?”, or so on.

It does not do to forget that this is just one perspective, and not at all a uniquely compelling one.

Yeah, I do think there’s something pretty ironic about taking a device that’s designed to ward against projective universality and project that it’s universal.

That said, I think there is a limited sort of universality. Suppose we’re talking about point objects in a 3d space, all of them will have position coordinates, but not everything will have position coordinates (because not everything is a point object in 3d space).

I feel pretty good about statements like “humans sense the world (the ‘territory’) through their sensorium and infer mental constructs (the ‘map’) from those sensations in a multi-layered way” and see how frames fit into that picture (roughly, the whole strategy of sensation → mental constructs, tho often we’ll be interested in the consciously accessible bit at the end that goes from percepts to concepts, or how concepts relate to each other, or how our memories relate to concepts).

That picture has some flexibility to it that makes it not very constraining. For example, the “sensorium” is defined by what it does rather than what it is, so when you show me a new sense organ the picture adapts instead of breaks, which means it’s not asserting I’ve found all the sense organs.

• Certainly it seems to me that if I think and talk about the world without mentioning “frames” (nor any stand-in concept), I will not have any large holes in my portrayal.

I’m curious how you would argue something like 2-Place and 1-Place Words without using frames or a stand-in. [According to me (and another), the word ‘perspective’ is a stand-in.]

When I go through and try to figure out where Eliezer does it, I’m not sure he does, but also I don’t think it really counts as an argument. He simply asserts Fred’s error in treating sexiness as a function of two arguments instead of a function of one argument, or in identifying Fred::Sexiness as the one true Sexiness. But if Fred responds “I’m not making an error, I am using the one true Sexiness”, I think pointing out what failure of imagination Fred is doing will go much faster if talking about ‘perspective’.

• [According to me (and another), the word ‘perspective’ is a stand-in.]

Well… I disagree. I guess that’s pretty much my answer?

When I go through and try to figure out where Eliezer does it, I’m not sure he does, but also I don’t think it really counts as an argument.

Well, take this paragraph (and the several after it):

An alternative and equally valid standpoint is that “sexiness” does refer to a one-place function—but each speaker uses a different one-place function to decide who to kidnap and ravish. Who says that just because Fred, the artist, and Bloogah, the bug-eyed monster, both use the word “sexy”, they must mean the same thing by it?

And then again:

And the two 2-place and 1-place views can be unified using the concept of “currying”, named after the mathematician Haskell Curry. … A true purist would insist that all functions should be viewed, by definition, as taking exactly 1 argument. On this view […]

Are these “frames”, or “frame shifts”, etc.? If not: why not? If so: why did you not recognize them as such?

The fact is that “frames” comes with all sorts of conceptual baggage, which, it seems to me, is clearly inapplicable in the case of the linked post (and many—perhaps most?—other cases). Eliezer suggests all sorts of what we might call “perspective shifts” throughout the post; none of them are total or radical shifts; and we could instead just call them “ways of looking at this particular thing”, or just “ideas”, etc.

Or what if I suggested unifying the various (somewhat half-baked) programming analogies Eliezer uses, to take an “object-oriented programming” view of the matter? For example, maybe the right way to look at “Sexiness” is like this: [Fred sexiness:Woman] (Objective C syntax being the appropriate one to use for this, naturally). This would, for instance, make it obvious that Woman.sexiness is nonsense, because sexiness is a method we’re calling on Fred, with the parameter Woman (rather than some sort of “property” “of” Woman); so perhaps there are conceptual advantages to be gained from this re-framing. Aha! I said “re-framing”! So is that a new “frame”? Am I unable to escape talk of “frames” after all?! Eh; it’s a figure of speech, and a fairly “lightweight” one.

Perhaps my problem with “frames” can be thought of (there’s that “we can think of it as” business again!) as objecting to making too big a deal of something. We “play with” ideas, when we think about things like this; we turn them this way and that, adopt various perspectives, phrase things in different ways, apply different metaphors, deploy various analogies. This is fine and normal, and also it is a core feature of our cognition, and it has many aspects, many features—which means that it’s good to retain an “unburdened” view of it, the better to notice its various qualities, and the better to avoid impeding its functioning. I do not think it pays to start scrutinizing this extremely general phenomenon in such a way that we attach to it a “heavyweight” concept like “frames”, with much philosophical baggage and so on. That can only “weigh down” our thinking unnecessarily.

In short, perhaps the real takeaway here is that “frames” is… a bad frame.

• Are these “frames”, or “frame shifts”, etc.? If not: why not? If so: why did you not recognize them as such?

Sorry, I think my previous sentence was unclear. I think 2-Place and 1-Place Words uses without formalizing the thing I am trying to point at with “frames”, and so when I imagine that article without any pointers to frames, I don’t think it’s convincing (and I’m not sure how Eliezer would have thought of it in the first place without something like frames).

For example, in the paragraph you quote he uses the word “standpoint.” When I interpret that as “the position and orientation of the metaphorical camera through which the situation is observed”, i.e. a stand-in for frames, the sentence compiles and the paragraph makes sense. When I delete that meaning, the paragraph now seems confused.

[Put another way, if I don’t come into that article with the sense that different observers can assign sexiness differently, the article doesn’t generate that sense. It uses that sense to explain something about language. This would maybe be more obvious if we swapped out ‘sexiness’ for something like ‘justice’, and imagine the article being read by a moral realist who is convinced that there is one true Justice.]

The fact is that “frames” comes with all sorts of conceptual baggage, which, it seems to me, is clearly inapplicable in the case of the linked post (and many—perhaps most?—other cases).

This seems interesting to me. Let’s consider the alternative post Aella could have written which talks about “perspective control”; I suspect it hits many of the same points and has many of the same conclusions. [If it seems more or less valid to you, that seems like it would be good to hear!]

In particular, imagine an architect trying to get their building design to win a competition, but they think their building is pretty from the south and ugly from the east; they might make lots of moves that by themselves are innocuous and yet add up to controlling the judges so that they have an overly positive view of the design. If we wanted to talk about what that architect is doing wrong, I think ‘perspective control’ might be a solid label.

I think what happens when we use ‘frame’ instead of ‘perspective’ is that we’re generalizing. Our architect controlled which part of the design the judges saw, but they could also try to control something like “how the judges think about design”; saying something about how minimalism is futuristic might cause the judges to not dock points for the lack of embellishments because they don’t want to be seen as stuck in the past. The strategic aim is roughly the same as the architect trying to not have the judges see the east face of the building, but the tactical methodology is quite different and operating on a different level of cognition. [One could still talk about “minimalism as futuristic” as being part of one’s perspective or standpoint or so on, but this is now clearly in a metaphorical rather than literal sense.]

Possibly this is where the conceptual baggage comes in? Now, rather than just having a simple physical analogy for visual cognition, we have to analogize across the whole cognitive and interpersonal stack. It might be better to keep different layers and regions separate, tho this is genuinely harder because not everyone will have arranged their cognitive and interpersonal stacks in the same way, and organisms live end-to-end in a way that makes the systems less truly modular than the human reverse-engineer would hope.

• The thing is, if “frame” is just another way of saying [insert list of various ways of saying “people sometimes think about a thing in one way and sometimes in another way”], then the concept is so diffuse, general, and banal as to not be worth elevating to any special status.

Eliezer’s post “uses without formalizing” this concept, as you say, but consider: what if he had formalized it? Would it be a better post, or a worse one? I say: worse!

Possibly this is where the conceptual baggage comes in? Now, rather than just having a simple physical analogy for visual cognition, we have to analogize across the whole cognitive and interpersonal stack. It might be better to keep different layers and regions separate, tho this is genuinely harder because not everyone will have arranged their cognitive and interpersonal stacks in the same way, and organisms live end-to-end in a way that makes the systems less truly modular than the human reverse-engineer would hope.

I think you have it, yes.

In general I think that abstractions should serve a clear purpose; like beliefs, they should “pay rent” (in compression ratios, for instance, or expressiveness).

And the thing is, “our sort of people”—not “rationalists”, but, shall we say, “the kind of person that [many/​most] rationalists are”—generate abstractions instinctively. To us, noticing a pattern, coming up with a clever abstraction, building a mental castle of concepts around it—it’s not even second nature; it’s just plain nature. We don’t have to remind ourselves to do this.

But this means that many abstractions we come up with are going to be superfluous… or, at the very least, while they may be useful in a transient act of cognition, do not deserve to be brought out into the light, ensconced in a public gallery of “community abstractions”, where they can sit around and shape everyone’s thinking for years to come.

“Frames” are like that, I think.

It seems to me that “frames” are quite likely to be delinquent with their rent… precisely because they are so general and so fuzzy a concept, precisely because there are so many “stand-ins”, so many ways of pointing at the same phenomena.

On the other hand, “frame control” is quite a heavyweight concept! This is an odd mismatch, is it not? Notice that “frame control” demands that “frame” have a much more specific meaning than what we’ve been discussing in this subthread. Once you say that someone can “control” your “frame”, you can no longer be talking about something so general and ordinary as “different ways of looking at something”; you’ve got to be positing some more substantive theory of how people see and think about the world, and then adding to that the notion that someone can “control” that, etc.

• The thing is, if “frame” is just another way of saying [insert list of various ways of saying “people sometimes think about a thing in one way and sometimes in another way”], then the concept is so diffuse, general, and banal as to not be worth elevating to any special status.

Huh, I find this surprising, mostly because I’m not sure about the “special status” claim.

It seems to me like there’s something of a dilemma here—either the concept is obvious (at which point being diffuse or general is not much of a drawback), and so the problem with the post is that it is ‘reinventing the wheel’, or the concept is nonobvious (and thus we can’t be sure we’re pointing at the same thing, and being diffuse now makes this communication much more difficult). Up until this point, I had gotten the second impression from you (stuff like “Without knowing what you mean by the word, I cannot answer your question.”), and not something like “wait, is this just rediscovering ‘maps’ from the map-territory distinction?”.

Also, I think that while this sort of “noticing maps” is basic rationality, it empirically does not seem obvious to everyone, and I think people finding it non-obvious or difficult to talk about or so on is interesting. That is, I don’t see this post as trying to make “frame” any more special a word than “perspective” or “standpoint” or so on; I see this post as trying to make more people both 1) see frame differences and 2) see frame manipulation, especially the sort of frame manipulation that tries to not be seen as frame manipulation.

[To be clear, I share some of your sense that ‘someone who had traumatic experiences around frame manipulation’ is probably not an unbiased source of information/​frames about frames, and is likely more allergic /​ less likely to see that the same knife can be used constructively and destructively. I nevertheless put frames in the “general, basic, and useful concept” category, whereas you seem pretty sure they’re a bad frame.]

• Note: I’d be excited to frontpage and curate a post similar-to-this. This particular post feels a bit too embedded in a live conflict for that to feel right to me.

I recognize that it’s pretty hard to write a post like this without examples and the best examples will often necessarily involve recent conflict /​ live-politics /​ be-a-bit-aiming-to-persuade. I’m sure shipping this out the door was already a sizeable chunk of effort. But I think there could be a hypothetically idealized split-into-two posts version, where one post simply outlined the model, and the other post applied it to recent events.

• I had sent this in PM to Aella yesterday. For the benefit of Gwillen and others curious about frontpage standards, here are some thoughts:

I haven’t actually talked to other LW mods about the post yet so this is mostly my off-the-cuff guesses rather than dedicated LW-site-ruling. But some things about the post that made me hesitant to frontpage:

• it seemed like there were at least 3 references to Leverage-specifically (or, pretty closeby. One link to Geoff Anders tweet, two Zoe quotes, which in context feels like it’s positioning this post to relate to the overall Leverage debate)

• there was also the reference to Aubrey de Gray (not exactly a currently live conflict but neither is it long forgotten)

• the end of the post stakes out a fairly explicit conflicty-frame (i.e, “this is war”), which makes the previous examples feel even more like ammunition in the conflict than they might have been.

The frontpage rules are a bit vague here, but the way I think about them is that frontpage posts should be more about giving people models, and posts that are aiming to engage in a political fight stay on personal blog (partly because they are drama magnets generally, but moreover because while often it’s important to have political fights, it’s better if the people who actually have context on those fights are the ones participating in them).

(note that all the previous Leverage-related threads haven’t been frontpaged)

I do think it’s possible to edit the post a bit to address those issues, but before asking you to go off and do that work I’d want to get some opinions from other mods [who have so far been busy].

• I feel like this is clearly frontpage material, so I would second Aella’s questions about what changes would make that make sense.

• I’m slightly confused, because (unless I’m missing one) only one of my examples given was in reference to the live conflict. Unless maybe you mean the generalized timing of the post as a whole, or the other examples given for other events/​people unrelated to the community but still ongoing? I am probably not down to post another two separate posts, as writing this was a lot of effort, and I’d probably feel sad if someone else did it for me. Would it just make more sense for me to unlink or remove the one example?

• I think that the first red flag, and the first anti-red-flag, are both diametrically wrong.

… here’s a non-exhaustive list of some frame control symptoms …

1. They do not demonstrate vulnerability in conversation, or if they do it somehow processes as still invulnerable. They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview.

This seems good, actually? Why should anyone be interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview? What’s so great about your opinion? (General-‘your’, I mean; I am not referring to OP specifically.) It seems to me that the baseline assumption should be that no one is interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview, unless (and this ought to be expected to be unusual!) you manage to impress them considerably (and even then, such conformance should not be immediate, but should come after much consideration, to take place at leisure, not in the actual moment of conversation!).

More generally: attempting to think deeply and without restriction about the ideas of others, and to change our minds, while actively being subject to social pressures in a live interpersonal setting, is extremely failure-prone and almost always unnecessary. It is sometimes inescapable, but usually it’s completely avoidable.

To the extent that this post encourages doing such things, it is encouraging exactly the opposite of rationalist best practices.

(For a related point, see this Schopenhauer quote.)

I once had a long talk with a very smart man who was widely perceived as deeply compassionate and kind, but long after the talk I realized at no point in the conversation he had indicated being impacted by my ideas, despite there being multiple opportunities for him to make at the very least small acknowledgements that I was onto something good.

Why is this the slightest bit surprising, or at all a bad sign or “red flag”? Why should this man have been impacted by your ideas? Aren’t you making some wildly improbable assumptions about how impressive and “impactful” your ideas were/​are? (And even if they were impactful, rightly this man ought to have delayed any “impact” until due consideration, as noted above.)

Likewise, why do you assume that he had any good reason to think that you were onto something good? Maybe you weren’t onto anything good? Most people usually aren’t onto anything good, so this, again, ought to be the default assumption.

It took me a long time to realize this because he’d started out the conversation by framing me as special, telling me it was unusual to find someone else who had the ideas I did, that I must have taken a different path.

This seems not at all to contradict the preceding. “Unusual” and “different” does not mean “good” or “worthy of consideration or respect” or even “makes any sense whatsoever”.

So if frame control looks so similar to just being a normal person, what are some signs that someone isn’t doing frame control? Keeping in mind that these are pointers, not absolute, and not doing these doesn’t mean someone is doing frame control.

1. They give you power over them, like indications that they want your approval or unconditional support in areas you are superior to them. They signal to you that they are vulnerable to you.

This seems bad, actually. It seems to me like a sign of insecurity and unjustified submission. I, for one, have no interest in having my conversation partners signal that they’re vulnerable to me (nor have I any interest in signaling to that I’m vulnerable to them).

Rather, it is right and proper that two people should meet as equals—each willing to defend his view, each confident in his own reason and judgment; open to the possibility of his interlocutor having interesting things to say, but expecting to have this possibility prove itself, and not assuming it. In other words: “Speak, and I will listen; you have no special power over me, nor I over you; our minds are free, and we face each other with unfettered reason.”

• I wrote out a whole response here but didn’t end up posting it. My read is that your interpretation of what Aella wrote is pretty different from the thing she was trying to communicate, but the aggressiveness I read in your comment makes me hesitant to try to clarify.

• By all means clarify!

What’s the worst that could happen? I write a response that you read as “aggressive”?

I’m just, like, some guy on the Internet, man. My opinion of you doesn’t really matter. Go for it!

If it helps, consider that you’re not writing the response for me, but for other people reading this discussion. Even if I’m extremely stubborn and disagreeable, and learn nothing from your comment, other people might. That’s worth the effort, I think.

• Based on about a dozen of Said’s comments I read I don’t expect them to update on what I’m gonna write. But I wanted to formulate my observations, interpretations, and beliefs based on their comments anyway. Mostly for myself and if it’s of value to other people, even better (which Said actually supports in another comment 🙂).

• Said refuses to try and see the world via the glasses presented in the OP

• In other words, Said refuses to inhabit Aella’s frame

• Said denies the existence of the natural concept frame and denies any usefulness of it even if it were a mere fake concept

• It seems to me that Said is really confident about their frame and is signaling against inhabiting other people’s frames

Most people usually aren’t onto anything good, so this, again, ought to be the default assumption.

• It seems to me that Said actually believes there is no value in inhabiting other people’s frames

This seems bad, actually. It seems to me like a sign of insecurity and unjustified submission. I, for one, have no interest in having my conversation partners signal that they’re vulnerable to me (nor have I any interest in signaling to that I’m vulnerable to them).

Everyone has vulnerabilities. Showing them and thus becoming vulnerable doesn’t signal insecurity or submission, actually the opposite. It requires high self-confidence (self-acceptance?) and signals openness and honesty to the other person. The benefit is that it leads to significantly deeper interactions.

And the benefit of inhabiting another one’s frame? If I use the “camera position and orientation” definition of a frame mentioned by Vaniver, inhabiting other person’s frame allows you to see things that may be occluded from your point of view and thus give you new evidence. The least it can give you is a new interpretation of data that you gathered yourself. But it can possibly introduce genuinely new evidence to you, because frames serve as lenses and by making you focus on one thing they also make you subconsciously ignore other things.

• This seems bad, actually. It seems to me like a sign of insecurity and unjustified submission. I, for one, have no interest in having my conversation partners signal that they’re vulnerable to me (nor have I any interest in signaling to that I’m vulnerable to them).

Everyone has vulnerabilities. Showing them and thus becoming vulnerable doesn’t signal insecurity or submission, actually the opposite. It requires high self-confidence (self-acceptance?) and signals openness and honesty to the other person. The benefit is that it leads to significantly deeper interactions.

You didn’t quote the specific thing I was responding to, with the quoted paragraph, so let’s review that. Aella wrote:

So if frame control looks so similar to just being a normal person, what are some signs that someone isn’t doing frame control? Keeping in mind that these are pointers, not absolute, and not doing these doesn’t mean someone is doing frame control.

1. They give you power over them, like indications that they want your approval or unconditional support in areas you are superior to them. They signal to you that they are vulnerable to you.

What is being described here is unquestionably a signal of submission. (And wanting the approval of someone you just met is absolutely a sign of insecurity.)

“Openness and honesty” are not even slightly the same thing as “want[ing] [someone’s] approval” or giving someone (whom you’ve just met!) “unconditional support”. To equate these things is tendentious, at best.

Behaving in such an overtly insecure fashion, submitting so readily to people you meet, does not lead to “significantly deeper conversations”; it leads to being dominated, exploited, and abused. Likewise, signaling “vulnerability” in this fashion means signaling vulnerability to abuse.

And the benefit of inhabiting another one’s frame? If I use the “camera position and orientation” definition of a frame mentioned by Vaniver, inhabiting other person’s frame allows you to see things that may be occluded from your point of view and thus give you new evidence. The least it can give you is a new interpretation of data that you gathered yourself. But it can possibly introduce genuinely new evidence to you, because frames serve as lenses and by making you focus on one thing they also make you subconsciously ignore other things.

You see, this is what I mean when I say that I’m against fake frameworks.

You’ve taken a metaphor (the “frame” as a “camera position and orientation”); you’ve reasoned within the metaphor to a conclusion (“inhabiting other person’s frame allows you to see things that may be occluded from your point of view”, “it can possibly introduce genuinely new evidence to you”); and then you haven’t checked to see whether what you said makes sense non-metaphorically. You’ve made metaphorical claims (“frames serve as lenses”), but you haven’t translated those back into non-metaphorical language.

So on what basis should we believe these claims? On the strength of the metaphor? On our faith in its close correspondence with reality? But it’s not a very strong metaphor, and its correspondence to reality is tenuous…

This is not an idle objection—even in this specific case! In fact, I think that “inhabiting other person’s frame” almost always does not give you any new evidence—though it can easily deceive you by making you think that you’ve genuinely “considered things from a new perspective”. I think that it is very easy to deceive yourself into imagining that you are being open-minded, that you’re “putting yourself into someone else’s shoes”, that you’re using the “principle of charity” to “pass an Intellectual Turing Test”, etc., when in fact you’re just recapitulating your own biases, and distorting another person’s ideas by forcing them into the mold of your own worldview. (Or, if you like, we could say: frames serve as lenses, but lenses can distort just as easily as they can magnify…)

The best way to learn what another person thinks is to listen to what they say, read what they write, and watch what they do. No amount of “inhabiting their frame” will substitute for that.

• Said refuses to try and see the world via the glasses presented in the OP

• In other words, Said refuses to inhabit Aella’s frame

Ah yes, the classic rhetorical form: “if you disagree with me, that’s because you refuse even to try to see things my way!”

Yeah, could be. Or, it could be that your interlocutor considered your ideas, and found them wanting. It could be that they actually, upon consideration, disagree with you.

In this case, given that I’ve extensively argued against the claims and ideas presented in the OP, I think that the former hypothesis hardly seems likely.

• Said denies the existence of the natural concept frame and denies any usefulness of it even if it were a mere fake concept

I’m not a fan of “fake frameworks” in general. I’m in favor of believing true things, and not false things.

• It seems to me that Said is really confident about their frame and is signaling against inhabiting other people’s frames

Given that I don’t think “frames” are a useful concept (in the way that [I think] you mean them), my only answer to this one can be mu.

Most people usually aren’t onto anything good, so this, again, ought to be the default assumption.

• It seems to me that Said actually believes there is no value in inhabiting other people’s frames

Most people are idiots, and most people’s ideas are dumb.

That’s not some sort of declaration of all-encompassing misanthropy; it’s a banal statement of a plain (and fairly obvious) fact. (Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.)

So the default assumption, when you meet someone new and they tell you their amazing ideas, is that this person at best has some boring, ordinary beliefs (that may or may not be true, but are by no means novel to you); and at worst, that they have stumbled into some new form of stupidity.

Now, that’s the default; of course there are exceptions, and plenty of them. (Are exceptions to this rule more or less likely among “rationalists”, and at “rationalist” gatherings? That’s hard to say, and probably there is significant, and non-random, variation based on subcultural context. But that is a matter for another discussion.) One should always be open to the possibility of encountering genuinely novel, interesting, useful ideas. (Else what is the point of talking to other people?)

But the default is what it is. We can bemoan it, but we cannot change it (at least, not yet).

(Reply to second part of parent comment in a sibling comment, for convenience of discussion.)

• I think both of those are probably good guidelines if your primary goal is to avoid abuse at all costs. They’re effective trauma responses. However, they’re not actually the best if you have more nuanced goals.

• More nuanced goals like what?

I do not have “avoid abuse at all costs” in mind when I suggest such things. Rather, I am recommending general norms of discussion and interaction.

It seems to me that a lot of people, among “rationalists” and so on, do things and behave in ways that (a) make themselves much more vulnerable to abuse and abusers, for no really good reason at all, and (b) themselves constitute questionable behavior (if not “abuse” per se).

My not-so-radical belief is that doing such things is a bad idea.

In any case, the suggestions I lay out have nothing really to do with “avoiding abuse”; they’re just (I say) generally how one should behave; they are how normal interactions between sane people should go.

• It seems to me that a lot of people, among “rationalists” and so on, do things and behave in ways that (a) make themselves much more vulnerable to abuse and abusers, for no really good reason at all

The recent string of posts where women point out weird, abusive, and cultish behavior among some community leader rationalists really cemented this understanding for me. I’ll bet the surface rationalist culture doesn’t provide any protection against potential abusers. Of course actually behaving rationally provides some of the best protection, but writing long blog posts, living in California, being promiscuous, and being open to weird ideas doesn’t make one rational. And that sort of behavior certainly doesn’t protect against abusers. It probably helps abusers take advantage of people who live that way.

Someone whose life was half ruined because they fell in with an abusive cult leader in the Berkeley community is less rational than the average person, regardless of whatever signifier they use to refer to themselves.

I should say that by my understanding Aella doesn’t fit the rational-in-culture-only stigma. Seems that she has a pretty set goal and works towards that goal in a rational way.

• I’ll bet the surface rationalist culture doesn’t provide any protection against potential abusers.

The average person has a defense system against many types of abuse, which works like this: they get an instinctive feeling that something is wrong, then they make up some crazy rationalization why they need to avoid that thing, and then they avoid the thing. (Or maybe the last two steps happen in a different order.) Problem solved.

A novice rationalist stops trusting the old defense system, but doesn’t yet have an adequate new system to replace it. So they end up quite defenseless… especially when facing a predator who specializes at exploiting novice rationalists. (“As a rationalist, you should be ashamed of listening to your gut feeling if you cannot immediately support it by a peer-reviewed research. Now listen to my clever argument why you should obey me and give me whatever I want from you. As a rationalist, you are only allowed to defend yourself by winning a verbal battle against me, following the rules I made up.”)

Not sure what would be the best way to protect potential victims against this. I consider myself quite immune to this type of attack, because I already had previous experience with manipulation before I joined the rationalist community, and I try to listen to my instincts even when I cannot provide a satisfactory verbal translation. I am not ashamed to say that I reached some conclusion by “intuition”, even if that typically invites ridicule. I don’t trust verbal arguments too much, considering that every rationalization is also a convincingly sounding verbal argument. Whenever someone tells me “as a rationalist, you should [privilege my hypothesis because I have provided a clever argument in favor of it]”, I just sigh. You can’t use my identity as a rationalist against me, because if you say “most rationalists do X”, I can simply say “well, maybe most rationalists are wrong” or “maybe I am not really a good rationalist” and I actually mean it. -- But my original point here was not to brag; rather to express regret that I cannot teach this attitude to others, to help them build a new defense system against abuse.

• What string of posts about behavior are you referring to?

The only minutely similar things I know of are about the management of Leverage research (which doesn’t seem related to rationalism at all outside of geographical proximity) which only ever seems to have been discussed in terms of criticism on LW.

The only other is one semi recent thread where the author inferred the coordinated malicious intent of MIRI and the existence of self-described demons from extremely shaky grounds of reasoning none of which involve any “weird, abusive, and cultish behavior among some community leader rationalists”.

• The only other is one semi recent thread where the author inferred the coordinated malicious intent of MIRI and the existence of self-described demons from extremely shaky grounds of reasoning none of which involve any “weird, abusive, and cultish behavior among some community leader rationalists”.

Given that there’s no public explanation of why the word demon is used and potential infohazards involved in talking about that, there’s little way from the outside to judge the grounds based on which the word is used.

There was research into paranormal phenomena that lead to that point and that research should be considered inherently risky and definately under the label “weird”.

Whether or not the initiating research project is worthwhile to be done is debatable given that the kind of research can lead to interesting insights, but it’s weird/​risky.

• I’m going to lightly recommend you add more information to this comment highlighting the points you meant to make and defending against the ones you meant not to make, because I read it currently as the below. This feels incoherent as if I am making a mistake, so I didn’t vote down, but I feel others may do so and likewise fail to learn whatever it is you are saying.

Para 1: We shouldn’t talk about demons because they might hurt us Para 2: There was paranormal research, which is risky (because demons are real) Para 3: We could investigate this further, but we maybe shouldn’t (since we could be hurt by demons)

• There’s information to which I have access and that I have shared with a handful of people about this, where I had infohazard concerns about sharing it more openly and people I shared it with a bunch of people who didn’t believe that making the information more public is worth it either.

The information itself is probably, not harmful to the average person but potentially harmful to people with some mental health issues.

I did not provide a justification for paragraph #2/​#3 but made claims I believe to be true based on partly non-public information.

(I’m also still missing some pieces in understanding what happened)

• Okay, to clarify, what did you mean by the word “paranormal”? I’m saying I thought the word would set people off [1]. I’d feel more comfortable with what you said if you clarified below “I don’t mean ghosts or magic, I’m using this word in a very nonstandard way”. Otherwise, I suspect you’re being Pascal’s mugged by concepts centuries older than the concept of “air”.

• Leverage temporarily hired someone who did energy healing in 2018 and then did their own research project in that direction.

I do think that a variety of things that happened in the related research project would fall under the ban of the catholic church against magic.

If you are creative you can tell a story about how energy healing isn’t paranormal at all and also do that for the other phenomena that came under investigation, but I don’t think it’s “very nonstandard” to use the word paranormal when talking about the phenomena.

• I’m going to cut myself off and say I won’t drag this out anymore [1] because I think there is some part of what I’m asking this is getting completely lost in translation (and that makes talking further pointless unless I get better at this).

I think the following statement:

There was research into paranormal phenomena that lead to that point and that research should be considered inherently risky and definately under the label “weird”. (emphasis mine)

Means that you are saying there is something paranormal going on. I think that is silly, because no evidence has been proffered that would make that statement justified. Further, you referring to “infohazards” confuses me, because it seems like you think the “mental demons” thing is real, which is a completely unjustified belief from where I’m standing. It would take an incredible amount of evidence to get me to agree with the following statement, which I think you agree with:

The “mental demons” thing involved with Leverage is real, and there is actual “paranormal” stuff going on here.

1. ↩︎

Unless something truly wild happens below or I want to say “Ah, thanks, I understand you now” or something in one of those 2 broad categories.

• I was also remembering the Ialdaboth situation from a while ago. There were some standard cancel culture sexual harassment accusations made against him. The other posts I was trying to refer to were the leverage and MIRI tirades as you said (I think there were a few separate posts about Leverage?). I didn’t do more than skim any of them so I don’t know if any of them were actually interesting or had any sensible accusations of abuse. I did get the same impression that you did, the posts were terribly written and full of the kinds of mystical mumbo-jumbo people write when there’s nothing real for them to write about.

I think you’re inferrring my comment to be supportive of the abuse accusations, is that right? Something along the lines of, ‘The rationalist community has a sexist history of aiding abusers and that’s a problem.’ Just want to make clear that I’m not trying to say that at all. I have no idea if there’s more or less abusers among rationalists than the average or if the community is better or worse than most. My only claim here is that women who have some combination of the weird social behaviors that are closely associated with rationality are more susceptible to sexual abuse.

ETA: More on Ialdabaoth, his case is a prime example of the weird failings of people who are somewhat attached to rationalism. They see no problem with 30-40 year old men having depraved sexual relationships with 19 year old women. In fact sometimes they’ll live in the same house with them and not think that behavior is a problem. If they don’t care and don’t see it as their problem that’s fine with me. I’m not asking anybody to be a savior. But the issue is that they don’t see it as a problem at all. Somehow rationalism leads some percentage of folks to entirely forget all the societal knowledge of sexual relations that we’ve gained over the past few centuries.

• For posterity: Ialdaboth was accused of sexual assault, not harassment, and admitted to the accusations in spirit although didn’t get into specifics.

• If you or someone else accused him of sexual assault I never saw it. That might just be because it was out there and I never looked deep enough to find it, or because it didn’t exist. I do remember reading a lot of accusatory posts about Ialdabaoth so I put a higher probability on the latter explanation.

I only saw allegations of manipulative, disgusting, and fetishistic sexual behavior. Never heard an allegation that Ialdabaoth assaulted someone without their consent. I saw the posts and they had the style of saying a bunch of truly disgusting things about Ialdabaoth, but never laying out the components of sexual assault or making that specific accusation. If Ialdabaoth did sexually assault someone, knowledgeable parties should inform local police and direct them to the victims if they haven’t done so already. The statute of limitations certainly hasn’t passed by this time.

It would be pretty easy to solve this if you showed me an example of someone accusing him of sexual assault back a few years ago.

• There were fewer times, but probably still dozens, that he didn’t ensure I had a safeword when going into a really heavy scene, or disrespected my safeword when I gave it.

(source)

Ignoring someone’s safeword seems like a straightforward example of sexual assault.

• Normal and sane contain a bunch of hidden normative claims about your goals. Fwiw I agree that the suggestions on Aella’s post go overboard, but if I had endured the abuse she had maybe I wouldn’t.

My point is that without saying something like “I think it’s better to have a bit higher chance of being abused and a smaller chance of ignoring good advice” you can’t make normative claims → they imply some criteria that others may not agree with. It’s worth trying to tease out what you’re optimizing for with your normative suggestions.

• It seems to me that the key difference between Said and Aella is that Aella basically says: “If you go into a group and interact in an emotional vulnerable way, you should expect receprocity in emotional vulnerability.” On the other hand Said says “Don’t go into groups and be emotionally vulnerable”.

Aella is pro-Circling, Said is anti-Circling.

• Normal and sane contain a bunch of hidden normative claims about your goals.

Like what, do you think?

Fwiw I agree that the suggestions on Aella’s post go overboard, but if I had endured the abuse she had maybe I wouldn’t.

But it does not follow from this that you would therefore be right to take this view.

My point is that without saying something like “I think it’s better to have a bit higher chance of being abused and a smaller chance of ignoring good advice” you can’t make normative claims → they imply some criteria that others may not agree with.

I agree that if your view includes goals like the quoted one, you should make this explicit.

• But it does not follow from this that you would therefore be right to take this view.

Unless you’ve solved the Is/​Ought distinction, it doesn’t follow from any fact that it’s right to take a certain view (at best, you can state that given a certain set of goals, virtues, etc, different behaviors are more coherent or useful), that’s why it’s important to state your ethical assumptions/​goals up front.

Like what, do you think?

I don’t know, from previous comments I think you value truth a lot but it’d really be better for you to state your values than me.

• I see two independent ideas in this post

Insidious Inception

• People communicate thoughts into each others minds

• This can be direct *”I do not want to date you”*

• Or indirect *”Sorry I’m too busy this week” with no effort to find a different time*

• Saying A to indirectly communicate B can:

• Obscure an intention that would be obvious were B said directly

• Make it harder to refute B, because the idea that A → B needs to first be established

• Delicately communicate B without indirectly implying something that would have been implied had you said it directly

Core thoughts

• You have ideas that are small and do not effect your base perception of reality, we call this trivia/​facts/​knowledge.

• You have other ideas that are big, and construct your reality in the way that’s hard to appreciate without medication/​psychedelics/​hippie workshops. We call this worldview/​identity/​schemas.

Mixed to form a very third idea:

The norms of healthy communication can be especially abused by someone doing this “insidious inception to add or alter someones “core thoughts”. If someone is doing this to you (deliberately or otherwise), using the norms of healthy communication you use normally to get people to stop doing things you don’t like may not work, and instead make you vulnerable.

• To connect the concepts here with some existing work: the special case of “frame control” where the result is self-doubt is also called “gaslighting.”

• There’s existing work on frame control, it’s not a term that Aella came up with herself. Without having traced the history too much I think it’s an NLP term that then got picked up by pick up artists.

• Pretty much. The relevance for NLP is that if you’re trying to help someone out of say, a self-defeating mindset or victim state, then you need to be able to (at minimum) control your own frame so as not to get pulled into whatever role the person’s problems try to assign you (e.g. rescuer or persecutor).

The main thing I dislike about this post’s framing of frame control is that the original meaning of “frame control” is maintaining your own frame—i.e. the antidote to the abusive and manipulative behaviors described in this post. Not allowing yourself to be sucked in or trapped by the frames that other people attempt to establish, intentionally or not.

• I’m not suggesting she came up with the term “frame control”—I’m suggesting she wrote several thousand words about gaslighting and didn’t mention the word “gaslighting.” It goes without saying that she didn’t engage at all with the vast commentary on the topic of gaslighting, which covers almost everything she said. I agree with the top comment from Anna Salamon that this post is clearly preliminary work and a few steps away still from good scholarship. A post integrating frame control, gaslighting, and the deployment of language in the exercise of power could get there; a post mentioning those things would be a significant improvement.

• If I punch you and say “I am only doing this for your own good; someone needs to punish your sins to make you stronger; you will thank me later”, that is frame control.

If I punch you and five minutes later say “no, I have never punched you; what made you make this horrible accusation”, that is gaslighting.

So perhaps “gaslighting” is a special case of “frame control”, but the main difference seems to be whether unambiguous sensory perceptions are denied (as oppposed to e.g. denying motivation).

• If I punch you and say “I am only doing this for your own good; someone needs to punish your sins to make you stronger; you will thank me later”, that is frame control.

If I punch you and five minutes later say “no, I have never punched you; what made you make this horrible accusation”, that is gaslighting.

They sound the same to me. In both cases, the intent is to undermine the target’s perception of events in a way that supports continuing exploitation—i.e. gaslighting.

So perhaps “gaslighting” is a special case of “frame control”, but the main difference seems to be whether unambiguous sensory perceptions are denied (as oppposed to e.g. denying motivation).

Frame control is a general term that actually mostly refers to refusing to allow other people’s frames to be treated as common knowledge. You need frame control in order to gaslight, but frame control is also a defense against gaslighting, in the sense that one is vulnerable to gaslighting to the extent one is unable to control one’s own frame in response to provocative or manipulative communication.

• Frames, and frame control in general.

• How (some) abusers use frame control, and how to defend yourself against it.

So that we do not immediately associate the new (neutral) concept with abuse.

• I’ve never heard frame control used that way despite being fairly familiar with the modern NLP literature. First page of Google search also seems to mostly talk about controling other people’s frames.

• There’s some sense in the PUA literature (and what comes up at SEO optimized blog posts) that they are written for an audience who’s insecure and seeks to learn techniques to gain power over other people. In reality, dealing with one’s own issues is often more important for the outcomes that are sought.

Frame control in the NLP sense is about things like not letting anything that the other person says trigger you. That’s useful in a coaching context for not letting the emotional problems of the coach interfere with the coaching intervention.

I have a few times heard stories of therapists getting angry at their patients for something that the patient said. That’s behavior I wouldn’t expect from anyone I know that’s skilled in NLP. Those people are generally in control of their own emotionals well enough to not switch into a state of anger because something triggers them.

For using principles such as pacing&leading it’s also necessary to have control over the state that you want to apply this towards.

• That’s odd. When I googled “frame control” (prior to my comment) the first result was about programming, the second was this post, and the third was a 14-point article in which most of the illustrative examples were about ways of responding to social bullying, dominance displays, or manipulation of various sorts. That is, frame control as reaction to social maneuvering by others.

That’s also fairly consistent with things I’ve previously read, that establish the very first rule of frame control as not letting others trick, trap, or threaten you out of your intended frame for an interaction. And while some works do treat frame control as a zero sum game, the core message of most things I’ve read have been about internal frame defense and non-zero sum games.

For example, one book (literally entitled “Frame Control”) notes many times that “basing the strength of your frame on the weakness of others is not a good strategy” and provides quite a lot of exercises that are aimed at changing one’s internal beliefs and interpretation of situations, with frequent examples roughly of the form, “don’t try to argue, fight, trick, persuade, etc. people—instead just accept what people say and hold to your opinion, instead of being emotionally dependent on others agreeing with you”.

The type of “frame control” described in this post seems rather the opposite of that!

• As an East-Asian, this post bring tears to my eyes. Even though my human brain did trigger a flag to beware of such “rational belief”.

This pretty much describe a traditional East Asian community, where frame controllers floods around to preserve “culture” and “social hierarchy”. One notable signs of such subtle frame control is when you find most situations as “should do something” rather than choices.

• I want to express some strong appreciation for the post including not just some indicators that frame control is occurring but also some indicators that frame control is NOT occurring, and also for trying to mitigate the likelihood that this concept will be misused in the future. I also appreciate that the comment section is full of people absorbing the concept and also working to set bounds on it and make it safer. I appreciate the epistemic environment that gives rise to this kind of caution.

• Here’s some notes I took about the first some minutes of Gaslight (1944) (SPOILER alert. It’s a very good movie, and somewhat relevant).

When he grabs the letter out of her hands he’s like “Oh uh I was just worried about all the unhappy memories it’s reminding you of”. It’s weird, it’s a double move: on the one hand, most obviously it’s a lie to cover up that he’s worried about something else, but also it reveals that he’s positioning himself as hyperconcerned about her. He doesn’t excuse it by some selfish motive like “I became super curious about the letter” or “Your talking is annoying me” or whatever. Further, his supposed concern is about her “unhappy memories”, positioning himself as an agent who takes it as a salient variable to track, what’s going on with her memories and emotions; and implicitly, that he’s an agent in the position to affect and manage her relationship with her memories and emotions.

And in the next breath, he explicitly tells her to forget all that unhappy stuff. He says “While you are afraid of anything, there cannot be any happiness for us”; “You must forget her”. This sounds sort of innocent, especially in the context of concern, but it’s ambiguous between a mere description/​prediction of what will make them happy, vs. a threat of e.g. leaving or withholding happiness from her if she doesn’t follow his orders. It’s also just an obviously extreme (and implausible) statement when considered explicitly /​ from a third-person perspective, but in a way that could slip by as merely being high-intensity because the situation is high-intensity, rather than itself being a crazy statement.

Her only response is to say “Well, not [to forget] her, but what happened to her”. Which, now that I think of it, makes the extremeness look intentional: by making an extreme statement and command, her corrective reasoning doesn’t correct far enough. She’ll remember her aunt, but has still tacitly agreed to forget what happened to her aunt; and this constitutes a step towards buying in to him being appropriate to give her orders about what to do with her mind.

He gives her his mother’s pin as a gift, but then immediately takes it back. “You are inclined to lose things Paula.” “I didn’t realize that.” “Oh just little things.” It’s a subtle dashing of hope; supposedly she’s special enough for him to give her his heirloom, and he loves her and wants to symbolize her specialness, but then he “realizes” that she’s unreliable; it’s her fault, so *in opposition* to the motions of his naive love for her he has to maturely handle her. He’s staying in the frame of concern that he’ll keep the pin for safekepping so she doesn’t lose it. He probes with a strong claim, and then when she notes her surprise, he “clarifies”, which is in effect a subtle retreat, to a weaker and more difficult to verify claim (“just little things”); it’s just on the edge where it’s reasonable to trust someone’s report, since maybe they noticed something you didn’t, and it’s hard to falsify. He’s using her feedback about when she notices that his claims are implausible, to calibrate where and how far he can go in each case.

“There, now you’ll remember where it is.” “Oh don’t be silly, of course I’ll remember.” “Oh I was teasing you my dear.” More probing and walking-back. He reasserts his proposition about her forgetfulness, by implication (“now you’ll remember [and you wouldn’t otherwise]”); and then he pretend to not have actually been doing so; and he also implicitly asserts that she can’t tell when he’s teasing her.

“You’ve been forgetting things. Don’t worry, you’ve been tired.” “Yes that’s it, I’ve been tired.” He gives her an explanation that she can be sure will be accepted by the shared narrative; thus defusing the tension of the falsification of her experience without her having to directly contradict his false report; and thus walking her further into committing to agreeing that she’s unreliable.

He took the broach, causing her to believe she’d harmed him, then when she accepts that she’s been forgetful and is spooked and sad /​ guilty, he comforts her, pretending it’s just that she’s tired. It’s a smokescreen for him: he appears to be comforting, when he knows he can keep the ruse up, and that she’ll now believe the ruse and won’t suspect him. And really what’s happening is that he’s dispelling her localized, specific confusion—her confidence that something weird just happened because it contradicts her memory, her concentration of epistemic force in time, her attention on the details of a context in which a trick is in fact being played on her and she’s noticed and is trying to form a coherent hypothesis—he dispels that by giving her an explanation which tacitly still assumes that in fact what happened was that she was forgetful.

“Don’t worry.” More telling her what to feel. “It’s not valuable.” Knowing that she wasn’t worried that he was worried about the monetary value; then when she apologizes more because it’s his family hierloom, he doesn’t contradict her. That way the positive transcript—what he actually said out loud—reads like he’s being forgiving and saying that she doesn’t owe him, the negative transcript shows that he’s letting her insist that she’s at fault, harmed him. Reminds me of a dinner guest insisting on helping clear the table and the host super-insisting it’s fine; the guest is sometimes in a sense insincere. He sets it up so that it’s she, not he, who brings the true harm of losing an heirloom into the conversation; subtly this reinforces that she’s worse than he’s letting on, and it’s only his generosity that’s keeping them together, despite what she would know if only she checks to see that she’s bad.

“It hurts me when you’re ill and fanciful.” After confronting her, challenging her to assert—while he’s staring her down, after being cross with her and denying he’s cross with her—that she is actually perceiving that the maid despises her. “I hope you’re not starting to imagine things again.” “You’re not, are you Paula?” Either she’s starting to imagine things again, or the maid despises her; the former is a catastrophized version of the obvious other hypothesis, that she’s imagining /​ mistaken about just this particular thing. By catastrophizing, he removes reasonable options—either deny her husband’s narrative based on an uncertain perception, or else admit to being teetering on the edge of losing her mental continence.

“But my dear, I thought you were only being polite, why didn’t you tell me you really wanted to see her?” Right after he just yelled at her to get her to say no. He silences her, and pretends that he’s left communication channels perfectly well open if only she would just use them in the obvious way.

He lets her infer that she forgot he’s taking her out, lets her stew in that for like 20 seconds, talks about something else, then tells her it was indeed a surprise.

Et cetera.

(Damn, that dude really likes jewels.)

• buying in to him being appropriate to give her orders about what to do with her mind.

This helps make it click a lot more strongly for me why this is such a big deal in spiritual communities.

Also really salient where the abuser is being ‘supportive’ of negative things the target already thinks about themselves.

• First of all, this is an excellent and important post. I wanted to add some thoughts:

I think the core issue that is described here is a malevolent attempt for dominance via subtle manipulation. The problem with this is that this is anti-inductive, e.g., when manipulative techniques become common knowledge, clever perpetrators stop using them and switch to other methods. It’s a bit similar to defender-attacker dynamics in cyber-security. Attackers find weaknesses, and these get patched, so attackers find new weaknesses. An example would be the PUA community “negs” that once became common knowledge lost all effectiveness.

In social dynamics, the problem happens when predators are more sophisticated than their prey and thus can be later in logical time, e.g., an intelligent predator that reads this post can understand that it’s vital for him to show some fake submissive behaviors (See Benquo comment) to avoid clueing in others of his nefarious nature. So he can avoid being “checklisted” and continue manipulating his unsuspecting victims.

But even though this entire social dynamics situation has an anti-inductive illegible nightmarish background, there is still value in listing red flags and checklists because it will make manipulation harder and more expensive for the attacker. Sociopaths hate/​are unable sometimes to be submissive. Hence, they need to pay a higher cost to fake this behavior than benevolent actors, which is a good thing! But still, you always need to consider that a sophisticated enough sociopath can always fool you. The only thing you can do is increase the level of sophistication required by being more sophisticated yourself, and for practical purposes, it’s usually good enough.

• One of the reasons we’re not already totally dominated by psychopaths is that the vast majority of them have impulse control/​time horizon issues that make their behavior incoherent on longer time scales than saying whatever they think is optimal to the target in the present moment. Simply delaying the short feedback loops psychopaths use to get inside your OODA loop is often enough for them to move on to easier targets.

I have an extremely visceral reaction to time pressure and seeing it always updates me strongly in the direction of the person being unsafe.

• what are some signs that someone isn’t doing frame control? [...]

1. They give you power over them, like indications that they want your approval or unconditional support in areas you are superior to them. They signal to you that they are vulnerable to you.

There was a discussion on the Sam Harris podcast where he talks about the alarming frequency at which leaders of meditation communities end up abusing, controlling or sleeping with their students. I can’t seem to find the episode name now.

But I remember being impressed with the podcast guest, a meditation teacher, who said they had seen this happening all around them and before they took over as the leader of their meditation centre had tried to put in place things to stop themselves falling into the same traps.

They had taken their family and closest friends aside and asked them for help, saying things to this effect: “If you ever see me slipping into behaviour that looks dodgy I need you to point it out to me immediately and in no uncertain terms. Even though I’ve experienced awakening I’m still fallible and I don’t know how I’m going to handle all this power and all these beautiful young students wanting to sleep with me.”

This kind of mindset is a norm I’d love to see encouraged and supported in the leaders of the rationalist community.

• I think I have seen the “sanity-check”/​”sanity-guillotine” thing done well. I have also seen it done poorly, in a way that mostly resembles the “finger-trap” targeting any close friends who notice problems.

For actual accountability/​protection? “Asking to have it reported publicly/​to an outside third party” seems to usually work better than “Report it to me privately.”

(A very competent mass-crowd-controller might have a different dynamic, though; I haven’t met one yet.)

For strong frame-controllers? “Encouraging their students to point out a vague category of issue in private,” has a nasty tendency to speed up evaporative cooling, and burns out the fire of some of the people who might otherwise have reported misbehavior to a more-objective third-person.

It can set up the frame-controller as the counter/​arbiter of “how many real complains have been leveled their way about X” (...which they will probably learn to lie about...), frames them as “being careful about X,” and gives the frame-controller one last pre-reporting opportunity to re-frame-control things in the sender.

I think the “private reporting” variant is useful to protect a leader from unpleasant surprises, gives them a quick chance to update out of a bad pattern early on, and is slightly good for that reason. But I think as an “accountability method,” this is simply not a viable protection against an even halfway-competent re-framer.

I think the gold-standard for actual accountability, is closer to the “outside HR firm” model. Having someone outside your circle, who people report serious issues to, and who is not primarily accountable to you.

When I single a person out for my future accountability? I pick people who I view as (high-integrity low-jealousy) peers-or-higher, AND/​OR people on a totally different status-ladder. I want things set up such that even a maximally-antagonistic me, probably has no way to easily undermine them.

If I have a specific concern, I give them a very clear sense in advance of: “Here is a concrete threshold condition. If I ever trigger this, please destroy me unless I remove myself from a position of power over others. I am asking you in specific (negates bystander effect). I will thank you later.”

(Probably also hand them something that would make it easier to selectively shut me down, such as “A signed letter from myself.” Concrete thresholds are useful, because it is hard to frame-obscure your way out of hard facts.)

I think this variant requires knowing, and trusting, someone pretty non-petty and non-jealous who has a higher bar of integrity than you do. I do kinda think most people’s judgement around identifying those is terrible, unfortunately?

But I think the drawbacks of this are at least… different. And I generally take that shape of thing, as a strong signal of real vulnerability and accountability.

• There’s actually 1 additional dynamic, that I can’t quite put my finger on, but here’s my attempt.

It’s shaped something like...

If you are a pretty powerful person, and you take a desperate powerless person, and you hand them something that could indiscriminately destroy you? That is very likely to be a horrible mistake that you will one day regret. It’s a bit like handing some rando a version of The One Ring, which is specific to controlling you.

Unless you had really good judgement and the person you handed it to is either Tom Bombdil or a hobbit who manages to spastically fling it into a volcano even despite himself? It is likely to corrupt them, and they are probably going to end up doing terrible things with it.

Never jump someone from 0 to 11 units of power over you, until you’ve seen what they’re like with a 3 or a 5.

• [Mostly unrelated but sparked by skimming this comment]

It occurs to me that another question around frame control, is: how can I /​ we facilitate social niches that don’t require frame control? In the leadership example: how can I be more willing and able to be led effectively by someone who is e.g. deeply and truly criticized in front of the group? For example, this might involve being more careful about not falling into misinformation cascades, and more intentional about hope.

• Part of my model is that spiritual students tend to be a lot more prone to wanting to connect in a physical way. Sometimes to the point of almost literally throwing themselves at the teacher.

• It could be both. First the students almost literally throw themselves at the teacher. Then the teacher gets used to it and mistakenly assumes the same about a student who was not throwing themselves at the teacher, but was afraid to resist the teacher’s advances.

• Great post. I agree with your analysis. I especially like the part about how it often doesn’t help to try to judge the frame controller’s intent.

FWIW, in the “Looks like I’m boring Aella” scenario, assuming I perceive the speaker to be overly aggressive in their frame control attempt, my move would be to politely disagree, except with a noticeable attitude of not buying into the frame that there’s anything wrong with me looking at my phone. I would reply with a tongue-in-cheek “No, this is all interesting stuff. Please continue.” where my voice is cheerful and encouraging but I’m still just looking at my phone.

• The other move, I think, is something like “my cat’s not doing well”, which is pretty fucked up to say if false, but does put the frame back on “you don’t know what’s going on with me and you don’t get to assume”.

• Even simpler but getting many of the benefits is “was that a question?”

• Lol interesting, that definitely undermines the person’s frame. The difference is that my version builds status/​respect for me as a capable frame battler while the other builds compassion for you as a victim of the person’s aggression (and a sufferer of the cat situation).

• A reply that came to mind for me: “oh yeah. I guess I’m bored. I didn’t realize until you just pointed it out.”

• Oh nice, I think that’s good.

I’d additionally frame this as a friendly interaction by politely (second-order condescendingly) adding, “You should continue though, I’ll try to get into it.” (Then you can keep using your phone without necessarily trying to listen.)

The other person was attempting to put you in the frame of “impolite listener”. Your reply is a good way of blocking the attempt to frame you as consciously antagonistic. I would go further and frame myself as someone who is a polite listener and friend to everyone there, but also perfectly within my right to follow where my attention takes me.

Regardless, I think the key to both of our approaches is that we can sound first-order chill so that nothing about our first-order words or tone of voice sounds antagonistic. It obeys the highest standard of polite behavior (ideally out-politing the other person), while the logical implication of our behavior is to assert our own frame against the frame control attempt.

• Like you, my instant reaction to these kinds of spiky social behaviors is to try to use sarcasm or wit to “win” the interaction and make the other person look ridiculous or feel awkward or off balance. I think this works on two levels—firstly, if I do “win”, the other guy is not likely to keep trying this sort of thing on me. Secondly, it focuses my psychology in such a way that there’s no chance I will actually be taking their “frame” seriously. I’m too busy trying to figure out how I can make it sound stupid.

I guess the obvious failure mode here is if they were actually saying something that I would benefit from taking seriously.

• In 95% of these situations, I don’t have any kind of witty response to make. I just have a way of looking up at them with a flat expression, long enough that they can see I’ve heard and understood what they told me, and then I go back to what I was doing before.

For me, the point isn’t so much to get a certain response or perception out of the other person. It’s mainly to communicate a simple message: “it’s going to take you more energy to provoke me than it’s worth.” And then to communicate to myself the message: “You’re in control of your actions and attention, not them.”

• That might serve your purposes, and is at least better than simply giving into the speaker’s frame. But responding in a way that’s purely defensive, even if you do it in a disaffected way, means you can’t frame yourself as a polite socially-savvy party guest who’s in open communication with the whole group. The speaker may be intending to battle you away from that frame and monopolize it for themselves.

• There are trade offs in everything! This is just a personal strategy that works for me. Fortunately, social interactions of this kind are rare enough, and predictable enough, that I haven’t noticed myself suffering from the effects you describe :)

• Talking about frame control, the implicit message of looking at your phone while someone is talking to you is “I’m bored and I don’t respect you enough to fake it”. The frame OP was imposing consciously or unconsciously was that the speaker was low status enough that she could publicly ignore them with impunity, and they were right to call her out on it.

More generally, I have a pretty poor view of the post’s argument in general. Frame control is just another word for value and status alignment, aka most of normal human interaction. This is only a danger to someone if they do not have a strong enough sense of self to hold independent opinions and sense of worth. This vulnerability is going to leave someone open and susceptible no matter if a high status person uses generally assertive (top portion) or receptive (bottom section) techniques, which I see as two sides of the same coin. Maybe labeling this as OP has is useful to help people stuck in this trap grow a stronger sense of self.

But for most people frame control between two people i believe is better described as frame negotiation. Negotiations have a wide range of strategies and outcomes, but decrying assertive strategies as dangerous because some people crumble to them when the default option is to simply hold your ground, seems misguided.

Where managing frame control becomes interesting is in group setting, but now we’ve just rediscovered politics/​status games/​group dynamics/​multi agent games by another name. I think the post would have been a lot stronger if it focused on that.

• The comments here seem less charitable have more pushback than I would have expected, especially given the post’s score. Maybe because the thing being named is kind of “high stakes” or dangerous/​scary or could potentially lead to witch hunts, etc. Personally, I have experienced “frame control”-type dynamics (at unfortunately high personal cost), and there is a truth being pointed to here that I feel is important to validate. The purpose of the post, it seems to me, is to help people be more able to protect themselves and others.

“Frame control”[1], or whatever you want to call the thing this post is gesturing at, is, in my experience, extremely difficult to talk about. For each example of “X is frame control”, there is a counterexample where something that looks nearly identical happens harmlessly. And the other way around too. So any objections to specific written examples are, in my opinion, legitimate, and it’s good to be careful not to blanket-label any particular X as “definitely frame control and therefore bad”. (IMO the post was careful not to do this.)

The epistemics are super hard, because the thing being pointed to is subtle and there isn’t really a recipe for identifying it. Different people are affected by things in different ways, so one person may feel/​be “frame controlled” in a certain context while someone else doesn’t/​isn’t. And, being able to identify frame-control-type dynamics doesn’t by itself say anything about what can or should be done about them. (When I encounter someone who I realize affects me in this way, I tend to avoid ~completely.)

There is also something about online vs in-person interactions. Far more “frame control”-type stuff happens irl, because communication bandwidth is so high, feedback loops are so fast, and because much of the time, the level that this kind of dynamic operates on is not directly conceptual/​verbal. This can make it hard to talk about at all, and especially hard to talk about online.

In my experience, I can’t determine whether someone is doing something “frame control”-y by their words alone — it’s also about their tone/​cadence/​prosidy/​etc, what they emphasize or ignore, their body language, their presence, the social context, my history with them, the whole deal. (And, it’s not about those things by themselves, either, but rather about how I’m being affected by them, and how the person responds to signals from my end, etc.) The same words coming from different people (or from the same person at different times) can have very different, even opposite effects. So for a person interested in identifying when something like this is happening, it’s necessary to primarily pay attention to how you feel, rather than to e.g. what someone’s words are, whether the person seems reasonable or well-intentioned, etc. (With regard to that, I have found this checklist to be helpful.)

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[1] I almost want to just say “manipulation”, but maybe Aella wanted a less loaded term, and one which doesn’t come with strong connotations of intentionality and/​or malevolence. As others have pointed out, focusing on intention w/​r/​t this stuff is usually a distraction, since even if everybody decides someone’s intentions are good, harm/​manipulation/​gaslighting/​deception/​etc can still be occurring. I’m happy to use “frame control” or other terms; throughout this comment I’ve tried to hedge w/​r/​t terminology.

• The comments here seem less charitable than I would have expected, especially given the post’s score.

I think one of the important sources of pushback is this:

And this is why my general philosophy for people who frame control is “burn it with fire.” … In this, I am a conflict theorist; this is not a mistake, this is war.

If someone wants to declare war, it seems good for people to double-check the casus belli, and point out the gaps instead of silently filling them in. (“Frame control is a thing to watch out for” and “we should exile the frame controllers” are pretty different claims.)

• She didn’t say “we should exile the frame controllers”, she said things like “I will try to remove you from the power you might use to hurt anybody else”. Surely the post could have been phrased even more as a first-person-owned-experience thing, but IMO it’s pretty much like that as is. It reads to me much more as “my experience and attitude is X” than as “we (or you) should do X”.

(Also, I agree with you that it makes sense to deliberate seriously on decisions like “declaring war”. I just didn’t take the post as proposing war, I took it as Aella expressing her stance. I’m not sure what a better way to phrase what she was trying to say would have been?)

• Also, fwiw, I kind of wish I’d left that first sentence out, because it feels like the least important part of my comment but it’s what you responded to. I am much more invested in the rest of what I wrote.

• The epistemics are super hard, because the thing being pointed to is subtle and there isn’t really a recipe for identifying it. Different people are affected by things in different ways, so one person may feel/​be “frame controlled” in a certain context while someone else doesn’t/​isn’t. And, being able to identify frame-control-type dynamics doesn’t by itself say anything about what can or should be done about them. (When I encounter someone who I realize affects me in this way, I tend to avoid ~completely.)

I think another difficulty in the epistemics is “where to place the focus” is potentially a political question. For example, choosing between Aella’s father “was an abuser” and their relationship “was an abusive dynamic” seems like it could have consequences (both for what happens, how your relationships shift, and how you understand the situation). [The situation wherein both statements are clearly associated with perspectives, instead of reified truths, seems like it’s most conducive to understanding.]

As you point out, different people will be affected differently by the ‘same thing’, but an otherwise-laudable commitment to avoid victim-blaming can move focus away from those differences and obscure part of what’s happening. [But also perhaps we are well-served by an allergy to attempts to move focus, as suggested by the example of the student pointing out the teacher’s error and the teacher redirecting attention.]

• A relevant aspect of in-person interactions is that I think they involve a lot more “plasticity” of the people. In terms of how much B “is given write access” to C’s soul, it tends (with variance) to be something like (abstracting over content):

C reads B’s writing < C listens to B speaking < C listens to B and watches B acting < C is physically present with B < C is physically present with B and is speaking with B < C is physically present with B and is acting in concert with B

An example of what I mean by B having written to C’s soul is that C can “hear B’s voice” even when B isn’t there; e.g. C reflexively imagines what B would say about what C is doing. Or more abstractly, a proposition B said might bounce around in C’s head, being chewed on and propagated. B has somewhat literally made an impression on C. C might adopt mannerisms of B. C might do to D actions that imitate “deepening” (hence correlatedly subtly invasive or coercive or deceptive) actions done to C by B (because, oh, that’s how connection works, apparently).

(Obviously in general there’s huge mutual benefits to this soul-writing thing, which explains why people do it, which explains why it’s vulnerable to exploitation.)

• One fairly central reaction I had to this post is not so much about the specific phenomenon of frame control but rather about the general observation that it’s quite common for the aspects of an abusive situation that are worst to experience to NOT be the same as the aspects that are most clear-cut bad and easiest to convey objectively to another person.

This seems true; I have heard multiple people with objectively horrifying stories of abuse report that actually they don’t really care about the objectively awful parts that their friends are horrified about, but instead they are really fucked up by some stuff that’s much harder to convey. (Probably in some cases that’s the same general phenomenon described in this post and in other cases it’s some other interpersonal fuckery.)

I have also heard people report that they experienced a situation as abusive and NOT have any clear-cut objectively awful behavior to point to. It makes perfect sense that this would happen in some cases—because the abuser is savvy enough about what people will object to to avoid those things, or because the abuser is actually trying to be good by following the ethical rules they know but is not managing to also be good in less legible matters, or for some other reason.

...It is also my experience that when humans make not-fully-objective reports about the beliefs/​behaviors/​words of other humans they disagree with and/​or have some kind of adversarial relationship with, it is extremely common for such subjective accounts to be distorted in some way. For this reason, when I hear about an accusation of wrongdoing, I usually try to zero in on the objective claims being made, because (assuming I basically trust that the reporter is intending to be truthful) those are much less likely to be distorted or interpreted through a lens I think is unreasonable.

But this means that it’s very hard for me to tell, as an outsider, when illegible wrongdoing has occurred. (I was going to say “illegible harm” but actually accusations of interpersonal wrongdoing are much stronger evidence of harm than of wrongdoing per se; I only need a very basic level of trust in someone’s honesty to conclude they were harmed by a situation they’re describing as abusive.) Indeed this feels kind of epistemically hopeless to ever evaluate from the outside?

I don’t really know what to do with this thought but it felt important to note.

• >Indeed this feels kind of epistemically hopeless to ever evaluate from the outside? I don’t really know what to do with this thought but it felt important to note.

Does seem good to note, and it would be nice to have more theory about this. We could upgrade our individual abilities to notice when we’re being frame controlled /​ etc.; we could upgrade our collective abilities to aggregate information about whether /​ how someone is systematically or intentionally harmful; we could close social niches that call up abusive behavior.

I think one piece of the puzzle might be something like:

(1) B can’t abuse C without C having the capacity to notice *at some point*. Maybe it’s in a year when C isn’t enmeshed in the situation; maybe it’s only after C has read other accounts of abuse, or other accounts about B specifically;

(2) If B is intentionally* abusing people, B will tend to abuse multiple people, or one person across long time periods. (I don’t know if this is true; it’s easy enough to imagine B abusing only one person, but it seems unlikely to be intentionional; why would B only use this strategy in one isolated situation?

(3) If B is effectively, skillfully abusing people, B will tend to abuse multiple people, or one person across long time periods. (Because how else would B be good at frame control /​ etc.? This might not be true because there’s skill transfer; e.g. B might do a lot of work that involves deeply understanding people, which is otherwise benign, but gives them the tools to deeply fuck with people in isolated circumstances.)

(4) If you’re on the lookout for frame control and such, it’s harder to have it happen to you. But being on the lookout is a lot of work.

To the extent that these are all true, ISTM it would be good to somehow be much more willing to publicly discuss stuff like this about specific people. Obviously there’s huge issues with scapegoating, and basically people lying. But, it seems that there’s value on the table, where giving public reports like “I felt harmed by my interaction with B”, being agnostic about intentionality or even causality, and without scapegoating on that basis, would allow future targets to effectively invest their limited capacity to detect stuff (and then make further reports, which opens us up to a sort of streetlight-bias, which we could hopefully correct for).

Another tack, is the idea of investigations—investigative journalism, or (cross-)examinations in a criminal trial. Simply having someone ask searching questions can reveal stuff that’s hard to pin down by default. I wonder how much abuse could be revealed with a series of three 3-hour interviews, or something.

(By “intentionally doing X” I don’t mean knowingly, conciously, deliberately, or endorsedly, but I do mean more than systematically. “B systematically does X” means simply that B tends to do X more than usual, more than some default, etc. If B intentionally does X, then B systematically does X. But say B is ugly, and people systematically treat ugly people in such a way that X is suitable behavior in that context; then I’d say B does X systematically, but only with very weak intentionality; the intentionality routes through other people, so it makes more sense to say that other people intentionally evoke X. By “B intentionally does X” I mean that X is an aim of B. The more super-ordinate the aim is, in a hierarchy of aims, the more intentional it is; the more B’s acheiving effect X is robust to situations, the more intentional it is.)

• I’m not done with the post yet, but this part really jumped out at me.

Second point is a doozy, and it’s that you can’t look at intent when diagnosing frame control. As in, “what do they mean to do” should be held separate from “what are the effects of what they’re doing”—which I know is counter to almost every good lesson about engaging with people charitably.

I think you’re right in a narrow way but mostly wrong here. The narrow way in which you seem right is that (someone’s intent) and (someone’s impact) are indeed separate quantities. But someone having good intent—or someone seeming to have good intent, if one can generally discern this with above-random accuracy—means that their actions are more likely optimized to have good effects, and so these two quantities are generally correlated.

In this section, your language conflates two possible scenarios (by my reading). In the first, we condition on “leader X seems to have good intent.” In the second, we condition on “me and my friends are talking about how leader X is deeply flawed and perceptive, and the things he did that hurt people were either for their own good, or an unintentional byproduct of him genuinely trying to do good.” The second scenario is very different.

In the first scenario, we surely have P(bad frame-controller | leader X seems to have good intent) < P(bad frame controller | leader X does not seem to have good intent).

In the second scenario, P(bad frame-controller | leader X is flawed but seems well-meaning, [other red flags]) should still be less than P(bad frame-controller | leader X is flawed but does not seem well-meaning, [other red flags]), but I think that the probability of something bad going on should be high either way.

And so as far as I can tell, intent does matter for the beliefs you arrive at, and I am very very wary that this post claims otherwise in. “Frame control” has the potential to be an argumentative superweapon.

This all might sound pretty dark, like I’m painting a reality where you might go around squinting at empathetic, open, caring people who have zero ill intent whatsoever and trying to figure out how they are ‘actually bad.’ And this is kind of true, but if only because “I am an empathetic, open, caring person with zero ill intent” is exactly the kind of defense actual frame-controllers inhabit.

Surely we have P(awful frame control | They seem like an empathetic, open, caring person with zero ill intent) << P(awful frame control | They do not seem like an empathetic, open, caring person with zero ill intent)?

The vast majority of good people with good intent aren’t doing any significant kind of frame control; my point is just that “good person with good intent” should not be considered a sufficient defense if there seems to be other elements of frame control present.

But then you back off the original claim that you can’t look at intent, and merely say that good intent is not sufficient to conclude that they aren’t doing this horrible frame control. OK. I agree. But this feels like a motte and bailey.

Rereading the portion in question to make sure I’m not missing something, you write:

And so, when evaluating frame control, you have to throw out intent. The question is not “does this person mean to control my frame,” the question is “is this person controlling my frame?”. This is especially true for diagnosing frame control that you’re inside of, because the first defense a frame controller uses is the empathy you hold for them.

I think “be on the lookout for ways people can weaponize your empathy” seems wiser to me than “throw out intent.”

• The way I understand the intent vs. effect thing is that the person doing “frame control” will often contain multitudes: an unconscious, hidden side that’s driving the frame control, and then the more conscious side that may not be very aware of it, and would certainly disclaim any such intent.

1. They consistently reroute pressure away from them. I once sat in on a dojo where I watched one of the students point out an error the teacher had made. The teacher then responded by asking the student a question that investigated what was behind the pointing out, what was really about them that caused this? The resulting discussion then was entirely about the student, and as far as I can tell everybody else forgot about the mention of the error.

Once while talking to my then-therapist, I made an offhand remark about how I listened to headphones a lot and was afraid they would damage my ears. She wanted to explore the psychology of that remark, I objected that it was a reasonable concern grounded in physics, and she said ~that that was irrelevant, the fact that that thing was more salient to me than other true things meant it held emotional significance for me, and she was interested in that significance. I don’t remember if anything useful came of that discussion, so it probably wasn’t amazing, but I think her overall model was correct and it was a reasonable thing to pursue, and that it was safe to do so in that context because she had absolutely no stake in anything except my emotional state.

People criticize therapy for being toothless. I think there’s a lot to that criticism, but also that the lack of teeth opens up the ability to do things like “investigate a question’s emotional salience independent of its truth” in ways that would be dangerous if the investigator had any stake in the answer (the way the dojo leader did). Why people are bringing up a particular criticism is interesting and potentially worth the time to investigate, it’s just not a replacement for ground level truthseeking.

And there’s a particular trick you can pull where someone brings up a factual question, you make it about their emotions, and then treat doing so as favor for which they are in debt, all while ignoring the factual issue they actually wanted addressed.

• Why is frame control central to this post? While it explains frame control well, the focus seems to be about people consciously/​unconsciously harmfully manipulating one another. How to avoid being manipulated, gaslighted, deceived, etc is an important topic to discuss and a valuable skill to have. And this post offers good advice on it (whether or not it intended to). But it could’ve done so without bringing up the concept of frame control.

• Someone shared this link with me re: group conversations about interactions with the Monastic Academy. So much resonance with the examples of frame control you share re: lack of reciprocation and vulnerability, refusal to collaborate with other perspectives, reframing or dismissing harm, controlling parameters of engagement in a way that creates unequal power dynamics, so on and so forth. Your example of making claims that exclude 98% or people (re: save the world narratives) but highly effective on the other 2% is especially relevant!

Some examples of frame control I’ve seen recently are: Have been attempting to engage the Monastic Academy in a mediation process since since last May re: abusive, unsafe, nonconsensual risks, and unethical treatment by the organization. So far they’ve indicated some willingness to engage in conversation after many attempts of reaching out were ignored and after I told them I’d be going public with my experience (at some point soon.) They then provided a list of affiliated persons whom they are personally and professionally connected to with no mediation background for said process. Have also tried to engage me in unmediated conversations despite explicit instructions from a legitimate 3rd party mediator (whom I insisted on using per the recommendation of another former member and with whom I had no prior contact before this issue) that outline mediations steps including no direct contact between parties, have expressed resistance to other coorganizers about my boundaries and desire mediation, and it remains to be seen if they will in fact choose to engage or not. I hope so as this would actually be the first real commitment and step in the direction of actually addressing harm and attempting to learn and do better! Another thing that is currently happened is that Soryu has actively ignored requests for conversation from multiple women who’ve been hurt by sexist and unethical organizational practices but recently reached out to a coorganizer who identifies as a white cis male expressing care and a desire to talk about his concerns whom he seem to regards as the “leader”. All in all these behaviors and other current responses towards many attempts to engage the org in legitimate paths towards accountability, growth, and restoration/​amends making only seem to point towards it being a “cult” or at the very least a deeply dysfunctional and unethical organization. Sadly, as I’d much rather see groups be open to growth, transformation, transparency and making amends for past harms. Only time will tell.

Then again perhaps I’m frame controlling right now and by saying I don’t trust them and I will only engage with them directly via the support and presence of a nuetral third party mediator with many decades of experience dealing with misconduct and repair work in spiritual communities. There are certainly times and places where it seems helpful to attempt to bring one into one’s frame such as when an organizations behavior repeatedly leaves former members traumatized and with cPTSD. In that case sharing ones frame might be critical to interrupting patterns of harm—but also may not be received at all in situations where frame control is part of the abuse. But then again someone can also just repeatedly ignore your frame of reality too. (I.e gaslighting, denial)

Why am I saying also this here—partly because I am affirming that yes frame control is used as an abuse tactic and I think you’ve done a good job of breaking down examples (including the fact that we all engage in some level of frame control) I think it’s helpful and I hope won’t be missused. Secondarily I want to continue to let folks in this community know that their are legitimate risks and reports of abuse happening within the Monastic Academy which displays many of the same characteristics as Leverage ( just so you know some of us are reading your posts and others about those dynamics and feeling a lot of resonance) The MA is actively recruiting in the rationalist community and that very much utilizes frame control—and doesn’t not according to my frame warrant anyone’s trust. I think they honestly believe what they are saying which makes the deception all the more tricky. I hope sharing my own experiences will serve both as a PSA and as encouragement to others out there who are attempting to break out their own experiences of frame control.

• A few days ago I had a Zoom call with an insurance agent, they probably take lessons how to do this.

First, his secretary called me, “hey, you have an account at this financial institution we cooperate with, do you also have a life insurance?” Not interested, but she keeps pushing, and at some moment I am like: yeah, given that they are willing to talk online so I don’t have to walk anywhere, it will not take that much time, I guess maybe they will tell me something I don’t know and make me change my mind. Okay, feel free to call me.

Then the guy calls me, and starts with (I don’t remember the exact words) something like: “So, what do you need me to help you with?”

Frame control: It’s not him begging for my attention; suddenly it’s me needing his help. The audacity!

Then some more things, but that was the usual manipulative stuff that typically happens when you talk to an insurance agent. But this one thing stuck in my mind as a completely outrageous reversal of reality. (I didn’t comment on it, but I gave him a bad point in my mind, and a few more bad points later, I ended the call. It was probably all completely predictable and I am stupid for wasting my time like this.)

• I wonder if “negligence spectrum” would be a good way to think about frame control.

Here is what I mean by negligence spectrum:

• On one end of the spectrum is doing something (harmful) intentionally. For example, you’re walking down the street, see someone you don’t like, and intentionally bump into them, causing their coffee to spill.

• On the other end is a genuine mistake. For example, you’re walking down the street, and for whatever reason you bump into someone accidentally, causing them to spill their coffee.

• Then in the middle, there is negligence. For example, you’re walking down the street with your headphones on, staring into space, and losing focus.

• There are of course varying degrees of negligence. For example, you’re walking down the middle of the street, er, sidewalk actually, with your headphones on, your head down staring at your phone watching a video, and you bump into someone. That would be more negligent than the bullet point above. And it would be even more negligent if you did the same thing on an electric scooter.

It seems to me like examples of (harmful) frame control would fit pretty nicely on this negligence spectrum, and that the more negligent it is, the more we should consider it bad and impose social punishments.

A different thing that is relevant is judging how impactful the frame controlling is. Ie. even if someone has nothing but good intent and isn’t even being negligent, if they are having a harmful impact on someone by controlling that person’s frame, that is also worth bringing up. “Hey, you probably don’t realize it but you are doing this thing that is having these negative consequences.”

• We may be conceptualizing different things, but for me, “negligence” doesn’t quite fit the description. Some people do frame control unconsciously, but when I think of negligence, I picture people who should know, in theory, that what they’re doing is bad. They simply don’t bother to take precautions. With frame control, I’d say the people who do this either have absolutely no clue about what they’re doing (but they would be able to call it out in others because they’re massive hypocrites), or it feels a bit like a vice such as swearing annoyedly at people, where you sort of know that it’s bad for the person you’re swearing at, but you don’t care because it produces emotional relief or otherwise satisfies some emotional need. (In this case, I’d call it “semi-conscious” rather than unconscious.)
Edit: Actually maybe this semi-conscious version is where I can see the parallels to negligence!

“Hey, you probably don’t realize it but you are doing this thing that is having these negative consequences.”

If this would actually work then the person you’re talking to probably wasn’t doing frame control all that much in the first place. (In which case it may be enough to just change the implicit frame to make them aware, and continue the discussion on the object level.)

I feel like it’s a major part of the phenotype that people who do this are experts at diversion and blame shifting.

(Of course, if admitting “Oh yeah, sorry, maybe I did some of that” becomes a get-out-of-jail card, then you should expect some clever manipulators – esp. the ones doing it consciously – to learn to make use of the excuse. But mostly, I think the people who use frame control have issues admitting that they did anything wrong, so if you were to confront them with that, it’ll get weird and uncomfortable.)

• Hm, I didn’t realize it when I wrote the comment, but I think you are right about those two examples making up a large majority of the instances of frame control. Either it’s someone completely clueless, or it is a vice.

But 1) both of those seem like they fit somewhere on the negligence spectrum. Being clueless would put you on the “genuine mistake” end. And engaging in a vice feels to me like it is something like a 610, with 1010 being as negligent as possible. I’m having trouble putting my finger on exactly why I consider it negligent, but I think you’re on to something with the semi-conscious stuff.

1. I guess this is more broad than the frame control discussion, but I’m very fond of this negligence spectrum idea. I feel like it is a pretty good tool in the discussion of how bad someone acted. I haven’t followed all of the comments here, and I know we’re probably trying to not make it a focal point, but I sense that at least part of the discussion here is about how badly people acted when they engaged in frame control.

If this would actually work then the person you’re talking to probably wasn’t doing frame control all that much in the first place. (In which case it may be enough to just change the implicit frame to make them aware, and continue the discussion on the object level.)

I feel like it’s a major part of the phenotype that people who do this are experts at diversion and blame shifting.

I have a much different impression here. My impression is that a large majority of frame control is of the first example you gave, where the person has no clue they’re doing it. 1) It feels like the sort of thing that takes a very large amount of skill. 2) I’m a pretty pessimistic person, but even I don’t model many people as being manipulative enough to doing much blame control intentionally or moderately negligently.

• but I sense that at least part of the discussion here is about how badly people acted when they engaged in frame control.

Some other contributors have this angle, but the OP treats this question as unimportant at least for the level of diagnosing frame control:

Second point is a doozy, and it’s that you can’t look at intent when diagnosing frame control. As in, “what do they mean to do” should be held separate from “what are the effects of what they’re doing”—which I know is counter to almost every good lesson about engaging with people charitably.
[...]
This all might sound pretty dark, like I’m painting a reality where you might go around squinting at empathetic, open, caring people who have zero ill intent whatsoever and trying to figure out how they are ‘actually bad.’ And this is kind of true, but if only because “I am an empathetic, open, caring person with zero ill intent” is exactly the kind of defense actual frame-controllers inhabit. The vast majority of good people with good intent aren’t doing any significant kind of frame control; my point is just that “good person with good intent” should not be considered a sufficient defense if there seems to be other elements of frame control present.

I agree with the framing in the OP (except that I don’t think frame controllers are actually “empathic” – they seem like that and they might experience a lot of sympathy, but I don’t think they understand others’ situation and feel with them). I think the question of intent is also unimportant for diagnosing the badness of the effects of frame control. And at that point, it no longer seems helpful to ask “How bad is the frame controler?” (a more useful question might be “What are the chances they would change?”).

In my model, “frame control” in the sense of “the whole package described in the OP,” rather than “isolated instances of some of what’s described,” is really toxic and, unfortunately, rarely fixable. (I think isolated instances are not a big issue because if they’re truly isolated, they don’t lead to someone actually having their healthy frames eroded. If they’re isolated, they are also unlikely to come from systematically misaligned/​exploitative cognition.) I see frame control as a byproduct of what I think of as interpersonally incorrigible cognition. The primary defining feature of this phenotype is that it’s exploitative, i.e., not on your side. When you give feedback to people who are like that, I suspect they’d often be too clueless and/​or unwilling to improve genuinely – instead, they’ll try to fix appearances only. (Of course, we shouldn’t talk in absolute and there are probably ways to get people to change, but they probably involve the person hitting rock bottom and then do long therapy of some sort).

I find it a bit weird that when the topic is potential signs of abusive strategies, people’s first thought is often “What if we’re being unfair to the accused.” But it’s just as legitimate to think the thought, “There are often multiple victims suffering per one abuser, so this possibility is really serious and we should really get to the bottom of whether it’s true.”

• Maybe “DARVO” is one side of frame control behavior?

• I guess I’d recommend viewing the situation through multiple frames. For example:

- How does the situation appear from a maximally generous point of view?
- How does the situation appear from a maximally suspicious point of view?
- After consideration, what is the best overall point of view? Is it one or the other or a combination of both?

Perhaps this is already what you meant, but even if it is, I think there are benefits to being explicit

• In additional to multiple human/​agent points of view, it’s worth going a little further down the “ignore intent” path, to consider the situation as purely environmental. It doesn’t matter that these are humans or what they want or how they appear—is this good for you? If not, go elsewhere.

Note that this is intended as an extension of “viewing through multiple lenses”, not a recommendation that this should be primary.

• I’m imagining seeing a community that has a ‘wall of shame’ with uneditorialized communication from people who have grievances against the community.

• And to be clear, a lot of this is true. Frame control breaks your reality down to fit another one, and while I view this as poisonous, the act of breaking down your frame can have huge benefits—similarly to how forcing a child to sit through school might break their creativity but give them the ability to reliably perform boring tasks.

I don’t think similar is the right word here. In the normal school setting a good teacher has frame control within his classroom.

A key difference between your dad as you describe it is that the standard school teacher has a certain scope within which he has the societal authority to control the frame. On the other hand there no clear limit to the scope of what your dad can control about you.

In disfunctional cult contexts the power to control the frame is also not scoped but everything has to happen under the frame of the cult and there’s limited contact with people outside of the cult. When it comes to cults, it can be a mistake to give too much weight to the leader. Osho didn’t commit the biggest bioterror attack on the US at the time, his right hand did.

Given that Leverage seemed to got dissolved after different internal groups were in conflict and had different narratives, it seems to me like Geoff himself did not have enough frame control over it to get everyone to the same narrative so had to dissolve the group because it was his only way to end the internal conflicts. Reducing those complex group dynamics to problems with one person is not helpful.

• [I feel like the following question might be triggering, not sure. It references your childhood. The triggering I expect is maybe something like, the question conflates /​ juxtaposes two things that are similar, but importantly very different, such that if the distinction weren’t kept solidly in mind, there’d be strong psychic forces pointing in opposite directions? Idk.]
Anyway: I notice that you say:
> But a key aspect of frame control is reframing harm as good
And also, from https://​​knowingless.com/​​2018/​​09/​​21/​​trauma-narrative/​​ :
> And then I realized that that’s what my father had done to me – he’d given me the ability to experience life with such ongoing lightness, and what he’d done had been worth it. All I’d been through had been worth it. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change my life at all. This pain was mine, now, chosen by me, held by me deliberately, and nothing about it was wrong.

Prima facie these seem in tension. What are the differences between harm reframed as good, vs. harm… “reclaimed as good”? A reaction I had reading your “reclaiming” was like, there’s something off, it mostly seems desirable, but also there’s some loss of integrity /​ preciseness or something, or like, the pain wasn’t fully interpreted /​ honored, or the pain probably had some further telos, or the pain was subtly ignored, and that ignoring has something deep in common with someone being frame controlled into trying to ignore harm or think it’s good.

ETA: maybe the thing supposedly being elided, is the concept of justice.

• Yeah, great point. I think my frame control post is overly simplified and not 100% representative of my full worldview, because I don’t have the energy or skill required to put “actually everything is just narrative tho” in there and still maintain my point.

As far as I have the capacity to understand about myself, the ‘reclaiming’ post was true. It happened seven years ago now, and I still haven’t had the issues come back I did prior to that reclaiming moment, and I’ve had no further detection of unhonored or ignored pain.

But uhhh I’m not sure if I have the clarity right now to stab further at my intuitions around this. I’ve got a blog post brewing specifically in response to your sort of question and I suspect it’ll take a while before it’s ready. But I simultaneously want to burn frame control with fire, and also believe it’s not inherently bad. Or something.

• I still haven’t had the issues come back I did prior to that reclaiming moment, and I’ve had no further detection of unhonored or ignored pain

Interesting, thanks for the data!

I’ll be curious to see your further writing.

burn frame control with fire

Well, setting a fire might require you to get too close; nuking it from orbit is maybe prudenter.

• The important thing seems to be whether that reframing leads to allowing the harm to happen again to someone else.

• I agree that’s a key question, though it’s plausible to me that the reframing is related to a lot of mental things, and so has lots of effects that I don’t understand. E.g. if the reframing involves in some sense giving up on justice (<- just a speculation) then it could be locally behaviorally right (justice may be too costly in this case) while also accidentally involving more broadly giving up on justice including where justice would be good.

• I don’t want to use the word “steelman” since Aella might not agree that this is a better version of her post.

But here’s a post that I would have strongly agreed with, if Aella had written it.

----

When presented with criticism, we can think of a range of possible responses.

At one end of the range is acceptance: “Oh wow, the fact that you think I’m doing bad things is strong evidence that I’m actually doing bad things, so I’ll think hard about this and try to change.”

At the other end is denial: “No, I’m not doing bad things and you’re wrong to suggest that I am. You should think about what mental errors you are making that is causing you to think that I am wrong.”

Most reasonable people will respond differently to criticism depending on the evidence. Some people are especially receptive to criticism, and will tend toward the “acceptance” end of the range if the criticism is delivered with confidence, even if the evidence provided is weak.

But some people have discovered that they can win any argument by responding to all criticism with confident denial. We can call these people “frame controllers”.

It’s difficult to communicate negative feedback to frame controllers, because they’ll just reflexively deny it. People who are very receptive to criticism may find it unpleasant to communicate with frame controllers at all, because frame controllers spend a lot of time saying “no, it is you who are wrong and bad” which leads to a lot of stressful self-examination. If a person is very receptive to criticism, it may take some time for them to realize that the problem is actually the frame controller, and not some sort of pervasive pattern of wrongness in their own mind.

(Aella is an example of a person who is very receptive to criticism, and therefore she has to take extraordinary measures to avoid interacting with frame controllers.)

We should recognize the reflexive “no, it is you who are wrong and bad” message as an epistemic antipattern, and we should be vigilant against it. If we notice someone persistently sending this message with high confidence and no evidence, we should document this antipattern publicly.

In the meantime, everyone should try to be vigilant about which criticisms they accept. Strong criticisms should require strong evidence and not just strong confidence.

• I was more or less with you until this part:

We should recognize the reflexive “no, it is you who are wrong and bad” message as an epistemic antipattern, and we should be vigilant against it.

I strongly object to this stance, for two reasons.

First (and less importantly): “no, it is you who are wrong and bad” is perfectly capable of being true. How, then, can it be an “epistemic antipattern”?

Now, I say this is the less important of my two objections because from a purely epistemic standpoint, the important part of the reply is just the “no” part. The counter-accusation may, of course, also be true—but if we get the defense right, we’re most of the way to successfully keeping our worldview straight.

But if we confine ourselves to the defense, then…

Secondly (and more importantly): by treating “no, it is you who are wrong and bad” as an antipattern, we remove a powerful weapon of rhetorical and conceptual self-defense from precisely the people most in need of it—and we thereby contribute to bad epistemic environments.

Why do I say this?

Suppose that you’re accused of something; and accused unjustly. You know that you are innocent of the charge; what’s more, you know that you actions were, not only unobjectionable, but praiseworthy, or even necessary.

How do you respond? If you merely say “No! I am innocent of the charge! I am in the right!”—well, it may be perfectly true. But rhetorically it will be perceived as weak, in all but the most coolly rational of social spaces (and no, Less Wrong most assuredly does not meet that bar).

What’s more, consider that if you have acted in a good and praiseworthy manner, or if you have done what is necessary, what you would respect someone else for doing… and if you have, then, been accused of wrongdoing, in response… then (unless the whole thing is a thoroughly innocent misunderstanding, which happens rarely!) the one who has accused you has himself transgressed—not only against you, but against the collective.

The way in which such wrongs are made right, is for the accused to be able to respond in such a way that does not give the accuser an asymmetric advantage. That is, if Alice can say “you have done wrong, Bob!”, and Bob can respond only with “no! I haven’t done wrong!” (and at best only clear himself of the charge), then this gives Alice the asymmetric advantage. But it is different if Bob can say: “No, I have done no wrong; indeed, I have acted properly, and would have been at fault, had I done otherwise; and you, Alice, have erred (at the least), by accusing me.”

Of course, the same logic may be applied to the counter-accusation itself—and should be.

• Yeah, in retrospect I should have said more about the importance of evidence. “We should recognize the evidence-free “no, it is you who are wrong and bad” as an antipattern.”

And even then, I think some of what Aella is talking about isn’t so much a response to criticism as a general attitude that everyone else is wrong and bad.

I dunno.

• Frame control is an effect; very often, people who frame control will not be aware that this is what they’re doing, and have extensive reasoning to rationalize their behavior that they themselves believe. If you are close to a frame controller and squinting at them to figure out “are they hiding intent to control me,” you often will find the answer is “no.”

I wonder if you can infer de facto intent from the consequences, ie, not the intents-that-they-think-they-had, but more the intents they actually had.

In particular, a lot of motivated cognition often makes people not “believe” that the beliefs they explicit hold just-so-conveniently lead to giving them greater power and status, etc. But usually the degree of this reality warping isn’t absolute.

I’d be interested in dispassionately examining potential frame controller’s actions and noting whether their actions and justifications just so conveniently happen to always lead to them getting large personal gains at little personal cost, while incurring large costs (especially autonomy) of others.

• I’d be interested in dispassionately examining potential frame controller’s actions and noting whether their actions and justifications just so conveniently happen to always lead to them getting large personal gains at little personal cost, while incurring large costs (especially autonomy) of others.

Obviously. It’s interpersonally exploitative cognition.

• Sorry, do you mean this is “obviously” true for all humans, or only frame controllers? If the latter, I would consider this form of understanding intents useful Bayesian evidence for someone being a frame controller.

• Yeah, I think that’s a good heuristic!

• I wonder if you can infer de facto intent from the consequences, ie, not the intents-that-they-think-they-had, but more the intents they actually had.

I believe this is possible. When I was reading the OP, I was checking with myself how I am defending myself from malicious frame control. I think I am semi-consciously modeling the motivation (=intent they actually had, as you call it) behind everything people around me do (not just say, as the communication bandwidth in real life is much broader). I’d be very surprised if most people wouldn’t be doing something similar at least on the sub-conscious level.

The difficult part in my opinion is:

1) Make this subconscious information (aka intuition) consciously available and well calibrated

2) Actually trust this intuition, as the frame-controller is adversarially undermining your trust in your own sense making and actively hiding their true motivations, so usually your intuition will have high uncertainty

• I found this very informative, but I think I can contribute to this discussion from the opposite direction. The problem of having too little frame control is also something that exists. Both extremes are bad.

On one end you are pushing your frame on a person, without trying to account for their current value system. In fact if you do it gently, slowly and find a pathway they would want to talk then it becomes moral. If I know the right buttons to push, the right arguments, the evidence, the life experience that could get a friend to adopt the values, beliefs that I hold. I can “guide” him to the state I want him to inhabit. A lot of this can be legitimate communication.

You clearly marked out the boundaries where it becomes immoral, hurtful, and wrong. But imagine a person who respects other people’s frames to the extent that he takes up the frame of the person he talks to, he finds it easy to relate to the person. For example, even if he was an atheist, when talking to a religious person he will assume god exists and proceed with such assumptions.

People like that can be seen as too flexible, not having any character, it can affect how attractive they are. They tend to not climb social hierarchies, accumulate power and influence. People like that can have trouble recommending software, movies, lifestyles because while they love some aspect of these behaviors they wonder if it is their place to decide for them. They are careful to provide the facts and let the other person come to their decision regarding what decision to take.

I think when discussing frame control it is useful to also look at the consequences of a community where it has a lot of stigma associated with it. Since you clearly hate people who abuse it, you are sensitive to people who misuse it and might be blind to the other extreme.

• I think people in carceral environments get pretty good at doing this. “Games Prisoners Play” is a good, but not exhaustive book that I think shows this off.

• This seems somewhat related to the concept of Karpman’s Drama Triangle: https://​​www.bpdfamily.com/​​content/​​karpman-drama-triangle. It describes three negative ways of relating to people: the persecutor, the rescuer, and the victim. This roles are named after how people perceive themselves and how they perceive others in their relationship. These are roles you can take on or that you can be cast into.

The persecutor is obviously an unhealthy relationship style and the one most immediately associated with what you have written here. They are the classic bully—“I’m right, you’re wrong”. One of the other comments mentioned an “assertive” style, which I think maps to this role.

The rescuer isn’t named because they rescue the other person, but rather, they are trying to be the other person’s savior. They are the source of truth or good or joy or whatever in the other person’s life. The natural and unhealthy implication of someone being the rescuer is that they are better than the other person, which means the other person must be worse. These are the people who are trying to “fix” you, or doing things “for your own good”. One of the other comments mentioned a “receptive” style, which I think maps to this role.

Finally, the victim isn’t necessarily being harmed by the other person so much as they see themselves as a victim. This is the hardest to understand in the context of your post, but I think it’s still applicable. When someone is “frame controlling” in the context of the victim, they’re saying “I’m blameless”. A victim needs a perpetrator, so if they’re blameless, you must be to blame. The persecutor makes everything your fault because of your faults (the focus is on the other person to avoid thinking about themselves), the victim makes everything your fault because they can’t accept responsibility (the focus is on themselves).

Karpman’s Drama Triangle seems like it has some amount of overlap with what you’re trying to describe here—unhealthy ways of relating to other people. Maybe it’s helpful to consider “Frame Control” in this context? You talk about general behaviors, and maybe by tying it into personalities /​ roles it would help understand the different forms it can take.

There is also healthy versions of these roles.
* Persecutor → Challenger, Assertive
* Victim → Survivor, Vulnerable
* Rescuer → Coach, Caring

Also important is that everyone exists in each of these roles at different times in different relationships, but people tend to have one role that they naturally fall into. For me, it’s Rescuer /​ Coach (hopefully more of the latter). From what you describe, Aella, it sounds like for you it’s Victim (and hopefully Survivor for your healthy relationships!).

Does this seem to be in line with what you are describing?

• years ago I was at a large group dinner with acquaintances and a woman I didn’t like. She was talking about something I wasn’t interested in, mostly to a few other people at the table, and I drifted to looking at my phone. The woman then said loudly, “Oh, looks like I’m boring Aella”. This put me into a position

From that description I sympathize with the woman more.

• The problem, i.m.o. is that there is nothing innately wrong with attempting to influence someone else’s frame. The problem is when people try to coercively undermine others.

Imagine you have a friend with a toxic framing, is it frame control to try and influence them to change their frame to be grounded? Implicitly? Explicitly?

Reading this it comes across to me as though you realize that this is a problem in the post, and are trying to defend it with a “you know it when you see it” arguement.

At risk of sounding absurd, this seems analogous to saying a) talking is bad, because people can use it to say nasty things. b) well it is not always bad, but it kind of might be, and then c) if someone is a bad talker we can burn them with fire.

The concept seems hugely at risk of being used as a way to just invalidate people you disagree with. To give an example if you are devout Christian maybe an Atheist trying to pursuade you that God does not exist is in your eyes exhibiting coercive frame control, and visa versa. Ironically, the concept of frame control as articulated seems well suited to be used for frame controlling! E.g. “that person trying to teach you science, they’re just here to frame control you!”

Ultimately, is do not think I understand what this post aims to achieve. What does this add separate to stating: 1) bad faith agents exist, and are hard to identify.

1. to guard against them i) ensure that you centre yourself, and ii) pay carefully attention to what you feel, why you feel it, your current frame, and the pressures on that frame. Along with iii) do not let yourself be isolated from those around you who ground you.

• I’m not seeing any difference between pressure and aggression these days.

• They don’t laugh nervously, don’t give tiny signals that they are malleable and interested in conforming to your opinion or worldview.

This sounds not-quite-right as pointed out by others, but I feel like I kind of recognize it. It’s natural for people to adapt to others or be influenced by others, like shifting their accents, adjusting to others’ preferred communication styles, or taking an interest in something because your friend is enthusiastic about it. It can be odd to meet people who don’t do that. And if someone you interact with regularly shows zero inclination to being influenced/​affected by you (for example when you speak they just pretend to acknowledge it and then proceed to ignore everything you said, brushing off your concerns without trying to explain it to you instead of e.g. trying to understand what you’re saying or modifying their explanations based on your questions) or it happens only when they feel like it, then it can feel like you’re not really a person, just an object or plaything in their world? It’s not necessarily malicious though.

My current takeaway from this is to recognize that adjusting/​adapting to others is a thing that people may or may not do, so we can notice when someone isn’t reciprocating and decide on a response, rather than thinking the problem lies with us and continuing to make things worse.

A more general version would be that it is a choice to follow “social rules” like being polite, listening to your coach, or reciprocating when someone helps you. If the other party isn’t acting in good faith (e.g. rude salesman, abusive coach, con man), then you can choose not to follow the rules (and deal with the consequences, whatever they may be).

• The text provides examples of how very small messages contain whole lot of subtext.
This is true but these are very hard to decipher for me. And I have a suspicion that others with high social intelligence are not very good either.

I generally abstain from finding the Straussian meaning of everything a person says.
There is a lot underneath a person’s message with many unknown unknowns.
Instead, it is much better to have strict guidelines for yourself when communicating (although they are enforceable over text. It all goes by the wayside during conversation). It might be costly to me in many situations but they provide sanity by removing ambivalence.

Alexey’s blog on follow up (https://​​guzey.com/​​follow-up/​​) states, it is acceptable to remind someone 2 times and occasionally 3 of your message.
I have adopted this to ask girls out. If she mentions she is busy, you could ask her out again. but not the 3rd time, except in rare situations.
This has also protected from the guilt of nagging someone.

We should be able to create such rules for many types of social interactions that are not context dependent.

Whenever there is a negative personality trait mentioned (various ways people hurt others psychologically unintentionally), I start thinking if I am one of the perpetrators. Psychological Hypochondria if you will.
It is very difficult to diagnose oneself of vague sensibilities and behaviors. And hence, much more difficult to correct.

• Thank you for sharing. Definitely a real but hard-to-pin down thing.

Your story about communal bonding vs handling emergencies was clearest for me as a recent dealt with a relatives’ significant other who was doing this constantly. I labelled it “passive aggressive” in my head. That may a prime sub-aspect of some of this frame label.

If I were defining it, passive aggression is when someone acts against their subject in ways subtle enough that it makes the punishment clear to the subject, but also is not overt enough to allow the subject to respond overtly.

I think it’s toxic, and always try to bring passive aggression into surface, actual, adult discussions, instead… which pretty quickly either resolves the problem or weeds out passive aggressive people.

There are also interesting questions with *moderate* amounts of frame control though. I think most people want people close to them to be… relatively similar to them. That’s a natural desire. When one is choosing who to associate with, this isn’t a huge problem because if someone has super dissimilar values, you just don’t associate with them.
But if one is *stuck* with someone… e.g., marriage, children, family in general, or even relationships where years have already been invested … I think one can understand the motivation for trying to shift a person’s thinking to become more similar (even if that’s not good.)

By the way, frame control is also a “pickup artist” term—where the idea is to not give in to the girl’s frame at all (e.g., in particular, promiscuous sex is shameful) and be so confident in one’s own frame (e.g., promiscuous sex is fun!) that the person buys into the new frame.

• (1) Thanks for writing this, it seems very important.

(2) This:

Ultimately, checking in with how you actually feel is the answer. I don’t mean to imply this is easy; it’s often really hard to know how you feel, and maybe it changes often and frame controllers put in a lot of effort to obfuscate this. But in the end, careful attention to your own sensations are your saving grace.

I think there’s something basically irreplaceable about checking in with how you actually feel; e.g. it’s thankfully harder for frame control to hack, ISTM, though checking in is also hard to do (e.g. because you “actually feel” like the leader is truly important and that you’d follow them anywhere even if it “superficially not actually” hurts a lot).

I want though to raise a flag for it not being a sufficient answer, and for more theorizing about how frame control and related things work, and how to navigate around them, and such. Like, it feels like there’s a specific missing technology here.

• Your whole career seems to be repeatedly exploiting morally-grey areas to become famous/​wealthy/​powerful and occasionally playing the victim card. It’s shady. You seen to launder a ton of your personal grievances through well-written blog posts that to a large degree people listen to because you are a smart rationalist porn star with an aspirational narrative who can talk her way out of any overton window.

It’s a good post but you also have an agenda with the leverage/​paradigm thing and you aren’t being clear about it. Most people here are only going to notice the object level. It’s just really bad to tie your personal narrative/​brand into an ongoing issue and present it as a really compelling object-level framework. It’s distorting and just pretty frustrating. You’re quite significantly altering the narrative, it’s not really clear that you should be, and half of this stuff should be dealt with in a court house anyway.

• FWIW I have disliked some of Aella’s blog posts but still found this valuable and strongly suspect I would if it were a throwaway account.

• You are saying that because she is your friend, e.g. here she is retweeting you. https://​​twitter.com/​​RomeoStevens76/​​status/​​1458933961153908736

You are not impartial and it is deceptive to give the impression that you might be.

She knows that now everyone is going to think of this post, the fact that she’s hot/​interesting, the idea of ‘frame control’ and her abusive father, whenever leverage/​paradigm gets mentioned. She has tied these things together in your mind and it will affect the way you perceive the situation. I don’t understand how you aren’t seeing this.

I also don’t understand why you expect me to update on your self-reported counterfactual. Would any rationalist actually do this? What on earth is going on? It seems like you’re just trying to signal to support your friend. I can’t really believe you’d do that so brazenly on a rationalist forum.

• You’re making strong personal claims about Aella and the commenters without providing enough evidence. By jumping to your conclusions and implying that the evidence is obvious, you’re violating community norms of politeness and process.

Also, you clearly don’t know who you’re dealing with here. Many of us aren’t attracted to Aella’s gender. Many of us would speak up if we disagreed with Aella’s claims, even if we do like her and/​or are attracted to her. Many of us are naturally contrarian and disagreeable. Many of us want our comments to hold up well even if it’s revealed that the author of the post actually wasn’t Aella. Etc.

• Well, that’s for the moderator to decide. I think the points are legitimate and if someone paints a personal narrative onto something it’s fine to point out the narrative as you see it.

Giving a highly mimetic name to something, a really compelling object-level mental framework, and putting a personal narrative behind it is a really big deal and actually significantly alters people’s thought processes in a way they don’t easily detect. I’m not actually sure that anyone should do this in any situation.

And when you tie this into an ongoing moral issue with real consequences—this is just a really big deal. I think the justice system is super important, I think the blog-sphere is much more influential than people realize, I think personal branding/​distribution affects things to a really surprising degree, and stuff is leaking across which really shouldn’t.

It’s just that these are worlds that really shouldn’t be colliding and she’s apparently just decided to appoint herself as juror and burn the whole thing down. It’s not right.

• Giving a highly mimetic name to something, a really compelling object-level mental framework, and putting a personal narrative behind it is a really big deal and actually significantly alters people’s thought processes in a way they don’t easily detect. I don’t think any of you realize how powerful this is and I’m not actually sure that anyone should do this in any situation.

This is frame control. It’s interesting that several commentors have expressed unease about this post because in some sense it’s doing the thing it’s trying to point out.

• Right—in my opinion it’s better if it’s obvious!

• You’re making strong personal claims about Aella and the commenters without providing enough evidence. By jumping to your conclusions and implying that the evidence is obvious, you’re violating community norms of politeness and process.

Isn’t Aella doing exactly that here?

(Some are a bit less skilled; for example, see Geoff Anders dutifully including option C in this otherwise aggressive tweet)

Why is this OK? If the community is so easily hypocritical then isn’t this just proving my point?

• Geoff’s one tweet has enough context for me to see it as a likely example of frame control, so I think Aella has given adequate support for her claim, though it’s still possible to disagree with her analysis or ask for more supporting evidence.

• It just seems crazy that I can point out that Aella is being manipulative and you guys are easily-fooled, I get a bunch of well-written and thoughtful replies telling me I am wrong and a jerk, I almost convince myself that you are right, but under closer examination what you say is completely hypocritical and applies to Aella’s post too.

And other people in the comments can point out that Aella’s post is doing literally the thing she describes in her post.… and this is just of intellectual interest to you guys? Like, it’s not actually making you examine your metacognition at all? There is a total disconnect here.

This is supposed to be a rationality forum but it seems you guys barely update on anything, don’t really think critically, and mostly just shuffle around ingroup ideas that have been validated by [Eliezer, Aella, Scott Alexander] or whoever is in the ingroup these days and somehow don’t really notice it.

I think this forum is mainly interesting as a case-study in cult behaviour, avoidant thinking, and sociopath mind-control.

• I thought this post was good and I barely know Aella from Adam.

• Two things

1. Retweets = friendship doesn’t sound very coherent

2. Granting someone super powers of manipulation in your mental model of them means you have total explanatory freedom in ascribing motives to their actions.

• Motive/​intent doesn’t matter, this is literally point two of her entire argument, how can I interpret your previous comment honestly when you didn’t even read the post, you are just proving me right...

• And you’re trying to insinuate you’re not friends with her by devaluing my argument? This is just evasive, deceptive, deceitful. It’s all wrong.

• i was confused about how a comment that reads like this one manages to get to −60, so i’m going to guess that the conflict theory crowd sniffed out that you are their enemy from what you say and from your having created a throwaway account to comment here, and then clicked the “i would like less of this kind of comment” button.

i would like less of this kind of dynamic.

• I think the reason you’re confused is because the comment did not original read like that; based on my recollection it was edited to add (most of?) the second paragraph after the fact. It was originally a mostly content-free slur.

• The point isn’t that she’s malicious. She’s not. It’s that she’s smart and incredibly self-centered but is doing basically nothing with it apart from self-discovery, getting your attention, and trying to impose her moral framework (which she doesn’t even fully believe herself btw) onto other people who are trying their best to do stuff.

It’s just wasting everyone’s time, she doesn’t deserve the respect you are giving her and she isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things, and I’m pretty sure she knows this and it’s actually why she’s doing it all.

Yes, that’s an ad hominem. But what else can you do in this situation? ‘Content-free slurs’ were designed for this exact reason!

• I recommend that people not spend their time continuing to engage with someone who’s behavior is difficult to distinguish from malicious trolling. There are better sources of useful criticism elsewhere in the thread.

• I found your comment surprising so I re-read blueiris’s comment and then realized that they actually had a reasonable point in their second paragraph. I think I basically only read the first paragraph, which read (and still reads) to me as an unwarranted ad hominem that has nothing to do with the content of the post, and then decided the second paragraph wasn’t worth reading and downvoted without bothering to read the whole thing.

I undid my downvote, but still feel like the first paragraph is bad enough that I don’t want to upvote either.

• Oh, I think they identified him correctly and the things he says are optimized for manipulating the social hierarchy in his favor. But “talk her way out of any overton window” is a work of art and the purpose of the karma system should not be to let conflict theorists vote out the impostor.

• they identified him correctly and the things he says are optimized for manipulating the social hierarchy in his favor

I mean, if you can accuse any negative comment as doing that and ban their account (and really I am the only negative commenter) then I don’t really understand how you can call this a rational forum. I would get more rational replies on reddit or even the street corner. My comments are legitimate and it sounds like you just find them convincing.

• No status games, and again there’s a total double standard here, my account is literally anonymous zero-status and I am talking to a bunch of high-status people who are pulling their ~100K twitter followers into this thread.

• I think you can go too far in enforcing civility on a forum. If users can brand-build on twitter (partly with a porn account), drive ~100K twitter followers to their post to upvote it, add an emotionally-salient personal narrative to their post, and influence ongoing moral issues in the community (with real consequences!), and dissenters get quietly blocked then I think you have probably gone too far.

And if Ad Hominems aren’t legitimate, then why is it legitimate to add a salient personal narrative? Isn’t that just an inverse ad hominem?

• I banned your account. It would have been ideal to message/​comment about it, but I didn’t have the time/​attention to properly review or comment yesterday. Seeing an account at −168 karma with multiple severely negative comments, it seemed better to intervene before things got more out of hand, instead of doing nothing, even though I didn’t have the time to get all the context on the relevant thread.

I will hopefully get another chance in another couple of hours to review the thread and think about your comments. Please don’t comment in the meantime. If you want to contact me, use ruby@lesswrong.com, or the Intercom in the bottom right corner.

• I mean what you’re writing has the right intellectual aesthetic but this is no different to just banning me for no reason. The stuff I’m saying really isn’t that bad and I am really the only seriously negative poster here. Aella knows how to get people to do things, anyone on the edge of the Bay Area community will know this, and the rationalists are really bad at ejecting manipulative people. It’s dangerous.

Just look at how she is controlling the narrative on her twitter account. She’s quoting stuff that nobody ever said in a way that makes people sympathetic to her ( https://​​mobile.twitter.com/​​Aella_Girl/​​status/​​1465397786107682817 ). She’s quote-tweeting dumb things from Nate Soares so he is more favorable to her while she is making this power play ( https://​​i.imgur.com/​​e0wxqsk.png ) … and I guess she just deleted it because it sounded too obvious.

This is all serious stuff. Other people don’t do it. You can’t mix this with an ongoing moral issue and to be honest it just shouldn’t be allowed in the community anyway.

Regarding where I banned you without reason: I have a certain amount of trust in LessWrong’s members that my prior is that severely downvoted comments are probably quite bad*, especially if a quick glance makes it seem likely. It’s not enough to reach a final verdict, but it’s enough for me to want to hit the brakes even before I get a chance to full judge for myself. In this case, I think the voters were correct in direct in direction although perhaps not in magnitude.

Fwiw, while I think at least part of the content of this last comment is wrong, it seems fine to raise concerns in that style.

Lastly, I apologize that it took me quite so long to conduct a review in this case. I’ve been hard-pressed for time.

*Granted that more caution is required in community threads where there can be more tribalism.

• Whatever portions of your comment that are still viewable aren’t ban worthy in the least. Downvote amounts, especially on a post that has plenty of new commenters and was heavily advertised elsewhere, shouldn’t affect a moderator’s banning decision. I see from his comment that Ruby disagrees with this, but really don’t understand why. The types of content that beget downvotes isn’t the type of comment that begets deletion.

And the fact that Aella has every ability to just delete your comment if she would like to, without having to follow any rules, kinda cuts against the whole idea of moderator invention in a case like this at all.

I don’t agree with much of anything you’re saying in these comments though. There’s definitely other seriously negative comments besides yourself. The author tweeting someone else doesn’t have any relevance to this discussion at all. I think the post should be allowed just as your comments should be allowed.

• Whatever portions of your comment that are still viewable aren’t ban worthy in the least.

Probably not super productive to get into, but I disagree with “aren’t ban worthy” and strongly disagree with “aren’t ban worthy in the least”.

Downvote amounts, especially on a post that has plenty of new commenters and was heavily advertised elsewhere, shouldn’t affect a moderator’s banning decision. I see from his comment that Ruby disagrees with this

It sounds from Ruby’s comment that downvote counts affected his decision to ban temporarily, until he’d had time to review and come to an actual decision. Do you think that’s bad? (And if so, is that a “there is a cost to this” or a “this is bad all things considered”? Like, it might be that ideally downvote counts wouldn’t affect this decision, but given the reality Ruby faces, it was right of him to let them do so.) Alternatively, do you think downvote counts affected Ruby’s final decision?

• do you think downvote counts affected Ruby’s final decision?

Yes of course. There wouldn’t be any controversy over this comment if it wasn’t heavily downvoted. People have been saying stuff like this on lw for years and it’s not been ban worthy. Ruby is being swayed by entirely the wrong factors and frankly it’s a little annoying to continue using a forum where a moderator is banning users because they were on the wrong end of a coordinated downvote brigade like this. The reason that the comment sits at −63 over 38 votes — I don’t think I’ve ever seen another comment go that low before — is because this post attracted plenty of new/​outside community members who have downvoted the comment because it’s negative about Aella. Otherwise I would see a similar comment sitting at 0 or slightly negative.

My main issue is that Ruby himself isn’t even explaining why the ban is not ok.

A very strong element of the badness in the first comment above (“Your whole career...”) is leveraging negative intuitions and associations about working in porn that feel misguided and also without justification or explanation of relevance. Similarly, while I feel that accusations that someone is exploiting morally-grey areas really needs to be backed up with examples and relevance to the post.

What does this even mean? People accuse others all the time of exploiting morally grey areas without giving good examples. Half the posts about Leverage and MIRI and whatever are people arguing that they’re exploiting moral gray areas or implicitly accusing them of being morally depraved while providing either flimsy evidence or weird diatribes about demons and spirits. This post is accusing Aella’s father and many other people of being morally depraved. Telling people to cut off their empathy for other people. If anything should be banned for leveraging negative intuitions or accusations it’s this post.

Ruby’s comment is saying that blueiris is exploiting moral gray areas and he cites just one specific example while he says such accusations “[need] to be backed up with examples.” Of course blueiris himself gave an example of Aella exploiting moral gray areas but I guess it wasn’t a good enough example or something. Also are we at the point where saying that there’s moral issues with porn isn’t allowable anymore? Because that’s what the first half of Ruby’s comment suggests. Apparently this is a forum where you’re not allowed to say that porn is bad and working in porn is bad because porn producers make it easy for children to access it and porn gives them a warped view of sex which negatively affects their future social behavior.

without justification or explanation of relevance

We’re allowed to assume things are bad. When we talk about unfriendly AI we implicitly assume that it’s bad without having to explain why or justify it. Iadalboath was banned because he did bad things that were unrelated to his rational posts and nobody in the mod team ever decided to justify or explain how his non-rationalist activities were relevant to banning him on this forum. That’s all blueiris was doing here, hey this poster has said other things in different forums which should impact your impression of this post.

leveraging negative intuitions and associations about

So we’re not allowed to leverage negative intuitions? Half the sequences is leveraging negative intuitions. Dying is bad, so let’s solve it! Leveraging intuitions is just a natural part of conversation. And if we’re to apply this ‘leveraging negative intuitions’ thing to Aella’s post, yeah you get the point.

All in all, banning blueiris like this was a terrible decision by the moderators. I don’t agree with parts of his comments, and I think overall they are poorly worded. He’s also getting combative with people in weird ways, even some that are anti-ban. But he’s also made some good points in his comment and that’s why he shouldn’t be banned. Because now we’re going to lose out on more of the sorts of excellent phrases like, “can talk herself out of any overtown window,” as was pointed out already. I have an immediate liking to this phrase and can see implicitly who it could apply to. But now he’s been banned and I’m sure his impression of the community has gone down and we’ve lost all future opportunity for good comments and turns of phrase of his.

I think blueiris could have gotten his point across and not faced any sort of downvoting or banning if he just used the standard modern jargon of Lesswrong. Which is basically what Ruby suggests. That’s kind of embarrassing for the community as well. Ruby’s aware that the Blueiris got donwvoted heavily mostly because because he didn’t use the silly forum jargon.

• I appreciate this comment for explaining where you’re coming from, but also there’s a bunch I want to push back on. I feel like I’m maybe just responding to surface-level stuff here, and also I probably missed some of the surface-level badness, but… eh, I do think this stuff should be pushed back on, and I don’t think it’s worth me putting in the time to make this comment better, so here we are I guess. Gonna limit myself to two more replies in this subthread after this.

For one, you seem to be simply asserting without evidence or justification things that I think you should more properly flag as inferences, and explain why you think them.

Yes of course.

There wouldn’t be any controversy over this comment if it wasn’t heavily downvoted.

Ruby is being swayed by entirely the wrong factors

this post attracted plenty of new/​​outside community members who have downvoted the comment because it’s negative about Aella.

The reason that the comment sits at −63 over 38 votes … is because [that last thing]

They might seem obvious to you? But they’re not obvious to me, and I have no way of knowing if this is “frontier knows things I don’t”, “frontier is interpreting the relevant info differently than I am”, or “frontier is overconfident”.

It’s not necessarily bad to simply assert such things—there’s a lot of them, providing evidence for them is work, and so on. But I would have preferred if you made it clearer that you were doing it and knew you were doing it.

Ruby’s comment is saying that blueiris is exploiting moral gray areas

I don’t think Ruby says this?

and he cites just one specific example while he says such accusations “[need] to be backed up with examples.”

Well, whatever Ruby is accusing blueiris of doing, is something blueiris did in this very thread. I think that’s significant here. If Ruby says that blueiris did something, I can just look for myself and see whether that’s the case. Sometimes it’s not obvious, like something could have multiple competing interpretations, but like… there’s no specific relevant knowledge that Ruby has here that I don’t, and this is pretty close to common knowledge between Ruby and the reader of his comment.

Whereas blueiris is accusing Aella of doing mostly-unspecified things in mostly-unspecified times and places. Did she do those things? Do I think they reflect badly on her? I don’t know. If I want to decide, how am I to do so?

When blueiris did eventually give specific accusations, I clicked the links and thought they fell flat.

Also are we at the point where saying that there’s moral issues with porn isn’t allowable anymore? Because that’s what the first half of Ruby’s comment suggests.

No it doesn’t? “that feel misguided and also without justification or explanation of relevance” is important here.

Apparently this is a forum where you’re not allowed to say that porn is bad and working in porn is bad because porn producers make it easy for children to access it and porn gives them a warped view of sex which negatively affects their future social behavior.

Ridiculous strawman. blueiris said nothing even remotely like this.

Iadalboath was banned because he did bad things that were unrelated to his rational posts and nobody in the mod team ever decided to justify or explain how his non-rationalist activities were relevant to banning him on this forum.

This doesn’t ring true to me. Here is the ban announcement which you also commented on.

• For one, you seem to be simply asserting without evidence or justification things that I think you should more properly flag as inferences, and explain why you think them.

this post attracted plenty of new/​​outside community members who have downvoted the comment because it’s negative about Aella.

• Lot of vaguely positive comments from users who have few comments and posts, even less than me, who joined the site recently.

• 1

• 2

• 3: An account made after the date of this post and only comments things defending this post.

• 4: “your own feelings of discomfort and resentment towards a woman for holding more influence and using her social influence to speak to her view of the world” Frankly this should be a ban too given Ruby’s stated guidelines.

• 5 see 3 above.

• 6: etc.

• Linked to from twitter account with not a ton of followers but substantial engagement. Circumstantial evidence that those twitter followers who either already have lw accounts will be inclined to follow link and comment+vote on comments in post.

• Simple math suggests that −63 karma over 38 votes is indicative of a lot of low karma users downvoting rather than a few high karma users downvoting or strong downvoting. Especially given that I don’t think there’s many folks who would upvote or strong upvote the comment. Just look at comments at equivalent positive scores. Typically only at 25-30 votes because of the way karma works as I’ve seen it.

This was obvious to me from just glancing over the post. It wasn’t obvious to you but I don’t know how much effort you put into figuring it out one way or the other. Maybe you already noticed all this and don’t think it indicates the comment was vote brigaded. If that’s the case I don’t know what evidence would convince you otherwise.

Alternatively, do you think downvote counts affected Ruby’s final decision?

You’re aware that this is a question as to the inner workings of Ruby’s mind correct? You’re literally asking me to mind read here. And I responded with my most likely explanation for what I think was going on in his head and then you chide me for giving you an inference based on circumstantial evidence. Pretty ridiculous. It’s like I’m talking to Modesto who also asks me to make claims on issues that are very tough to make a claim on. Ruby noticed the downvotes, said he cared about them, and has not banned other comments that are content-wise very similar but have less downvotes. That’s very good evidence that the downvotes mattered to the final decision as far as evidence goes.

Well, whatever Ruby is accusing blueiris of doing, is something blueiris did in this very thread. I think that’s significant here. If Ruby says that blueiris did something, I can just look for myself and see whether that’s the case. Sometimes it’s not obvious, like something could have multiple competing interpretations, but like… there’s no specific relevant knowledge that Ruby has here that I don’t, and this is pretty close to common knowledge between Ruby and the reader of his comment.

I think you’re misunderstanding my comment on this part. Ruby says Blueiris’s comment is partially banworthy because he’s accusing Aella of exploiting a morally gray area without examples and justifications. Blueiris provides the examples and justifications. You may not like the examples and justifications, you may think they fall flat, etc., but blueiris does provide them and I think he makes some good points about evidence of manipulative behavior on the part of Aella and a willingness to exploit people. Yet Ruby makes the very same kind of accusations against blueiris and provides no better examples than did blueiris. Either both comments are ok or neither are.

Apparently this is a forum where you’re not allowed to say that porn is bad and working in porn is bad because porn producers make it easy for children to access it and porn gives them a warped view of sex which negatively affects their future social behavior.

Ridiculous strawman. blueiris said nothing even remotely like this.

Not a ridiculous strawman because it’s accurate. Moderators allow reliance on negative intuition for a plethora of other things, but apparently not for porn. Why is that? I’m still relying on negative intuitions even with my comment on porn there. Who’s to say it’s necessarily bad for kids to have a warped view of sex? Who’s to say kids having negative future social behavior is a bad thing overall? Negative intuition.

I also think comments like yours have a lot of badness that should be pushed back against. You’re asking for high levels of effort from your counterparty while not putting in much yourself. You’re saying there’s a lot of surface-level badness going on with my comments but not actually providing any interpretation or explanation of the situation yourself that disagrees. You say my explanation of the Ialdaboath thing[1] and how strongly the moderators connected his offline behavior to his lw postings “doesn’t ring true to me.” But you don’t provide any differing interpretation. It’s easy to just say something’s bad. It’s even easier to say something’s bad without even saying how. People can do that all day. It’s better to say something’s bad and this other thing is right and better than the bad thing.

1. ↩︎

Of course at that time too many commenters are asserting that the mods are not being open by explaining exactly how the allegations fit into the banning. The post ostensibly say that they’re not relevant. The top comment says that the mods aren’t being open about admitting that the allegations played a central, if not the supreme, role in the banning. My commenting back then was of a similar sort. I think most comments back then were made with the understanding that Ialdabaoth was being banned because of the allegations and the mods weren’t being open about it.

• Re outside community members: yeah, that all seems like decent circumstantial evidence. (I had seen the users, not seen the link in the tweet, and not thought hard about the vote count.)

On the other hand, the tweet itself doesn’t have that much engagement, and the link to LW is behind another click—if you showed me that tweet and asked me to predict how many people would sign up to LW because of it, I would guess fewer than 5. I’d also say, I think a lot of people will upvote things on the basis of “this shouldn’t be so negative”, even when they wouldn’t upvote it from neutral.

I don’t feel like litigating this, because I’m not sure we disagree too much on “how likely is it that this happened”. Like, probably I think it’s less likely than you do, but I think our real disagreement is that according to me, you should have flagged it as inference.

Maybe you already noticed all this and don’t think it indicates the comment was vote brigaded. If that’s the case I don’t know what evidence would convince you otherwise.

Well, if Ruby or another mod looked at the vote patterns and told us that happened, I’d believe it. It’s possible that they treat vote counts as too private to want to do that. If I saw people admitting to coordinating to vote brigade the comment, I’d probably believe it. That seems unlikely.

But it might be the case that something is true, and also we’ll never get the kind of evidence that brings us from “this is our confident inference” to “we can just flatly assert this”.

You’re literally asking me to mind read here. And I responded with my most likely explanation for what I think was going on in his head and then you chide me for giving you an inference based on circumstantial evidence.

No, I’m chiding you for not flagging it as inference. Recall: “It’s not necessarily bad to simply assert such things … But I would have preferred if you made it clearer that you were doing it and knew you were doing it.”

Ruby noticed the downvotes, said he cared about them, and has not banned other comments that are content-wise very similar but have less downvotes.

What comments are you thinking of, specifically? I don’t recall seeing any others that I’d have said were similar in content.

Blueiris provides the examples and justifications. You may not like the examples and justifications, you may think they fall flat, etc., but blueiris does provide them

I guess I’m not sure what examples and justifications you’re thinking of? The two links above came after they’d been banned and asked not to comment further, and there seems very little else? And yeah, I’m not really impressed by bad examples and failed justifications.

Yet Ruby makes the very same kind of accusations against blueiris and provides no better examples than did blueiris.

Does not ring true to me.

Not a ridiculous strawman because it’s accurate.

I repeat: blueiris said nothing even remotely like the thing you claim is not allowed.

Moderators allow reliance on negative intuition for a plethora of other things, but apparently not for porn.

I repeat: “that feel misguided and also without justification or explanation of relevance” is important here.

You’re asking for high levels of effort from your counterparty while not putting in much yourself.

Again: inference! You don’t know how much effort I put in but you flatly assert that I didn’t put in much. And you’re not being precise enough to be falsifiable; do you think I put in 20 minutes and should have put in an hour, or do you think I put in an hour and should have put in three, or what?

But also, I actually don’t think I’m asking for that much effort from you. I don’t think it takes much effort to add words like “presumably”, “I think”, “it seems to me”, and then I would not have made the first bit of my comment. And that’s the only bit of my comment that feels to me like asking you to put extra effort in.

You’re saying there’s a lot of surface-level badness going on with my comments but not actually providing any interpretation or explanation of the situation yourself that disagrees.

I think a lot of the badness in your comments isn’t particularly related to the situation, so that seems fine to me.

You say my explanation of the Ialdaboath thing[1] and how strongly the moderators connected his offline behavior to his lw postings “doesn’t ring true to me.” But you don’t provide any differing interpretation.

Yeah, it would have been better if I gave an alternate description of how I saw things, but… I dunno, maybe not that much better? Like, if you say “the Hobbit is a book about eagles” I can say “no, the Hobbit is about...”—but the Hobbit can be about multiple things—even if I’m right, that doesn’t make you wrong. So really I might just as well say “no, that’s not what it’s about”, and then either we find some way for one of us to convince the other or we drop it.

Better yet might be for me to take your explanation of why you think the Hobbit is about eagles and say what seems off about it to me. Which might mean taking some bits and saying “no, this is wrong and this other thing would have been right”, and taking other bits and just saying “this is wrong”. (If you describe a scene that doesn’t exist in the book, what more can I say than “that scene doesn’t exist in the book”?)

But indeed I didn’t do any of this, because (despite what you may have thought) I’d already put in substantial effort and didn’t want to put in more. I did provide a link to where readers could at least check, and see whether they thought the thing you said rang true to them.

But okay, sure, to give a brief try: you say “he was banned for X and no one decided to justify or explain why X was relevant”. It seems to me that Vaniver gave a lengthy explanation of why he was banned, and it was not “for X” though X played into the decision in ways that I really don’t feel like trying to summarize. And when you say “he was banned for X” this seems like yet another assertion about people’s internal states, this time contradicted by the things they said. (Which doesn’t mean the assertion is wrong, to be clear, but I think you should flag the contradiction as well as the “I am asserting things I cannot observe”.) And then “no one decided to justify or explain” seems weird given how many words were written on the subject… like, it sounds like “this is just a thing that happened and people kept quiet about it”, where actually there was a lot of discussion and you just… think Vaniver was lying/​mistaken-about-his-reasons? I dunno, I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what the accusation is, but it doesn’t ring true.

• I don’t have the conversational norm of rote performance of using weasel words. If I think X is true with high probability based on circumstantial evidence I’m probably just going to say “X”. I don’t think tacking on “I think” to the front of that adds much content. Anybody’s free to disagree with me as much as they want and that has nothing to do with whether I say “I think” or “it seems to me.” Everything is an inference.

But also, I actually don’t think I’m asking for that much effort from you. I don’t think it takes much effort to add words like “presumably”, “I think”, “it seems to me”, and then I would not have made the first bit of my comment. And that’s the only bit of my comment that feels to me like asking you to put extra effort in.

So it’s not that it’s a bunch of extra effort to just add your chosen phrases to my comments. It’s that it’s extra effort to change my writing style based on your stated communicative preference. I might do that for some people in some cases, but not for you or most any other lw poster in an online forum.

What irks me though is that you don’t follow the communicative rules you’re asking me to follow. And that’s why your comments are disturbing. You’re asking me to hamstring my rhetorical ability using these practices that you yourself don’t even follow.

I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what the accusation is, but it doesn’t ring true

where actually there was a lot of discussion and you just… think Vaniver was lying/​mistaken-about-his-reasons?

I repeat: blueiris said nothing even remotely like the thing you claim is not allowed.

Where is your hedging? Where is your “I think” or “Probably”. These are as assertive as any of my comments. And they’re all inferences. Of course your comments elsewhere and the couple posts of yours that I’ve read before all have assertive statements about things that can only be inferences. That’s how people communicate and the posts don’t suffer for it. Most people have the ability to read “X” and understand that well of course the person saying “X” doesn’t mean they’ve personally observed X and believe it with 99.9999% probability. They mean they think X is true.

This is a common, dark, rhetorical trick. You’re asking me to hamstring my ability to communicate while taking full advantage of the communicative tools at your disposal. So when I see a comment where, “I’m chiding you for not flagging it as inference” I have absolutely no desire to acquiesce to the restrictive conversational rules being asked of me.

• If I think X is true with high probability based on circumstantial evidence I’m probably just going to say “X”.

Well, how high? Because by my count you’ve been wrong at least once in this thread when doing this (when you accused me of not putting in much effort). If say 110 of things you flatly assert are false, that’s not very impressive.

So it’s not that it’s a bunch of extra effort to just add your chosen phrases to my comments. It’s that it’s extra effort to change my writing style based on your stated communicative preference.

Yeah, this is fair.

Like, I think your communication style is a bad fit for LW, but that doesn’t mean changing it is easy for you.

using these practices that you yourself don’t even follow.

None of your examples show me failing to live up to the standards I was asking of you. It’s possible I miscommunicated those standards, and it’s possible (even probable) I fail to live up to them in other places. But in these specific cases, I did not fail.

I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what the accusation is, but it doesn’t ring true

This is a claim about my own state of mind. I don’t need to hedge it, because in this case I’m confident about my observations of my own state of mind.

where actually there was a lot of discussion and you just… think Vaniver was lying/​​mistaken-about-his-reasons?

The hedging here comes from the question mark and the following words, “I dunno, I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what the accusation is”.

I repeat: blueiris said nothing even remotely like the thing you claim is not allowed.

This is observation, not inference.

(Moreover, it’s observation based on shared data. Anyone can read the thread and verify its truth or falsehood for themselves, and anyone can know they can do that based on the context.)

(I mean, sure, it’s inference in the sense that, like… photons hit my retinas and I interpret them as words written in the English language and so on. But it seems to me that there’s a real, important difference between this kind of inference and the kind of inference I’ve been criticizing. I don’t know if I can pinpoint it, and I don’t feel like trying right now. Might be worth trying at some point in future. Wouldn’t be surprised if there’s already something in the sequences about it. FWIW my sense is that there’s some combination of “how confident are you” and “where does your confidence come from” and probably also “how relevant is it” that weighs into the question. And, like, yeah it’s not great that I’m trying to enforce standards I can’t really articulate, but… I don’t think that sinks the whole idea.)

Of course your comments elsewhere and the couple posts of yours that I’ve read before all have assertive statements about things that can only be inferences.

I confess I’m not very curious about these, given the prior examples.

Most people have the ability to read “X” and understand that well of course the person saying “X” doesn’t mean they’ve personally observed X and believe it with 99.9999% probability. They mean they think X is true.

I think most people are going to distinguish between “Sweden’s national currency is the Korona” (which I would not say given my current state of knowledge) and “Sweden’s national currency is… the Korona, I think?” (which I would).

Both of them might literally mean that I think Sweden’s national currency is the Korona, but I expect most people will think I’m quite confident in the first case and not very confident in the second.

Anyway, I’m out. Mostly? I, uh, assign at least 10% probability that if you comment further, you’ll make confident false claims about me. (You’ve already done that in more than 10% of your comments on this thread.) I dislike when that happens. So like, I want to leave open the possibility that if you do that I might jump in to say “no”, and I guess I want to leave open that possibility for other things you might say too… but I’m at least going to try hard not to put effort into replying to you again. (But if you do say things and I don’t reply, that is not an endorsement.) This might be a mistake, maybe I should just cut it out entirely, but let’s give it a go.

• I repeat: blueiris said nothing even remotely like the thing you claim is not allowed.

This is observation, not inference.

(I mean, sure, it’s inference in the sense that, like… photons hit my retinas and I interpret them as words written in the English language and so on. But it seems to me that there’s a real, important difference between this kind of inference and the kind of inference I’ve been criticizing.

You don’t understand what an inference is and your strawman reasoning of why this comment is inference wouldn’t fool anybody. “nothing even remotely like” is a subjective determination. It’s comparing two things and judging how similar you think they are. I think it’ similar to what he said. You think it’s dissimilar. But I’m fine with you saying it with as much assertiveness as you do because again, I don’t have your rule about inferences and hedging words.

We have disagreements about how assertive your comments are, you think they aren’t that assertive, or if they’re assertive they’re non-inferences, and assume they naturally fit into your stated communicative standards. I’ve demonstrated how that’s not true. A regular person might think, ok then if people can have reasonable disagreements as to how something can be interpreted as an inference. maybe I shouldn’t be telling others to use these weird communicative protocols that entirely rely on my own subjective classification of things as inference or not. You don’t do that. You write with more misplaced confidence than I have ever done in this thread. I’m not going to keep responding if you’re going to make incredibly poor strawmans of what I’m saying and fail to realize your own communicative failures.

• Talking of controlling the narrative...

She’s quoting stuff that nobody ever said … ( https://​​​mobile.twitter.com/​​​​Aella_Girl/​​​​status/​​​​1465397786107682817 )

To be precise: she puts the words “talking from abuse” in quotation marks. I don’t think it’s a secret that quotation marks are often used for things other than direct quotes, and I don’t think her use of them here is unusual. It’s ambiguous, certainly, but not in a way that I read as deliberate.

(For that matter, how do you know nobody ever said the exact words “talking from abuse” in relation to her post? They aren’t in this thread, but they might be elsewhere for all I know, and I’m guessing for all you know. I don’t particularly think it matters—but apparently you think it matters, so this bears mentioning.)

in a way that makes people sympathetic to her

Does it? The three tweets in question read

Some of the feedback on my frame control post centers around this being personal for me, or me “talking from abuse.” I centered on personal examples because the nature of the issue makes it really hard to use other people’s examples; it lies in the very tiny, nuanced details. 1/​

A huge amount of my post came out of talking to and being around others who were doing frame control, or had escaped from frame control. My post would have had a very different vibe if I’d pulled mostly from my childhood. 2/​

The post pulls from close encounters I had in or with people from 5 different heavy frame-control systems (not including my childhood), all of them different in small ways. 4 of those were ones I spent a long time listening to accounts from people impacted by them.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but this doesn’t make me feel particularly sympathetic to her? Nor the opposite, to be clear, it just… doesn’t generate strong emotions, and nor does it feel particularly engineered to? Reading these tweets, I think one learns approximately nothing about her own experiences or how she relates to them (e.g. she doesn’t describe them as abuse).

She’s quote-tweeting dumb things from Nate Soares … while she is making this power play ( https://​​​i.imgur.com/​​​​e0wxqsk.png )

To be precise: three hours before she tweeted about the frame control thing, she tweeted a quote from Nate.

“power play” is not a neutral way to describe these tweets.

so he is more favorable to her

This is an inference and should be explicitly flagged as such. You do not have access to what is inside Aella’s mind.

and I guess she just deleted it

I can still see it at https://​​twitter.com/​​Aella_Girl/​​status/​​1465357722245910541.

because it sounded too obvious

This is also an inference. The previous “I guess” kind of flags it as such, except that that also applies to the “she just deleted it”, so I think it should be more explicitly flagged.

For someone supposedly concerned about manipulative people, you don’t seem to be trying very hard to not be manipulative yourself.

I also want to flag that Ruby explicitly said

This seems like a clearly stated request. It’s the kind of request Ruby has explicit authority to make and enforce. It has two caveats making it less of an imposition than it might otherwise have been (it potentially expires after Ruby’s reviewed the thread, and Ruby gave you explicit permission to message him directly). And as far as I can tell you completely ignored it. I don’t think there are zero situations where it’s right to ignore such requests, but I do think that if you thought this was such a situation you should have explained why.

Apparently Ruby didn’t make a big deal out of this? So I feel kind of weird making a big deal of it myself, but… honestly, I’d be somewhat inclined to ban you just for this.

• I’ve thought about these comments now over several hours and I do indeed think they are quite bad. I have deleted one and may delete/​lock others others in the subthreads.

It’s tricky to precisely specify the badness with explicit principles, but won’t succeed entirely here. A very strong element of the badness in the first comment above (“Your whole career...”) is leveraging negative intuitions and associations about working in porn that feel misguided and also without justification or explanation of relevance. Similarly, while I feel that accusations that someone is exploiting morally-grey areas really needs to be backed up with examples and relevance to the post.

I think there is a steelman-able core in your comments, but a different tact is needed for productive discussion. A quick sketch might be “I am concerned that you are using undue influence to push your agenda on an ongoing sensitive community matter without being upfront about that. I don’t feel that the method of persuasion here (using your personal story) is legitimate. This is not proper process. I find it frustrating that you’re doing this and that other people seem to like it” – I’m sure that’s not exactly true to what you’d say, but a comment phrased like that is something I could engage with, agreeing, disagreeing, questioning, etc.

• I should have been clear in my message above, I am leaving the initial ban in place for the original accounts and for the subsequent accounts being made. The ongoing comment pattern continues to seem quite bad to me.

• blueiris’s posts read to me as a combination of good concepts & poor quality attacks/​attempts to defend leverage (or something?). Personally I’d mind the attacks more if they were more successful and/​or less obvious I think? As-is they’re annoying but don’t seem very dangerous epistemically.

• I expect that a majority of rationalists don’t believe that being a porn star is morally-grey. In any case, if someone makes those accusations they should be very specific about what wrong doing the alledge and not just appeal to “repeatedly exploiting morally-grey”.

• +1

• i would like less of this kind of dynamic.

Me too, but the community leaders (of which Aella is one) have legitimized it. I think the LW leadership is pretty diffuse and there isn’t a clear power center (would Eliezer really come out criticizing Aella for influencing an ongoing issue like this? I doubt it.) so if anything it’ll happen more often.

I don’t really know what you can do here and I think the best thing is to actually slowly move your work off this forum and onto somewhere where you trust the moderation team (e.g. my original account blueiris was banned 6 hours ago without warning purely for the comments on this post). We’re in a different world now.

• somewhere where you trust the moderation team

That would be individual’s own blogs. I’m at the point now where I don’t really trust any centralized moderation team. I’ve watched some form of the principal agent problem happen with moderation repeatedly in most communities I’ve been a part of.

I think the centralization of LessWrong was one of many mistakes the rationalist community made.

• I think the centralization of LessWrong was one of many mistakes the rationalist community made.

The rationalist community is not very certralized. People like Scott Alexander switched from writing their main posts on LessWrong and made their own blogs. Most of what EY writes these days is not on LessWrong either.

A lot of the conversations are happening on Facebook, Twitter, Slack and Discord channels.

• While you’re making accusations about “having an agenda with the leverage/​paradigm thing”: would you kindly disclose any connection you have with Leverage/​Paradigm/​Geoff?

(I reckon p=0.2 you are Literal Geoff Anders, and p=0.65 you are some other Leverage-associated person trying to do damage control.)

Also: you apparently consider that any time Aella talks about anything she has unfairly outsized influence because of being “a smart rationalist porn star” etc. etc. -- but what’s she supposed to do about this? Never say anything about anything for fear of being too persuasive?

Let’s suppose you’re right that this is really all about Leverage, and look at some parallels. Geoff Anders is, by all accounts, charismatic and persuasive. He has an “aspirational narrative” of his own (I dunno, maybe he’s abandoned it lately in the light of the bad publicity Leverage has had?) about understanding psychology better and developing better mental tools and saving the world. If everything you say about Aella’s unfair advantages in persuasion is true, and if she’s setting herself against Leverage … well, it sounds like a fair fight to me overall, even if Leverage is now not well placed to defend itself. Geoff had more power in the past; maybe Aella has more power now; if Aella thinks Geoff is still trying to do harm, why shouldn’t she try to stop that using the advantages she (allegedly) has that are parallel to the advantages that helped Geoff do harm in the past?

(Since this has become super-confrontational, my own position: Leverage sounds super-sketchy to me but I have no personal experience with them and I am not physically on the same continent as them; the tweet from Geoff Anders linked in the OP is obviously every bit as bad as Aella says it is and would on its own suffice to convince me that I never ever want to have anything to do with the person who made it; I am a heterosexual man but have literally no idea what Aella looks like and am therefore unlikely to be being influenced much by her alleged hotness or pornstarriness; I agree that OP can itself be seen as an instance of attempted “frame control” and that in some sense “frame control” is happening all the time in a large fraction of interactions; I think it is none the less valuable to have (1) a term for that thing and (2) more common knowledge that it’s a thing that can be done abusively, which it absolutely is.)

• I think there is a bit of Geoff Anders in all of us. I seem to be the only one here happy to admit it.

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• I guess that’s addressed to me?

I have not knowingly been “influenced by Aella” in any sense other than having read a few things she wrote and, so far as I can recall (which is not very far) found them interesting.

I find that I am not sure I believe you when you say “No affiliation”. I’m not sure there’s anything useful you can do with this information, which I regret, but you might want to know that the impression you’re giving is very much not one of honesty and reliability.

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• Unfortunately, victimhood and abuse still exist. I can not speak to Aella’s character or intentions because I do not know her personally. But this comment definitely shows me more about your own feelings of discomfort and resentment towards a woman for holding more influence and using her social influence to speak to her view of the world including how patterns like “frame control” can be harmful.

I do know that speaking to these experiences is often not about “playing the Victim card” it is about speaking the truth of one’s experience and bringing attention to things, people, patterns who are causing harm. It takes a tremendous amount of courage and cares to challenge and speak to patterns of abuse in communities that often silence and punish those who speak out. We live in a time period where people (finally) feel freer to speak up about abuse—AND still, these simple acts of courage are inevitably met with people who want to disparage your character and judgments like “you’re playing the victim card.” From where I am sitting, what is it that you think Aella really has to gain here? Maybe some level of recognition within a relatively small community for speaking about a widely known and discussed the matter of community safety and harm that’s impacted a substantial number of people. My understanding of this post is that it is meant to inform and identify patterns of “frame control” that are often difficult to identify.

While this community may value a particular style of dialogue that is often inclined to strip away certain ways of relating there is obviously a need for community dialogue and discourse; and greater capacity to engage on a relational level with difficult conversations. While using an object-level format can certainly have its benefits I also think it’s far more honest to name one’s story and relationship to an issue rather than trying to utilize an intellectualized and detached response (which is fine and seems to be the norm here) that doesn’t acknowledge one’s personal location, identity, and biases. I see that the OP is adopting a common framework used in this community here—but also in various points within the post and elsewhere is quite transparent about her position and agenda within the broader conversation (re: Leverage) and where she comes from. How many people do you know that have this same level of transparency in their online presence?

Usually but not always by the time something like the Leverage situation happens or other reports of harmful patterns of negligence or abuse in a community or organization make it to an online forum there has been a longstanding history involving multiple people and attempts to address issues directly.

Speaking up personally about community issues of harm is almost ALWAYS a risky move most people don’t have the guts to do or the willingness to set aside their own personal concerns of reputation and privilege for even when they are well aware of issues that are negatively impacting and/​or causing harm to others. Are you unfamiliar with the concepts of advocacy, leveraging one’s privilege, and allyship?

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• The point isn’t that she’s malicious. She’s not. It’s that she’s smart and incredibly self-centered but is doing basically nothing with it apart from self-discovery, getting your attention, and trying to impose her moral framework (which she doesn’t even fully believe herself btw) onto other people who are trying their best to do stuff.

It’s just wasting everyone’s time, she doesn’t deserve the respect you are giving her and she isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things, and I’m pretty sure she knows this and it’s actually why she’s doing it all.

Aella, it’d be great to get a reply to this but I doubt you’ll bother because it’s right.