Epistemic Status: Braindump, not as well thought out as I’d like.


This is a post about dynamics in the Berkeley rationality community, although it may be relevant to broader domains.

It is highly opinionated about what I think is important.

I tried to optimize this for a clear-cut goal, then realized the clear-cut goal was “I want to make it easier for people to cooperate with me on community-building, and I just want to do a massive braindump to get them up to speed on where I’m coming from, so that when I have a conversation about it we can skip to the harder parts."

If you are serious about rationalist community-building, read this, and then come talk to me afterwards.

When I visited the Bay in 2015, a friend (who used to live in NYC) remarked “you know, when I was in New York, I felt like once a week I went to ‘rationality club’. In Berkeley it feels more like I live in a small rationality village — there’s a couple hundred people, I’m friends with some of them. We bump into each other in the street on the way to the grocery store.”

Eventually I moved here, and yup. That is how it is. Sorta. With important caveats and problems.

There are lots of little subcultures in the Rationalist Bay, some overlapping. But I think there are two primary reasons people come:

  • to have a Village – a home, among like-minded people
  • to contribute to the Mission – ensuring the flourishing of human values (or something like them)

In the past 10 years, the Mission has acquired serious infrastructure. There’s been much less intentional effort to build a home. Mostly for good reason – the Mission is important, and hard. Competent People are Rare and the World is Big. Building a village is also hard, and if you’re able to do so, you’re probably also able to work on bigger picture Mission stuff.

The Mission provides juuuust enough value as a “home” to satisfice the people involved (which might not actually be sufficient for them, just decent enough that it's not their primary bottleneck).

In the past couple years, we’ve begun to see more serious efforts towards building Village infrastructure. But I think these efforts are often missing important aspects of the big picture.

This post is a high-level overview of how I think about all this. It’s quite long, and doesn’t condense neatly down into five words.


The Mission and the Village need different things.

The Mission ultimately needs to be outward facing. It’s about putting a dent in the universe.

The Village needs to prioritize people’s own needs.

I think these require different mindsets. and are easier optimize separately.

It’s important that the Village exist, on its own terms.

It so happens that the Mission needs to provide its members a home. One might build an explicitly Mission-centered-village. I think this is actually a good idea.

But I think it’s still valuable to have an actual Village, that doesn’t need to justify everything in terms of The Big Picture, universal flourishing, deeply understanding the world, or x-risk. If this is the only lens through which you build a home, your home will be impoverished.

It is important to have people and spaces that are optimizing for the village for its own sake, not as a subtle recruitment-for-the-mission strategy.

This is less important than the Mission (according to me). But still incredibly important. One crucial point of the Mission is that people have access to good villages. Atomic individualism has crippled our capacity for good villages. It is rare and precious that we actually have a shot at building one.

But. The reason this Village is special is that it is entangled with the Mission, in a symbiotic way.

If you are working on the Village, you actually need to understand the Mission. For two reasons:

  • On the Village’s own terms, it depends heavily on the Mission’s energy, drive, mythology, and culture. Remove that, and I don’t think the Village actually works.
  • Meanwhile, separately, the Village needs resources. It will have access to much more resources if it is Mission aligned. And I think there is room to be Mission-aligned while succeeding on the Village’s terms

The Village is not the Mission, and is not outward facing. But the Village should help you prepare for the Mission, if you want.

The Village still needs fences and standards.

There are lots of ways you can build a village, that don’t depend on any particular mission. But, no matter how you organize your village, it is going to need some kind of standard, some kind of costly signaling that works as a coordination mechanism.

People who end up drawn to the Village instead of the Mission tend to have an egalitarian instinct, and a desire to welcome everyone. I don’t think this works. The Village needs to be more relaxed than the Mission. But it cannot take care of everybody, and will overwhelm itself if it tries.

The Rationality Community, and the Village and Mission that I’m most excited by, are the ones at the center of this Venn Diagram:

I think truth, impact and being human can intersect in a way that is exciting, fulfilling, and important. I'm not sure I can justify this claim. But I know that the center-of-that-diagram is the community I’m most excited to build towards, and most excited to collaborate with people on.

If you’re serious, come talk to me.

If you are excited by this and want to put in serious effort into building a Village (either on the Village’s terms, or the Mission’s), I’ll make a good-faith effort to talk to you for at least an hour.

The rest of this post is my background models of how all of this fits together. My actual models are dense and nuanced and situation-specific. I think it’s important that people work on this, but there are a lot of ways to go subtly wrong.

If you’re interested in helping seriously, after reading this post and ironing out any basic confusions in the comments, come chat with me.

Issues with a Single Status Ladder

The Village and the Mission have their own virtues, and pathologies. They share at least one meta-pathology: the status hierarchies are illegible, and there are no fences anywhere to demarcate who is welcome where. When you arrive, instead of a fence, you'll find a swamp. You'll see some flickering campfires in the distance, but some of those campfires are misleading swamp gas.

The most obvious assumption is that there is a single status-ladder that goes all the way from "rando who just showed up who doesn't have any friends or skills" to "people who interface regularly with billionaires while making decisions that will hopefully impact the future light-cone."


  • This can feel (and be) quite bad. In the same way that modern poor people are objectively wealthier than ancient kings, but when they compare themselves to modern celebrities they still feel a keen lack of resources... a person who would ordinarily feel socially secure instead feels a pressure to keep-up-with-the-Joneses (and the Joneses know Dustin Moskovitz)
  • Even if you don't want to climb the status ladder, many of the people around you do. There is pressure upwards. Everyone is busy. Everyone has options. This makes it harder to build actually good friendships – Good friendships require space to just... chill. And to trust that you can continue to just chill when you need to.
  • Many of the people who would be most competent at running the village quickly end up involved with Mission-centric orgs.

A lot of this isn't fixable. The state of the world isn't okay, and it needs Mission oriented people who are willing to dedicate their lives to it. Competent People Are Rare and the World Is Big. If you are capable of contributing to the Mission, I think that's good. It's regrettable if this means that you will not spend as much (or any) time improving the Village. But it would be even more regrettable if you didn't help tilt the arc of human history towards goodness in a scalable fashion.

But, I think there are some local improvements to be made. I think most Mission-aligned people should be at least "paying taxes" to help maintain the Village. I think there are skills people can gain which let them contribute to the Village on the margin. And understanding the situation might help others find additional improvements I haven't thought of.

The simplest change is a shift towards acknowledging at least two status ladders, and it must be possible to be high status within the Village, on the Village's terms.

What is the Mission?

The Mission is to make sure everyone can flourish.

The Mission has many subcomponents. It includes understanding the world. It includes being able to coordinate effectively with people who are already helping. It includes helping directly.

It includes helping people who are suffering.

It includes helping people who are not suffering, but the difference between who they are and who they could be is vast.

It includes fixing systems that are systematically broken.

It includes understanding things deeply for its own sake.

It includes figuring out how to think about people that don't exist yet.

Many elements of the Mission interplay with one way another, in ways that are hard to predict in advance. Other elements aren't related at all, but are nonetheless united in the fact that they steer the future towards something good.

The Mission is not morally obligatory, but is morally commendable.

The purpose of having morals in the first place is to help you make good decisions and coordinate. Some people naively decompartmentalize their moral beliefs and end up depressed and broken. A moral system that reliably does that is a stupid moral system and you should pick a different one.

I think if you demand that people notice bottomless pits of suffering, and dedicate their lives to it, you will incentivize people to not notice bottomless pits of suffering.

The Mission has easier and harder ways to contribute.

Nobody is Perfect, Everything is Commensurable. I don't think it makes sense for everyone to give 10% of their income to effective charity, but I do think that everyone can start saving 10% and donating 1% of post-necessities income, to help build the slack and resources to one day contribute more.

Even if all you ever do is give 1% of post-necessities income, that's fine by me. And even if you don't do any of this and just focus on flourishing, yourself, that's fine by me too – your flourishing is part of of the project of Human Flourishing.

And if you do donate 10%, as far as I'm concerned you've joined the ranks of the Mission. If you start to stress about whether you're "doing enough", yes, you are doing enough.

There are harder things you can do, many of which involve risk. I can't promise that they'll work, or that you'll come out okay. I can't explain what those things are because I don't know. One of the biggest elements of The Mission is figuring out what The Mission is.

The Mission is Network Constrained, and many of the best things you can do is move into a social situation where you automatically make connections that will help you learn, think and grow. Figure out what to do. Do it.

You are not obligated to undertake the hardest aspects of the Mission. You should not do things that aren't sustainable for you.

But it would be dishonest to pretend the Mission doesn’t need all the help it can get.

The Mission requires standards.

The Mission requires being able to say "Sorry, you are not yet good enough to do this job."

The Mission requires being able to say, sometimes "Hey, when we first started this project, we were small and scrappy and had to make do. We are now at a point where we need to raise our standards, and you will have to raise yours as well if you want to continue on this project."

The Mission requires sometimes saying "Your project has turned out to be net-negative, and is gumming up the works preventing other projects from succeeding, and you either need to radically change, or gain skills, or stop."

The Mission involves asking hard questions, over and over, and having the answers often be uncomfortable, painful, or horrifying.

The Mission cannot offer psychological safety.

This is quite bad for the execution of the Mission, since psychological safety is kind of important to actually get stuff done.

Also, the whole point of the Mission is for flourishing. At the very least, if the Mission destroys your ability to flourish, that's sad.

What is the Village?

The Village is for making sure that we can flourish.

We're all at different points in our lives, and need different things. The Village must account for that.

The Village is not the Mission. The Village must succeed on it's own terms – taking care of its people. But one of the reasons this village is special is that it helps you prepare for the Mission if you want to.

(Another thing that makes this village special is that it's build on aspirations of truthseeking. I’m not sure if all villages need to orient around truth, but I know that this one does.)

What is a good village?

A good village takes care of its members, and helps them meet their social needs.

A good village provides people with opportunities to bump into each other sporadically, in low-stakes settings, so that people can eventually develop deep friendships.

A good village helps people to raise children.

A good village provides avenues for people to grow – ideally it provides multiple arenas in which people can develop emotional skills, physical skills, marketable skills, intellectual skills.

A good village has escalating asks and rewards. Participating in village life involves at least some effort to pitch in occasionally and follow norms. You will get more out of village life the more you put into it (and villages are healthiest and strongest if, over time, they ask more of their members).

A good village has a way of dealing with bad actors.

A good village was a way of rewarding good actors.

A good village lets you be your whole self without compartmentalization.

A good village needs the slack to occasionally rescue villagers who are in bad situations.

An ideal village feels like home, and feels safe.

(Yes, this is somewhat in tension with the Village asking things of you. I think the solution is for the baseline asks to be something that a person can meet, even if they are sick or depressed for an extended period of time, but for putting in more effort to organically result in higher payoff).

A good village has fences, of some sort. Because the Village has the obligation to take care of its members, and because resources are limited... it necessarily follows that the Village cannot take care of everybody. Some villages have explicit barriers to entry. Others have vague social networks to navigate to get in.

If you have no fences, you most likely don't have a very good village.

A village is not (just) a community

A village accomplishes all of this at a scale that a "small community" does not. A village is a level of organization above community, which facilitates the create of small communities. A small community is in turn a larger organizing unit than "group of friends." Each level of scale provides different things.

A small community aims at many of the same goals listed above. A village helps generate communities that precisely match your needs. And a village grants access to a certain qualia that is somewhat different from a community, (which is turn a different qualia from "a group of friends.")

Alas, I can't really explain that qualia. If you don't have an intuitive sense of why it matters, I am not arguing that you should care. I can say, it's something like "being a part of something bigger than yourself" and something like "feeling like there's something powerful that has your back."

The current Berkeley community often does not have people's back, but it aspires to.

Who is "we"?

Good question. I have an opinionated answer for the Berkeley community in particular:

The Village is the people who organically came to live around a particular subset of the Mission – the part that noticed "Hmm, humanity is hurtling towards existential risk, and nobody is doing anything about AI, and people seem remarkably bad a thinking about all this," and then began clustering in Berkeley to make progress on that.

Now, since then, that organic growth has led to a wide variety of people, some of whom aren't here for the Mission – they're here because they have friends here, or they like rationally minded people but don't make a big deal about it.

There are people who care about the Mission, but not x-risk specifically.

There are people who care, but nonetheless find themselves more drawn to village life than a mission campaign. This is not only okay but good – if no one wanted to make the village their primary focus, the Village would not have the strength to succeed (either on it's own terms or the Mission's terms).

But it's important to recognize that this Village derives much of its energy from the Mission kernel that it formed around. That kernel was oddly specific, and it makes the village oddly specific.

Helping the Village to thrive requires understanding that.

Why must the Village relate to the Mission at all?

In the Old Days, villages were united by shared geography, family, history, and economic activity. But those things no longer bind together a village automatically. And the village needs something around which to cohere.

I have seen multiple villages, in particular created by the post-atheist-crowd, which failed.

They failed because, in an increasingly atomized world, they didn't offer anything that was special. They didn't filter for any particular subset of people, so the people didn't especially get along. They didn't have a shared mythology that inspired people towards the same aspirations. They didn't even have particularly interesting activities everyone liked.

People couldn't grow up together, so they grew apart.

It is not a coincidence that the Berkeley community is an honest to goodness village, whereas most social clubs are just vague networks that are barely any different from the alienating, atomized society around them.

The Berkeley village has a shared mythology, and a (reasonably) shared ethos. It has a clearer and more compelling vision of how to fit into the universe than any of the groups of atheists I met who awkwardly said to themselves "well, there's no reason we can't have a church, let's make one", but then didn't know the first thing about how to make a church, and didn't agree on enough principles to bind themselves together.

(For what it's worth, the other villages I'm most excited by are the Filk community, the Connection/Authentic-Relating community, and some dance or other activity-based communities)

Can't the Village at least move somewhere affordable?

Alas. No.

A small community could leave Berkeley together. And if they just want each other's friendship, and neither care overmuch about the Mission or the Village, than I'd even recommend that. The are some pathologies in Berkeley that are actively bad, or good to get away from for awhile.

But you can't transplant the 300 people here somewhere else. It won’t work.

Why are cities more expensive than rural outbacks? Because the cities have stuff, and the rural outbacks don't. Cities have jobs. Cities have enough critical mass that no matter your special interest, you can find people also interested in that thing.

If you don't need the Stuff cities offer, you can live somewhere cheap. But empirically many people prefer paying extra for the stuff – that's why cities are expensive. The Most Important Stuff is the network effects. And yes there's some weird dystopian shit that go along with the network effects... but that doesn't mean the network effects don't matter.

A lot of the mythos and ethos of the Village depends on the Mission actually being real. This means trying for real, which means making tradeoffs for real, which means actually living near silicon valley billionaires and having good relationships with them – not only to get money from them, but to maintain high levels of trust and alignment.

The Big Orgs need to be near the billionaires and many existing ecosystems that surround them. The small orgs need to interface with the Big Orgs. The people who are interested in working for the small orgs, or Big Orgs, or founding new projects that might one day interface with the system, need to be nearby.

The villagers who are just here to feed of their energy are drawn here and not to random other places because of that energy, and critical mass.

There might be other places that could sustain a Mission Oriented Village, and you might be able to build a Totally-Not-Mission-Oriented-Village, but either case requires actual strategizing and not just picking a someplace random and cheap. (I think the EA Hotel has a decent shot at creating an affordable hub, but importantly, it involved thousands of dollars and years of free energy injected into the system)

(Note that insofar as you think the Mission is fake or in danger of becoming fake, yes, I think that means the Village is correspondingly weaker)

Does the Mission need a Village that’s separate from the Mission?

Does the Mission need the Village, or does the Village only need the Mission?

The Mission definitely needs to make sure the social needs of its members are met. This includes making sure they can make friends and can be psychologically healthy.

There are multiple strategies the Mission could employ for this, and I think most of them look something like building Mission-centric social spaces. Habryka has some thoughts on this (different from mine), that make more sense to call a “university” than a village.

But I think the Mission still benefits from having a nearby Village where people get to explore the Mission, over a timescale of years. And for that to really work, it needs to be a live option to say “okay, it turned out the Mission was not for me”, without meaning that the years you invested were wasted. (And, importantly, without pressure to deceive yourself about whether the Mission is for you)

I don’t really care about the Village. Should I?

Eh, probably not.

To me, the Village and the Mission are both deeply important, and obviously so. If you’re a Mission oriented person who doesn’t feel like they’re lacking anything, or if this entire essay feels pointless to you, I don’t think there’s a secret point I understand that you don’t that’ll change your mind.

You either feel that there’s some kind of village-shaped hole that you want to fill, or don't.

I don't live in Berkeley. Should I move there?

Maybe. But probably not for the sake of the Village.

For years, the Village was neglected. Over the past couple years, people have taken a stab at building real Village Institutions. But we have a huge amount of social-technology-debt that we have yet to repay. The Village still struggles to take care of its own people.

I think it makes most sense to move to Berkeley if you already have a strong sense of who you would live with. It also makes sense if you already have a Mission-related-job lined up, since the Mission actually has more infrastructure built. And it makes sense if you're willing to put a lot of effort into building the Village (or Mission) around you as you go.

A thing that works for some people is "visit there for a few months, and see what it is like, and whether you can successfully find a home."

If you do move to the Berkeley, try to replace yourself first.

Ask not what your Village can do for you.

Lately, I've been very Mission focused. I will continue to be Mission focused.

But I want a good home. I want a good village to support me during the times when I need help, and I want (counterfactually, behind the veil of ignorance) to have had better opportunities in Village-related-domains.

In my own immediate future, I want better opportunity to strengthen friendships in repeated low-stakes interactions. Right now I'm able to do so, in part, because of people who put time and effort into Village-esque activities. One of my worries is that those people will burn out, or eventually transition into more Mission-esque domains that consume more of their time, or simply move away. And there are not enough people to replace them, let alone strengthen the foundations.

If you are similar to me, you probably want to spend at least a bit of your resources helping build the Village.

What does the Village need? I think there are basically two lenses to look at this question.

"Low" Effort Things

What things can you do periodically that will help the village, without costing you much, if you don't expect to be able to commit to building village institutions longterm?

Examples, escalatingly difficult, include:

  • Meta:
    • First, maintain 30% slack, as a general rule. Don’t overexert yourself. Make sure you have the spare resources to handle emergencies, otherwise instead of helping you'll end up needing help.
    • Keep your commitments, whatever they are. (This may mean making fewer commitments, or being clearer about how reliable you expect to be. You can be a Prophet or a King)
  • Help pay money for things. (This can scale up and down pretty easily). Don't overdo it if you don't have at least $10k in the bank to make switching jobs and apartments easier.
  • Generally be a good citizen
    • If you're at an event, notice what things the organizer could use help with. Take out the trash. Greet people you haven't met. Introduce them to people you think they'd like and who'd like them.
    • Or, better – help people around you be good citizens. Embody Hufflepuff Leadership.
  • Be a co-organizer – formally agree to help out someone running an event.
  • Run a one-off party or meetup. Be deliberate about who you invite – make sure to invite people who'll have fun together, but also try to invite some people you don't know as well. Add surface area that lets people bump into each other and becoming friends. The world depends on you throwing a party.
    • (You can turn one-off-parties into repeated institutions, although I recommend starting out just with the goal of trying a new thing without committing to the long haul).
  • Arrange your housing situation such that you can offer people a place to crash for a week. (This is part of a general strategy advocated by Kelsey Piper about making sure your community has the slack to absorb random emergencies, help people when they lose their job, get them out of abusive situations, etc)
  • Notice when you are in a group with fences, enough such that it's worth investing in coordination to make that group better. (Group houses are a good natural fit for this)
  • Run the occasional event that requires and/or builds a skill (rationality skills or otherwise). These are harder than a generic party, but they are the easily-forgotten core of the village's soul. I've seen people come to Berkeley and be disappointed that most of the events felt like glorified speed-dating. They came for the rationality and didn't find any. There is pent-up demand for serious growth (without the pressure that comes from working on it professionally.)

High Effort, Long Commitment Things

Are you a competent person who cares enough about the Village to stick around, and actually build Village Institutions that scale? Can you do so in a way that doesn't burn you out?

Some things are only actually worth doing if you're going to stick with them.

The problem where Competent People Are Rare and the World Is Big doesn't just apply to the Mission, it applies to the Village too. One of the reasons I think REACH is valuable is it provides scalable village goods – it's existence lowers the barrier to entry for holding new events, and getting situation.

I think we could use more things in this reference class (which I think would plausibly be worth serious fundraising for)

  • I suspect REACH could use more people that dedicate serious longterm effort towards making it run smoothly, and I think there is demand in the community for at least 1-2 additional copies of REACH-esque organizations that run on different aesthetics, operate in different neighborhoods, and target different people.
  • Group Housing – more/better tools to help coordinate this.
  • Solving Bureaucracy for people. There could use to be someone who knows all the doctors and therapists and housing situations in the area, who can help people navigate them.
  • Think hard about burnout and figure out how to help people systematically with it.
  • Build longterm programs that help people train skills.

Meanwhile, a meta-skill that should be running in the background is to always be working to replace yourself in whatever capacity people rely on you.

This is particularly true if you have the skill of “figure out what needs doing and do it.” That skill is super rare. But if you can figure out what to do, then train someone else to do it, and move on, you’re in a position to add a lot of value.

Integrity and Accountability

Right now, the Village is fairly anarchic. This seems fine – most of the ways to make it non-anarchic seem more likely to turn it into a cumbersome bureaucracy than to actually help.

This means, though, that the current mechanism for someone doing a major project is “Pick up a flag, and start running forward yelling excitedly, and hope that villagers and funders run after you.”

This has a few issues. The dynamic between Village leaders and funders is stressful for both.

Funders don’t commit enough to seriously helping with Village endeavors for Village Organizers to trust in the system. Village Organizers don’t have much choice other than picking up a flag and run forward without looking back. If they waited for funders, nothing would ever get done.

But running forward with a flag doesn’t have any kind of accountability built into the system. Since there’s so few Village projects, funders sometimes feel vague pressure to support whatever *has* gotten started, without really checking if it’s good – and then later, they have to either cut funding for something that people have come to rely on (which sucks), or… keep funding something subpar, potentially net negative (which also sucks).

Oliver Habryka recently crystallized some thoughts about integrity and accountability that I think are relevant here. Think hard about who you want to be accountable to.

A common mistake is to make yourself accountable to “the public”, which means you can’t defend decisions with concepts more complex than about five words.

Another mistake is not be accountable to anyone, or to only be accountable to people very similar to you. You need a wide enough variety of people to be accountable to that you have a decent chance of getting called out on your mistakes. You also need enough stakeholders that you can build a large enough coalition to get the resources you need.

So my suggestion is to be pro-active about seeking out accountability. Find people you trust, who you will actually listen to, from a few different perspectives, who can give you important feedback about how your projects fit into the broader ecosystem. Be ready to change (or if necessary, abort) your project given their feedback.

If you’re in the Village for the long haul, or want to build village-like spaces for the Mission, chat with me.

I think the Village is quite important, but there are a lot of nuances to get right when trying to build something for it.

I’m fairly busy these days, and can’t meet with everyone. But if you’re interested in serious longterm Village work (say, putting at least 2 years into it, especially if you’ve been pretty reliably showing up and helping out in smaller ways), then I’m interested in having a fairly serious talk with you and helping to get you started.

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70 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:54 PM

I generally agree with the call to action. I have a historical critique.

I think you are mistaken about the nature of villages being automatically bound together; I think this error is survivorship bias. Most settlements that have ever existed did so ephemerally: existing primarily for the extraction of a single resource (mining towns), or for a single goal (military garrisons). What you see as natural cultural bonds and communities are a mark of stability, a historical example of a group that has solved (at least for a little time) the problem that the rationalist community is working through, not one that has inherited it by natural right.

To refactor the analysis with this in mind, we will basically look at what makes those communities stable, and how ours compares. I think it is at least the following:

1. The presence of multiple industries. A typical farming village will grow multiple crops, possess hunters and loggers, millers and bakers; be able to provide for itself and also produce a surplus. Think of it as a diverse basket. We're narrow on this front. Mostly concentrated in tech and in the mission.

2. A high degree of intermarriage. Maybe polyamory is a good substitute ... (read more)

[note: still kinda braindumpy and not arguing very concretely] Hmm. I agree that survivorship bias could easily be a force at play here, but not sure about some of your specific subclaims here. (I haven't read the books listed, although I think I've maybe read summaries of the Art of Not Being Governed. Will check out both of them) There's two somewhat different things, which are "meeting people's needs in the moment" and "being stable/sustainable." Which do seem like when done right they should go hand in hand, but I'm not entirely sure it makes sense to be sustainable in the classical village sense. (A university is stable in ways different from a village, although many of the same mechanisms are there in some form) Some of the things I've heard or encountered that played a role in my thinking (not all of these are necessarily countering your points, some are just painting a picture of where I'm coming from and clarifying what evidence I actually have that there's a real thing here). 1. A friend claiming that working on a military submarine, forced to work together with a small group of people in sardine can sized vessel, where if anyone of them fucked up they could be entombed in the sea, which he described as producing the tightest bonds he ever felt, which he expected to be hard to imagine. (This points a bit against single-occupation towns necessarily having any issues re: trust/stability. I do expect diverse occupations to be useful for other reasons though) 2. The fact that, at NYC Sunday Assembly (an attempted atheist church), ex-Christians describe how close their church was, how people would take care of each other, how they felt connected, and this was so good, and atheist communities were so mediocre, that for many of them their default course of action was to just keep hanging out in the religious communities 'cuz they were just better at it than the atheist communities. 3. A couple experiences I've had volunteering to maintain parks and gardens,

Could some of this be connected to the "geek social fallacies"? Specifically: some people seem to be a community material; some people seem corrosive to any community; most are probably somewhere on the spectrum. If you try to make a community that includes the corrosive people, it will quickly and inevitably fall apart. However, some communities have "inclusion" as their applause light, so it requires some degree of hypocrisy and tacit coordination to navigate this successfully.

I suppose that even the religious communities who try to save everyone's soul, are ultimately exclusive. This happens in two ways:

First, "doing some actual work" filters out lazy people, or people who prefer talking about things to actually doing things. There are people who could endlessly talk about helping the poor; but if you ask for volunteers who will cook the soup for the homeless, when the time comes to actually cook the soup, these talkers will not be there. Good!

Second, some people take more than they give, but you can balance this by making "taking" low status, and "giving" high status; and then having the high-status people meet separately. ... (read more)

In my experience if someone sets up an event via facebook people who don't like the activity simply decide against coming. I can't remember cases where that lead to longer discussions. Is your experience different?

I had in mind the proposals to organize (1) Solstice celebration and (2) Dragon Army, on Less Wrong.

From my perspective, both cases were "hey, I have an idea of a weird but potentially awesome activity, here is an outline, contact me if you are interested", and in both cases, the debate was mostly about why this is a horrible thing to do, because only cultists would organize a weird activity in real life.

The Dragon Army pushed the Overton window so far that now it makes difficult to remember what exactly was so horrifying about the Solstice celebration. But back then, the mere idea of singing together was quite triggering for a few people: singing is an irrational activity, it manipulates your emotions, it increases group cohesion which rubs contrarians the wrong way, it's what religious people do, yadda yadda yadda, therefore meeting with a group of friends and singing a song together means abandoning your rationality forever.

Now, the Solstice celebration is a perfectly normal thing, and no one freaks out about it anymore. And I suppose if there would be a second and third attempt to do something like the Dragon Army, people would get used to that, too. But the reactions to the first attempts felt quite discouraging.

Announcing an event is different then planning an event. A post that's about "hey, I have an idea of a weird but potentially awesome activity, here is an outline, contact me if you are interested", is in the planning stage. In the planning stage it makes sense to have a lot more criticism and discuss how the event should work.
-4Said Achmiz5y
I was one of the people who participated in the discussion of the Solstice celebration, so I have, I think, some perspective to offer. Your comment is, I’m afraid, full of the most egregious strawmen—and what’s worse, they are strawmen which were trotted out, and subsequently revealed for what they were (with their accusers conceding the straw nature of their accusations), even at the time. Anyone who wishes to see for themselves can read the discussion I linked (though if you do, please be sure to read not only initial comments in every thread, but responses, and counter-responses… in short, do not just skim and assume you get the gist; actually take the time to understand what the disputants, on both sides, were saying). I have little to add now to what I said back then. I will, however, comment on this, which is an example of an unfortunately common error in reasoning about this sort of situation: It is only “a perfectly normal thing” because everyone who didn’t think it was perfectly normal, has left! (Or, in the milder cases, simply avoids such things, and even if this bothers them, does not speak up, seeing no point in rehashing the same argument, knowing that it will end in the same way: with their preferences overruled.) It is a simple case of evaporative cooling!

Seems important to note that I endorse this comment. Obviously I think it was correct for Solstice to win the overton-window fight (otherwise I'd have made very different life choices). But it's important to be clear and honest about what happened, and yes, there were some people who were quite unhappy with it, some of whom left, and some of whom remained, quietly annoyed.

I do think it's also important to note that there are also people who were annoyed or worried initially, went to Solstice, and after a couple years updated to "yeah this isn't bad in the way I initially thought it was." (In both cases, the number of people who "still don't like it" and "have updated to 'it's fine'" that I have concretely observed are less than 10, so I'm hesitant to make many generalizations)

I do think Villiam's general claim of "if you propose a new thing, especially a new confusing thing, there's a good chance you'll get a disproportionate amount of vocal opposition compared to support" is true and noteworthy. (this isn't quite how they framed it initially and I'm not sure this is what they meant, but it is what I interpreted them to mean, if I interpreted wrong please correct me)

Yes, this is how I meant it, but in context of Less Wrong especially when the new thing is about rationalist having some emotional experience and becoming closer to each other. Even if it is an obviously voluntary activity no one is pressured to join. Unusual and confusing suggestions that would involve studying math or playing poker would not get that intensity of reaction. (The surprising part is why singing songs together or living in the Dragon Army house is perceived as more dangerous than polyamory. But maybe because the idea of polyamory came first, so the people who strongly objected to that were already gone when the other ideas came.)
-1Said Achmiz5y
And, to be clear, I do not have any meta-objection to this (which is to say, my object-level opinion is the same as it ever was—I think this choice that rationalist communities collectively made was a poor one—but I have no principled objection to “we, as a community, decided to go a certain way, and if some folks don’t care for that, that’s unfortunate, but this is what we’re doing”). But, yes, pretending that that’s not what happened—pretending that actually, the dissenters just turned out to be obviously silly and their objections were groundless and now they’ve quietly accepted how wrong they were all along, now that their wrongness is plain for all to see—is not acceptable at all. Indeed. If I may ask—do you know of any people who initially were in favor / cautiously optimistic / ambivalent / etc., but later updated to “actually this is bad”? I, too, have only a handful of data points, so indeed I don’t propose to generalize, but I do want to note that you are rather less likely to observe “still don’t like it” than you are to observe “actually this is fine”, conditional on the existence of each, simply because you’re less likely to interact with people of the latter persuasion!

I have not heard anyone update starting from "this was okay" and then later "this was bad" direction. (If anyone happens to be reading along and had that experience this is as good a time as any to speak up)

(My recollection of your own experience, after coming to a Solstice once, was that you said something afterwards like "okay, yeah that was still cringey but less cringey than I thought. I *am* worried about the use of the Litany of Tarski." [which is no longer part of Solstice].

It seems like as good a time as any to check if that memory of mine is accurate).

5Said Achmiz5y
I remember having that conversation, but not the details of what I said. Your version sounds plausible, based on my overall recollection of the event. (I suppose I should note, for anyone reading this, that the Solstice event I attended was one of the very early ones. It was held at a group house here in Brooklyn, and done as part of a more general gathering; this was before the Solstice celebration as such was made into a separate event, with a rented event space, etc. That is the only Solstice celebration I have attended, so I have no comment on what those that’ve been held since then are like.)
-6Said Achmiz5y
Looking at the discussion you linked... I admit I cannot find the horrible examples my mind keeps telling me I have seen. So, maybe I was wrong. Or maybe it was a different article, dunno. A few negative comments were deleted; but those were all written by the same person, so in either case they do not represent a mass reaction. The remaining comment closest to what I wanted to say is this one... ...but even that one is not too bad. This is a good point. Whatever the community does, if it causes the opposing people to leave, will be in hindsight seen as the obviously right thing to do (because those who disagree have already left), even if in a parallel Everett branch doing the opposite thing is seen as the obviously right thing. I still feel weird about people who would leave a community just because a few members of the community did sing a song together. Also, people keep leaving for all kinds of reasons. I am pretty sure some have left because of lack of emotional connection, such as, uhm, doing things together. Meta: Okay, at this moment I feel quite confused about this comment I just wrote. Like, from certain perspectives it seems like you are right, and I am simply refusing to say "oops". At the very least, I failed to find a sufficiently horrible anti-Solstice comment. Yet, somehow, it is you saying that there were people who left the rationality movement because of the Solstice ritual, which is the kind of hysterical reaction I tried to point at. (I can't imagine myself leaving a movement just because a few of its members decided to meet and sing a song together.)

Yet, somehow, it is you saying that there were people who left the rationality movement because of the Solstice ritual, which is the kind of hysterical reaction I tried to point at. (I can’t imagine myself leaving a movement just because a few of its members decided to meet and sing a song together.)

I don't think it's really "a few people singing songs together". It's more like...an overall shift in demographics, tone, and norms. If I had to put it succinctly, the old school LessWrong was for serious STEM nerds and hard science fiction dorks. It was super super deep into the whole Shock Level memeplex thing. Over time it's become a much softer sort of fandom geek thing. Rationalist Tumblr and SlateStarCodex aren't marginal colonies, they're the center driving force behind what's left of the original 'LessWrong rationality movement'. Naturally, a lot of those old guard members find this abhorrent and have no plans to ever participate in it.

I don't blame them.

8Said Achmiz5y
I agree with Raemon that it is unlikely to be productive or appropriate to rehash this argument in the current thread. However, I do have things to say on the matter (in response to this comment of yours in particular), so it may be worthwhile to start another post, or a thread on the latest Open Thread post, on this topic; or you may feel free to ask for my thoughts on the matter via private message.
Note: while this thread is sort of relevant, and I think there are some productive ways for it to continue, I think there are many more unproductive ways to continue than productive ones. As thread-owner, I'd say: "Feel free to continue this here if you have a specific confusion that needs resolving, that seems resolvable, or an outcome that you think is actually achievable to achieve. But don't just rehash a 8-year-old-argument without reflecting on your life choices and having some kind of goal. Err on the side of disengaging if you're not sure if you have a goal."
It's the future and I had kinda forgotten this comment and I quite like it.

Here is my brain dump: I have mostly given up on the Berkeley rationality community as a possible village. I think the people who showed up here were mostly selected for being bad at villaging, and that the awful shit that's been happening around here lately is downstream of that. I think there is something toxic / dysfunctional woven deep into the community fabric (which has something to do with the ways in which the Mission interacts poorly with people's psychologies) and I don't feel very hopeful about even being able to show it clearly to half of the community, let alone doing anything about it.

In February I wrote a 20-page Google Doc describing what I think is wrong with Berkeley in more detail, which I've shared with some of you but don't plan to make public. (Message me on Facebook if you'd like to request access to a PDF of it; I might not say yes, though.) I'd like to get around to writing a second public draft but again, I've been feeling less hopeful, so... we'll see.

I've been getting a fair number of requests on Facebook for the doc (esp. from community organizers, which I appreciate), and response has been pretty positive. That plus a few other things have me more inclined to write a public draft, but still a little wary of making promises yet.

I don't have Facebook but as someone considering deeper participation in the rationalist community, I would greatly appreciate whatever information you have, no matter how messy or disorganized.
(I have thoughts on this, but probably makes sense to wait to comment here about it until it's at a point where a more fully public conversation is possible. My short take is 'I roughly agree that the dynamics Qiaochu is pointing at are real/important, but I don't think they apply universally – they feel less relevant to me personally, and I think there's something like competing access needs going on.')
I'm interested as well. as someone trying to grow the Denver rationality community, I want to be aware of failure modes.

I figured I should be clearer about what I actual plan to be doing with all this:

1. I, personally, am trying to figure out a plan for improving the "Mission community", with moderately high fences. I think this is the right use of my current position and skillset. I do not yet have a plan.

1b. A subset of the above is seeing who is interested in contributing to a Mission community, and what particular things they are motivated to do. Who and what is available would determine what sort of plans are possible.

2. I want to help people who are interested in helping significantly with the village self-organize better. This involves a couple things:

2a. Getting a sense of who is already working on what.

2b. Getting a sense of who is available to put more energy into what.

2c. Getting a sense of what needs doing.

2d. Clarifying some of my own thinking on what failure modes to watch out for, and what experiments make sense to try next.

2e. The process of chatting with a bunch of people who are interested in contributing can then provide an opportunity to get people more aligned, such that people are working on projects that fit together synergistically.

2f. Providing mentorship/guidanc... (read more)

I would love to read an overview of things that are being done, in the rationalist community. By reading Less Wrong regularly, I am exposed to many random things, but I may have large blind spots. I would like to see the curated big picture. In addition to big picture (list of meetups or podcasts or research groups), it would be also nice to have a database of helpful people (who organize the meetups, or bring cookies), but the later should probably not be public. I have heard stories of people who come to rationalist community with the goal of extracting free work (under vague and non-committal promises of improving the world or contributing to charity) from naive people. So, if someone loves to bake cookies and bring them to meetups, it would be nice to give their contact to local meetup organizers, but not to make it completely public so that random parasites will spam them. Maybe a trivial inconvenience of "show me the specific work you have already done, before I give you the list of contacts" would be enough.

I was fairly hesitant to post this. A couple beta-readers pointed out that reifying "village" and "mission" in this way might anchor people, or create factionalization, in a way that caused more problems than it solved.

I also realized, during a second draft, that I didn't have a clear cut goal with this essay. There is neither a clear principle I wanted people to understand, nor a particular action I wanted them to take. And meanwhile this essay is sort of throwing a politically charged concept into the eco-system, which I may not have the time to properly defend or ensure gets "used for good."

I spent a few hours thinking "okay, I guess maybe I just won't post it" and awarding myself Virtue of Silence points.

Obviously those points are retracted now. :P

I went ahead and posted it for two reasons:

I think the concept of the Village and the Mission do accurately describe what is currently happening. Even if they aren't the right frame of what should be happening, it's important to start with a realistic map.

Second, the whole reason I wrote this up this week (I've been putting off writing this for a year), is having recent... (read more)

[ comment copied from Facebook / I didn't read the full article before making this comment ]

i am somewhat anti-"Mission-centered Village."

i think entanglement between mission and livelihood already causes problems. (you start feeling that the mission is good b/c it feeds you, and that an attack on the mission is an attack on your ability to feed yourself / earn income)

entanglement between mission and family/home seems like it causes more of those problems. (you start feeling that if your home is threatened in any way, this is a threat to the mission, and if you feel that your mission is threatened, it is a threat to your home.)

avoiding mental / emotional entanglement in this way i think would require a very high bar: a mind well-trained in the art of { introspection / meditation / small-identity / surrender / relinquishment } or something in that area. i suspect <10 ppl in the community to meet that bar?

I think that there are a few plausible theories of the rationalist community and how they relate to the mission:

[0] Null hypothesis: no connection. This is obviously implausible if you've spent 3 seconds around the community or its mission.

1. The community and the mission are the same. Even the less immediately relevant activities create an intellectual and social milieu which is conducive to progress. The ability to engage with other intellectuals at low cost to oneself means that insights are shared between key individuals at faster rate. The community provides high value to the mission by enabling it. The mission provides high value to the community.

2. The community exists at least in part to play interference for the missionaries. Being able to do real thinking means a certain degree of insulation from the real world; having fewer demands on your time, having your basic human needs taken care of, having the ability to en. The community provides medium value to the mission by shielding it. The mission provides low value to the community, because the community's strength derives from elsewhere. I think this is what you are advocating, and it's one that I like.

3. Th... (read more)

The epistemic concerns here (i.e. warping your perception of the mission / home / resistance to giving up either) are definitely the strongest argument I can see for making sure there is a non-mission-centered village.

I'm not sure I'm persuaded, though, because of the aforementioned "something needs to orient and drive the community." You could certainly pick something other than "The Mission." But whatever you pick, you're going to end up with something that you become overly attached to.

My actual best guess is that the village should be oriented around truthseeking and the mission oriented around [truthseeking and] impact.

I think if you are in the village and have bad epistemics, you should get at least subtle pressure to improve your epistemics (possibly less subtle pressure over time, especially if you are taking up memetic space). You should not receive pressure for being on board with the mission, but you should receive at least a little pressure to have thought a bit about the mission and have some kind of opinion about it that actually engages with it.

Another component here is to have more (healthy) competition among orgs. I'm still... (read more)

My actual best guess is that the village should be oriented around truthseeking and the mission oriented around [truthseeking and] impact.

John Tooby has suggested that whatever becomes the orienting thing of a community, becomes automatically the subject of mind-killing impulses:

Coalition-mindedness makes everyone, including scientists, far stupider in coalitional collectivities than as individuals. Paradoxically, a political party united by supernatural beliefs can revise its beliefs about economics or climate without revisers being bad coalition members. But people whose coalitional membership is constituted by their shared adherence to “rational,” scientific propositions have a problem when—as is generally the case—new information arises which requires belief revision. To question or disagree with coalitional precepts, even for rational reasons, makes one a bad and immoral coalition member—at risk of losing job offers, one's friends, and one's cherished group identity. This freezes belief revision.  
Forming coalitions around scientific or factual questions is disastrous, because it pits our urge for scientific truth-seeking against the nearly insuperable human appet
... (read more)
people whose coalitional membership is constituted by their shared adherence to “rational,” scientific propositions have a problem when—as is generally the case—new information arises which requires belief revision.

My first reaction was that perhaps the community should be centered around updating on evidence rather than any specific science.

But of course, that can fail, too. For example, people can signal their virtue by updating on tinier and tinier pieces of evidence. Like, when the probability increases from 0.000001 to 0.0000011, people start yelling about how this changes everything, and if you say "huh, for me that is almost no change at all", you become the unworthy one who refuses to update in face of evidence.

(The people updating on the tiny evidence most likely won't even be technically correct, because purposefully looking for microscopic pieces of evidence will naturally introduce selection bias and double counting.)

Yeah, this is roughly what I meant.
I'm realizing that I need to make the following distinction here: Village 1) There is a core of folks in the village that are doing a hard thing (Mission). and also their friends, family, and neighbors who support them and each other but are not directly involved in the Mission. Village 2) There is a village with only ppl who are doing the direct Mission work. Other friends, family, etc. do not make their homes in the village. I weakly think it's possible for 1 to be good. I think 2 runs into lots of problems and is what my original comment was speaking against.
I agree that the village basically needs to be #1 (and could see a case for something broader than that)
(I think it may be correct to have multiple overlapping-and-or-concentric circles, where there's a village that's "Mission + friends/family/neighbors", which realistically also just grows organically over time) And then there's something that maybe is better to call a "Mission community" than "Mission village" which isn't trying to be a village per se, but is just making sure that people involved in the Mission get the opportunity to connect more over Mission stuff specifically. (Which is probably less public facing, but which maybe occasionally has more open invite events so that people who are interested in transitioning into the Mission have opportunity to do so).
If Mission requires a lot of work (or isn't paid well, so you need an extra job to pay your bills), people will have to reduce their involvement when they have kids. And most people are going to have kids at some moment of their lives. On the other hand, Village without kids... should more properly be called Hotel or Campus. Thus, Village helps Mission by keeping currently inactive people close, so even if you cannot use their work at the moment, you can still use some of their expertise. Also, the involvement doesn't have to be "all or nothing"; people with school-age kids can be part-time involved. Mission without Village will keep losing tacit knowledge, and will probably have to make stronger pressure on keeping and recruiting members. (Which can become a positive feedback loop, if members start leaving because of increased pressure, and the pressure increases as a reaction to the threat of losing members.)
"Real Mission Work" generally takes the form of an actual full-time job (many new projects start off as a weird scrappy hybrid of "random project / startup", but IMO basically the goal is to transition into serious fulltime work once you've demonstrated that you are capable enough to get funding) Mission work varies in how much it's like a startup, and how much it's like an ordinary non-startup-job. Startup-like mission-orgs are probably hard to work at if you have kids. (I think I recall Paul Graham or someone claiming that you can pick two: Startup, Hobbies, Kids. So you might have kids but not otherwise have a life, and shouldn't have both parents be startup-ing) I think I still generally agree with the points you make about keeping inactive people in the circle, and that a village without kids makes more sense to see through the Campus lens.
3Jeffrey Ladish5y
[Comment copied from fb]: I think there is a distinction between village and home, and that they can have somewhat different focused. That a home can be home centered while a village can be mission-centered. I'm not sure this is the ideal arrangement, but I put some weight on it being so. The alternative is to live in a village that is not mission centered. I'm worried that will preclude many kinds of successful missions.

For a related notion, let me relate some things about sangha, as I tend to think it's a good model for the kind of community that is likely shaped to fit the present situation.

"Sangha" is a Sanskrit word usually translated as "community". It has a couple different meanings within Buddhism. One is mission focused: everyone is a member of the ideal sangha that transcends any particular space and time who has, in various definitions, taken the three refuges, taken the precepts, achieved stream entry, or is otherwise somehow on The Path. Another is location focused: "sangha" can refer to the specific community in a particular monastery, order, lineage, practice center, etc. of people who are "committed" or "serious" in one of the ways just enumerated. There are some others but those are the ones that seem relevant here.

Some things might look on the outside like sangha but might not be. For example, I facilitate a weekly meditation meetup at the REACH. It's not really a sangha, though, because lots of people casually drop in who may or may not have committed themselves to liberation from suffering, they just want a place to pra... (read more)

This is an interesting take on it, and it resonated more strongly that I was expecting. It matches my personal experience (i.e it was not hard to notice little opportunities to incrementally increase my commitment to the mission, and if I was less interested, I might have drifted away instead). But my impression is this is not true for everyone. One clearcut thing is that there's a certain threshold of agency and self-efficacy that someone needs to have demonstrated before I feel comfortable inviting them to mission-centric spaces (over the longterm), and I think I'm not alone in that. I think there are people who have "mixed competencies", where they've gotten good at some things but not others, and they want to be able to help the mission, and there are subtle and not-so-subtle social forces that push them away. And I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that, but it seems important to acknowledge. A major prompt for this post was reading Sarah's the Craft is Not The Community post, where my impression is that she hadn't run into rationality-community projects that actually seemed outward facing and valuable (and perhaps had run into a few projects that seemed to think themselves as being outward facing, but didn't actually seem that valuable). It was weird to me that Sarah's social graph resulted in that experience. This whole post was basically a reaction to that, where it seemed to me a) that I do in fact run into orgs trying to make real world results happen, b) my experience with the village has always been "helps you get ready for the Mission but isn't the Mission."
4Gordon Seidoh Worley5y
I think there's something proper in the function of a sangha (and by extension, our community) that it discourages those who don't have, as you put it, the "agency and self-efficacy" to properly engage in the mission, and also pushes out those who are only half in it, such that what I can imagine as "mixed competencies" results in them not staying despite the fact that they could have stayed if they had been more committed and willing to make space for themselves in a place that was willing to tolerate them but not usher them in. Of course, it feels a bit weird because in sangha that's directly tied to the purpose of the community and can be done skillfully as part of transmitting the dharma, whereas in our community this seems at cross-purposes with the mission and can feel to some like defecting on paying the cost to train and develop the people it needs. Probably this is part of what sets apart sangha from other forms of community: it's shape is directly tied to its function, and is a natural extension of the mission, where elsewhere other shapes could be adopted because the mission does not directly suggest one.

Some alternate frames on all this, to help hedge against the "did Ray just anchor the whole discussion with the wrong frame?" possibility.

Professional / Non-Community

Epistemic professional peers

I was recently reading "How to Measure Anything", a book which AFAICT predates and is unentangled with LessWrong. HTMA is very straightforward and professional/academic – here are a series of tools for how to employ bayesian epistemology on real world projects with high stakes and murky territory.

The book gave me glimpse of an alternate world that could be (and perhaps is?) where there's not much oriented around "community", except insofar as most academic and professional disciplines have communities.

Professional Effective Altruism

The reason "professional bayesianism" doesn't feel sufficient to me is that it doesn't actually make sure the hard problems in the world get addressed. It actually requires not merely intellectual tools but a comprehensive worldview, deep models and goal-driven network to accomplish them.

On one hand, this doesn't need to be any more "community" like than working at Google (or perhaps a level up... (read more)

I would like to have a community that strives to be rational also "outside the lab". The words "professional bayesianism" feel like bayesianism within the lab. (I haven't read the book, so perhaps I am misinterpreting the author's intent.) That's nice, but ultimately, if there is a tension between "what is better for you" and "what is better for Google", Google will probably choose the latter. What could possibly be good for you but bad for Google? Thinking for less than one minute I'd say: becoming financially independent, so you no longer have to work; building your own startup; finding a spouse, having kids, and refusing to work overtime... Yeah, this is a fully general argument against any society, but it seems to me that a Village, simply by not being profit oriented, would have greater freedom to optimize for the benefit of its members. For a business company, every employer is a cost. In a village, well-behaving citizens pay their own bills, and provide some value to each other, whether that value is greater or smaller, it is still positive or zero. An important part of being in the Church is being physically present at its religious activities, e.g. every Sunday morning. So even if you happen to be surrounded mostly by non-believers in your city, at least once in a week you become physically surrounded by believers. (A temporary Village.) Physical proximity creates the kind of emotions that internet cannot substitute. Church is an "eukaryotic" organization: it has a boundary on the outside (believers vs non-believers), but also inside (clergy vs lay members). This slows down value shift: you can accept many believers, while only worrying about value alignment of the clergy: potential heretical opinions of the lay members are just their personal opinions, not the official teaching; if necessary, the clergy will make this clear in a coordinated way. Having stronger filter in the inner boundary allows you to have weaker filter on the outer boundary, because

[ comment copied from Facebook / I didn't read the full article before making this comment ]

agree with a lot of this, esp the part about not trying to welcome everyone / lower barrier to entry to the point that there's no commitment involved

i think a successful village will require a fair amount of commitment and sacrifice, in terms of time, effort, opportunity cost, and probably money

if everyone is looking to maximize their own interests, while pursuing a village, i think this will drain resources to the point that nothing gets done or things fall apart. a weak structure will beget a fragile village. and i think a fragile village can easily be net harmful.

at the same time, it's good to be considerate to people who can't contribute a whole lot due to disability or financial insecurity.

1. How do you think about San Francisco / Oakland / other parts of the bay area, as they relate the Berkeley community? Personally, I wish there were more centers of community in SF. Both areas are near enough to each other that I think it's possible to make a village that contains people in the adjacent towns, but the commute and network dynamics makes this a bit tricky. I haven't figured out an ideal vision for this, but I have the sense that there are opportunities here (in SF and other parts of the bay area) that haven't been explored.

II... (read more)

The Bay (Berkeley, Oakland, SF, South Bay)

Berkeley happens to be particularly village shaped, wherein housing is (relatively) affordable such that actually 100 people can live in walking distance to each other... and they do.

(Note: while I admittedly will probably not stick to this usage, part of the reason I coined 'The Village' for Berkeley in particular is because it's literally Village sized and village shaped, whereas other communities felt more like 'communities.')

I honestly think people in Oakland-in-particular should probably move to Berkeley – it makes more sense to concentrate the village than diversify there (unless they are specifically part of the Leverage Cluster in which they should move to Lake Merritt if they haven't already).

I definitely think there the SF community(ies) should continue to strengthen itself/themselves. (the meetup that Maia and Roger run seems to be going strong. I know of a couple good group houses). San Francisco seems to suffer a bit from "there's not an obvious place to cluster such that public transportation isn't a problem, and things are expensive which is quite limiting." I don't know ... (read more)

Regarding hubs: I've gotten a sense that Seattle is also pretty village shaped, though I am not confident.
7Jeffrey Ladish5y
My experience in Seattle was 2x - 3x more Village-like than my experience in Berkeley. Caveat that I also didn't live in Berkeley, first I lived in Oakland near Leverage and now I live in San Francisco. Seattle's community is small enough to have one primary group house where parties happen and people congregate, so it really felt like one extended social group, whereas in Berkeley it feels like there are many. Some people in Seattle also feel very proud of their community (myself included, even though I've moved here), which to me suggests a village-ness. I get the sense that in Seattle the focus is more the Village than the Mission, which then has the problem you mentioned of agenty mission-oriented people moving to other places. I do think Seattle, like Berkeley, should aspire to be a "true village", since many people there desire this, and the benefits are large. I also think having multiple successful villages would strengthen the [global] community overall. I think Seattle has the advantage that it is small and centralized, and Berkeley has the advantage that it has more Mission energy.


BTW, I'm regretting trying to use the word Village for two different things, interested in people having suggestions:

Term 1: the thing where there's an organizing structure that prioritizes "being human" over Impact

Term 2: the thing where there's an organizing structure for 150+ people, which is necessarily shaped differently than the organizing structure for something that is 30-50 people.

What counts for you as walking distance? 10 minutes walking? 20 minutes walking? 30 minutes walking?
30 minutes feels like roughly the upper bound. (And in any case, that's roughly the situation, whether you agree with my assessment of walking distance or not)
3Jeffrey Ladish5y
Ray, let's compare notes about group houses in SF offline. I know of a couple but not many, and I'd be interested to know of more. (And I prefer to talk about people's homes in a less public forum). I'm noticing an error I've been making, which is to be sort of fatalistic about community in SF rather than gathering data and making plans.
Nod. (FYI I'm not sure I have much to say about SF because I don't live there and don't know much about the constraints it's under, but I'm happy to chat about it and help brainstorm ideas or considerations)

Let's say a bunch of friends hang around a beach on the weekends. There isn't food there and they wish there were. It's really easy to become the person who brings a cooler of goodies and some veggie hot dogs to grill.

The Berkeley community is like a beach that already has a really good taco truck. Sure, maybe it'd be nice if there was another food truck down the beach a ways, or with a different type of food, but food isn't really NEEDED in the same way. The low hanging fruit is taken. It's harder to establish a brand new t... (read more)

I think this metaphor is absolutely true, and the emphasis on doing The Most Optimal Thing makes it worse. 

However on the literal axes of "can you low-effort create value by providing a few snacks?" this was, at least for a while, extremely available. When I started volunteering to be the snack person post-covid, people were overjoyed to give me money to make this happen. When I offered someone the deal "it'll be about $n, I'm getting what I think is good and I'm not providing receipts", they were delighted (it ended up working out in their favor, since the other party I was doing that weekend was under-attended and the second party got the excess for free- but my impression is they would have been fine being fleeced on the deal, as long as food showed up at all). 

OTOH, I'm not sure this is sustainable. At an event I provide food for monthly (where I'm paying for it, not just handling the shopping), the rate of kudos declined really quickly over the last six months. It went from many people being extremely appreciative, to a handful of people saying "oh hey, thanks for food", even though the quality is improving as I learn. The core organizer of that event remains very ap... (read more)

I'm curious about whether you have more concrete thoughts about how to deal with bad actors and deciding how to draw fences. What you wrote in this article is quite abstract.

It's likely very hard to speak openly about this topic, but when the goal is having shared norms for a community I would expect it to be valuable.

I have very preliminary thoughts, but as noted, it's a fairly fraught issue. I'll want to write about it at some point, hopefully soon (but can't promise that). Downside risk is high enough that I want to make sure to do a good job with it.

On a related, but somewhat different issue: I feel that there has been something of an under-investment in rationality community building overall. EA has CEA, but rationality doesn't have an equivalent (CFAR doesn't play the same community building role). There isn't any organisation responsible for growing the community, organising conferences and addressing challenges that arrive.

That said, I'm not sure that there is necessarily agreement that there is a single mission. Some people are in rationality for ai, some insight porn, some fo... (read more)

Generally agreed that there's not enough funding and otherwise investment in rationality community building. I deliberately defined the Mission fairly broadly – I think there's a sense in which anyone who's committed to making a dent in the universe, who is also dedicated to thinking clearly about it, while subscribing to reasonable cooperation norms, is (or could be) on the same team. (As noted elsethread, my current best guess it that the village should focus on truthseeking, and the mission is basically truthseeking + impact, with an abstraction one-level higher than Effective Altruism. i.e. the mission includes EA, and includes at least some other things, but I'm less confident I can clearly articulate what they should be)
I like your definition of the mission -- I haven't heard it described in that way / that degree of detail before, and I tend to agree with it. I'm not sure how universally agreed it is, but I would certainly advocate for your vision of it.

Run the occasional event that requires and/or builds a skill (rationality skills or otherwise).

FYI, the EA Hotel has an upcoming weekend rationality workshop.