The Craft and the Community: A Post-Mortem & Resurrection


  • This is the most comprehensive list of criticisms of the rationality community
  • Not a rejection of the group
  • Need to create a shared understanding of problems so that we can work on fixing them
  • Essay prioritizes clarity over civility - may rub some people the wrong way as a result


  • It’s been almost 10 years since the publication of The Craft and the Community
  • What has the rationalist community accomplished in the meantime?
  • Why hasn’t our community been more successful?
  • What has happened is that the people who were most interested in instrumental rationality found the community to be a timesink and left

Post-Mortem: What Went Wrong

  • It’s somewhat surprising that a community so full of potential has acheived so little
  • The median person in the rationality community is about as successful as they would have been if they had not discovered the rationality community
  • Why hasn’t the rationalist community been able to beat the “control group” of wider society?
  • 3 inter-related causes
    • Demographics
    • Environment
    • Culture

Problems and Causal Factors

Demographics: Background Selection Effects

  • The sequences disproportionately attracted people who enjoy debate over action
  • The rationality community has a much higher than baseline rate of mental illness
  • Draw disproportionately from those with liberal upper-middle-class values
  • There are three main focus areas of the rationality community
    • Impact focus
      • Effective altruism
      • Ambitious startups
      • Driving major social change
    • Human focus
      • Relationships
      • Meaningful work
      • Happiness and fun
    • Truthseeking focus
      • Curiosity for its own sake
      • Deep theoretical models
      • Empiricism
  • Each of these focus areas has its own problems
    • Truthseeking focus
      • Deep theoretical models, particularly for psychology and sociology, don’t work very well
      • People from blue-tribe, high-trust enviroments come up with these models and they don’t realize that they don’t work very well outside of that environment
      • Socially maladjusted people come up with these models - leads to blind leading the blind
      • Idealism prevents people from making changes to their models in the face of contradictory data
    • Impact focus
      • Inability to recruit underrepresented demographics
        • Incomprehensible jargon
        • Far too much reliance on physics, computer science or science fiction analogies
        • The community has been optimized for a narrow demographic, whereas the concepts of rationality can help almost anyone
      • Inability to run non-business projects
        • Project leaders do far too much work because we treat individualism and dissent as terminal values
        • Analysis paralysis, combined with short attention spans leads to poor decision-making
        • Volunteers aren’t pro-active which puts even more strain on leaders
        • The number of volunteers for any given project is tied to how “shiny” the project feels
      • Distrust of outsiders reduces intake and spread of information
        • We’re overreliant on the skills of insiders
        • No way to evaluate insider skills except through cultural shibboleths that may or may not be well correlated with the actual skills we’re interested in
        • We end up reinventing lots of wheels because we systematically devalue outsider opinions
      • Lack of focus on instrumental rationality
        • The community is better at reading, writing and debating than it is at actually doing things
        • Focus on AI alignment has sucked all the talent away from more pedestrian causes
        • Most practical impact-focused people have moved over to EA, making rationality community demographics even worse
        • Underacheiving demographics have contributed to a cultural undervaluation of hard work and attention to detail
    • Human/community focus
      • Romantic dissatisfaction of straight men
        • Huge gender gap means that most men can’t have romantic relationships inside the community
        • The community is passively hostile to women insofar as it is not a place where intellectually capable women wish to spend time
      • Difficulty forming deeper friendships
        • People have trouble making friends not because they desire solitude, but because they don’t have the social skills to make friends
        • Biases towards social awkwardness and passivity make it difficult to have the recurring interactions that result in lasting friendships
      • Difficulty executing short term plans
        • People flake on plans that they’ve ostensibly committed to
        • People don’t inform others when they’re going to be late or when they’re going to be unable to attend
        • It’s difficult to make plans when you don’t know how many people are going to show up or when they’re going to show up
      • Almost complete inability to execute plans on longer time-horizons
        • People struggle with stepping outside of their day-to-day lives and looking at things from a higher level
        • Values like loyalty are seen as Red-tribe outgroup traits and responded to with derision
      • Lacking a sense that more is possible
        • People don’t know what great communities actually look like
        • This is due to a combination of rationalist demographics and problems with greater social atomization
      • People feel the need to sell themselves
        • High turnover in the community means that first impressions matter far more than they otherwise would
        • This leads to people selling themselves in whatever way will work out best for them
        • Then, in turn, people who don’t engage in explicit signalling feel like losers in a game that they never agreed to play
  • Three things that can be done to try to resolve demographic and cultural issues
    • Throw everything we can at trying to alter our demographic make-up
      • Likely to fail
      • Likely to ruin the community in the process
    • Attempt to start afresh, severing ties with the existing community
      • But how do you know you won’t just make the same mistakes again?
    • Shift culture in an attempt to compensate for weaknesses
      • The most promising option, but far from a guaranteed success
      • Requires us to pay attention to unpleasant topics, rather than reading the latest insight porn

Environment: Picking The Wrong Location

  • There is no distinction between “the rationality community” and “rationalists in Berkeley”
  • Putting the center of the community in Berkeley was possibly the worst strategic decision we ever made
  • The values of the wider Berkeley community are hostile to rationalist values
  • Most rationalists and rationalist organizations do not benefit from being in Berkeley
  • Berkeley is the most politically correct city in America - how can we have a community dedicated to free speech and free thought in a location that engages in social-justice witch-hunts?
  • Being in Berkeley means that the recruitment pool for the rationality community is subject to Silicon Valley demographics, amplifying the demographic problems of the rationality community
  • These background effects actively get in the way of attempting to fix the problems in the community

Social Turnover Has Increased To The Point Where It Has Major Effects On Incentives

  • Communities, especially individualistic communities, have a neutral attitude towards turnover - this is bad
  • Social turnover reduces the costs of defection, making it harder to commit to short and long-term plans
  • We should treat turnover like in the business world, where it’s seen as a cost to be minimized
  • We are fortunate that rationality forms a subculture deep enough to build a community around, but we’re wasting much of its potential
  • The policy of pulling people to the Bay Area isn’t very helpful for the people moving to the Bay Area, and destroys rationalist communities elsewhere
  • The combination of the non-confrontational background social environment of Berkeley plus the social turnover in the rationalist community means that it’s really difficult to give people uncomfortable but productive feedback

Economics: Time, Money, Spoons and Future Plans

  • Living in Berkeley is really expensive
  • This cost of living has second order effects which are damaging to the rationality community
    • People need high paying jobs
    • People need to devote significant amounts of mental energy to those jobs
    • Projects have to produce something that can be monetized in relatively short order
  • Insane housing prices make it much more difficult for people to have a “normal” life (i.e. buying a house, having kids, etc.)

Culture: Not Taking The Sequences Seriously

  • Everything that Bendini is talking about is mentioned as a pitfall in the original sequences
  • However, the default path of every group is to ignore the literal interpretation of the text in favor of cultural zeitgeist


  • So why did the rationality community go wrong?
    • Demographic factors formed multiple feedback loops that affected our ability to operate effectively
    • We chose to centralize in Berkeley, creating further negative feedback loops
    • We ignored the lessons of the sequences in favor of whatever insight porn was making the rounds at the moment

So What Is To Be Done?

  • Berkeley is probably a lost cause
    • Too many demographic problems
    • If the software industry can’t solve the demographic problems of the Bay Area, despite having a million times more resources than the rationality community, what hope does the rationality community have?
  • Unfortunately, most other rationality hubs (Seattle, Boston, London) have the same problems

The Craft And The Community: Resurrection


  • To do better than Berkeley, we need better:
    • Demographics
    • Location - need slack to pursue rationality related projects
    • Culture - uphold rationalist principles

Demographics - Getting A Broad Range of Talents

  • Recruit undervalued groups, rather than underrepresented ones
  • Narrow the gender gap because we need help with recognizing and solving problems that can’t be handled via logical analysis and writing code
  • Women bring valuable skills in coordination and conscientiousness that the community currently lacks
  • Focus on in-person recruitment
    • Introducing people to rationality related concepts is much easier in-person
    • People who attend meetups in person often have far better demographic characteristics than people who participate online
  • Create better introductory materials
    • The Sequences are huge and aren’t really of any practical benefit to new members
    • We need a relatively short guide to rationality that demonstrates immediate practical benefits in short order
  • Discover the root causes for people leaving the community and address those
  • Figure out the rationality community’s value proposition for new members
    • If the only thing we have to offer is “interesting dinner party conversation”, relatively few people are going to be willing to join
  • 2 examples of demographics that we want to attract
    • Feminine/people-oriented women
      • Place greater emphasis on community-oriented norms
      • Tolerate stronger leadership - have figures who can make decisions and stand by them in the face of social pressure
      • Place greater value on female-coded interests and values (like teamwork)
      • Better onboarding/recruitment
        • Reduce inessential weirdness
        • Develop a message that appeals to people-oriented individuals
    • Already-successful people
      • Demonstrate clear value - show how the rationality community can improve life
      • Don’t resent the disparity in success between the community and the person the community is trying to recruit
      • Create a community that is more than the social network of last resort for intelligent underacheivers, depressives and the socially clueless

Environment: Manchester Works For Us, We Don’t Work For Manchester

  • Why Manchester?
    • Low cost of living
    • Decent hourly wages and good job opportunities
    • Diverse range of industries
    • Good gender balance
    • English-speaking majority
    • Good background culture
      • Not too atomized
      • People living there “for life”, rather than moving there merely for career goals
    • Good public transport system
    • Aesthetic beauty

Culture: More Productivity, Less Philosophy

  • Create a culture that values effective work
  • Need a benevolent dictator that prevents value drift
  • Value decisiveness - executing an okay plan today is better than executing a perfect plan tomorrow


  • Bendini is starting a project called Kernel, in Manchester
  • This post is an effort to find kindred spirits to join him in that quest