On behalf of Chloe and in her own words, here’s a response that might illuminate some pieces that are not obvious from Ben’s post - as his post is relying on more factual and object-level evidence, rather than the whole narrative.
“Before Ben published, I found thinking about or discussing my experiences very painful, as well as scary - I was never sure with whom it was safe sharing any of this with. Now that it’s public, it feels like it’s in the past and I’m able to talk about it. Here are some of my experiences I think are relevant to understanding what went on. They’re harder to back up with chatlog or other written evidence - take them as you want, knowing these are stories more than clearly backed up by evidence. I think people should be able to make up their own opinion on this, and I believe they should have the appropriate information to do so.
I want to emphasize *just how much* the entire experience of working for Nonlinear was them creating all kinds of obstacles, and me being told that if I’m clever enough I can figure out how to do these tasks anyway. It’s not actually about whether I had a contract and a salary (even then, the issue wasn’t the amount or even the legality, it was that they’d be verbally unclear about what the compensation entailed, eg Emerson saying that since he bought me a laptop in January under the premise of “productivity tool”, that meant my January salary was actually higher than it would have been otherwise, even though it was never said that the laptop was considered as part of the compensation when we discussed it, and I had not initiated the purchase of it), or whether I was asked to do illegal things and what constitutes as okay illegal vs not okay illegal - it’s the fact that they threw some impossibly complex setup at us, told us we can have whatever we want, if we are clever enough with negotiating (by us I mostly mean me and Alice). And boy did we have to negotiate. I needed to run a medical errand for myself in Puerto Rico and the amount of negotiating I needed to do to get them to drive me to a different city that was a 30 min drive away was wild. I needed to go there three times, and I knew the answer of anyone driving me would be that it’s not worth their time, at the same time getting taxis was difficult while we were living in isolated mountain towns, and obviously it would have been easiest to have Drew or Emerson drive me. I looked up tourism things to do in that city, and tried to use things like “hey this city is the only one that has a store that sells Emerson’s favorite breakfast cereal and I could stock up for weeks if we could just get there somehow”. Also - this kind of going out of your way to get what you wanted or needed was rewarded with the Nonlinear team members giving you “points” or calling you a “negotiation genius”.
Of course I was excited to learn how to drive - I could finally get my tasks done and take care of myself, and have a means to get away from the team when it became too much to be around them. And this is negotiating for just going to a city that’s a 30 minute drive away - three times. Imagine how much I had to negotiate to get someone to drive me to a grocery store to do weekly groceries, and then add to that salary or compensation package negotiations and negotiate whether I could be relieved from having to learn how to buy weed for Kat in every country we went to. I’m still not sure how to concisely describe the frame they prescribed to us (here’s a great post on frame control by Aella that seems relevant https://aella.substack.com/p/frame-control ), but most saliently it included the heavy pep talk of how we could negotiate anything we wanted if we were clever enough, and if we failed - it was implied that we simply weren’t good enough. People get prescribed an hourly rate, based on how much their time is worth at Nonlinear. On the stack of who has most value, it goes Emerson, Kat, Drew, Alice, Chloe. All this in the context where we were isolated, and our finances mostly controlled by Emerson. I’ll add a few stories from my perspective, of how this plays out in practice.
Note: These stories are roughly 2 to 3 months into my job, this means 2 to 3 months of needing to find clever solutions to problems that ought to be simple, as well as ongoing negotiations with members of the Nonlinear team, to get the basics of my job done.
“When we were flying to the Bahamas from St Martin, I was given a task of packing up all of Nonlinear’s things (mostly Kat & Emerson) into 5 suitcases. Emerson wanted the suitcases to be below the allowed limit if possible. I estimated that the physical weight of their items would exceed the weight limit of 5 suitcases. I packed and repacked the suitcases 5 to 6 times, after each time Emerson would check my work, say that the suitcases are too heavy, and teach me a new rule according to which to throw things out. Eventually I got it done to a level that Emerson was satisfied with. Him and Kat had been working outside the entire time.
In a previous packing scenario I had packed some things like charging cables and similar daily used items too fast, which Emerson did not appreciate, so this time I had left some everyday things around for him to use and grab as the last things. When I said we are packed and ready to go, he looked around the house and got angry at all the things that were lying around that he now had to pack himself - I remember him shouting in anger. I was packing up the cars and didn’t deal with him, just let him be mad in the house. This got Drew pretty frustrated as well, he had witnessed me repacking five bags 5-6 times and also tried to negotiate with Emerson about ditching some things that he refused to leave behind (we carried around 2 mountain bikes, and Emerson tasked me with packing in a beach chair as well). When we got into the car which was packed to the brim, Drew got to driving and as we drove out, he shouted really loudly out of anger. The anger was so real that I parsed it as him making a joke because I could not fathom how angry he was - my immediate response was to laugh. I quickly realized he was serious, I stopped and apologized, to which he responded with something like “no I am actually mad, and you should be too!” - related to how much we had to pack up. (2/6)“
“Kat had asked me to buy her a specific blonde hair coloring, at the time she told me it’s urgent since she had grown out her natural hair quite a lot. We were living in St Martin where they simply do not sell extreme blond coloring in the specific shade I needed to find, and Amazon does not deliver to St Martin. I also needed to grab this hair coloring while doing weekly groceries. One important guideline I needed to follow for groceries was that it had to be roughly a 10 min car trip but they were frequently disappointed if I didn’t get all their necessities shopped for from local stores so I naturally ventured further sometimes to make sure I got what they asked for.
I ended up spending hours looking for that blonde hair coloring in different stores, pharmacies, and beauty stores, across multiple weekly grocery trips. I kept Kat updated on this. Eventually I found the exact shade she asked for - Kat was happy to receive this but proceeded to not color her hair with it for another two weeks. Then we had to pack up to travel to the Bahamas. The packing was difficult (see previous paragraph) - we were struggling with throwing unnecessary things out. The hair color had seemed pretty important, and I thought Bahamas would also be a tricky place to buy that haircolor from, so I had packed it in. We get to the airport, waiting in the queue to check in the suitcases. Kat decides to open up the suitcases to see which last minute things we can throw out to make the suitcases lighter. She reaches for the hair color and happily throws it out. My self worth is in a place where I witness her doing this (she knows how much effort I put into finding this), and I don’t even think to say anything in protest - it just feels natural that my work hours are worth just this much. It’s depressing. (3/6)”
“There was a time during our stay at St Martin when I was overwhelmed from living and seeing only the same people every single day and needed a day off. Sometimes I’d become so overwhelmed I became really bad at formulating sentences and being in social contexts so I’d take a day off and go somewhere on the island where I could be on my own, away from the whole team - I’ve never before and after experienced an actual lack of being able to formulate sentences just from being around the same people for too long. This was one of these times. We had guests over and the team with the guests had decided in the morning that it’s a good vacation day for going to St Barths. I laid low because I thought since I’m also on a weekend day, it would not be mine to organize (me and Kat would take off Tuesdays and Saturdays, these were sometimes called weekend or vacation days).
Emerson approaches me to ask if I can set up the trip. I tell him I really need the vacation day for myself. He says something like “but organizing stuff is fun for you!”. I don’t know how to respond nor how to get out of it, I don’t feel like I have the energy to negotiate with him so I start work, hoping that if I get it done quickly, I can have the rest of the day for myself.
I didn’t have time to eat, had just woken up, and the actual task itself required to rally up 7 people and figure out their passport situation as well as if they want to join. St Barths means entering a different country, which meant that I needed to check in with the passport as well as covid requirements and whether all 7 people can actually join. I needed to quickly book some ferry tickets there and back for the day, rally the people to the cars and get to the ferry - all of this within less than an hour. We were late and annoyed the ferry employees - but this is one of the things generally ignored by the Nonlinear team, us being late but getting our way is a sign of our agency and how we aren’t NPCs that just follow the prescribed ferry times - they’re negotiable after all, if we can get away with getting to St Barths anyway.
I thought my work was done. We got to the island, my plan was to make the most of it and go on my own somewhere but Emerson says he wants an ATV to travel around with and without an ATV it’s a bit pointless. Everyone sits down at a lovely cafe to have coffee and chit chat, while I’m running around to car and ATV rentals to see what they have to offer. All ATVs have been rented out - it’s tourist season. I check back in, Emerson says I need to call all the places on the island and keep trying. I call all the places I can find, this is about 10 places (small island). No luck. Eventually Emerson agrees that using a moped will be okay, and that’s when I get relieved from my work tasks.
I did describe this to Kat in my next meeting with her that it’s not okay for me to have to do work tasks while I’m on my weekends, and she agreed but we struggled to figure out a solution that would make sense. It remained more of a “let’s see how this plays out”. (4/6)”
“One of my tasks was to buy weed for Kat, in countries where weed is illegal. When I kept not doing it and saying that it was because I didn’t know how to buy weed, Kat wanted to sit me down and teach me how to do it. I refused and asked if I could just not do it. She kept insisting that I’m saying that because I’m being silly and worry too much and that buying weed is really easy, everybody does it. I wasn’t comfortable with it and insisted on not doing this task. She said we should talk about it when I’m feeling less emotional about it. We never got to that discussion because in the next meeting I had with her I quit my job. (⅚)”
“The aftermath of this experience lasted for several months. Working and living with Nonlinear had me forget who I was, and lose more self worth than I had ever lost in my life. I wasn’t able to read books anymore, nor keep my focus in meetings for longer than 2 minutes, I couldn’t process my own thoughts or anything that took more than a few minutes of paying attention. I was unable to work for a few months. I was scared to share my experiences, terrified that Emerson or Kat would retaliate. While working with them I had forgotten that I used to be excited for work, and getting new tasks would spark curiosity on how to solve them best, rather than feelings of overwhelm. I stopped going for runs and whenever I did exercise I wasn’t able to finish my routine - I thought it meant I was just weak. Emerson held such a strong grasp of financial control over me that I actually forgot that I had saved up money from my previous jobs, to the extent of not even checking my bank statements. I seriously considered leaving effective altruism, as well as AI safety, if it meant that I could get away from running into them, and get away from a tolerance towards such behavior towards people.
It’s really not about the actual contracts, salaries, illegal jobs. Even with these stories, I’m only able to tell some of them that I can wrap my head around. I spent months trying to figure out how to empathize with Kat and Emerson, how they’re able to do what they’ve done, to Alice, to others they claimed to care a lot about. How they can give so much love and support with one hand and say things that even if I’d try to model “what’s the worst possible thing someone could say”, I’d be surprised how far off my predictions would be. I think the reader should make up their own mind on this. Read what Nonlinear has to say. Read what Ben says, what these comments add to it.
People trying their best can sometimes look absolutely terrifying, but actions need to have consequences nonetheless. This isn’t an effect of weird living and working conditions either, I believe it goes deeper than that - I am still happy to hear that Nonlinear has since abandoned at least that part of their “experiment”. But Nonlinear also isn’t my idea of effective altruism or doing good better and I hope we can keep this community safer than it was for me and Alice, for all the current and new members to come along in the future. (6/6) ”