Rationalist households: What can London learn from its predecessors?

post by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2013-08-23T07:56:28.490Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 40 comments

At our most recent meetup, the London LessWrongers began discussion of setting up one or more houses in the capital. This thread is intended for discussion and advice on planning ‘rationalist households’ and on making them thrive. You can also register your interest in being part of a London, UK rationalist house here.

Those who currently live in or have previously lived in rationalist households
, or who have relevant experience, are particularly encouraged to share their experiences, and any data on house setups is most welcome. It would be great if we could get case studies of several rationalist households, to compare approaches and aid other organizers.

We’re considering having a room for visitors and people who are only in the city for part of the year, with an Airbnb-type arrangement for that room at other times. Therefore, we are seeking advice from Airbnb hosts on setting this up, as well as on its advantages and disadvantages.

We would also like to hear about the common pitfalls of group living in order to avoid making basic errors.

40 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2013-08-23T11:22:59.672Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

As we discovered on the London Google Group, I can talk at length about common pitfalls of group living, but a lot of that is based on experience rather than any kind of good theoretical understanding. Here are a few broad observations that stand out.

  • Coordination starts getting hard when you have more than three people in a household. Up until that point, it's relatively plain sailing unless you have wildly different expectations.

  • Arguments (especially ongoing ones) generally happen because of a disparity between what people agreed to and what people think is fair. Having all "official" household agreements written down somewhere with a set renegotiation date can help to offset this.

  • Most disputes between otherwise-civilised people sharing living space are about cleanliness. Hiring a cleaner can eliminate a lot of resentment.

  • Having a regular forum to discuss the household and air grievances-in-waiting works surprisingly well. Agreeing, for example, to convene on the first Monday of every month to talk about things that need doing, repairs, issues, expenses, upcoming visitors, etc.

  • Organise money and payments to involve as few transactions as possible. How this is best accomplished will depend on the setup in question, but dividing up expenses between multiple parties can be a highly counterintuitive process. With multiple people paying multiple bills, you can wind up with accidental change-raising scenarios. You never want to be in the position of not knowing who any given debt or credit belongs to.

I think a running theme with these is that people often believe bonds of friendship are sufficient motivators to get everyone to cooperate well in a household. In reality, there are legitimate coordination and cooperation problems that upscale poorly, and instigating formal mechanisms for things can take the pressure off the social bonds. Some of my best domestic relationships were under mercenary convenience arrangements with relative strangers. When you don't have to worry about showing how great a friend you are, it's much easier to get along.

comment by aelephant · 2013-08-23T13:32:07.529Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if getting everyone to agree to use Beeminder could help with the cleanliness. When I lived in a group house I found that my mate whom I shared a bathroom with had a significantly lower dirtiness threshold than I did. I don't consider myself particularly disgusting & never even noticed the bathroom was getting dirty, but it drove him crazy. I didn't want to be a dick & never clean the bathroom, but I never cleaned the bathroom because he ended up flipping out & doing it himself. I probably would've agreed to using Beeminder or some other similar system to help motivate me, had I known about these kinds of things at the time.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2013-08-23T13:47:03.201Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"Getting everyone to agree to use Beeminder" strikes me as pretty tough to negotiate, though probably less tough to negotiate in a LW-cluster household. There are lots of potential failure modes for division of cleanliness labour, and commitment strategies address only a subset of those. The beauty of outsourcing it to a third party is that it bypasses them all.

comment by John_Maxwell_IV · 2013-08-23T23:52:24.954Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, if your house has 3 people or fewer, living in it may not be especially interesting and people will feel relatively more compelled to go out and do fun things on their own instead of defaulting to doing things with their roommates (which is self-reinforcing to a degree). I think 3 might be a bad number in general... you also run the risk of 3rd wheel type issues.

comment by Manfred · 2013-08-23T14:44:07.586Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Coordination starts getting hard when you have more than three people in a household. Up until that point, it's relatively plain sailing unless you have wildly different expectations.

This can be extended up to 12 or so with simple aids like a chore wheel, and a community norm of "it's okay to ask anyone to do a chore with you especially if it's their turn."

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2013-08-23T15:00:40.586Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not just talking about household chores with this point. Everything gets harder past the 2-3 person mark. That's not to say higher numbers are infeasible or undesirable, but that it becomes a qualitatively different scenario with its own set of problems.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-23T15:46:57.574Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Read and follow up on The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman to avoid some basic errors common to high-intellect groups. Around 6,500 words, written in 1970-1972 for feminist groups but applicable to many kinds of groups. The basic error: thinking everyone involved has the same goals and skills and therefore no need exists for a formal decision making process. And no need exists for a formal means to eject members of the household.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-08-25T14:08:04.591Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit. The rules of decision-making must be open and available to everyone, and this can happen only if they are formalized. This is not to say that formalization of a structure of a group will destroy the informal structure. It usually doesn't. But it does hinder the informal structure from having predominant control and make available some means of attacking it if the people involved are not at least responsible to the needs of the group at large. "Structurelessness" is organizationally impossible. We cannot decide whether to have a structured or structureless group, only whether or not to have a formally structured one. Therefore the word will not be used any longer except to refer to the idea it represents. Unstructured will refer to those groups which have not been deliberately structured in a particular manner. Structured will refer to those which have. A Structured group always has formal structure, and may also have an informal, or covert, structure. It is this informal structure, particularly in Unstructured groups, which forms the basis for elites.

...Dear Princess Celestia, today I learned that Mencius Moldbug has apparently stolen his idea of "formalism" from the 1970s era Women's Liberation movement.

(Seriously though, excellent essay.)

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2013-08-24T09:29:36.831Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Fortnightly house meetings are a minimum in my experience. These provide a forum where it's expected to raise niggles, reducing the social pressure to keep quiet about them.

comment by maia · 2013-08-23T15:08:34.859Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Use tools wisely.

Expensure for debt resolution. Just use it, don't tabulate debts by hand, there is no need to.

If you are sharing groceries, set up a Google doc spreadsheet for the weekly grocery list.

Whiteboards are invaluable for sharing information in a household with people who are in and out intermittently, and can hold a weekly menu (again, if you're sharing food).

Obligatory plug for our software: Chore distribution is kind of difficult; schedules sort of work, but they're not ideal for giving people chores they dislike the least and allowing flexibility. If you're interested in using a free market system to distribute chores, we wrote a web app for that purpose. We've used it for ~7 months to great effect. If you're interested in using it, I will personally give you tech support.

The house I lived in last semester used all these things and was extraordinarily efficient at providing meals and a clean house to all residents.

Also, I second the comments about having official house rules negotiated explicitly, and setting times to renegotiate them if necessary. Reasonable people can have different preferences about states of the house/apartment, and when that happens it's very important to air these concerns and come up with explicit solutions (or compromises if you absolutely have to).

comment by lukeprog · 2013-08-23T22:44:01.285Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

There must be at least one hero who is responsible for making sure the house is well-managed, e.g. collecting rent and utilities payments, getting a maid, making sure house meetings happen to agree upon house rules, and before that, being on Craigslist all day (or whatever service) to find a good place. This person should plausibly be compensated for all this extra effort by paying proportionally less rent than the others.

Use a spreadsheet to flexibly determine who pays how much rent. There's a great one we used at "Milvia House" in Berkeley; I'll check to see whether I can share it with the world.

comment by lukeprog · 2013-08-24T02:21:03.292Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, the spreadsheet we used at Milvia is here. The spreadsheet adjusts each room's rent according to:

  • Square footage
  • Share of the common space (this increases if the room has multiple occupants)
  • The proportion of rent dedicated to paying for common space
  • Arbitrary adjustments to specific rooms' rents (e.g. to reward the person doing the work of collecting rent & utilities, or to allow bidding on rooms by figuring out who is willing to pay the highest positive adjustment on a particular room)
comment by John_Maxwell_IV · 2013-08-23T23:56:56.820Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

While I agree that it might be expedient to have such a house manager figure, it hasn't been a necessity in my experience. Perhaps as one's house gets large enough, there's more and more of an instinct to assume that someone else in the house knows better how to do something and then not do it as a result? Seems like this could plausibly be overcome through regular house meetings.

comment by drethelin · 2013-08-23T23:26:24.439Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

alternately whoever pays the most rent should do these things because they have the most equity in making the house work and be awesome.

comment by peter_hurford · 2013-08-23T13:37:40.575Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Centre for Effective Altruism has several intern houses in the Oxford area which are basically rationalist houses. I was just there for the past six weeks and everything seemed to be like living in a normal house, except with a lot more philosophy conversations.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-24T23:19:18.774Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

We are also establishing a community house, but don't expect to be ready to actually move in together for about a year or so. The first difficulty we ran into was actually moving/lease dates. Some people needed to move asap (moving to city, didn't want to renew current lease, etc), other people won't be ready for a while (waiting for a house to sell, etc). Everyone's leases are up on different months.

Another (probably unique to us) situation is that everyone in the group has been living/ moving to the same area/neighborhood, so that about two-thirds of the greater group (10 of 15) are within walking distance to each other. This is good for the community, but pretty much limits the search for a group house to this one area, since no one wants to set up a community house not near the community.

One thing I've done is create a spreadsheet with the following info: Timing/When does your lease end, Price range, Cleanliness/Lifestyle, Preferred community level (ie do you just want roomies, or do you want an intentional community or something in between?), How many roomies, Location preferences (see above re: being pretty much limited to Victorian Village area), NEEDS, and wants (for example, I need to have my dog. Also, central AC, dishwashers, and more than one bathroom aren't a given in this area (old houses)).

comment by Baughn · 2013-08-23T11:08:03.825Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious, what precisely does "Rationalist household" imply?

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2013-08-23T11:24:51.152Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

A household made up of people from, or proximate to, the Less Wrong community.

comment by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2013-08-23T07:56:48.523Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Reply to this comment if you’re interested in being part of a rationalist house in London, UK.

comment by JacekLach · 2013-08-23T18:24:19.514Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Are there requirements other than 'find this thread'?

comment by Tenoke · 2013-08-24T09:55:17.670Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It is generally also a good idea to come and meet us at a Meetup.

comment by JacekLach · 2013-08-24T16:24:13.772Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That does sound like a good idea. Browsing the google groups, the next occasion seems to be the CZE outing on 1. Sep. (http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/ie0/meetup_comfort_zone_expansion_outing_london/).

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2013-08-26T22:37:48.195Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would that meetup be suitable, or is it more practical rather than a getting to know people meeting? Or maybe it could be both? I might wait and go to the next meetup after that.

comment by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2013-08-27T07:15:47.417Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Come to this one; the practical session may indeed also allow you to get a feel for things, and there will probably be socialising afterwards. On or before Sunday 15th September, there will also be a designated general social meetup; keep posted and turn up to that too.

Looking forward to meeting ya!

comment by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2013-08-25T01:16:39.525Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not for registering interest. As things move forward, we'll pool more information and preferences, getting into the details more.

I would advise anybody who's interested to make a point of coming to a couple of meetups, but if that's very inconvenient, still register interest anyway.

comment by UngnsCobra · 2013-08-25T18:12:34.599Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes

comment by Benito · 2013-08-25T14:00:48.686Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to know how things are working down in London, although the likelihood of my being involved is small. Please post a few update every now and then :-)

comment by philh · 2013-08-24T18:18:13.944Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2013-08-23T17:26:31.448Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I know I've never met anyone from LW IRL, but I'm thinking of moving to London soon for work purposes, and I think this sounds like a fantastic idea.

comment by MayDaniel · 2013-08-23T14:29:08.468Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interested.

comment by Tenoke · 2013-08-23T11:29:21.347Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

nod

comment by Morendil · 2013-08-23T09:35:00.168Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Would love to support the project and be an occasional visitor, though I don't live there.

comment by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2013-08-25T01:03:38.188Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It makes me sad that this was downvoted. Thanks for your response! :)

comment by Morendil · 2013-08-25T18:36:43.323Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe someone (possibly representative of others) has an unvoiced objection to the idea of "satellite" members? That could be worth discussing.

comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2014-08-22T11:40:54.187Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm potentially interested in this.

comment by Morendil · 2014-06-09T13:42:09.150Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Any progress with this? I'm probably going to hang out briefly with the NYC group when I visit there in August.

comment by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2014-06-09T21:51:21.274Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's been stalled for a while, partly because a month after this post I got busy with university away from London so wasn't around to take the lead on this. (I was never planning to move in on a permanent basis for a while due to university, but was/am interested in the times I'm not away e.g. the summer, and would like this to succeed even if I don't directly benefit in the short-term.) I'll be back in London in time for this Sunday's meetup, so I might mention it then, even if only to see why it didn't happen. But if it goes ahead in future, it will probably be better if someone permanently in London (and maybe looking to move in sooner and permanently) took the lead on coordinating interested parties to meetup, discuss expectations, and do viewings. But I still might be able to help from the side.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2013-08-27T14:07:39.632Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh. Yes.

comment by KnaveOfAllTrades · 2013-08-23T07:56:58.447Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Aye!

comment by MakoYass · 2015-09-06T23:02:14.515Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Willing and partially able to move in and support if support will be reflected in kind, but currently in new zealand.

Programmer with british citizenship, lacking sufficient employment or savings to buy in, currently working on personal things. So, my support's conditional on either lining up a super cool job in London or finishing one of my things and either making money from it or, failing that, admitting that I will never be super cool and diverting power back to web development to become employable again.