The Relationship Between the Village and the Mission

Epistemic Sta­tus: Brain­dump, not as well thought out as I’d like.

Pre­vi­ously:

This is a post about dy­nam­ics in the Berkeley ra­tio­nal­ity com­mu­nity, al­though it may be rele­vant to broader do­mains.

It is highly opinionated about what I think is im­por­tant.

I tried to op­ti­mize this for a clear-cut goal, then re­al­ized the clear-cut goal was “I want to make it eas­ier for peo­ple to co­op­er­ate with me on com­mu­nity-build­ing, and I just want to do a mas­sive brain­dump to get them up to speed on where I’m com­ing from, so that when I have a con­ver­sa­tion about it we can skip to the harder parts.”

If you are se­ri­ous about ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity-build­ing, read this, and then come talk to me af­ter­wards.


When I vis­ited the Bay in 2015, a friend (who used to live in NYC) re­marked “you know, when I was in New York, I felt like once a week I went to ‘ra­tio­nal­ity club’. In Berkeley it feels more like I live in a small ra­tio­nal­ity village — there’s a cou­ple hun­dred peo­ple, I’m friends with some of them. We bump into each other in the street on the way to the gro­cery store.”

Even­tu­ally I moved here, and yup. That is how it is. Sorta. With im­por­tant caveats and prob­lems.

There are lots of lit­tle sub­cul­tures in the Ra­tion­al­ist Bay, some over­lap­ping. But I think there are two pri­mary rea­sons peo­ple come:

  • to have a Village – a home, among like-minded people

  • to con­tribute to the Mis­sion – en­sur­ing the flour­ish­ing of hu­man val­ues (or some­thing like them)

In the past 10 years, the Mis­sion has ac­quired se­ri­ous in­fras­truc­ture. There’s been much less in­ten­tional effort to build a home. Mostly for good rea­son – the Mis­sion is im­por­tant, and hard. Com­pe­tent Peo­ple are Rare and the World is Big. Build­ing a village is also hard, and if you’re able to do so, you’re prob­a­bly also able to work on big­ger pic­ture Mis­sion stuff.

The Mis­sion pro­vides ju­u­u­ust enough value as a “home” to satis­fice the peo­ple in­volved (which might not ac­tu­ally be suffi­cient for them, just de­cent enough that it’s not their pri­mary bot­tle­neck).

In the past cou­ple years, we’ve be­gun to see more se­ri­ous efforts to­wards build­ing Village in­fras­truc­ture. But I think these efforts are of­ten miss­ing im­por­tant as­pects of the big pic­ture.

This post is a high-level overview of how I think about all this. It’s quite long, and doesn’t con­dense neatly down into five words.

Summary

The Mis­sion and the Village need differ­ent things.

The Mis­sion ul­ti­mately needs to be out­ward fac­ing. It’s about putting a dent in the uni­verse.

The Village needs to pri­ori­tize peo­ple’s own needs.

I think these re­quire differ­ent mind­sets. and are eas­ier op­ti­mize sep­a­rately.

It’s im­por­tant that the Village ex­ist, on its own terms.

It so hap­pens that the Mis­sion needs to provide its mem­bers a home. One might build an ex­plic­itly Mis­sion-cen­tered-village. I think this is ac­tu­ally a good idea.

But I think it’s still valuable to have an ac­tual Village, that doesn’t need to jus­tify ev­ery­thing in terms of The Big Pic­ture, uni­ver­sal flour­ish­ing, deeply un­der­stand­ing the world, or x-risk. If this is the only lens through which you build a home, your home will be im­pov­er­ished.

It is im­por­tant to have peo­ple and spaces that are op­ti­miz­ing for the village for its own sake, not as a sub­tle re­cruit­ment-for-the-mis­sion strat­egy.

This is less im­por­tant than the Mis­sion (ac­cord­ing to me). But still in­cred­ibly im­por­tant. One cru­cial point of the Mis­sion is that peo­ple have ac­cess to good villages. Atomic in­di­vi­d­u­al­ism has crip­pled our ca­pac­ity for good villages. It is rare and pre­cious that we ac­tu­ally have a shot at build­ing one.

But. The rea­son this Village is spe­cial is that it is en­tan­gled with the Mis­sion, in a sym­biotic way.

If you are work­ing on the Village, you ac­tu­ally need to un­der­stand the Mis­sion. For two rea­sons:

  • On the Village’s own terms, it de­pends heav­ily on the Mis­sion’s en­ergy, drive, mythol­ogy, and cul­ture. Re­move that, and I don’t think the Village ac­tu­ally works.

  • Mean­while, sep­a­rately, the Village needs re­sources. It will have ac­cess to much more re­sources if it is Mis­sion al­igned. And I think there is room to be Mis­sion-al­igned while suc­ceed­ing on the Village’s terms

The Village is not the Mis­sion, and is not out­ward fac­ing. But the Village should help you pre­pare for the Mis­sion, if you want.

The Village still needs fences and stan­dards.

There are lots of ways you can build a village, that don’t de­pend on any par­tic­u­lar mis­sion. But, no mat­ter how you or­ga­nize your village, it is go­ing to need some kind of stan­dard, some kind of costly sig­nal­ing that works as a co­or­di­na­tion mechanism.

Peo­ple who end up drawn to the Village in­stead of the Mis­sion tend to have an egal­i­tar­ian in­stinct, and a de­sire to wel­come ev­ery­one. I don’t think this works. The Village needs to be more re­laxed than the Mis­sion. But it can­not take care of ev­ery­body, and will over­whelm it­self if it tries.

The Ra­tion­al­ity Com­mu­nity, and the Village and Mis­sion that I’m most ex­cited by, are the ones at the cen­ter of this Venn Di­a­gram:

I think truth, im­pact and be­ing hu­man can in­ter­sect in a way that is ex­cit­ing, fulfilling, and im­por­tant. I’m not sure I can jus­tify this claim. But I know that the cen­ter-of-that-di­a­gram is the com­mu­nity I’m most ex­cited to build to­wards, and most ex­cited to col­lab­o­rate with peo­ple on.

If you’re se­ri­ous, come talk to me.

If you are ex­cited by this and want to put in se­ri­ous effort into build­ing a Village (ei­ther on the Village’s terms, or the Mis­sion’s), I’ll make a good-faith effort to talk to you for at least an hour.

The rest of this post is my back­ground mod­els of how all of this fits to­gether. My ac­tual mod­els are dense and nu­anced and situ­a­tion-spe­cific. I think it’s im­por­tant that peo­ple work on this, but there are a lot of ways to go sub­tly wrong.

If you’re in­ter­ested in helping se­ri­ously, af­ter read­ing this post and iron­ing out any ba­sic con­fu­sions in the com­ments, come chat with me.

Is­sues with a Sin­gle Sta­tus Ladder

The Village and the Mis­sion have their own virtues, and patholo­gies. They share at least one meta-pathol­ogy: the sta­tus hi­er­ar­chies are illeg­ible, and there are no fences any­where to de­mar­cate who is wel­come where. When you ar­rive, in­stead of a fence, you’ll find a swamp. You’ll see some flick­er­ing campfires in the dis­tance, but some of those campfires are mis­lead­ing swamp gas.

The most ob­vi­ous as­sump­tion is that there is a sin­gle sta­tus-lad­der that goes all the way from “rando who just showed up who doesn’t have any friends or skills” to “peo­ple who in­ter­face reg­u­larly with billion­aires while mak­ing de­ci­sions that will hope­fully im­pact the fu­ture light-cone.”

So…

  • This can feel (and be) quite bad. In the same way that mod­ern poor peo­ple are ob­jec­tively wealthier than an­cient kings, but when they com­pare them­selves to mod­ern celebri­ties they still feel a keen lack of re­sources… a per­son who would or­di­nar­ily feel so­cially se­cure in­stead feels a pres­sure to keep-up-with-the-Jone­ses (and the Jone­ses know Dustin Moskovitz)

  • Even if you don’t want to climb the sta­tus lad­der, many of the peo­ple around you do. There is pres­sure up­wards. Every­one is busy. Every­one has op­tions. This makes it harder to build ac­tu­ally good friend­ships – Good friend­ships re­quire space to just… chill. And to trust that you can con­tinue to just chill when you need to.

  • Many of the peo­ple who would be most com­pe­tent at run­ning the village quickly end up in­volved with Mis­sion-cen­tric orgs.

A lot of this isn’t fix­able. The state of the world isn’t okay, and it needs Mis­sion ori­ented peo­ple who are will­ing to ded­i­cate their lives to it. Com­pe­tent Peo­ple Are Rare and the World Is Big. If you are ca­pa­ble of con­tribut­ing to the Mis­sion, I think that’s good. It’s re­gret­table if this means that you will not spend as much (or any) time im­prov­ing the Village. But it would be even more re­gret­table if you didn’t help tilt the arc of hu­man his­tory to­wards good­ness in a scal­able fash­ion.

But, I think there are some lo­cal im­prove­ments to be made. I think most Mis­sion-al­igned peo­ple should be at least “pay­ing taxes” to help main­tain the Village. I think there are skills peo­ple can gain which let them con­tribute to the Village on the mar­gin. And un­der­stand­ing the situ­a­tion might help oth­ers find ad­di­tional im­prove­ments I haven’t thought of.

The sim­plest change is a shift to­wards ac­knowl­edg­ing at least two sta­tus lad­ders, and it must be pos­si­ble to be high sta­tus within the Village, on the Village’s terms.


What is the Mis­sion?

The Mis­sion is to make sure ev­ery­one can flour­ish.

The Mis­sion has many sub­com­po­nents. It in­cludes un­der­stand­ing the world. It in­cludes be­ing able to co­or­di­nate effec­tively with peo­ple who are already helping. It in­cludes helping di­rectly.

It in­cludes helping peo­ple who are suffer­ing.

It in­cludes helping peo­ple who are not suffer­ing, but the differ­ence be­tween who they are and who they could be is vast.

It in­cludes fix­ing sys­tems that are sys­tem­at­i­cally bro­ken.

It in­cludes un­der­stand­ing things deeply for its own sake.

It in­cludes figur­ing out how to think about peo­ple that don’t ex­ist yet.

Many el­e­ments of the Mis­sion in­ter­play with one way an­other, in ways that are hard to pre­dict in ad­vance. Other el­e­ments aren’t re­lated at all, but are nonethe­less united in the fact that they steer the fu­ture to­wards some­thing good.

The Mis­sion is not morally obli­ga­tory, but is morally com­mend­able.

The pur­pose of hav­ing morals in the first place is to help you make good de­ci­sions and co­or­di­nate. Some peo­ple naively de­com­part­men­tal­ize their moral be­liefs and end up de­pressed and bro­ken. A moral sys­tem that re­li­ably does that is a stupid moral sys­tem and you should pick a differ­ent one.

I think if you de­mand that peo­ple no­tice bot­tom­less pits of suffer­ing, and ded­i­cate their lives to it, you will in­cen­tivize peo­ple to not no­tice bot­tom­less pits of suffer­ing.

The Mis­sion has eas­ier and harder ways to con­tribute.

No­body is Perfect, Every­thing is Com­men­su­rable. I don’t think it makes sense for ev­ery­one to give 10% of their in­come to effec­tive char­ity, but I do think that ev­ery­one can start sav­ing 10% and donat­ing 1% of post-ne­ces­si­ties in­come, to help build the slack and re­sources to one day con­tribute more.

Even if all you ever do is give 1% of post-ne­ces­si­ties in­come, that’s fine by me. And even if you don’t do any of this and just fo­cus on flour­ish­ing, your­self, that’s fine by me too – your flour­ish­ing is part of of the pro­ject of Hu­man Flour­ish­ing.

And if you do donate 10%, as far as I’m con­cerned you’ve joined the ranks of the Mis­sion. If you start to stress about whether you’re “do­ing enough”, yes, you are do­ing enough.

There are harder things you can do, many of which in­volve risk. I can’t promise that they’ll work, or that you’ll come out okay. I can’t ex­plain what those things are be­cause I don’t know. One of the biggest el­e­ments of The Mis­sion is figur­ing out what The Mis­sion is.

The Mis­sion is Net­work Con­strained, and many of the best things you can do is move into a so­cial situ­a­tion where you au­to­mat­i­cally make con­nec­tions that will help you learn, think and grow. Figure out what to do. Do it.

You are not obli­gated to un­der­take the hard­est as­pects of the Mis­sion. You should not do things that aren’t sus­tain­able for you.

But it would be dishon­est to pre­tend the Mis­sion doesn’t need all the help it can get.

The Mis­sion re­quires stan­dards.

The Mis­sion re­quires be­ing able to say “Sorry, you are not yet good enough to do this job.”

The Mis­sion re­quires be­ing able to say, some­times “Hey, when we first started this pro­ject, we were small and scrappy and had to make do. We are now at a point where we need to raise our stan­dards, and you will have to raise yours as well if you want to con­tinue on this pro­ject.”

The Mis­sion re­quires some­times say­ing “Your pro­ject has turned out to be net-nega­tive, and is gum­ming up the works pre­vent­ing other pro­jects from suc­ceed­ing, and you ei­ther need to rad­i­cally change, or gain skills, or stop.”

The Mis­sion in­volves ask­ing hard ques­tions, over and over, and hav­ing the an­swers of­ten be un­com­fortable, painful, or hor­rify­ing.

The Mis­sion can­not offer psy­cholog­i­cal safety.

This is quite bad for the ex­e­cu­tion of the Mis­sion, since psy­cholog­i­cal safety is kind of im­por­tant to ac­tu­ally get stuff done.

Also, the whole point of the Mis­sion is for flour­ish­ing. At the very least, if the Mis­sion de­stroys your abil­ity to flour­ish, that’s sad.

What is the Village?

The Village is for mak­ing sure that we can flour­ish.

We’re all at differ­ent points in our lives, and need differ­ent things. The Village must ac­count for that.

The Village is not the Mis­sion. The Village must suc­ceed on it’s own terms – tak­ing care of its peo­ple. But one of the rea­sons this village is spe­cial is that it helps you pre­pare for the Mis­sion if you want to.

(Another thing that makes this village spe­cial is that it’s build on as­pira­tions of truth­seek­ing. I’m not sure if all villages need to ori­ent around truth, but I know that this one does.)

What is a good village?

A good village takes care of its mem­bers, and helps them meet their so­cial needs.

A good village pro­vides peo­ple with op­por­tu­ni­ties to bump into each other spo­rad­i­cally, in low-stakes set­tings, so that peo­ple can even­tu­ally de­velop deep friend­ships.

A good village helps peo­ple to raise chil­dren.

A good village pro­vides av­enues for peo­ple to grow – ideally it pro­vides mul­ti­ple are­nas in which peo­ple can de­velop emo­tional skills, phys­i­cal skills, mar­ketable skills, in­tel­lec­tual skills.

A good village has es­ca­lat­ing asks and re­wards. Par­ti­ci­pat­ing in village life in­volves at least some effort to pitch in oc­ca­sion­ally and fol­low norms. You will get more out of village life the more you put into it (and villages are healthiest and strongest if, over time, they ask more of their mem­bers).

A good village has a way of deal­ing with bad ac­tors.

A good village was a way of re­ward­ing good ac­tors.

A good village lets you be your whole self with­out com­part­men­tal­iza­tion.

A good village needs the slack to oc­ca­sion­ally res­cue villagers who are in bad situ­a­tions.

An ideal village feels like home, and feels safe.

(Yes, this is some­what in ten­sion with the Village ask­ing things of you. I think the solu­tion is for the baseline asks to be some­thing that a per­son can meet, even if they are sick or de­pressed for an ex­tended pe­riod of time, but for putting in more effort to or­gan­i­cally re­sult in higher pay­off).

A good village has fences, of some sort. Be­cause the Village has the obli­ga­tion to take care of its mem­bers, and be­cause re­sources are limited… it nec­es­sar­ily fol­lows that the Village can­not take care of ev­ery­body. Some villages have ex­plicit bar­ri­ers to en­try. Others have vague so­cial net­works to nav­i­gate to get in.

If you have no fences, you most likely don’t have a very good village.

A village is not (just) a community

A village ac­com­plishes all of this at a scale that a “small com­mu­nity” does not. A village is a level of or­ga­ni­za­tion above com­mu­nity, which fa­cil­i­tates the cre­ate of small com­mu­ni­ties. A small com­mu­nity is in turn a larger or­ga­niz­ing unit than “group of friends.” Each level of scale pro­vides differ­ent things.

A small com­mu­nity aims at many of the same goals listed above. A village helps gen­er­ate com­mu­ni­ties that pre­cisely match your needs. And a village grants ac­cess to a cer­tain qualia that is some­what differ­ent from a com­mu­nity, (which is turn a differ­ent qualia from “a group of friends.”)

Alas, I can’t re­ally ex­plain that qualia. If you don’t have an in­tu­itive sense of why it mat­ters, I am not ar­gu­ing that you should care. I can say, it’s some­thing like “be­ing a part of some­thing big­ger than your­self” and some­thing like “feel­ing like there’s some­thing pow­er­ful that has your back.”

The cur­rent Berkeley com­mu­nity of­ten does not have peo­ple’s back, but it as­pires to.

Who is “we”?

Good ques­tion. I have an opinionated an­swer for the Berkeley com­mu­nity in par­tic­u­lar:

The Village is the peo­ple who or­gan­i­cally came to live around a par­tic­u­lar sub­set of the Mis­sion – the part that no­ticed “Hmm, hu­man­ity is hurtling to­wards ex­is­ten­tial risk, and no­body is do­ing any­thing about AI, and peo­ple seem re­mark­ably bad a think­ing about all this,” and then be­gan clus­ter­ing in Berkeley to make progress on that.

Now, since then, that or­ganic growth has led to a wide va­ri­ety of peo­ple, some of whom aren’t here for the Mis­sion – they’re here be­cause they have friends here, or they like ra­tio­nally minded peo­ple but don’t make a big deal about it.

There are peo­ple who care about the Mis­sion, but not x-risk speci­fi­cally.

There are peo­ple who care, but nonethe­less find them­selves more drawn to village life than a mis­sion cam­paign. This is not only okay but good – if no one wanted to make the village their pri­mary fo­cus, the Village would not have the strength to suc­ceed (ei­ther on it’s own terms or the Mis­sion’s terms).

But it’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that this Village de­rives much of its en­ergy from the Mis­sion ker­nel that it formed around. That ker­nel was oddly spe­cific, and it makes the village oddly spe­cific.

Helping the Village to thrive re­quires un­der­stand­ing that.

Why must the Village re­late to the Mis­sion at all?

In the Old Days, villages were united by shared ge­og­ra­phy, fam­ily, his­tory, and eco­nomic ac­tivity. But those things no longer bind to­gether a village au­to­mat­i­cally. And the village needs some­thing around which to co­here.

I have seen mul­ti­ple villages, in par­tic­u­lar cre­ated by the post-athe­ist-crowd, which failed.

They failed be­cause, in an in­creas­ingly at­om­ized world, they didn’t offer any­thing that was spe­cial. They didn’t filter for any par­tic­u­lar sub­set of peo­ple, so the peo­ple didn’t es­pe­cially get along. They didn’t have a shared mythol­ogy that in­spired peo­ple to­wards the same as­pira­tions. They didn’t even have par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing ac­tivi­ties ev­ery­one liked.

Peo­ple couldn’t grow up to­gether, so they grew apart.

It is not a co­in­ci­dence that the Berkeley com­mu­nity is an hon­est to good­ness village, whereas most so­cial clubs are just vague net­works that are barely any differ­ent from the alienat­ing, at­om­ized so­ciety around them.

The Berkeley village has a shared mythol­ogy, and a (rea­son­ably) shared ethos. It has a clearer and more com­pel­ling vi­sion of how to fit into the uni­verse than any of the groups of athe­ists I met who awk­wardly said to them­selves “well, there’s no rea­son we can’t have a church, let’s make one”, but then didn’t know the first thing about how to make a church, and didn’t agree on enough prin­ci­ples to bind them­selves to­gether.

(For what it’s worth, the other villages I’m most ex­cited by are the Filk com­mu­nity, the Con­nec­tion/​Authen­tic-Re­lat­ing com­mu­nity, and some dance or other ac­tivity-based com­mu­ni­ties)

Can’t the Village at least move some­where af­ford­able?

Alas. No.

A small com­mu­nity could leave Berkeley to­gether. And if they just want each other’s friend­ship, and nei­ther care over­much about the Mis­sion or the Village, than I’d even recom­mend that. The are some patholo­gies in Berkeley that are ac­tively bad, or good to get away from for awhile.

But you can’t trans­plant the 300 peo­ple here some­where else. It won’t work.

Why are cities more ex­pen­sive than ru­ral out­backs? Be­cause the cities have stuff, and the ru­ral out­backs don’t. Cities have jobs. Cities have enough crit­i­cal mass that no mat­ter your spe­cial in­ter­est, you can find peo­ple also in­ter­ested in that thing.

If you don’t need the Stuff cities offer, you can live some­where cheap. But em­piri­cally many peo­ple pre­fer pay­ing ex­tra for the stuff – that’s why cities are ex­pen­sive. The Most Im­por­tant Stuff is the net­work effects. And yes there’s some weird dystopian shit that go along with the net­work effects… but that doesn’t mean the net­work effects don’t mat­ter.

A lot of the mythos and ethos of the Village de­pends on the Mis­sion ac­tu­ally be­ing real. This means try­ing for real, which means mak­ing trade­offs for real, which means ac­tu­ally liv­ing near sili­con valley billion­aires and hav­ing good re­la­tion­ships with them – not only to get money from them, but to main­tain high lev­els of trust and al­ign­ment.

The Big Orgs need to be near the billion­aires and many ex­ist­ing ecosys­tems that sur­round them. The small orgs need to in­ter­face with the Big Orgs. The peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in work­ing for the small orgs, or Big Orgs, or found­ing new pro­jects that might one day in­ter­face with the sys­tem, need to be nearby.

The villagers who are just here to feed of their en­ergy are drawn here and not to ran­dom other places be­cause of that en­ergy, and crit­i­cal mass.

There might be other places that could sus­tain a Mis­sion Ori­ented Village, and you might be able to build a To­tally-Not-Mis­sion-Ori­ented-Village, but ei­ther case re­quires ac­tual strate­giz­ing and not just pick­ing a some­place ran­dom and cheap. (I think the EA Ho­tel has a de­cent shot at cre­at­ing an af­ford­able hub, but im­por­tantly, it in­volved thou­sands of dol­lars and years of free en­ergy in­jected into the sys­tem)

(Note that in­so­far as you think the Mis­sion is fake or in dan­ger of be­com­ing fake, yes, I think that means the Village is cor­re­spond­ingly weaker)

Does the Mis­sion need a Village that’s sep­a­rate from the Mis­sion?

Does the Mis­sion need the Village, or does the Village only need the Mis­sion?

The Mis­sion definitely needs to make sure the so­cial needs of its mem­bers are met. This in­cludes mak­ing sure they can make friends and can be psy­cholog­i­cally healthy.

There are mul­ti­ple strate­gies the Mis­sion could em­ploy for this, and I think most of them look some­thing like build­ing Mis­sion-cen­tric so­cial spaces. Habryka has some thoughts on this (differ­ent from mine), that make more sense to call a “uni­ver­sity” than a village.

But I think the Mis­sion still benefits from hav­ing a nearby Village where peo­ple get to ex­plore the Mis­sion, over a timescale of years. And for that to re­ally work, it needs to be a live op­tion to say “okay, it turned out the Mis­sion was not for me”, with­out mean­ing that the years you in­vested were wasted. (And, im­por­tantly, with­out pres­sure to de­ceive your­self about whether the Mis­sion is for you)

I don’t re­ally care about the Village. Should I?

Eh, prob­a­bly not.

To me, the Village and the Mis­sion are both deeply im­por­tant, and ob­vi­ously so. If you’re a Mis­sion ori­ented per­son who doesn’t feel like they’re lack­ing any­thing, or if this en­tire es­say feels pointless to you, I don’t think there’s a se­cret point I un­der­stand that you don’t that’ll change your mind.

You ei­ther feel that there’s some kind of village-shaped hole that you want to fill, or don’t.

I don’t live in Berkeley. Should I move there?

Maybe. But prob­a­bly not for the sake of the Village.

For years, the Village was ne­glected. Over the past cou­ple years, peo­ple have taken a stab at build­ing real Village In­sti­tu­tions. But we have a huge amount of so­cial-tech­nol­ogy-debt that we have yet to re­pay. The Village still strug­gles to take care of its own peo­ple.

I think it makes most sense to move to Berkeley if you already have a strong sense of who you would live with. It also makes sense if you already have a Mis­sion-re­lated-job lined up, since the Mis­sion ac­tu­ally has more in­fras­truc­ture built. And it makes sense if you’re will­ing to put a lot of effort into build­ing the Village (or Mis­sion) around you as you go.

A thing that works for some peo­ple is “visit there for a few months, and see what it is like, and whether you can suc­cess­fully find a home.”

If you do move to the Berkeley, try to re­place your­self first.

Ask not what your Village can do for you.

Lately, I’ve been very Mis­sion fo­cused. I will con­tinue to be Mis­sion fo­cused.

But I want a good home. I want a good village to sup­port me dur­ing the times when I need help, and I want (coun­ter­fac­tu­ally, be­hind the veil of ig­no­rance) to have had bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties in Village-re­lated-do­mains.

In my own im­me­di­ate fu­ture, I want bet­ter op­por­tu­nity to strengthen friend­ships in re­peated low-stakes in­ter­ac­tions. Right now I’m able to do so, in part, be­cause of peo­ple who put time and effort into Village-es­que ac­tivi­ties. One of my wor­ries is that those peo­ple will burn out, or even­tu­ally tran­si­tion into more Mis­sion-es­que do­mains that con­sume more of their time, or sim­ply move away. And there are not enough peo­ple to re­place them, let alone strengthen the foun­da­tions.

If you are similar to me, you prob­a­bly want to spend at least a bit of your re­sources helping build the Village.

What does the Village need? I think there are ba­si­cally two lenses to look at this ques­tion.

“Low” Effort Things

What things can you do pe­ri­od­i­cally that will help the village, with­out cost­ing you much, if you don’t ex­pect to be able to com­mit to build­ing village in­sti­tu­tions longterm?

Ex­am­ples, es­ca­lat­ingly difficult, in­clude:

  • Meta:

    • First, main­tain 30% slack, as a gen­eral rule. Don’t overex­ert your­self. Make sure you have the spare re­sources to han­dle emer­gen­cies, oth­er­wise in­stead of helping you’ll end up need­ing help.

    • Keep your com­mit­ments, what­ever they are. (This may mean mak­ing fewer com­mit­ments, or be­ing clearer about how re­li­able you ex­pect to be. You can be a Prophet or a King)

  • Help pay money for things. (This can scale up and down pretty eas­ily). Don’t overdo it if you don’t have at least $10k in the bank to make switch­ing jobs and apart­ments eas­ier.

  • Gen­er­ally be a good citizen

    • If you’re at an event, no­tice what things the or­ga­nizer could use help with. Take out the trash. Greet peo­ple you haven’t met. In­tro­duce them to peo­ple you think they’d like and who’d like them.

    • Or, bet­ter – help peo­ple around you be good cit­i­zens. Em­body Hufflepuff Lead­er­ship.

  • Be a co-or­ga­nizer – for­mally agree to help out some­one run­ning an event.

  • Run a one-off party or meetup. Be de­liber­ate about who you in­vite – make sure to in­vite peo­ple who’ll have fun to­gether, but also try to in­vite some peo­ple you don’t know as well. Add sur­face area that lets peo­ple bump into each other and be­com­ing friends. The world de­pends on you throw­ing a party.

    • (You can turn one-off-par­ties into re­peated in­sti­tu­tions, al­though I recom­mend start­ing out just with the goal of try­ing a new thing with­out com­mit­ting to the long haul).

  • Ar­range your hous­ing situ­a­tion such that you can offer peo­ple a place to crash for a week. (This is part of a gen­eral strat­egy ad­vo­cated by Kel­sey Piper about mak­ing sure your com­mu­nity has the slack to ab­sorb ran­dom emer­gen­cies, help peo­ple when they lose their job, get them out of abu­sive situ­a­tions, etc)

  • No­tice when you are in a group with fences, enough such that it’s worth in­vest­ing in co­or­di­na­tion to make that group bet­ter. (Group houses are a good nat­u­ral fit for this)

  • Run the oc­ca­sional event that re­quires and/​or builds a skill (ra­tio­nal­ity skills or oth­er­wise). Th­ese are harder than a generic party, but they are the eas­ily-for­got­ten core of the village’s soul. I’ve seen peo­ple come to Berkeley and be dis­ap­pointed that most of the events felt like glo­rified speed-dat­ing. They came for the ra­tio­nal­ity and didn’t find any. There is pent-up de­mand for se­ri­ous growth (with­out the pres­sure that comes from work­ing on it pro­fes­sion­ally.)

High Effort, Long Com­mit­ment Things

Are you a com­pe­tent per­son who cares enough about the Village to stick around, and ac­tu­ally build Village In­sti­tu­tions that scale? Can you do so in a way that doesn’t burn you out?

Some things are only ac­tu­ally worth do­ing if you’re go­ing to stick with them.

The prob­lem where Com­pe­tent Peo­ple Are Rare and the World Is Big doesn’t just ap­ply to the Mis­sion, it ap­plies to the Village too. One of the rea­sons I think REACH is valuable is it pro­vides scal­able village goods – it’s ex­is­tence low­ers the bar­rier to en­try for hold­ing new events, and get­ting situ­a­tion.

I think we could use more things in this refer­ence class (which I think would plau­si­bly be worth se­ri­ous fundrais­ing for)

  • I sus­pect REACH could use more peo­ple that ded­i­cate se­ri­ous longterm effort to­wards mak­ing it run smoothly, and I think there is de­mand in the com­mu­nity for at least 1-2 ad­di­tional copies of REACH-es­que or­ga­ni­za­tions that run on differ­ent aes­thet­ics, op­er­ate in differ­ent neigh­bor­hoods, and tar­get differ­ent peo­ple.

  • Group Hous­ing – more/​bet­ter tools to help co­or­di­nate this.

  • Solv­ing Bureau­cracy for peo­ple. There could use to be some­one who knows all the doc­tors and ther­a­pists and hous­ing situ­a­tions in the area, who can help peo­ple nav­i­gate them.

  • Think hard about burnout and figure out how to help peo­ple sys­tem­at­i­cally with it.

  • Build longterm pro­grams that help peo­ple train skills.

Mean­while, a meta-skill that should be run­ning in the back­ground is to always be work­ing to re­place your­self in what­ever ca­pac­ity peo­ple rely on you.

This is par­tic­u­larly true if you have the skill of “figure out what needs do­ing and do it.” That skill is su­per rare. But if you can figure out what to do, then train some­one else to do it, and move on, you’re in a po­si­tion to add a lot of value.

In­tegrity and Accountability

Right now, the Village is fairly an­ar­chic. This seems fine – most of the ways to make it non-an­ar­chic seem more likely to turn it into a cum­ber­some bu­reau­cracy than to ac­tu­ally help.

This means, though, that the cur­rent mechanism for some­one do­ing a ma­jor pro­ject is “Pick up a flag, and start run­ning for­ward yel­ling ex­cit­edly, and hope that villagers and fun­ders run af­ter you.”

This has a few is­sues. The dy­namic be­tween Village lead­ers and fun­ders is stress­ful for both.

Fun­ders don’t com­mit enough to se­ri­ously helping with Village en­deav­ors for Village Or­ga­niz­ers to trust in the sys­tem. Village Or­ga­niz­ers don’t have much choice other than pick­ing up a flag and run for­ward with­out look­ing back. If they waited for fun­ders, noth­ing would ever get done.

But run­ning for­ward with a flag doesn’t have any kind of ac­countabil­ity built into the sys­tem. Since there’s so few Village pro­jects, fun­ders some­times feel vague pres­sure to sup­port what­ever *has* got­ten started, with­out re­ally check­ing if it’s good – and then later, they have to ei­ther cut fund­ing for some­thing that peo­ple have come to rely on (which sucks), or… keep fund­ing some­thing sub­par, po­ten­tially net nega­tive (which also sucks).

Oliver Habryka re­cently crys­tal­lized some thoughts about in­tegrity and ac­countabil­ity that I think are rele­vant here. Think hard about who you want to be ac­countable to.

A com­mon mis­take is to make your­self ac­countable to “the pub­lic”, which means you can’t defend de­ci­sions with con­cepts more com­plex than about five words.

Another mis­take is not be ac­countable to any­one, or to only be ac­countable to peo­ple very similar to you. You need a wide enough va­ri­ety of peo­ple to be ac­countable to that you have a de­cent chance of get­ting called out on your mis­takes. You also need enough stake­hold­ers that you can build a large enough coal­i­tion to get the re­sources you need.

So my sug­ges­tion is to be pro-ac­tive about seek­ing out ac­countabil­ity. Find peo­ple you trust, who you will ac­tu­ally listen to, from a few differ­ent per­spec­tives, who can give you im­por­tant feed­back about how your pro­jects fit into the broader ecosys­tem. Be ready to change (or if nec­es­sary, abort) your pro­ject given their feed­back.

If you’re in the Village for the long haul, or want to build village-like spaces for the Mis­sion, chat with me.

I think the Village is quite im­por­tant, but there are a lot of nu­ances to get right when try­ing to build some­thing for it.

I’m fairly busy these days, and can’t meet with ev­ery­one. But if you’re in­ter­ested in se­ri­ous longterm Village work (say, putting at least 2 years into it, es­pe­cially if you’ve been pretty re­li­ably show­ing up and helping out in smaller ways), then I’m in­ter­ested in hav­ing a fairly se­ri­ous talk with you and helping to get you started.