What went wrong in this interaction?

post by t3tsubo · 2018-12-12T19:59:57.790Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW · 8 comments

This is a question post.


    17 anna_macdonald
    4 Benquo
    1 TedSanders

I'm curious about an interaction I had a few weeks ago with someone in the rationality community, I was wondering if someone here can look at the conversation and evaluate what 'went wrong' so to speak.

It began with some comments I made on a blog post, where I disagreed with the author that 'metoo' was good, but rather than discuss the entire point I wanted just to address some counterexamples to something the author said about metoo never having gone too far. The post is here: http://benjaminrosshoffman.com/metoo-is-good/

After a bit of back and forth, it seemed like I should try take it to private chat before it turned into a demon thread [LW · GW]. This was the ensuing conversation: https://pastebin.com/epQmxZK2

It seems to me like my points were understood, and likewise I didn't quite get what the author was trying to make me understand.

To me, it seems to me like my points were understood, and likewise I didn’t quite get what the author was trying to make me understand.

The author also seemed hostile and unwilling to engage, and how he disengaged from the conversation seemed like a personal attack that was unjustified. But I’m biased, so I was wondering if it was something about my comments or behavior or tone that I was missing that provoked that response, or if I misread the hostility at all.

And any thoughts about why the author had that kind of a reaction? It was not what I expected since I thought most rational community members would welcome a honest discussion like the one I was trying to start.


answer by anna_macdonald · 2018-12-12T23:49:12.510Z · score: 17 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Here's my rehash of how your conversation comes across to me:

Benquo: #MeToo is good.

t3tsubo: Here's 3 examples of people who have suffered negative consequences from being falsely accused.

Benquo: Those first two were before #MeToo, not bothering to check the third.

t3tsubo: They still had their lives ruined as part of outrage culture.

Benquo: Broader cultural trends =/= #MeToo, and yeah, I agree there's some problems with broader cultural trends, but I don't think #MeToo has made it any worse.

t3tsubo: So we define #MeToo differently.

---followed by completely talking past each other---

At this point, Disputing Definitions becomes relevant. You are insisting on the claim that (a) #MeToo-alberzle (the broader cultural trend of being more open and accusing towards sexual harassment) has negative downsides.

He is insisting on the claim (b) #MeToo-bargulum (the specific thing started by Milano's tweet in 2017) does not have serious downsides (only some minor ones).

He briefly agreed with you that (a) was true, and you didn't seem to respond to that agreement. He repeatedly protested that your 3 cases—or the 2 he bothered to check—didn't support (not-b). He is correct about that; they only support (a). To move the conversation forward, you needed to stop and think about whether you only want to assert (a), in which case you are both in agreement, yay, conversation over...or whether you also want to assert (not-b), in which case you should come up with some examples that support (not-b).

comment by Bucky · 2018-12-13T11:51:16.865Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Good summary.

I'd like to add that sometimes definitions do matter, particularly in a public settings such as a blog. Even if t3tsubo and Benquo agree with both (a) and (b), it is possible that others reading the OP think that it is asserting (not-a).

If a significant number of people reading the blog are likely to think that it is asserting (not-a), rather than asserting (b), then it may be worth clarifying the OP to ensure that the correct message is received. I don't know whether this would be a common misunderstanding, I can only conclude that at least one person read the post as asserting (not-a).

comment by anna_macdonald · 2018-12-13T19:41:54.742Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is a good point.

answer by Benquo · 2018-12-14T21:25:14.153Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's usually considered rude to say that someone's being disingenuous. I don't mind that per se, as I think it's important to be able to discuss the possibility of bad-faith openly since it's so common, but I'd have appreciated a clearer account of exactly how you thought I was being dishonest.

Overall it wasn't clear to me what your actual disagreement was with me, and none of your examples seemed like evidence against a belief I actually held. More clarity about what you thought I was saying, and how on that model your examples should have been surprising to me, would have been helpful.

I didn't perceive our conversation as especially hostile on net, but by the end I wanted to check out of it because I was getting frustrated and didn't see it resolving in a reasonable amount of time without a large additional expenditure of interpretive labor on my part, so I said so. I think it's important for overtly ending a conversation for reasons to be within our range of affordances, for roughly the reasons Wei Dai pointed out here.

answer by TedSanders · 2018-12-12T22:59:13.124Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't perceive either of you as hostile.

I think you each used words differently.

For example, you interpret the post as saying, "metoo has never gone too far."

What the post actually said was, "I've heard people complain that it 'goes too far,' but in my experience the cases referred to that way tend to be cases where someone... didn't endure much in the way of additional consequences."

I read that sentence that as much more limited in scope than your interpretation. (And because it says 'tend' and not 'never', supplying a couple of data points isn't enough information, by itself, to challenge the author's conclusion.)

In addition, you interpreted "metoo" as broadly meaning action against those accused of sexual misconduct.

However, the author interprets "metoo" more narrowly, as meaning action against those accused of sexual misconduct that would otherwise not have occurred in a counterfactual world without the #metoo movement that took off in 2017.

So in the end you didn't seem to disagree with the author's point, just their word usage.

I can empathize why the author wasn't eager to sustain the interaction with you. You used words differently and asked a bunch of questions asking the author to explain themselves. The author may have logically perceived the conversation as a cost, not a benefit.

This is my perception of your conversation. I hope it is helpful to you.


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comment by Benquo · 2018-12-13T01:51:17.723Z · score: 24 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Just wanted to say that I think asking questions like “How did this go wrong?” is really cool and I wish there were more of this generally.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-12-13T03:02:32.980Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, me too. Seems pretty good both as a way to learn about communication, and as a way to create public instructions about how to make things go well.

comment by shminux · 2018-12-13T00:55:24.414Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have't read through the exchange, so here is a bit of a generally applicable advice that tends to always work unless one of the parties is out to get the other (like in the SJW reaction to the "comment 171"). I don't pretend to imply that I follow my own advice here or elsewhere all the time :)

Active listening makes every exchange less confrontational and more constructive. We may think ourselves rational beings, but we are anything but. Validating the other party's feelings makes them much more receptive to hearing you out later. So, recap your best understanding of their point, acknowledge that their feelings are valid, without necessarily agreeing with their views, e.g. "It is terrible that before the #metoo movement so many public figures have been able to get away with sexual harassment, something that the movement helped curb to a significant degree" and "I really like the conclusion of your post which says 'Thanks for everyone who's listened carefully and neither automatically believed nor automatically dismissed, but thought for themselves' as this approach protects the victims of sexual abuse while avoiding the pitfalls of potential false accusations." After the validation, ask a clarifying question, e.g. "What do you think of the #metoo reaction to the case of [...]? On the one hand, ..., but on the other hand ... ."

Edit: looked through the exchange, and my impression is that you both had tried to find the common ground (with Ben trying especially hard at the beginning), but then the emotions took over and the conversation stopped being productive.