The rationalist community's location problem

by mingyuan4 min read23rd Sep 2020138 comments

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The Problem

Basically ever since the first rationalists settled in Berkeley, people have been saying, “Why do you live in Berkeley, Berkeley sucks! You should all move to Location X instead, it’s so much better.” The problem has always been that no one agrees on what Location X is. Some common candidates for Location X:

  • A smaller, cheaper, friendlier US city
  • NYC
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Somewhere with very low cost of living (often in Southeast Asia or Latin America)
  • London
  • Oxford
  • Blackpool
  • Prague
  • A castle
  • A private island

and of course

  • Wherever the speaker is from

In the past I've brushed off all such suggestions, because it was just too hard a coordination problem to get multiple hundreds of rationalists to leave Berkeley, where they've gotten jobs, rented or even bought houses, established organizations, enrolled in schools, and established social circles. 

But we're in a unique time! Due to the pandemic, there's far less reason to stay in any one place - work and school are remote, expensive leases can be terminated, and you can't see your friends anyway. Most of the rationalist houses I know have moved or dissolved, and the former Berkeley rationalists are flung across all corners of the globe (yeah I know globes don't have corners). A fair number of us have stayed, but I think for most of us it's just because our friends are here, we're hoping that someday the rest of our friends come back, and we're not sure where else to go. 

So, if ever there were a time when we actually had the chance to move the physical locus of the rationalist community, it's now. Below, I'll lay out what I believe to be some of the most important general considerations for deciding on a new location. I encourage people to make their case for a specific location, either in comments or in their own posts. (Looking at you, Mikk!) 


Considerations for Location X

Potential dealbreakers

Visas

In order to settle in a location, you have to be able to legally live there long-term. Most Berkeley rationalists are US citizens, and those who aren't have already paid the steep cost of acquiring US visas and learning US immigration law. This feels like a strong argument in favor of staying in the US somewhere, although it's possible there are places where this wouldn't actually be that much of an issue. In any case, it's certainly an argument against countries with strict immigration laws, like Switzerland.

Relatedly, organizations such as MIRI, CFAR, Open Phil, BERI, etc are registered in the US. I don't know how hard it would be for them to operate elsewhere and am unfamiliar with this domain in general.

Language 

Given that basically all rationalists speak English (since it's pretty hard to read the relevant material otherwise), we should settle somewhere English-speaking; it would be very costly if everyone had to deal with a language barrier every single day (or learn a new language). 

Notably this doesn't automatically disqualify all locations in e.g. continental Europe - Habryka points out that you can get along just fine in Berlin if you only know English. But somewhere like e.g. Japan looks like a much worse prospect on this metric.

National political environment / culture

The rationality community often attracts controversy, so it's important that we settle somewhere that protects freedom of thought and speech, and is generally friendly to weird ideas. We should definitely not move somewhere where political dissidents can be abducted willy nilly.

Some people are worried about unrest in the US, which might be reasonable, but on that metric it's still better to live here than, say, Mali or Afghanistan.

Local political environment / culture

Same basic considerations as the above. California may be an increasingly hostile environment for our community, but it's almost certainly still better to live here than in a town where people fly Confederate flags and openly carry guns. 

It's also really valuable to be near Silicon Valley. The Bay Area has a general culture of ambition and intellectual curiosity that's hard to find.

General infrastructure

People talk wistfully about private islands or about founding our own town, but my guess is that most of those people haven't actually thought those ideas through. A place needs SO MANY THINGS to sustain a modern human population: roads, electricity, water, laws, buildings, police, medicine, commerce, trash collection... and those are just the basic necessities! Despite the appeal of building something from the ground up and thus controlling every aspect of its development, it just seems way better to move to a place that already has this basic infrastructure in place.

Other important considerations

Cost of living

A major complaint about the Bay Area is rental prices, and justifiably so. Obviously cost of living interacts with a lot of other factors, but on the whole, it would feel pretty silly to leave the Bay only to move somewhere with equally high rent. 

Occupancy laws

Many municipalities, at least in the US, have laws prohibiting unrelated adults from sharing a home. This would render most group houses illegal.

Modern conveniences

Berkeley has fiber internet, 2-day Amazon delivery, a myriad of quick restaurant and grocery delivery options, and excellent coverage by Lyft, Uber, and bikeshares. I expect many would be reluctant to give up this level of convenience. This is a strike against private islands, remote castles, and developing countries, among others.

Walkability (/ bikeability / public transit)

Sparse suburban areas are terrible places to build community. In addition, driving is dangerous and owning a car is super annoying. We should settle somewhere where it's possible to all live close enough together that we can visit each other on foot, and also ideally where the city center is within walking distance of our homes. 

(Being able to bike safely and easily between homes and city center would also work. Sufficiently good public transit might also do the trick.)

Medical care

It's really important to have quick access to modern medicine – rationalists may largely be healthy 20-somethings, but healthy 20-somethings can still die of sepsis if they can't get antibiotics quickly. This is an argument against many locations in developing countries. It could also be construed as an argument against the US, where medical care is theoretically available but often avoided due to expense.

Additional things to consider

Crime

All else equal, less crime seems better. If that's not possible, property crime is better than violent crime. It's really unpleasant to have your bike or laptop stolen, but it's a lot worse when it happens at gunpoint (which happened to some of my friends when I lived in Chicago). 

(Aside: High-trust environments are great, but I would guess that in general they're also more insular, which might make it hard to pick up our ~300-person community, plop it down in an existing high-trust town, and have everyone maintain those high trust levels. No real action item here and I'm confused.)

Schools

Rationalists may be less likely than average to want kids, but that doesn't mean none of us are having them. I don't know if there's anywhere in the world that has truly non-terrible schools, but at least some schools are a lot less terrible than others.

Weather

A lot of people who live in California really hate extreme weather. A lot of people have SAD and don't want to live in a place that has winters. Natural disasters are bad too.


Call to Action

As I said above, I'd be excited for people to pitch their own favorite Location X! Write an essay making your case, or even just a bullet-pointed comment.

And please also let me know if there are additional considerations I missed.

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The Bay Area is a terrible place to live in many ways. I think if we were selecting for the happiness of existing rationalists, there's no doubt we should be somewhere else.

But if the rationalist project is supposed to be about spreading our ideas and achieving things, it has some obvious advantages. If MIRI is trying to lure some top programmer, it's easier for them to suggest they move to the Bay (and offer them enough money to overcome the house price hurdle) than to suggest they move to Montevideo or Blackpool or even Phoenix. If CEA is trying to get people interested in effective altruism, getting to socialize with Berkeley and Stanford professors is a pretty big plus. And if we're trying to get the marginal person who isn't quite a community member yet but occasionally reads Less Wrong to integrate more, that person is more likely to be in the Bay than anywhere else we could move. I think this is still true despite the coronavirus and fires. Maybe it's becoming less so, but it's hard to imagine any alternative hub that's anywhere near as good by these metrics. *Maybe* Austin.

Separating rationalists interested in quality-of-life from rationalists working for organizations and ... (read more)

(Source: I work at MIRI.)

MIRI is very seriously considering moving to a different country soon (most likely Canada), or moving to elsewhere in the US. No concrete plans or decisions at this point, and it's very possible we'll stay in the Bay; but I don't think people should make their current location decisions based on a confident prediction that MIRI is going to stay in the Bay.

If we do leave the Bay Area, some of the main places we're currently thinking about are New Hampshire and some other northeastern US spots, and the area surrounding Toronto in Canada. (Caveat: The top places we're considering might look pretty different a week or two from now.)

I'll say more about this once MIRI has more solid plans (even if those plans are just 'we decided against moving in the near future').

A non-exhaustive list of factors people at MIRI are talking about:

  • General costs of moving, which are obviously much larger when we're located close to a lot of friends and colleagues.
  • Costs and benefits of moving now vs. later, given current events and the difficulties of coordinating a move during normal times.
  • Quality of governance, cost of living, infrastructure construction and maintenance, air quality, reliable access to electricity and Internet.
  • Tail risk of things suddenly getting much worse (e.g., nuclear attacks, or sudden changes in people's common-knowledge sense of the acceptability of violence).
  • Culture, including something like 'people naturally copy behavior patterns from their peers and community, which can make it easier or harder to feel grounded, patient, ambitious, intellectually experimental, etc.'
  • Costs and benefits of living in/near high-population-density places, living in/near tech centers, etc.
  • Ease of immigration, hiring, organizing visits, etc.
  • Weather, climate, and daylight hours.
6Viliam3moSpeaking about costs and current events, has COVID-19 a visible impact on house prices? That could also be a part of decision whether to move sooner or later.

I have been collecting interest in an unchartered community in Niobrara, Wyoming with plans to gain critical mass for a state charter.

It's the smallest county in the state with ~2,000 population; the state has the most national voting power per person; generally the law is about as libertarian as any other and they've made a specific push to be a replacement Switzerland after Zurich cracked down on the banks, with especially friendliness to cryptocurrency.

There are currently 2200 acres for sale for $1MM, or smaller lots for less. I am personally committed to funding $100k if I can get enough interest.

Eventual plan would be to create Deep Springs College for working professionals, and attempt quick trials of new community governance norms of the kind proposed by RadicalxChange and others.

If you're interested, please fill out the spreadsheet here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19cK7t4WNzUd1oi0Q1jw0vkqHsUxXqzCvNbuRD5G02LE/edit?usp=drivesdk

If I lived in Wyoming and wanted to go to a fetish event, I guess I'm driving to maybe Denver, around 3h40 away? I know this isn't a consideration for everyone but it's important to me.

The same is basically true for any niche interest - it will only be fulfilled where there's adequate population to justify it. In my case, particular jazz music.

Probably a lot of people have different niche interests like that, even if they can't agree on one.

2Paul Crowley3moTrue; in addition, places vary a lot in their freak-tolerance.
2lincolnquirk3moHuh, interesting. I'd like to hear more about your plans & vision, but I've put my interest in the spreadsheet.
1ioannes_shade3moWild Wild Country 2: Electric Boogaloo [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Wild_Country]!

But if the rationalist project is supposed to be about spreading our ideas and achieving things [emphasis mine]

Thanks for phrasing this as a conditional! To fill in another branch of the if/else-if/else-if ... conditional statement: if the rationalist project is supposed to be about systematically correct reasoning—having the right ideas because they're right, rather than spreading our ideas because they're ours—then things that are advantageous to the movement could be disadvantageous to the ideology, if the needs of growing the coalition's resources conflict with the needs of constructing shared maps that reflect the territory.

if we're trying to get the marginal person who isn't quite a community member yet but occasionally reads Less Wrong to integrate more

I don't know who "we" are, but my personal hope for the marginal person who isn't quite a community member but occasionally reads this website isn't that they necessarily integrate with the community, but that they benefit from understanding the ideas that we talk about on this website—the stuff about science and Bayesian reasoning, which, being universals, bear no distinguishing evidence of their origin. I wouldn't wan... (read more)

I feel like there's a very serious risk of turning a 'broad rationalist movement' reaction, feeding on PARC adjacent extreme-aspirationals and secreting 'rationalists' into a permanently capped out minor regional cult by just deciding to move somewhere all avowed 'rationalists' choose.
I doubt most 'rationalists' or even most of the people who are likely to contribute to the literature of a rationalist movement have yet been converted to a specific sort of tribal self-identification that would lead them to pick up roots and all go to the same place at one time.
"Let's all leave and pick somewhere obscure" seems a lot more like a way for a movement that has decided to gracefully and deliberately coordinate self-annihilation than a strategy for growth.

 

I agree with regard to Moraga. Habryka and a few housemates of mine drove down to have a look around, and I think their main updates were that each house had only like 2 bedrooms, were all ~5x the distance from each other relative to Berkeley, there were no sidewalks, and no natural meeting place (the place with the shops had no natural seating), which means people just wouldn’t see each other very much unless everyone had a car and made it a conscious and constant effort. Even though it was nice and clean and so on.

I also agree wrt CFAR/MIRI. I would be interested in talking with them more, to see if they‘re open to moving generally, and what their preferences are, I’d massively prefer (both personally and as the LW team) to move with them than away from.

On the side of small-scale moving, I’m curious how you feel about the South Bay? It’s been an idea that a few friends of mine have raised, that after the pandemic we could recongregate there. It’s cleaner, a bit cheaper, larger houses, doesn’t have as much protests and conflict as Berkeley, has far fewer homeless people, and the same distance from SF, and would still work for group houses. It does have less good public transport, which matters if a sizeable number of us don’t primarily Uber for such things, although I think perhaps most of us do.

I actually feel like East Bay (Oakland and every place north of Oakland) is really pleasant:

  • Cost of living isn't terrible except for rent, and it's still possible to find good deals on rent, e.g. I've lived in North Oakland for 6 years and have only paid more than $1,000/month for one of those years (granted for the rest of the time I've been living in group houses or with a partner)
  • East Bay parks are amazing
  • Minimal social decay except for downtown Berkeley and parts of Oakland
  • Wonderful weather for ~10 months of the year (every season except for fire season)
  • Lots of interesting + diverse people, intellectual communities, and social life

 

What am I missing? 

It also rules out Cascadian cities like Portland and Seattle - only marginally better housing costs, worse fires, and worse social decay (eg violence in Portland).

I'm not sure this is so conclusive, regarding Seattle. A few notes --

  1. The rent is 40% less than San Francisco, and 20% less than Berkeley. (And the difference seems likely to continue or increase, because Seattle is willing to build housing.)
  2. There is no state income tax.
  3. While the CHAZ happened in Seattle, my impression is that day-to-day it's much more livable than SF. (I haven't lived there in a few years, but from 2007-2014 I thought it was wonderful.)
  4. If MIRI (or others) want to hire programmers, Seattle is probably the 2nd best market in the US for it. (Think of where the big tech cos all have their first secondary offices. It's all Seattle or NYC.)
3ioannes_shade3moAgree with these points, though Seattle doesn't seem very dynamic compared to the Bay, LA, NYC, or even Salt Lake. (It seems very normie, to use a pejorative.)

>it's less than an hour's drive to Boston

this is pretty damn strong for intellectual hub considerations. I had been thinking Denver or Santa Cruz were the only real choices due to decriminalization (leading indicator) but given NH's politics they might follow along in the next few years.

Additional factor: availability of compatible people who didn't move there for this group. This is important for several reasons, including:

  • Inflow of new ideas
  • Ease of joining and leaving. If rationalists take over a small town, the only thing there for them is other rationalists. That makes joining and leaving into very binary decisions. It doesn't let people slowly notice incompatibilities and amoeba into another social group.  

Ease of joining and leaving.

See also Let Me Go Back, which looks at 'barrier to exit' as one of the 'barriers to entry'; trying something out is expensive not just because you have to switch to it, but also because you have to switch back if you don't like it.

8juliawise3moNew Hampshire surprised me for this reason. There's a small group of LW types but my impression is they feel pretty isolated.

I'm not a regular member of this community, OR a resident of the Bay Area, so apply extreme skepticism to my observations and my suggestions. They are submitted with significant humility. 

  1. I don't think there's any practical way to relocate a cultural hub on purpose. It might move on its own, over time, but that will be an incremental process. So, to some degree, I think this discussion is moot. Even if a few huge players announced an agreed upon "Second Hub" I don't think many people would/could just pick up and go there. 
  2. Nevertheless, various factors (COVID, better online collaboration tools, economic factors that make the Bay Area uniquely difficult) do seem to acting to make relocation an easier sell, so it's reasonable to think about this. 
  3. Trying to list all the things that would make an alternate location better is a bad approach. It will be a different list for everyone. Anywhere that would tick off most of the boxes currently ticked off by the Bay Area would probably also have the same flaws as the Bay Area. 
  4. That said, I think there is one sort-of easy answer that SORT-OF gets at the root problem. The root problem is not the Bay Area per se. The root prob
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5ChristianKl3moCurrently both the Amish and the Mormons are more effective at increasing their believer counts then the catholics. In both cases there's a strong focus on a certain demographic region. If you see the project of rationality as mainly about spreading what we already have, then being distributed would make sense. If you see it more as being about going from 0 to 1 and evolving new rationalist techniques and models, it's more useful to be concentrated. Evolving rational thought is about sitting down together and doing hard work. Being in the same location helps with doing hard work together. It also makes it easier to pass knowledge about experiments, both successful and failed along.
2Viliam3moAn incremental process may still benefit from coordination. If once in a while somebody decides to move to "a place with many rationalists that is not Bay Area", it may help if it is common knowledge that X is the place. So instead of three people moving to Boston, three people moving to Toronto, and three people moving to New Hampshire, we might get nine people moving to e.g. Boston. But also, if each Catholic lived in a different town, Catholicism would disappear in one generation. I wonder how much "spreading rationality" actually happens offline. At least I think I haven't converted a single person, regardless of how many local meetups I organized. The local rationalists I know are those who came to the first meetups already being rationalists. It is great to meet each other sometimes, but it is unrelated to spreading rational thought. Seems to me that as long as the internet debates remain, the recruitment channels will remain untouched, even if we all moved to the same place (which is unlikely to happen). Unless we all lived so close to each other that we would no longer feel a need to go debate online. But I assume there will always be more than one hub; and then there will at least be an online communication between them. Given our numbers, our situation is more similar to Libertarians than to Democrats, which kinda makes this an argument in favor of New Hampshire. :) This assumes that people listen to the lonely rational person. But my actual objection is more like "put your oxygen mask on first". If rationalists are rare, it is important to protect them against burning out, which can be achieved by a supporting environment. And if a rationalist wants to address a local problem, it seems useful to have other rationalists familiar with the same problem, so they can share knowledge, discuss strategies, cooperate. (Which approach is better, probably depends on the specific problem.) I think here we agree a lot. You don't have to put a sign saying "if yo

We could pick a second hub instead of a new first hub. We don't need consensus or even a plurality. We just need critical mass in a location other than Berkeley. Preferably that new location would cater to a group that's not well-served by Berkeley so we can get more total people into a hub. If we're being careful, we should worry about Berkeley losing its critical mass as a result of the second hub, however, I don't think that's a likely outcome.

There's some loss from splitting people across two hubs rather than getting everyone into one hub. However, I suspect indecision is causing way more long-term loss than the split would. I would recommend first trying to get more people into some hub, then worry about consolidation later.

I think NYC was long a 'second hub', and there were a bunch of third-tier hubs, but I think the relationships between the hubs never really worked out to make a happy global community. Here's a post about some previous context. I also suspect that the community has never really had enough people or commitment to have 'critical mass' for multiple hubs, and this is part of the problem.

I think there are some systems that have successfully figured this out. I am optimistic about a bunch of current EA student groups at top universities, many of which I visited on the SSC road trip, where there's both 1) natural recruitment and 2) natural outflow. If someone graduates from Yale and doesn't stay in New Haven, this is not a surprise; if someone who works as a professional in Austin moves to the Bay Area, this is more of a surprise. This does have a succession problem, where it may be the case that a particular student organizer is great, and once they graduate the group falls apart, but I think at least one university has gone through a few 'generations' of organizers, and there's probably more we can do to support future organizers.

I also think the Mormons have figured this out, where 'Sa... (read more)

1sen4moThat was a fascinating post about the relationship with Berkeley. I wonder how the situation has changed in the last two years since people became more cognizant of the problem. Note that some of the comments there refute your idea that the community never had enough people for multiple hubs. NYC and Melbourne in particular seemed to have plenty of people, but they dissipated after core members repeatedly got recruited by Berkeley. It seems like Berkeley was overtly trying to eat other communities, but EA did it just by being better at a thing many Rationalists hoped the Rationality Community would be. The "competition" with EA seems healthy, so perhaps that one should be encouraged more explicitly. I'll note that for all the criticisms leveled at Berkeley in that post, I get the same impression of LW that Evan_Gaensbauer had of Berkeley. The sensible posts here (per my arrogant perspective) are much more life- and community-oriented. Jan_Kulveit in your link gave a tidy explanation of why that is, and I think it's close to spot-on. Your observations about practical plans for secondary hubs are exactly what I'd expect.
2adamzerner4moSimilar point: it seems to me that having multiple hubs makes sense.

a single second hub that specifically optimizes for the second largest cluster of desirable traits that the first hub misses seems optimal to me.

Here are some other considerations. They sort of overlap yours; but some people might find these frames carve things at a more helpful level of abstraction. 
 

Groundedness: Some people encounter rationality ideas and either go crazy, or do lots of harm to themselves (for example, by working themselves into burnout or depression from a sense of moral guilt). Living locations can be more or less conducive to this. Berkeley seems particularly bad -- it's filled with a pretty trippy aesthetic. It feel unsafe/unwholesome in terms of various problems with homelessness, crime, etc. Oxford is a lot better. It's small, calm, beautiful, safe and with a very stable and historic culture. Though it's still not on the Pareto frontier of groundedness. 

Proximity to power (or greatness on some other dimension): Hubs are real. People go to San Francisco to start startups, LA to become actors, London to work in finance, DC to work in think tanks... and so forth. For me this was an almost overwhelming consideration in wanting to live near San Francisco. Nowhere else has such a remarkable diversity of ambitious intellectuals; people like Jonathan Blow, Bret Victor, Peter Thiel (yes, I kno... (read more)

My sense is that coordination for this is basically impossible, because of competing access needs. I am most optimistic about versions of this that will:

1) Happen even if no one else signs on. [For example, people moving to small towns within commuting distance of SF/Berkeley, where it makes sense for them even if no one else moves to Pinole or Moraga or wherever.]
2) Be readily extensible. [If one person buys in Pinole, other people can later buy other houses in Pinole, and slowly shift the balance. Many rationalist group houses started off as a single apartment in a split house, and slowly took over through organic growth. Building a neighborhood of small houses in upstate Vermont to replace your group house, if it works, probably also means someone else could build a subdivision for their group house next door.]
3) Pick a vision and be willing to deliver on it. [You're not going to find a place that has great weather and cheap property value and proximity to great cities; that's not how efficient markets work. Instead, figure out the few criteria that matter most to you, and do what it takes to achieve those criteria.]

This is basically the only way I see for projects to get out of... (read more)

7johnswentworth4moThat's not entirely true - these are only three variables. Efficient markets says that everywhere will be on some pareto frontier, not on this particular pareto frontier. And given the extreme distortions in the Bay Area housing market, there's a plausible argument that the area isn't on any pareto frontier.
8Vaniver4moSure, one could argue that Oakland actually fits the three desiderata, because I left out "low crime," altho I don't think Oakland is actually cheap. The broader point of "you get what you pay for" holds, I think, and the only way you get something 'acceptably cheap' is deliberately deciding to not pay for some things you could pay for.

"You get what you pay for" isn't really the rule. The rule is more like: in order to get it, you must pay for it. But the converse does not hold: just because you pay for it, does not mean you get it.

In the Bay Area case specifically: there's a lot of people in the Bay Area with very high-paying jobs, who would not make nearly as much money living elsewhere. In order to get those high-paying jobs, they have to shell out for expensive Bay Area living costs. (In order to get "it" - i.e. the high-paying job - they must pay for it.) This was certainly the main reason I lived there for many years. But paying those high Bay Area living costs will not magically cause one to make lots of money. (Just because you pay for it, does not mean you get it.)

In terms of pareto frontiers: the Bay Area is on the "software engineer salary" pareto frontier, but that has very little value to people who do not currently work in software. (Going by the numbers from this survey, I'd guess that about half the LW community is in the software industry. The other half can probably make about as much money elsewhere, at much lower living cost.)

We are two AI safety researchers (combined AF karma: around 200) who have been happily living as roommates for the past ~year in Reno, Nevada.  We have an empty room in our house.  The rent for the room is $400/mo.  Some factors to consider re: whether you want to come live with us in Reno (either as a roommate, or starting your own house):

  • Reno is about as close to the Bay Area as you can get without paying state income tax.  It costs about $20 to get a bus ticket down to the Bay.  The bus has power and wifi, so you can work during the ~8 hour drive.  (I'm not sure how good the wifi is, I try & use it as offline work time, but I tend to get distracted by the beautiful scenery.)
  • If you have a profoundly gifted child you want to send to school, or want to work with profoundly gifted kids, the nearby Davidson Academy is supposed to be the best place in the US for this.
  • Pre-pandemic, we had a nice SSC meetup going with a few people attending.
  • Short commute to Burning Man.
  • There are more gun people here than in California; almost 40% of households in Washoe County keep firearms in their homes: http://www.city-data.com/top2/co8.html  Unclear if this is
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I think a more attractive option than a group house is something like a pocket neighborhood or baugruppe; I think a location being favorable to that sort of development is a major point in its favor.

There's a story in Happy City (great book, highly recommended) about some people becoming friends with their neighbors, knocking down the fences in their backyards, and eventually spreading this to their entire block, such that it became a big, semi-private park surrounded by the houses of trusted friends. Habryka and I are definitely pretty excited about something like that. In an area with less insane property values I would imagine this would be pretty doable. 

3lincolnquirk4moThis seems absolutely right to me. I've been noodling on ideas in this space for a long time and it definitely seems like the right end-state for living long term is more like an archipelago / cluster than the group houses we usually see. I also don't know how to find places that are well suited to this sort of development. But even without the support of a town, it should be possible, with enough planning/thoughtfulness, to purchase (over time) a high % of the properties within a given city block or cul-de-sac or apartment building or whatever. To me, this just seems like a chicken-and-egg coordination problem -- there are so many plausible cul-de-sacs you could buy, none will be perfect but any could work if there was already momentum, but there's not yet. (Also, most people are impatient and don't have the lifestyle slack to wait 2-5 years for a place to open up in their desired pocket neighborhood)

Case for Berlin ( I will add to it):

Language 

You can get by in Berlin without knowing German and I know people who do. Of course there are costs to not being able to speak German but Berlin might be one of the cities outside of countries where English is the official languages where you can get farthest without English.

Walkability (/ bikeability / public transit)

Walkability in Berlin is good. We are Of course for walkability to work for a community it's necessary for the community to live in the same part of the city.

Berkeley has fiber internet, 2-day Amazon delivery, a myriad of quick restaurant and grocery delivery options, and excellent coverage by Lyft, Uber, and bikeshares. I expect many would be reluctant to give up this level of convenience. This is a strike against private islands, remote castles, and developing countries, among others.

2-day Amazon delievery seems really strange to be listed as a benefit.

Amazon currently tells me about how I get free same day delivery for a bunch of items with prime. There's next day delievery to remote castles in Germany with Amazon. 

Berlin has great internet and Uber (and other companies like FreeNow) and bikeshares.

Cost of livi

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Upvoted, I would like to see Berlin considered more strongly. Having lived there for two years, I think it's hard to overestimate how high the quality of living in Berlin is, not just in the easily verifiable ways listed above, but also in more subtle ways. E.g., in addition to being much cheaper, restaurants/cuisine just generally seems higher quality compared to many other places. German housing is much better than UK/US housing in ways that seem hard to appreciate for people who haven't lived in both locations, etc.

Edit: To clarify, I don't want to suggest Berlin as the one single best rationalist hub, but as one of the global top 5.

To add some downsides:

  • The language barrier is still a bit of an issue if you care about making friends outside the rationalist community
  • The airports are among the worst in the world

One of the biggest downsides from my perspective of moving out of the U.S. and the Bay Area in particular is drastically lower salaries in many industries, in particular software engineering. My guess is most software engineers we know would literally be looking at 70% pay reductions (as in make 30% of what they previously made). I think this is a strong enough reason that I would be very hesitant to move to Berlin long-term, and I think would reduce surplus income of individuals by something like 50%, which I think is a really big deal.

1Jonas Vollmer3moYeah. Adjusting for cost of living and purchasing power, it would be (much?) less, but still a good reason against moving.

I mean, most of the people I know live pretty frugally, which means that those differences don’t matter that much. Housing for people in group houses in Berkeley only costs about $12k a year, so you can’t save that much on that. In addition there are also much higher tax rates. Having done the calculations, I actually expect discretionary income to go down by more something like 75%, because you also pay a lot more in taxes.

2Jonas Vollmer3moYeah, that seems very plausible for frugal people who don't pay much rent, don't eat out that often, etc. and updates me against Berlin
4ChristianKl3moI live in Berlin and do have nonrationalist friends with whom I mainly speak English. There are plenty of English-speaking events where people can find friends with whom to talk English. I recently asked a person I meet about what issues she has with living in Berlin without knowing German and her main complaint was that it's hard to interact with the government as that requires someone to translate for them. Raising a family would likely also require learning some German. Our new one is finally ready :)
2Jonas Vollmer3moI know of some EAs who lived in Berlin and found it very difficult to make friends due to the language barriers, and some EAs who had an experience more similar to yours.
8bendini3moWhat about homeschooling? Many people within the community plan to homeschool their children, yet a quick google search indicates that homeschooling is illegal in all of Germany [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling_international_status_and_statistics#Germany] and you will be arrested [https://www.euractiv.com/section/freedom-of-thought/opinion/not-so-wunderful-germanys-fear-of-homeschooling/] if you attempt to do so.
3ESRogs3moFYI I think your second link is broken.
3bendini3moFixed, thanks.
1Avi3moOn the positive side - there is a sizeable cluster of alternative schools in and around Berlin - including forest schools, free/democratic schools, Montessori/Waldorf etc.

I have been collecting interest in an unchartered community in Niobrara, Wyoming with plans to gain critical mass for a state charter.

It's the smallest county in the state with ~2,000 population; the state has the most national voting power per person; generally the law is about as libertarian as any other and they've made a specific push to be a replacement Switzerland after Zurich cracked down on the banks, with especially friendliness to cryptocurrency.

There are currently 2200 acres for sale for $1MM, or smaller lots for less. I am personally committed to funding $100k if I can get enough interest.

Eventual plan would be to create Deep Springs College for working professionals, and attempt quick trials of new community governance norms of the kind proposed by RadicalxChange and others.

If you're interested, please fill out the spreadsheet here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19cK7t4WNzUd1oi0Q1jw0vkqHsUxXqzCvNbuRD5G02LE/edit?usp=drivesdk

Overall I think the rationalist community is concentrated too much in one hub and the secondary and tertiary hubs are weaker than they should be.

The main negatives are
- this creates a bit of single-point-of-failure dynamic; imagine the single hub becomes infected by some particularly dangerous meme, or bad community norms
- the single hub is still embedded in the wider society of the place where it is located, introducing some systematic bias (the epistemic climate of contemporary US seems increasingly scary; Bay rationalists sometimes seems overcompensating for the insanities of the broader society)
- the single hub would be vulnerable to a coordinated attack originating from the environment

There are also advantages of single hub
- in theory in a single hub it is easy to visit people and form connections; in practice it seems this is true in Berkeley, less true in the whole Bay where travel distances are comparable to flight times between European cities

And there is the huge advantage of Bay
- being close to the nexus of power and the most future-shaping place is extremely important (as explained by Scott and others)

Advantages of more hubs are
- in my view, could support more strains o... (read more)

4Nicole Ross3moI think the robustness-fragility point is a very good one, and want to highlight it as I haven't seen it in discussions about hubs much.

I thought about this, initially with the prior that people’s sense that elsewhere would be better, but then concluded that the Bay really was pretty good, even accounting for the weather. NYC maybe workable too, but I prefer the Bay. Maybe will explain reasoning later.

6mingyuan3moPlease explain later? Can happen over a call if you don't want to type.
2ESRogs4moTaking the Bay's weather to be a negative? Melbourne must really be idyllic...
9Ruby4moWell, so long as I lived there, the air was breathable all of the time.
4mingyuan4moI assumed he meant Apocalypse Sky.

My working model of a good location is either in or around Ann Arbor.

Travel is going to be a concern for any location, I think. Why? I think you want visiting scholars, the ability to reach out to other organizations, the ability for folks who have become sort of part of the rationalist diaspora to be able to physically reach out and connect. You may not want to be in the major city, but ready access to an international airport seems like a good filter, as the farther the nearest one is away from you, the steeper the gradient to get anyone to come visit is.

If you run through a list of hub airports and rule out the west coast for fires and much of the south due to hurricanes, you're left with a pretty short list of cities and very few with good nearby colleges that might be cultural fits:

American Airlines:

  • New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
  • New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA)
  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Los
... (read more)
4jefftk3moMA taxes are not that different from MI? In Ann Arbor you would be paying 4.25% income tax and 6% sales tax, compared to 5% and 6.25% in MA.
5Edward Kmett3moTrue. Sorry. My baseline for that passing tax comment was the previous clause about New Hampshire, as it seems a significant part of the argument trotted out in favor of New Hampshire, over all the other points scattered around Boston. e.g. northern or western MA, New Haven, Providence, etc. I do agree that it is, as you point out, almost as strong a strike against my Ann Arbor narrative.
3Vaniver3moI didn't travel that much out of Austin, and mostly to other hubs, but I never had a bad time and often could get direct flights. The main hassle is just that it's far from the other places, and so the flights take a while, but that's always going to be true for at least some people. [I suspect it's better to be close to some places and further from others than medium distance from everyone, but that's not obvious.]
2ioannes_shade3mo+1 to Ann Arbor. As a native Ann Arborite, I can vouch for its greatness. I've also heard hearsay about Madison, WI being good.
4mingyuan3moI'm from Madison and had a really great experience growing up there, but my current feeling is that Wisconsin is a pretty bad place to be on the political polarization dimension.
2Edward Kmett3moMadison checks most of the same cultural boxes, but it loses out on the ease of international air travel.

I moved from the Bay Area to Las Vegas three months ago. Some relevant notes...

First, not all the factors in the OP are equally important - visas/citizenship considerations and cost of living were more important considerations than everything else on this list combined. Living in the US is a hard constraint for my girlfriend; moving outside would have been a deal-breaker.

On the cost of living front, the cost-of-living differential between (Bay Area/NYC) and (basically anywhere else) is much bigger than the differential between most other places within the US. We got an apartment with 50% more space at roughly half the rent, and it has more amenities and (IMO) a better location too. I'm an independent researcher at the moment, so my financial runway is a major consideration; my runway went from "I have to think about money within the next year" to "I don't have to think about money within the next year". That's a major qualitative shift, which allows me to explore very different research directions.

Within roughly those constraints, we satisficed: Las Vegas was the closest city to the Bay Area with roughly "normal" (for the US) housing prices. (It was close enough that moving costs w... (read more)

6adamzerner4moI've lived in Vegas for the past four years or so and have a lot of thoughts about it as a place to live. I wrote [https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/mustachian-relocation-guide/msg2639288/#msg2639288] some of them [https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/mustachian-relocation-guide/msg2639288/#msg2639288] up on the Mr. Money Mustache forum and can elaborate if anyone is interested. My main thought is that for 3-4 months out of the year it's hot enough where you really can't be outside (100+ degrees during the day with a brutal sun), and that to me is a pretty big issue. I expect that too many people would be put off by it for it to work as rationalist hub. I also tried starting a LessWrong meetup here and never had anyone show up.
1RenoSSC4moReno [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/FghubkDy6Dp6mnxk7/the-rationalist-community-s-location-problem?commentId=EDkNuh2HCSKRxwWGx] has tolerable summers! (And is closer to the Bay Area.)
1Diffractor4moReno has 90F daily highs during summer. Knocking 10 degrees off is a nonneglible improvement over Las Vegas, though.

So I'm trying to figure out what the goal of having a major rationalist hub in the first place would be?

I've seen the comments reference some considerations related to specific organizations, such as Scott's comment which mentions that "if MIRI is trying to lure some top programmer, it's easier for them to suggest they move to the Bay" - okay, that sounds like a good reason for people associated with MIRI to live there, and if there are organizations that like to collaborate closely with MIRI, for them to be there also. But in that case I'd expect people to be more explicitly discussing the question "which organizations get value out of being co-located, and what would be a good location for those organizations in particular".

Or if the intended spirit of the post is "there are a bunch of people currently living in the Bay who form friendship networks with each other and if we move, we'd like to maintain those networks" - then that would make sense too. But Vaniver's comment was saying things like

I think NYC was long a 'second hub', and there were a bunch of third-tier hubs, but I think the relationships between the hubs never really worked out to make a happy global community.

So th... (read more)

Could someone elaborate on their thinking?

I think there are lots of different good things that come out of having a primary hub, with pretty different valuations. I basically don't expect people to have the same goals here, or for them to maybe have them altruistically but not personally.

For example, one big benefit of a hub is that it makes dating easier if you're looking to date other rationalists (well, except for the whole gender ratio and poly thing). This doesn't matter to me anymore personally, as I've found a long-term partner, but that worked out primarily because I was in the major hub, and so had more options to find a good match. But it still seems like a major benefit of having a primary hub to me; if (say) MIRI wants new hires to be able to date rationalists or EAs, it seems like a good idea to have the office near lots of single rationalists and EAs. [Otherwise, you might find the only people you can hire to work in your volcano lair are the ones that are already married.]

Another benefit of a hub is that you get to have in-person conversations more easily and more spontaneously. I live in a group house that's organized itself physically to try to maximize 'organic co... (read more)

As much as I hate to say it, I don't think that it makes much sense for the main hub of the rationalist movement to move away from Berkeley and the Bay Area. There are several rationalist adjacent organizations that are firmly planted in Berkely. The ones that are most salient to me are the AI and AI safety orgs. You have OpenAI, MIRI, CHAI, BAIR, etc. Some of these could participate in a coordinated move, but others are effectively locked in place due to their tight connections with larger institutions.

I think that more creative options need to be brainstormed and explored to deal with the situation in Berkley.

Ok, I've thought a lot about this but I don't have a strong pitch to make yet.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Cost of living seems really important in the long run! High cost of living eats up lifestyle slack really quickly, which constrains the sorts of occupations that one can have while being part of the community.
  • That said, there is a pretty substantial tradeoff between optimizing a place for the community (essentially relying on your social life being in-community members), and optimizing it for the surroundings. e.g., if you pick a place for low cost-of-living, you might expect nearly all your friends to be people who live in your community. Whereas if you pick a big city, you are probably picking it because you expect a rich social life outside the community.
  • As Vaniver wrote, it makes sense to pick places which are well suited to create a pocket neighborhood. Living in the same city as your friends is good, but living 2 doors down from them is way more awesome!
  • I know people talk about the weather as being important, but I am not fully sold on that needing to be a constraint. Humans are adaptable and most people should be able to adjust to bad seasonal weather pretty quickly. Seaso
... (read more)
5weft3moI think I would be more happy in a gated / monastery community than in one with easy access to a big city. I love museums and historic architecture and whatnot, but on a day-to-day level I'd rather hedgehog than fox at this point in my life. I'd prefer a lifestyle that was designed to encourage frequent interaction with a small set of people, rather than a lifestyle that was designed to encourage frequent new experiences. I enjoy the "small town" feeling of walking down a street and knowing a bunch of the people you pass. Combining this with rationalist values (as opposed to the religious or conservative values frequent in many small towns) seems ideal.
3Zolmeister4moI've been kicking around the idea of a 'rationalist cult', and am interested in the monastery idea.
3lincolnquirk4moOh great! I realize a lot of different people might have different ideas about what the vision is. Could you spend a few sentences distilling what exactly excites you about the idea?
6Zolmeister4moI am excited by the self-governance aspect, and the opportunity to live under a more personalized set of social norms. The structure of monastery is specifically appealing because it greatly reduces 'distance' between individuals. See Going Critical [https://www.meltingasphalt.com/interactive/going-critical/]. I have some more concrete ideas about a shared ranch (with fast internet) out somewhere beautiful.
4Viliam3moEffective altruists seem to have something similar here [https://ceealar.org/].

At this point I think enough people have tried to make pitches for various cities that have achieved nothing that I don't really see the value in adding another one to the pile of attempts to get the community as a whole to move somewhere.

On the other hand, a lot of people have moved to a lot of places on an individual or small-group basis so I'm happy to pitch where I live, Madison Wisconsin, as a potential place you might not know about which I think is a pretty good compromise on a lot of things that people want from a place to live. 

Downtown Madison Wisconsin from Above

Madison has a good variety of restaurants, bars, cafes, parks, and other amenities in a small radius. You can rent anything from an efficiency to a whole house in walking distance from all of this without much hassle since there is a large market for student housing due to the relatively huge University in the city.

Rents in this area can vary from 450 a month (if you want to live with me in my house) to around 1800 for a 750 ft 1 bedroom in a brand new high end apartment building a couple blocks away from me. 

Crime: In like a decade parking downtown I have never had my car broken into, although I have h... (read more)

Lately I've been thinking Singapore would be a good option.

Isn't male-male homosexual sex illegal in Singapore? And I get the sense it's generally quite conservative. Seems like a bad deal for a lot of rationalists. 

4Daniel Kokotajlo4moMmm, didn't know about that. Yeah.
6artemium3moNot to mention a pretty brutal Anti-Drug laws.
7FactorialCode4moEhh, Singapore is a good place to do business and live temporarily. But mandatory military service for all male citizens and second gen permanent residents, along with the work culture make it unsuitable as a permanent location to live. Not to mention that there's a massive culture gap between the rats and the Singaporeans.

As requested, I would like to bring into consideration Oulu, Finland.

Cons:

Weather – SAD

Oulu is near the arctic circle. Can maybe be remedied by staying indoors and having adequate lighting? Summers are very sunny!

Salaries

Salaries in Finland and in Oulu are generally lower than those in San Francisco. Student trainee programmer earns about 2000 €/month, middle aged software developer about 4500 €/month, a specialist surgeon about 8000 €/month gross.

Pros:

Visas

About relocating MIRI into Oulu, I would contact Business Oulu, as they should be able to customize an actionable plan and help in details such as visas and permits. As we are talking of lot of people in this case, such an organization would be useful, and this is exactly what their mission is.

Language

You can function with English, Finnish population has generally very high proficiency in English. On basic life level you can expect grocery store clerks and taxi drivers to understand you and be able to answer and explain things to you in fluent English. In professional life, software development cluster of Oulu mostly uses English internally because of international cooperation connections stemming since Nokia times in ... (read more)

In light of some of the comments on the supposed impossibility of relocating a hub, I figured I'd suggest a strategy. This post says nothing about the optimality of creating/relocating a hub, it only suggests a method for doing so. I'm obviously not an experienced hub relocator in real life, but evidently, I'll play one on the internet for the sake of discussion. Please read these as an invitation to brainstorm.

Make the new location a natural choice.

  • Host events in the new location. If people feel a desire to spend their holidays and time off in the new loc
... (read more)

Things I like about the Boston area: many different industries, good tech jobs, good public transit for the US, don't need a car, many walkable/bikable areas, good air quality, not very disaster prone, decent governance, queer friendly, poly friendly, many multifamilies and other large houses that can be group houses, seasons, many universities including several very strong ones, nearby international airport, good schools, good traditional dance and music scene, not as expensive as the Bay or New York.

The biggest downside by far is housing costs. Other dow... (read more)

I recently spent a year travelling and deciding very carefully where to settle down. This is somewhat related to the question posed in the post, so I will briefly list what made me choose Bucharest in Romania.

  • English is (very) commonly spoken. Probably on par with Nordic countries.
  • Taxes - if you work as a contractor as I do, with the right legal structure you can bring your income tax rate (including obligatory social insurance, healthcare, etc.) down to 6%. Capital Gains Tax is only 10%.
  • Rule of law and civil liberties - those are pretty well established a
... (read more)
2Richard_Kennaway4moI'm curious how it comes about that English is commonly spoken in Bucharest and yet there are no tourists.
1CheerfulWarrior4moI'm not sure where you see the contradiction. Do you assume that ease of communicating in English should attract tourists, or that the main cause for English fluency is usually tourism?
2Richard_Kennaway4moI was expecting the latter. If not tourism, how did English come to be spoken there? Is it more spoken in Bucharest than in other large mainland European cities?
2CheerfulWarrior4moEnglish lessons have been obligatory in schools for decades here. I've heard (not sure how true that is) that this way the local dictator wanted to put some space between himself and the overlords in Moscow. AFAIK all the other communist countries were teaching Russian to their children. I got a strong impression that it is, although I haven't checked the statistics. Also, I think that the impact of tourism on English fluency is very limited - only people working directly with the tourists would be affected (waiters, guides, hotel staff, taxi drivers), and even then to a limited degree (you might master the vocabulary and grammar necessary to wait tables, but be unable to discuss the dissertation that you are writing).
4ChristianKl4moEnglish lessons alone don't result in people speaking English over their native language on a day to day basis which does happen in Berlin and Nordic countries. No. Living in Berlin I do speak English with tourists in my free time. That both goes for rationalist events and for Salsa dancing. Expats matter more then normal tourists but tourists who don't speak German attending events is a factor for events I attend being run in English.

Mati_Roy makes the case for Phoenix here.

Full Disclosure: I'm in Phoenix.

Berkeley has lots of vegan food in comparison to most places and lots of rationalists are vegans.

Here's my incredibly detailed pitch for Manchester, UK. 

If anyone has feedback, you can reply here or comment on the article itself.

The pandemic has updated me in the direction that having any particular place be the center of the physical community is not super important. In some ways, it would almost be better if we less anchored on the idea of trying to get everyone physically together in a single local, and instead thought of ourselves as distributed with many hubs that have strong connections within and between hubs, although those connections within and between look a bit different (local being more about human needs, and between hubs being more about project needs).

For compariso... (read more)

COVID has taught me that I don't need a big physical community, but it's ALSO taught me that I am 100% uninterested in virtual replacements. I still e.g. post on facebook, but have not enjoyed virtual hangouts and the like. 

If I could have a community of 7-200 people that were on the same street / property / very close, I think that would be my ideal. Being close to other similar groupings would be nice but not necessary. I think a community of about 20 is much stronger than a community of about 100 (the larger number necesitates weaker ties). A major issue is finding 7-20 people who would be a good fit and are willing to do it

4Raemon4moI have a blogpost brewing called "The Remote-First Community Hypothesis" exploring some of this in more detail. (although I also do think it's pretty important to have an in person hub even if it doesn't work for everyone)

I was fascinated by Robin Hanson's Our Brave New Merged World:

As jobs will less force people to move, people will move areas less often, and the areas where people live will be less set by jobs. As life at work will be less social, people will have to get more of their socializing from elsewhere. Some of this will come from remote socializing, but much will still probably come from in-person socializing. So people will choose where they live more based on family, friends, leisure activities, and non-work social connections. Churches, clubs, and shared inte

... (read more)

Just wanted to toss the Colorado Front Range (esp. Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs) into the hat, since I have a hunch this list might get referenced a lot in future conversations.  I don't think we're the best choice for primary hub, but I think we are a very attractive destination for rationalists looking to relocate out of Berkeley and/or for a secondary hub.

Pros:
-We have an existing rationality community, with regular meetups in Denver and Boulder (I host the latter).  I know there's local EA meetups as well, though I'm not plugged into... (read more)

I'm a Berkeley rationalist. My partner and I have been considering leaving Berkeley, mostly due to the cost of living and the political climate. We're most likely to move back to the midwest where our families are located, but would move elsewhere for similar social support. We're most strongly considering Columbus or Louisville.  Or maybe a smaller town nearby. We've also considered Czechia, Poland, etc. for the low cost of living and beauty. I don't think we'd go to Canada, which has all the difficulties of leaving the States, but none of the cost b... (read more)

5ChristianKl3moIf your choice is between Czechia and Poland I would expect Czechia (Prague) to be better for a rationalist. Prague has a reasonable rationalist community. Poland has a lot of political heat.
1weft3moYeah, Prague is a definite draw. Amusingly, getting a dog is going to be a major issue to a potential move for us, since I'm pretty strongly against travelling with her in cargo which isn't very safe. There isn't a good way to get a dog to Europe. (There's a single international cruise line that takes dogs, but nixes anything pitbull adjacent since they only dock in England which has strong anti-pitbull laws) You can charter a private plane or yacht cabin, but it's insanely expensive and I can't find anywhere where e.g. 12 people who all want to fly their dogs to Europe but don't care about the exact schedule charter a private plane together (at which point it's pretty affordable, and would definitely be worth it)
2ioannes_shade3moMakes me think of this David Brooks essay [https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-nuclear-family-was-a-mistake/605536/] , which includes a profile of the Temescal Commons in Oakland.

I've always suspected that connecting rationalists with other rationalists who are already nearby would be a relatively low hanging fruit. Eg. by pushing the community map harder.

4mingyuan4moAlso, just general kudos for proposing ideas and being willing to make things happen. I remember when you were trying to get that meetup started in Vegas! :)
2adamzerner4moThank you :)
2mingyuan4moPerhaps, but I've found that without a Schelling event like the annual SSC Meetups Everywhere (sadly and obviously canceled this year, maybe I should do something to replace it...), people almost never take that step of reaching out. The map is just so passive, although maybe the real problem is as you implied: that we don't have critical mass. In any case, whether or not it would work in normal times, it seems like not a priority right now given the state of the world :P

In any case, whether or not it would work in normal times, it seems like not a priority right now given the state of the world :P 

Yeah, I definitely agree with that.

Perhaps, but I've found that without a Schelling event like the annual SSC Meetups Everywhere (sadly and obviously canceled this year, maybe I should do something to replace it...), people almost never take that step of reaching out. The map is just so passive, although maybe the real problem is as you implied: that we don't have critical mass.

Hm, maybe it just needs a kickstart. Like if someone from LW sends out a cold email: "Hey, there are 5 other LessWrongers around you. Interested in starting a meetup?"* From there, if you can get that meetup to happen and the people meet each other in person maybe they'll keep in touch.

Something like that happened for me with Indie Hackers. They reached out to me with that message, I started a meetup and it was sustained for over a year until covid.

*I noticed last night that you can subscribe to this on the community map, but it's opt in and difficult to find, and I suspect those two things explain why it hasn't worked.

Is there a large benefit to being in a rationalist hub versus living in a rationalist house? Personally I'm pretty sure my answer to that question would be "no", but I'm curious how others feel.

On this general question, Eliezer talks about this (in a more a priori way, since there was no in-person hub at the time) in the Sequences post Can Humanism Match Religion's Output? His claims there broadly match my experience.

Excerpt:

Really, I suspect that what's going on here has less to do with the motivating power of eternal damnation, and a lot more to do with the motivating power of physically meeting other people who share your cause.  The power, in other words, of being physically present at church and having religious neighbors.

This is a problem for the rationalist community in its present stage of growth, because we are rare and geographically distributed way the hell all over the place.  If all the readers of this blog lived within a 5-mile radius of each other, I bet we'd get a lot more done, not for reasons of coordination but just sheer motivation.

2adamzerner3moHm, thinking about it now that does make sense.
7Raemon4moThe benefits are mostly about longterm life trajectory stuff – more new organizations or projects form, there are more mentors available to help people grow, you're more likely to be able to get hired at a rationalist org, etc. (these don't end up applying to everyone who lives in the Bay either – we have more mentors and job openings here, but still not enough to handle an infinite number of people)

Are rationalist organizations/mentors likely to be significantly better than non-rationalist ones?

3Raemon4moIf you’re trying to get mentored in x-risk or rationality, yes.

Even those don't seem completely obvious to me. 

I agree that in general, rationalists have a valuable package of insights that isn't found elsewhere, but "this package is deep enough and important enough to necessitate working directly with experts on an ongoing basis" is a very high bar. A lot of the relevant knowledge in x-risk and rationality can be obtained more cheaply by reading LW and papers, visiting an event or workshop a few times a year, etc. I agree that there are probably some subsets of x-risk and rationality that are such that rationalists happen to hold the best knowledge about it, and that if those are the things you're the most interested in, then it might pay to work with/be mentored by rationalists in particular. But it looks to me like there are plausibly also large subsets of both x-risk and rationality for which the best knowledge is found elsewhere, and for a person interested in those subsets in particular, it's enough to extract the other rationalist insights by shallower means than constant interaction.

For x-risk: there are many fields in which scholarship and amount of experience within a field does not actually develop real expertise: "experts" per... (read more)

2adamzerner4moOriginal: Hm, in my mind that stuff could largely be done remotely, but I'm probably underestimating the importance of in person interaction. New [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/FghubkDy6Dp6mnxk7/the-rationalist-community-s-location-problem?commentId=AHz5kN9vFKch3WXJn] : This does make sense. After seeing Raemon's comment [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/FghubkDy6Dp6mnxk7/the-rationalist-community-s-location-problem?commentId=pS6GkmuKmW2dYFNtC] and sleeping on it I woke up feeling like this could be a big deal. Mostly because of the fact that rationalist organizations do a lot of good for the world. Secondly because although it may be possible to "do networking stuff" remotely, in practice that just doesn't really happen.
6mingyuan4moI think you're underestimating serendipity. In a single rationalist house in a non-hub, you'll have the benefit of being around a couple cool people who think like you (to a first approximation), but you don't have many opportunities to make new rationalist connections like you would in a larger hub. I'm not really one to proactively reach out to new people, so having the opportunity to meet them at parties or hangouts or through mutual friends has shaped my experience a a lot. Plus, I've been really grateful for the opportunities to work at value-aligned organizations, which I almost certainly wouldn't have had elsewhere.
5Kaj_Sotala4moDoes "think like you" mean "rationalist", here? I would assume that finding "people who think like you" would be relatively straightforward in e.g. any large city with a major university. That's been my experience in Helsinki (1.23 M inhabitants in the general urban area [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helsinki_urban_area] and a couple of universities) at least. Though it's true that most of those people aren't very familiar with Less Wrong or the rationalist scene (even if some are).
2adamzerner4moWhat are the benefits you have in mind of making other connections? Intellectual? Hedonic? Networking? Intellectual: To me, online discussion does a pretty good job providing diversity of opinion and conversation. Hedonic: I'm under the impression that the 80/20 principle usually applies heavily, in the sense of the first 2 people you spend the most time with providing a huge chunk of the value, the next 5 providing a good amount, then there's drop off, etc. If that's true, then the marginal rationalist interactions would be filling in the tail end and not providing too much value. Networking: This does make sense. After seeing Raemon's comment [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/FghubkDy6Dp6mnxk7/the-rationalist-community-s-location-problem?commentId=pS6GkmuKmW2dYFNtC] and sleeping on it I woke up feeling like this could be a big deal. Mostly because of the fact that rationalist organizations do a lot of good for the world. Secondly because although it may be possible to "do networking stuff" remotely, in practice that just doesn't really happen.

Rationalists may be less likely than average to want kids, but that doesn't mean none of us are having them.

Many people don't want to have kids in their 20s, and change their mind later. Ten years later, I could imagine that many rationalists will feel ambiguous, and then something can start a chain reaction of having kids.

Actually, I think it would be super cool to have a generation of kids of approximately the same age, whose parents are rationalists living next to each other and can coordinate on school choice / homeschooling / providing extra lessons in free time.

Ah, kudos for bringing this discussion to a somewhat centralised placed! 

It seems like you're making a lot of assumptions about this community. 

—They want to live in group houses

—They don't want to drive or own a car

—They don't want to live in places with cold weather

—They don't want to live in places with Confederate flags or lenient gun laws

You probably know this community a lot better than I do, but to what extent are these known facts vs. assumptions? Would it be worth doing some surveying to verify them? 

It's possible that some of what you observe, e.g. people living in group houses and not driving, is a function of circumstance and cost of living rather than people's true preferences. 

9mingyuan4mo(1) My guess is that not all of the people who currently live in group houses would do so if rent were lower and they could live close to their friends anyway. However, I do know quite a few people who actively prefer group living situations, and a prohibition on such living arrangements would be a big negative for them. You could plausibly get around this by e.g. just renting every unit in an apartment building. These are all reasons why these laws are a major consideration but not a dealbreaker. (2) My main claims were that it's really difficult to build community in sparsely populated areas, and that driving cars is dangerous. I think these are both pretty well-supported, and that they matter a lot regardless of anyone's personal preferences around driving / owning a car. (3) Mostly anecdotal. I personally don't mind cold weather, but it is kind of annoying to have to be shut in your house for half the year. And I think even those of us from cold climates have acclimated to California's temperate weather, such that it would be somewhat unpleasant to go back. (4) An assumption, I guess. Feels right though. Good points overall, thanks!
6drethelin4moDriving a car is actually very safe. You can expect to drive a car full-time for 100 years before suffering a lethal accident.
5Zian4moI agree that focusing on urban areas makes sense. By definition, an area with high population is attractive to lots of people.
3Ben Pace4moI did start trying to make a survey on this sort of info once, and for me it quickly became unmanageably big, like it would have had over a hundred questions and would require lots of iteration loops with users. I spent a bunch of time trying to figure out how far from a major city people would be able to live, with lots of questions about earning, earning potential, openness and ability to do remote work, etc. Probably someone else will figure out a clever smaller survey worth making though. (I'd be happy to give comments on any draft surveys people make.)
1Adele Lopez4moLot's of people in the community have seasonal affective disorder (see e.g. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/hC2NFsuf5anuGadFm/how-to-build-a-lumenator [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/hC2NFsuf5anuGadFm/how-to-build-a-lumenator]), so that would lead me to expect people would want to live in places with more sunlight, which tend to not have cold weather.

it's almost certainly still better to live here than in a town where people fly Confederate flags and openly carry guns

I do not really like lenient gun laws, but I haven't gotten the impression that it's especially unsafe to live in those places? Also not sure free-thinkers in general mind being around their outgroup all that much.

 

schools

If you're forming a largish intentional community, running schooling ourselves would be a lot easier than it normally is, we can pool resources, have different people teach different subjects. Again, I wouldn't be su... (read more)

I suspect that the confederate flags and guns were a poorly specified way to say "Republican." Obviously there are some Republicans who are part of the community, and even more conservatives in general, but a significant portion of the community is gay and trans, two groups that are often discriminated against in more conservative areas of the USA. That portion of the group seems to be even more prevalent in the Bay Area community. The concern, to me at least, is not difference of thought, but rather being discriminated against.

Thanks for this comment! Yeah, the worry was not that we would be against being around our outgroup, but that they would be against having us there. I'm Asian, and I've heard from family members who live in smaller cities in the US that they feel increasingly unsafe traveling in more rural areas - there are increasing numbers of Confederate flags, even in the Midwest. Even when I was a kid we got funny looks, standoffishness, and frequent attempts to convert us to Christianity (and we're only half-Asian, which may well be the easiest type of non-white to be!). Sounds like it's worse now. This may be just a matter of perception, but I think it's important. I get nervous when my sister brings up being gay when we're in a rural diner; I definitely wouldn't want to bring a bunch of people who are trans, autistic, and/or talk openly about eugenics to an area like that.

Also, uncontroversial opinion: it seems generally bad to be around people who might perpetrate violence against you. For all of the faults of the Bay Area's liberal culture, it does promote a sort of radical acceptance of weirdness, which means people don't have to hide the fact that they're trans, poly, or whatever else t... (read more)

For all of the faults of the Bay Area's liberal culture, it does promote a sort of radical acceptance of weirdness, which means people don't have to hide the fact that they're trans, poly, or whatever else they may be. 

There seems to be a radical acceptance of weidness that's politically correct. From the outside it appears to me that there's less acceptance of contrarian weirdness.

The show Silicon Valley joked that the Bay Area is more totalitarian then China in enforcing it's orthodoxies.

I would suggest about three, four, or five main rationalist hubs as opposed to one. This could be a compromise between total dispersion/decentralization and lack of respect for the differing preferences of rationalists.

Yeah, it's sounding like this is probably going to end up being the right answer (insofar as there is a 'right answer'). 

Over the years there have been quite a few 'secondary hubs' centered around strong local groups, including:

  • NYC
  • Seattle
  • Boston
  • Oxford
  • Berlin
  • Melbourne
  • Ontario?

But things have shifted a bunch and many of those people ended up moving to Berkeley. My rough sense now is that we have:

  • Prague 
    • draw: Czech EA
    • type: big city , continental Europe
  • Blackpool 
    • draw: the EA Hotel
    • type: small town
  • Oxford? 
    • draw: FHI
    • type: university town
  • London? 
    • draw: 80000 Hours is there
    • type: big city

I notice that all of these are in Europe, and three of them are in England. (Moscow also has a strong community but I didn't count them because most of their stuff is conducted in Russian, which makes it a bad option for the median rationalist looking to move somewhere new.) Perhaps it would be better to diversify away from England and the US, like maybe some of us should move (back) to Australia. 

But more importantly, there already are other options for hubs, they're just not as well-known. Maybe we should focus on developing these hubs that we already have, rather than trying to find new ones? 

While COVID-19 did make a dent in our community in Berlin and resulted in us not running LWCW in person we still had monthly meetups (in a park with distance) in the last months and I see no reason why our community won't be healthy once we can again meet more freely.

Out of hand I can only think of one person who left the Berlin rationalist community to go to Berkely (OpenAI) but multiple people who moved to Berlin because of the existing rationalist hub.

One type of evidence to look at in selecting a location is trust, as in how likely people are to say that others can be trusted.

See figure 3 in Trust, Growth and Well-being for evidence by state.

H/T Joseph Henrich's great book The WEIRDest People in the World.