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bryjnar comments on The Value (and Danger) of Ritual - Less Wrong

29 Post author: Raemon 30 December 2011 06:52AM

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Comment author: bryjnar 31 December 2011 01:42:49PM 13 points [-]

Okay, here are a couple of things that bother me about this whole enterprise:

  • Maybe this is a British thing, but it smacks a bit of Taking Oneself Too Seriously, which is a capital crime over here. For some reason the the idea of a bunch of earnest, self-ascribed "rationalists" coming up with their own rituals just makes me cringe. I'm struggling to pinpoint the source of the cringing, but it's definitely there. It's probably personal, but put it down as evidence that you're going to cause adverse emotional reactions in some people.

  • I'm a bit wary of the idea of trying to form LW communities. Why do we want to do that? I think of LW as a great forum for discussing a bunch of intellectually interesting ideas, and I'd almost certainly be interested in meetups if there were any near me, just because discussion in person has it's own perks. But actually trying to form meetup groups into communities? That feels a bit like mission creep to me.

  • Related to the above: I'm wary of setting off down a path that is likely to make LWers identify (more) strongly as being LWers. I'm with Paul Graham on this. Bundling an ideology of any kind with fun community-type stuff seems like a recipe for producing unwarranted attachment to said ideology.

I'm glad you had fun with it, but I think you could just, you know, have a party, at which you might venture to read some texts you like, or sing some songs, or not if people don't want to. Rather than a ritual, with all the gunk associated with that.

Comment author: Raemon 31 December 2011 05:56:49PM *  9 points [-]

Maybe this is a British thing, but it smacks a bit of Taking Oneself Too Seriously

There is a small part of me that cringes at the Self-Importance of it all, so you're not alone there. But I think that part of me is silly and I rebel against it the way I rebel against all my other biases. If something is enjoyable and possibly even useful, I shouldn't have to feel bad about doing it, as long as it's not also dangerous.

Forming Communities

My issue is this: 90% of the benefit I got from Less Wrong had nothing to with rationality, or discussions on this website. It had to do with me finding a real life community of people, period. I think community is absolutely essential to healthy development as a human. This may be slightly less true for certain types of introverts, but I believe even most introverts enjoy (and benefit from) extroverted activities if they have a group of people they can feel comfortable with.

That benefit didn't even necessarily require an explicitly "aspiring-rationalist" community [Aside: I think a lot of the self importance comes from the word "rationalist." "Aspiring rationalist" isn't much better and is a mouthful, but at least acknowledges that we aren't there yet].

I could have integrated myself into a group of gamers or other random friends, and gotten maybe 60% of the same benefit. In the NYC Less Wrong group, that 60% (i.e. general friendship and shared memes) is filled instead by having friends with a shared desire to think about ideas critically and avoid a lot of common brain failures.

But the other 30% of that benefit comes specifically from a community that values achievement in conjunction with rationality. If I were hanging around in a gaming community, I'd be having a lot of fun playing games and seeing people being particularly successful at playing games to encourage me to do it more. In NYC Less Wrong, I'm having a lot of fun developing an array of skills that are useful in different ways outside of a very narrow fun-niche, and I'm constantly exposed to people who are trying to launch startups or film movies or otherwise embark on big projects.

Not all of us are actually that motivated, but exposure to that motivation and the rationalist-discipline that accompanies it is, I think, incredibly valuable.

Does that community have to have any branding attachment to Less Wrong? No. In fact I don't like calling ourselves LessWrongers or even "Rationalists" (and "Aspiring Rationalist" is just so clunky that it doesn't really work either). So far we haven't come up with anything better that sticks. I think there IS value in using some kind of word to describe ourselves tribally, but it probably would be better to keep that separate from the Less Wrong label.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 02 January 2012 09:42:48AM *  8 points [-]

I'm a bit wary of the idea of trying to form LW communities. Why do we want to do that?

I suspect that the problem that prevents LWers from getting things done the most is akrasia, and communities seem like one of the best tools for fighting it. It's a lot easier to get things done if you can do them together with someone.

See also the Good News of Situationist Psychology - being rational, too, is far more effective if you have people around you encouraging the habit. It's easy to slack off and fall into sloppy thought if nobody around you is serious about rationality.

Related to the above: I'm wary of setting off down a path that is likely to make LWers identify (more) strongly as being LWers.

Identifying more strongly as rationalists, however, is probably a good thing.

ETA: Graham said it himself:

There may be some things it's a net win to include in your identity. For example, being a scientist. But arguably that is more of a placeholder than an actual label—like putting NMI on a form that asks for your middle initial—because it doesn't commit you to believing anything in particular. A scientist isn't committed to believing in natural selection in the same way a bibilical literalist is committed to rejecting it. All he's committed to is following the evidence wherever it leads.

Considering yourself a scientist is equivalent to putting a sign in a cupboard saying "this cupboard must be kept empty." Yes, strictly speaking, you're putting something in the cupboard, but not in the ordinary sense.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 31 December 2011 02:51:11PM 9 points [-]

Taking Oneself Too Seriously, which is a capital crime over here

Celia Green - a British author - once wrote "[Children] seek intensity of experience. They do not have much experience of life and they may seek it clumsily. As they grow older and saner they learn not to seek it at all."

The injunction not to take oneself seriously, if taken seriously, would lead to self-sabotage and guaranteed mediocrity. Much better that people try and fail, and still keep trying. Even better to get it right, but I do not see how an attitude of unseriousness will help there.

Green is a brilliant thinker who somehow ended up shut out of academic life, and her best works (The Human Evasion and Advice to Clever Children) are full of insights into why taking yourself seriously is the only reasonable thing to do, how and why ordinary consciousness works to suppress such an attitude, and how to see past the traps that your own mind or the attitudes of others may set for you. They are also full of imprecations against the human race for not supporting her work, but perhaps she has a right to that attitude. There ought to be a shelf full of commentary on her works by now (and surely she would have filled a shelf by herself if her life had worked properly), but somehow she remains unknown.

Here is another salient quote from Green: (After scorning the fact that most poetry is about "Love and Death":) "If the human race were a little more advanced, it would want to write poems about infinity and the inconceivable..., and if it were more advanced still it would have more urgent things to do than write poetry."

Substitute "hold a ritual" for "write poetry", and you'll get my message. I do believe that this is what functioning higher intelligence looks like: extremely urgent and directed in its activities, when it is empowered to be so. Life is short and existence is radically uncertain. "Ritual" may be something of a proxy for purpose, but at least it is reaching after empowerment.

Comment author: Raemon 31 December 2011 05:53:44PM *  0 points [-]

To the extent that we did ritual "because it was fun", I think it was a proxy purpose approximately to the same degree that watching a good movie was. Entertainment may change but it's not going away - it's valuable for its own sake.

But some of our group are actively doing important things, and I don't think those things would ever "replace" the function that ritual serves. To the extent that we're doing ritual as a source of community building and inspiration, it basically serves the purpose that it's meant to serve, which is to give you a foundation to go do those things that are more important than writing poetry.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 01 September 2014 01:57:26AM 2 points [-]

Maybe this is a British thing, but it smacks a bit of Taking Oneself Too Seriously, which is a capital crime over here. For some reason the the idea of a bunch of earnest, self-ascribed "rationalists" coming up with their own rituals just makes me cringe.

Probably because the result of people taking their lives seriously is often cringe worthy.

But the lives of people who don't take their lives seriously are generally cringe worthy as well, it's just that we've ceased cringing because we've become inured to the usual ways people misspend their lives.

I think the latter is the much more certain and prevalent waste of human lives.