The Craft & The Community—A Post-Mortem & Resurrection

Epistemic sta­tus: Broad, well-de­vel­oped spec­u­la­tion.


To my knowl­edge, this es­say con­tains the most com­pre­hen­sive list of crit­i­cisms of the ra­tio­nal­ity com­mu­nity to date. Un­der­stand­ably, some peo­ple may take this as a re­jec­tion of the com­mu­nity as a whole. It is not. In or­der to fix prob­lems af­fect­ing a non-hi­er­ar­chi­cal group, in­di­vi­d­u­als within the group need to have a shared un­der­stand­ing of them. In or­der to do this, some­one has to look un­der the hood and re­port back with their find­ings.

Most peo­ple are aware there is some­thing wrong in a gen­eral sense. There is, to some ex­tent, an aware­ness that things aren’t quite right but lit­tle con­sen­sus at to whether it’s analo­gous to a vi­tamin defi­ciency or more like a ma­lig­nant neo­plasm.

Solu­tions vary, de­pend­ing on the type and ex­tent of the prob­lems. As such, if the con­sen­sus is that they are rel­a­tively triv­ial, some solu­tions are go­ing to look like am­pu­tat­ing a leg to deal with a dis­coloured toe­nail. If how­ever, the prob­lems are more se­ri­ous, the ma­jor­ity of solu­tions pro­posed up to now look a lot like putting a bandaid on a bul­let wound. This is the crux of it, and I ex­pect most nega­tive re­sponses to this will boil down to dis­agree­ment over the size, scope and ur­gency of ad­dress­ing the prob­lems.

That also in­cludes dis­agree­ments over tone; if you spot an axe mur­derer prowl­ing the library, you are well within your rights to warn peo­ple by scream­ing at the top of your lungs. Un­less you are fol­low­ing an ab­solute ver­sion of Kan­tian ethics, the value trade­offs you make should vary based on what you are try­ing to ac­com­plish. In the above ex­am­ple, alert­ing po­ten­tial vic­tims of an axe mur­derer is of far higher im­por­tance than main­tain­ing the deco­rum of the library. This ap­plies to less ex­treme prob­lems too, tai­lored to their size, scope and ur­gency, while re­main­ing mind­ful of the long-term con­se­quences of bend­ing the rules “just this once” and the pit­falls of op­er­at­ing in a per­pet­ual state of emer­gency.

In essence, I’m tak­ing a nu­anced view of the maxim “Kind, True, Ne­c­es­sary”. I be­lieve ev­ery is­sue not omit­ted from the finished es­say is at least rele­vant to talk about, ev­ery fac­tual claim I make is to my knowl­edge and best efforts true, but I am not be­ing as kind as I could pos­si­bly be. I could be kinder by writ­ing in the ab­stract, but in prac­tice that of­ten ends up ob­scur­ing the point to such an ex­tent that peo­ple un­aware of the ob­ject level ex­am­ple fail to cross the in­fer­en­tial gap. It has of­ten been the case in the past where I have read es­says about is­sues within the com­mu­nity, as­sumed they were rel­a­tively triv­ial, then when pri­vately in­formed of the de­tails be­ing shocked at how se­ri­ous they were.

Po­lite­ness, when taken to ex­tremes, can also have se­ri­ous reper­cus­sions. If you are a meetup or­ga­nizer for the kink com­mu­nity and you avoid tel­ling new mem­bers there are known preda­tors at most events, and in­stead cryp­ti­cally sug­gest to “watch where you step” you are, in­ten­tion­ally or oth­er­wise, pri­ori­tiz­ing main­tain­ing a civil at­mo­sphere over main­tain­ing civ­i­liza­tion it­self. Euphem­iz­ing a mes­sage to the point where those in­volved aren’t even aware they are be­ing referred to runs a very high risk of miss­ing its in­tended au­di­ence.

As such, this es­say pri­ori­tises clar­ity over ci­vil­ity. It does not shout, nor does it speak in the gen­tle West Coast whisper many of you are ac­cus­tomed to. Some­times it is nec­es­sary to raise your voice slightly in or­der to be heard.


It has been nearly a decade since the Craft and the Com­mu­nity was pub­lished. Eliezer out­lined a plan, hop­ing that some­one would take the reins while he was work­ing on AI al­ign­ment. We were told to go forth and cre­ate the art yet art cre­ation has been over­looked, like a home­less man we try to avoid eye con­tact with.

Avoid­ing eye con­tact is an un­der­stand­able and rea­son­able re­sponse for most peo­ple, given how lit­tle they can do about his situ­a­tion. How­ever it’s a lit­tle harder to jus­tify that here, con­sid­er­ing we still have the words “Soup Kitchen” up there in big bold let­ters.

Every once in awhile some wide-eyed new­comer asks why we aren’t more suc­cess­ful. Re­sponses vary from minor nit­pick­ing to claiming the ra­tio­nal­ity com­mu­nity is ba­si­cally a bunch of peo­ple who en­joyed Yud­kowsky’s blog. To me it is equal parts sur­real and hor­rify­ing that peo­ple who had the rea­son­ing abil­ity to ab­sorb the Se­quences, in­clud­ing the re­peated re­minders that ra­tio­nal­ity is sys­tem­ized win­ning got to­gether with other read­ers and con­cluded that the real pur­pose of ra­tio­nal­ity was to have re­ally fun con­ver­sa­tions at din­ner par­ties. The calm, un­moved re­sponses make it feel like it was all some elab­o­rate prank; that any­one who ac­tu­ally took the Se­quences liter­ally was ei­ther too autis­tic or naive to re­al­ise that they weren’t in on the joke. An im­plicit “Oh you sweet sum­mer child, words don’t ac­tu­ally have mean­ings!”

This wasn’t always the con­sen­sus. Over the years there have been sev­eral dis­sent­ing voices try­ing to lead us in a bet­ter di­rec­tion. Most of them even­tu­ally moved on when their sched­ules filled up or they got tired of bang­ing their head against a wall.

One such per­son was Pa­tri Fried­man, known here as pa­tris­simo. He wrote an es­say on our lack of in­stru­men­tal ra­tio­nal­ity and how to fix it shortly be­fore de­part­ing. Since leav­ing LessWrong, his google­able ac­com­plish­ments have been to get enough trac­tion for Seast­eading to sign a deal for a float­ing au­tonomous zone in French Poly­ne­sia, do­ing more for liber­tar­i­anism than any other or­ga­ni­za­tion in the past few decades.

This is not a 1:1 causal re­la­tion­ship, but there does seem to be a cor­re­la­tion. To build off Pa­tri’s anal­ogy, there is quite the differ­ence in out­comes be­tween the peo­ple who stayed on the couch watch­ing marathons, in the hopes that it would benefit their run­ning tech­nique when they fi­nally got started, and those who put on what­ever shoes they had to hand, got up and left the house.

Post-Mortem—What went wrong?

In ret­ro­spect, it seems some­what sur­pris­ing that a com­mu­nity so full of po­ten­tial in both tal­ent and val­ues has achieved so lit­tle to­wards their goals when looked at as a group. There have been ex­cep­tional in­di­vi­d­u­als, each with their own se­cret sauce they are un­able to ar­tic­u­late the recipe for, but the me­dian per­son seems to be roughly as suc­cess­ful as they would have been had they not dis­cov­ered the ra­tio­nal­ity com­mu­nity. Suc­cess is not en­tirely, and prob­a­bly not even mostly, ge­netic. Or in other words, in­for­ma­tion and cul­tural memes mat­ter. Given this is the case, the ques­tion is why hasn’t this com­mu­nity man­aged to beat the con­trol group?

This has been an un­re­solved ques­tion of mine for a few years now, and in the last sev­eral months, de­vel­oped into an in­tense fas­ci­na­tion.

I feel I’m start­ing to de­velop a co­her­ent model. Like all things in­volv­ing peo­ple, very lit­tle is ex­plained by a sin­gle cause. In­di­vi­d­ual fac­tors cluster into gen­eral ar­eas with sub­stan­tial over­laps be­tween them. As such, look­ing at parts in iso­la­tion is like try­ing to recog­nise a per­son sit­ting in front of you by look­ing at them through a high-pow­ered telescope. Un­der­stand­ing the causal mechanisms re­quires ex­am­i­na­tion in an ap­pro­pri­ate level of de­tail, be­ing aware of in­di­vi­d­ual ex­am­ples and the wider con­text they ex­ist in.

The fol­low­ing sec­tions are an at­tempt to cat­e­go­rize them. Cleanly sep­a­rat­ing them is hard, given how in­ter­re­lated they are. Yet, as with con­joined twins, you’ve got to make the in­ci­sion some­where.

The is­sues are sep­a­rated un­der the broad head­ings of De­mo­graph­ics, En­vi­ron­ment and Cul­ture. Most is­sues have a cause stem­ming from an­other area and have sec­ond or­der effects in yet more ar­eas still. Map­ping all of these out fully would lengthen this es­say to hun­dreds of pages, so only the most rele­vant con­nec­tions are made.

Prob­lems and causal factors

De­mo­graph­ics—Back­ground se­lec­tion effects

For var­i­ous rea­sons, the Se­quences dis­pro­por­tionately at­tracted the per­son­al­ity types who liked read­ing, hy­poth­e­sis­ing and de­bat­ing. One of the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of that per­son­al­ity type is a prefer­ence for ex­ten­sive con­tem­pla­tion be­fore ac­tion. Put enough of those peo­ple in the same place and so­cial founder effects will ex­ag­ger­ate that to the point where ac­tion is rarely taken at all. From The War Of Art:

Often cou­ples or close friends, even en­tire fam­i­lies, will en­ter into tacit com­pacts whereby each in­di­vi­d­ual pledges (un­con­sciously) to re­main mired in the same slough in which she and all her cronies have be­come so com­fortable. The high­est trea­son a crab can com­mit is to make a leap for the rim of the bucket.

Dis­con­cert­ing, if true.

This is far from the only trait we have an over­abun­dance of. Other sur­veys of the com­mu­nity sug­gest we have high per­centages of de­pres­sion, anx­iety, autism and ADHD. Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests we have a high pro­por­tion of so­cially mal­ad­justed peo­ple who are some com­bi­na­tion of heav­ily in­tro­verted, awk­ward, hy­per-in­di­vi­d­u­al­is­tic, oblivi­ous, overly trust­ing, pre­vi­ously os­tracised and con­fronta­tion avoidant. In an achieve­ment sense we have a stag­ger­ing per­centage of peo­ple who have the in­tel­li­gence to en­ter the higher ech­e­lons of so­ciety, but in­stead fell through the gaps due to burnout, un­treated ADHD, ma­jor de­pres­sion, defi­ance of au­thor­ity figures, and other re­lated causes. In a broad de­mo­graphic sense, we also draw dis­pro­por­tionately from Blue Tribe and up­per mid­dle class back­grounds.

Even when a trait is not pos­sessed by a ma­jor­ity, a tip­ping point mechanism can cause traits pos­sessed in over­abun­dance by a small minor­ity to have wider cul­tural effects. It has been sug­gested that tip­ping points for opinions can hap­pen when they are held by as lit­tle as 10% of a pop­u­la­tion.. It’s far from un­rea­son­able to worry that a com­mu­nity where traits such as de­pres­sion have been for­mally di­ag­nosed at over twice the rate of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion might cre­ate effects down­stream.

The effects of these traits can im­pact our abil­ity to achieve ob­jec­tives in many cause ar­eas. To un­pack what I mean by that, here is a use­ful di­a­gram bor­rowed from one of Rae­mon’s Pro­ject Hufflepuff posts:

Achiev­ing ob­jec­tives is typ­i­cally thought of be­long­ing mostly in the blue cir­cle, but in re­al­ity, all fo­cus ar­eas have ob­jec­tives. They may not be rooted in the stan­dard con­cept of “achieve­ment”, but a sense of prefer­ring cer­tain out­comes/​val­ues over oth­ers.

We live in a uni­verse where val­ues are frag­ile. Where in the vast space of pos­si­ble out­comes, only an in­finites­i­mal frac­tion are good, and an even smaller frac­tion are great. Hav­ing a mea­surable im­pact is hard. Find­ing and pre­serv­ing truth is hard. Creat­ing flour­ish­ing com­mu­ni­ties is hard. Good out­comes do not hap­pen by ac­ci­dent any more of­ten than whirlwinds as­sem­ble Boe­ing 747s when pass­ing through scrap­yards.

Even when ideal, low-en­tropy states are achieved, con­stant work is re­quired to avoid re­gress­ing to the mean. Think­ing that the Ra­tion­al­ist com­mu­nity is im­mune to en­tropic forces is like think­ing a re­friger­a­tor with the word cold on it will work with­out be­ing plugged in.

Here are some of the prob­lems, sorted by cat­e­gory, list­ing po­ten­tial causes and sec­ondary con­se­quences.

Prob­lems caused in the Truth­seek­ing/​epistemic cir­cle:

Deep the­o­ret­i­cal mod­els, par­tic­u­larly psy­cholog­i­cal and so­ciolog­i­cal ones, don’t end up mod­el­ling re­al­ity very accurately

  • Peo­ple with a high de­gree of so­cial mal­ad­just­ment con­fi­dently shar­ing faulty foun­da­tional mod­els in group set­tings. Few peo­ple are pre­sent who are able to cor­rect them, caus­ing the “blind lead­ing the blind” phe­nomenon. Th­ese the­o­ries, when un­con­tested, be­come pop­u­lar, caus­ing oth­ers to in­cor­po­rate them into their the­o­ret­i­cal mod­els.

  • Peo­ple from a small sub­sec­tion of so­ciety (up­per mid­dle, high trust, blue tribe) typ­i­cal mind­ing their val­ues, mo­ti­va­tions and think­ing pro­cesses onto peo­ple differ­ent from them.

  • A high de­gree of ideal­ism pre­vent­ing peo­ple from mak­ing nega­tive ad­just­ments to their mod­els when the data sug­gests they do so.

Peo­ple like Gleb Tsipursky leech­ing off our epistem­i­cally rigor­ous rep­u­ta­tion and or­ga­ni­za­tions linked to us, in or­der to gain sta­tus in the wider world

  • Be­ing overly trust­ing, caus­ing the prin­ci­ple of char­ity to be over­ap­plied. This al­lowed the cy­cle of wrong­do­ing—ac­cu­sa­tion—re­sponse thank­ing critic for bring­ing is­sues to their at­ten­tion—no be­havi­oural change to re­peat over long stretches of time.

  • Oblivi­ous­ness to how our im­plicit in­cen­tive struc­tures can be ex­ploited for short-term gain. Gleb iden­ti­fied that he could spread mis­in­for­ma­tion so long as when called out, he fol­lowed the sym­bolic rit­ual of ap­pear­ing con­trite and agree­able with the crit­ics, as no­body would check to en­sure he had changed his be­havi­our. After all, no in­group mem­ber would be so bold as to be­have like it never hap­pened.

  • Bi­ases to­wards non-con­fronta­tion, which de­layed pub­lic out­cry once the pat­tern was iden­ti­fied.

  • Peo­ple’s prior his­tory of os­traci­sa­tion for un­fair rea­sons makes them re­luc­tant to do some­thing as triv­ial as un­friend him on Face­book. A solid third of the ra­tio­nal­ists I’m con­nected to on face­book are friends with him. While friend­ship isn’t en­dorse­ment, it is a met­ric in­di­cat­ing your so­cial net­work likes and trusts them to some de­gree, mean­ing any­one us­ing that met­ric will trust Gleb more than they oth­er­wise should.

  • In­suffi­cient archiv­ing of this in­ci­dent, due to an un­der­ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the value in do­ing so. While writ­ing this I had a hard time ac­tu­ally find­ing things I had pre­vi­ously read. Googling “Gleb Tsipursky less­wrong” doesn’t re­turn any di­rect ac­counts of bad be­havi­our, you have to go dig­ging for it. The right to be for­got­ten has its mer­its, but it isn’t meant to be ap­plied when peo­ple are still do­ing the thing that got them in trou­ble in the first place.

Prob­lems caused in the Im­pact/​in­stru­men­tal cir­cle:

In­abil­ity to re­cruit un­der­rep­re­sented demographics

  • Group iso­la­tion has caused us to de­velop a dis­tinct di­alect of en­glish that is un­in­tel­ligible to peo­ple un­fa­mil­iar with it. We of­ten try to ex­plain things to out­siders us­ing con­cepts they are un­fa­mil­iar with and cir­cu­lar defi­ni­tions be­cause it is the sim­plest way from an in­ter­nal per­spec­tive; for­get­ting that the ac­tual goal is to in­crease their un­der­stand­ing. The temp­ta­tion to refer­ence a con­cept de­scribed in the ra­tio­nal­ist blo­go­sphere that neatly en­cap­su­lates an idea, or draw­ing a com­par­i­son with some­thing only fa­mil­iar to peo­ple with back­grounds in pro­gram­ming, physics or sci­ence fic­tion is strong, and is the de­fault choice for those who are un­able to em­pathize with minds differ­ent from their own. This dy­namic, in ad­di­tion to wide­spread so­cial awk­ward­ness and a his­tory of re­jec­tion by those differ­ent to them, cre­ates a com­mu­nity that can only preach to the already con­verted.

  • Even if you man­age to ab­sorb the ideas, the com­mu­nity has only been op­ti­mized for the prefer­ences of a nar­row de­mo­graphic. It has a steep dropoff in util­ity the more you differ from it, de­spite ra­tio­nal­ity as a con­cept hav­ing value for a much larger de­mo­graphic.

Pro­jects that aren’t run as busi­nesses struggle

  • Cul­tural in­di­vi­d­u­al­ism and treat­ing dis­sent as a ter­mi­nal value mean most pro­jects that run on vol­un­teers end up be­ing lone hero efforts. As a re­ac­tion to this, nearly all the credit ends up go­ing to the per­son in charge of a pro­ject, caus­ing con­tri­bu­tions from the rank and file to be over­looked by ex­ter­nal ob­servers. Peo­ple no­tice this and con­clude there is very lit­tle re­ward in be­ing part of the rank and file. This even­tu­ally bot­toms out to the leader get­ting all of the credit, but do­ing all of the work minus what­ever they can get from other vol­un­teers with strong enough ser­vice im­pulses to over­ride the in­cen­tive struc­ture.

  • Anal­y­sis paral­y­sis of in­di­vi­d­u­als gets mag­nified in a group set­ting, end­ing up like an even worse ver­sion of this xkcd comic where it com­bines with short at­ten­tion spans. Peo­ple end up do­ing a less rigor­ous but equally un­pro­duc­tive ver­sion of that sort of anal­y­sis for ten min­utes, then any progress on the is­sue is wiped from col­lec­tive mem­ory when the topic changes.

  • Pro­ject lead­ers of­ten hes­i­tate to make de­ci­sions, but non-hi­er­ar­chi­cal pro­jects strug­gle to make de­ci­sions at all with­out some sort of lead­er­ship figure who has man­aged to get an im­plicit man­date.

  • All pro­jects re­quire some pro­por­tion of un­in­ter­est­ing, de­tail-ori­ented work. There is a finite sup­ply of in­ter­est­ing/​high-lev­er­age work, which is of­ten best done by the per­son in charge. This is nor­mally solved in the busi­ness world by pay­ing some­one a share of the rev­enues to do the grunt work, in the form of a salary. The prob­lem is that pro­jects which aren’t de­signed to make money can’t af­ford to pay peo­ple for grunt work un­less the leader has sig­nifi­cant per­sonal cap­i­tal; nor does it make sense to when suc­cess means re­wards are mostly dis­tributed to the wider com­mu­nity rather than the leader. This of­ten means grunt work the leader doesn’t have time for doesn’t get done at all. When this hap­pens, the pro­ject ei­ther fails en­tirely or is un­able to achieve some of its goals.

  • Pas­sive vol­un­teers who re­quire di­rect, literal com­mands in or­der to get them to do any­thing. Peo­ple for what­ever rea­son ei­ther don’t un­der­stand, or un­der­rate, the value of be­ing proac­tive. Worse still, vol­un­teers of­ten don’t com­mu­ni­cate how much time they can offer or what tasks they would be will­ing to do. This un­in­ten­tion­ally causes lead­ers to feel like any­thing they ask for is drain­ing their so­cial cap­i­tal. Efforts are of­ten spent find­ing and then pre­cisely ar­tic­u­lat­ing only the most in­ter­est­ing of tasks in the hope that they will be en­tic­ing and straight­for­ward enough for vol­un­teers to ac­tu­ally com­plete.

  • The num­ber of vol­un­teers and their en­thu­si­asm is heav­ily de­pen­dant on how shiny a pro­ject feels. This means new pro­jects with lofty goals are favoured over more es­tab­lished and re­al­is­tic ones. Due to this in­cen­tive struc­ture, pro­jects must spend scarce re­sources on pub­lic­ity that could be spent el­se­where. Pro­jects have to re­peat­edly bring them­selves back into the spotlight in or­der to re­place vol­un­teers lost to at­tri­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, all but the most pedes­trian of goals re­quire mul­ti­ple years to ac­com­plish, far longer than the av­er­age nov­elty-seek­ing ra­tio­nal­ist takes to lose en­thu­si­asm and move on to the next big thing.

Distrust of out­siders re­duc­ing both in­take and spread of in­for­ma­tion

  • Many of the prior un­der­achiev­ers feel, per­haps rightly, spurned by “the sys­tem”. This some­times leads to not seek­ing, and of­ten out­right re­ject­ing, as­sis­tance from groups and in­di­vi­d­u­als who re­sem­ble the sys­tem that re­jected them, even when it is in their in­ter­est to do so.

  • Distrust of out­side ex­perts of­ten leads an over­val­u­a­tion of skills pos­sessed by in­sid­ers, and their ex­per­tise sta­tus is of­ten judged more on shib­bo­leths and will­ing­ness to frame things with in­sider mod­els than ac­tual sub­stance. A small sam­ple pool of­ten means that in some deficit ar­eas there is such a tal­ent short­age that any­one who has even the most rudi­men­tary level of skill is given guru sta­tus.

  • Un­will­ing­ness to learn from out­side ex­perts means we fail to avoid their mis­takes. We end up rein­vent­ing the wheel, mak­ing slower ad­vances be­cause we are us­ing only a nar­row set of per­spec­tives.

Lack of fo­cus on in­stru­men­tal rationality

  • De­mo­graph­i­cally we are much more nat­u­rally tal­ented at read­ing, writ­ing and de­bat­ing than any­thing that could be de­scribed as prac­ti­cal. Hu­mans gen­er­ally like to do things that em­pha­sise their strengths rather than re­mind them of their defic­its.

  • Eliezer’s grand pur­pose for de­vel­op­ing ra­tio­nal­ity was AI al­ign­ment. Groups tend to imi­tate their founders as it is. This was ex­ac­er­bated in this case by a lack of other peo­ple push­ing to­wards al­ter­na­tive causes. In the ab­sence of suffi­ciently en­tic­ing com­peti­tors, AI al­ign­ment even­tu­ally sucked all the air out of the room, leav­ing more pedes­trian causes to as­phyx­i­ate.

  • Many of our more im­pact-fo­cused in­di­vi­d­u­als have drifted over to the EA side of things, due to its more mea­surable im­pact and its com­par­a­tively higher sta­tus in the out­side world. This lead to a pro­duc­tivity brain drain and a gen­eral wors­en­ing of our de­mo­graph­ics.

  • Peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in in­di­vi­d­ual ra­tio­nal­ity have ei­ther deemed the com­mu­nity a time­suck and left, or are quietly plod­ding away in a far cor­ner of the blo­go­sphere. Th­ese peo­ple stay in ob­scu­rity, as read­ing progress logs and life im­prove­ment tips is far less shiny than in­sight porn.

  • The un­der­achiev­ing de­mo­graphic have con­tributed to the cul­tural un­der­val­u­a­tion of hard work and at­ten­tion to de­tail. Lack of suc­cess is par­tially bad ge­net­ics, but also bad cul­tural memes. And those bad memes end up rub­bing off on the rest of the group.

Prob­lems caused in the Hu­man/​com­mu­nity cir­cle:

Ro­man­tic dis­satis­fac­tion of straight men

  • The gen­der gap, or more ac­cu­rately, gen­der chasm pre­sent in the com­mu­nity makes it math­e­mat­i­cally im­pos­si­ble for ev­ery straight man to be the pri­mary part­ner of a woman within the com­mu­nity.

  • An in­abil­ity for many straight men to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tively with women not fa­mil­iar with ra­tio­nal­ism leads to them dat­ing ex­clu­sively within the com­mu­nity, if at all. A lesser ver­sion of this prob­lem ex­ists where they strug­gle to com­mu­ni­cate with women who aren’t pro­gram­mers/​hard sci­ence stu­dents or fol­low­ing similarly thing-ori­ented think­ing pat­terns, all of which have similar gen­der dis­par­i­ties.

  • As many men dis­play low lev­els of so­cial skills, re­la­tion­ship ex­pe­rience, lack of self-con­fi­dence, and a vi­cious cy­cle of des­per­a­tion, the few women in the com­mu­nity are averse to dat­ing them. This cre­ates a feed­back loop where some men be­come more and more un­able to get their ro­man­tic needs met.

  • The com­mu­nity en­vi­ron­ment is, in some as­pects, pas­sively hos­tile to the ex­is­tence of most women, mak­ing it hard to bridge the gen­der gap. Hold the SJW ac­cu­sa­tions—this has very lit­tle to do with sys­temic mi­sog­yny, or be­ing in­suffi­ciently char­i­ta­ble to fem­i­nist ideas, and much more to do with not be­ing a place where many in­tel­lec­tu­ally ca­pa­ble women wish to spend their time. The rea­sons for this are be­yond the scope of a bul­let point, but are ex­panded upon later in the es­say.

Difficulty form­ing deeper friendships

  • Many peo­ple are so­cially awk­ward and reclu­sive. This goes be­yond the rightly crit­i­cised in­tro­vert/​ex­tro­vert bi­nary. Peo­ple who ap­pear heav­ily in­tro­verted are of­ten not as un­de­siring of friend­ships as they first ap­pear. Towards the ex­treme ends of in­tro­ver­sion, it ap­pears to be more to do with learned hel­pless­ness than an in­built prefer­ence for soli­tude.

  • Many peo­ple sim­ply don’t know how to make friends. Some peo­ple have a nat­u­ral in­stinct for it, but of­ten it’s the case that peo­ple are just do­ing it wrong. For­give me for the car­i­ca­ture, but it seems as if peo­ple think that if they go to a few mee­tups, act po­lite, and re­hash of the benefits of cry­on­ics for five min­utes with a fel­low in­group mem­ber, that they will ini­ti­ate the friend­ship rit­ual, and just need to e-mail the writ­ten con­tract over the next morn­ing.

  • (Cont.) Mindspace is deep and wide, it would not sur­prise me to learn some­one had suc­cess fol­low­ing the above par­ody to the let­ter. But when deal­ing with hu­mans, even ones who claim to be made from semi­con­duc­tors, it is far from the op­ti­mal ap­proach. Mak­ing friends re­quires get­ting to know a per­son, not just their top­i­cal opinions. It re­quires you to re­veal your vuln­er­a­bil­ities, to spend time in each oth­ers pres­ence. If you don’t re­peat­edly cross paths due to re­cur­ring shared ac­tivi­ties, you need to be some­what proac­tive, ar­rang­ing to meet each other on a semi-reg­u­lar ba­sis.

  • The best meth­ods for mak­ing friends run against the in­tu­itions and cul­tural back­grounds of most peo­ple. Even if you are aware of the points men­tioned pre­vi­ously, act­ing on that in­for­ma­tion is of­ten hard when the other per­son lacks the con­text for your ac­tions, and of­ten ends up un­in­ten­tion­ally sab­o­tag­ing the pro­cess through a com­bi­na­tion of so­cial mal­ad­just­ment and un­ex­am­ined ir­ra­tional-yet-cul­turally-ac­cepted be­havi­ours.

Difficul­ties ex­e­cut­ing short term plans

  • Through a com­bi­na­tion of so­cial anx­iety, low em­pa­thy, poor time man­age­ment and an in­abil­ity to an­ti­ci­pate their fu­ture selves’ be­havi­our, peo­ple flake on plans they have pre­vi­ously agreed to. Promises are treated as ex­pres­sions of en­thu­si­asm in the pre­sent mo­ment, not in any way bind­ing; to be cast aside the mo­ment they be­come in­con­ve­nient.

  • When peo­ple are go­ing to be late, a lack of em­pa­thy/​oblivi­ous­ness some­times means the other per­son isn’t even in­formed. Seem­ingly ob­vi­ous bound­aries are trans­gressed. You shouldn’t have to say “btw, if you hap­pen to be run­ning two hours late you should text me so that I know that.”

  • A wide­spread in­abil­ity to be where peo­ple say they are go­ing to be, among other un­re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues, re­duces or­ganiser morale and makes it much harder to plan events. How are you sup­posed to se­lect a venue and or­ganise lo­gis­tics if you have no way of know­ing whether three or twenty peo­ple are go­ing to at­tend an event due to ev­ery­one mak­ing “Schrod­inger plans”?

Al­most com­plete in­abil­ity to co­or­di­nate on long time horizons

  • A similar set of causal fac­tors to the short term ones, with an (ad­mit­tedly nor­mal) in­abil­ity to step out­side of the short term in­cen­tive struc­ture and take a god’s eye view of the land­scape, pre­vents in­di­vi­d­u­als from be­ing able to co­or­di­nate on things that re­quire a long term al­ign­ment of pri­ori­ties that over­ride short term ex­pe­di­ency.

  • Peo­ple are of­ten tak­ing life one day at a time, or are so en­am­oured with the glo­ri­ous tran­shu­man­ist fu­ture that if you asked what their plans are one to five years from now you will get a shrug in re­sponse. A lack of well-laid plans means peo­ple are defence­less against ex­ter­nal eco­nomic and cul­tural forces. You can’t co­or­di­nate plans if you have no plans. If you go with the flow, you will go wher­ever the tide wishes to take you.

  • Peo­ple from a Blue Tribe, in­di­vi­d­u­al­is­tic mid­dle class back­ground have always strug­gled to co­or­di­nate. Tip­ping point effects drag the re­main­ing minor­ity along with them.

  • Cul­tural memes that make co­or­di­na­tion eas­ier are im­plic­itly dis­cour­aged be­cause they don’t match the sen­si­bil­ities of the main de­mo­graphic. Values like loy­alty are seen as Red Tribe/​out­group traits. As such, they are usu­ally met with some form of de­ri­sion.

Lack­ing a sense that more is possible

  • A lot of peo­ple have not been in en­vi­ron­ments that pri­ori­tize com­mu­nity; as such, they have never seen glimpses of what a great com­mu­nity could ac­tu­ally look like. If all you’ve ever known is in­ter­net cha­t­rooms and the nerd table in the school cafe­te­ria, the cur­rent day ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity could eas­ily be mis­taken for peak civ­i­liza­tion.

  • Re­lated to that, mod­ern at­om­ized so­ciety is deeply flawed. Even if you agree with this premise, ar­tic­u­lat­ing the prob­lems and tan­gible solu­tions is very hard. Imag­in­ing what it could look like on the out­side is difficult when you have lived your en­tire life within its walls. Even if fish could talk, they’d have trou­ble ar­tic­u­lat­ing a life on land with­out the con­straints im­posed by life un­der­wa­ter.

Peo­ple feel the need to sell them­selves (sig­nal­ling smart­ness/​in­ter­est­ing­ness/​value)

  • High rates of turnover mean you get very few chances to make a con­nec­tion with any spe­cific in­di­vi­d­ual. If you want to get some­one’s at­ten­tion, you have to do so in a very short space of time. As timelines shorten, first im­pres­sions go from be­ing pretty im­por­tant to be­ing the only thing that mat­ters. This is fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated by prefer­ence for nov­elty seek­ing—if you don’t im­me­di­ately sparkle, you will be over­looked for the peo­ple that do.

  • This dy­namic leads to some peo­ple sel­l­ing them­selves as hard as pos­si­ble in what­ever light, given their strengths and weak­nesses, they think will make peo­ple pay at­ten­tion. If a per­son’s area of rel­a­tive ex­per­tise is math, con­ver­sa­tions in­volv­ing that per­son of­ten end up be­ing op­ti­mized to demon­strate ex­per­tise in math.

  • An arms race some­times de­vel­ops when peo­ple, pre­vi­ously con­tent to let their pos­i­tive qual­ities be dis­cov­ered nat­u­rally, find they are get­ting over­looked for less im­pres­sive self-pro­mot­ers. This is a nega­tive-sum game, as peo­ple make con­ver­sa­tions more about style than sub­stance, and op­ti­mize in favour of leg­i­bil­ity over value cre­ation in or­der to com­pete for a fixed amount of per­sonal at­ten­tion.

  • Peo­ple who re­fuse to self-pro­mote, or pur­sue hufflepuff-like goals that aren’t val­ued highly by the com­mu­nity, can end up feel­ing like losers in a game they never agreed to play.

  • This be­havi­our is of­ten sub­con­scious, and doesn’t get turned off once you get to know them. It is of­ten the case that group con­ver­sa­tions in­volv­ing such peo­ple mys­te­ri­ously cir­cle back to the nar­row set of top­ics that al­low them to demon­strate their in­tel­li­gence. Con­ver­sa­tion qual­ity suffers when one par­ti­ci­pant is treat­ing it like a job in­ter­view re­hearsal.

I don’t ex­pect ev­ery­one will agree with all of these bul­let points. This list is ex­ten­sive, not com­pre­hen­sive. Most is­sues vary sig­nifi­cantly in sever­ity and oc­cur­rence de­pend­ing on what part of the com­mu­nity you reside in. At worst, this is sub­stan­tial food for thought.

This isn’t the part of the es­say where I drill down into spe­cific solu­tions, but since these prob­lems are par­tic­u­larly salient at this point, it would be pru­dent to spare a few words for some gen­eral ones.

There are, to my knowl­edge, only three routes to solv­ing these de­mo­graphic is­sues on a wider ba­sis:

  • Throw ev­ery­thing we have at dras­ti­cally al­ter­ing our de­mo­graphic makeup

If the tech in­dus­try is any­thing to go by, this is al­most cer­tain to fail. Even if it did suc­ceed, there is a good chance the com­mu­nity would cease to be a place where most of us would want to stay.

  • At­tempt to start afresh, sev­er­ing ties with the ex­ist­ing com­mu­nity

This might be a pos­si­bil­ity for some, and would re­quire a hell of a lot of work to re­build our in­tel­lec­tual foun­da­tions from scratch, but still tech­ni­cally doable. How­ever, un­less you have well-jus­tified rea­sons for be­liev­ing that you won’t just end up with the origi­nal de­mo­graphic bal­ance you started with, you’d be bet­ter off spend­ing your time do­ing some­thing else.

  • Shift­ing the cul­ture in an at­tempt to com­pen­sate for our weak­nesses

This is far from a guaran­teed suc­cess. There have been quite a few peo­ple who tried and failed at this, for var­i­ous rea­sons. Yet, at least com­pared to the other two op­tions, it ap­pears by far the most promis­ing. There have been re­cent efforts in this gen­eral di­rec­tion, from Pro­ject Hufflepuff to LessWrong 2.0. Per­haps there is enough mo­men­tum to cap­i­tal­ize on it?

Shift­ing the cul­ture is not as sim­ple as rais­ing aware­ness. For changes to last longer than a news cy­cle, it will re­quire con­sis­tent de­liber­ate effort. It will re­quire a con­scious choice to pay at­ten­tion to nega­tive feed­back and bor­ing de­tails, things that are far less plea­surably stim­u­lat­ing than what­ever high­brow click­bait Venkatesh Rao will be post­ing in the mean­time.

Alex jones is right, There is a war on for your mind.

To tran­si­tion back to the struc­ture of the post, de­mo­graphic fac­tors are not the only area where Molochean forces con­spire to de­stroy ev­ery­thing we hold dear.

En­vi­ron­ment—Pick­ing the wrong location

Peo­ple are, to some de­gree, prod­ucts of their en­vi­ron­ment. This is true in both a cul­tural sense, in that peo­ple who live in Mex­ico are over­whelm­ingly more likely to be Catholic than peo­ple in Iran, and an eco­nomic sense, in that an Ethiopian is far more likely to lack the ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties than an Aus­tralian. The ques­tion is not if, but to what per­centage en­vi­ron­ment is re­spon­si­ble for out­comes.

If we are to be­lieve the ac­count of Zvi Mow­show­itz, cen­ter­ing the com­mu­nity in Berkeley is quite pos­si­bly the worst strate­gic mis­take we have ever made. A quote:

No one could have pre­dicted this. No one had any idea, as it was hap­pen­ing, that the choice of Berkeley might have been a mis­take and not only be­cause of the strato­spheric rents. Many of our best and bright­est leave, hol­low­ing out and dev­as­tat­ing their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, to move to Berkeley, to join what they think of as The Ra­tion­al­ist Com­mu­nity. They feel com­fortable rip­ping apart those other com­mu­ni­ties be­cause they think the point of those com­mu­ni­ties was to feed their best peo­ple to the ‘real’ com­mu­nity in Berkeley; when not be­ing care­ful they use the term ‘ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity’ in­ter­change­ably with ‘ra­tio­nal­ists liv­ing in Berkeley’. Once there, they have an in­creas­ingly good time and de­velop new ways to have an in­creas­ingly good time, form­ing a real com­mu­nity. But that ‘ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity’ is ‘in­creas­ingly ill-named.’ Its cen­tral cul­tural theme is not ra­tio­nal­ity, or be­com­ing stronger, or sav­ing the world; it is, Sarah re­ports, an un­con­di­tional tol­er­ance for weirdos, a par­adise for Bo­hemi­ans, a place built on warm con­nec­tions of mu­tual sup­port for those who don’t fit into broader so­ciety.

This is not good news, for any of us.

For those on the in­side, it means what you thought was a hard but ul­ti­mately worth­while de­ci­sion to leave your lo­cal com­mu­nity and move to Berkeley has, in light of new ev­i­dence, be­come a very large sunk cost that you won’t want to re-eval­u­ate.

For those of us on the out­side, we are now deal­ing with the fact that our lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties were hol­lowed for noth­ing. That the mis­sion, the in­stru­men­tal craft could have been years fur­ther along by now had Berkeley not redi­rected peo­ple’s tal­ents to­wards other aims.

I won’t deny there is im­por­tant work be­ing done in Berkeley, and I’d even go as far to say there are some or­ga­ni­za­tions such as MIRI that be­long there. My claim, similar to Zvi’s, is that most in­di­vi­d­u­als and ra­tio­nal­ist-al­igned or­ga­ni­za­tions do not benefit from that lo­ca­tion choice.

The rea­sons for this are not im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent. From the out­side, peo­ple full of en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm make the pil­gri­mage to Berkeley, go quiet on so­cial me­dia, and when you fi­nally hear from them six months later they don’t seem like the per­son you once knew. Some­thing is hap­pen­ing to them, al­though it isn’t par­tic­u­larly clear what.

I don’t claim to have found an ex­act se­quence of events re­spon­si­ble for this. Do­ing so would re­quire me to en­ter the belly of the beast, pre­sent­ing the risk I may not come back with my find­ings. In­stead, I’ve been main­tain­ing a height­ened aware­ness for any dis­cus­sion of the topic. Pass­ing com­ments em­bed­ded in the dis­course were sin­gled out for anal­y­sis, and rec­on­ciled with other data in an at­tempt to iso­late com­mon fac­tors.

The broad, over­ar­ch­ing effects can be cat­e­go­rized as cul­tural and eco­nomic.

(note: I oc­ca­sion­ally use Berkeley as a catch-all term that in­cludes SF and the wider Bay Area; this is to avoid pedan­tic clar­ifi­ca­tion that in­terferes with the sen­tence struc­ture)

The back­ground cul­tural environment

Berkeley, as an en­tity, con­tains many el­e­ments that un­der­mine our val­ues. Ele­ments which cor­rode our com­mu­nity bonds, our epistemic pro­cesses and our in­stru­men­tal ca­pa­bil­ities.

To start with, Berkeley is, if fo­rum polls and protests against Milo Yi­annopoulos are any­thing to go by, pos­si­bly the most poli­ti­cally cor­rect city in Amer­ica. Bas­ing a com­mu­nity that val­ues free speech and open minded dis­cus­sion in a place fa­mous for so­cial jus­tice witch hunts is a re­ally bad idea. Even if that com­mu­nity man­aged to in­su­late it­self from the out­side en­vi­ron­ment (which it didn’t) it would still need the air con­di­tioner to work much harder than oth­er­wise nec­es­sary to main­tain a cool, level-headed at­mo­sphere within its walls.

In ad­di­tion to nega­tive cul­tural traits be­ing in­tro­duced from the back­ground, the pop­u­la­tion of Berkeley and the wider Bay Area have similar de­mo­graphic and cul­tural traits to the ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity. Put­ting those peo­ple to­gether cre­ates fur­ther feed­back loops, on top of the origi­nal ones.

If we had founder effects be­fore, now we have founder effects squared.

Nega­tive traits that were pre­sent in a minor­ity of our de­mo­graphic can be­come so preva­lent that they can achieve cul­tural fix­a­tion. So­cial mal­ad­just­ment is rel­a­tive, and mostly de­pends on the norms of the wider pop­u­la­tion. This means if a nega­tive trait be­comes nor­mal, it can be­come ac­cepted as the proper way to be­have. Those with­out the nega­tive trait are seen as ab­nor­mal, and those who op­pose the nega­tive trait be­come pari­ahs.

If you want a gen­eral ex­am­ple of this, think about how the wider world treats hon­esty.

Now what hap­pens if that trait is, let’s say, flak­i­ness? What sort of effects might this have on the cul­tural val­u­a­tion of re­li­a­bil­ity?

A quote from Zvi’s blog­post, On Dragon Army

I also strongly en­dorse that the de­fault level of re­li­a­bil­ity needs to be much, much higher than the stan­dard de­fault level of re­li­a­bil­ity, es­pe­cially in The Bay. Things there are re­ally bad. When I make a plan with a friend in The Bay, I never as­sume the plan will ac­tu­ally hap­pen. There is ac­tual no one there I feel I can count on to be on time and not flake. I would come to visit more of­ten if plans could ac­tu­ally be made. In­stead, sug­ges­tions can be made, and half the time things go more or less the way you planned them. This is a ter­rible, very bad, no good equil­ibrium. Are there peo­ple I want to see badly enough to put up with a 50% re­li­a­bil­ity rate? Yes, but there are not many, and I get much less than half the util­ity out of those friend­ships than I would oth­er­wise get. When I reach what would oth­er­wise be an agree­ment with some­one in The Bay, I have learned that this is not an agree­ment, but rather a state­ment of mo­men­tary in­tent. The other per­son feels good about the in­ten­tion of do­ing the thing, and if the emo­tions and vibe sur­round­ing things con­tinue to be sup­port­ive, and it is still in their in­ter­est to fol­low through, they might ac­tu­ally fol­low through. What they will ab­solutely not do is treat their word as their bond and fol­low through even if they made what turns out to be a bad deal or it seems weird or they could gain sta­tus by throw­ing you un­der the bus. Peo­ple do not co­op­er­ate in this way. That is not a thing. When you no­tice it is not a thing, and that peo­ple will ac­tively lower your sta­tus for treat­ing it as a thing rather than re­ward­ing you, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to keep treat­ing this as a thing.

This isn’t quite the four horse­men of the apoc­a­lypse, but it still seems more rem­i­nis­cent of an ex­am­ple refer­enced in Med­i­ta­tions on Moloch, where ev­ery­one shocks them­selves eight hours per day so ev­ery­one else doesn’t kill them, than a de­sired fea­ture of a thriv­ing com­mu­nity.

Th­ese back­ground effects not only mag­nify the origi­nal prob­lems caused by ex­ist­ing de­mo­graphic ten­den­cies, but ac­tively put up bar­ri­ers to ad­dress­ing them. When a nega­tive at­tribute pre­sent in some in­di­vi­d­u­als be­comes wo­ven into the cul­tural fabric, it be­comes much more difficult to un­ravel. Even if it makes the com­mu­nity worse off on the whole, in­di­vi­d­u­als can benefit in ways analo­gous to spe­cial in­ter­est groups. Peo­ple with the trait that was pre­vi­ously frowned upon now get ac­com­mo­da­tions around it, rang­ing from a free pass to con­tinue the be­havi­our, to re­sources be­ing spent in or­der to limit its reper­cus­sions. Peo­ple who can lev­er­age the new in­cen­tive struc­ture for their own benefit find their way into the com­mu­nity. Th­ese spe­cial in­ter­ests like the new sta­tus quo, and will of­ten re­sist any efforts to take away those ad­van­tages. After all, it is in their in­ter­est to do so.

Squared founder effects are pre­sent in other ar­eas too, and cul­tural blindspots of­ten mean peo­ple aren’t even aware of their reper­cus­sions. For ex­am­ple:

So­cial turnover has in­creased to the point where it has ma­jor effects on incentives

This sec­tion re­quires some in­tro­duc­tion, given the head­ing is se­man­ti­cally empty with­out some back­ground fa­mil­iar­ity. To max­imise un­der­stand­ing, I’m tak­ing it right back to fun­da­men­tals, and work­ing up from there:

Turnover, in a gen­eral sense, is the rate that some­thing is re­placed by some­thing else.

  • In an in­ven­tory sense, that some­thing is ex­ist­ing stock get­ting sold and re­placed by new stock.

  • In an em­ploy­ment sense, turnover is the rate at which em­ploy­ees who are fired, pro­moted or vol­un­tar­ily leav­ing get re­placed by new hires.

  • In com­mu­ni­ties, turnover can be thought of as the re­place­ment rate of both peo­ple and cul­tural val­ues.

Com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially cul­turally in­di­vi­d­u­al­is­tic ones, gen­er­ally have a neu­tral at­ti­tude to turnover. Peo­ple com­ing and go­ing is seen as the in­her­ent state of things. Values nat­u­rally shift as ex­ist­ing mem­bers age or drift out, and fresh re­cruits have new ideas and pri­ori­ties. Re­sist­ing cul­tural change is seen as fu­tile at best, and stodgy con­ser­vatism at worst. Try­ing to keep peo­ple within a com­mu­nity is the sort of thing cults do.

The busi­ness world, how­ever, has a much greater aware­ness of turnover’s di­rect costs and wider con­se­quences. Well-func­tion­ing or­gani­sa­tions de­velop strate­gies de­signed to re­duce both its rate and im­pact. They re­al­ise turnover can greatly in­hibit an or­gani­sa­tion’s abil­ity to func­tion.

The causes of com­mu­nity turnover, and why some places and time pe­ri­ods have more of it than oth­ers, are per­haps best left to an­other es­say. For now, here are some of turnover’s effects in the busi­ness world:

Loss of in­sider knowledge

Any in­for­ma­tion, be it strate­gies, heuris­tics, ex­ist­ing prob­lems or op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures that don’t get writ­ten down are wiped from the col­lec­tive mem­ory of the or­gani­sa­tion when a key em­ployee leaves. This knowl­edge must be in­de­pen­dently re­dis­cov­ered each time this hap­pens, in­cur­ring large op­por­tu­nity costs for the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Ramp up time for new recruits

It takes a while for new peo­ple to both ab­sorb the do­main spe­cific in­for­ma­tion needed to make pro­duc­tive con­tri­bu­tions, and be­come ac­cus­tomed to the cul­tural norms of the or­gani­sa­tion. This re­duces av­er­age pro­duc­tive out­put as those new hires are work­ing at a re­duced ca­pac­ity un­til they get up to speed.

Re­duced co­or­di­na­tion be­tween individuals

The longer you know some­one, the more de­tailed your men­tal model of them be­comes. As you un­der­stand their idiosyn­crasies and mo­tives they be­come eas­ier to com­mu­ni­cate with. You are more likely to draw the right se­man­tic con­clu­sions from their words; the gap be­tween what they mean and what you think they mean de­creases. As you ob­serve them co­op­er­ate with you on tasks, you can get a sense of their abil­ities and their trust­wor­thi­ness. This is a mu­tual pro­cess that builds so­cial cap­i­tal, and that cap­i­tal gen­er­ates re­turns in the form of higher group pro­duc­tivity.

This pro­cess takes time, par­tially be­cause it re­lies on deeper so­cial in­stincts, but also be­cause it re­quires the gath­er­ing of illeg­ible in­for­ma­tion. Creat­ing ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion that could be trans­mit­ted to new em­ploy­ees is com­pletely un­fea­si­ble. You can’t ar­tic­u­late how to adapt to some­one’s idiosyn­crasies for some­one who isn’t you, and even if you could, most peo­ple couldn’t learn the same by read­ing about it. You can’t put “The CMO gives fake dead­lines to the en­g­ineer­ing team to make them work faster” in the in­duc­tion hand­book. As such, when an em­ployee leaves, any so­cial cap­i­tal they have built is wiped from the bal­ance sheet.

Th­ese effects also ap­ply to com­mu­ni­ties in similar ways, with many similar con­se­quences. In ad­di­tion, there is a par­tic­u­larly dam­ag­ing one that ap­plies to all hu­man so­cial struc­tures:

Sig­nifi­cant turnover in­cen­tivises defec­tion

If you are play­ing a mil­lion rounds of pris­oner’s dilemma against an agent run­ning the tit for tat strat­egy, it would be ir­ra­tional to defect against them. If how­ever, your game part­ner changes ev­ery round, you are in­cen­tivised to defect at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

This is a pretty black and white sce­nario; most situ­a­tions in the real world aren’t so bi­nary.

In­stead, this can be thought of as the ex­treme ends of a con­tin­u­ous spec­trum:

On the right, where you are play­ing a mil­lion games, you have a strong in­cen­tive to build up a rep­u­ta­tion for proso­cial be­havi­our. On the left, where you are only play­ing a sin­gle game in iso­la­tion, timelines are so short that rep­u­ta­tion cap­i­tal has a 100% dis­count rate. Defect­ing in the pre­sent is ra­tio­nal if your fu­ture rep­u­ta­tion is liter­ally worth­less.

As turnover in­creases, the mean amount of time an in­di­vi­d­ual stays within a group de­creases. The num­ber of in­ter­ac­tions (games) you can ex­pect to have with each per­son drops. This moves the in­cen­tive struc­ture left­ward and brings along many of its con­se­quences.

You could also add to the graph “max­i­mum civ­i­liza­tional com­plex­ity at a given level of tech­nol­ogy”. The longer your timeline, the more so­cial, in­sti­tu­tional and fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment you can make for the fu­ture. If you ex­pect your great grand­chil­dren to live on a plot of land, you can spend a year dig­ging foun­da­tions for a cas­tle. If you only ex­pect to be there a week, you’d be bet­ter off book­ing an Airbnb.

This can go a long way to­wards ex­plain­ing why many peo­ple hark back to the 1950s as a golden era—it’s the last time in liv­ing cul­tural mem­ory we had low turnover. Tech­nol­ogy has par­tially miti­gated its effects, but is yet to fully sub­sti­tute for the long term co­or­di­na­tion abil­ities we had back then.

Maybe this is what Mold­bug meant by “Cthulhu always swims left”?

Prob­a­bly not, but it’s kinda fun to think about. If you’d pre­fer some­thing a bit more plau­si­ble, con­sider how the turnover hy­poth­e­sis can ex­plain quite a wide va­ri­ety of phe­nom­ena:

False economies—De­creas­ing qual­ity of con­sumer goods

As the value of rep­u­ta­tion de­creases, the in­cen­tives to pri­ori­tize product fea­tures that can’t be listed on the pack­ag­ing weaken. Qual­ity is sac­ri­ficed for sales gim­micks and lower sticker prices. Busi­nesses pro­duce goods that are just good enough to sell, and pass through the le­gal war­ranty pe­riod, if ap­pli­ca­ble. Brands that had a long­stand­ing rep­u­ta­tion for qual­ity saw less value be­ing at­tributed to that and re­sponded ra­tio­nally by can­ni­bal­iz­ing ex­cess brand rep­u­ta­tion in or­der to be­come more com­pet­i­tive.

Re­sult: Busi­nesses have to spend more on ma­nipu­la­tive ad­ver­tis­ing to ac­quire new cus­tomers as they can no longer rely on qual­ity de­sign and en­g­ineer­ing to keep old ones com­ing back. Ra­tional cus­tomers have to con­stantly com­pare in­di­vi­d­ual prod­ucts rather than as­sume a brand’s en­tire product line is of good qual­ity. Prod­ucts have a lower ticket price but higher yearly cost of own­er­ship due to re­quiring fre­quent re­place­ment. The only group bet­ter off is land­fill own­ers.

Hu­man cap­i­tal co­or­di­na­tion prob­lems—Mas­sive col­lege grad­u­ate un­der­em­ploy­ment.

Univer­si­ties don’t teach you the skills needed in the busi­ness world. What’s for­got­ten is that they never did, it’s only just re­cently that there have been con­se­quences for that.

New em­ploy­ees re­quire train­ing be­fore they be­come pro­duc­tive, and this re­quires ex­pen­di­ture in both wages dur­ing train­ing and op­por­tu­nity costs of other em­ploy­ees need­ing to teach them.

Back in the good ol’ days, it didn’t mat­ter if stu­dents grad­u­ated with no rele­vant skills. Com­pa­nies didn’t ex­pect it, they didn’t need them to. If a new em­ployee was go­ing to be there for the long haul, it didn’t mat­ter if it took them a while to be­come pro­duc­tive. Net losses were to­tally fine for a few years when an em­ployee would be con­tribut­ing to the bot­tom line for decades.

It’s only re­cently, where busi­ness mod­els have be­come less re­li­able, and skills be­come ob­so­lete ev­ery five years, that em­ploy­ers de­mand re­cruits who can hit the ground run­ning. On short time hori­zons, you need peo­ple who can solve your cur­rent prob­lems and you need them to do it now. Even if you have gi­ant cash re­serves just sit­ting there, us­ing it to train new re­cruits in presently-needed skills is a waste of money if you can’t an­ti­ci­pate your fu­ture de­mands for them.

Re­sult: busi­nesses which can’t plan for the fu­ture, a qual­ifi­ca­tions arms race, tulip sub­sidies, the quar­ter life crisis epi­demic, dead­weight losses from an un­der­uti­lized work­force, lo­custs, dark­ness, death of first­born sons.

Weak­ened so­cial bonds—Most peo­ple have very few close friends

As peo­ple en­ter adult­hood in mod­ern life, they find it very difficult to make new friends.

It be­comes hard enough that in­tel­li­gent adults of­ten seek ex­pert ad­vice on how to go about do­ing some­thing that was so nat­u­ral to them in child­hood.

Have they some­how lost their friend mak­ing tal­ents along the way?

No, the thing they lost was the con­di­tions al­low­ing friend­ships to form.

Up un­til grad­u­a­tion, you had been in a shared en­vi­ron­ment where you nat­u­rally in­ter­acted with the same group of peo­ple on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. There were large amounts of free time for you to talk to peo­ple, and you were in an en­vi­ron­ment where your peers were, to some ex­tent, on the same team, and you shared most of the day to day joys and frus­tra­tions of that so­cial en­vi­ron­ment. This con­ve­nient prox­im­ity, shared con­text and al­ign­ment of in­ter­ests was a fer­tile breed­ing ground for friend­ship.

As you en­ter adult­hood in to­day’s world, you will find that the ta­bles are turned. Mak­ing friends used to be easy. Now it re­quires sig­nifi­cant effort and plan­ning just to keep the ones you have.

To start with, your 3+ year shared so­cial en­vi­ron­ment where ev­ery­one is ba­si­cally in the same boat is now gone. School has been re­placed by the office, an en­vi­ron­ment where friend­ship-mak­ing is much more treach­er­ous. There are hi­er­ar­chies, co-work­ers look out for their own self-in­ter­est, staff trans­fer to differ­ent com­pa­nies and de­part­ments reg­u­larly. The en­vi­ron­ment where you spend most of your wak­ing hours ac­tively dis­cour­ages sincere friend­ships from form­ing.

As­sum­ing you didn’t take a hosepipe to the web of strong con­nec­tions you spent twenty years mak­ing in or­der to take a promis­ing job offer in an­other state like cos­mopoli­tan cul­ture told you to, you still need to main­tain your ex­ist­ing friend­ships. If you want to keep those bonds strong, you need to put it on your to do list. Another re­spon­si­bil­ity of adult life, that needs at­tend­ing to when you get home af­ter a long day at work and you’d re­ally pre­fer to sit in front of a screen and veg­e­tate.

Even if you have the spare willpower, and got the mes­sage from wait­butwhy while you were still young enough to do some­thing about it, you are still up against strong cul­tural forces de­ter­mined to rip your friend­ships apart.

A friend gets offered a job in an­other state? It doesn’t seem like a big deal at the time. It’s not like you are cut­ting off con­tact. But as time goes on, and you see each other less and less, your friend­ship en­ters LDR mode and Sys­tem 1 en­thu­si­asms wither in a grad­ual war of at­tri­tion. He prob­a­bly won’t figure out what he’s lost un­til it’s too late.

On the other side of the cul­tural war? Too bad, even if you don’t hate them, they now lowkey hate you and ev­ery­thing you stand for.

Gets mar­ried? Even if they don’t move away, the cul­tural de­fault is to pri­ori­tize the part­ner over main­tain­ing a so­cial life. Your friend­ship slides down the list of pri­ori­ties un­til it ceases to be a pri­or­ity at all.

Has a baby? With work and other life obli­ga­tions, not to men­tion the child-hos­tile-by-de­fault na­ture of most so­cial gath­er­ings, good luck schedul­ing a suit­able time to see them.

Just find your­self drift­ing apart over time? In­ter­ests and val­ues nat­u­rally di­verge at a rapid rate com­pared to the pre-in­ter­net era where peo­ple shared a large in­for­ma­tional con­text. Good luck get­ting back on the same wave­length.

You want to take con­scious steps to pre­serve friend­ships as a large source of hap­piness in your life? If they don’t think you are weird or des­per­ate for want­ing to do such a thing, you’ll still be putting in a larger and larger share of the or­ga­ni­za­tional effort as time goes on, leav­ing you won­der­ing how much they re­ally care.

Sud­denly you’re 35 and you have no idea how you be­came so iso­lated.

If you are read­ing this site, you are lucky. Not just be­cause you have ac­cess to some of the best in­sights on the planet, but be­cause you have been ex­posed to a shared con­text strong enough to form deeper friend­ships out of*. Most in­ter­ests don’t have enough of the right in­gre­di­ents to form sub­cul­tures. De­spite the pop­u­lar­ity of Her­man Miller office chairs, there aren’t many house­shares formed around a love of the Aeron. For an in­ter­est to form a sub­cul­ture, it needs to be broad and dis­tinct enough to stand out from uni­ver­sal val­ues.

Many peo­ple take for granted how spe­cial ra­tio­nal­ism is in this re­gard. The usual out­come when you di­vide peo­ple down to atoms is not in­di­vi­d­u­als us­ing their new-found mo­bil­ity to sort into groups most suited to their idiosyn­crasies, but a frag­mented so­ciety of in­di­vi­d­u­als, un­able to re­ally sync up with any­one.

Re­sult: Vast swaths of peo­ple liv­ing lives of quiet des­per­a­tion and a Bea­tles song un­sure of their ori­gins.

*I’m not against the sen­ti­ment that “maybe the real ra­tio­nal­ism is the friends we made along the way”. In fact, I’d like to pre­serve it. But the only way to pre­serve ra­tio­nal­ism’s abil­ity to do this in the long term is by keep­ing the mis­sion, pre­vent­ing our val­ues from be­ing diluted un­til they are no longer dis­tinct from the de­fault cos­mopoli­tan cul­ture. If you lose the mis­sion, it isn’t long be­fore a lack of differ­en­ti­a­tion means you lose the com­mu­nity as well.

Cus­tomer ser­vice—Loss of per­sonal touch

Ja­panese so­ciety is, by mod­ern west­ern stan­dards, very low turnover. It has many el­e­ments that clash with what could be called “liberal en­light­en­ment val­ues”. How­ever, there are el­e­ments caused by low turnover in­cen­tive struc­tures that pro­duce un­de­ni­ably good out­comes.

Here’s an ex­cerpt from the ar­ti­cle Do­ing Busi­ness in Ja­pan which re­counts the writer’s ex­pe­riences of cus­tomer ser­vice there:

Do­ing busi­ness with Ja­panese com­pa­nies fre­quently re­sem­bles It’s A Won­der­ful Life. “Cus­tomer re­la­tion­ships” are not an empty phrase — many busi­ness re­la­tion­ships where one is ap­prox­i­mately equiv­a­lent to a row in the database in the United States are, in­stead, ex­pected to be re­la­tion­ships be­tween two ac­tual peo­ple.

This is oc­ca­sion­ally ex­as­per­at­ing, as a soft­ware per­son who doesn’t want to have to take some­one drink­ing to sell a sin­gle SaaS ac­count, but it is oc­ca­sion­ally quite charm­ing. Mov­ing to Ja­pan, par­tic­u­larly small-town Ja­pan, was like vis­it­ing an old Amer­ica that I had heard sto­ries about but had never got­ten the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­rience.

For ex­am­ple, when I first came to Ja­pan, I had no com­puter. I also had no money, be­cause the plane ticket and set­ting up my house­hold ate all of my sav­ings. In Amer­ica, this isn’t a bar­rier to get­ting a com­puter, be­cause Dell will do a quick FICO score on you and then hap­pily ex­tend you $2,000 of trade credit.

Dell Ja­pan, on the other hand, set me up with two phone calls with ac­tual hu­man un­der­writ­ers at two Ja­panese fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. Both had me fill out rather ex­ten­sive forms (100+ ques­tions — se­ri­ously). The first said “In view of your length of tenure at your em­ployer and length of res­i­dence at your apart­ment, we don’t feel that your situ­a­tion is sta­ble enough to ex­tend you credit.” The sec­ond said “Look, umm, offi­cially, I am sup­posed to just tell you that we de­cline your busi­ness and wish you luck. Unoffi­cially, the bank doesn’t ex­tend for­eign­ers credit, as a mat­ter of policy. You’ll find that is quite com­mon in Ja­pan. I know, it is lamentable, but I figure that you’d be able to save your­self some time if you knew.”

So I gave up for a while, but men­tioned to a coworker later that week that I re­ally wanted a com­puter to be able to Skype home. He said “Come with me” and we left, in the mid­dle of the work day, to visit a bank. It is a smaller re­gional bank in Gifu. I’ll elide nam­ing it to avoid the fol­low­ing story be­ing per­son­ally iden­ti­fi­able, but suffice it to say it is a very con­ser­va­tive in­sti­tu­tion.

My coworker got a credit card ap­pli­ca­tion and asked me to fill it in. I did so, but told him “Look, two Tokyo banks, which are pre­sum­ably about as cos­mopoli­tan as Ja­panese fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions get, just shot me down. One of them ex­plic­itly did so be­cause I’m a for­eigner. The chance of this mid­dle-of-nowhere bank ac­cept­ing a credit ap­pli­ca­tion is zero.”

“Don’t worry, I know the man­ager. Hey, Taro!”

Taro and my coworker had gone to school to­gether.

“Pa­trick here just started work­ing with us. He wants to buy a com­puter to call his par­ents, dili­gent son that he is, and needs a credit card to do it. Here’s his ap­pli­ca­tion. Make sure it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, OK?”

Some weeks passed, and I as­sumed that I had been de­nied. Then there was a knock on my door early one Satur­day morn­ing.

It was bank man­ager Taro and an older gen­tle­man who in­tro­duced him­self as the Vice Pres­i­dent for Risk Man­age­ment of the bank. He promptly took over the con­ver­sa­tion.

“You have to un­der­stand that we’re not one of those banks. We’re not some mag­i­cal pot of money. Every yen we have is a farmer de­posit­ing against a bad har­vest or a re­tiree’s pen­sion, care­fully hus­banded over a life­time. That is a sa­cred trust. We can­not lose their money. The bank has to be ap­pro­pri­ately care­ful about who we lend that money to. Taro here tells me your trust­wor­thy, so that is good. Even trust­wor­thy young men some­times make poor de­ci­sions. I need to know you won’t, so be­fore I give this credit card, I have three ques­tions for you.”

“Will you ever use this credit card to gam­ble?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. Will you ever use this credit card to buy al­co­hol?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. Will you ever give this credit card to a woman who is not your wife?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. Think darn hard be­fore giv­ing it to your wife, too. OK, you pass muster. Sign here.”

That was the first of a dozen sto­ries which you wouldn’t be­lieve ac­tu­ally hap­pened about that bank. Taro cor­rectly in­tu­ited when I started dat­ing a young lady, and when we broke up, solely based on on my spend­ing habits. He con­sid­ered that part and par­cel with look­ing out for my fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests.

Taro stopped me from do­ing a wire trans­fer back to Bank of Amer­ica to pay my stu­dent loans dur­ing the Lehman shock be­cause Wa­chovia had gone into FDIC re­ceiver­ship that morn­ing. I told Taro that I didn’t have an ac­count at Wa­chovia. Taro said that he was aware of that, but that I used Lloyds’ re­mit­tance ser­vice to send wires, and Lloyds’ in­ter­me­di­ary bank in the US was Wa­chovia, which might or might not be safe to have money in at the mo­ment. I asked Taro how in God’s name does a banker in Ogaki, Ja­pan hap­pen to know what in­ter­me­di­ary banks Lloyds uses in North Amer­ica off the top of his head, and Taro said, and I quote, “There ex­ists a cus­tomer of the bank who ha­bit­u­ally makes USD wire trans­fers us­ing Lloyds and, ac­cord­ingly, it is my busi­ness to know this.”

Taro called me on March 12th, the day af­ter the Touhoku earth­quake, to say that he was con­cerned about my bal­ance in the cir­cum­stances (I had cleared out my ac­count to pay a tax as­sess­ment min­utes be­fore the quake) and, if I needed it, to come down to the bank and, quote, we’ll take care of you and worry about the num­bers some other time, endquote.

Taro even­tu­ally re­tired from his po­si­tion, and as part of mak­ing his rounds, gave me a warm in­tro­duc­tion to the new bank man­ager. He made it a point to in­vite me out for coffee, so that he’d be able to put a face to Taro’s co­pi­ous hand­writ­ten notes about my char­ac­ter. Some years af­ter that, a new man­ager trans­ferred in. I popped by with a con­grat­u­la­tions-on-the-new-job gift, mildly sur­pris­ing the staff, but it felt ap­pro­pri­ate.

When I moved to Tokyo, I went to the re­gional bank’s sole Tokyo office, which ex­ists to serve their large mega­corp cus­tomers. They were quite shocked that I had an ac­count with the bank (“Mister! Citibank is down the street! If you use our ATMs you’ll get charged ex­tra!”), and even more shocked when I told them that I run a multi­na­tional soft­ware com­pany through it. “Wouldn’t you get bet­ter ser­vices with Citibank or Mit­subishi?” The thought of switch­ing never crossed my mind. In­deed, I can’t imag­ine any­thing that would con­vince me to switch. They don’t make num­bers big enough to com­pen­sate for how much I trust my bank.

Was I a par­tic­u­larly large ac­count to the bank? Nope. It’s the same pass­book sav­ings ac­count a 17 year old gets to de­posit their first wages into. For 8+ of my ten years in Ja­pan, my bal­ance there was be­low $2,000.

The bank is one anec­dote, but I could tell you about the hair stylist who drops me a hand­writ­ten post­card af­ter ev­ery ap­point­ment, the restau­rant that I went to weekly that tried to cater my wed­ding for free, the glasses shop which in­vited me to come back for a (free) frame re-bend­ing and cup of coffee any time I was in the neigh­bor­hood, etc etc.

Ja­panese cus­tomers, in both B2C and B2B re­la­tion­ships, ex­pect a level of per­son­al­ized, at­ten­tive ser­vice which is qual­i­ta­tively differ­ent than that in the United States. Ano­ma­lously good sales reps in the US are fre­quently op­er­at­ing at table stakes or be­low in Ja­pan.

On the plus side, af­ter you’ve ac­tu­ally won the busi­ness and demon­strated ca­pa­bil­ity to serve cus­tomers to these stan­dards, Ja­panese cus­tomers are very loyal. This is true both qual­i­ta­tively and quan­ti­ta­tively. I’m aware of a Ja­panese SaaS app which, de­spite be­ing sold at low price points on a low-touch month-to-month model (all pre­dic­tive of rel­a­tively high churn rates) has a churn rate which would be con­sid­ered ex­em­plary for an en­ter­prise SaaS app sold with high-touch sales on an an­nual con­tract.

Re­sult: The sub­text be­tween us and our bank man­agers is far less ho­mo­erotic.

Con­clu­sion and fur­ther examples

Turnover is a spe­cific ex­am­ple of the con­cept Change (for the sake of change) Is Bad, con­sider this a pub­lic ser­vice re­minder.

Now that turnover has been solid­ified in the ab­stract, I’ll in­tro­duce a few ex­am­ples of where this has in­ter­acted with our com­mu­nity:

From one of Zvi’s com­ments:

The Berkeley/​SF com­mu­nity has en­gaged in a sys­tem­atic re­cruit­ment war to con­vince as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to leave their com­mu­ni­ties and move. They have done this claiming not only that it would be more fun but that it was the right thing to do, they have dan­gled promises and mis­sions in front of them, then they have used the peo­ple who already moved to re­cruit their friends, and so on. For years I have watched my best friends, one by one, leave and then be the rea­son my other friends are con­sid­er­ing leav­ing, as the rest of us strug­gled to hold to­gether our lives and re­build, wor­ried that any­thing good we did cre­ate would just be ripped apart again. I have had pres­sure put upon me to move, as well, pres­sure that has made my life sub­stan­tially worse.

A re­ply to it along the same lines:

I have lost mo­ti­va­tion to put any effort into pre­serv­ing the lo­cal com­mu­nity – my friends have moved away and left me be­hind – new mem­bers are about a decade younger than my­self, and I have no de­sire to be a ‘den mother’ to nubes who will just move to Berkley if they ac­tu­ally de­velop agency… I worry that I have wasted the last decade of my life putting emo­tional effort into re­la­tion­ships that I have been un­able to keep and I would have been bet­ter off find­ing other com­mu­ni­ties that are not so prone to hav­ing its mem­bers dis­ap­pear.

Aside from lur­ing peo­ple to Berkeley un­der false premises be­ing bad for in­di­vi­d­u­als, this also has effects on the peo­ple who re­main in their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. As I men­tioned ear­lier, the more un­cer­tain the fu­ture is, the less in­vest­ment you can make for it. What­ever the goals of the Berkeley com­mu­nity are, they should not in­clude forc­ing oth­ers to build theirs above a rapidly erod­ing cliff edge.

Ex­cerpt from a com­ment on the origi­nal Pro­ject Hufflepuff post, notic­ing that peo­ple have figured out how to ex­ploit con­di­tions caused by (and fur­ther ex­ac­er­bat­ing) turnover:

There are, by my count, at least 3 such par­a­sites in the Bay com­mu­nity; and speci­fi­cally they po­si­tion them­selves as the bro­ken stair step right at on­board­ing, mak­ing the com­mu­nity feel “im­pen­e­tra­ble and un­wel­com­ing”. The way how this hap­pens op­er­a­tionally, is when I ad­mit to some level of op­er­a­tional sur­plus (lan­guage skills, soft­ware de­vel­op­ment, busi­ness build­ing), from these spe­cific per­sons I get im­me­di­ately asks of “Would you like to do free trans­la­tion for me?” /​ “Would you like to build $web­site-idea$ for me?” /​ “Would you like to donate to $my-cause$?“. I also no­tice that they don’t do it this overtly to long-term mem­bers.
Note, the prob­lem here isn’t the ask. We do asks in en­trepreneur-topia all the time. The prob­lem is the lack of dealcraft: the asks are asym­met­ri­cally favour­ing the asker, and only offer vague lipser­vice-wav­ing-to­wards-nice-things as re­turn.
Pres­ence of these par­a­sites, and lack of dealcraft by these peo­ple reached equil­ibrium at hav­ing ’a strong cul­ture of “make sure your own needs are met”, that speci­fi­cally pushes back against broader so­cietal norms that pres­sure peo­ple to con­form, be­cause peo­ple who have been val­uepumped hard enough can not sus­tain them­selves in the Bay.

Rae­mon, Notes from the Hufflepuff Un­con­fer­ence (Part 1) show­ing an ex­am­ple of the high dis­count rate peo­ple have on prior rep­u­ta­tion:,

I’ve seen sev­eral group houses where, when peo­ple de­cide it no longer makes sense to live in the house, they… just kinda leave. Even if they’ve liter­ally signed a lease. And ev­ery­one in­volved (the per­son leav­ing and those re­main), in­stinc­tively act as if it’s the re­main­ing peo­ple’s job to fill the leaver’s spot, to make rent.

The last two ex­am­ples are par­tic­u­larly strik­ing. They not only show effects which could not ex­ist in low turnover con­di­tions, but a failure of any kind of sys­tem to deal with them.

This leads onto the next sec­tion.

Re­duced abil­ity to miti­gate problems

The en­vi­ron­ment of Berkeley ex­ac­er­bates the aver­sion to con­fronta­tion. This is par­tially through squared founder effects, but also due to the back­ground cul­tural norms.

This makes it a hell of a lot harder to ad­dress nega­tive ex­ter­nal­ities be­ing pro­duced if do­ing so might cause some bad vibes.

As a col­lec­tive, y’all need to grow a pair. But any in­di­vi­d­ual who gains the re­solve in spite of pre­vailing norms faces an up­hill bat­tle con­vinc­ing any­one to rock the boat.

Un­til this changes, prob­lems that re­quire this method are only go­ing to keep piling up.

If you want to have rental agree­ments, and to benefit from the abil­ity to make such agree­ments, then you need to en­force them when they are vi­o­lated. Not do­ing so sends a sig­nal that they don’t ac­tu­ally mean any­thing; that peo­ple will not have to pay for costs they im­pose on oth­ers.

This is ba­si­cally the iter­ated pris­oner’s dilemma sce­nario where you keep ac­cept­ing “oops, I didn’t mean to press the defect but­ton!” as a rea­son not to give the pun­ish­ment you’ve pre-com­mit­ted to mak­ing. The game the­ory in­cen­tives don’t cease to ap­ply just be­cause some­one is an In­group Mem­ber™.

If that hap­pened in my grouphouse, and the per­son was not suffer­ing fi­nan­cial hard­ship and in­stead de­cided to “...just kinda leave”, then they would be pay­ing the full cost stipu­lated on their con­tract. If they re­fused to do so, they would be pros­e­cuted through the courts and listed on a pub­li­cly visi­ble wall of shame for a five year pe­riod.

Sadly, I do not have the man­date to take those ac­tions against the peo­ple in the ex­am­ple.

There are other prob­lems with non-con­fronta­tion, too. Some quotes from Sarah’s In Defense of In­di­vi­d­u­al­ist Cul­ture:

Col­lege-ed­u­cated Western adults in the con­tem­po­rary world mostly live in what I’d call in­di­vi­d­u­al­ist en­vi­ron­ments. The salient fea­ture of an in­di­vi­d­u­al­ist en­vi­ron­ment is that no­body di­rectly tries to make you do any­thing.
If you slack off at work, in a typ­i­cal office-job en­vi­ron­ment, you don’t get be­rated. And you don’t have peo­ple watch­ing you con­stantly to see if you’re work­ing. You can get bad perfor­mance re­views, you can get fired, but the ac­tual bad news will usu­ally be pre­sented po­litely. In the most au­tonomous work­places, you can have a lot of con­trol over when and how you work, and you’ll be judged by the re­sults. If you have a char­ac­ter flaw, or a be­hav­ior that both­ers peo­ple, your friends might point it out to you re­spect­fully, but if you don’t want to change, they won’t nag, ca­jole, or bully you about it. They’ll just ei­ther learn to ac­cept you, or avoid you.
There are down­sides to these in­di­vi­d­u­al­ist cul­tures or en­vi­ron­ments. It’s easy to wind up jobless or friend­less, and you don’t get a lot of help get­ting out of bad situ­a­tions that you’re pre­sumed to have brought upon your­self. If you have coun­ter­pro­duc­tive habits, no­body will guide or train you into fix­ing them.

Even if in­di­vi­d­u­al­ist cul­ture comes out on top over­all as Sarah claims, the last line I quoted has bru­tal con­se­quences for any­one who didn’t sub­con­sciously ab­sorb how to be­have in a so­cial set­ting.

In­stead of grant­ing per­mis­sion for peo­ple to tell them harsh but con­struc­tive things about their be­havi­ours, they must ei­ther tol­er­ate them for­ever, or dis­cretely os­tracise them.

What once could have been mostly ad­dressed with a few months of un­com­fortable men­tor­ing now be­comes, if they can’t solve the prob­lem in­de­pen­dently, a near in­cur­able so­cial le­p­rosy that con­fines them to the out­skirts of any func­tional com­mu­nity they wish to be a part of.

Even when solv­ing a prob­lem doesn’t re­quire vi­o­lat­ing so­cial norms, all prob­lems re­quire a nonzero amount of time and en­ergy to fix. The amount of things an in­di­vi­d­ual can solve varies based on their free time, work obli­ga­tions and spare cog­ni­tive re­sources.

Now what effects might the eco­nomic re­al­ities of Berkeley have on that?

Eco­nomics—Time, Money, Spoons and fu­ture plans

Not to put too fine a point on it, but bas­ing a com­mu­nity that’s not fo­cused on max­imis­ing gross in­come in the most ex­pen­sive city in North Amer­ica doesn’t strike me as par­tic­u­larly ra­tio­nal.

Aside from the ob­vi­ous fact that liv­ing in Berkeley is re­ally ex­pen­sive and peo­ple would pre­fer it if things were not so ex­pen­sive, it’s the sec­ond or­der effects that are of greater con­cern.

Effects on time

Con­sider this hy­po­thet­i­cal sce­nario:

A tal­ented soft­ware en­g­ineer from Ohio, who writes blog posts and data analy­ses as a hobby, catches the at­ten­tion of the Berkeley com­mu­nity. He has read all of the Se­quences and has a will­ing­ness to Shut up and Mul­ti­ply. He takes the claims of Berkeley’s su­pe­ri­or­ity se­ri­ously, and af­ter a short pe­riod of con­sid­er­a­tion, bites the bul­let and de­cides to move.

Due to his im­pres­sive tal­ents and phone in­ter­view perfor­mance, he man­ages to line up a job at Face­book’s Head­quar­ters in Menlo Park. He du­tifully hands in his no­tice at his low stress job in Ohio. They’re sad to see him go but they un­der­stand his de­ci­sion; they can’t com­pete with the six figure salaries offered on the west coast.

He packs up his car with his most val­ued pos­ses­sions and drives cross coun­try to the sup­posed land of milk and honey. There is a room in a Berkeley grouphouse wait­ing for him.

There is a tem­po­rary de­crease in his on­line pres­ence, given the up­heaval of mov­ing. But ev­ery­thing will even­tu­ally re­turn to nor­mal, prob­a­bly.

After the dust has set­tled, and months pass with nary a blog up­date, he re­calls why he came to Berkeley: he came to to play his part in mak­ing the world a bet­ter place. Yet some­how, he now spends his cre­ative en­er­gies im­ple­ment­ing soft­ware fea­tures de­signed to get users to spend as much time as pos­si­ble on Face­book in or­der to in­crease ad rev­enue. He lives in Berkeley. Face­book HQ is a 34 mile and 90 minute com­mute. Fif­teen whole hours a week are spent in traf­fic.

Of the 112 con­scious hours in ev­ery week, very few are his own.

50 hours are spent in the office

15 hours driving

7 hours in tran­si­tion time be­tween try­ing to fall asleep and get­ting in the car the next morning

5 hours of work emails

10 hours do­ing food shop­ping, clean­ing, laun­dry and gen­eral yak shav­ing

7 hours cook­ing and eat­ing evening meals

That leaves 18 hours with which to do ev­ery­thing else. 18 hours to so­cial­ise with house­mates, ex­er­cise, go to events and stay up to date with his RSS feed. No won­der his blog is ne­glected.

Effect on spoons/​abil­ity to do any­thing else

In ad­di­tion to hav­ing so lit­tle spare time, those eigh­teen hours are hours of cog­ni­tively drained, bor­der­line ex­haus­tion. There is talk that Berkeley has lost the mis­sion, but un­der those con­straints I’d find it re­mark­able if any­one could re­mem­ber the mis­sion.

With so lit­tle spare re­sources, it’s not a ques­tion of re­sist­ing Moloch. It’s how many months be­fore you stum­ble, fall and get in­cor­po­rated into his flesh.

In these con­di­tions, you are severely lack­ing Slack:

Slack per­mits plan­ning for the long term. You can in­vest.

Slack en­ables do­ing the right thing. Stand by your friends. Re­ward the wor­thy. Pu­n­ish the wicked. You can have a code.

Slack pre­sents things as they are with­out con­cern for how things look or what oth­ers think. You can be hon­est.

Only with slack can one be a righ­teous dude.

If you and ev­ery­one else in the com­mu­nity is ex­hausted, you don’t have the time or en­ergy to re­sist out­side pres­sures. The com­mu­nity will move in what­ever di­rec­tion the so­cial winds de­cide to take it, with­out re­gard for the even­tual out­come. Even if peo­ple wanted to push the mis­sion for­ward, with­out slack they do not have the spare re­sources to do so.

Ad­vanc­ing ra­tio­nal­ity re­quires righ­teous dudes.

Money constraints

If we take as a given that spo­radic efforts to ad­vance the craft aren’t enough, and that it is an im­por­tant goal to pur­sue, then peo­ple should donate money to sup­port peo­ple work­ing on it full-time.

Un­for­tu­nately, sup­port­ing in­di­vi­d­u­als lo­cated in Berkeley is rather ex­pen­sive.

And those six figure salaries don’t go as far as you’d think.

(I’d give you hard num­bers for this, but no­body re­sponded to my re­quest for data*.)

In ad­di­tion, for-profit ra­tio­nal­ity pro­jects based in Berkeley are un­der much greater pres­sures to pro­duce some­thing that peo­ple can charge for. Any pro­ject started on sav­ings has a much shorter run­way with which to pro­duce re­sults. Un­der these con­di­tions, there is much greater pres­sure to pro­duce some­thing, and quickly.

This of­ten leads to the pro­duc­tion of a sym­bolic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the thing, rather than the thing it­self

This could go some way to ex­plain­ing why CFAR, prior to its AI pivot, never re­ally man­aged to pro­duce much ap­plied ra­tio­nal­ity. Do­ing so would have re­quired go­ing back to the draw­ing board and com­pletely over­haul­ing the cur­ricu­lum, figur­ing out how to teach writ­ing in­stead of liter­ary crit­i­cism. It would re­quire throw­ing out a proven busi­ness model, lay­ing off the staff with mostly meta-level skills (judg­ing by the ros­ter that’s al­most all of them) and tak­ing the mas­sive rep­u­ta­tion hit of ad­mit­ting failure of that mag­ni­tude. It would have prob­a­bly gone bankrupt be­fore it man­aged to live up to its acronym.

I don’t have suffi­cient in­side in­for­ma­tion to say with any cer­tainty that this was a rea­son for the pivot, but if it is, you can hardly point fingers. They are no more wor­thy of blame for this than peo­ple liv­ing un­der the Siege of Len­ingrad were for eat­ing their pet cats.

*Per­haps they had too lit­tle slack to re­spond to data re­quests?

Fu­ture plans/​life goals

Liv­ing in grouphouses with your friends is fun, but not ev­ery­one wishes to do so in per­pe­tu­ity. There may come a time when you de­velop other, more tra­di­tional goals.

What if you want to want to get mar­ried, buy a house and raise a fam­ily?

As­sum­ing you are a straight male, you first have to find some­one you want to get mar­ried to. This isn’t an easy task at the best of times, and the tech in­dus­try’s effect on the gen­der ra­tio hardly helps mat­ters.

Even once you have found some­one, the only way to own a house in Berkeley is to in­herit one or sell your startup to Google.

I’m only half jok­ing. Ac­cord­ing a quick glance of Zillow most three bed houses are priced around one mil­lion dol­lars. In ad­di­tion to need­ing a $200k de­posit, you’d need a com­bined in­come of that just to qual­ify for the mort­gage.

Even at to­day’s his­tor­i­cally anoma­lous in­ter­est rates, you’d be shel­ling out around $48,000 af­ter tax ev­ery year just on the loan, with­out ac­count­ing for main­te­nance, in­surance or mu­ni­ci­pal taxes.

If like many ra­tio­nal­ists you want to home­school your chil­dren, one of you needs to be mak­ing around $200k per year just to live at a nor­mal mid­dle class stan­dard of liv­ing.

Even if you do plan to send your chil­dren into the Prus­sian in­sti­tu­tion, up un­til that age, un­less you can af­ford for one of you to stay at home, you are pay­ing around $22,800 yearly per child to put them in day­care.

Surely this in­san­ity will stop when plan­ning de­part­ments see rea­son and ap­prove more hous­ing? Sadly, no.

The hous­ing crisis is poli­ti­cally unsolvable

Con­trary to per­cep­tions, high paid tech work­ers make up quite a small per­centage of the pop­u­la­tion in the Bay Area.

How small? Surely it can’t be less than a third?

It’s around twelve per­cent.

The rest are some com­bi­na­tion of welfare re­cip­i­ents in rent-con­trol­led apart­ments and lo­cals who bought their houses way be­fore google be­came a verb in the dic­tio­nary. In ad­di­tion, there are peo­ple who bought in when houses were only $750k and have debt obli­ga­tions rest­ing on the premise that their tent made from two by fours and vinyl cladding is worth that sum.

Th­ese vot­ers have a hell of a lot to lose if the cur­rent red tape is re­pealed. No pe­ti­tion can change that fact.

The coal­i­tion of es­tab­lished in­ter­ests can out­vote and out­spend any effort put forth by hous­ing re­formists. So long as each home­owner stands to lose six figure sums from their net worth if they let the pe­ti­tions go through un­op­posed, there will be a per­ma­nent dead­lock on the sta­tus quo.

The ra­tio­nal­ists took on Berkeley, and Berkeley won.
Berkeley doesn’t work for us. We work for Berkeley.

The eco­nomic and cul­tural re­al­ities of Berkeley can­not be changed, those re­al­ities can only change you.

Cul­ture—Not tak­ing the Se­quences seriously

A sur­pris­ing amount of is­sues raised pre­vi­ously were warned about in the Se­quences.

Yud­kowsky had the wis­dom to doc­u­ment these pit­falls and at­tempt coun­ter­mea­sures, but go­ing back they read more like fore­bod­ing than prob­lems we man­aged to avert. As a col­lec­tive, it seems we went “Sure dad, I won’t take the cheese off the plat­form”, and the minute he looked away we were already flailing limbs around the room, try­ing to get the mouse­trap off our finger.

Numer­ous ex­am­ples come to mind, ex­am­ples of things even promi­nent com­mu­nity mem­bers didn’t seem to re­ally ab­sorb. Eliezer, some­one who is ded­i­cat­ing their life to AI safety, warned about the dan­ger of the AI meme suck­ing the life out of other causes in 2009. Way be­fore CFAR sidelined ap­plied ra­tio­nal­ity Way be­fore EA started to shift fo­cus to­wards Xrisk, be­fore the term “Effec­tive Altru­ism” was even pro­posed. If noth­ing else, just warn­ing this might hap­pen demon­strated a re­mark­able amount of fore­sight for 2009; like say­ing Bit­coin will some­day be worth thou­sands of dol­lars.

Lest you think he got lucky, or that I’m gen­er­al­is­ing from too few ex­am­ples, what about the warn­ing that com­mu­ni­ties of­ten die be­cause they won’t en­force stan­dards? Or that to ac­tu­ally ad­vance the craft of ra­tio­nal­ity you have to give a shit about some­thing be­sides in­tel­lec­tual mas­tur­ba­tion? Or that you can’t just stay in the com­fort of the meta level, and that to pro­duce real re­sults you need to cre­ate ob­ject level craft that is rele­vant in the near fu­ture? Or the time­less ob­ser­va­tion that those who can’t do, teach?

You prob­a­bly get the point.

The ac­cu­sa­tion in the ti­tle might be a lit­tle hard to be­lieve, given how promi­nently the Se­quences are dis­played on this web­site.

Surely LessWrong would be the place where peo­ple took them se­ri­ously?

Not re­ally. The Se­quences might be front and cen­ter, but most peo­ple read parts of them when they joined, and felt they had done their duty. I sup­pose it’s like ex­pect­ing Evan­gel­i­cal cul­ture to be dic­tated by the book put be­hind ev­ery church pew.

Ig­nor­ing literal in­ter­pre­ta­tions of dusty old texts in favour of the sub­cul­tural zeit­geist is the de­fault path of all groups. Per­haps it was a lit­tle naive to ex­pect us to be differ­ent...


Okay, we’ve cov­ered quite a lot of ground here. Many de­tours have been taken to provide enough con­text to an­swer “what went wrong?” that it’s hard to re­mem­ber where we’ve been.

Here is a sum­mary of the cen­tral con­cepts.

We lost the mis­sion be­cause:

  • De­mo­graphic fac­tors formed feed­back loops in mul­ti­ple ar­eas that re­duced our abil­ity to op­er­ate effec­tively.

  • We chose to cen­tral­ise in Berkeley which fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated de­mo­graphic feed­back loops and added toxic cul­tural el­e­ments of its own.

  • Those liv­ing in Berkeley were drained of abil­ity to ad­vance the craft or even up­hold ex­ist­ing stan­dards be­cause its in­sane cost of liv­ing meant it al­lo­cated al­most all of peo­ple’s time and brain­power to­ward their jobs.

  • We de­cided to ig­nore the time­less les­sons con­tained in the Se­quences that would guard against our pre-ex­ist­ing nega­tive ten­den­cies, and in­stead paid at­ten­tion to what­ever bits of in­sight porn were do­ing the rounds on a mo­ment-to-mo­ment ba­sis.

  • Th­ese fac­tors com­bined with each other much like the ex­am­ple from Elliot’s In sup­port of Yak Shav­ing:

It’s the kind of sce­nario when you try to work out why the handy­man fell off your roof and died, and you no­tice that:
1. he wasn’t wear­ing a helmet.
2. He wasn’t tied on safely.
3. His lad­der wasn’t tied down.
4. It was a windy day.
5. His har­ness was old and worn out.
6. He was on his phone while on the roof…
And you re­al­ise that any five of those things could have gone wrong and not caused much of a prob­lem. But you put all six of those mis­takes to­gether and line the wind up in just the right way, ev­ery­thing comes tum­bling down.

Ex­cept that we weren’t try­ing to do some­thing rou­tine, so we prob­a­bly didn’t need five out of six. Two or three would have been enough for us to fall.

What can we do about this?

To be hon­est, I don’t know what to tell the peo­ple of Berkeley.

You’re fight­ing an up­hill bat­tle in terms of de­mo­graph­ics. The over­lap be­tween the de­mo­graphic-re­lated prob­lems of the ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity and the area’s soft­ware in­dus­try is large. Vast quan­tities of re­sources have been thrown to­wards the goal of mak­ing pro­gram­ming more ac­cessible to differ­ent de­mo­graph­ics, with lit­tle in the way of progress.

In terms of en­vi­ron­ment, the eco­nomic and cul­tural re­al­ities pre­sent in Berkeley can­not be changed. You can­not vote to solve the hous­ing prob­lem. You can’t in­su­late your­self from epistemic threats. You are out­num­bered and out­gunned by es­tab­lished in­ter­ests who don’t have any sym­pa­thy for our cause. Liv­ing there also means that a large pro­por­tion of your en­ergy has to be spent stay­ing al­ive, leav­ing you with weak­ened abil­ity to ad­dress any is­sues you en­counter.

In terms of cul­ture; shall I tell you to go read the Se­quences again? Half of you didn’t even read them in the first place. I mean, maybe if ev­ery­one went away and did that then things might im­prove slightly, but the real value is in im­ple­ment­ing them. Aside from AI re­lated things, Eliezer failed to in­spire peo­ple to cre­ate the art the first time around. He sign­posted many po­ten­tial pit­falls. We still ended up fal­ling in most of them. You didnt listen to Yud­kowsky’s re­peated pleas to think of ra­tio­nal­ism as sys­tem­atized win­ning rather than talk­ing like Spock. You sure as hell aren’t go­ing to listen to mine.

If it’s any con­so­la­tion, Berkeley’s eco­nomic and so­cial prob­lems are pre­sent in most other ra­tio­nal­ist hubs too, just to a slightly lesser ex­tent. What’s true of Berkeley is mostly true of Seat­tle, Bos­ton and Lon­don.

Fur­ther­more, any at­tempt to ad­dress these prob­lems over the in­ter­net is fu­tile. If it was pos­si­ble to fix things with a few blog posts, some­one would have already man­aged it. It’s pretty much a run­ning joke at this point to say “I’ve out­lined some vague de­tails on how to solve the prob­lem, some­one should re­ally get around to solv­ing this”.

So I’m not go­ing to.

In­stead, I’ve been cre­at­ing an al­ter­na­tive solu­tion el­se­where. I’ve been cre­at­ing, not “I’m go­ing to cre­ate”. Too many pro­jects ride the early wave of pub­lic­ity and fall apart be­fore ever mak­ing it to shore*. Far too many ini­ti­a­tives are an­nounced, hop­ing that some­one out there will fi­nally take the ini­ti­a­tive.

I am per­son­ally tak­ing ini­ti­a­tive. I’ve been do­ing so for the en­tirety of 2017. This es­say was not writ­ten as a eu­logy, but a re­con­nais­sance mis­sion. Sun Tzu once said “Know your en­emy and know your­self, you will not be im­per­iled in a hun­dred bat­tles”. Even if you have no in­ter­est in as­sist­ing my efforts, hope­fully the in­for­ma­tion pre­sented will be some as­sis­tance to yours.

If you per­son­ally in­tend to fix things in Berkeley, maybe I could give you some gen­eral ad­vice. I could, but I don’t plan to. Aside from it adding two more cents to a pile big enough to put a kid through Har­vard, if you need me to tell you what to do, you’re not yet up to the task.

The rest of the es­say is mainly fo­cused on my pro­ject-spe­cific solu­tions. If you’re cu­ri­ous about join­ing me, or are work­ing on some­thing similar and wish to steal my ideas, read on.

*The ini­tial team has already moved to the al­ter­nate lo­ca­tion.

The Craft and the Com­mu­nity—Resurrection


To have the best chance of suc­cess, you need to put as many fac­tors on your side as pos­si­ble. If you are at­tempt­ing to climb a moun­tain, it would be un­wise to fill your back­pack with lead weights. Get­ting up there is hard enough. You don’t get any points for masochism.

To do bet­ter than Berkeley, we need to im­prove our De­mo­graph­ics. We need to be in a Lo­ca­tion that al­lows us sub­stan­tial slack with which to re­sist ex­ter­nal in­cen­tives, and doesn’t con­stantly work to un­der­mine our val­ues. We need to cre­ate a strong Cul­ture that up­holds ra­tio­nal­ist prin­ci­ples, that can stand strong in the face of en­tropic forces. A cul­ture where im­plicit val­ues don’t di­verge from stated prin­ci­ples, where the ide­ol­ogy and the move­ment march in lock­step. A cul­ture where in­cen­tive struc­tures are in­ten­tion­ally de­signed to pro­duce good out­comes, one that re­wards benefi­cial ac­tions and pun­ishes harm­ful ones. A com­mu­nity where you don’t have to choose be­tween do­ing the right thing and act­ing in your own self in­ter­est.

Th­ese are lofty as­pira­tions. I’m not naive enough to think we will ever reach the pot of gold at the end of the rain­bow.

The thing is, we don’t have to. Each step to­wards that ideal is an in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ment upon which fur­ther steps can be taken. Even if we never ar­rive at the sum­mit of Ever­est, Base Camp is still five thou­sand me­tres above the wa­ter­line.

As in the pre­vi­ous sec­tion, my strate­gies are out­lined un­der the same broad head­ings.

De­mo­graph­ics—Get­ting a broad range of talents

This pro­ject doesn’t have a HR de­part­ment. Do­ing tick­box di­ver­sity is not our goal.

Often un­der­rep­re­sented de­mo­graph­ics have good rea­sons to be ab­sent. Re­cruit­ing more vi­o­lent crim­i­nals to reach par­ity with the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion is not a worth­while en­deav­our.

The goal is to re­cruit not just un­der­rep­re­sented de­mo­graph­ics, but un­der­val­ued ones. The ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity over­looks many of the strengths and per­spec­tives not pre­sent in its core de­mo­graphic, which limits its po­ten­tial when it en­coun­ters an ob­sta­cle that re­quires tal­ents be­sides log­i­cal anal­y­sis or writ­ing code.

Re­lated to that, there is a strong fo­cus on nar­row­ing the gen­der gap. Balanc­ing the ra­tio will bring valuable strengths* and per­spec­tives as well as al­low­ing the full set of hu­man needs to be met within the com­mu­nity. In ad­dit­tion to al­low­ing more peo­ple to get their ro­man­tic needs fulfilled, it lessens the di­ver­sion of at­ten­tion and re­sources away from col­lec­tively shared goals. If po­ten­tial part­ners are scarce then in­di­vi­d­u­als will spend a large amount of re­sources com­pet­ing for them in what­ever way pos­si­ble. This scarcity mind­set ex­ac­er­bates sta­tus com­pe­ti­tions that cor­rupt ra­tio­nal­ist val­ues and weaken com­mu­nity co­he­sion. Even if you were one of the cho­sen few who are get­ting your ro­man­tic needs met, you woud still have to live in an en­vi­ron­ment where such com­pe­ti­tions take place.

So how would you go about do­ing this?

*No, re­ally. There’s a rea­son why women earn more than men in their 20’s. Women as a group are more con­scien­tious and have bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion skills, which are more valuable in large or­ga­ni­za­tions. Th­ese are also skills which our com­mu­nity se­ri­ously lack.

Fo­cus on in-per­son recruitment

As­sum­ing you pick a lo­ca­tion that has a wide va­ri­ety of non-tech em­ploy­ment sec­tors, it will have a more bal­anced de­mo­graphic to re­cruit from than Berkeley or the in­ter­net.

In ad­di­tion, in­tro­duc­ing some­one to the con­cepts of ra­tio­nal­ity is far eas­ier when you have an ex­ist­ing offline con­nec­tion. Plenty of peo­ple op­er­ate us­ing the heuris­tic that “If some­one on the in­ter­net claims to have a grand over­ar­ch­ing philos­o­phy that solves ev­ery­thing, they are a lu­natic”. Given the track record of these claims, this is a pretty rea­son­able one. You can have much bet­ter suc­cess propos­ing un­con­ven­tional ideas by be­ing face-to-face and ap­pear­ing com­pe­tent, sane and like­able. If they find you trust­wor­thy, peo­ple are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt, re­main­ing open minded long enough to un­der­stand ideas they would have oth­er­wise dis­missed.

Peo­ple you at­tract from the lo­cal area will also en­counter less fric­tion when join­ing your com­mu­nity—if they want to take part, they won’t need to buy a plane ticket. Peo­ple who haven’t just moved cities can of­ten re­fer other peo­ple from their ex­ist­ing so­cial net­work, in ad­di­tion to hav­ing high value con­tacts that would be oth­er­wise in­ac­cessible, given their typ­i­cally busy sched­ules.

The peo­ple who go to in-per­son mee­tups also have a higher pro­por­tion of traits un­der­rep­re­sented in the more in­ter­net-based de­mo­graphic. As a col­lec­tive, peo­ple who at­tend events are more ex­tro­verted, more en­thu­si­as­tic, less anx­ious, more ac­tion-fo­cused. They also have a more even gen­der bal­ance. Traits, as a com­mu­nity, we could do with more of.

You shouldn’t just re­strict your­self to the peo­ple who at­tend your mee­tups. There are other en­vi­ron­ments where you are likely to bump into peo­ple in­ter­ested in your com­mu­nity. Th­ese vary by lo­ca­tion, and are of­ten hard to find when you are ex­plic­itly look­ing for them. In­stead, be­ing cog­nizant as you go about your day-to-day ac­tivi­ties of places that con­tain a high pro­por­tion of peo­ple com­pat­i­ble with your val­ues.

Create bet­ter in­tro­duc­tory materials

Need­ing to read the Se­quences is a bot­tle­neck pre­vent­ing far too many peo­ple from be­ing part of our com­mu­nity*. Hav­ing to work your way through over two thou­sand pages of cog­ni­tively de­mand­ing text to eval­u­ate if ra­tio­nal­ity is worth­while or not is a pretty poor sales pitch, so it is un­sur­pris­ing that few peo­ple take up the offer. Ini­tially en­thu­si­as­tic peo­ple who would oth­er­wise be­come valuable com­mu­nity mem­bers fail to see any re­turns on their ini­tial efforts, so give up early. Any de­mo­graphic who reads to ac­quire in­for­ma­tion, rather than just for en­ter­tain­ment, strug­gles to get early re­turns from ra­tio­nal­ity.

If a Ra­tion­al­ity 101 can be cre­ated that’s un­der a hun­dred pages in length** - an in­tro­duc­tory guide that dis­tills only the most valuable con­cepts and can quickly demon­strate con­crete per­sonal benefits when­ever its con­cepts are ap­plied—the bot­tle­neck will be re­moved.

Ra­tion­al­ity re­ally is a com­mon in­ter­est of many causes. The failure is com­mu­ni­ca­tion, not a lack of prac­ti­cal benefit. The Se­quences are tai­lored to the de­mo­graphic that sees them­selves as log­i­cal and an­a­lyt­i­cal, en­joys sci­ence fic­tion, and is at the very least un­de­terred by red­dit style athe­ism. Writ­ing for a more gen­eral au­di­ence will help.

*I’m not con­tra­dict­ing what I said ear­lier. The Se­quences are valuable, and should be read by long­stand­ing mem­bers at least twice. I’m merely tak­ing is­sue with it be­ing an ini­tial, albeit poorly en­forced, re­quire­ment. A com­mu­nity fa­mil­iar with triv­ial in­con­ve­niences should have no prob­lem see­ing why I think this.

**This is not the same as try­ing to take the 2400 page AI to Zom­bies, that re­lies on ad­vanced con­cepts fa­mil­iar mostly to 3SD au­to­di­dacts, and try­ing to com­pact and sim­plify it into 10 ar­ti­cles. All pre­vi­ous at­tempts to do things like this have strug­gled mas­sively. A differ­ent ap­proach would be some­thing more like tak­ing all the visi­ble parts that ra­tio­nal­ists use on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, and teach­ing just those things. Per­haps a bare­bones cur­ricu­lum would be some­thing like:

  1. Why it’s im­por­tant to up­date on ev­i­dence and how to ac­tu­ally change your mind

  2. How to no­tice when you might be wrong

  3. Stated prefer­ences vs re­vealed prefer­ences/​sig­nal­ling/​al­most no­body is do­ing what they say they are do­ing in­clud­ing you

  4. How to de­scribe your in­ter­nal ex­pe­riences pro­duc­tively (sys1 vs sys2, pos­si­bly oth­ers)

  5. How to no­tice your own fake excuses

  6. Use­ful men­tal mod­els that have passed con­sen­sus (MBTI yes, Ke­gan lev­els no)

  7. Prac­ti­cal gen­eral ad­vice that has been vet­ted by the com­mu­nity for accuracy

Dis­cov­er­ing the rea­sons that cause peo­ple to leave

Most star­tups ob­ses­sively track cus­tomer re­ten­tion. They track quan­ti­ta­tive met­rics like new users, av­er­age rat­ing and click through rate. They also pay at­ten­tion to user feed­back. What made them use the app? What fea­tures would they like to see? Are there is­sues im­pact­ing the cus­tomer’s ex­pe­rience?

The benefits of this prac­tice don’t cease to ap­ply just be­cause you’re build­ing a com­mu­nity rather than a web app. The “cus­tomer ex­pe­rience” of a com­mu­nity is just as im­por­tant, it just has a differ­ent name and a differ­ent set of pri­ori­ties.

While there is no need to chase met­rics as ag­gres­sively as a startup, you need to know what things have an im­pact on your re­ten­tion rate. This ap­plies on both the micro and macro scale. If some­one leaves your pro­ject, you need to find out why. You also need to find out what causes peo­ple to leave the wider com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially those who be­long to un­der­rep­re­sented de­mo­graph­ics.

As such, here are some ex­am­ples I could find:

  • Group con­ver­sa­tions be­ing dom­i­nated by in­ac­cessible top­ics (e.g. math, pro­gram­ming) or top­ics that fas­ci­nate the archety­pal de­mo­graphic (e.g. cry­on­ics, AI, meal re­place­ment solu­tions).

  • At least one prob­lem per­son pre­sent at ev­ery so­cial event, ei­ther be­ing creepy, loudly talk­ing over ev­ery­one, ag­gres­sively hit­ting on women or just ex­tremely so­cially in­ept.

Both of the above points would re­quire a shift in the cul­ture to al­low some­one to con­front them. Un­til then, peo­ple who are fully on board with the con­cept of ra­tio­nal­ism, but are un­will­ing to tol­er­ate those is­sues, will con­tinue leav­ing.

Cham­pion ex­ist­ing mem­bers dis­play­ing the traits you want to see more of

To make new­com­ers from rare de­mo­graph­ics feel wel­come, of­ten all it takes is for them to see one per­son similar to them be­ing val­ued in spite of their differ­ences. It’s cer­tainly the case for me.

I’ve always felt like a bit of an out­sider in the ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity, de­spite be­ing here for sev­eral years. If I at­tend a sols­tice, I’ll most likely be the only per­son in the room with a dis­tinc­tive re­gional ac­cent. De­spite be­ing su­perfi­cially similar in ap­pear­ance to most at­ten­dees, it’s un­likely I’ll end up in con­ver­sa­tion with some­one who shares my in­tu­itions or back­ground.

I’ve always found writ­ing quite hard*. I strug­gle to write in the style that comes so nat­u­rally to many of you. I can­not think in lines of aca­demic dis­pas­sion, only trans­late af­ter the fact. This puts me at quite the dis­ad­van­tage in any sce­nario where com­mu­ni­ca­tion is im­plic­itly ex­pected to con­form to that stan­dard.

De­spite lik­ing ra­tio­nal­ism, I find the cul­tural de­faults of most ra­tio­nal­ists quite alien.

A side effect of that is that this pro­ject has be­come a bit of a bea­con for those types of peo­ple. Without re­veal­ing any spe­cific de­tails, the first 75% of the ini­tial movers un­know­ingly shared a trait with an es­ti­mated oc­cur­rence in the com­mu­nity of less than 2%. Spooky.

Like at­tracts like; I’ve at­tracted a dis­pro­por­tionate per­centage of peo­ple like me to this pro­ject by lead­ing it. It seems pos­si­ble that those effects could be repli­cated to some ex­tent by en­courag­ing peo­ple with other un­der­rep­re­sented traits to take on promi­nent roles in the pro­ject.**

*Believe it or not, it was my worst sub­ject in school. And not be­cause I was ab­solutely stel­lar at ev­ery­thing else, we’re talk­ing bad as in 35th per­centile of the pop­u­la­tion bad. Get­ting to where I am to­day re­quired a lot of prac­tice and pur­pose to mo­ti­vate my efforts.

**Care needs to be taken not to cre­ate roles purely for the sake of in­clu­sivity. We don’t want to end up the equiv­a­lent of a school na­tivity play with Mary, Joseph, baby Je­sus, three crocodiles, two os­triches and a danc­ing ba­nana.

Create a com­mu­nity those peo­ple would want to be a part of

It’s one thing to re­al­ise what those peo­ple offer us. It’s en­tirely an­other to ques­tion what we offer them.

If you scratch your head, or come up with an­swers like “com­mu­nity” or “in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions” you are lack­ing a good value propo­si­tion. If that’s all you have to offer, why would they choose to join your par­tic­u­lar com­mu­nity when there are hun­dreds of oth­ers offer­ing the same thing?

To save this es­say from get­ting even longer, I’m go­ing to fo­cus on two spe­cific de­mo­graphic groups: Fem­i­nine/​peo­ple ori­ented women and Already suc­cess­ful people

Fem­i­nine/​peo­ple ori­ented women

To es­tab­lish back­ground con­text, I’d sug­gest read­ing Gen­der Im­bal­ances Are Mostly Not Due To Offen­sive At­ti­tudes and then watch­ing (sorry, no tran­script available) this 2006 Google TechTalk On Girls, Boys, and IT Ca­reers made prior to the Over­ton win­dow shift.

It may oc­cur to you that for a com­mu­nity with such a large gen­der gap, we have a re­mark­able num­ber of peo­ple-ori­ented el­e­ments. It strikes me as plau­si­ble that in to­day’s at­om­ized world, there are sev­eral strate­gies that could be im­ple­mented to be­come a sig­nifi­cantly more com­pet­i­tive op­tion for this de­mo­graphic:

More em­pha­sis on norms that pro­mote community

  • Valu­ing things like loy­alty, fair­ness and care for oth­ers. Re­main­ing mind­ful of po­ten­tial con­flicts be­tween those val­ues and epistemic stan­dards. Plenty of benefi­cial trades are pos­si­ble when you start ask­ing ques­tions like “how can we use loy­alty in­stincts to in­crease epistemic stan­dards, rather than de­grade into trib­al­ism?”

  • Tol­er­at­ing el­e­ments of Benev­olent Pa­ter­nal­ism—this is not suited to ev­ery­one, but there are lot of peo­ple who live and work bet­ter in these kind of sym­biotic re­la­tion­ships. There is a fair bit of value in hav­ing promi­nent figures who take re­spon­si­bil­ity, make difficult judge­ments and are trust­wor­thy enough that you feel they have your best in­ter­ests at heart. In ad­di­tion to be­ing able to solve co­or­di­na­tion prob­lems and stay mind­ful of the big­ger pic­ture, peo­ple who have the per­son­al­ity traits that al­low them to deal with prob­lem peo­ple swiftly but fairly. Peo­ple who won’t buckle un­der so­cial pres­sure to do what’s con­ve­nient in the short term. Not ev­ery­one can do this, it is un­rea­son­able to ex­pect that ev­ery­one will take re­spon­si­bil­ity and re­main stead­fast in high pres­sure situ­a­tions. Pa­ter­nal­ism has its failure modes, and when done wrong it is hard to dis­t­in­guish from plain ol’ au­thor­i­tar­i­anism, but if checks and bal­ances can be im­ple­mented we should be able to im­prove on the demo­cratic con­sen­sus model.

Not un­der­valu­ing fe­male coded val­ues, in­ter­ests and skillsets

  • In ad­di­tion to com­mu­nity val­ues, hav­ing a greater fo­cus on the skills of em­pa­thy and gen­eral peo­ple aware­ness. For ex­am­ple, be­ing able to no­tice when a con­ver­sa­tion is pri­ori­tiz­ing the in­ter­ests of some peo­ple over oth­ers. You could do a top-down ver­sion of this by in­sti­tut­ing rules on when top­ics like pro­gram­ming and AI talk can be dis­cussed, but this will have side-effects and won’t nec­es­sar­ily acheive the goal of mak­ing sure that con­ver­sa­tions fulfill the prefer­ences of all par­ti­ci­pants. So­livng this rather than just kludg­ing it will be hard, given the wide­spread ap­a­thy to­wards non thing-ori­ented top­ics. A prag­matic and well im­ple­mented solu­tion to this will prob­a­bly in­volve some de­gree of as­sor­ta­tive so­cial group­ings.

  • (Cont.) The set of top­ics pro­hibited in main­stream con­tem­po­rary so­ciety are valuable to dis­cuss, but peo­ple launch­ing into tirades at any op­por­tu­nity the con­ver­sa­tion strays in that di­rec­tion be­cause they can’t stand the thought po­lice is far from an ideal state.

  • As a more gen­eral point on val­ues and skil­lsets, crit­i­cally eval­u­at­ing whether a thing isn’t val­ued be­cause it lacks util­ity or sim­ply be­cause it’s coded fe­male. I un­der­stand this is harder than it ap­pears be­cause in or­der to not fall into the trap of sym­bolic ap­pre­ci­a­tion you have to ac­tu­ally know why you as an in­di­vi­d­ual would want to value it higher for non-poli­ti­cal rea­sons. This is an un­der­ly­ing point that seems to un­der­pin much of pro­ject Hufflepuff; skills like morale build­ing have value, es­pe­cially when we are deal­ing with such a short­age. (For a per­sonal ex­am­ple of this, see the point ear­lier about women in their 20’s out-earn­ing men for a rea­son)

  • A greater value placed on Team­work. Do­ing this will re­quire the cur­rent feed­back loop that bot­toms out at “lone heroes do all the work but are fairly com­pen­sated with all the credit” to be in­ter­rupted in some way. Ex­actly how to break the cy­cle when most at­tempts to give credit to oth­ers looks like mod­esty sig­nal­ling is not some­thing I have an an­swer for yet.

Bet­ter on­board­ing and re­cruit­ment—Com­mu­ni­cat­ing our benefits

  • Re­duc­ing inessen­tial weird­ness visi­ble to new mem­bers—hard de­ci­sions will need to be made here. An aware­ness of the main causes of fric­tion is the first step. Some­where along the line, there will be peo­ple who can’t stop be­havi­ours that are caus­ing fric­tion, and com­pet­ing ac­cess need trade­offs will have to be made. The least painful solu­tion in the long term is to ad­mit up­front that the prob­a­ble solu­tion will look some­thing like what’s im­ple­mented in the busi­ness world, where en­g­ineer­ing and sales are sep­a­rate de­part­ments.

  • Devel­op­ing a mar­ket­ing mes­sage that ap­peals to more peo­ple-ori­ented in­di­vi­d­u­als. Em­pha­sis­ing things like how they can use ra­tio­nal­ism to help oth­ers; how the in­for­ma­tion we pro­duce is de­vel­oped with­out a goal of mak­ing money, so it is free of ul­te­rior mo­tives. One of the dis­likes men­tioned in the TechTalk by the “femme” group was how the IT in­dus­try work­place seg­re­gates home and work life, so the way ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­ni­ties live in quite a “holis­tic” way where work, friends and re­la­tion­ships sub­stan­tially over­lap is a strong sel­l­ing point when mar­ket­ing to­wards peo­ple-ori­ented women.

  • Another point from that talk was that women of­ten got into an IT ca­reer be­cause some­one asked them a favour, and when they could see the re­sults of their work they felt val­ued. This can be gen­er­al­ised into mak­ing sure non-typ­i­cal mem­bers are given op­por­tu­ni­ties and will be val­ued for their con­tri­bu­tions.

If you’ll for­give me for the crude­ness, there is a dan­ger this goal gets sim­plified to “say what­ever things will get our dicks wet”.

This is the wrong mind­set, it’s prob­a­bly not even the right one if that’s your ter­mi­nal goal. If you want good out­comes in the long run, you need to fo­cus on pro­vid­ing long term value, not gen­er­at­ing short term in­ter­est by what­ever means pos­si­ble. If women who are in­com­pat­i­ble with our val­ues find their way into our com­mu­nity, they should be swiftly ejected, with­out re­gard for its effects on the yearly cen­sus data.

We don’t benefit from sym­bolic di­ver­sity, so it makes lit­tle sense to en­courage it.

Already suc­cess­ful people

Suc­cess­ful peo­ple are al­most always busy with some­thing, and as such they place a high value on their time. They don’t suffer fools gladly, and have many com­pet­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties not available to you or I. To get a feel for the dy­nam­ics at play here, read the se­quence post Com­pe­tent Elites as­sum­ing you haven’t already done so.

At­tract­ing these peo­ple isn’t an easy task at the best of times, given ev­ery­one else is also com­pet­ing for their at­ten­tion. How­ever, I have a few spec­u­la­tive guesses on how you can tip the scales in your favour:

  • Quickly be­ing able to demon­strate a clear value propo­si­tion—If you want their time, you need to demon­strate you aren’t go­ing to waste it.

  • Not re­sent­ing the dis­par­ity be­tween what you or the com­mu­nity has and what they have. Sure, you might like to switch places, but they will likely walk if they de­tect jeal­ous un­der­cur­rents. If your com­mu­nity is in a re­gional eu­ro­pean city, this is a strong point in your favour. Re­gional hubs that haven’t fully ab­sorbed ne­oliberal cos­mopoli­tanism can still be prone to tall poppy syn­drome.

  • Recog­nis­ing not be­ing jeal­ous isn’t the same as not treat­ing them differ­ent. In­ter­act­ing with peo­ple at a higher stra­tum af­fects the in­cen­tive struc­ture. At­tempt­ing to deny this fact is pointless. They know it, you know it, they know you know it. In­stead, you should ac­knowl­edge it and lev­er­age this com­mon knowl­edge to miti­gate the nega­tive effects it may have on their com­mu­nity ex­pe­rience.

  • (Cont.) this op­er­a­tional­ises into things like not pes­ter­ing them with re­quests for ven­ture fund­ing or em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for you and your cronies, and only mak­ing re­quests that will have mu­tual benefit. Re­mem­ber­ing that they likely have an army of bootlick­ers and yes-men, so you offer no value to them by agree­ing with ev­ery­thing they say. Know­ing that very few peo­ple are im­mune to anti-in­duc­tive flat­tery, and if you can pull it off, they could grow to ap­pre­ci­ate you a fair bit.

  • Creat­ing a com­mu­nity that is more than just the so­cial group of last re­sort for the in­tel­li­gent un­der­achiev­ers, de­pres­sives and so­cially clue­less.

That last point is im­por­tant, es­pe­cially for us. Build­ing a com­mu­nity that sup­ports suc­cess in any area re­quires it to be more than a com­mu­nity for philos­o­phy nerds. If we want to pre­serve the cul­tural ca­pa­bil­ity and value of achieve­ment, we need to pre­vent brain drain effects by build­ing a com­mu­nity where mem­bers who be­come suc­cess­ful don’t want to leave. An en­vi­ron­ment where peo­ple can grow with­out wor­ry­ing they they’ll grow out of us. Some­where so satis­fy­ing that newly available op­por­tu­ni­ties still can’t com­pete with the place you’ve come to call home.

En­vi­ron­ment—Manch­ester works for us, we don’t work for Manchester

If you have any kind of bo­hemian streak, the knee-jerk re­sponse to the in­ad­e­qua­cies of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion is to run as far away from it as you pos­si­bly can.

Un­for­tu­nately, there isn’t re­ally any­where for you to run to. You can’t re­turn to the jun­gle. Even if you find an area un­claimed by civ­i­liza­tion, your pasty-ass com­plex­ion* will need more than a loin­cloth to sur­vive the equa­to­rial sun.

Nor are you bet­ter off go­ing back to the land. Ask any­one who has tried to grow their own food; self-suffi­ciency is far more difficult than it ap­pears. Peo­ple who are ac­cus­tomed to the effi­ciency of mod­ern sup­ply chains greatly un­der­es­ti­mate how much time and money is needed to sur­vive with­out the gro­cery store.

The only way around civ­i­liza­tion is through it.

The path around the cir­cum­fer­ence is lit­tered with nu­mer­ous skulls, in­ten­tional com­mu­ni­ties that tried to deny eco­nomic re­al­ities ended up much the same as gov­ern­ments who dealt with their bud­get short­falls by print­ing an­other zero on the cur­rency.

Given this state of af­fairs, how do you make the most of the situ­a­tion?

By recog­nis­ing that you don’t need to live in teepees to be as con­tent as the Co­manche In­di­ans. Just like you don’t need to be­lieve in Je­sus to help the poor, you of­ten don’t need the su­perflu­ous trap­pings as­so­ci­ated with an out­come in or­der to achieve it.

In a more ac­tion­able sense, you figure out the con­straints and time hori­zons you are work­ing with, and you find the en­vi­ron­ment most likely to offer your com­mu­nity the best out­comes for its goals.

For us, the con­straints are mostly fi­nan­cial, the time hori­zon is decades, and the goals can be ap­prox­i­mated by the phrase “hu­man flour­ish­ing”.

*Sorry Ali­son, ac­knowl­edg­ing your ex­tra melanin would in­terfere with the nar­ra­tive flow.

Why Manch­ester?

Prior to set­tling here, I wrote a fif­teen page google doc­u­ment lay­ing out my re­search quite roughly but in sub­stan­tial de­tail. I have no in­ten­tions of rewrit­ing that any­time soon, but I will elab­o­rate on the se­lec­tion crite­ria men­tioned in the pre­vi­ous sec­tion.

To deal with our fi­nan­cial con­straints i.e. that most of us need to work in or­der to sur­vive, we pri­ori­tized places that had:

A low cost of living

Ad­vanc­ing the craft of ra­tio­nal­ity re­quires slack, so pick­ing a lo­ca­tion where liv­ing costs are rel­a­tively low gives us more free­dom to pur­sue things that won’t earn money or will not do so in the near fu­ture.

An un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated por­tion of the bud­get for Amer­i­cans is the cost of rea­son­able qual­ity health­care. Even the cheap­est lo­ca­tions in the US have monthly in­surance pre­miums that are al­most as much as rent, even af­ter sub­sidies. Health­care in the UK is free for EU cit­i­zens. Non-EU cit­i­zens pay ~£60/​month for in­surance on >6 month stays, £200/​year on tem­po­rary work visas and zero if they reside in the UK per­ma­nently.

Some­thing else that de­serves con­sid­er­a­tion is the tax rate at var­i­ous lev­els of in­come. We want to be vi­able for peo­ple at both ends of the in­come spec­trum, which means pri­ori­tiz­ing places with lit­tle tax­a­tion of low in­comes and rea­son­able rates across the board. In the UK peo­ple earn­ing less than £1000 ($1300) gross in­come are pay­ing less than 5% tax and peo­ple earn­ing $100k (£76k) a year only pay 32% over­all.

I am yet to com­plete a pre­cise break­down of liv­ing costs be­tween Manch­ester and other lo­ca­tions like Lon­don or Berkeley, but as a rough figure, my to­tal ex­penses, that in­clude ev­ery bit of non-busi­ness spend­ing, come in at slightly un­der £500/​month ($660) when amora­tized.

De­cent hourly wages, and good job op­por­tu­ni­ties in our cho­sen fields

If not ev­ery­one is work­ing re­motely, you need to take wages into ac­count when com­par­ing pur­chas­ing power. It doesn’t mat­ter if liv­ing costs are $200 a month if the lo­cal jobs only pay $1 an hour. You also need to pick a coun­try where mem­bers will be legally per­mit­ted to work. Th­ese con­sid­er­a­tions ruled out most lo­ca­tions out­side Europe for us.

Given the type of jobs our ex­ist­ing mem­bers do, we have to be in a place where there are good lo­cal op­por­tu­ni­ties to do them. This ne­ces­si­tated be­ing in a large ur­ban area.

On a timeline of decades, other fac­tors come into play:

Sta­bil­ity of in­sti­tu­tions and rule of law—You can’t ac­cu­rately pre­dict the fu­ture, but you can fa­mil­iarize your­self with base rates. The last rev­olu­tion in the UK was in 1688. The last time Oxford uni­ver­sity had to sus­pend teach­ing was dur­ing the St Scholas­tica Day riot in 1355. Order and sta­bil­ity are heav­ily em­bed­ded val­ues in the Bri­tish cul­ture.

Visa un­cer­tainty over Brexit—Most of the key mem­bers hold UK pass­ports. The risk that would have been gen­er­ated had we based the pro­ject some­where on the con­ti­nent would have out­weighed any marginal gains from do­ing so.

Hous­ing sup­ply—even af­ter a decade of reur­ban­iza­tion, there is still enough hous­ing stock available in Manch­ester, fur­ther­more, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment is green­light­ing a sub­stan­tial amount of de­vel­op­ment and has plans to con­tinue do­ing so. House prices are be­low the UK av­er­age and are ex­pected to stay that way. This is not the case for Ber­lin where low prices are caused by a glut of Soviet-built apart­ment blocks that are rapidly be­ing oc­cu­pied.

Fu­ture eco­nomic pros­per­ity—be­ing in a place where cur­rently good cir­cum­stances aren’t a tem­po­rary al­ign­ment of the stars is needed if you want peo­ple to risk putting down roots. They need to know they are putting them in good soil. That what we are build­ing isn’t doomed from the start by loom­ing eco­nomic trends.

For the goal of hu­man flourishing

Back­ground Demographics

Pri­or­ity was placed on lo­ca­tions with a di­verse range of in­dus­tries, as they bring tal­ented peo­ple with a wide range of in­ter­ests and skil­lsets to an area. This also keeps a good gen­der bal­ance. There was also a strong prefer­ence for an en­glish speak­ing ma­jor­ity. Aside from be­ing able to get me­nial jobs to pay the bills, ra­tio­nal­ity is hard enough for peo­ple to un­der­stand as it is, you don’t need to add a lan­guage bar­rier on top of that.

Back­ground culture

Not too at­om­ized—Atomiza­tion is closely linked with turnover. This gen­er­ally ruled out cap­i­tal cities as they usu­ally have a large pro­por­tion of peo­ple who moved there to pur­sue ca­reer goals. Hu­man flour­ish­ing re­quires com­mu­nity, so it is un­wise to try to cre­ate a com­mu­nity where norms that pro­mote it are cul­turally dis­cour­aged.

A good pub­lic trans­port system

For a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, car de­pen­dence is one of the fac­tors that drive at­om­iza­tion and con­tribute to an in­creased rate of so­cial turnover. Be­ing cheaper than driv­ing also helps.

A place with aes­thetic beauty

Some­where with a long ar­chi­tec­tural tra­di­tion and nu­mer­ous old build­ings in­creases its ap­peal to the cre­ative class, helping to tip the scales in our favour. It’s one of the things Paul Gra­ham recom­mends for try­ing to com­pete with sili­con valley.

Cul­ture—More pro­duc­tivity, less philosophy

If you want to beat the con­trol group, you need to cre­ate a cul­ture op­ti­mized for it. You can’t cre­ate hu­man flour­ish­ing from the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor pre­sent in our back­ground de­mo­graph­ics.

What does that even mean? How does some­one go about cre­at­ing a cul­ture?

Just like in­ten­tional com­mu­ni­ties aren’t ones that formed by ac­ci­dent in some ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion, an in­ten­tional cul­ture is similar.

The pur­pose of an in­ten­tional cul­ture is to stop val­ues be­ing dic­tated by hap­pen­stance.

At this point, the more so­cially adept read­ers are prob­a­bly about ten sec­onds from post­ing this xkcd in the com­ment box.

They’re right, to a de­gree. You can’t just de­clare by fiat that from now on we are go­ing to spend less time read­ing in­sight porn and more time do­ing use­ful work. Well, in a literal sense you can, but what will hap­pen is most peo­ple will agree “Yes! This is a ob­vi­ously use­ful rule that will make ev­ery­one bet­ter off” and then be­have ex­actly as they did be­fore.

This pre­sents a di­chotomy. On the one hand we have “ev­ery­one is doomed be­cause peo­ple are slaves to their baser in­stincts” and on the other “if you post a man­i­festo on the in­ter­net then groups in ver­bal agree­ment will spon­ta­neously re­or­ganise to fol­low not only the let­ter but the spirit of the rules”. As with al­most ev­ery­thing in life, the truth lies some­where in the mid­dle.

As the xkcd points out, peo­ple are com­pli­cated. If you want to go about cre­at­ing an in­ten­tional cul­ture that ac­tu­ally fulfills its in­ten­tions, you need to have a de­cent grasp on how peo­ple and groups ac­tu­ally work. To pull some­thing like this off, you need to be at least partly what I’d call a Rib­bon­farm So­ciopath.

This choice to la­bel it so­ciopa­thy isn’t en­tirely mine, or Rao’s for that mat­ter. This is the se­man­tic ham­mer most peo­ple reach for when they get a glimpse of the man be­hind the cur­tain.

The re­al­ity is that civ­i­liza­tion, as it ex­ists to­day, re­lies heav­ily on the man be­hind the cur­tain in or­der to func­tion.

I make no moral judge­ment on this, nor should you. It is a merely a de­scrip­tion of cur­rent so­cietal in­cen­tive struc­tures.

I’m pretty sure that run­ning civ­i­liza­tion en­tirely on closed-source soft­ware is not the op­ti­mal end state, but right now, all effec­tive lead­ers are still forced to rely on parts of it. The 2017 ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity in this re­gard is a lot like the state of open-source in the early 90s. There were promis­ing moves in the right di­rec­tion, but if you wanted to run an or­ga­ni­za­tion in that era, you still had to rely on tools made by Microsoft.

In a sense, the Se­quences was for knowl­edge what the GNU pro­ject was for soft­ware.

It felt ap­pro­pri­ate to name my pro­ject Ker­nel.

But that doesn’t make me Linus Tor­valds, nor should it. An op­er­at­ing sys­tem that works on hu­mans differs greatly than one de­signed for hard­ware.

I’m sure if you kid­napped 1993 Linus and tried to make him tell you how he was go­ing to take open source from where it was then to where it was in 2003, he wouldn’t be able to tell you. Even if you some­how got him to write 5000 pages of in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice, you wouldn’t be able to fol­low the same tra­jec­tory. At best, he could give you some poin­t­ers in the right di­rec­tion.

As such, here are some com­po­nents. Some as­sem­bly re­quired:

A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy

In­sights about rules, meta-rules and de­sign­ing mon­key-re­sis­tant so­cial struc­tures.

Cul­ture is the be­havi­our you re­ward and punish

If you want a set of ideals to be fol­lowed, you need to cre­ate an in­cen­tive sys­tem that sup­ports those ideals. You also need to be es­pe­cially care­ful to re­ward the thing, only the thing and not the sym­bolic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the thing. If you do the lat­ter, you will only ever get the sym­bolic ver­sion due to its lower cost of pro­duc­tion.

80% of Your Cul­ture is Your Founder

Sub­cul­tures are, by ap­prox­i­ma­tion, per­son­al­ity cults of their most promi­nent mem­ber.

A quick, la­bel-heavy de­scrip­tion of yours truly:

  • AnCap in the sheets, Pru­dent Prag­ma­tist in the streets

  • Leads by ex­am­ple, judges peo­ple on ~60% out­comes/​30% mo­tives/​10% style

  • Guthix al­ign­ment, If a group leans too much in one di­rec­tion I do the op­po­site to re­store or­der to the uni­verse

  • Gryffin­dor pri­mary, begged not to be put in Slytherin

  • Wouldn’t have been too out of place in the Pay­pal Mafia, I’ll say no more

  • ENTP-ish

  • Queer­ing the peo­ple/​thing bi­nary

  • Un­pre­ten­tious enough to make the bour­geoisie un­com­fortable

  • Gen­er­al­ist skil­lset, Tsuyoku Nar­i­tai mo­tives

It doesn’t fit into the bul­let point struc­ture, but I feel it is also worth say­ing that this pro­ject isn’t some dis­card­able step­ping stone to big­ger and bet­ter things, I’m fully in­tend to watch my grand­kids grow up here.

Well-Kept Gar­dens Die By Paci­fism/Geeks, MOPs, and so­ciopaths

You need to have a strat­egy in place for deal­ing with MOPs be­fore you are over­run.

Our cur­rent plan is to for­mal­ise vary­ing tiers of com­mit­ment, and de­sign it so peo­ple can get out what they are will­ing to put in. There is the con­cern that peo­ple will think this is elitist or un­demo­cratic. It is, and they will have to make peace with that fact un­less they provide a vi­able al­ter­na­tive.

Homesteading the Noosphere

With very few no­table ex­cep­tions, if you want to get any­thing done in the world more com­plex than dis­rupt­ing Shia LaBeouf’s Trump protest, you need some form of cen­tral­ised lead­er­ship. Without it you will get stuck on co­or­di­na­tion prob­lems and are un­able to benefit from hard to vo­cal­ise in­tu­itions, long term vi­sion or any ac­tion which re­quires in­for­ma­tion in the cat­e­gory of things you can­not say.

Maybe Han­son’s Futarchy will some­day be de­vel­oped enough to make BDFLs ob­so­lete.

Un­til then, this is ba­si­cally a Ch­ester­ton’s fence that any ra­tio­nal­ist pro­ject leader with en­light­en­ment ideals sees, tries to think of why it might be a bad idea to tear it down, finds some rea­son­able ob­jec­tions to do so but finds them un­con­vinc­ing, tears it down, then a few months later or­ches­trates a restora­tion and pe­ti­tions the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to reg­ister this par­tic­u­lar Ch­ester­ton’s fence as a na­tional his­toric land­mark.

The Se­quences were an ex­cel­lent piece of writ­ing, and I found it quite use­ful to reread them again to as­sist with my efforts, but it’s worth say­ing that the Se­quences are not enough. They de­scribe the qual­ities of a bas­ket­ball player in in­tri­cate de­tail, but you ac­tu­ally have to go out and prac­tice, op­er­a­tional­ize the ad­vice to the neu­ro­mus­cu­lar level, in or­der to win any games.

I tried fruitlessly to work some of Ben Hoff­man’s es­says into mem­o­rable anec­dotes, but his writ­ing is par­tic­u­larly hard to take small quotes from with­out los­ing con­text, so all I can do is recom­mend you read the full ar­ti­cles. Some par­tic­u­larly rele­vant ones are The Quaker and the Parsel­mouth, Sab­bath hard and go home and Why I am not a Quaker.

Rec­og­nize you don’t always have the con­ve­nience of op­er­at­ing in abundance

It would be great if I could af­ford an ed­i­tor*, and get some­one with more ver­bal tal­ents to ex­plain the ideas and write them up. It would be great if I could give this an­other month, work in a few im­por­tant af­terthoughts, and provide enough clar­ifi­ca­tion to an­ti­ci­pate all pedantry. It would be great if I could test this on fo­cus groups, and re­move any stick­ing points that cause peo­ple to dis­miss my ideas out of hand be­fore bar­ing my soul to the world.

I don’t have those things. I can only hope that my pas­sion some­what makes up for my lack of pol­ish.

This gen­er­al­ises. Some­times in the course of achiev­ing a goal you have to take ac­tions you’d rather not take. You of­ten have to op­er­ate with too lit­tle time, money and man­power. You can’t af­ford to spend a month weigh­ing up the pros and cons of a de­ci­sion due in the com­ing week.

*it seems this point was par­tic­u­larly in­spiring/​guilt-in­duc­ing and a swarm of friends stepped in to help, al­though past­ing into the beta ed­i­tor pro­duced a whole load of ex­tra er­rors, which have now been fixed, mostly. Par­tic­u­lar credit is due to Greg C, Cor­win D, Alex D and John W for this, thanks guys.


This is the longest es­say I’ve ever writ­ten.

No mat­ter where Ra­tion­al­ism de­cides to call home, it will be up against vast so­cial and eco­nomic forces try­ing to push it back into equil­ibrium. Any in­di­vi­d­ual or group which dares to stand up to Moloch will be en­gaged in a con­stant strug­gle for sur­vival. They need all the help they can get.

If I were to in­clude re­search, pro­duc­ing this ~20,000 word es­say has taken over a thou­sand hours of my time. I didn’t write this sim­ply to provide con­ver­sa­tion fod­der for a Berkeleyan so­cial gath­er­ing.

I wrote this in an at­tempt to find kin­dred spirits. Peo­ple who, de­spite the pre­vailing so­cial in­cen­tives, re­fuse to stop be­liev­ing in the mis­sion.

If you want to work with me to­ward this goal, please send me a mes­sage. You can do so through a pri­vate mes­sage here, on Face­book or by leav­ing a com­ment be­low stat­ing your in­ten­tions. All ques­tions are wel­come, and I will re­spond to as many as I can.

If you skimmed the part where I in­tro­duced the pro­ject, its name is Ker­nel. It has a Face­book group you can join, an up­com­ing meetup in Manch­ester you can at­tend (Re­cur­ring the first Mon­day of each month, same time, same place) and ex­tra group house ca­pac­ity be­com­ing available some­time in 2018.