The title is mostly like that because it’s funny. I strongly believe that people should cultivate closer friendships than is the default in modern society—but I also believe one shouldn’t put “all their eggs in one basket” in terms of who all you cultivate those friendships with.
I think of the change from Judaism to Christianity as too significant to be viewed as merely a schism. Similarly, it would seem strange to classify Islam or Mormonism as “Christian schisms” in the same way that one would classify, say, the Old Catholic Church as a schism from the main Catholic Church—it’s certainly true that Islam and Mormonism both take Christianity and then add a new prophet and his book on top of it, but that seems too significant to qualify as just a schism. To me, schisms are often notable for the relatively small nature of the differences that they are splitting over, and by the time you’re adding new holy books and substantially reinterpreting the past teachings you’ve gone beyond that phase.
(To give a nonreligious example, I would say “we’re going to make a new forum with exactly the same purview, target audience, and board structure as the old forum but with different moderators” is a schism, while “we’re going to make a new forum that addresses substantially different topics while still including some of the old stuff” is not.)
Sometimes things are bad or (or much worse than they could be) in some group or community. When that’s the case, one can 1) try and change the community from the inside, or 2) get a group of his/her friends together to do [thing] the way they think they should do it, or 3) give up and accept the current situation.
When you’re willing to put in the work to make 2 happen, it sometimes results in a new healthier group. If (some) onlookers can distinguish between better and worse on the relevant axis, it will attract new members.
It seems to me that taking option 2, instead of option 1, is cooperative. You leave the other group doing it their way, in peace, and also create something good in the world in addition.
I agree that option 2 can be cooperative, but I want to point out that taking option 1 is also cooperative. If the other group or community is, as you say, much worse than it could be, helping to improve it from the inside makes things better for the people already involved, while going and starting your own group might leave them in the lurch. In general I think you should probably at least initially try to reform things, though if it doesn’t work well there’s a point where you might have to say “sorry, the time has come, we’re making our own group now”.
Granted, I think the situation may be importantly different in online communities, specifically because the activation energy for setting up a new online group is comparatively small. In that case, it is too easy to found a new group, and accordingly they splinter to regularly for any single group to be good.
Yeah, I think online the cost of just creating another site is importantly too low. On Discord it takes like 10 seconds to make a new server, these days you can set up a basic web forum very quickly without even having to pay for hosting, and so on. In real life it’s harder to create new organizations, events, etc. in a way that can actually help avoid splitting communities.
There’s a significant difference between “open disagreement” and “open disagreement, refusal to cooperate with the mechanisms for settling this, denunciation of the legitimacy of authority, and calling for others to leave the group”. LessWrong can deal with open disagreement, but if the front page constantly had people denouncing the moderators and calling others to go and join their new community that would be something else.
I’m very “MtG white”, yes. (Well, white-blue, but yeah.) :P
1. This post seems to take for granted that schisms are bad without actually arguing why. Even if it is the case that schisms beget more schisms, that in itself (or that + pointing at Protestantism) is not actually an explanation of why that’s actually bad; it just claims so. It does imply that the badness is in the coordination costs that are increased by a diaspora over a centralised location, but if a diaspora happened in the first place that is strong evidence that whatever central place it spawned from was not only incapable of making this level of coordination happen but also its members judged it was incapable of hanging into a place that can do coordination.
I’m not sure that it’s the case that people correctly judged that it was incapable of changing. Reforming an existing space is often harder than just taking your ball and going home, but the benefits are shared across the entire group.
2. Two of your main examples are religion and politics, where one can’t really belong to multiple subgroups. For things like the LW diaspora or Discord servers or w/e, schisms aren’t schismatic – one can belong to multiple social groups and Discord servers and what-have-you (which can even be desirable, as you yourself have argued in your post about diversifying your friendship portfolio).
Belonging to multiple social groups and Discord servers and the like is nice, but belonging to a bunch of different groups that are all sort of doing fundamentally the same thing (and claim that others are trying to do the same thing but doing it worse) isn’t as good. When people found servers that are like “this is the same as <SERVER X> but with better moderation>” that tends to split the community (and indeed things like this have happened multiple times with Discord, online forums, etc.).
I do think that sometimes people stay in things that they should split off from. However, I’ve noticed that locally there seems to be a lot of praise for the “archipelago” and the like, and also that the community seems to have been seriously damaged by splintering too much and losing its unity and sense of shared progress. I think these things are connected and that at least around here, people should be more wary about splitting off than they are by default.
Fair points. That said, I don’t think the split between CFAR and MIRI is a destructive schism, they’re still in very close alignment with one another and part of the same broader project. Same for FHI, FLI, BERI, etc. -- but if someone had founded a “new MIRI” saying that MIRI was failing and their paradigms were fundamentally destructive and everyone should withdraw their support of MIRI and back the new organization, that would be schismatic in the way I warn about.
It may be superior for the individual, but it is often worse for the group’s ability to coordinate and get stuff done. Similarly, when the diaspora first started, many people had the choice of whether to continue posting on LW or whether to create their own blog, gaining personal status/influence but damaging the unity of the group. The latter broadly won out, to the detriment of the project as a whole.
Now obviously making your own blog wasn’t just defecting—there were serious issues with LessWrong’s culture and standards that made posting there feel like a chore. But ideally we would have fixed that such that the locally incentivized behavior was that which was better for the project as a whole rather than that which helped the individual at the cost of the group. Sadly, we missed the opportunity, at least when the issue first came up.
Hmm, perhaps another way to put it would be that I would like there to be one “standard of discourse” across the site, and multiple types of conversations that can be had within that standard.
I ideally want ~one set of norms, even if it doesn’t agree with my preferences on all points. The cost of illegibility and decentralization is not in my view worth the benefit of being able to fiddle with everything.
I do think it’s possible for one set of norms to basically include all the stuff you mentioned as different knobs, though.
Yeah, that post hasn’t much matched up with my experience. It feels like a relic of an older era, before the curtain went up on just how crazy things really can be at the top.
Agreed that there hasn’t been bullying but has been nitpicking. I think the comments here have gone seriously off-track from the main intent of my post and I intend to write another post that deals with the “is it OK to ban Nazis” issue more directly; I’m unsure whether I’ll write a new version of this post.
This situation has made me less likely to want to write on LW in the future, but it’s not to the point where I’m quitting or whatever.
Yes, that’s my view. My model of what went wrong with LW 1.0 culturally was something like:
1. Nitpicky standards get into the culture
2. Many of the strongest contributors dislike interacting with the nitpicky standards and move elsewhere
3. Many of the remaining contributors don’t have as good content to contribute
4. LW is perceived as mediocre and no longer “the place to go”, reinforcing migration away from the site
I mean people who literally, actually support the Nazi party.
When I say Nazis I am, in fact, referring to actual Nazis. I’m not validating “denunciation”, I’m saying you have no obligation to provide a space for certain forms of objectionable content, and indeed you shouldn’t. I do not consider such restrictions to compromise the rule of law—part of the rule of law involves establishing clear boundaries for what content is and isn’t out of bounds, and Nazi stuff is on the wrong side of those bounds.
As Scott writes:
The moral of the story is: if you’re against witch-hunts, and you promise to found your own little utopian community where witch-hunts will never happen, your new society will end up consisting of approximately three principled civil libertarians and seven zillion witches. It will be a terrible place to live even if witch-hunts are genuinely wrong.
You have to ban some things to implement basic standards. For instance, here are the list of banned topics from a space I used to moderate (well, still do but it’s mostly quiet now):
-Racism, virulent political ideologies, etc. - even if they’re clothed in “scientific” guises. “HBD” and the like are explicitly not welcome.
-Harsh, insulting language. Telling someone you think they’re wrong is fine, cursing them out isn’t.
-Pornography or any other sexually explicit or highly suggestive content.
-Any form of “doxxing”, offsite harassment, etc. except in cases of preventing serious crimes—and if we ever get to that point things will have gone deeply wrong here!
These sorts of restrictions have not in my view led to bullying—instead, in many respects they’ve led to there being a safer space, where people don’t have to worry about certain types of bad content that can be prevalent online.