"Twelve Virtues of Rationality" has always seemed really culty to me. I've never read it, which may be part of the reason. It just comes across as telling people exactly how they should be, and what they should value.

Also, I've never liked that quote about the Sequences. I agree with it, what I've read of the sequences (and it would be wrong to not count HPMOR in this) is by far the most important work I've ever read. But that doesn't mean that's what we should advertise to people.

All you are saying here is "The title of the Twelve Virtues makes me feel bad." That is literally all you are saying, since you admit to not having read it.

I quote:

It's supposed to be strange. Strange gets attention. Strange sticks in the mind. Strange makes the truth memorable. Other suggestions are possible, I guess, but can the result be equally strange?

I'll tell you one thing. It got my attention. It got me interested in rationality. I've shown it to others; they all liked it or were indifferent. If you're going to say "culty" b... (read more)

2John_Maxwell8yI almost forgot this, but I was pretty put off by the 12 virtues as well when I first came across it on reddit at age 14 or so. My reaction was something like "you're telling me I should be curious? What if I don't want to be curious, especially about random stuff like Barbie dolls or stamp collecting?" I think I might have almost sent Eliezer an e-mail about it. When you put this together with what Eliezer called "the bizarre "can't get crap done" phenomenon that afflicts large fractions of our community [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4na/are_you_a_paralyzed_subordinate_monkey/], which he attributes to feelings of low status, this paints a picture of LW putting off the sort of person who is inclined to feel high status (and is therefore good at getting crap done, but doesn't like being told what to do). This may be unrelated to the cult issue. Of course, these hypothetical individuals who are inclined to feel high status might not like being told how to think better either... which could mean that Less Wrong is not their cup of tea under any circumstances. But I think it makes sense to shift away from didacticism on the margin.

Cult impressions of Less Wrong/Singularity Institute

by John_Maxwell 1 min read15th Mar 2012248 comments


If you type "less wrong c" or "singularity institute c" into Google, you'll find that people are searching for "less wrong cult" and "singularity institute cult" with some frequency. (EDIT: Please avoid testing this out, so Google doesn't autocomplete your search and reinforce their positions. This kind of problem can be hard to get rid of. Click these instead: less wrong cult, singularity institute cult.)
There doesn't seem to be anyone arguing seriously that Less Wrong is a cult, but we do give some newcomers that impression.

I have several questions related to this:

  • Did anyone reading this initially get the impression that Less Wrong was cultish when they first discovered it?
  • If so, can you suggest any easy steps we could take?
  • Is it possible that there are aspects of the atmosphere here that are driving away intelligent, rationally inclined people who might otherwise be interested in Less Wrong?
  • Do you know anyone who might fall into this category, i.e. someone who was exposed to Less Wrong but failed to become an enthusiast, potentially due to atmosphere issues?
  • Is it possible that our culture might be different if these folks were hanging around and contributing? Presumably they are disproportionately represented among certain personality types.

If you visit any Less Wrong page for the first time in a cookies-free browsing mode, you'll see this message for new users:

Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Here are the worst violators I see on that about page:

Some people consider the Sequences the most important work they have ever read.

Generally, if your comment or post is on-topic, thoughtful, and shows that you're familiar with the Sequences, your comment or post will be upvoted.

Many of us believe in the importance of developing qualities described in Twelve Virtues of Rationality: [insert mystical sounding description of how to be rational here]

And on the sequences page:

If you don't read the sequences on Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions and Reductionism, little else on Less Wrong will make much sense.

This seems obviously false to me.

These may not seem like cultish statements to you, but keep in mind that you are one of the ones who decided to stick around. The typical mind fallacy may be at work. Clearly there is some population that thinks Less Wrong seems cultish, as evidenced by Google's autocomplete, and these look like good candidates for things that makes them think this.

We can fix this stuff easily, since they're both wiki pages, but I thought they were examples worth discussing.

In general, I think we could stand more community effort being put into improving our about page, which you can do now here. It's not that visible to veteran users, but it is very visible to newcomers. Note that it looks as though you'll have to click the little "Force reload from wiki" button on the about page itself for your changes to be published.