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—

  • That getting up early on a Sunday morning is not optimal;
  • That wearing formal clothes is not optimal, especially for children;
  • That listening to the same person give sermons on the same theme every week ("religion") is not optimal;
  • That the cost of supporting a church and a pastor is expensive, compared to the number of different communities who could time-share the same building for their gatherings;
  • That they probably don't serve nearly enough of a matchmaking purpose, because churches think they're supposed to enforce their medieval moralities;
  • That the whole thing ought to be subject to experimental data-gathering to find out what works and what doesn't.

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.

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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.

5MichaelGR12y++ Book club It would definitely be a great addition to the toolkit. Main benefits would be: 1) More shared experiences would probably help strengthen community 2) More shared knowledge to build on in LW/OC posts 3) Difficult books become less intimidating when you know you can ask others for elucidations 4) Building an archive of discussions about certain books could be tremendously helpful to newcomers (wouldn't you have liked to find such an archive a few years ago?)
0[anonymous]9y+1 point for stating the obvious, yet not yet done. I also strongly recommend having a book club. I love HPMoR, but it's definitely not the only work of fiction worth discussing. So, everyone, LET'S DO IT! edit: I meant online, not just in real life. It should be a section on this site, perhaps next to discussion and main?
2lessdazed9yHow about a pdf club for shorter things?
0Jack9yI think this is a great idea. For a lot of people involvement in Less Wrong is somewhat sporadic and committing to reading long-form non-fiction is implausible. By the third chapter no one is left. Getting used to discussing journal articles or standalone chapters might make tackling longer texts easier, too. Does any have things they'd like to read, say, between 30 and 100 pages? What about Scott Aaronson's "Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity?"
4[anonymous]9yHPMoR is already more than a thousand pages. I don't think we are being fair to other works. The problem here is that HPMoR is a fanfic, while books are books. Fanfics are read chapters at a time, yet books are read in their entirety. Chapter by chapter discussions of FFs make sense. However, for books they become tiresome. Think about all the people that want to read the next chapter already. Why not just have one thread per book, where people can discuss anything they want? Chapters, quotes, themes, etc?
0dlthomas9yWe should at least be able to specify minimum chapter requirements, so we can discuss without spoiler disclaimers everywhere.
1[anonymous]9yI think people should just live through it and wait until they finish the book to ask. In my own experience, I remember having questions about a specific line/chapter and then by the end I realize what the answer to the question was, or I realized the question was insignificant. It would be better if people wrote notes of things to discuss while reading the book and at the end they posted what they wanted to talk about. An added benefit of this is self quality control.
2gwern12yWhy not take over the SL4 wiki? It's not like they're using it.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky12ySL4.org is unreliable, if we're going to have a wiki it should be hosted on-site.
2Paul Crowley12yI think that at the moment a wiki would be trouble. NPOV and the ultimate power of Jimbo are what make Wikipedia work. Other wikis work because what they discuss is not that contentious.
6gwern12yWhoa now. Wikis aren't just about compiling neutral encyclopedia articles or FAQs or things of that nature. Remember that the original wiki was all about contentious (programming) discussions & ideas.
8William12yAgreed. TVTropes [http://tvtropes.org] works very well without any but the lightest semblance of neutrality. Warning, though: It is horrendously addictive [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TVTropesWillRuinYourLife]

Ironically enough, I just clicked through to see what was behind "horrendously addictive" and lost half an hour.

JUST HALF AN HOUR!?

1[anonymous]12yI don't think a wiki as such would help much, what's really needed is simply a well compiled index. I v

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.

9robzahra12yMichael: "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 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peripatetic_school] and other notable thinkers who walked [http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2007/09/walking-and-other-philosophical-exercises/] 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. -Rob Zahra
4AlexU12yOne obvious implication of this is that we should be making our homes in warmer climates. Even if you, personally, have high resistance to foul weather, it's going to be tougher to get people to walk and converse with you year-round in Boston than it would be in Miami. This conflicts with the observation that, at least in modern times, the colder parts of the world have tended to produce the better thinkers. I'm not sure it would be smart to move from Cambridge to South Beach in hopes of leading a more intellectually fruitful life...
0thomblake12yYes, it's been noted (I don't have the citation handy) that internet startups, for instance, work better in places with warmer climates, presumably for this reason (though Boston seems to be a notable counterexample). I would take the Bay Area to be a counterexample to this.
2diegocaleiro10yThe Caribbean, India, Brazil, Mali, Saudi Arabia. These places are hot, not the Bay Area. In any case. From a somewhat global experience: Colder-> More productivity and Intelligence I suppose this happens because: Warm -> More places to go -> more gatherings -> More friends and mates -> More time spent on humour, social display, human contact, warmness, swimming etc... -> more groups -> Lower maximal threshold of intelligence for a conversation (Conversation with too much inferential distance regarding almost any topic or moral sense between Alpha and Omega, thus requiring "Friends series" level of superficial-ness to work) -> Less need to commit brains to intelligence of non-humour non-pragmatic-money-work kind If you have great and funny friends by the swimming pool, and your status decreases every time your intelligence triggers, why exactly will you read Principia Mathematica?
0JoshuaZ10yThere's been some speculation that one reason warmer areas have been less productive is that they were more conducive to having parasites around which reduced the average intelligence of the population (which could have also longer-lasting impact on culture and values after the parasites have been eradticated). Hookworm and Guinea worm seem to be the most commonly mentioned examples of this. The good news is that if this is correct then the ongoing projects to eradicate parasites should help raise the general intelligence of the population. One thing to keep in mind here is that what matters most for people being really smart is the size of the far end of the tail of the distribution (since that's where the smart people who accomplish things lie). So a small shift in the bell curve can result in a large shift in the relative fraction of the population that is far right enough in the distribution.
0Paul Crowley12yWell, what's the Internet for if not this? Wear a headset and chat to interesting people while using an exercise machine...
3Vladimir_Golovin12yInteresting. I also combine walking and thinking -- even in the office (thankfully, we have a 'thinking corridor'). My ideal daily dose is about 7 kilometers (4.34 miles), but unfortunately it's difficult to find a good thinking route in a city -- too much cars, too few forests.
2[anonymous]10yI regularly combine thinking and walking as well. I try to walk outside for at least a half hour daily, preferably along an unfamiliar path or in a new pattern. I find that this is a good time to integrate new information via insights. This could be because my mind is at ease, and the novel sequence of environmental stimuli may be conducive to avoiding cached thoughts [http://lesswrong.com/lw/k5/cached_thoughts/].
5MichaelVassar12yHmm. Just realized that what casually appear to me to be the most popular gym chains, the YMCA and its Jewish imitator the JCC, and the most popular gym sport, yoga, all have nominally religious origins (though I'm not sure any meaning for "religious" that includes Christianity and Hinduism is a natural kind).
1danlucraft10yThe closest thing to a secular church that I have ever encountered are Light Opera Societies. In the UK lots of towns above a certain (quite small) size have one. They pursue harmless but uplifting goals. The goals are challenging, but achievable. Participants must follow the instructions of a group leader precisely. Participants must learn to trust other group members. Performing in front of others is a fairly intense social experience. Once you have signed up, attendance every week is almost mandatory for a significant period of time. EDIT: for those not into this kind of thing, Light Opera means Gilbert and Sullivan, or Singing in the Rain.

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)

5cousin_it12ySurely you mean "a lone altruist". A lone rationalist can be very successful. Sorry about the nitpick, but Eliezer has recently been trying to conflate the two words for whatever aims.
2pre12yWell, I meant that being a lone rationist doesn't spread rationalism, essentially. If that's the motive, you need to be more accepting of those that aren't in order to move them towards the path.

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.

6Paul Crowley12yLike violence, there are understandable reasons to be squeamish about evangelism, but if you forswear it, you hand victory to those who do not. Rather than not talk about it, we should analyse the bad consequences we fear from evangelism, and try to figure out how to get the good things while avoiding the bad things. This may not have been done before, but it would be a mistake to be so stuck on the outside view that you come to believe that only what has already been done is possible.

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.

2Paul Crowley12yI have to say that I'm really enjoying lesswrong.com so far; so much of this is the sort of conversation I want to be having. I'm not convinced, I'm thinking about it, but you should make a top-level post about this, it would benefit from having more people in the discussion.
2cousin_it12yThanks for the encouragement! I wrote it up [http://lesswrong.com/lw/6t/the_benefits_of_rationality/], should show under Recent Posts.
3pre12yInnit. Personally I think I get more out of a community with a wide range of views anyway.
1[anonymous]12yMensa works adequately. "Only the top 5%" and even "only the top 2%" really isn't all that exclusive. In fact, compared to typical social barriers to entry, Mensa's simple one of test is the epitome of inclusiveness. At least, it is for those smarter than they are charming.
2pre12yI've never been to a mensa meeting. On the web they seem to do little other than congratulate each other for being so smart. Do they do more when they meet in meatspace?
1[anonymous]12yReally? I've seen them spend more time insulting each other for being so stupid. :P Yes, from what I've seen. However, I'm somewhat out of the typical age bracket so haven't involved myself all that much. Ask me in 10 years.
2Eliezer Yudkowsky12yI attended a Mensa meeting. It seemed around the level of a small regional science-fiction convention. Not really enough for me to have conversations with people.
2Paul Crowley12yI went to Orbital 2008 in London largely in the hope of having such conversations, and despite IIRC 1500 attendees I found it a lot harder than I had hoped. I suspect that I could do better in future by making more advance effort to find the right people and bring them together; I'm inclined to try to do so for Orbital 2010.

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".

8MBlume12yAs 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.

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...

6cabalamat12yAt least for now, most people are not atheists/rationalists. Atheism may seem to be a crazy behaviour to a lot of people! So maybe one can signal commitment by publically associating oneself with an atheist/rationalist organisation.
3BradTaylor12yI think a lot of religious signaling works because folks can signal commitment to a particular religious community. While publicly being an atheist/rationalist may make it harder to join a religious group, thus keeping you an atheist, I doubt it commits you to a particular organization. It seems to me that part of the reason religious communities are so stable is that so much of an individual's identity is tied to believing in this particular organization, having these particular goals, or following this particular charismatic leader. Strong and unqualified loyalty to a particular group seems at odds with rationalism.
2MBlume12yBrad, HTML markup doesn't work in comments. The syntax you want to use is link text in square brackets, followed immediately by URL in parentheses. While working on a comment, you can click "help" (just below and on the right of the edit box) to see more.

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. S... (read more)

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)

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?

2MBlume12yThird Alternatives for Afterlife-ism [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/05/third_alternati.html]

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)

4MichaelVassar12ySerious altruist atheists are likely to take rationalism fairly seriously, creating a correlation that creates a cluster in personspace.
2Demosthenes12yYvain is spot on; secular service organization already exist and function. I have occasionally attended some meetings at a Rotary club and it usually involves eating, a list of ongoing activities, community highlights and recognition of visiting members. What is special about the way a rationalist helps people? Maybe starting a program to fund probability and philosophy of science classes in the community? Law school sounds like the best option for finding fellow argumentative atheists.
4Paul Crowley12yA lawyer's expertise is in rationalization, not rationality. Of course, many lawyers may also be excellent rationalists, but my experience is that they're not generally very sciency people.
0Demosthenes12yThat was my point; I was making a dig on the goals of argumentative atheists looking for a support group vs people who might want to advance rationalist goals

Just as a comment on labels, I used to be an "evangelical atheist" but this essay by Sam Harris changed my mind:

http://richarddawkins.net/article,1702,The-Problem-with-Atheism,Sam-Harris

Excerpt:

...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)

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)

3PhilGoetz12yMake comments that other people like, and your karma will go up. The trick is that the correlation between a comment's insighfulness, and the votes it gets, may be negative.
2pre12yI quite like the idea of infiltrating some religion and taking over. I doubt the christian ones would be the best bet, but it's a nice plan. One of the newer religions may be more corruptible. It's a fantasy though, not something that I think could actually be orchestrated. Karma here is pretty simple: You get a point for every upvote, and lose one for every downvote. You automatically upvote your own comments (unless you deliberately cancel it). So make 20 posts that don't get voted down and you're there.
2Loren12ypre, if we are to be successful, there needs to be some attitude adjustment on our part. We need to gain some humility, and some respect for what religion has accomplished in the past several thousand years. We wouldn't be infiltrating, we would be transforming, in the spirit of Martin Luther and Paul the Apostle. There are many Christian churches that are dying because their theology doesn't speak to people today, and they know it. Mainline Protestants are the most obvious examples, but the evangelicals now realize they are in trouble too: http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0310/p09s01-coop.html [http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0310/p09s01-coop.html] Many, many, Christians are desperate for renewal. We have a tremendous opportunity to provide it for them, if we can steer Christian theology back to its original intent, which is reverence for knowledge. It's quite possible that a sub-group of Gnostics, or knowers, wrote the New Testament. I'll post more on this later. So, we aren't corrupting the Christian religion. I think it is quite likely we're restoring it back to it's original intent. If you don't think this can be orchestrated, take a look at what just one person, Michael Dowd, has been able to accomplish in just a few years. Christianity is ready to hear a new Gospel, and I hope Judiasm, Islam, and other religions are too. So I get a karma point for commenting on someone's comment about my comment? Getting to 20 points may be easier than I thought.

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)

0Ford10yA "church-like organization that has local congregations and meets weekly to listen to talks on rationality, the latest scientific discoveries, lectures on philosophy, the state of the world, etc."? Sounds like a Unitarian fellowship, at least the ones I know. Some may be closer to their Protestant roots, though. Of course, they also have talks on irrationality ("spirituality") and, while atheists and other rationalists are certainly welcome, aggressive promotion of any particular world-view is discouraged.
[-][anonymous]6y 3

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)

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)

0Luke_A_Somers8yAs I understand it, the Shakers were knocked out by the advent of state-run orphanages (partly at the behest of furniture-makers in competition with the Shakers). They had had a steady supply, then they couldn't adapt. Of course, given their positions, it's hard to see what they could have done.

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)

5Eliezer Yudkowsky12yAs 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.
2PhilGoetz12yAs usual, I note once again that Eliezer merely denies my reasonable interpretations of his writing, without any specifics or any explanation. This post by Eliezer assumes that rationalists want to evangelize non-rationalists, and that they want to join together to do "all the work that needs doing to fix up this world." If Eliezer believes something different, he could explain why what he wrote sounds the way it sounds, instead of making yet another baseless snide comment about me. His practice of issuing long pronouncements and then labeling people as "getting it" or "not getting it" calls to mind a priest more than a scientist.
3Luke_A_Somers8y... or you could take a minute to think what he might mean. What I came up with in a few seconds is: "Most people are altruistic to some extent. However, altruism is a tricky problem - most people are not particularly effective at it. Since altruism is common, many rationalists are altruistic, and they will want to do better. This will take some effort." How did I do, EY?

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.

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)

2thomblake12yIndeed. While this site is valuable, I don't think most worthwhile people have the time to keep track of it all. It seems that a motivated person (or softbot) could do well to filter the gems into a wiki or something. Perhaps someone could summarize main points in the discussion and post a weekly article somewhere giving a narrative of what's going on over at LW.

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.

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.

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.

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?

2steven046112yhttp://lesswrong.com/lw/7c/where_are_we/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/7c/where_are_we/]

"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.

2MBlume12yI think I'm going to have to quote that from time to time
1Eliezer Yudkowsky12y...very good point.
4William12yThe use of "some of which" suggests that he considers most of the holes to be Fruitful Voids, merely not all of them.
[-][anonymous]4y 0

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)