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Comment author: malcolmocean 28 May 2017 08:30:52PM *  3 points [-]

I want to publicly express my strong support for this experiment/meta-experiment.

I think that my support is particularly noteworthy as I'm presently a core member of a different taking-each-other-seriously co-living experiment that is profoundly different in its philosophy. (Mine is not in Berkeley, nor rationalist.) Therefore some people might assume that I would be opposed to Dragon Army Barracks.

Things in common between the experiment I'm part of and Dragon Army Barracks:

  • is "high-commitment, high-standards, high-investment"
  • is trying to actually make & achieve something together
  • is addressing unanchored abandoned loneliness thing
  • has consciously explicated commitments and assumptions
  • is intended to produce a high-level of consistent excellence and ability to effectively collaborate

Things that are different:

  • We're very far from authoritarian or hierarchical. Although we're also not egalitarian, consensus-based, or even democratic per se... but we have essentially zero of telling-other-people-what-to-do
  • Our basic collective navigating framework is Kegan-5 / fluid mode / post-rational], rather than [Kegan-4 / systematic mode / rational] ([good summary of this distinction)
  • Our focus is almost entirely on the meta-level of building the new cultural platform we're building. We don't have any expectations of each other on the levels of specific object-level projects or explicit behavioral norms (aside from ones necessary for the house's function)

I think that these differences are core to why I am part of this project that I'm part of, and why I consider it to be the most valuable investment I could be making with my time and energy. I am, therefore, non-Berkeley-residence aside, not going to be applying to DA. As I said above though, I strongly support Dragon Army Barracks as an experiment and potentially as an ongoing resource to individual and collective growth.

Reasons why I think that DA is a good idea:

  • Expected value of high amounts of worthwhile object-level output. As Sebastian Marshall says, "the gains made from living more purposefully are forever - the time you've spent well will remains well-spent even if you fall off for a while sometimes. Most people don't even try, which is why most people don't succeed."
  • I expect it will also produce a lot of developmental progress for people involved; that if you were to be able to sort rationalists by amount of growth in a year, the Dragons would all be in the top quartile, and would occupy many of the top 10 slots. This, even if the experiment were to end after 6 months.
  • The DA Barracks is an intervention that is attempting to produce change on a very fundamental level of the system that is a group house. This is a powerful leverage point (see Donella Meadow's article... I would say this is around a 2 or 3, and most group houses have only done mild experiments at the 4-6 level.)
  • I agree with and/or resonate with the six points that Duncan makes in Section 2 of this document.
  • The project-level value of learning here is also very high: this will greatly inform future experiments, whatever their leadership basis.
  • If I had kids, I would absolutely sign them up for any summer camps or classes Duncan was running. I think the amount of power he would have in relation to them would be similar to the amount of power he'll have in this situation.

A final reason is this: I think that we as humanity need to rapidly make progress on being able to effectively coordinate in non-hierarchical ways, which is what the project I'm part of is about. Corollarily, humanity is kind of mediocre at doing this in many contexts. Therefore if non-hierarchical projects aren't emphatically directed towards solving that challenge itself, I expect them to be outperformed by projects that are leveraging existing understanding about how to coordinate effectively in hierarchical ways. i.e. in this case, Dragon Army Barracks.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 29 May 2017 12:06:18AM 1 point [-]

I really, really wish Kegan levels didn't come in an order, so a claim to be at a higher Kegan level than someone else didn't look so starkly like a claim to superiority. It's turning me off even trying to take them seriously, because everyone who uses them looks like they're just self-aggrandizing to me.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 28 May 2017 04:11:22PM 5 points [-]

Hypothesis for why the antibodies exist: People noticed that there were standard methods for creating in-group identification, and these methods were exploited by con artists, advertisers, managers trying to get their employees to work harder, teachers trying to get their students to behave, etc. Antibodies formed in response.

Given that the standard response to "weird" groups that demand cohesion/commitment seems to be "that sounds like a cult", it feels like these antibodies could have developed after the cult scares, which Wikipedia tells me showed up seriously in the 1970s.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 29 May 2017 12:02:04AM 1 point [-]

Yeah, this is my hypothesis. Vietnam and Watergate probably seriously contributed to a general erosion of trust in authorities as well.

Comment author: Nisan 27 May 2017 08:49:43PM 1 point [-]

I'm not proposing a house policy here. I'm suggesting that a Dragon would do well to have regular followups with someone outside the house, and I'm proposing that some members of the wider community offer to be those someones.

In the past I've had regular video calls with a couple people who were doing long-term experiments with their lifestyle; I think it was helpful. I believe such an arrangement was part of the Leverage polyphasic sleep experiment.

Jacob is right: There's a difference between a friend one can reach out to if one needs to, and a friend one is scheduled to talk to once a week. Personally, I struggle to keep up with friends without scheduled meetings, and it sounds like the Dragon Army will be very busy.

Also, there is a difference between reaching out to a friend when things have gone very wrong and one needs to get out; and bringing up a less drastic problem during a weekly check-in. In the first case, you need a couch to crash on and maybe a lawyer. In the second case, you need someone who will listen to you and bring an outside perspective, and maybe refer you to other resources.

Partially, I'm afraid that if this doesn't go well, our community will lose a cohort of promising people. It would be a shame if that happened because we failed to pay attention to how they were doing.

But also, if the experiment goes very well, this arrangement would be a means by which the wider community can learn from what went right.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 27 May 2017 10:19:02PM *  0 points [-]

Partially, I'm afraid that if this doesn't go well, our community will lose a cohort of promising people.

I really don't know what you mean by "lose" here (and I'm worried that others will have varying interpretations as well). Do you mean they'll become less promising? Not promising? Leave the community? Go crazy? Die?

Anyway, this seems sensible, but I still want to nudge you and everyone else in the direction of sharing more explicit models of what you think could actually go wrong.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 27 May 2017 05:29:34PM 2 points [-]

I think there's a difference between a friend that one could talk to (if they decide to), and a friend tasked with the specific responsibility of checking in and intervening if things seem to be going badly.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 27 May 2017 06:56:21PM 0 points [-]

Sure, but what I'd like to know is why Nisan thinks that difference is important in this case.

Comment author: username2 27 May 2017 10:54:10AM 1 point [-]

Romantic entanglements and their fallout are not ruled out by all male environments even if the members do not identify as homosexual. So still important to consider these issues even if there are no women at all.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 27 May 2017 06:56:07PM 0 points [-]

Can confirm. I was in a fraternity in college with many gay members, some of whom occasionally hooked up and caused manageable levels of drama. This was a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of the fraternity; I think as recently as 10 years before my time nobody was out, and then some people came out after joining.

Comment author: Sinal 27 May 2017 05:24:08AM 2 points [-]

This post makes me miss my days in marching band, or in the Boy Scouts. Honestly it doesn't sound all that authoritarian. Can you not accomplish the same thing using a traditional organization and a meeting place? Why does it have to be a house?

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 27 May 2017 09:00:16AM 4 points [-]

Can you not accomplish the same thing using a traditional organization and a meeting place? Why does it have to be a house?

A couple of reasons occur to me. First, everyone's real goddamn busy. If you already live in a rationalist house and also have a job there's not gonna be a ton of time or attention left in your life for other stuff as big as what Duncan wants Dragon Army to be. Second, Duncan wants people to do things like exercise with each other first thing in the morning before heading off to work, and it seems really annoyingly difficult to coordinate something like this with anyone other than the people you live with.

In general it's just way, way easier to coordinate all sorts of activities with the people you live with than with anybody else. My most direct experience with this was living in a fraternity and seeing the difference between the brothers who did and didn't live in the house; there was a big difference in terms of social accessibility and bonding, and accordingly we strongly encouraged people to live in the house when at all possible.

Comment author: Nisan 27 May 2017 04:53:44AM 3 points [-]

Are there people external to the project who are going to keep an eye on this? I think it would be sensible for each participant to have a buddy outside the house who checks in with them regularly. And for each buddy to know who the other buddies are.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 27 May 2017 08:56:58AM *  0 points [-]

This seems extreme. Do you not expect that each participant will already have at least one friend outside the house they can talk to about the house if things go poorly, without this needing to be an explicit policy? Or do you worry that things will go so poorly that this won't work for some reason? If so, can you share a more detailed model?

Comment author: robot-dreams 26 May 2017 03:20:45PM *  2 points [-]

Going to class was not voluntary for me either. The consequences of not going to class included: parents screaming at me, parents kicking my ass (tiger parent style; we didn't do "grounding" in my household), truancies going onto my "permanent record", a full day of detention on a Saturday, etc. Things that people call "voluntary" don't usually result in physical and emotional damage if you don't do them.

Nonetheless, I skipped class a few times in middle school, and I suffered the consequences as a result. Were the consequences worth the glorious days of freedom that I spent skateboarding near the beach, sitting in a local comic book store marathoning manga, etc.? Maybe; maybe not.

But whether I go to class is a choice that I alone have the freedom to make. My parents and the school can set the consequences, and they can apply a lot of pressure to make particular options more or less appealing, but they can never take away my ability to choose.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 26 May 2017 11:10:39PM 2 points [-]

but they can never take away my ability to choose.

So far! Security mindset.

Comment author: Lumifer 26 May 2017 08:57:20PM 1 point [-]

a relatively tight analogy can be made between attitudes towards the authoritarianism of a military bootcamp and attitudes towards romantic relationships

I don't get the analogy. So, if you go through a string of really bad military bootcamps? But you need to stay open to the possibility of a really good bootcamp that you can and should commit to?

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 26 May 2017 09:17:40PM 1 point [-]

Yes, but using "military bootcamp" as a symbol of broader kinds of authorities you could submit to, e.g. schools, employers, governments, and keeping in mind that people are learning about how authorities work based on others' experiences and not just their own.

Comment author: Duncan_Sabien 26 May 2017 10:59:54AM *  7 points [-]

I think the main issue here is culture. Like, I agree with you that I think most members of the rationalsphere wouldn't do well in a military bootcamp, and I think this suggests a failing of the rationalist community—a pendulum that swung too far, and has weakened people in a way that's probably better than the previous/alternative weakness, but still isn't great and shouldn't be lauded. I, at least, would do fine in a military bootcamp. So, I suspect, would the rationalists I actually admire (Nate S, Anna S, Eli T, Alex R, etc). I suspect Eliezer wouldn't join a military bootcamp, but conditional on him having chosen to do so, I suspect he'd do quite well, also. There's something in there about being able to draw on a bank of strength/go negative temporarily/have meta-level trust that you can pull through/not confuse pain with damage/not be cut off from the whole hemisphere of strategies that require some amount of battering.

It makes sense to me that our community's allergic to it—many people entered into such contexts before they were ready, or with too little information, or under circumstances where the damage was real and extreme. But I think "AVOID AT ALL COSTS! RED FLAG! DEONTOLOGICAL REJECTION!" is the wrong lesson to take from it, and I think our community is closer to that than it is to a healthy, carefully considered balance.

Similarly, I think the people-being-unreliable thing is a bullshit side effect/artifact of people correctly identifying flexibility and sensitivity-to-fluctuating-motivation as things worth prioritizing, but incorrectly weighting the actual costs of making them the TOP priorities. I think the current state of the rationalist community is one that fetishizes freedom of movement and sacrifices all sorts of long-term, increasing-marginal-returns sorts of gains, and that a few years from now, the pendulum will swing again and people will be doing it less wrong and will be slightly embarrassed about this phase.

(I'm quite emphatic about this one. Of all the things rationalists do, this one smacks the most of a sort of self-serving, short-sighted immaturity, the exact reason why we have the phrase "letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.")

I do think Problem 4 can probably be solved incrementally/with a smaller intervention, but when I was considering founding a house, one of my thoughts was "Okay, good—in addition to all the other reasons to do this, it'll give me a context to really turn a bazooka on that one pet peeve."

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 26 May 2017 06:41:59PM *  2 points [-]

I think a relatively tight analogy can be made between attitudes towards the authoritarianism of a military bootcamp and attitudes towards romantic relationships. Like, if you go through a string of really bad relationships with partners who consistently abused you, you might update that there's something inherently abusive about relationships and that you just shouldn't be in one again, ever, because your autonomy is too important. On the other hand there is such a thing as a healthy relationship, even a healthy relationship in which you have less than perfect autonomy because you've made some commitments that you're following through on, and you might be lucky enough to find yourself in one in the future if you're open to the possibility and search carefully for someone to commit to.

I think I disagree that the pendulum will swing back in the future though. The rationality community being the way it is now, prioritizing flexibility the way it does now, probably has the property that it attracts people who are prioritizing flexibility and turns off people who are looking for reliability. So if anything I expect the problem to get worse over time unless someone makes a deliberate effort to attract looking-for-reliability sorts of people - hopefully Dragon Army can do this.

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