Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Building Communities vs. Being Rational

20 Post author: swestrup 31 March 2009 06:35PM

I've noticed a distinct trend lately in that I've been commenting less and less on posts as time goes by. I've been wondering if its just that the new car smell of lesswrong has been wearing off, or if it is something else.

Well, I think I've identified it. I just don't care for discussions about how to go about building communities. It may, in the long run, be beneficial to work out how to build communities of rationalists, but in the meantime I find these discussions are making this less and less a community I want to be a part of, and (if I am not unique) may be having the opposite effect that they intend.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying these discussions are unimportant or are not germane to the building of this site. I am saying that if a new person comes here and reads the last posts, are they going to want to stay? For myself, I find I am willing to be part of a community of enthusiastic rationalists (which is why I started reading this blog in the first place), but  I have NO interest in being part of a community that spends all its time debating on how to build the community.

Lately, to me, this place has seemed more of the latter and less of the former.

Comments (18)

Comment author: gjm 31 March 2009 10:57:43PM 4 points [-]

I think almost all of the discussion about building communities, and about how important it is to give money to causes you support, and about how important it is not to be too skeptical about one's heroes or leaders, has been coming from one person, who happens to have an obvious professional and personal interest in getting people thinking along those lines.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Comment author: jimrandomh 31 March 2009 07:29:17PM 8 points [-]

Topics on this site are temporally clustered, as authors are primed by recent posts. Eventually, all there is to say will have been said, and community building will join Newcomb's problem, akrasia and self deception, where most of what there is to say has been said. These topics resurface occasionally, but not with the intensity they had the first time they were raised.

Comment author: MBlume 31 March 2009 07:37:25PM 12 points [-]

Actually, I am looking forward to a lot more being said on Akrasia.

Comment author: jimrandomh 31 March 2009 11:29:36PM 1 point [-]

PJ Eby (who posts here as pjeby) has written extensively on this topic on his own blog, dirtsimple.org, with a lot of great insights. If someone were to pick the best posts out of it and post links, it would probably lead to great discussions. The main weakness of his writing style is length, so good summaries (proper summaries, not mere quotations) would be very valuable, too.

Comment author: MBlume 01 April 2009 12:13:15AM 0 points [-]

as I understand, he plans to bring his series to us, having already started

Comment author: jimrandomh 01 April 2009 01:13:27AM 0 points [-]

He cross-posted an excellent article between here and his blog (that's how I found his blog in the first place), but hasn't linked to older articles. Perhaps he's influenced by a perceived norm against authors posting links to their own content, as some sites do have such a norm. However, I don't think Less Wrong has such a norm, and if it did, then content written prior to its founding would definitely be exempt.

Comment author: pjeby 01 April 2009 02:31:44AM 1 point [-]

It's more that my work has advanced tremendously in the last year or so, but my blog hasn't really kept up. And while there's definitely an overlap in target audiences between LW and my blog, that doesn't mean my blog articles are directly appropriate for LW.

So the idea of doing a series here was to do something more aimed at pulling together an explanation of the models I've developed of "the human platform", as it were.

In practice, though, I've realized that if I do posts in the series more often than once every few weeks, I would end up neglecting a lot of professional work (like finishing my next book) that's more important to me than what I'd gain from the LW postings. So, the series here is likely to be rather slow in coming.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 March 2009 11:09:19PM 0 points [-]

So am I, hope someone does it.

Comment author: igoresque 31 March 2009 08:16:54PM 5 points [-]

The irony isn't very hard to spot here: writing about that which you don't want to read about? Reminds me of the dilemma: is it rational to complain about complaining?

I rather agree on the point being made. I also hope for more enthousiasm about rationality in all its forms.

The solution, I believe, is to invest in lesswrong.com wisely: read only the parts that are most interesting, avoid investing energy in side tracks. Please share your enthousiasm with us. I am sure the investment will pay off.

Comment author: ciphergoth 31 March 2009 08:55:31PM 3 points [-]

Yes, you would probably have got a greater effect in favour of what you want by posting a top-level article about what you do want to talk about.

Comment author: swestrup 31 March 2009 10:07:11PM *  6 points [-]

These are both good points. Frankly I wasn't trying to rock the boat with my post, I was trying to find out if there was a group of disgruntled rationalists who hadn't liked the community posts and had kept silent. Had that been the case, this post would (I'm assuming) have helped to draw them out.

As for what I WOULD like to see, that's a tricky problem in that I am interested in Rationality topics that I know little to nothing about. The trouble is, right now I don't know what it is that I don't know.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 April 2009 02:23:33AM 0 points [-]

Yes, this page is front-page-promotion worthy in terms of upvotes and writing quality, but promoting it seems distinctly self-contradictory.

EDIT: Voted down? Like, you really think that the best way I can help out those who think this is a problem, is to promote fully meta discussion of community discussion to the front page? That really did seem to me like it would be a slap in their face.

Comment author: swestrup 01 April 2009 10:22:39AM 3 points [-]

Well, that's just me. I've never been afraid of leaping feet-first into a paradox and seeing where that takes me. Which reminds me, maybe there's a post in that.

Comment author: Annoyance 01 April 2009 03:09:15PM 4 points [-]

Are posts promoted because of their quality, or for another, specific purpose? I don't think the "About Us" link makes this property of lesswrong sufficiently clear.

If posts are promoted for reasons other than their inherent quality, I think this should be stated openly and the reasons made clear.

Comment author: Annoyance 02 April 2009 07:21:12PM 2 points [-]

That's not the issue. Discussion about this problem is clearly undesirable from their perspective, but a better alternative than saying nothing and letting the problem worsen. Otherwise they wouldn't have written the post.

The downvote wasn't for failing to promote the post, but for viewing it as worthy of promotion (and openly stating so) while not doing so for an invalid reason.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 April 2009 06:46:14PM 0 points [-]

So you're the one who decides what gets promoted?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 April 2009 07:12:44PM 1 point [-]

Robin's also been known to promote a post or two, especially if I don't notice one for a while.

Comment author: ciphergoth 31 March 2009 08:53:53PM 3 points [-]

I'm glad you've given me the opportunity to say how much I'm enjoying the present discussion; it seems to me that without it we're not taking the subject seriously. If what we're talking about is worth talking about, we should be able to really do some good with it.