Jonah Stephen Swersey

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Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0

I should clarify upfront that I am not a rationalist, and am not a fan of LessWrong. 

That said, I have some experience when it comes to... this sort of thing.

So when I was a little younger, I was the figurehead and leader of a sex cult. (Oddly enough, I did this without ever really understanding that it was, in fact, a sex cult. One of my best friends described this as a "Jerry Smith plot", which I found hilarious.) This cult was, in practice, a discord server focused around my erotic hypnosis work. I copied the model from another server that was definitely a sex cult, and tried to strip out all of the culty elements and just leave the aesthetics (because a lot of us liked the aesthetics). But you really can't reconstitute the structure of a high-control group without, in various ways, reconstituting the behavior of a high-control group. It doesn't work - the culty shit works its way back in if you're not extremely careful. And I was not careful, for reasons that may be obvious if you think about the perks one gets as the figurehead of a sex cult. A lot of people got hurt.

Why bring that up? Because hoo boy does this tick a lot of similar boxes. 

A lot of things scream "high control environment", which... okay, not necessarily all red flags. And he's dating subordinates. Again, not always bad. Like, in the traditional business world, a boss sleeping with one of their subordinates at all is considered a red flag - not illegal, but certainly a really bad idea due to the power dynamics in play. 

But given what this post says, it sounds like he's essentially using his star power to specifically attract young women, then grooming them, isolating them within the group, using various forms of psychological manipulation to make them more invested, and connecting their housing to their employment. My brain takes these facts, and then quickly and easily maps them onto my experience as a member of one sex cult and the leader of another. I find the result very concerning.

But even if all of that isn't enough of a red flag, consider that the OP of this post has made it anonymously and seems to find it important that this organization not think ill of them. 

Training My Friend to Cook

As someone with a background in classical conditioning, hypnosis, and a few assorted subjects... 

YIKES. 

Like, sure, the way I use it is more intimate, but throughout this whole article my thoughts kept rushing to, "Jesus, does Brittany know you're using aggressive and manipulative psychological techniques to train her? Is there informed consent? Is there any consent?" Like, if Brittany sees this article, do you expect her reaction to be, "Oh, cool, that's really fucking neat that you did that", or "Wait... you did what without telling me?!" Even if the outcome is good, the path to get there is... morally fraught, at the very least.

I thought "only positive reinforcement" was a good enough way to ensure that my kink discord server wouldn't end up culty. It did not work. It was an unsafe, unhealthy place to be, because it was, essentially, a sex cult around me, and I did not notice at the time. You have to be really careful with psychological manipulation, which is why informed consent is so crucial. 

Then again, this is LessWrong, so maybe you're just communicating in a way I don't understand. Maybe this just sounds creepy because you're putting it in Rationalese. But I will stress to any third parties that if you want to do this, for god's sake make sure you have explicit consent to do so