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Speaking of Stag Hunts

All of which is to say that I spend a decent chunk of the time being the guy in the room who is most aware of the fuckery swirling around me, and therefore the guy who is most bothered by it. It's like being a native French speaker and dropping in on a high school French class in a South Carolina public school, or like being someone who just learned how to tell good kerning from bad keming.  I spend a lot of time wincing, and I spend a lot of time not being able to fix The Thing That's Happening because the inferential gaps are so large that I'd have to lay down an hour's worth of context just to give the other people the capacity to notice that something is going sideways.


If Duncan is going to make claims like these it is important people are allowed to cite his actual track record. His track record is quite poor. In my understanding, he was a close associate to serial sexual abuser in the rationalist-adjacent community (Brent), for example Duncan was involved in running Brent's burning man group. It is public record he was among the last defenders of said abuser. Duncan will dispute this characterization but I will include the full text he posted on facebook long after everyone else figured Brent out. 

The context for Brent and his relationship with Duncan:

Brent Dill was a long time rationalist community member. For example, he led the structure building project at Berkeley’s Summer Solstice. 

He was also close personal friends with multiple community leaders. No one is going to release records documenting how close they were to Brent, but Duncan was quite close to Brent. For example, Duncan was involved in running Brent's burning man camp (Black Lotus).

Brent was involved in (at least) two relationships that were considered abusive. One of the people who had been involved with Brent, “Persephone”, made a post about abusive behavior on Facebook that did not name Brent explicitly but nevertheless was clear to insiders. At first, Brent apologized for his behavior and this apology seemed to be broadly accepted by the Bay Area rationalists.

Later multiple very serious accusations were made publicly.

Accusation 1

Accusation 2

Accusation 3

Here are some representative quotes the accusations:

Brent had a habit of responding to me saying I wanted to break up, or that I didn’t want to do a scene, with something like “If you deprive me of this thing I want, you’re doing violence to me; please just punch me in the face so it can be universally recognised as violence.” Refusing to punch him and sticking to my guns re. my preferences would go nowhere, and often he’d self-injure to get me to agree to do what he wanted.

My ability to be the engine for this group depends on my confidence. I am confident when I know I have money, sexual access to youthful and attractive women, and true power in my demesne. What can you do?” — Brent

Brent pushed back against that idea. He told me that previous partners had been manipulated, by their therapists, into thinking that he was abusive and that he interpreted me seeking therapy as me losing trust in him.[about Brent]

” 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. Safewording was never safe. It routinely led to him complaining, afterwards, about the fact that I’d ended the scene, and was occasionally completely disregarded.” [about Brent]

Here is another summary by Ozy.

Duncan's Response:

It seems clear that Brent made little effort to hide his deranged ideology. Duncan was close to Brent. Despite this, Duncan was one of the last people left defending Brent. I encourage you to read his own words. Here is what he posted on Facebook long after the situation was clear:

"There's a Thing going on in my social circles. Someone I know (who wishes to remain anonymous) recommended that a version of the following statement be posted by the person at the center of the Thing. I don't think that person is likely to follow that advice. I imagine that they're pretty overwhelmed, whether they're guilty or innocent or something in between. I'm posting it here myself, instead, putting words in their mouth, to see how people respond. For instance, I can imagine people saying that it makes sense, or that it's not enough, or that it's manipulative, or that it's good but sets up bad incentives, etc. I wonder if a statement like this would be seen as meaningful, in this whole situation, or if it would simply be confirming evidence to both sides. I'm curious to hear your reactions. I am unlikely to respond to any of them. Again, this is me, a third party who knows everyone involved reasonably well, IMAGINING words that they might say, in response to prompting from another anonymous third party. None of this is secretly a sock puppet campaign, for instance. The people involved can't see this post or your replies to it. (I'm trying to figure out subtle social stuff, and NONE of them need the stress of watching us throwing a bunch of hypotheticals back and forth when their lived experience is real and present-to-them and traumatic. But at the same time, I think the rest of us HAVE to be able to discuss these things, and not to let our knee-jerk reactions run the show.) You're allowed to be emotional in your response, if you have one. You don't have to try to adhere to my usual standard of rationality. You can say things that you don't fully endorse or can't fully defend (and I will defend you from others attacking those things, though they're welcome to disagree with them). But avoid escalation/accusations/flame wars on this hypothetical thread; if things get too tribal or too fight-or-flight I'll just delete them."

-------------------------------------------------------- A statement from an imaginary version of Brent:

"Two of the women I have dated believe I have abused them. Others might feel the same. From my point of view, I think the story is more complex, and there's a lot of difficult-to-predict and difficult-to-understand stuff going on with consent and power dynamics and people asking you to do things in unusual contexts and people processing trauma. However, I agree that I hurt them, and I agree that their present pain is at least half on my shoulders. I have tried repeatedly to atone and apologize, and been unable, in part because our history understandably makes it difficult for them to let me get close enough to do so. I'm not adding a public apology here, because that just sets up a weird dynamic. But I regret what happened, did not want them to be where they are now, and would do things differently given a time machine. Here are their statements [link]. Here is mine [link]. If you are thinking of dating me, this is information you deserve to have. I don't think all of what's written there is true, but it's all believed by those who wrote it, and that counts for something even if facts are uncertain. I don't think these stories disqualify me from being a good romantic partner, or an upstanding member of society. I do think they provide evidence about my ability to tell where the line is, or to distinguish between what my partners seem to me to want in the moment versus what they will endorse having wanted in the future. If you're uncertain about your ability to stand your own ground, or susceptible to pressure and confusion, you shouldn't date me. If you think I'm an abuser, you absolutely shouldn't date me. But I don't think that all people fall into those buckets, and I don't think the answer to my past is to preemptively make everyone else's decisions for them in the future."

-------------------------------------------------------- Two things to add (since, again, I don't plan on responding much to comments): 1) 

I (Duncan) do think there remains genuine uncertainty about matters of fact and blame. I think that the statements of the women are entirely accurate insofar as they honestly represent the pain and trauma experienced, and what was going on for them both in the past and now. I don't think they're exaggerating what it felt like to go through what they went through. I think they deserve trust, care, support, and protection, and that they are acting in honest defense of future women who they want to protect from similar experiences. AND YET it still seems to me, given my present state of knowledge (which includes private conversations with all involved parties at various points in time), that all of the data admit of multiple explanations, not all of which require malice, and that it's my moral obligation to not throw away those explanations in which the cause is [tragedy and confusion and it's-hard-to-communicate-around-sex-and-power and people-often-mispredict-how-they-will-respond-to-things] as opposed to [overt intent-to-harm or sociopathic disregard for others]. I agree 100% that unintended harm is STILL HARM, and that risky behavior is STILL RISKY even when people consent, and that it's reasonable to take concrete action to prevent the future from resembling the past when the past caused damage. This is not a call for "no action." But we can take preventive action without incorrectly vilifying people, and I don't yet have sufficient reason to believe that vilification is the right direction to move in.

2) If you ever find yourself in a position like the one described by the women involved in this situation, and you reach out to me, I will come for you, I will get you out, and I will 100% respect your autonomy and sovereignty as I do so. I have done this in the past and I will continue to do it in the future. I don't have to know who's right and who's wrong and whose fault it is to simply help create space for people who desperately need it.

You can make up your own mind on whether Duncan should be making these grandiose claims about his ability to model social situations. It is harder to cite but Duncan is also famously combative even on relatively unimportant topics. I am not saint either. I have made a lot of mistakes too. But I don't go around saying "All of which is to say that I spend a decent chunk of the time being the guy in the room who is most aware of the fuckery swirling around me".  I am really sorry for the ways I fucked up. People can do better, I am trying to do better. But doing better is going to require some level of humility. The track record of Duncan's ideology is not good. Duncan needs to be taking a very different approach. 


Self-Integrity and the Drowning Child

Humans don't swim very well wearing lots of clothing. Take off your suit before going into the water.

I Really Don't Understand Eliezer Yudkowsky's Position on Consciousness

Animal rights obsessed vegan checking in:

I am extremely worried gpt3 is concious! To be honest i am worried about whether my laptop is concious! A lot of people worried about animal suffering are also worried about algorithms suffering.

People Will Listen

I have suffered the severe consequences of selling a majority of my Solana around 40. 

Zoe Curzi's Experience with Leverage Research

This reaction has been predictable for years IMO. As usual, a reasonable response required people to go public. There is no internal accountability process. Luckily things have been made public.

How to think about and deal with OpenAI

Releasing GPT-3 non-trivially increased the odds of doomsday. So yeah they are not good actors.

Fascists and Rakes

Many people have proposed this model with respect to animals but it isn't true. This old post covers a particular saliant time it came up in the rationalist community.

Vegans: If the meat eaters believed what you did about animal sentience, most of them would be vegans, and they would be horrified by their many previous murders. Your heart-wrenching videos aren't convincing to them because they aren't already convinced that animals can feel.


I think the people who changed my mind about this are underestimating how many people believe non-humans aren't sentient, but I was drastically underestimating how many believe animals have internal experience but eat them anyway.

This is also misleading because I am mostly not in the group of meat-eaters I was describing, despite eating meat. Granted, I didn't claim to be, but it's a perfectly predictable inference that I shouldn't have allowed. Before now, I thought that other people reflectively aware of being like me were incredibly rare, but apparently I was wrong. I've seen several people today claim that they believe animals are conscious and that they don't care.

The Coordination Frontier: Sequence Intro

In my experience, people seem to coordinate ok when they genuinely share the same goals. A lot of friends of mine have mostly shared the goal of 'make six to eight figures on crypto'. Truly enormous amounts of money was loaned on trust. Several deals were made when the price was still unclear (just get me 30K on Biden) and people never asked for receipts. No one was ever stiffed out of their money. As far as I know, there has not been a single serious dispute.

Many of the people involved don't even like each other! And yet huge amounts of money changed hands based on reputation and trust. Many people were willing to help out people they didn't even like at moderate or high risk to themselves (and no upside, just screwed over or neutral). This is very common in crypto. Even at the scale of OTC desks, many things are run on trust. There are definitely scammers but among the 'community' most things are settled in a very high trust environment.

If people really want they can coordinate. Most of the time there are actually hugely conflicting goals and people don't want to 'coordinate'. 

I will say people working on 'finding the best mtg deck' seem to coordinate really well too. If you don't spend much time in communities with genuinely shared goals it is easy to forget what it looks like!

Columbus, OH – ACX Meetups Everywhere 2021

Good amount of RSVPs. Excited to meet people.

Going Out With Dignity

I don't know how it will all play out in the end. I hope kindness wins and I agree the effect you discuss is real. But it is not obvious that our empathy increases faster than our capacity to do harm. Right now, for each human there are about seven birds/mammals on farms. This is quite the catastrophe. Perhaps that problem will eventually be solved by lab meat. But right now animal product consumption is still going up worldwide. And many worse things can be created and maybe those will endure.

People can be shockingly cruel to their own family. Scott's Who by Very Slow Decay is one of the scariest things I ever read. How can people do this to their own parents?

After a while of this, your doctors will call a meeting with your family and very gingerly raise the possibility of going to “comfort care only”, which means they disconnect the machines and stop the treatments and put you on painkillers so that you die peacefully. Your family will start yelling at the doctors, asking how the hell these quacks were ever allowed to practice when for God’s sake they’re trying to kill off Grandma just so they can avoid doing a tiny bit of work. They will demand the doctors find some kind of complicated surgery that will fix all your problems, add on new pills to the thirteen you’re already being force-fed every day, call in the most expensive consultants from Europe, figure out some extraordinary effort that can keep you living another few days.

Robin Hanson sometimes writes about how health care is a form of signaling, trying to spend money to show you care about someone else. I think he’s wrong in the general case – most people pay their own health insurance – but I think he’s spot on in the case of families caring for their elderly relatives. The hospital lawyer mentioned during orientation that it never fails that the family members who live in the area and have spent lots of time with their mother/father/grandparent over the past few years are willing to let them go, but someone from 2000 miles away flies in at the last second and makes ostentatious demands that EVERYTHING POSSIBLE must be done for the patient.

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