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grumphrey comments on Project Hufflepuff: Planting the Flag - Less Wrong

35 Post author: Raemon 03 April 2017 06:37PM

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Comment author: grumphrey 02 April 2017 10:57:22PM 0 points [-]

(Disclaimer: I'm not a member of the community you're seeking to change, so my consent is not necessary to your plans.)

A lot of the themes I'm seeing here ("many people feel lonely", "some newcomers feel unwelcome", "some people are disdainful and dismissive", and especially "culture of making sure your own needs are met") remind me of the Geek Social Fallacies post. I can summarize the Geek Social Fallacies post as follows: "some people are jerks; if you encounter a jerk, you shouldn't feel obliged by politeness or niceness to interact with them."

This aspect of Raemon's post seems directly in opposition to the GSF post: Raemon admits that some people are "disdainful and dismissive", and I'm guessing he would admit that some of the people that are attracted to the rationality community are sometimes socially awkward, but he nonetheless asks how we can make the community more open and welcoming.

I think this post would be improved if it addressed this issue directly.

Comment author: Viliam 03 April 2017 02:41:23PM *  5 points [-]

Seems to me that talking about "social awkwardness" conflates things that should be addressed differently.

For example, there are people who are too shy to speak, and hate to compete for attention, so at a LW meetup they would just sit in the corner and quietly listen. These people don't harm anyone else, only perhaps themselves. You may try to think about gentle ways to encourage them, for example by having a part of meetup where people split into smaller groups and have an informal debate e.g. while eating some food.

Then there are people who, for example, regularly try to monopolize someone else's time, and ignore subtle and gradually-less-subtle hints that the person is not interested. This is potentially harmful, although the intensity of the harm may greatly vary depending on the personality of the target. A more assertive target will leave the interaction after a minute or two, and feel mildly annoyed. A less assertive target may find themselves unable to escape, will spend the whole LW meetup in an unwanted interaction, and never come back.

While on individual level, a good strategy against unwanted interactions is becoming stronger (mentally, socially, physically); on group level, we should protect the weaker members and visitors against unwanted interactions.

Sometimes people use animal metaphors of e.g. "sheep" and "wolves", the good but defenseless people, versus strong predators. This typically includes a "shepherd dog" role, i.e. someone strong (and potentially dangerous) who uses their powers exclusively for protecting others. I would like to add two new species to this zoo.

A "hyena" is a relatively weak predator; unlike the wolf who attacks more or less indiscriminately (and consequently gets attacked by the shepherd dogs), hyena carefully avoids conflicts with anyone stronger, and tries to isolate a sheep from the herd, and attack it in privacy. And a "rabid sheep" is technically a sheep, and is correctly recognized as such by the shepherd dogs, except that it keeps biting everyone around. The difference is that while the shepherd dogs may have a difficulty to recognize the hyena, if they finally spot it, they know how to deal with it. But when they see (or even get bitten by) the rabid sheep, they are quite confused about what to do, since they are supposed to protect all the sheep, and more importantly, to attack any non-sheep who attacks the sheep (which would include any shepherd dog who would decide to intervene, which is why they don't).

To unpack the metaphor, a "hyena" would be a person with undesired behavior who carefully avoids the assertive or high-status members, and targets the weak and unconnected ones.The organizers may fail to notice the problem, or underestimate its importance, because they were not exposed to the worst forms of the behavior. A "rabid sheep" would be a member of a protected (formally or informally) group who makes the situation unpleasant for other members, but people outside the group are afraid that any action against that person would be interpreted as an action against the whole group; and sometimes the unpleasant person makes it quite explicit that this is, indeed, how they would publicly interpret any opposition. The remaining members of the same group are the only ones socially allowed to object, which is an unfair burden.

Seems like different kinds require more nuanced approach, i.e. greater social skills and better coordination in the group. To solve the problem of wolves, it is enough for the shepherd dogs to create a coalition... but this ignores the hyenas. To solve the problem of hyenas, a naive approach is to give a blanket power boost to the sheep... which creates the problem of rabid sheep. To solve all three problems together, and to do it in a way that can scale... well, I don't have a simple answer.

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 April 2017 11:10:17AM 0 points [-]

For example, there are people who are too shy to speak, and hate to compete for attention, so at a LW meetup they would just sit in the corner and quietly listen. These people don't harm anyone else, only perhaps themselves.

There's no big harm but a person who sits in the corner can still influence the overall atmosphere of a meetup in a way that's not pleasant.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 April 2017 03:45:11PM 0 points [-]

I like the zoo :-)

So a rabid sheep is distinguished from a wolf by, basically, being weak and incompetent? Kinda like a yappy chihuahua?

Comment author: Viliam 04 April 2017 11:26:29AM *  2 points [-]

There is the "confuses the shepherd dogs by technically being one of the sheep" aspect.

Imagine a situation when e.g. organizers of a huge rationalist meetups realize there are few women, and they decide to work extra hard to make the place friendly to women. And later, there comes one specific woman, let's call her Ms. X, who participates at the event, but also does something quite annoying. Asking her gently to stop doing the annoying thing has no effect. Some men feel annoyed, but they don't know what to do about it: friendly reminders don't work, and they have all precommited to make this a friendly place for women, so they don't want to be too confrontational. (A man with the same behaviour would probably at this moment be told to leave.) The women in the group are too few to create an opposition: let's suppose there are three women, first one actually doesn't mind the behavior, second one is shy and feels threatened by Ms. X's strong personality, and the third one is like "why am I supposed to solve the problem of Ms. X alone?". -- And this is just being annoying; now imagine that Ms. X is also verbally aggressive, or worse. But no man wants to be the one who tells a women to leave the group, after everyone has agreed that gender imbalance in the group is a problem that needs to be taken seriously. (And Ms. X has already complained in her blog about the perceived sexism in the group.)

Perhaps less political, but equally real example from different settings: Imagine an elementary school that makes its utmost priority that teachers are as friendly as possible towards the children. Makes sense, right? Now imagine that one child in a classroom starts bullying a classmate. The teacher tries various nice approaches, but none of them works. Less than nice approaches are explicitly forbidden by the school policy. Attempts to escalate the problem higher in hierarchy fail, because the director says something like "oh, they are just kids, stop exaggerating", or perhaps the director spends 5 minutes talking to the bully, and the bully is very polite to the director and explains that this is all just a big misunderstanding; then the director tells the teacher to stop bothering him with such trivialities anymore. Meanwhile, the victim is getting visibly depressed, stops paying attention in the class, etc.

Both situations have in common that you (in the position of the "shepherd dog") are unable to solve the problem without being pattern-matched to a wolf and most likely attacked by other, well-meaning dogs.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 April 2017 05:04:59PM 4 points [-]

Your example highlights the problems that arise when "this particular person" is replaced with "a representative of this class of people" -- a common thing in our age of identity politics.

The solution should be simple -- don't define sheep by what they look like, define them by what they do. That which spends its time munching grass is a sheep, that which runs around biting everyone is not, even though it may look like a sheep when standing still.

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 April 2017 11:10:12AM 1 point [-]

The first person that came to my mind was a shy insecure guy at a meetup with very strong body odor where nobody wanted to be near him because of the body odor.