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The problem with too many rational memes

79 Swimmer963 19 January 2012 12:56AM

Like so many of my posts, this one starts with a personal anecdote. 

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend was invited to a community event through Meetup.com. The purpose of the meetup was to watch the movie The Elegant Universe and follow up with a discussion. As it turns out, this particular meetup was run by a man who I’ll call ‘Charlie’, the leader of some local Ottawa group designed to help new immigrants to Canada find a social support net. Which, in my mind, is an excellent goal. 

Charlie turned out to be a pretty neat guy, too: charismatic, funny, friendly, encouraging everyone to share his or her opinion. Criticizing or shutting out other people’s views was explicitly forbidden. It was a diverse group, as he obviously wanted it to be, and by the end everyone seemed to feel pretty comfortable. 

My boyfriend, an extremely social being whose main goal in life is networking, was raving by the end about what a neat idea it was to start this kind of group, and how Charlie was a really cool guy. I was the one who should have had fun, since I’m about 100 times more interested in physics than he is, but I was fuming silently. 

Why? Because, at various points in the evening, Charlie talked about his own interest in the paranormal and the spiritual, and the books he’d written about it. When we were discussing string theory and its extra dimensions, he made a comment, the gist of which was ‘if people’s souls go to other dimensions when they die, Grandma could be communicating with you right now from another dimension by tapping spoons.’ 

Final straw. I bit my tongue and didn’t say anything and tried not to show how irritated I was. Which is strange, because I’ve always been fairly tolerant, fairly agreeable, and very eager to please others. Which is why, when my brain responded ‘because he’s WRONG and I can’t call him out on it because of the no criticism rule!’ to the query of ‘why are you pissed off?’, I was a bit suspicious of that answer. 

I do think that Charlie is wrong. I would have thought he was wrong a long time ago. But it wouldn’t have bothered me; I know that because I managed to attend various churches for years, even though I thought a lot of their beliefs were wrong, because it didn’t matter. They had certain goals in common with me, like wanting to make the world a better place, and there were certain things I could get out of being a community member, like incredibly peaceful experiences of bliss that would reset my always-high stress levels to zero and allow me to survive the rest of the week. Some of the sub-goals they had planned to make the world a better place, like converting people in Third World countries to Christianity, were ones that I thought were sub-optimal or even damaging. But overall, there were more goals we had in common than goals we didn’t have in common, and I could, I judged, accomplish those goals we had in common more effectively with them than on my own. And anyway, the church would still be there whether or not I went; if I did go, at least I could talk about stuff like physics with awe and joy (no faking required, thinking about physics does make me feel awe and joy), and increase some of the congregation’s scientific literacy a little bit. 

Then I stopped going to church, and I started spending more time on Less Wrong, and if I were to try to go back, I’m worried it would be exactly the same as the community meetup. I would sit there fuming because they were wrong and it was socially unacceptable for me to tell them that. 

I’m worried because I don’t think those feelings are the result of a clearheaded, logical value calculation. Yeah, churches and people who believe in the paranormal waste a lot of money and energy, which could be spent on really useful things otherwise. Yes, that could be a valid reason to reject them, to refuse to be their allies even if some of your goals are the same. But it’s not my true rejection. My true rejection is that them being wrong is too annoying for me to want to cooperate. Why? I haven’t changed my mind, really, about how much damage versus good I think churches do for the world. 

I’m worried that the same process which normalized religion for me is now operating in the opposite direction. I’m worried that a lot of Less Wrong memes, ideas that show membership to the ‘rationalist’ or ‘skeptic’ cultures, such as atheism itself, or the idea that religion is bad for humanity...I’m worried that they’re sneaking into my head and becoming virulent, that I'm becoming an undiscriminating skeptic. Not because I’ve been presented with way more evidence for them, and updated on my beliefs (although I have updated on some beliefs based on things I read here), but because that agreeable, eager-to-please subset of my brains sees the Less Wrong community and wants to fit in. There’s a part of me that evaluates what I read, or hear people say, or find myself thinking, and imagines Eliezer’s response to it. And if that response is negative...ooh, mine had better be negative too. 

And that’s not strategic, optimal, or rational. In fact, it’s preventing me from doing something that might otherwise be a goal for me: joining and volunteering and becoming active in a group that does good things for the Ottawa community. And this transformation has managed to happen without me even noticing, which is a bit scary. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who was aware of my own thoughts, but apparently not. 

Anyone else have the same experience? 

Morality is not about willpower

9 PhilGoetz 08 October 2011 01:33AM

Most people believe the way to lose weight is through willpower.  My successful experience losing weight is that this is not the case.  You will lose weight if you want to, meaning you effectively believe0 that the utility you will gain from losing weight, even time-discounted, will outweigh the utility from yummy food now.  In LW terms, you will lose weight if your utility function tells you to.  This is the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (the effective kind of therapy), which tries to change peoples' behavior by examining their beliefs and changing their thinking habits.

Similarly, most people believe behaving ethically is a matter of willpower; and I believe this even less.  Your ethics is part of your utility function.  Acting morally is, technically, a choice; but not the difficult kind that holds up a stop sign and says "Choose wisely!"  We notice difficult moral choices more than easy moral choices; but most moral choices are easy, like choosing a ten dollar bill over a five.  Immorality is not a continual temptation we must resist; it's just a kind of stupidity.

This post can be summarized as:

  1. Each normal human has an instinctive personal morality.
  2. This morality consists of inputs into that human's decision-making system.  There is no need to propose separate moral and selfish decision-making systems.
  3. Acknowledging that all decisions are made by a single decision-making system, and that the moral elements enter it in the same manner as other preferences, results in many changes to how we encourage social behavior.

continue reading »

Selecting optimal group projects and roles

2 calcsam 06 August 2011 05:50PM

Related to: Designing Rationalist Projects, Committees and Leadership

As I mentioned in the above posts, Latter-day Saints communities organize committees to accomplish specific tasks, like serving the outside community or making sure new members get friends.

The question is, what tasks should rationalist communities organize committees or assign individuals to accomplish?

The easy answer: whatever its members want. But there are some collective roles and activities which are better for community-building than others.

Consider the following jury-rigged contraption, which I'll call Bhagwat’s community-building ratio:

  • group project goodness = U(project) / E(social friction),

that is, task goodness equals task utility divided by the expected amount of resulting social friction. For example:

Learning PUA:

  • U(task): medium. Many LW-goers do express a desire to improve social skills.
  • E(social friction): high. This seems to alienate many (most?), though not all, women. And LW meetups need more women, both to function better now and because it would facilitate future meme propagation.

Rejection therapy:

  • U(task): medium-to-high. This also helps to improve social skiils, especially assertiveness. More simple and widely applicable than PUA; easy to do without a mentor.
  • E(social friction): low. This is a multi-gender activity.

So rejection therapy would likely make a better group task then PUA.

What are the most high-utility, low-social-friction tasks?

The lowest-hanging fruit I know of is to make people feel welcome.[1]

Whenever someone comes to the group for the first time, the group leader should make sure to meet them personally and make them feel welcome. They should get their contact info and afterwards send them a brief e-mail/text, sincerely thanking them for coming.

As people are starting to come for the first few weeks, the group leader should get to know them personally and understand what they’re looking for and why they came. Maybe there’s a particular book or Less Wrong sequence they would like. Maybe they’re trying to improve some skills and would appreciate follow-up. Maybe there’s some skill they know that other Less Wrongians want to learn – and they could teach them!

If you’re able to personalize their experience, you will improve your score on Bhagwat’s Law of Commitment: “The degree to which people identify with your group is directly proportional to the amount of stuff you tell them to do that works."

This task is fairly delegatable. The main requirement is good social skills – you need to be able to have a reasonable conversation with anyone, and the ability to express gratitude sincerely. Otherwise, people might come off as insincere or weird, and that would create social friction.

What are the benefits?

The first three church units I served in were mediocre at befriending new attendees and integrating new members; the last church unit was excellent. Around seventy percent more people joined this last church unit; and of those who joined, retention rates were around 80 to 90 percent, compared to 50 percent elsewhere.

Small Mini-groups

As Less Wrong meetup membership in a given area becomes reasonably dense, and meeting size expands, subgroups can form around common interests.

An Improving Social Skills group. Or an Actually Learning in College group. Or a startup where a bunch of LW people work together…wait, somebody is already doing that.

Mini-meetings would also be good for introducing people to the Less Wrong community. People coming for the first time are generally more comfortable in smaller environments. Latter-day Saint churches with 50-100 weekly attendance grow three or four times faster than churches with 200+ weekly attendance, according to a statistic I read somewhere and can't track down.

There’s a final benefit to having clearly-defined roles held by community members.

All groups, as they evolve, give individuals distinct roles. Class clown, teacher’s pet, whatever. If these roles are positive, people’s identification with and commitment to the group will increase. They will know that the group needs them.

Most people in Latter-day Saint communities have specific, definite roles because of their calling – perhaps they are teaching a class every Sunday, or are responsible to visit a particularly troubled family. This is an unambiguous way to tell them, “We need you.”

The same could be true in rationalist communities.



[1] In Latter-day Saint communities, this is primarily done by the Missionary and Fellowship committees described in my last post.

 

Reasons for being rational

56 Swimmer963 01 July 2011 03:28PM

When I found Less Wrong and started reading, when I made my first post, when I went to my first meetup….

It was a little like coming home.

And mostly it wasn’t. Mostly I felt a lot more out of place than I have in, say, church youth groups. It was hard to pinpoint the difference, but as far as I can tell, it comes down to this: a significant proportion of the LW posters are contrarians in some sense. And I’m a conformist, even if I would prefer not to be, even if that’s a part of my personality that I’m working hard to change. I’m much more comfortable as a follower than as a leader. I like pre-existing tradition, the reassuring structure of it. I like situations that allow me to be helpful and generous and hardworking, so that I can feel like a good person. Emotionally, I don’t like disagreeing with others, and the last thing I have to work hard to do is tolerate others' tolerance.

And, as evidenced by the fact that I attend church youth groups, I don’t have the strong allergy that many of the community seem to have against religion. This is possibly because I have easily triggered mystical experiences when, for example, I sing in a group, especially when we are singing traditional ‘sacred’ music. In a previous century, I would probably have been an extremely happy nun.

Someone once expressed surprise that I was able to become a rationalist in spite of this neurological quirk. I’ve asked myself this a few times. My answer is that I don’t think I deserve the credit. If anything, I ended up on the circuitous path towards reading LessWrong because I love science, and I love science because, as a child, reading about something as beautiful as general relativity gave me the same kind of euphoric experience as singing about Jesus does now. My inability to actual believe in any religion comes from a time before I was making my own decisions about that kind of thing. 

I was raised by atheist parents, not anti-theist so much as indifferent. We attended a Unitarian Universalist church for a while, which meant I was learning about Jesus and Buddha and Native American spirituality all mixed together, all the memes watered down to the point that they lost their power. I was fourteen when I really encountered Christianity, still in the mild form of the Anglican Church of Canada. I was eighteen when I first encountered the ‘Jesus myth’ in its full, meme-honed-to-maximum-virulence form, and the story arc captivated me for a full six months. I still cry during every Good Friday service. But I must have missed some critical threshold, because I can’t actually believe in that story. I’m not even sure what it would mean to believe in a story. What does that feel like?

I was raised by scientists. My father did his PhD in physical chemistry, my mother in plant biology. I grew up reading SF and pop science, and occasionally my mother or my father’s old textbooks. I remember my mother’s awe at the beautiful electron-microscope images in my high school textbooks, and how she sat patiently while I fumblingly talked about quantum mechanics, having read the entire tiny physics section of our high school library. My parents responded to my interest in science with pride and enthusiasm, and to my interest in religion with indulgent condescension. That was my structure, my tradition. And yes, that has everything to do with why I call myself an atheist. I wouldn’t have had the willpower to disagree with my parents in the long run.

Ultimately, I have an awfully long way to go if I want to be rational, as opposed to being someone who’s just interested in reading about math and science. Way too much of my motivation for ‘having true beliefs’ breaks down to ‘maybe then they’ll like me.’ This is one of the annoying things about my personality, just as annoying as my sensitivity to religious memes and my inability to say no to anyone. Luckily, my personality also comes with the ability to get along with just about anyone, and in a forum of mature adults, no one is going to make fun of me because I’m wearing tie-dye overalls. No one here has yet made fun of me for my interest in religion, even though I expect most people disagree with it.

And there’s one last conclusion I can draw, albeit from a sample size of one. Not everyone can be a contrarian rationalist. Not everyone can rebel against their parents’ religion. Not everyone can disagree with their friends and family and not feel guilty. But everyone can be rational if they are raised that way.

 

Community roles: committees and leadership

6 calcsam 23 June 2011 03:54PM

Related to: Building rationalist communities, Lessons from Latter-day Saints, Holy Books (Or Rationalist Sequences) Don't Implement Themselves, Designing rationalist projects, Community roles: teachers and auxiliaries.

The ultimate question I’m trying to answer is: what should be the roles in a rationalist community?           

In the previous post and this one, I outline the roles in Latter-day Saint communities along with some implications for rationalist communities. In the following posts, I will elaborate the analysis of implications.

Good sets of rules resemble programs; once developed, they can be made to run everywhere, with local modifications.[1]

Overview

In the previous post, I discussed the role of teachers and auxiliaries. Teachers are the ones who speak, teach and lead discussions in Sunday church meetings. Auxiliaries are responsible for ensuring the well-being of the various segments of the congregation – men, women, and children.

In this post, I will discuss committees and leadership.

Committees are in charge of specific important tasks – planning activities, giving service, and so on. The general leadership appoints people to each of the positions, provides personal counseling, and plans the curriculum.

In smaller groups, the leaders and more-committed members often wear multiple hats.

continue reading »

Community roles: teachers and auxiliaries

6 calcsam 22 June 2011 10:52AM

Related to: Building rationalist communities, Lessons from Latter-day Saints, Holy Books (Or Rationalist Sequences) Don't Implement Themselves, Designing rationalist projects.

I'm beginning a new subseries of posts, trying to answer the following question: what should be the roles in a rationalist community?           

In this post and the next one, I will outline the roles in Latter-day Saint communities. In the following posts, I will draw more conclusions as to which roles would be ideal for rationalist communities.

I should note that these sets of responsibilities are designed to function in congregations where 100 to 150 people come to church every week. They are slimmed down when the congregations are smaller. I’m going to outline all the roles, and as I go, I’ll note which ones are the most important.

The Main Roles

There are four main groups of “callings,” responsibilities in the church. I will discuss the first two groups in this post.

First, there are the teachers, who speak, teach and lead discussions in Sunday church meetings.

Second, there are auxiliaries, responsible for ensuring the well-being of the various segments of the congregation. In each congregation, there is a women’s organization, a men’s organization, as well as young women’s, young men’s, and children’s organizations.

In smaller groups, the leaders and more-committed members often wear multiple hats.

continue reading »

Designing Rationalist Projects

29 calcsam 12 May 2011 03:38AM

Related to: Lessons from Latter-day Saints, Building Rationalist Communities overview, Holy Books (Or Rationalist Sequences) Don't Implement Themselves

My thesis:

It doesn’t matter what ideas are conveyed on Less Wrong, or in LW meetings -- the subset that matters is what group members resolved to do. Discussion of these 'resolves', and people's experience doing them, is useful in creating an expectation that people level up their skills.

Intelligent discussion of ideas is always refreshing. But translating that into action is more difficult.

Our learned reflexes are deep. They need to be overridden. How? Practice.

One woman I taught in India, we’ll call her Girija, was 35 years old, extremely intelligent and really wanted to change her life but had incredibly low levels of self-confidence. Every time we met Girija, we’d have a really sharp discussion, followed by her pouring her heart out to us. It was the same every time, and though we enjoyed the visits, and the food she would feed us, she never seemed to be getting anywhere.

If she really wanted to fundamentally change her life, our weekly meetings weren’t enough. (Similarly, weekly meetups are a good start, but if you really want to be learning rationality you should be practicing every day.)

We felt that if Girija spent some time every day with her 9 year old daughter and live-in boyfriend, reading the scriptures together, they would be happier. We explained this to her frequently, and she said she would start -- but she never did it.

One week, through cleverly calling Girija and chatting for 10 minutes every day, we got her to do it. After the week was over, we asked her how it went.

“You know, it was really good,” she said. “Sandeep and I have been getting along a lot better this week because we did that.”

It was like a light had turned on in her head. Because we followed up, she did it, and was far more motivated to do more things afterwards.[1] 

Let me give two simple examples of goal, project, and follow-up.[2]

  • GOAL: To become better at noticing logical fallacies as they are being uttered
  • PROJECT: A certain Less Wrong group could watch a designated hour of C-SPAN -- or a soap opera, or a TV show -- and try to note down all the fallacies.
  • FOLLOW-UP: Discuss this on a designated thread. Afterwards, compile the arguments and link to the file, so that anyone in the LW community can repeat this on their own and check against your conclusions. Reflect communally at your next LW meeting. 
  • GOAL: To get into less arguments about definitions.
  • PROJECT: “Ask, "Can you give me a specific example of that?" or "Can you be more concrete?" in everyday conversations.” Make a challenging goal about how much you will do this – this is pretty low-hanging fruit.
  • FOLLOW-UP: Write instances in your journal. Share examples communally at your next LW meeting.

I came up with these in about five minutes. Having spent more time in the community than me, you will all be able to generate more and better possibilities.

Some points about Projects:

  • Here are some ideas that can easily be made into Projects. Thanks commenters on the last post.
  • Projects don't have to be group-based, but groups motivate doing stuff.
  • Projects should be more short than the above linked posts. The above Goal/Project/Follow-Up kernels are 85 and 57 words, respectively. Brevity is key to implementation.
  • There is currently no central database of Rationality Projects or people's experiences trying to implement them. (Correct me if I'm wrong here.)
  • Feedback on implementation is essential for improving practices.

Finally, a really 'low-cost' way to make a project and follow up. Right before the conclusion of a Less Wrong group, give everyone a slip of paper and ask them to write down one thing they are going to do differently next week as a result of the discussion. For two minutes (total) at the beginning of the next meeting, let people tell what they did.

Some notes and warnings:

Doing this in a fraternalistic manner, not a paternalistic manner, will be a key to success.[3] Community agreement that We Should Do This is important before launching a Project.

Beware of the following tradeoff:

  •  implementing Projects will alienate some people. Even if projects are determined by consensus, there will be some people who don’t want to do any Project, and they will feel marginalized and excluded.
  • not implementing Projects, people will improve their Rationality skills at a far slower pace. [4] You will thus run afoul of Bhagwat’s Law of Commitment: “The degree to which people identify with your group is directly proportional to the amount of stuff you tell them to do that works." But ultimately, commitment drives growth. More leadership to organize stuff, more people bringing friends, and so on.

I will discuss this more later, along with possible solutions. Latter-day Saints, with a large emphasis on doing things, have high levels of commitment; however, there are definitely people who would come to church more if they were expected to do less.

Please post any ideas you have for Projects in the comments.


[1] Even subtracting the religious element, common goals reduce conflict.

[2] Here are some keys to following up that I learned. In two years, I probably applied this on about 600 people:

  •  Following up is mere nagging (and equally ineffective) unless the person/group actually wanted to do the task in the first place.
  • Congratulating people when they  did  do something was far more important than expressing disappointment when they didn’t do it – the 80/20 rule applies.
  • I often felt afraid to ask someone if they had done what they promised to do, because they probably hadn’t, and I didn’t know what I should say then.
  • But awkwardness is contagious; if you act awkward when talking to someone, the other person will feel awkward too. Be genuinely excited, and they will also reflect this. 
  • It’s all about how you ask the question. “How did you like reading X?” is far better than “Did you read X?”. Use humor and make the task seem easy to do.
  • Don’t be self-righteous; actively deprecate yourself if necessary.
  • Each person has different ways they like – and don’t like – being followed-up with.

[3] Coming from my experience as a Latter-day Saint missionary, my personal examples are all fairly paternalistic. With tweaks, they can all be made fraternalistic. The sentiment has been  expressed  that “I don’t like people telling me what to do”; this will avoid that pitfall.  

[4] I say 'far slower' based on my missionary experience. When people were dedicated to specific projects, they seemed to improve a lot faster.

Holy Books (Or Rationalist Sequences) Don’t Implement Themselves

31 calcsam 10 May 2011 07:15AM

Related to: Lessons from Latter-day Saints, Building Rationalist Communities overview

This is my basic thesis:

Marx needed a Lenin. Fermi, Hahn and Meitner needed a Manhattan Project. EY and the Sequences need more clearly- and simply-defined rationality skills and methods for improving them.

Using Eliezer’s levels scheme, these are the three descending levels on which belief systems operate: theology, norms, and implementation.

I’ll give some examples. Here’s a general example, again from the Latter-day Saints:

  • Theology: God knows everything. Your purpose on earth is to become like God;
  • Norms: You should pursue as much education as possible.
  • Implementation: Create and operate a really big, cheap university system.[1]

Here’s one that I often dealt with as a missionary:

  • Theology: God is really good at making decisions. Your purpose on earth is to become like God.
  • Norms: You shouldn’t take alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, or addictive substances. Taking addictive substances impairs your ability to make correct decisions.
  • Implementation: We are going to bring you candy every week so that when you’re tempted to buy a cigarette, you can eat the strawberry toffee instead. (Or, we are going to stop by your house every day at 8:30pm to give you a boost, because going from 7 cups of coffee a day to 0 is tough.)

I did both of these (with different people), and they worked.

Norms and Implementation

As a missionary for the Church, my basic role was to:

  •  find people who were willing to try something out
  • design individualized “commitment systems” for each person, and
  • support them in implementing them.

There’s a lifestyle change here.

The “basic package,” (my terminology), which is a prerequisite to joining the church, includes: a strong focus on strengthening the family, daily family prayer and scripture study, the aforementioned health code, and sex only inside marriage. The glue is weekly church attendance, ensuring membership in a community that shares the same values.

After the “basic package,” it gets a bit more complex, as there are lots of higher-level elements of this lifestyle. To sample a few in no particular order:

  • Loving others. Developing gratitude. Keeping a journal. Following Church leaders. Inviting other people to church. Serving others, especially by accepting responsibilities in church. Pursuing education. Forgiving others.
  • Understanding that you have innate self-worth. Not gossiping. Dressing modestly. Being a good parent. Honoring and respecting parents. Keeping a budget. Doing family activities and not shopping on Sunday. Staying out of debt.
  • For the doubting, to continue living these habits, until they develop (expected) greater belief through experience.[2]

Obviously these are different than rationalist norms, but my point is that they are fairly comprehensive. Though each topic is fairly regularly discussed in church, it’s impossible to implement them into your life all at once. It’s easy to seem overwhelmed by the flood of new information. (Sound familiar?)

And that is why we were there, to design mini-programs for each person.[3] We would isolate a couple of specific standards that would be effective for person X, and assist in implementation. If they liked it and wanted more, we helped them implement the “basic package” lifestyle.

This decision, that they liked it and wanted more, was the single most crucial decision that someone could make. It is directly related to Bhagwat’s Law of Commitment: “The degree to which people identify with your group is directly proportional to the amount of stuff you tell them to do that works.” I will discuss this further on a subsequent post.

Okay, so how does this apply to Less Wrongians?

Less Wrong has its version of a theological framework – the Sequences. They give a comprehensive set of statements about the way the world works, drawn from evolutionary psychology, anthropology, Bayesian statistics, etc.

But rationalism doesn’t have a well-defined set of norms/desirable skills to develop. As a result, we Less Wrongians unsurprisingly also lack a well-developed practical system for implementation.

You may cite lukeprog’s guide. That’s good, but it’s only six posts. Less Wrong needs a lot more of it!

Or maybe you’ll say that if you read the Sequences carefully, etc, etc. Well, I did. Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions is 51 dense pages in Word, or about 25,000 words. This is an (extremely good) foundational text. It is not a how-to manual.[4]

Brevity is key to implementation.

For Latter-day Saints, the basic explanation of family standards is about 6000 words (95% of the important stuff is from page 4 to 15). The basic guide for teenagers is about 4000 words, and the basic guide for running a church organization is about 12000 words. And each one is very clear about what to do. (The teenage guide most clearly illustrates this point about brevity.)

The easiest way to begin building a how-to manual is for LW members to post specific, short personal examples of how they applied the principles of rationality in their day-to-day lives. Then they should collect all of the links somewhere, probably on the wiki.

If this sounds salesman-y or cheesy to you, or if you're extremely skeptical about religion, I quote a commenter on my last post. “If this works for people that are obviously crazy," said Vaniver, "that suggests it'll work for people who are (hopefully obviously) sane.”


[1] Admittedly, this also supports other norms, such as ‘marry another Latter-day Saint.’

[2]I’m not claiming this is perfect. Over the four years since I joined, I've encountered various amounts of ingroup snobbery, use of these standards to judge others, cliquishness, and intolerance towards certain groups, primarily gays. Plus all of the normal human imperfections.

[3] In designing and sequencing programs, we generally used a simple cost-benefit standard: how much will this help X vs. how much effort will it cost X?

[4] By comparison: the Bible is a foundational text of Christianity.  The Purpose-Driven Life  is a derivative how-to manual. This is a distillation of the Sequences, which is at least a start.

Building rationalist communities: a series overview

20 calcsam 09 May 2011 03:15PM

Related to: How to build rationalist communities

"Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em," as it is written:

-       Holy Books Don’t Implement Themselves

o      Marx needed a Lenin. Fermi, Hahn and Meitner needed a Manhattan Project. The Bible needs a Rick Warren.

o      EY and the Sequences need:

§       a Distiller that generates Rationality Projects.

§       some Organizers to help people embark on these Projects.

-       Getting People To Do Stuff

o      It doesn’t matter what ideas were conveyed in group meeting, the subset that matters is what group members resolved to do

o      It doesn’t matter what group members resolved to do, the subset that matters is what you, the Organizer, followed up with.

-       Bhagwat’s Law of Commitment

o      The degree to which people identify with the group is directly proportional to the amount of stuff you tell them to do that works.

-       Head in the Clouds < Making It Rain

o      If someone is unable to articulate how they are going to implement a principle into their day-to-day lives, they are unlikely to implement it.

-       Herding Cats

o      If you don’t let people do something meaningful, they will never be any help.

o      Feeling needed as a part of a community is a powerful motive to keep coming to meetings.

o      Know the name and face of every newcomer. Have a good conversation with each. Afterwards, send them an e-mail showing them you are glad they came.

-       "The Four People Who Do Everything" organization problem

o      When you focus on doing stuff, some fandom members become core members.

o      Others leave or detach themselves.

o      But if you don’t have competent core members who organize, the group falls apart or stagnates.

o      Attrition is the organization-killer. Spending tons of time training new people, only to have your old people leave, is a recipe for frustration and stagnation.

-       Living Organisms Grow Naturally

o      The idea isn’t, ‘how can Less Wrong meetups expand’

o      It’s, ‘how can we remove the barriers stopping them?’

What are you all most interested in?

Building rationalist communities: lessons from the Latter-day Saints

14 calcsam 09 May 2011 03:14PM

Or: How I Learned Everything I Know About Group Organization By Spending Two Years on a Mormon Mission in India.

The official name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You may know us as ‘Mormons.’ We like to call ourselves ‘Latter-day Saints.’

If you’re a Less Wrongian and trying to organize a rationalist community, you should be interested in the Latter-day Saint organizational model for four reasons:

-       it’s a nonprofit, but franchise-based and designed to propagate itself,

-       everyone has a responsibility,

-       no one is paid, and

-       it works.

This is an introductory post. I'm not trying to persuade you to join, but rather that there’s something to learn here.

Here, I will give you some basic details about what the LDS Church is.  In later posts, I will explain more how it works. A series overview is here.

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