I am generally suspicious of envying crazy groups or trying to blindly copycat the rhythm of religion—what I called "hymns to the nonexistence of God", replying, "A good 'atheistic hymn' is simply a song about anything worth singing about that doesn't happen to be religious."
But religion does fill certain holes in people's minds, some of which are even worth filling. If you eliminate religion, you have to be aware of what gaps are left behind.
If you suddenly deleted religion from the world, the largest gap left would not be anything of ideals or morals; it would be the church, the community. Among those who now stay religious without quite really believing in God—how many are just sticking to it from wanting to stay with their neighbors at the church, and their family and friends? How many would convert to atheism, if all those others deconverted, and that were the price of staying in the community and keeping its respect? I would guess... probably quite a lot.
In truth... this is probably something I don't understand all that well, myself. "Brownies and babysitting" were the first two things that came to mind. Do churches lend helping hands in emergencies? Or just a shoulder to cry on? How strong is a church community? It probably depends on the church, and in any case, that's not the correct question. One should start by considering what a hunter-gatherer band gives its people, and ask what's missing in modern life—if a modern First World church fills only some of that, then by all means let us try to do better.
So without copycatting religion—without assuming that we must gather every Sunday morning in a building with stained-glass windows while the children dress up in formal clothes and listen to someone sing—let's consider how to fill the emotional gap, after religion stops being an option.
To help break the mold to start with—the straitjacket of cached thoughts on how to do this sort of thing—consider that some modern offices may also fill the same role as a church. By which I mean that some people are fortunate to receive community from their workplaces: friendly coworkers who bake brownies for the office, whose teenagers can be safely hired for babysitting, and maybe even help in times of catastrophe...? But certainly not everyone is lucky enough to find a community at the office.
Consider further—a church is ostensibly about worship, and a workplace is ostensibly about the commercial purpose of the organization. Neither has been carefully optimized to serve as a community.
Looking at a typical religious church, for example, you could suspect—although all of these things would be better tested experimentally, than just suspected—
By using the word "optimal" above, I mean "optimal under the criteria you would use if you were explicitly building a community qua community". Spending lots of money on a fancy church with stained-glass windows and a full-time pastor makes sense if you actually want to spend money on religion qua religion.
I do confess that when walking past the churches of my city, my main thought is "These buildings look really, really expensive, and there are too many of them." If you were doing it over from scratch... then you might have a big building that could be used for the occasional wedding, but it would be time-shared for different communities meeting at different times on the weekend, and it would also have a nice large video display that could be used for speakers giving presentations, lecturers teaching something, or maybe even showing movies. Stained glass? Not so high a priority.
Or to the extent that the church membership lends a helping hand in times of trouble—could that be improved by an explicit rainy-day fund or contracting with an insurer, once you realized that this was an important function? Possibly not; dragging explicit finance into things changes their character oddly. Conversely, maybe keeping current on some insurance policies should be a requirement for membership, lest you rely too much on the community... But again, to the extent that churches provide community, they're trying to do it without actually admitting that this nearly all of what people get out of it. Same thing with the corporations whose workplaces are friendly enough to serve as communities; it's still something of an accidental function.
Once you start thinking explicitly about how to give people a hunter-gatherer band to belong to, you can see all sorts of things that sound like good ideas. Should you welcome the newcomer in your midst? The pastor may give a sermon on that sometime, if you think church is about religion. But if you're explicitly setting out to build community—then right after a move is when someone most lacks community, when they most need your help. It's also an opportunity for the band to grow. If anything, tribes ought to be competing at quarterly exhibitions to capture newcomers.
But can you really have a community that's just a community—that isn't also an office or a religion? A community with no purpose beyond itself?
Maybe you can. After all, hunter-gatherer tribes have any purposes beyond themselves?—well, there was survival and feeding yourselves, that was a purpose.
But anything that people have in common, especially any goal they have in common, tends to want to define a community. Why not take advantage of that?
Though in this age of the Internet, alas, too many binding factors have supporters too widely distributed to form a decent band—if you're the only member of the Church of the Subgenius in your city, it may not really help much. It really is different without the physical presence; the Internet does not seem to be an acceptable substitute at the current stage of the technology.
So to skip right to the point—
Should the Earth last so long, I would like to see, as the form of rationalist communities, taskforces focused on all the work that needs doing to fix up this world. Communities in any geographic area would form around the most specific cluster that could support a decent-sized band. If your city doesn't have enough people in it for you to find 50 fellow Linux programmers, you might have to settle for 15 fellow open-source programmers... or in the days when all of this is only getting started, 15 fellow rationalists trying to spruce up the Earth in their assorted ways.
That's what I think would be a fitting direction for the energies of communities, and a common purpose that would bind them together. Tasks like that need communities anyway, and this Earth has plenty of work that needs doing, so there's no point in waste. We have so much that needs doing—let the energy that was once wasted into the void of religious institutions, find an outlet there. And let purposes admirable without need for delusion, fill any void in the community structure left by deleting religion and its illusionary higher purposes.
Strong communities built around worthwhile purposes: That would be the shape I would like to see for the post-religious age, or whatever fraction of humanity has then gotten so far in their lives.
Although... as long as you've got a building with a nice large high-resolution screen anyway, I wouldn't mind challenging the idea that all post-adulthood learning has to take place in distant expensive university campuses with teachers who would rather be doing something else. And it's empirically the case that colleges seem to support communities quite well. So in all fairness, there are other possibilities for things you could build a post-theistic community around.
Is all of this just a dream? Maybe. Probably. It's not completely devoid of incremental implementability, if you've got enough rationalists in a sufficiently large city who have heard of the idea. But on the off-chance that rationality should catch on so widely, or the Earth should last so long, and that my voice should be heard, then that is the direction I would like to see things moving in—as the churches fade, we don't need artificial churches, but we do need new idioms of community.
Re: incremental implementability - if we ever do organise LessWrong meetups, we should organise rationalist book clubs. How many people here have actually read Judgement under Uncertainty? I confess I never got around to it, though I meant to, but knowing fellow readers might motivate me.
And another thing, when are we going to get a LessWrong wiki? The glut of information here and on OB is unmanageable and we ought to force some kind of order on it - a rationalist curriculum or cheat sheet or something. Having "previously in series" at the top of new posts leads to an impenetrable expanding tree of long blog posts, discouraging new members and confusing lazy and forgetful individuals such as myself.
Ironically enough, I just clicked through to see what was behind "horrendously addictive" and lost half an hour.
JUST HALF AN HOUR!?
One possibility is that churches, by being hypothetically obligatory to all, produce communities with approximate gender balance. By emphasizing inclusiveness they create a place for those who display sub-typical signs of selective fitness, people who hunter-gatherer instincts promote rejecting to avoid social contamination. With conformity they encourage such people not to drag the group down overly much. All of these features seem unlikely to form in natural communities if they are pursued explicitly. By default people join communities that appealed to their gender, communities that signaled status through membership or both. Most non-religious communities with ideals of inclusiveness also emphasize tolerance and individuality, leading to the less severe physical equivalent of trolls.
The closest thing that I have found to a secular church really is probably a gym. Far better than church in most respects, but not up to the standard this post seems to aspire to.
Michael: "The closest thing that I have found to a secular church really is probably a gym."
Perhaps in the short run we could just use the gym directly, or analogs. Aristotle's Peripatetic school and other notable thinkers who walked suggests that having people walking while talking, thinking, and socializing is worth some experimentation. This could be done by walking outside or on parallel exercise machines in a gym (would be informative which worked better to tease out what it is about walking that improves thinking, assuming the hypothesized causality is true). Michael, I realize you are effectively already doing this.
teachers who would rather be doing something else
teachers who would rather be doing something else
It seems to me you're thinking of school here, not university - it's not been my experience that teaching professors don't like teaching. As my mentor put it, (paraphrased) "Grading papers is what we get paid for - teaching we would do anyway".
As a current TA, agreed completely. I would gladly hang out in the physics study room and help random undergraduates even if I didn't have assigned office hours. Gradaing I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot-pole.
Yes! Community matters. The support and friendship my folks get from their church is so intense, so useful to them, that I stopped trying to talk 'em out of their religion when I understood it. Unless you can replace that, give them that support and encouragement they got when my brother went schizophrenic say, you may well do them a disservice by talking them out of their religion even it if were possible.
Personally I get mine from a few places. The subgenii thing doesn't really work well enough, there's maybe two dozen of us active here in the whole continent. We can do about two get-togethers a year and have to fly in cross continental airplanes to do it. Lucky if half of us turn up at one one event. If you don't also happen to be a heavy drinker you're probably not going to fit in all that well either. The fact it's so focused against something rather than for something can also be tricky. It's deliberately exclusive.
More useful to me is the art community. The four nine one gallery even have a building. Squatted, of course. Nobody involved there has enough money to buy or even rent a building. The entire ethos of the folks who originally squatted that building was to use that p... (read more)
You've nailed exactly what worries me in your comment and the original post. You see, belief systems that aim for self-propagation are prone to turn really icky over time. A scientist doesn't want above all else to spread the scientific worldview, a painter doesn't set out to make everyone else paint, even a pickup artist has no desire to make all males alphas - they all have other, concrete goals; but religious or political views have to be viral. There's any number of movements whose adherents have a priority of spreading the word, and right now I can't think of a single such movement I'd want to be associated with.
My examples indicate it's not necessary to hand victory to others. Science didn't spread due to evangelism, science spread because it works. Art spreads because people love it. This is the standard we should be holding ourselves to.
Evangelism is the equivalent of proactive sales with an inferior product. A good evangelist/salesman can push through negative-sum deals, actually destroying total value in the world. If you've spent time in the IT industry, you recognize this picture.
Eliezer said repeatedly that rationalists should WIN. Great, now won't anyone take this phrase seriously? I don't want a rationalist technique to make myself pure from racism or somesuch crap. I want a rationalist technique to WIN. Fo' real. Develop it, and the world will beat a path to your door.
Right now you (we) have no product, and preaching is no substitute.
A persuasive school of thought in the economics of religion suggests that in order to build community, churches often artificially increase barriers to exit and require all sorts of crazy behaviour to signal commitment, thus preventing free-riding. Irrational belief and the accompanying ritual seems to be pretty good at this. I'm not too sure how a rationalist community would fare in this respect...
The Homebrew computer club was pretty much the kind of community that Eliezer describes, it had a big effect on the development of digital systems. Same probably true for the model railroad club at MIT (where the PDP architecture was created) but I know less about that. The MIT AI lab was also important that way, and welcomed random people from outside (including kids). So this pattern has been important in tech development for at least 60 years.
There are lots of get togethers around common interests -- see e.g. Perlmonger groups in various cities. See the list of meetups in your city.
Recently "grass roots organizing" has taken on this character but it is explicitly partisan (though not strongly ideological). The main example I know of is Democrats for America, which came from the Dean campaign in 2004 but outlasted it. It is controlled by the members, not by any party apparatus, and hosts weekly community flavored pizza meetups.
There are also more movable communities like music festivals, the national deadhead network that attended concerts (no longer so active), Burning Man, etc. These tend to be very strong support communities for their members while they are in session (providing medical, social, and dispute resolution services, etc.) but are otherwise only latent.
One problem I heard about communities is that they often START with a purpose, but later END as self-serving institutions.
At the time I was still a christian a pastor once told an interesting story. I don't know if this is fictional or if it really happened, I'm relating it as I remember. There was a place with a lot of ship accidents and when that happened volunteers had to go to see for rescue. They decided to fund a rescue association so as to be more organized. Over time the association grew and they started to have social events like parties, etc... ... (read more)
How is this significantly different from the Lions Club and Kiwanis, crossed with the local atheist organization?
I see how it's more rationalist-oriented than the Kiwanis, and more service-oriented than the Atheist Club. And they could probably get more charitable value for money by focusing on high-utility causes - if the rationalists were high-level enough, which the sort of people who respond to "rationalist club" ads might not be. But does "altruist rationalists" correspond to such a significant cluster in personspace that they need... (read more)
The idea of rationalist taskforces has its appeal, but given the rate of accelerating change we simply don’t have time to develop a sense of community from scratch which can replace the millennia of development that’s gone into religious institutions. Our best shot is to TRANSFORM existing religious institutions into something that is compatible with rationality (and this requires some transformation on our part too – I’ll talk about this below). The Protestant reformation happened in about a dozen or so decades. Given the trouble that churches are havi... (read more)
Just as a comment on labels, I used to be an "evangelical atheist" but this essay by Sam Harris changed my mind:
...I'm not saying that racism is no longer a problem in this country, but anyone who thinks that the problem is as bad as it ever was has simply forgotten, or has never learned, how bad, in fact, it was.
So, we can now ask, how have people of good will and common sense gone about combating racism? There was a civil rights movement, of course. The KKK was ... (read more)
Deleting religion from the world would increase many peoples' fear of death. Also, to reject all faiths you almost have to admit to yourself that after this life their is only eternal nothingness. Fear of death is so strong that many people try to convince themselves that a belief they "know" is irrational could be true.
So might an increase in the popularity of cryonics give a huge boost to rationalist organization builders?
And what level of responsibility would this community take upon itself? If on a wintry night the police will drive, beating and kicking, unarmed protesters down the street, will it let the protesters in and leave the police out? Mikhailivsky Cathedral in Kyiv did it, on the night of December 1st, 2013, if I remember it right, and later let people rest inside and served as a hospital base. A protestant church in Luteranska str. also served as a hospital.
I'm not saying this is behavior expected only of churches.
I am saying that 1) the churches occupy a posit... (read more)
When looking at examples of community, as community, it is probably a good idea to look for other types of communities as well, and identify common factors.
One other, successful type of community (which, like the desired community, is volunteer-run, and consists of people with a shared goal of self-improvement) is Toastmasters. The self-improvement in question is in the narrow realms of communication (especially as regards speeches) and leadership, but a lot of the basic principles would probably carry over reasonably well to a rationalist community.
We don't want to create a new religion, but whatever we create to take the place of it needs to offer at least as much as that which it replaces, so we might end up actually needing a new 'religion' whether we like it or not. If indeed there is a biological predisposition for humans to want to engage in 'worship', then we might as well worship rationally. I hesitate to call this new organization a religion or the practice worship, those are the things they are replacing, but those words get my idea across.
How about we create a church-like organization t... (read more)
As a Stirnerite too apathetic and unsociable to pursue even a Union of Egoists, I have no helpful advice to give rather than nitpicks.
It seemed very odd to me that Eliezer seemed to imagine hunter-gatherer bands as intentional communities (which I admit to also being interested in on an abstract level) rather than tribes of related individuals, a sort of proto-clan. More like the ideal of the National Anarchists than Seasteaders, however less appealing we may find the former. Eliezer seems to endorse something like antinatalism, which runs contrary to succ... (read more)
Make sure that the binding of community is done based on a premise that is both simple to understand and allows at least one safe harbor from direct individual criticism, even if that is allowing non-participation in certain activities. A general community needs a safety and a common simple goal allowing for many levels of participation while offering all levels similar benefits of community.
It might be useful, in thinking what these hypothetical organizations would look like, to think about the history of the Elks/Masons/Odd Fellows/Knights of Columbus/etc. Which were essentially social clubs mixed with a primitive form of insurance; you joined the group and paid dues, and those dues paid for the families of members who became disabled or died, with the implicit promise that your family would get the same if it happened to you. Some of them were religiously-oriented, but most weren't (explicitly), and they're probably the most purely community qua community organizations that persisted.
I think the community that I grew up in might have something that can be looked into as a sort of semi-example. I grew up in a rural town, and it had no shortage of religiosity, but most community events didn't happen at the churches. There were weekly sermons sure, but marriages, town hall meetings, debates, just about any big event would happen at our Grange hall .
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_National_Grange_of_the_Order_of_Patrons_of_Husbandry , it's basically freemasonry for farmers)
The grange serves as sort of a meta-communal arranger of all th... (read more)
Folks get a variety of satisfactions/comforts from church membership. Community does seem like a big one, but nebulous.
I think one of the greater draws of church community is a sense of being valued. For the self-assured this motivator might be hard to grasp. (Conversely, those of low self-esteem might overestimate its importance.) Anyway, I recommend research into the psychological problems correlating with religiosity. I haven't seen such studies in particular, but I've seen studies of psychological problems associated with conservatism and "Ri... (read more)
Eliezer jumps from the ostensible purpose of churches to the claim that they are not optimized for community. The ostensible purpose doesn't tell us much! Churches look to me to have a lot of optimization for community.
I do not claim that churches are optimal but I doubt it is as easy to improve on them as Eliezer implies. The very items he points to look to me to be powerful rituals. Maybe those rituals serve some purpose (eg, brainwashing) other than community, but it is important to understand the data we have about organizing humans. Communities are slow and expensive experimental subjects.
Someone already mentioned a wiki, my suggestion is:
-there needs to be a place to announce rationalist meetings, a page where you can look up your country/city and join a rationalist community or create a new one.
-MENSA could be an inspiration and a place to look for members(although this idea to fish members from another organization has the potential to generate friction).
-there is already too much information on this site, tons of postings and this thread alone now has 28 comments(and counting), I'm not going to invest a lot of time to wade through this ... (read more)
Reading this 13 years later is quite interesting when you think about how far the LW community and EA community have come.
Actually many such groups exist already, except they're not arbitrarily limited to self-described rationalists -- for instance, the committee that's working on a garden for an elementary school in my neighborhood.
How about adding a feature on LessWrong where we can state our location (in as generic terms as we want, e.g. "Canada"), so that it's a bit easier to judge if there are several other people near us physically to start thinking about holding meetings?
I don't see why "rationalism" would be a good thing to organize around; but I don't think that's what Eliezer is talking about. As cousin_it noted, Eliezer is implying that rationalism implies altruism. Should we add altruism to the bundle of extra-rational values that Eliezer thinks are part of rationalism? Combined with his insistence that "rationalists always win", and his earlier comment that a Bayesian master would place inherent value on rationality, that would make 3 irrational elements of Yudkowskian rationalism.
Eliezer's sea... (read more)
As cousin_it noted, Eliezer is implying that rationalism implies altruism
As cousin_it noted, Eliezer is implying that rationalism implies altruism
As usual, I note once again that Phil Goetz, as on virtually every occasion when he describes me as "seeming" to possess some opinion, is attacking up the wrong straw tree.
I already live in that post religious world. Yes, we do have religion, of course. But to most people here, religion is a private matter. There are people here that goes to church regularly, and for whom this is their prime community, but those are a small minority.
Instead our communities are the workplace or organized hobbies, or just fiends that one drinks alcohol with regularly. My parents prime community (except family) is the local Orienteering club. My self, I would not say that I have a community right now. Possibly my flat mates, if five people can... (read more)
"But religion does fill certain holes in people's minds, some of which are even worth filling."
Are they? There is such a thing as a Fruitful Void. God is used as a placeholder to stop questioning and abolish uncertainty. Those are very valuable absences.
It's not a God-shaped hole, it's a hole-shaped God.