[Link] "An OKCupid Profile of a Rationalist"

by Athrelon2 min read14th Nov 201232 comments

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The rationalist in question, of course, is our very own EY.

Quotes giving a reasonable sample of the spectrum of reactions:

Epic Fail on the e-harmony profile. He’s over-signalling intelligence. There’s a good paper about how much to optimally signal, like when you have a PhD to put it on your business card or not. This guy is going around giving out business cards that read Prof. Dr. John Doe, PhD, MA, BA. He won’t be getting laid any time soon.

His profile is probably very effective for aspergery girls who like reading the kinds of things that appear on LessWrong. Yudkowsky is basically a celebrity within a small niche of hyper-nerdy rationalists, so I doubt he has much trouble getting laid by girls in that community.

You make it sound like a cult leader or something....And reading the profile again with that lens, it actually makes a lot of sense.

I was about to agree [that the profile is oversharing], but then come to think of it, I realize I have an orgasm denial fetish, too. It’s an aroused preference that never escaped to my non-aroused self-consciousness.

Why is this important to consider? 

LessWrong as a community is dedicated to trying to "raise the sanity waterline," and its most respected members in particular put a lot of resources into outreach, via CFAR, HPMoR, and maintaining this site.  But a big factor in how people perceive our brand of rationality is about image.  If we're serious about raising the sanity waterline, that means image management - or at least avoiding active image malpractice - is something we should enthusiastically embrace as a way to achieve our goals. [1]

This is also a valuable exercise in considering the outside view.  Marginal Revolution is already a fairly WEIRD site, focused on abstract economic issues.  If any major blog is likely to be sympathetic to our cultural quirks, this would be it.  Yet a plurality of commenters reacted negatively. 

To the extent that we didn't notice anything strange about LW's figurehead having this OKCupid profile, LW either failed at calibrating mainstream reaction, or failed at consequentialism and realizing the drag this would have on our other recruitment efforts.  In our last discussion, there were only a few commenters raising concerns, and the consensus of the thread was that it was harmless and had no PR consequences worth noting.

As one commenter cogently put it,

I’m not saying that he’s trying to make a statement with this, I’m saying that he is making a statement about this whether he’s trying to or not. Ideas have consequences for how we live our lives, and that Eliezer has a public, identifiable profile up where he talks about his sexual fetishes is not some sort of randomly occurring event with no relationship to his other ideas.

I'd argue the same reasoning applies to the community at large, not just EY specifically.

[1] From Anna's excellent article: 5. I consciously attempt to welcome bad news, or at least not push it away. (Recent example from Eliezer: At a brainstorming session for future Singularity Summits, one issue raised was that we hadn't really been asking for money at previous ones. My brain was offering resistance, so I applied the "bad news is good news" pattern to rephrase this as, "This point doesn't change the fixed amount of money we raised in past years, so it is good news because it implies that we can fix the strategy and do better next year.")

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I can imagine there's a threshold of bad behavior past which an SIAI staff member's personal life becomes a topic for Less Wrong discussion. Eliezer's OKCupid profile failing to conform to neurotypical social norms is nowhere near that line. Downvoted.

I'm pretty uncomfortable with... well, just about everything in this post.

First, even assuming that lots of commenters at Marginal Revolution "reacted negatively" to the profile, I find it hard to believe that it could really have much effect on the general LW project of "raising the sanity waterline." Fine, Eliezer talks about some personal things that most people wouldn't mention publicly and, surprise surprise, some people have a sharp reaction to that. But how many out there are really going to think "oh my, this 'rationality' business sounded okay, but now that I've seen this dating profile, not so much." Yes, I realize that's an exaggeration, and yes, I understand there can be small, even unconscious effects at the margins. But come on, anyone seriously put off by something this harmless probably wasn't a very promising rationalist anyway.

Second, who's to say whether the net effect is negative? This is just speculation on my part, but I imagine a lot of people who read something like this (even some of those who purport to act "shocked" or whatever) would actually think "wow, that sounds pretty cool -- wish my life were more like that." Just looking at the anecdotal evidence from the four comments quoted above, the first suggests he doesn't get laid, the second suggests he does, and the fourth notes that reading the profile helped uncover a source of pleasure the person hadn't notice before. Only the third comment -- invoking the "cult leader" concept -- redounds to the detriment of the community itself. And lots of people are going to think that anyway, so I don't see much in the way of an additional problem here. If anything, maybe this makes us look cool and into kinky stuff?

Third, come on, is this really something that needs to get hashed out on a LW post? To whatever extent Eliezer wants privacy, can't we just let him date in peace? A sexual fetish isn't the kind of thing that truth can destroy (let's be honest, that section is 90% of the "controversy" here), and presumably, most of us are fighting for a world that's more open, more tolerant, and just straight-up more fun when it comes to sex and relationships. It would be pretty sad if, in pursuit of that goal, our community required its more prolific members to pretend to the contrary. If my expectations are wrong and this OKCupid profile really becomes a major problem, well, I guess Eliezer will have to decide how to deal with it. But I seriously doubt we're at that point, and I kind of hope we can just drop it.

From my perspective, if you are in a place of prestige and you want to avoid damage to your image, hiding your quirks is maximizes the chance that they will be discovered in a way that precludes you controlling the how it is released. If image malpractice is the issue, keeping this in the open is an inoculation against more damaging future revelation. The trade-off is that you may lose credibility up front. Given EY's eschewing of the "normal" routes to academic success, and the profound strangeness that a some of the ideas we take for granted have at first blush to anyone who hasn't read the sequences, I don't thing OK cupid is doing much damage.

Finally, I noticed when I first read this that the article gave me the squicks. In trying to compare the feeling to a known quantity, I realized it was analogous to when my religious parents would scandalously tell me of a couple who are "shacking up". The feeling of someone sharing psudo-private information in a way that does not explicitly make a value judgement, certainly does implicitly. I rather doubt that was your intention, however, you might want to be aware of the reaction, if it was not intended.

tl,dr; EY's just this guy, you know?

To the extent that we didn't notice anything strange about LW's figurehead having this OKCupid profile

Who's this we? You're imbuing the community with a hivemind it doesn't possess.

I'm sure that many LW readers, if they saw the profile, would have thought it weird, inept or off-putting. Others would see it neutrally as direct, to the point, and possibly effective. Others yet might find it awesome and intriguing. But nearly everyone, I'd wager, would see it as EY's private matter.

Look, RMS had a weird little personal ad on his website for a long time (might still be there as far as I know). I don't think it ever hurt the credibility of the organization he's figureheaded, the FSF. Some other things he's said and done probably did, by the way, but not the way he chose to seek romantic companionship.

Who's this we? You're imbuing the community with a hivemind it doesn't possess.

It's also wrong; look, for example, at when Eliezer's OKCupid profile came up in a newspaper http://lesswrong.com/lw/ds4/article_about_lw_faith_hope_and_singularity/73gd

I'm hoping the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek...? (If so, it's merely the product of poor judgment, rather than terrifying.)

(+10)

It's not so much the content as the presentation. The tone is incredibly self-absorbed and condescending. I thought the whole thing was a joke until I encountered the above quoted paragraph with its apparent sincerity. Presumably some of the content is intended to be tongue-in-check and some of it posturing, but it's difficult to separate. There's a compounding weirdness to the whole thing. Fetishes or open relationships or whatever aren't in themselves causes for concern but when somebody is trying to advocate for rationalism and a particular approach to ethics, the sense that you're following them somewhere very strange isn't good to have.

(+13)

Less Wrong is already weird enough without the blatant weirdness in EY's OKCupid profile. I'm seriously disappointed and worried by the fact that it's still public, to be honest...

(+8)

Of course, there's also supportive comments similarly upvoted, but those comments prove that at least a few LWers agreed 'yeah, that's pretty blatantly weird'.

I kinda-agree with the following from that thread:

a: >99% of the time that you see that sort of profile, you really should keep the hell away from that person unless you are masochistic enough or other special conditions apply.

and b: you should sincerely thank Eliezer for writing the profile in such honest manner!

Both appear to be likely, but not in the sense that private_messaging/Dmitry seems to imply ("Eliezer really is messed up"). As social pressure against men openly stating that they're sexually sadistic is horrifying, worse than for masochistic men (and all kinds of BDSM for women) - I should know, I'm in the same boat here! (to clarify: yes, I'm sexually sadistic and dominance is hot to me, in a "consensual" framing) -

' - so every man who'd put this kind of thing on his profile must either 1) be socially tone-deaf, 2) have dangerously sociopathic tendencies, or 3) be uncommonly open, brave and honest.

I'd also say that upon studying the rest of the profile - which is hard not to if one reads from the beginning - it's clear to a (minimally unprejudiced) reader that Eliezer must be the latter of those 3. Or one of the "1%" cases in which you needn't run away, as per the quoted comment.

[-][anonymous]9y 10

I'm sure that many LW readers, if they saw the profile, would have thought it weird, inept or off-putting.

My own reaction was "Wow, that's definitely going to turn off most people... but not the people he would want to date, anyway."

"Omega stands by Yudkowsky in widening scandal"

Eliezer's talked some about the constraints he's under that keep him from going along with the usual norms of public relations, it would probably be good for someone to link to those comments so this doesn't become a circle jerk of "hah Eliezer isn't good at public relations" and its ripostes.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

And let's certainly give credit where it's due, he handled the responses in the thread as well as could be expected under the circumstances - with deflecting humor rather than hurt anger.

Prediction: from here on, every time (well, 20% of the time) Eliezer says anything about orgasms or bdsm, people will snigger (or snigger harder than they would without this post).

BUT otherwise it'll all be just fine. So there, dealt with like in a middling SF drama series - no consequences except for another quirk following Eliezer around. Yay.

I'm curious as to why you seem to think that this community has the right to critique aspects of the personal life of one of its members regardless of that person's consent.

Now, I'm no expert in social norms, but I think that rudeness, arrogance, presumptuousness, and a lack of regard for privacy all reflect more poorly on the rest of us than a somewhat out of the ordinary dating profile. I believe this constitutes a case of overstepping your boundaries

In short, this post is asinine and makes you sound like a jerk; downvoted.

Publicly available okcupid profiles under your real name are not private. That's actually the whole point of the criticism, though I do not agree with it. If this was secret information, then it wouldn't be potentially shitty PR.

I meant private as in personal. I don't think you can really argue that a dating profile isn't personal, whether its available to the public or not. Scrutinizing it and bringing it up for discussion on a blog is still inappropriate.

So I disagree with most of this criticism, but this seems like a really weak argument. This essentially says that cultural taboos should override discussion on issues of instrumental rationality. Yet at the same time, many supporters and people involved with the the SIAI (including Eliezer) argue that their success is one of the most important things on the planet right now. If one takes that claim seriously, then breaking a culturally contingent taboo seems like a small price to pay for that success.

all reflect more poorly on the rest of us than a somewhat out of the ordinary dating profile

Reflects more poorly in what way and has what predicted result? Do you think it will make people less likely to read LW? Do you think it will make people likely to leave LW?

It's not really a discussion of rationality, it's a discussion of the impact of a dating profile. I don't believe that this issue will really influence us one way or another, and scrutinizing over the personal life of one of the community's founding members out of paranoia for our public image can only help to reinforce the "cultish" signals we seem to give off.

I think we've already broken so many taboos that it doesn't really matter if we break a few more, but this post defies cultural norms to rectify the breaking of cultural norms (not that anyone from outside LessWrong is gonna see this post).

On an unrelated note, I find it interesting that even a community as contrarian as this one still internalizes certain social expectations. The comments on this post seem to convey a common reaction of outrage, revulsion, and paranoia from the perceived invasion of privacy. I'm pretty sure the disproportionate hostility of my comment mostly came from trying to milk that reaction for karma.

Apparently, it worked.

[-][anonymous]9y 3

I think it varies among cultures. For example, ISTM that sexual scandals involving politicians are taken way more seriously in the US than in Italy.

If you think this is evidence of "active image malpractice", then I think you're just miscalibrated in your expectations about how negative the comments on typical blog posts are. He didn't even get accused of torturing puppies!

He didn't even get accused of torturing puppies!

Well, not puppies per se...

[-][anonymous]9y 7

This is basically an oblique way of saying we care more about local cultural oddities than spreading rationality. This seems trivially true.

Rationalists SHOULD be weird. Otherwise what's the point? If we say we do things in a better way throughout our lives, and yet end up acting just like everyone else, why should anyone pay attention? If the rational thing to do was the normal thing to do lesswrong would be largely irrelevant. I'm confident Eliezer's profile is well optimized for his romantic purposes.

[-][anonymous]9y 5

Athrelon, this post was idiotic. If you had taken just a few minutes to think before making this post, you would have realized that the best course of action would have been to send a private message with a sincere tone to EY regarding this, instead of spreading the very information that you claim you don't want spread, with a smug air of superiority.

Downvoted.

(I will retract this comment if you truthfully reply to it and indicate that you did PM EY first, and that his reply warranted this post.)

EDIT: Softened language.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

TIL: OkCupid says I'm a 95% match with Eliezer. Too bad I'm a straight male :(

[-][anonymous]9y 3

89% match (and most of that 11% is due to our different attitudes on alcohol)? Too bad we're both straight males and we're 10^4 km apart...

There appear to be two major strains of response to this post:

  1. There is no PR disadvantage to having an OKCupid profile like this
  2. To the extent that there is such a tradeoff, the freedom to broadcast sexual weirdness is a deontological good ("can't we just let him date in peace?") and weighing it against institutional effectiveness is a taboo tradeoff.

The first response seems a case of wishful thinking - as though by believing really hardthat others share our local values, and outgroupping those who disagree with us, we could make it a PR positive.

The second is exactly analogous to an anti-abortion activist who opposes teaching birth control. It's not incoherent, really, but it does demonstrate that we place a higher value on loud sexual weirdness than our nominal goals, at this margin.

So far, the evidence that this profile is a PR problem seems limited to a handful of negative comments on one Internet comment thread. Most of those comments are limited to the idea that the post is too boastful or too open, and thus unlikely to be successful in attracting women. And the same thread includes people with neutral or positive responses at roughly the same frequency (maybe a little lower, but the same order of magnitude). This evidence falls well below what I would consider sufficient to trot this issue out in public, much less to demand that Eliezer take down the profile.

Should we treat "the freedom to broadcast sexual weirdness" as a deontological good that simply cannot be balanced against PR concerns? No, probably not. But does it make sense to protect that freedom as a strong institutional value that can only be overcome for extremely important reasons? Yes, and I'm confident this profile doesn't rise to that level.

Also, this sentence--

The second is exactly analogous to an anti-abortion activist who opposes teaching birth control.

--makes very little sense to me.

Also, this sentence--

The second is exactly analogous to an anti-abortion activist who opposes teaching birth control.

--makes very little sense to me.

My understanding is that contraceptive use significantly decreases abortion rates, while outlawing abortion does not, yet anti-abortion activists often oppose the former and support the latter, revealing unjustifiable ignorance or ulterior motives.

No, it just means they oppose BOTH THINGS. Anti-abortion activists are extremely rarely (almost never) actually JUST against abortion, and it's ridiculous to talk about them as if they are. A christian anti-abortion activist would never encourage atheism even if someone showed that atheists have fewer abortions, because Christianity is her actual value system, not "anti-abortion"

it makes perfect sense to oppose both birth control and abortion, even if you could trade off some of one for less of the other, if you think they're both evil.

it makes perfect sense to oppose both birth control and abortion, even if you could trade off some of one for less of the other, if you think they're both evil.

Unless I'm mistaken, most denominations of Christianity that are pro-life do not actually oppose birth control; but most pro-lifers do oppose birth control. I feel like the above may have been a reaction to this article.