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Raise the Age Demographic

4 Post author: calcsam 06 August 2011 05:10PM

Related to: Building rationalist communitiesLessons from Latter-day SaintsHoly Books (Or Rationalist Sequences) Don't Implement ThemselvesDesigning rationalist projectsCommunity roles: teachers and auxiliaries, Committees and Leadership 

In the previous posts, I listed the main roles in Latter-day Saint communities. In this post and one to follow, I will outline possible roles and implications for rationalist communities.

I previously mentioned the issue of teacher selections: the balance between selecting the more natural teachers and giving the less outgoing and articulate contingent a chance.

The latter is important, because it’s a route to long-term skill development for all members.[1] But, like most investments, it requires long time horizons. It’s not viable to invest in developing talent if your embryonic talent is going to pack up and leave.

So how do you establish a long time horizon? How do you create a norm, an expectation, a common practice of sticking around in the group?

Unsurprisingly, this takes time to develop.

Reducing Turnover

Wherever the church is newly established, growth is fast, but turnover is high. This is caused (at least, immediately caused) by higher levels of infighting and quarreling. A commonly-told story is of an early church leader named Thomas B. Marsh dissatisfied over increased militarization and hostilities against neighbors. As a result, he signed an affidavit which helped trigger the forcible expulsion of Mormons from the state of Missouri.

I’ll repeat that: where the church is new, growth is fast, but turnover is high.

Many of the church members in India were in their late teens or early 20’s, looking for more direction in life. We were glad they joined, but there was a problem. The stability of the church organization in India was inversely proportional to the proportion of church members who were young, single adults.

One set of problems stemmed from romances gone awry, unwanted male attention, and resulting gossip. Another set of problems stemmed from simple unreliability – they often wouldn’t take their organizational responsibilities seriously, or wouldn’t prepare for classes they were supposed to teach.[2] And they generally weren’t as useful in teaching other members, because they weren’t as mature.

Of course families got in disagreements and quarrels too. But I certainly heard less about those.

Raise the Age Demographic

A commonly-cited Less Wrong norm is to raise the sanity waterline. I propose a new norm: raise the age demographic.

Functionally, parenthood encourages long-time-horizon thinking, and stabilizes one's self-defined identity as a member of group X. This is especially true in memes that require you to perform actively organizational tasks.

First, marriage. Consider Mormonism, and remember the lay clergy and everyone-has-a-role norms. A big problem for the church in India was gender imbalance – there were too many guys and so they would marry girls who weren’t in the church. Then when they had to choose between spending time at church or helping to run the church, and spending time with their wife, they chose the latter.

This is true for other time-intensive memetic groups – I picked up some Amway promotional materials once and noticed that most of featured people were married couples. (And yes, I do think Amway is Dark Side-ish.)

Second, children. It’s one of the standard stories – a couple isn’t really religious, but they have a kid and think their children needs religion so they start going to church. What are they looking for? An identity; a set of moral guidelines for their children.

Less Wrong needs to move into this market space.

Right now, the median demographic of Less Wrongians is a teenage to mid-20s, unmarried, male; it’s a group that includes me. But a good way to find long-term committed people and reduce turnover is to reach out to a slightly older demographic – parents with children.[3]

In the church, sure, the Young Women’s organization exists for the teenager girls; and the Primary organization exists for the smaller children. But the adults involved in each organization, and the parents of the children, are tied more closely into the church community. Each of them receives a (another) definite, concrete reason to come to church each Sunday.

In a rationalist parenting club, the children running around would provide a constant reminder and justification for the group’s existence.



[1] Personally, I’m far more articulate in my conversation and public speech due to numerous occasions where I led classes, gave speeches, and so forth.

[2] This wasn’t universal, but it was a general trend.

[3] I’m not sure exactly how to do this, but I am sure that it is desirable.

 

Comments (75)

Comment author: taryneast 07 August 2011 09:28:34AM *  18 points [-]

Some of the comments here are addressing the wrong problem. For example the idea of "what to do with the kids while the parents attend".

it's an important question, to be sure.... but it's stage- 2: after you've already attracted the parents, how to keep the kids entertained so the parents can attend.

You still need stage 1: how to actually attract the parents in the first place.

I am a mid-30s female who is getting ready to have kids in the not-too-distant future. I also have lots of friends who already have kids. I am in just inside your target demographic, so let me tell you what I'd like to get out of LW WRT my age-group and family aspirations. FWIW

There's a hell of a lot of stuff here on the site for me personally, ie how do I, personally change myself to become more rational.

The thing that's missing for parents, is how to educate their kids into rationality.

The articles on this site are way too high level for young kids. I'd estimate you'd need a teenager - or extremely smart tween, to read any of them... and not every kid will match this profile.

Simply dumbing it down may be part of the answer... but there's also the aspect of when kids are ready to learn certain "lessons" in rationality. Kids go through extremely irrational early-learning stages, eg its tough to get a three-four year old to even realise that other people don't have access to the same knowledge that they have (remember that experiment where a kid is shown what's in a box and is asked what the other kid thinks is in the box?).

What I'd like as a future parent... are some/any ideas for age-graded lessons I can teach my (potential) kids that will get them up to a higher rationality-level quicker than I did.

If we have these available - that will, hopefully, attract the kinds of parents that want their kids to have the best chance in life (ie most parents). Specifically you can probably attract the same kind of "parent-demographic' that currently goes for "make your baby smart" accessories.

I've been trying to think about what I can contribute myself, in this area... but hitting the fact that I myself am still very much still learning this stuff myself. While I have been putting together some ideas on how to teach the basics of chemistry in the kitchen... I have yet to figure out ways to teach the basics of rationality.

One start was a challenge-article written a while back here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/3c/rationalist_storybooks_a_challenge/

Challenging us to write a rationalist storybook for kids. I think I love that idea... we need more like this.

But even if you can't think up stories yourself, I'd love contributions to these two questions:

1) what are the most fundamental, necessary basics on which to build?

2) how can we write these in the simplest possible way (without adult language or assumed understanding)?

Comment author: CharlesR 11 August 2011 05:07:46AM *  4 points [-]

Have you seen Dale McGowan's materials?

There is also the Teaching Children Philosophy project that looks for themes in already existing children's books. I am introducing my 3-year-old to some topics covered here with this book.

Comment author: taryneast 11 August 2011 08:06:40AM *  1 point [-]

Thanks, some great links.

I'm thinking we should gather this stuff together somewhere... maybe start a wiki page on resources for teaching kids as it relate to rationality. We can cross-link the books with LessWrong articles, like you've done above.

Comment author: Raemon 08 August 2011 01:51:14AM *  3 points [-]

Challenging us to write a rationalist storybook for kids. I think I love that idea... we need more like this.

Somewhat related: I consider the movie How to Train your Dragon to be a good story about science. The main character creates a prosthetic dragon tail using a series of experiments (including a "wind tunnel" of sorts), which breaks the process down into steps that kids can follow and make predictions about, rather than "black box mad science" that is typically featured by "smart" protagonists.

Also, he figures out using observation that everything his society believes is wrong, although that's a more common kid-flick trait.

Comment author: khafra 08 August 2011 05:16:28PM 4 points [-]

I'd enjoy it if, in a similar movie, the protagonist figured out that everything his society believes is wrong--but then almost all of the errors turned out to be unexploitable, because they were adaptive in some way. You know, like in real life. If media like that became popular, it might avert some cynical teenage angst.

Comment author: Raemon 08 August 2011 05:31:02PM 1 point [-]

Yeah. One of the few things I disliked about the movie was that the cause of the centuries-old-conflict between humans and dragons turned out to be one big huge evil dragon, whom everyone rallied together and killed, and then everyone became friends.

Comment author: lessdazed 07 August 2011 12:18:19PM *  2 points [-]

But even if you can't think up stories yourself

The skill of looking at a task and tending to think of it in terms of its sub-tasks, which I think is a form of reductionism, is one I am working on.

A while back, I thought up a short children's story I thought was good, but stumbled on translating the plot into words. Not everyone has to be able to complete every step for the task to be possible.

Here is a story for older children by Eliezer.

Comment author: taryneast 07 August 2011 08:34:33PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, I like that story. Didn't realise he'd pitched it at older kids. Of course older kids can read adult stuff just fine anyways :)

I'm more interested in what we can pitch at younger kids.

I was thinking aesops-fable-wise, to at least provide a kind of environment of thinking/rationality/curiosity and all that good stuff...

I'll keep thinking about it myself, but I'd love to hear from anybody else that actually has skill/experience.

EG I'm sure we have teachers and/or psychologists in the audience somewhere who can weigh in on this ?

Or even just people that have got through all the sequences (or wrote them... :) ) who can point out some the most fundamental points in a list... ?

Comment author: CronoDAS 07 August 2011 02:43:33AM 9 points [-]

My father refuses to spend any time at the New York meetups because he thinks it's for people my age, not his age...

Comment author: calcsam 07 August 2011 03:42:07AM *  3 points [-]

That was my parents' reaction, too (at Tortuga). My father is a molecular biology professor.

Comment author: Raemon 08 August 2011 01:08:32AM 2 points [-]

As a 20-something member of the New York meetups, I wouldn't want to hang out with the group if I were an older person. Unless I were exactly the right kind of older person (don't know much about CronoDAS' dad), I would feel alienated by a variety of in-jokes and other subtle cultural phenomena.

Similar to how, at my family's thanksgiving parties, I prefer to hang out with the "kids" (now young adults) in the TV room than with the older people in the dining room. (I share a lot of common interests with the older generation, we talk about politics and religion and philosophy and stuff that I'm interested in, and I enjoy it for a bit, but eventually I just want to get back to my peers).

Comment author: Nisan 07 August 2011 10:25:22PM 2 points [-]

It's sad that older people can feel that they don't belong in a group of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings. I suppose that's the kind of world we live in.

I wonder what your father feels, exactly. Simply uninterested in younger people? A belief that he wouldn't have any interesting or rewarding interactions with the LW members because he doesn't have enough in common with the younger generation? A belief that the sorts of things that are relevant to younger people aren't relevant to older people? A feeling that he's not wanted there because he's older? Does he think of LW as a dating scene?

Comment author: [deleted] 07 August 2011 10:51:45PM 13 points [-]

Probably many of those things, especially the not having enough in common, but I'm guessing we're primarily looking at garden-variety conformity here... when I find myself in a group of people who are strikingly different from myself, even if I'm made welcome, I feel silly. When I realized there aren't many other married women on LessWrong, my immediate reaction was literally, "Why aren't there others? Am I doing something stupid? Am I a bad wife? Should I be doing housework right now?" This all happened within seconds. I was able to recognize these thoughts as maybe not totally rational only because the housework thing sounded silly, and I still did some vacuuming.

Comment author: JenniferRM 08 August 2011 10:08:54PM 6 points [-]

Speaking as a married woman, how exactly did you realize that there weren't others on the site? What did you see or not see that would have been different?

My impression is that many women in online communities avoid visibly female names (because they'd rather dodge the entailed social complexities) and then announce demographic status only when it is topical. When I chose my login name I was aiming to contribute to a sense of real humans with real names taking responsibility for their ideas. Making my gender salient to some readers with every post was a by-product I'd have marginally preferred to avoid. I could have pushed even deeper into demographically transparent naming with something like "MrsRM", but... um... no. That would push my feminism buttons a little much :-P

Given that I'm already unusual in using my real first name online, it wouldn't surprise me if other demographic stuff that I'm not broadcasting was shared by other members of the community. If I was being less transparent and considered myself typical then I'd be more likely to think that "people like me" were common here, simply because the predicted paucity of evidence would leave my expectations closer to the base rate :-)

For what its worth, the recent (first ever) San Diego meetup had a relatively good mix age and gender wise: about one third female, at least one undergrad, several people old enough to have adult children, and some in the middle. It was the first meetup and maybe we'll end up with evaporative cooling on relatively arbitrary demographic traits, but I hope we don't.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 August 2011 11:06:39PM 1 point [-]

Because I had asked a few comments down, and there weren't many responses. There are a few more now.

Comment author: JenniferRM 11 August 2011 04:04:34AM 0 points [-]

Ah, now I see it. Thanks :-)

Comment author: [deleted] 08 August 2011 10:19:49PM 1 point [-]

Speaking as a single guy, vacuuming is one of those things one is never done with.

Comment author: taryneast 08 August 2011 09:48:24AM *  7 points [-]

As a thirty-something who has sometimes avoided twenty-something groups, I can add a couple of mostly hard-to-admit ones. For instance, it's hard to keep up with the energy of the youngsters, you feel old in comparison, but also you feel like you're going to be expected to, and you know you'll fail... and possibly then be branded a flake-out. So it's easier to avoid going in the first place.

It's kinda silly in some ways. You see, twenty-somethings have not only more energy (and resilience and ability to stay up and not need to sleep as much), but more time (due to, on average, fewer Hard commitments)... so there's no way we should feel bad about not being able to keep up... but we do.

I see the NY group is really gung-ho - making motivation-pacts and working towards goals and moving in together and everything... and while I sort of look at that in an envious way.. I also much prefer the more relaxed, less-commitment-essential approach of the London group.

I am certain that if I was part of the NY group, nobody would actually think less of me for not participating as much as the more committed members... but I would still feel bad by comparison.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 08 August 2011 10:21:41PM 2 points [-]

I have a similar problem with the musical community -- I know from experience that no group of musicians who invites me to play with them will think any less of me as a person or shame me in any way for having less talent or skill than they do, and yet I find it extremely difficult to alieve that I will fit in with a group of musicians at a jam session.

I used to be on the other end of this self-directed discomfort in the Jewish community -- I heard over and over again about how laypeople and recent converts were too terrified and ashamed of their low skill levels or low cultural fluency to attend even relatively passive events such as festive meals. I am not aware that anyone has developed any Jewish programming that successfully addresses this issue...no matter how welcoming, inclusive, or beginner-friendly an event is, there is still a very large share of the target market that will say that they didn't go because it was too foreign and threatening.

I had somewhat more success attracting newbies to Less Wrong San Francisco meetups, although, even there, despite my best efforts, for each person who came and said they were a newbie, about one person said they were a newbie and used that as a reason not to come.

Is this a general social problem with a general solution? What, if anything, can an in-group do that will reliably prevent prospective members from feeling insecure and marginalized?

Comment author: taryneast 09 August 2011 11:28:03AM *  1 point [-]

I think it definitely is a general social problem. I've seen it in many other groups too. Two solutions I've seen to work:

1) Having a "newcomer's event" where everybody knows that most of the people are there are going to be new, and those that aren't are there specifically to answer questions and ease the new people into the event. It not only reduces the fear-factor of "being the only new person", but it helps set up friendships amongst people that are "at the same level" - which is very helpful.

2) having a "newcomers" section for each meetup. In the Sydney Linux User's group (SLUG), the meeting format always included a timeslot called "SLUGlets" (after the main, joint talk) which was a general-discussion time that was specifically engineered to be for newbies asking all the questions they need. (of course lots of non-newbies also came along and had time just to chat amongst themselves too). Again - giving the newbies the space and permission to be newbies amongst other, equally clueless types.

I think a lot of the problem can be solved my finding a way to prove to your newbies that they can feel comfortable and NOT ALONE in their newbyness. Especially having somebody around to answer all the dumb questions (and the permission to even ask them without looking stupid). Part of the issue is the fear of being judged... and maybe we know we won't do that... but the newby doesn't.

The LW community has a lot of extremely competent, educated, smart people in it.. it's no wonder that people are worried of looking like idiots (I know I was... still am, in fact). The learning-curve even for the "basics" is extremely steep and long: people keep throwing around "a million words" as the length of the essential sequences (and I suspect that number might not include the comments)... and from personal experience, you kinda need to have read all of them so as not to miss out on large patches of the conversation without looking clueless.

In any case... to get back to my own reasons for steering clear of the more committed groups... it's not just being clueless... but also not having the time to commit as much. I simply cannot keep up with all the extra-curricular work done by some of the people there. I have other commitments. I have other goals. Some people have families with children they have to look after, or two jobs or such like.

Even the non-newbies can't always put in the same level of sustained effort that some can. And we don't want to feel bad about that.

Making space for people with different commitment levels feels different problem to the "i don't want to sound stupid" issue. I think that the solution to that one is to just allow space for it. Now, I don't know the details of what the NY group is doing (so apologies if I make it seem worse than it is) but for instance - if the NY group always has a homework assignment every week - and if today's discussion and homework depend on having been here and done last week's homework.. it doesn't leave room for people that didn't have the time to work outside of the meetups. People that show up feel that they have to do the extra-curricular work... or don't fit in in the group.

My solution would be to have two "streams": people that want to do extra, and people that don't/can't. Have room at the table for both - and have discussions available for both. The "extra work" group could work as a sub-group of the whole, allowing anybody that wants to to join in... but not being the only thing available to do each week. ie use the SLUGlets approach - have some joint-group activity/discussion (to keep the group as a whole). then break up into "more work" and "less work" groups..

Anyway - that's my 2c

Comment author: lessdazed 09 August 2011 12:20:29AM 1 point [-]

What, if anything, can an in-group do that will reliably prevent prospective members from feeling insecure and marginalized?

Make them impatient to apply and demonstrate acquired expertise.

Comment author: jsalvatier 11 August 2011 12:39:09AM 0 points [-]

Interesting, I didn't know this was such a pervasive phenomena.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 August 2011 12:59:42AM -1 points [-]

Well, he's probably kinda right. I mean, I can visualize some 50-year-old getting along just fine but they'd have to be an unusually cool 50-year-old who doesn't make the others present feel uncomfortable when the topic of polyamory comes up.

Comment author: juliawise 17 August 2011 03:37:35PM 7 points [-]

What counts as "making the others present feel uncomfortable"? Do you mean actively saying anti-sex things, or just being too old?

I match the general LW meetup demographic in age, race, and religious beliefs, but not in gender, occupation, or hobbies. I recently started attending the Cambridge MA meetup, and I'll be interested to see how it goes. I'm a married woman with zero experience in math or hard science, who works with people rather than data, who plans to have kids, and who attends church for the community and comfort of it. No one at the meetup has yet indicated they can't accept these things (except the word "church", which elicited actual cries of dismay.)

I think it would be a loss to this community if we preemptively discourage people because they don't resemble the rest of the group in outward ways. A lot of people from other walks of life have never been exposed to the idea of polyamory, or transhumanism, or what have you. That doesn't mean they have no capacity to think about them.

Comment author: MixedNuts 17 August 2011 04:30:53PM -1 points [-]

What counts as "making the others present feel uncomfortable"? Do you mean actively saying anti-sex things, or just being too old?

I think it's a general appearance that signals "My group is conservative". Clothes, posture, facial expression, etc. Age is correlated with that.

the word "church", which elicited actual cries of dismay

Fuck. That. Noise. I'm going to queer Mass next Tuesday at St Jakob's in Stockholm. Who's with me?

Comment author: EvelynM 10 August 2011 05:39:30PM 5 points [-]

Hey! I resemble that remark. Or at least, I hope I do.

I'm an outlier here on both gender and age scales. And spending time within this community is on the short list of best things I've ever done.

Comment author: hairyfigment 08 August 2011 05:44:26AM 2 points [-]

Though clearly such people exist in the New York area. Jeff Mach could likely name a large number of them.

Note: I think all his events have been at least 16+, so he may not know how to attract new parents. (I'm guessing they want articles on How to Make Your Child Go To Sleep Already, and later on Non-Religious Places to Stick Your Child For a Few Hours.)

Comment author: shminux 10 August 2011 05:55:52PM 1 point [-]

It's more likely that some of the younger participants would be weirded out by someone their parents' age discussing anything related to sex, something they are probably still compartmentalizing into the "they did it once for me, once for my brother" box.

Comment author: JackEmpty 10 August 2011 06:19:12PM 3 points [-]

At around age 16, I thought, "My parents own a cabin cruiser sailboat. They go up the river alone on the weekends... Oh. Well then." And went on with my life.

I'm 19 now. Some point between then and now I learned my father had a vasectomy. So at least they're enjoying themselves.

I may be an outlier in this situation, however. It just didn't exactly faze me at all.

Comment author: apophenia 07 August 2011 09:28:56AM 1 point [-]

Did he say why he thought it was for people your (ChronoDAS's) age?

Comment author: ricketson 06 August 2011 05:32:27PM 9 points [-]

These are good insights on how communities function... but I'm a bit lost.

What is the purpose of a "rationalist community?"

I'm a bit new here, and often the essays seem to rest upon some prior understanding that I do not have. For this particular article, there seems to be some previous discussion about rationalist communities and why they are desirable... but I don't see it in the linked articles or on the main page.

So can you tell me why I would want to participate in a "rationalist parenting club" rather than a regular one. Why not engage with mainstream institutions and try to make them as pro-reason as possible?

Comment author: Nisan 06 August 2011 06:31:19PM 14 points [-]

Back in 2009, Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote about a dream of rationality dojos devoted to perfecting the art of human rationality.

In 2010, the Less Wrong meetups in New York became a tight-knit community — not quite a rationality dojo, but a human community with rational group norms. For many, the New York group is the exemplar of the future of the modern rationality movement.

Now Less Wrong meetup groups are popping up all over the place.

Comment author: KPier 06 August 2011 06:18:46PM 3 points [-]

Check out the sequence "The Craft and The Community".

Whether building a rational community is a good idea depends a lot on what you want to get out of this website and rationality in general. If you want interesting discussions with interesting people, the skewed demographics of LessWrong hardly matter, and you probably won;t care too much about building a community.

But there are a lot of benefits to a society as a whole from having a more rational outlook, and that means spreading the memes of LessWrong beyond the audience that would stumble on them naturally. I would want to participate in a rationalist parenting club (if I had kids, which I don't) to interact in real life with other people who share my interests and values, who won't tell my kid they're going to hell for not believing in Jesus, who encourage curiosity and experimentation and real understanding over faith.

As for trying to engage with mainstream institutions, of course we should! I haven't seen anyone suggest we should disengage from the rest of the world. But making mainstream institutions pro-reason isn't more difficult than it sounds, and will get easier if we have a larger community behind the effort.

Comment author: Nisan 06 August 2011 06:51:50PM 7 points [-]

I have noticed that parents are, on average, more grown-up than non-parent adults. I guess it has to do with having something to protect, and needing to make many sacrifices and decisions where failure is unacceptable.

I have been to rationalist meetups with children running around — they took place at the family's home. Parents with babies might be happy to attend meetups at homes or at parks. But I don't see parents taking their older, less-easily-amused children to meetups unless they're more like church: There should be more than one child; and space for them to play while the adults do adult things; and, depending on the geography of the venue, an adult to supervise them; or a more structured activity just for the children.

Comment author: Plasmon 06 August 2011 07:34:58PM 2 points [-]

But I don't see parents taking their older, less-easily-amused children to meetups unless they're more like church: There should be more than one child; and space for them to play while the adults do adult things; and, depending on the geography of the venue, an adult to supervise them; or a more structured activity just for the children.

Do churches have these things in your area? The few churches I know of do not do this at all; children are simply expected to sit through long and boring sermons just like the adults.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 07 August 2011 10:50:39AM 2 points [-]

The church that I grew up in had multiple (2? 3?) services every Sunday. One of the services was scheduled at the same time as the Sunday school classes; another frequently (but not very reliably, to my memory - I always considered it a pleasant surprise, though I suspect it was announced ahead of time somewhere) had the children sit through the first half of the regular service, then go to the front for a short 'children's sermon' followed by an activity elsewhere in the building that was supposedly a kids' version of the regular service after that point. (This was an optional thing: Kids were invited to go up for the children's sermon, but could opt to stay with their parents and sit through the rest of the service.) There was also a nursery/babysitting service for the little kids during all except maybe the earliest service; this was staffed by volunteers, but teens in the year leading up to full membership in the congregation were expected to volunteer a certain number of times for that or handful of other roles in order to be accepted. It didn't seem to be especially unusual for parents to bring their toddlers to regular services, but if a toddler became disruptive the norm was for the parent to drop em off in the nursery. It definitely wasn't normal for kids to be running around loose on the church grounds during any service, though. After, during the social period, yeah, but during the services we were expected to be at the service or in an activity of some sort.

Comment author: Swimmer963 06 August 2011 09:27:25PM *  2 points [-]

The Unitarian church that my parents took me too (both of them, actually, the one in Washington State and the one in Ottawa, Canada) had a Sunday school, with classes divided by age. I remember reading a storybook about Buddhism, coloring, acting out stories from the Old Testament, etc. There was a class for slightly older children (I was maybe 11) and that was where I got my first book about puberty, and the grownup talk that came with it. I don't remember finding Sunday school incredibly fascinating, but I don't remember not wanting to go, either. (My brother hated it and his resistance was the main reason why we eventually stopped going, but he also hated skiing lessons, cottage trips, and pretty much all the activities we did as a family.)

Comment author: handoflixue 06 August 2011 10:04:05PM 0 points [-]

I'll chime in and comment that even the small UU church I attend in Portland, that borrows space from another organisation, does this. It seems to be pretty common to them.

Comment author: gwern 07 August 2011 01:40:15AM 1 point [-]

At the Catholic churches in my area (the ones I am most familiar with since I have to 'volunteer' for said activities), kids are only expected to sit through the boring parts of Mass once they hit middle school.

Before that, they're taken out or downstairs for the 'Children's Mass' (don't know the real name), which is more arts & crafts combined with colorful pamphlets and story telling. In summers, a lot of them attend 'Vacation Bible School' which is the Children's Mass writ large and with outdoors activities. Teenagers get to go to 'Youth Ministry' events, which are heavy on hanging out, music, and that sort of thing (the most loyal getting to go to a big festival thing in Massachusetts or somewhere) - the events are a lot more popular than one might expect.

Judging from the videos produced by the diocese, they seem very pleased with the programs' success with young people and retention.

Comment author: Nisan 06 August 2011 08:57:11PM 1 point [-]

One synagogue works like this: Children can either sit next to their mother or father and pray, or stare off into space, or amuse themselves quietly with books or toys; or they can wander around the hallways and dining rooms and lounges and playrooms and play with each other. By the time they are teenagers, they are expected to participate in the ritual as adults. If a family has a baby, one parent (usually the mother) will arrive an hour before the ritual ends with the baby, and periodically carry the baby outside to keep it happy. They can also keep an eye on the older children when they do this.

Another synagogue has all that, plus a structured activity for schoolchildren and teenagers, led by a lay clergy.

The above two paragraphs are also accurate descriptions of family dinners in my family. Instead of praying there is eating.

In all the Christian churches I have been to, the children are expected to sit in the pews the whole time. I suppose this is practical if the ritual isn't too long, and desirable if they can get some value out of the ritual.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 06 August 2011 11:01:17PM 0 points [-]

It's worth noting that Saturday morning services in Orthodox Jewish synagogues tend to run several hours. The Sunday morning services I've attended in Christian churches have been significantly shorter.

Comment author: lessdazed 06 August 2011 07:23:52PM *  2 points [-]

We can all play this rationalist game that teaches awareness of connotations of words separate from their denotations:

I am intelligent. You are clever. He's an egghead.

I am proud. You are arrogant. He's full of himself.

Don't underestimate children, they can be quite smart.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 August 2011 01:58:41AM 6 points [-]

Are there other married women here?

Comment author: play_therapist 10 August 2011 08:41:08PM *  7 points [-]

Yes, I'm married and 59. My son is introduced me to LessWrong. I don't go to meetups because 1-I'm busy with other things, 2- They aren't terribly convenient to where I live 3-I think I'd be an embarrassment to my son 4-I don't think I'd really fit in. That's partially because of age and sex, but also interests. I find some of the things discussed here interesting, but am not interested in some of the topics. Some of the postings make my brain ache.

Comment author: EvelynM 10 August 2011 05:40:21PM 4 points [-]

I'm married.

Comment author: JenniferRM 11 August 2011 04:07:18AM 3 points [-]

Present :-)

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 10 August 2011 06:16:46PM 3 points [-]

I'm divorced, and if I was inclined to get married again I probably would be.

Comment author: arundelo 07 August 2011 04:51:17AM 2 points [-]

Airedale and steven0461 are married.

Comment author: calcsam 07 August 2011 02:13:33AM *  2 points [-]

Shannon Friedman helps host the Tortuga meetups, and she is married to patrissimo.

Comment author: JenniferDavies 21 August 2011 02:10:21AM 1 point [-]

Yes (common-law)

Comment author: juliawise 17 August 2011 03:22:10PM 1 point [-]

Yes!

Comment author: DSimon 06 August 2011 08:01:24PM 5 points [-]

Alternate short term solution: have rationalist meetings at places with good views of popular playgrounds.

Comment author: gjm 06 August 2011 06:29:24PM 11 points [-]

<cynical>

Member of proselytizing religious organization proposes that rationalists direct their attention away from people of an age at which they actually change their minds. Hmmmmmmm.

</cynical>

Cynicism aside, churches looking to attract parents with children have -- as calcsam observes -- the advantage of a prevailing assumption that taking your children to church will help them to find an identity and a set of moral guidelines. This is all very well from a group that benefits from that assumption. It isn't so useful for one that doesn't. So even if calcsam's advice were good (which seems very doubtful to me) it's not so clear how to take it.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 August 2011 06:44:11PM 6 points [-]

Member of proselytizing religious organization proposes that rationalists direct their attention away from people of an age at which they actually change their minds.

Suspicions of ulterior motives aside, I think this is a really important point: there is a huge cognitive difference between getting someone to join a religious group and training someone in rationality. The former depends almost entirely on social factors, whereas the latter requires a lot more effort from the inductee and depends on their mental state. We should definitely be accounting for this when trying to do rationality outreach, because it suggests that some of the "conventional" religious methods won't work as well.

Comment author: gjm 06 August 2011 08:37:21PM 12 points [-]

Yes. And this is one of my (and I think others') big problems with calcsam's series here: the whole thing seems to presuppose that the goal is to attract as many people and keep them as long as possible and as committed as possible, regardless of whether we're actually providing them with value, informing or misinforming them, messing with their heads in good or bad ways, etc. Which may well be a "good" way for a religious group to think about outreach, though I feel pretty cynical saying that too, but really seems More Wrong for this particular context.

Now, doubtless there's an opposite error -- of expecting millions of people to take one look, be overwhelmed by the extraordinary levels of rationality and insight displayed here, and leap into our arms -- and that would be a good thing to avoid too. (Religious groups have their own version of that error too, of course.) But there is such a thing as overreaction.

Comment author: calcsam 07 August 2011 02:39:20PM 6 points [-]

The whole reason I'm writing this series is that I believe LessWrong is providing them with value, and I want it to continue doing so. However, if it doesn't grow it will be unable to do so. People have made the comment in regard to specific tactics I suggested that they would cause the group to stop adding value, which I think is a legitimate counterargument. Do you have a specific argument here you would like to outline?

Being this suspicious of the motives of people who come to your group is not a great way to encourage growth, either.

Comment author: gjm 07 August 2011 08:07:24PM 5 points [-]

if it doesn't grow it will be unable to do so.

  1. I don't think this is obvious. 2. If it is true, it isn't clear that anything of the form "if it doesn't grow at least this fast it will be unable to do so" is true, and no one has given any evidence that the LW community needs to adopt the sort of thinking you're advocating here in order to grow at all.

Do you have a specific argument here you would like to outline?

No. As I say, what I'm uneasy about is what "the whole thing seems to presuppose". Each individual proposal might perhaps be a good thing to do. The whole package, though, seems like its emphasis is very wrong.

Being this suspicious of the motives of people who come to your group

Well, I did take pains to mark that comment as a particularly cynical one; in case my meaning in doing so wasn't clear, it was something like "This is probably over-suspicious, but ...". However, note that (1) you've said in so many words that a non-negligible fraction of your motivation (you said 20%) for posting this stuff here is to persuade people to look favourably on Mormonism, so it's already established that it's not true that "the whole reason I'm writing this series" is what you say it is; (2) the LDS presence on LW is really a bit suspicious (it seems to be distinctly more, or at least distinctly more visible, than e.g. that of mainstream Christianity, and I don't think many people here will find it plausible that this is because Mormonism is much more rational than mainstream Christianity; have we perhaps been targetted?); (3) although this may well be unfair, adherents of a religion founded by a con-man (as I think just about everyone outside the LDS who's considered the question thinks it clear that Smith was) are always liable to be viewed with some suspicion.

For the avoidance of doubt, I would put Pr(calcsam's intentions here are not entirely honourable) no higher than about 10% -- but not much lower than about 5%, either. Much more likely is that you genuinely intend to offer helpful and beneficial advice, but that the advice is based on thinking that's far out of sync with the values of the LW community. It might none the less happen to be good advice, but intuitively the odds don't feel too good.

Comment author: Alicorn 07 August 2011 09:19:41PM 11 points [-]

I think it's unlikely that we've been targeted deliberately; I think we're getting some people in or near the transhumanist Mormon subculture.

Comment author: gjm 07 August 2011 10:55:03PM 1 point [-]

Oho, interesting. Thanks.

Comment author: torekp 07 August 2011 02:47:30PM 1 point [-]

I can't articulate the reasons for my judgment, but I think LW is much closer to committing the "opposite error" of your second paragraph, and the danger of overreaction is small.

Comment author: calcsam 07 August 2011 02:47:26PM 2 points [-]

the latter requires a lot more effort from the inductee

I object here. I can't comment on all religions, but here are the things we would ask people to do, mandatory if they wanted to join the LDS church:

  • No premarital/extramarital sex (one woman we helped work through a really messy divorce to a man she was separated from and marry her boyfriend who she was living with.)
  • No porn
  • No tea/coffee (and everyone in India is addicted to this)
  • No alcohol
  • No smoking
  • Give tithing, ie, 10% of your income
  • Resolve any job time conflicts so you can come to church on Sundays

...and more, but the other ones weren't mandatory, and some like treating wives as equals, were more difficult to enforce.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 August 2011 03:21:08PM 3 points [-]

You are certainly correct as far as LDS is concerned, but I was thinking more along the lines of reformed religious communities whose social expectations are little more than "attend church every once and a while" and "send your kids to religious school."

Comment author: calcsam 07 August 2011 04:51:04PM 0 points [-]

Oh, that makes sense. I guess we were just using the same word to refer to different things ^.^

Comment author: [deleted] 06 August 2011 06:29:30PM *  4 points [-]

It’s one of the standard stories – a couple isn’t really religious, but they have a kid and think their children needs religion so they start going to church. What are they looking for? An identity; a set of moral guidelines for their children. Less Wrong needs to move into this market space.

The problem with this is that rationality is not warm, fuzzy, or comforting. In the example you give, parents are seeking religion so that they don't have to tell their children things like this. Quite frankly, some people just don't want to face the truth if that truth is ugly enough. This is why it's really hard to teach people rationality, because it requires significantly more effort and independent thought than becoming a member of a religious community. While I would certainly like to see more parents teaching rationality to their kids, the unfortunate reality is that a lot of parents would rather have their children be exposed to spiritual untruths rather than unsettling facts. Though the existence of rationalist groups would reduce this effect somewhat, I don't think this totally mitigates the "ugh, I don't want to think about that" mentality that some people have towards rationality.

Comment author: DSimon 11 August 2011 05:39:26AM *  4 points [-]

The problem with this is that rationality is not warm, fuzzy, or comforting.

I'm a possible outlier, but I find rationality warm, fuzzy, and comforting. I read a cool article on LW that explains something I didn't understand before, and I go "Oh, wow! Cool!", and it improves my general mood afterwards for a few hours or so.

A lot of this effect is probably due to the fact that I've been an atheist for a long time, so I'm not really losing any comforting ideals by engaging here. But, although it's hard to compete on the warm-fuzziness scale with an afterlife, we do have something that comes reasonably close: guilt-free transhumanism ("Not only should you get cryo-preserved and/or support life-extension research, but you should be kind of annoyed that it's not already commonplace.")

Comment author: maybe 06 August 2011 10:45:29PM 3 points [-]

It would be useful to highlight the rewards of being rational to parents and I suspect it wouldn't matter much that the messages aren't "comfortable" as long as they can see a payoff in smarter / wiser / less gullible / more successful children.

If rationality isn't useful as a tool to build a better life there wouldn't much practical use in it. I would think parents would be hungry for a message that gives their kids (and themselves) a better chance in the world.

Comment author: Alexei 06 August 2011 08:44:27PM 3 points [-]

I feel like you are not address OP's main point. Yes, rationality is hard, but it's hard for everyone. If for some reason LW community consisted primarily from Japanese females, I would feel a lot more out of place. I would still join, but it would be a wholly different experience. OP is suggesting we need to diversify LW group, particularly by recruiting older people.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 August 2011 09:59:08PM 2 points [-]

OP is suggesting we need to diversify LW group, particularly by recruiting older people.

In that sense I completely agree with the OP. My concern is that religion and rationality are not interchangeable--rationality is not a religion substitute in the sense that the act of rational thought itself doesn't give too many fuzzies. (At least, that's how it looks to people on the outside.) To clarify further: my argument is that rationality itself, not rationalist communities, is lacking in emotional appeal. Because of this, you can't always expect people looking for a belief system that will give their children comforting thoughts to pick rationality over religion.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 06 August 2011 10:57:19PM 2 points [-]

And yet, I know plenty of people who seem to derive emotional satisfaction from thinking of themselves as rational, and from signaling their rationality to others.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 August 2011 01:47:13AM 0 points [-]

Agreed. I'm guilty of both.

Comment author: lessdazed 06 August 2011 10:48:43PM 2 points [-]

My concern is that religion and rationality are not interchangeable

I agree, we should no more expect them to be interchangeable than we should expect a random building built for a random purpose to be interchangeable with a church optimized for a religion.

Exactly how far are we from interchangeability, though? A gas station isn't at all like an office building, as random buildings go, but it'd be easier to remodel each to the other purpose than to remodel a termite mound or bird's nest to accommodate human use.

How much can we learn from the models of religious organizations? It is hard to even know how much people are disagreeing about the answer to this question, because all answers resemble "some, but not too much"; I can't sensibly give a measure such as "We should learn 74kg worth from them, and discard the rest."

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 August 2011 12:54:08AM 1 point [-]

A gas station is more like an office building than it is like a bird's nest... sure. That said, if I want a gas station, I might still be better off starting with a plot of land that contains only a bird's nest (which I can destroy or relocate before I start building my gas station) than with one that contains an office building.

That said, I'm all in favor of learning stuff about organizations from studying organizations, including (but not limited to) religious ones. But there's a big difference between "learn stuff from studying X that I might use in constructing Y" and "model Y on X".

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 07 August 2011 01:19:04AM 2 points [-]

I don't think "unsettliness" of reality is a relevant factor. It's just hard to master the skills, and harder without a culture that carries them. Seeing the world as it truly is, on the other hand, is also quite rewarding, so one might emphasize either aspect, but it would be filtering of evidence to only pay attention to one of the sides.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 August 2011 01:50:28AM 3 points [-]

I disagree--as I've mentioned here, I've encountered many people who consider a godless universe to be extremely scary, to the point where they refuse to give up theism despite their doubts. However, I do agree that rationality's difficulty is the largest deterring factor.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 07 August 2011 02:15:07AM *  0 points [-]

I've encountered many people who consider a godless universe to be extremely scary, to the point where they refuse to give up theism despite their doubts.

These people probably don't see clearly enough to characterize their state of mind as being scared of reality as it is. They are instead scared of reality as it appears to them, perhaps through the lens of finding contrasting features to what they perceive as distinguishing the theistic worldview. To the extent the difference is significant, you haven't expressed a disagreement with me, as you are talking about a different claim.