(For additional context on this comment you can read this FB status of mine about tribes.)
There’s something strange about the way in which many of us were trained to accept as normal that two of the biggest transitions in our lives—high school to college, college to a job—get packaged in with abandoning a community. In both of those cases it’s not as bad as it could be because everyone is sort of abandoning the community at the same time, but it still normalizes the thing in a way that bugs me.
There’s a similar normalization of abandonment, I think, in the way people treat break-ups by default. Yes, there are such things as toxic relationships, and yes, I want people to be able to just leave those without feeling like they owe their ex-partner anything if that’s what they need to do, but there are two distinct moves that are being bucketed here. I’ve been lucky enough to get to see two examples recently of what it looks like for a couple to break up without abandonment: they mutually decide that the relationship isn’t working, but they don’t stop loving each other at all throughout the process of getting out of the relationship, and they stay in touch with the emotional impact the other is experiencing throughout. It’s very beautiful and I feel a lot of hope that things can be better seeing it.
What I think I’m trying to say is that there’s something I want to encourage that’s upstream of all of your suggestions, which is something like seeing a community as a real, living, breathing entity built out of the connections between a bunch of people, and being in touch emotionally with the impact of tearing your connections away from that entity. I imagine this might be more difficult in local communities where people might end up in logistically important roles without… I’m not sure how to say this succinctly without using some Val language, but like, having the corresponding emotional connections to other community members that ought to naturally accompany those roles? Something like a woman who ends up effectively being a maid in a household without being properly connected to and respected as a mother and wife.
I thought about this comment for an hour after I read it, and think this perspective is actively bad advice for community/institution building, at least applied naively, and I also expect applied at the level at which you are thinking about it. I think mentally anthropomorphizing communities of our size (i.e. anything above ~100) gives rise to really bad heuristic, and I think will cause you to waste the waste majority of your effort, and get critical questions like the ones discussed in this article wrong. I expect starting to do it will initially give you some small boosts, but ultimately cause you to be in a rut in which you feel lots of frustration and can’t make progress anymore on improving the community, for mostly the obvious reasons (i.e. social heuristics don’t scale well beyond systems that are larger or systematically different than ancestral environments). I generally think taking a more “first-principles” approach to community building is the right way to go.
Happy to double crux about it sometime and follow up with more detailed thoughts. Sadly don’t have time to write down all my thoughts right now, but happy to do so if there is interest.
I appreciate the thought. I don’t feel like I’ve laid out my position in very much detail so I’m not at all convinced that you’ve accurately understood it. Can you mirror back to me what you think my position is? (Edit: I guess I really want you to pass my ITT which is a somewhat bigger ask.)
In particular, when I say “real, living, breathing entity” I did not mean to imply a human entity; groups are their own sorts of entities and need to be understood on their own terms, but I think it does not even occur to many people to try in the sense that I have in mind.
Sure, let me give it a try:
My model is that you are recommending to think about communities in a way that I would describe as “using your emotional modalities” and encouraging people to try to connect the consequences of their actions, to have a direct emotional impact on their experience. The most straightforward way to do this, is to try to increase the level of empathy you have for the people in the community. One way I would expect one could achieve that concretely, is by imagining you taking an action, such as moving to the Bay Area, and then going through a meditation in which you try to experience the consequences of your actions from a randomly chosen group of people in the community that are affected by it.
So you might spend 2 minutes trying to experience the situation from the perspective of a friend you leave behind, 2 minutes from the perspective of a new friend you make in the Bay Area, etc. After doing this for a bit, the hope is that you would build up some kind of internal emotional model that connects the health of the broader community directly to your emotional experience.
I don’t think this is the only way one could achieve this, but my model of you suggests that if someone did this specific thing, you would think that they would have at least gone in the direction that you are encouraging people to go into.
After thinking a bit more about it, I actually agree with you that the ultimate state of understanding should flow through experiencing the community as a “real and breathing” entity, but that the vast majority of ways of making yourself experience a community that way, will backfire, and that seeing someone trying to understand a large community that way, is evidence that they are going to be worse than average at modeling it.
I have a similar model for the Trolley problem. If you want people to make the correct choice in the Trolley problem, it is going to backfire if they try to model each of the 6 people on the track as fully alive and rich human beings. They will basically try it, notice their senses being overwhelmed with one already, not notice a difference between one and five lives, and decide not to act. For most people, the correct choice in the Trolley Problem is to disassociate and do the math.
Though I do think that after encountering a bunch of Trolley Problems in a row, and after you’ve had a few months to deeply introspect on the consequences of trading off people’s lives against one another, that you could come to build a living and breathing model of the people on the tracks, in a way that wouldn’t immediately be overwhelmed in a situation like that. But I think it’s another order of magnitude harder to do this for a large community of hundreds of people, and starts being basically impossible when trying to model things like “the economy”.
Thanks for the mirror! My recommendation is more complicated than this, and I’m not sure how to describe it succinctly. I think there is a skill you can learn through practices like circling which is something like getting in direct emotional contact with a group, as distinct from (but related to) getting in direct emotional contact with the individual humans in that group. From there you have a basis for asking yourself questions like, how healthy is this group? How will the health of the group change if you remove this member from it? Etc.
It also sounds like there’s an implicit thing in your mirror that is something like ”...instead of doing explicit verbal reasoning,” and I don’t mean to imply that either.
I think there is something interesting here. I can see how I might be missing a perspective or modality that allows you to model small groups of people more directly, which is something I sometimes get hints of, but usually don’t do too much (i.e. I don’t participate in lots of group flow-states, communal dancing, most forms of circling, etc.). I could see how you could use that perspective to build high-level models of a community, though I am still not sure whether that’s actually a good idea. But it seems worth a try.
Just wanted to I appreciated this exchange a lot, and I think got more insight into both of your viewpoints