comment by Thrasymachus ·
2018-03-19T14:59:56.430Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Although I was sufficiently sceptical of this idea to doubt it was 'worth a shot' ex ante,(1) I was looking forward to being pleasantly surprised ex post. I'm sorry to hear it didn't turn out as well as hoped. This careful and candid write-up should definitely be included on the 'plus' side of the ledger for this project.
With the twin benefits of no skin in the game and hindsight. I'd like to float another account which may synthesize a large part of 'why it didn't work'.
Although I understand DAB wasn't meant to simply emulate 'military style' living, it did borrow quite a lot of that framing (hence the 'army' and 'barracks' bit of DAB). Yet these arrangements require a considerable difference in power and authority between the commander and their subordinates. I don't think DAB had this, and I suggest this proved its downfall.
[R]ight, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must
Thucydides - The Melian Dialogue
First, power. Having a compelling or else matters for maintaining discipline - even if people come in planning to obey, they may vacillate. In military contexts, accomodation at a barracks (or a boot camp) is a feature that can be unilaterally rescinded - if I argue back against the drill instructor, even if I'm in the right, they can make the credible threat "Either do as I say, or I kick you out". This threat has great 'downside-asymmetry': it's little skin off the instructor's nose if he boots me, but it means the end of my military career if they follow through. In consequence, the instructor has a lot more de facto bargaining power to make me do things I don't want to do. In negotiation theory, the drill sergeant's BATNA is way better than mine, and so good the only 'negotiation' they use are threats rapidly escalating to expulsion for any disobedience to their dictation.
I assume the legal 'fact on the ground' is that the participants of DAB were co-signatories on a lease, making significant financial contributions, with no mechanism for the designated 'commander' to kick people out unilaterally. Given this realpolitic, whatever 'command' the commander has in this situation is essentially roleplay. If a 'Red Knight' character decides not to play ball with the features of DAB that go beyond typical legal arrangements of house-sharing (e.g. "Nah, I'm not going to do this regular communal activity, I'm not going to do press-ups because you're telling me to, and I'm going to do my own thing instead."), the commander can't 'expel' them, but at most ask them to leave.
In fact the commander can only credibly threaten to expel subordinates from the social game of Dragon Army. If I'm a participant this might be a shame, but it might not be a great cost if I'm not feeling it anymore: I can probably (modulo some pretty dodgy social ostracising which other participants may not abide by) still interact with the remaining dragons in a normal housemate-y way.
Such a situation has pretty symmetrical downsides for both parties: if I'm the Red Knight, I probably would end up leaving (it wouldn't be fun being the 'odd man out', although the difficulty is shared by the dragons who have people in the house who aren't 'buying in', and the commander dealing with the ever-present example of the pretty mild consequence of what happens if others likewise disobey), but not until I'd lined up better accomodation, and I certainly wouldn't feel any obligation - given you're kicking me out rather than I'm choosing to leave - to pay rent after I go or help find others to 'fill my spot' to defray the proportionally increased cost of the lease (itself an incentive for other subordinates to pressure the commander to relent).
Instead of the boot camp case, where the much inferior BATNA of recruits gives them no negotiation position with their drill sergeant; in the DA case, the similarly equidistant BATNAs mean the commander and a dragon are at near-party (whatever affectations both maintain to the contrary). The stage is set for negotiation over discipline (even if coded or implicit), rather than dictation from the commander to the subordinate.
Authority (in the informal or moral sense, c.f. Weberian 'charismatic authority') can partly - though imperfectly - substitute for power (e.g. doctors and clergy tend to have more 'influence' than 'ordering people around'). What is notable that authority like this tends to be linked to some particular concrete achievement or track record, and is mainly constrained to a particular domain, with only mild 'bleed through' into general social status.
Given the nature of DAB, there is no convincing concrete thing a putative-commander could point to which legitimizes broad-raging authority over others beyond assent by the putative-subordinates this is an experiment they want to try. I suspect this results in pseudo-authority and obedience highly conditional on results: "I'm going to act as-if I am much lower status than this 'commander', and so kowtow towards them. But in terms of real status they're a peer to me, and I spot them this loan of social game status because I may benefit. If this doesn't happen, I'm less inclined to play along." The limited capital this supplies doesn't give the commander much to spend on pushing things through despite dissent: as the matters are between equals, 'right' becomes the question again.
I suggest this may explain the need for a better off-ramp (I note military or religious organisations which emphasize discipline and obedience generally provide accomodation etc. gratis, perhaps in part to provide the power initiates are there by invitation - I wonder whether reciprocal arrangements with another house substitute adequately); the reluctance to 'give enough orders' (better to maintain a smaller stake of authority than gamble a wider bid that could lose lots of face if flouted); the lack of a 'big enough stick' ("I'm happy to undergo token punishment - to lose pretend status - as a ritual for the sake of the game, but if the price of you 'disciplining' me costs real status, I'm out"); the need to avoid transgressing what less bought-in subordinates wanted (perhaps the result of a coded and implicit negotiation suggested earlier); and the shortfall between the ostensible standards asserted (set by aspiration), and those observed (set by the balance of power). One could imagine recognition of these features may have been key in transforming 'White Knights' into 'Black Knights'.
I'd guess, if this is the (forgive me) crux of the problem, whether it can really be fixed. Perhaps even more assiduous selection could do the trick, yet the base rate in the Bay Area (which isn't renowned for selecting people easygoing with authority) is not propitious. An alternative - but an exorbitantly expensive one - which would supply the commander with unquestioned power/authority would be if rent is free for subordinates: "You're here for free, so I can kick you if you don't play ball". I suspect a more modest 'Phase II' (maybe just social norms to do communal activity, with no pretended 'boss') might be the best realistic iteration.
1: It also seemed a bit risky from an 'abuse' (very broadly construed) perspective to me, although I stress this worry arose solely from the set-up rather than any adverse judgement of Duncan personally. Although understandable to be snarky to critics (e.g. one despicable pseudonymous commenter on the original 'pitch' recommended Duncan kill himself) I think the triumphalism of, "Although it didn't work, this 'not working' was not achieving all the good targets, rather than something horrible happening to someone - guess this wasn't a hotbed of abuse after all, and I'm not some abusive monster like you said! Eat humble pie! (but you won't, because you're irrational!)" is a bit misplaced.
The steelman of this is something like, "Although I don't think it blowing up really badly is more likely than not, the disjunction of bad outcomes along these lines is substantially higher than the base rate for a typical group-house, and this isn't outweighed across the scales by the expected benefit". On this view the observation the proposed risk wasn't realised is only mild discomfirmation for the hazard, although it rules strongly against outlandish 'disaster by default' views.
[Edit: Slight rewording, concision, and I remembered the theory I was gesturing at imprecisely]
comment by Vaniver ·
2018-03-19T21:54:32.927Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I assume the legal 'fact on the ground' is that the participants of DAB were co-signatories on a lease, making significant financial contributions, with no mechanism for the designated 'commander' to kick people out unilaterally.
This is approximately correct--not all of us were on the lease, and not all of us were making significant financial contributions. But someone who was on the lease and was making a significant financial contribution could have made it highly difficult to evict them, even if everyone else in the house wanted them gone. If it came to unilaterally rejecting people, I have some evidence that everyone would have deferred to Duncan's judgment.
I suspect that if there had been some pre-existing off-ramp, it would have been used voluntarily, and its existence would have enabled a safer discussion of "hey, is you being in the house actually win-win?".
I suspect a more modest 'Phase II' (maybe just social norms to do communal activity, with no pretended 'boss') might be the best realistic iteration.
This seems likely to be what Phase II will look like.
comment by plct ·
2018-03-21T00:09:39.128Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
My understanding is that the way occupancy laws tend to work (and from what I've heard of california, although I do not live there) is that even if someone is not on the lease and not paying and unwelcome, your legal options for removing them are extremely limited and involve a substantial waiting period.