(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)
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[This post is being discussed on the google group.]
>> Are you trying to build a community of some sort?
The below is going to come off as sketchy, poorly-focused, cringy, and immature. I’ve sort of mixed in some boring personal stuff. I could spend hours getting the length and tone right…
There is a tl;dr at the bottom.
I’m interested in a few different kinds of communities. First, I’m interested in a Leverage-style community, where, one way or another, money is coming in, and everyone’s working together on a genuinely shared vision. Second, I’m interested in more of an “intentional community”-style community, where people live within in a mile, if not within feet, of each other, and there are shared values around what a community should look like.
Generally, I don’t feel a sense of place at a deep monkey level. I think it involves both a sense of belonging as well as a sense of “security” or “non-tenuousness” around having some sort of stable community.
I hypothesize that this sense of lack, which is strong and distracting, may evaporate if my brain is presented with the right kind of inputs in the environment.
So, I am trying to deeply, fundamentally, genuinely provide those inputs to my brain, knowing that the final arbiter (“yes”/”no”) is beyond my deliberate control. (Of course, one can engage in constructive, palliative behaviors, but they aren’t a complete and permanent solution for releasing attention and cognitive resources for other things.)
The barriers to the above are people and resources–relationships and money.
Regarding people, I hypothesize that I feel the way I do, in the first place, because of the lack of deep resonance with most of the people around me: I don’t share the same ontologies, I don’t share the same values, and I have differently developed competencies.
My thinking usually grounds in neuroscience, biochemistry, evolutionary psychology, and dynamic equilibria. (And phenomenological dynamics and precision, but I’ll get to that in a subsequent section.)
It’s not hard to end up in conversations with intelligent, generally kind, low-drama professionals or graduate students/postdocs/faculty. But I still experience a massive inferential distance when I talk to such people. [Case in point, “inferential distance” is jargon.]
And I have spent a decent amount of time exploring creative, strategic ways to short-circuit inferential distances.
Even so, I still end up in conversations about the “Law of Attraction” or “Obama” or “sports,” or whatever.
Take the “Law of Attraction.” I generally give up on the neuroscience and actual goal pursuit research and instead talk about the “shadow” or “integrating multiple voices,” and how LoA is this sort of impoverished, inefficient, usually ineffective abstraction and that there are potentially much better models/tools available.
Or, take Obama. Why not talk about about oil or the military-industrial complex or least try to agree on the geopolitical levers that are not actually epiphenomenal to this discussion?
In any case, more often than not, in friendly, well-meaning groups–
And, maybe I’m just cranky, but–
My mental models naturally, effortlessly have more moving parts than yours, and I disagree, and I’m bored.
Been there, done that, have better things to do.
The more money floating around, the less it matters, but I prefer IKEA (or found) furniture, cheapo folding tables, a mattress on the floor, but expensive cookware, quality food, and a non-bottleneck computer.
Personally, I want a handful of quality (but still-easily-replaceable) possessions, throwaway everything else, and that’s about it. I want to focus my attention in relating-space, freedom-to-move-about-the-world-space, and shape-reality-in-accordance-with-my-values-space.
Cars, car-maintenance, houses, house-maintenance–YAWN. I mean, sometimes owning such things is strategic, but I don’t treat them as a given, a given attention- and time-sink. Not interested.
(Again, much of the above matters less, the more money there is available to throw at problems, to make them go away, and money for people to shape their surroundings semi-uncoupled from each other.)
But, also values-wise, I want an eye to the far future. We’re probably all gonna die. Oblivion. I’m keeping an eye on cryogenics, but still. In light of that, how should one live? I don’t know, but I want to be around people who are asking that question instead of living each day the same as the last one.
I’m relatively pretty damn calm, even in genuinely high-stakes, resource-constrained situations. I have an eye towards deep human values; I can phenomenologically grasp the turning and twisting, waxing and waning, of deep human concerns within myself. Cf. ontologies above, inner objects are available to me that are not available to most of the population. And I want to be around other people who are alive to those possibilities and values. It’s as if some people can only think, feel, and plan with construction paper and crayons, and I can plan with a fine-tipped pencil (or something).
When someone talks about, “some company is going to succeed in developing that technology,” just probably not your company. I know what they mean. When someone talks about actually intending to succeed, I know what they mean–
not to mention, being able to manage a large number of commitments without dropping balls or becoming overwhelmed, knowing how to work intelligently to keep the number of moving parts to the absolute minimum, not getting defensive after fucking up, being open to correction and criticism, being willing and able to be terribly embarrassed…
Some of these things come with age. Some of these things you can work at. I want to be around people who have been working at this things.
1. Combinatorial search – finding people with all the above, all at once, is hard
2. Improper understanding of lead indicators – how do I know I’m getting closer or farther away? I may not understand that the people right in front of me are actually pretty close to who I want to be around, given a little time.
3. Self issues – I may have an improper understanding of what I actually want or what I actually need. What I want might be right in front of me, but barriers within myself prevent me from reaching out and taking it.
4. Money – lots of money would probably make everything easier, but it’s hard to focus on money if you’re being distracted by not having a community to make making money worth it.
Experiments Thus Far
1. Quirky free-for-alls: (Intellectualism-Activism-Idealism Hodgepodge) In one year, two-hundred hours, I ended up with a weekly meetup of 10-14 people, about 40% women. I eventually transitioned this off to a new organizer, and it lasted six more months without me. Two intimate relationships formed amongst attendees, and people eventually started hanging out in each other’s homes.
Outcome: People really appreciated it. I liked the people, but I never really felt like I connected. Whatever I needed, I wasn’t getting it. Also, it was a serious investment of time and energy.
2. This blog where I almost write about whatever I want, plus in-person meetups, plus web meetups. This is actually kind of working except that it’s so tiny it could evaporate at any time, leaving friends, which is excellent, but not a community which is absolutely necessary as an actual goal.
And it’s poorly optimized for an actual audience. The false-positives are low, but false-negatives are probably stratospheric.
Scaling issues: And there’s tons of important stuff that I resonate with that never makes it to the blog: There’s tons of stuff that I would want to read, but people don’t know I want to read it. So lots of opportunities to connect amongst people are still being wasted.
My blog has inspired a few other blogs, but it hasn’t turned into a blog network, a community.
3. I’m engaging more with the “kink” community. I’ve created a meetup/munch thing in that world, too. Too soon to see what happens, there. Already, though, “You are not going to get the level of discourse that you’re trying for, here.”
Lessons Learned from Experiments so Far
1. It’s too easy to be abrasive and off-putting to women (and anyone who doesn’t have a sort of vicious, analytical thinking style), who are necessary for anything to feel like an actual community. This may be my next focus, see, e.g. http://www.amazon.com/Unlocking-Clubhouse-Computing-Jane-Margolis/dp/0262632691/
2. Picking the rarest, hardest piece of the combinatorial search problem, and optimizing for that, kind of works.
3. I’m still not sure about the correct 80-20 choices with limited resources, re getting the deep content right, versus being grammatical, versus superficial visual styling, versus resource accumulation, etc.
4. Community-building is hard and highly cognitively consuming/draining, for me, with the beliefs and expectations that I currently have.
TL;DR and Conclusion
I want to be around people who:
1. Synergize competently around capital-generation, risk-mitigation, and social capital.
2. Strive to grasp and express deep, subtle, precise, comprehensive, humane values.
3. Are training their wetware–compassion, knee-jerk responses, autonomic arousal, phenomenological precision, attention management, working memory. (And everything else: nutrients, exercise, sleep… See also 5 below.)
4. Have an eye to the deep past and far future. People who grasp quarks, light-cones, evolutionary psychology, empiricism, and trillions of humans across the stars, who would reach out and grasp immortality, infinity if they could figure out the right actions to take to get there.
5. Will work towards ever-improving, terrifying, vicious, strategic competence until they die. Highly forgiving. Highly humane. Endogenously, autonomously, idiosyncratic, personal-values-driven. High-performance (understatement) teams.
And the devil is in the details; and it’s hard. People rub each other the wrong way, find each other odious, for no particular reason. (“You’re just, ew”.) People make snap judgments.
People are “lumpy;” strongly developed in some ways, underdeveloped in others.
And complex mixtures of incentives, beliefs, and values don’t always synergize, even with a lot of mutual, consentful hammering. (“Nope. First, you’re wrong. Second, I don’t care.)
(Also, I ate your pizza, spent the community slush fund on hookers and blow, and I had sex with your girlfriend.”)
And as soon as the money dries up or something better comes along, people disappear to try again, somewhere else with a significant other. And I would, too.
Postscript: And, also, regarding all of this, why not? Things are possible with groups of people that aren’t possible alone. And that’s interesting and exciting, to reach for those bigger, harder things. I’m curious about groups where my voice is not lost but magnified, where the voice of each individual is legitimately felt to be the voice of the group…
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