Aug 6, 2011
Related to: Building rationalist communities, Lessons from Latter-day Saints, Holy Books (Or Rationalist Sequences) Don't Implement Themselves, Designing rationalist projects, Community roles: teachers and auxiliaries, Committees and Leadership
I previously mentioned the issue of teacher selections: the balance between selecting the more natural teachers and giving the less outgoing and articulate contingent a chance.
The latter is important, because it’s a route to long-term skill development for all members. But, like most investments, it requires long time horizons. It’s not viable to invest in developing talent if your embryonic talent is going to pack up and leave.
So how do you establish a long time horizon? How do you create a norm, an expectation, a common practice of sticking around in the group?
Unsurprisingly, this takes time to develop.
Wherever the church is newly established, growth is fast, but turnover is high. This is caused (at least, immediately caused) by higher levels of infighting and quarreling. A commonly-told story is of an early church leader named Thomas B. Marsh dissatisfied over increased militarization and hostilities against neighbors. As a result, he signed an affidavit which helped trigger the forcible expulsion of Mormons from the state of Missouri.
I’ll repeat that: where the church is new, growth is fast, but turnover is high.
Many of the church members in India were in their late teens or early 20’s, looking for more direction in life. We were glad they joined, but there was a problem. The stability of the church organization in India was inversely proportional to the proportion of church members who were young, single adults.
One set of problems stemmed from romances gone awry, unwanted male attention, and resulting gossip. Another set of problems stemmed from simple unreliability – they often wouldn’t take their organizational responsibilities seriously, or wouldn’t prepare for classes they were supposed to teach. And they generally weren’t as useful in teaching other members, because they weren’t as mature.
Of course families got in disagreements and quarrels too. But I certainly heard less about those.
Raise the Age Demographic
A commonly-cited Less Wrong norm is to raise the sanity waterline. I propose a new norm: raise the age demographic.
Functionally, parenthood encourages long-time-horizon thinking, and stabilizes one's self-defined identity as a member of group X. This is especially true in memes that require you to perform actively organizational tasks.
First, marriage. Consider Mormonism, and remember the lay clergy and everyone-has-a-role norms. A big problem for the church in India was gender imbalance – there were too many guys and so they would marry girls who weren’t in the church. Then when they had to choose between spending time at church or helping to run the church, and spending time with their wife, they chose the latter.
This is true for other time-intensive memetic groups – I picked up some Amway promotional materials once and noticed that most of featured people were married couples. (And yes, I do think Amway is Dark Side-ish.)
Second, children. It’s one of the standard stories – a couple isn’t really religious, but they have a kid and think their children needs religion so they start going to church. What are they looking for? An identity; a set of moral guidelines for their children.
Less Wrong needs to move into this market space.
Right now, the median demographic of Less Wrongians is a teenage to mid-20s, unmarried, male; it’s a group that includes me. But a good way to find long-term committed people and reduce turnover is to reach out to a slightly older demographic – parents with children.
In the church, sure, the Young Women’s organization exists for the teenager girls; and the Primary organization exists for the smaller children. But the adults involved in each organization, and the parents of the children, are tied more closely into the church community. Each of them receives a (another) definite, concrete reason to come to church each Sunday.
In a rationalist parenting club, the children running around would provide a constant reminder and justification for the group’s existence.
 Personally, I’m far more articulate in my conversation and public speech due to numerous occasions where I led classes, gave speeches, and so forth.
 This wasn’t universal, but it was a general trend.
 I’m not sure exactly how to do this, but I am sure that it is desirable.