This is a quick post about some experiences with the Berkeley rationalist community. I haven't had great experiences talking about this in person to folks when I lived there for two months. The perceptive reader may be able to discern who I am, though I would respectfully like to remain anonymous. It is not clear that posting on LesserWrong is the right way to communicate such experiences, though if it's not just let me know and I'll update my content to better reflect what the site is looking for.
Preface: My experiences have been largely positive, but there were a few worrying signs. This came from spending about two months living in Berkeley and working closely with the Rationalist community, around the MIRI or CFAR office. I do not claim to speak for any organization or person except myself. The time frame was roughly February to March of 2017.
Background: I have been to a CFAR workshop, and have volunteered at two. Also, 1/4 of the details I've given about myself are falsified to prevent identity-detection. I really loved the environment of the CFAR workshop. I've also participated in 1-3 of CFAR's workshops, including but not limited to the CFAR workshop for machine learners, some workshops on AI safety, MIRI workshops, and the like. I have also worked on one or two smaller Rationalist projects.
Immediate thoughts: Honestly, spending lots of time in the community was scary.
Immediate thoughts part 2: I was worried about what I saw as the "status ladders" among the people who I socialized with or hung around. It seemed like there was a very clear pecking order, where a couple folks I interacted with who claimed to be above such status games quite evidently practiced them regularly.
I would have liked to believe this was only a small subset of the Rationalists, and that most people weren't like this. This may be the case. However, I am quite confident that said Rationalists are or were considered high-status in the community, whether people admit this or otherwise.
Sorry about the lack of detail and clarity here; I'm attempting to balance between my own anonymity, the anonymity of people I refer to, and providing enough detail to be informative.
One particular case study: when I saw some practice or some folks who gave me the willies, it seemed like whoever I reported to would say something like: "Why do you think that?"
while they made it clear with their body language, and their verbal language, that I was incorrect and needed to be diagnosed. That whole dynamic left a rather bad taste in my mouth, to be quite honest. This response replicated three or four times, and ran the gamut from people who hung around the MIRI office, to CFAR instructors and people universally considered high status by this community. This assumption of my "clear" wrongness was especially prominent when I noted that someone high status in the community gave me bad vibes. Admittedly, an outsider (me) criticizing a valued community member is not considered tasteful, anywhere.
Note: I know that "why do you think that?" or variants, is something popular to say in the Rationalist community. Usually it bespeaks honest curiosity. This time, I am fairly certain it contained far more assumption of wrongness than genuine curiosity.
In France, the far-right has a saying: "On est chez nous." It means: "We are at home." It is usually uttered by total racists who fear that France's immigration model (where people are expected to avoid public displays of their culture and assimilate into France) is being broken by the wave of immigration from Northern Africa and Syria.
However, it resonates with me: being at home. Somehow, the aesthetic within the Rationalist community at Berkeley turned this one young human away from it, and I think that's a little bit sad -- I'm not the only one, I am very sure. I still think people are up to good things, though I hesitate to return to the space. The feeling at home was not present, and I fear I am not the only one to turn away from the space because of this.
I hope I am not making an implicit accusation against all the self-identifying Rationalists, or high status members of the community. I'm only applying a weakly descriptive label to avoid the accusation or assumption that I have constantly received in the past. This assumption is that I must be referring to people "outside the core Rationalist group". AKA that I am referring to the "barbarians", not the "civilized folk". For those who are active members of the Rationalist community who would never do what I described, my post does not refer to you (though honestly, some of the people it does refer to would not think it refers to them. It's always someone else :) )
Negative bias applies, and it appears that I have been hanging out with a skewed and non-representative set of Rationalists. In the past, this has led people to write off my experiences as being non-representative. I think that would be a mistake, and it feels rude when people do so.
I was wondering what community thoughts around this are.