Raise the Age Demographic

Re­lated to: Build­ing ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­ni­ties, Les­sons from Lat­ter-day Saints, Holy Books (Or Ra­tion­al­ist Se­quences) Don’t Im­ple­ment Them­selves, De­sign­ing ra­tio­nal­ist pro­jects, Com­mu­nity roles: teach­ers and aux­iliaries, Com­mit­tees and Lead­er­ship

In the pre­vi­ous posts, I listed the main roles in Lat­ter-day Saint com­mu­ni­ties. In this post and one to fol­low, I will out­line pos­si­ble roles and im­pli­ca­tions for ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­ni­ties.

I pre­vi­ously men­tioned the is­sue of teacher se­lec­tions: the bal­ance be­tween se­lect­ing the more nat­u­ral teach­ers and giv­ing the less out­go­ing and ar­tic­u­late con­tin­gent a chance.

The lat­ter is im­por­tant, be­cause it’s a route to long-term skill de­vel­op­ment for all mem­bers.[1] But, like most in­vest­ments, it re­quires long time hori­zons. It’s not vi­able to in­vest in de­vel­op­ing tal­ent if your em­bry­onic tal­ent is go­ing to pack up and leave.

So how do you es­tab­lish a long time hori­zon? How do you cre­ate a norm, an ex­pec­ta­tion, a com­mon prac­tice of stick­ing around in the group?

Un­sur­pris­ingly, this takes time to de­velop.

Re­duc­ing Turnover

Wher­ever the church is newly es­tab­lished, growth is fast, but turnover is high. This is caused (at least, im­me­di­ately caused) by higher lev­els of in­fight­ing and quar­rel­ing. A com­monly-told story is of an early church leader named Thomas B. Marsh dis­satis­fied over in­creased mil­i­ta­riza­tion and hos­tilities against neigh­bors. As a re­sult, he signed an af­fi­davit which helped trig­ger the forcible ex­pul­sion of Mor­mons from the state of Mis­souri.

I’ll re­peat that: where the church is new, growth is fast, but turnover is high.

Many of the church mem­bers in In­dia were in their late teens or early 20’s, look­ing for more di­rec­tion in life. We were glad they joined, but there was a prob­lem. The sta­bil­ity of the church or­ga­ni­za­tion in In­dia was in­versely pro­por­tional to the pro­por­tion of church mem­bers who were young, sin­gle adults.

One set of prob­lems stemmed from ro­mances gone awry, un­wanted male at­ten­tion, and re­sult­ing gos­sip. Another set of prob­lems stemmed from sim­ple un­re­li­a­bil­ity – they of­ten wouldn’t take their or­ga­ni­za­tional re­spon­si­bil­ities se­ri­ously, or wouldn’t pre­pare for classes they were sup­posed to teach.[2] And they gen­er­ally weren’t as use­ful in teach­ing other mem­bers, be­cause they weren’t as ma­ture.

Of course fam­i­lies got in dis­agree­ments and quar­rels too. But I cer­tainly heard less about those.

Raise the Age Demographic

A com­monly-cited Less Wrong norm is to raise the san­ity wa­ter­line. I pro­pose a new norm: raise the age de­mo­graphic.

Func­tion­ally, par­ent­hood en­courages long-time-hori­zon think­ing, and sta­bi­lizes one’s self-defined iden­tity as a mem­ber of group X. This is es­pe­cially true in memes that re­quire you to perform ac­tively or­ga­ni­za­tional tasks.

First, mar­riage. Con­sider Mor­monism, and re­mem­ber the lay clergy and ev­ery­one-has-a-role norms. A big prob­lem for the church in In­dia was gen­der im­bal­ance – there were too many guys and so they would marry girls who weren’t in the church. Then when they had to choose be­tween spend­ing time at church or helping to run the church, and spend­ing time with their wife, they chose the lat­ter.

This is true for other time-in­ten­sive memetic groups – I picked up some Amway pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als once and no­ticed that most of fea­tured peo­ple were mar­ried cou­ples. (And yes, I do think Amway is Dark Side-ish.)

Se­cond, chil­dren. It’s one of the stan­dard sto­ries – a cou­ple isn’t re­ally re­li­gious, but they have a kid and think their chil­dren needs re­li­gion so they start go­ing to church. What are they look­ing for? An iden­tity; a set of moral guidelines for their chil­dren.

Less Wrong needs to move into this mar­ket space.

Right now, the me­dian de­mo­graphic of Less Wron­gians is a teenage to mid-20s, un­mar­ried, male; it’s a group that in­cludes me. But a good way to find long-term com­mit­ted peo­ple and re­duce turnover is to reach out to a slightly older de­mo­graphic – par­ents with chil­dren.[3]

In the church, sure, the Young Women’s or­ga­ni­za­tion ex­ists for the teenager girls; and the Pri­mary or­ga­ni­za­tion ex­ists for the smaller chil­dren. But the adults in­volved in each or­ga­ni­za­tion, and the par­ents of the chil­dren, are tied more closely into the church com­mu­nity. Each of them re­ceives a (an­other) definite, con­crete rea­son to come to church each Sun­day.

In a ra­tio­nal­ist par­ent­ing club, the chil­dren run­ning around would provide a con­stant re­minder and jus­tifi­ca­tion for the group’s ex­is­tence.

[1] Per­son­ally, I’m far more ar­tic­u­late in my con­ver­sa­tion and pub­lic speech due to nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions where I led classes, gave speeches, and so forth.

[2] This wasn’t uni­ver­sal, but it was a gen­eral trend.

[3] I’m not sure ex­actly how to do this, but I am sure that it is de­sir­able.