Group house norms really do seem toxic to many people.

Be careful about joining rationalist group houses. The environment is toxic to a lot of people and can lead to a ton of conflict. This seems important to say since a lot of people are considering returning to Berkley/​TheBay.

This analysis is general and examples can be cited from many houses. But I personally lived at Decision Tree for about a year. For context, Decision Tree is an eight-bedroom house in North Oakland. The amount of interpersonal conflict has been very high. The worst situation predates my arrival. But I want to state this explicitly: I was involved in a bunch of conflicts. You definitely should hold this against me. In my opinion, a lot of the conflicts involving me came down to me being pro-cleanliness, bothered by tons of noise, and loud about some very unusual political beliefs. But I was also combative in how I handled some things. I regret much of my behavior. However, a huge amount of conflict in the house’s history did not involve me.

I have now explicitly made myself look pretty bad. I deserve to look bad. However, the point I am trying to make requires doing the opposite as well. Before I lived in the Bay I was a member of Overcoming Bias NYC for a few years. For about two years I lived at the four-person apartment that usually hosted the weekly meetup. My reputation was quite good. When I applied to be a REACH host I asked for character witnesses from the people in NYC who had run the most meetups. The reviews were good, Shrinkant even called me a peacemaker unprompted. If you doubt these claims you can ask the people who were actively running OBNYC during my time there (Jacob Putanumonit, Shrikant, Sam R, Zvi, etc). You can also talk to the people I lived with in NYC (ex: Geoff C and Alex M).

Crowded bay group houses are not toxic for everyone. But they are toxic for a lot of people. Some group houses have only lasted months before they dissolved. There are just so many potential issues. For example: Covid pre-cautions, noise, cleanliness, politics, amount of clothing worn in common areas, taking up space in common areas, showers, etc. The situation is even worse if money is an issue for any/​many housemates (DT certainly had money issues). A large group house is also likely to have residents coming and going on relatively short notice. Even if you like the current house culture you need to be vigilant about maintaining it over time. If money is an issue, open rooms can put the house under financial pressure and make it harder to be selective. It’s notable that in a big group house ‘coalitions’ who want different things can easily form.

There are several prominent examples of people who got into a lot of trouble in the Bay community but were members in good standing of non-bay rationalist communities. Their housing situations were frequently quite bad. I am not writing this to convince you to have ‘sympathy for the devil’. I am trying to warn you that if you put yourself in a suboptimal environment you might behave in ways you regret.

Before you join a group house make sure you fit in well with the existing culture. And make sure there are mechanisms to prevent the culture from changing in negative ways. Even if you quickly get out of a situation that is bad for you, relationships might be ruined. It is very easy to end up disliking people you got along with well before you lived together. All my warnings are much direr if money is at all tight. Group houses are unusually plentiful in the Bay. But some of the most toxic situations (involving clear abuse) occurred in rat houses outside of the Bay. The warnings generalize. Arguably posting this violates some norms but I have tried to be nondescript except for listing some reasons why you might not want to live with me.

I regret writing this but when I moved to the Bay I pre-committed in my mind to writing up my perspective. Things have obviously gotten crazy due to Covid. But I have to say the warnings that were given by people like Zvi seem much more correct after moving to the Bay and trying out a Bay group house. I think it is important to give people an accurate impression and that requires being open about negative outcomes.

Be careful lest you hurt someone else or get hurt yourself.