The rationalist community's location problem

post by mingyuan · 2020-09-23T18:39:26.278Z · score: 157 (61 votes) · LW · GW · 137 comments

Contents

  The Problem
  Considerations for Location X
    Potential dealbreakers
      Visas
      Language 
      National political environment / culture
      General infrastructure
    Other important considerations
      Cost of living
      Occupancy laws
      Modern conveniences
      Walkability (/ bikeability / public transit)
      Medical care
    Additional things to consider
      Crime
      Schools
      Weather
  Call to Action
None
136 comments

The Problem

Basically ever since the first rationalists settled in Berkeley, people have been saying, “Why do you live in Berkeley, Berkeley sucks! You should all move to Location X instead, it’s so much better.” The problem has always been that no one agrees on what Location X is. Some common candidates for Location X:

and of course

In the past I've brushed off all such suggestions, because it was just too hard a coordination problem to get multiple hundreds of rationalists to leave Berkeley, where they've gotten jobs, rented or even bought houses, established organizations, enrolled in schools, and established social circles. 

But we're in a unique time! Due to the pandemic, there's far less reason to stay in any one place - work and school are remote, expensive leases can be terminated, and you can't see your friends anyway. Most of the rationalist houses I know have moved or dissolved, and the former Berkeley rationalists are flung across all corners of the globe (yeah I know globes don't have corners). A fair number of us have stayed, but I think for most of us it's just because our friends are here, we're hoping that someday the rest of our friends come back, and we're not sure where else to go. 

So, if ever there were a time when we actually had the chance to move the physical locus of the rationalist community, it's now. Below, I'll lay out what I believe to be some of the most important general considerations for deciding on a new location. I encourage people to make their case for a specific location, either in comments or in their own posts. (Looking at you, Mikk!) 


Considerations for Location X

Potential dealbreakers

Visas

In order to settle in a location, you have to be able to legally live there long-term. Most Berkeley rationalists are US citizens, and those who aren't have already paid the steep cost of acquiring US visas and learning US immigration law. This feels like a strong argument in favor of staying in the US somewhere, although it's possible there are places where this wouldn't actually be that much of an issue. In any case, it's certainly an argument against countries with strict immigration laws, like Switzerland.

Relatedly, organizations such as MIRI, CFAR, Open Phil, BERI, etc are registered in the US. I don't know how hard it would be for them to operate elsewhere and am unfamiliar with this domain in general.

Language 

Given that basically all rationalists speak English (since it's pretty hard to read the relevant material otherwise), we should settle somewhere English-speaking; it would be very costly if everyone had to deal with a language barrier every single day (or learn a new language). 

Notably this doesn't automatically disqualify all locations in e.g. continental Europe - Habryka points out that you can get along just fine in Berlin if you only know English. But somewhere like e.g. Japan looks like a much worse prospect on this metric.

National political environment / culture

The rationality community often attracts controversy, so it's important that we settle somewhere that protects freedom of thought and speech, and is generally friendly to weird ideas. We should definitely not move somewhere where political dissidents can be abducted willy nilly.

Some people are worried about unrest in the US, which might be reasonable, but on that metric it's still better to live here than, say, Mali or Afghanistan.

Local political environment / culture

Same basic considerations as the above. California may be an increasingly hostile environment for our community, but it's almost certainly still better to live here than in a town where people fly Confederate flags and openly carry guns. 

It's also really valuable to be near Silicon Valley. The Bay Area has a general culture of ambition and intellectual curiosity that's hard to find.

General infrastructure

People talk wistfully about private islands or about founding our own town, but my guess is that most of those people haven't actually thought those ideas through. A place needs SO MANY THINGS to sustain a modern human population: roads, electricity, water, laws, buildings, police, medicine, commerce, trash collection... and those are just the basic necessities! Despite the appeal of building something from the ground up and thus controlling every aspect of its development, it just seems way better to move to a place that already has this basic infrastructure in place.

Other important considerations

Cost of living

A major complaint about the Bay Area is rental prices, and justifiably so. Obviously cost of living interacts with a lot of other factors, but on the whole, it would feel pretty silly to leave the Bay only to move somewhere with equally high rent. 

Occupancy laws

Many municipalities, at least in the US, have laws prohibiting unrelated adults from sharing a home. This would render most group houses illegal.

Modern conveniences

Berkeley has fiber internet, 2-day Amazon delivery, a myriad of quick restaurant and grocery delivery options, and excellent coverage by Lyft, Uber, and bikeshares. I expect many would be reluctant to give up this level of convenience. This is a strike against private islands, remote castles, and developing countries, among others.

Walkability (/ bikeability / public transit)

Sparse suburban areas are terrible places to build community. In addition, driving is dangerous and owning a car is super annoying. We should settle somewhere where it's possible to all live close enough together that we can visit each other on foot, and also ideally where the city center is within walking distance of our homes. 

(Being able to bike safely and easily between homes and city center would also work. Sufficiently good public transit might also do the trick.)

Medical care

It's really important to have quick access to modern medicine – rationalists may largely be healthy 20-somethings, but healthy 20-somethings can still die of sepsis if they can't get antibiotics quickly. This is an argument against many locations in developing countries. It could also be construed as an argument against the US, where medical care is theoretically available but often avoided due to expense.

Additional things to consider

Crime

All else equal, less crime seems better. If that's not possible, property crime is better than violent crime. It's really unpleasant to have your bike or laptop stolen, but it's a lot worse when it happens at gunpoint (which happened to some of my friends when I lived in Chicago). 

(Aside: High-trust environments are great, but I would guess that in general they're also more insular, which might make it hard to pick up our ~300-person community, plop it down in an existing high-trust town, and have everyone maintain those high trust levels. No real action item here and I'm confused.)

Schools

Rationalists may be less likely than average to want kids, but that doesn't mean none of us are having them. I don't know if there's anywhere in the world that has truly non-terrible schools, but at least some schools are a lot less terrible than others.

Weather

A lot of people who live in California really hate extreme weather. A lot of people have SAD and don't want to live in a place that has winters. Natural disasters are bad too.


Call to Action

As I said above, I'd be excited for people to pitch their own favorite Location X! Write an essay making your case, or even just a bullet-pointed comment.

And please also let me know if there are additional considerations I missed.

137 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2020-09-25T07:21:45.382Z · score: 96 (45 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Bay Area is a terrible place to live in many ways. I think if we were selecting for the happiness of existing rationalists, there's no doubt we should be somewhere else.

But if the rationalist project is supposed to be about spreading our ideas and achieving things, it has some obvious advantages. If MIRI is trying to lure some top programmer, it's easier for them to suggest they move to the Bay (and offer them enough money to overcome the house price hurdle) than to suggest they move to Montevideo or Blackpool or even Phoenix. If CEA is trying to get people interested in effective altruism, getting to socialize with Berkeley and Stanford professors is a pretty big plus. And if we're trying to get the marginal person who isn't quite a community member yet but occasionally reads Less Wrong to integrate more, that person is more likely to be in the Bay than anywhere else we could move. I think this is still true despite the coronavirus and fires. Maybe it's becoming less so, but it's hard to imagine any alternative hub that's anywhere near as good by these metrics. *Maybe* Austin.

Separating rationalists interested in quality-of-life from rationalists working for organizations and doing important world-changing work seems potentially net negative.

I think if we were going to move the Berkeley hub, it would have to be to another US hub - most people aren't going to transfer countries, so even if the community as a whole moved, we would need another US hub for Americans who refused to or coudln't emigrate.

I don't think Moraga (or other similar places near the Bay) are worth trying. They're just as expensive as Berkeley, but almost all single-family homes, so it would be harder for poorer people to rent places there. Although there's a BART station, there's not much other transit, and most homes aren't walkable from the BART station, so poorer people without cars would be in trouble. And it really isn't much less expensive than Berkeley, and it's got the same level of fire danger, so we would be splitting the community in two (abandoning the poor people, the people tied to MIRI HQ, etc) while not gaining much more than a scenery upgrade. I think they're a fair alternative option for people who can't stand the squalor and crime of the Bay proper, but mostly in the context of those people moving there and commuting to Berkeley for community events.

If we made a larger-scale move, I think it would be to avoid the high housing costs, fires, blackouts, taxes, and social decay of the Bay. That rules out anywhere else in California - still the same costs, fires, blackouts, and taxes, although some places are marginally less decayed. It also rules out Cascadian cities like Portland and Seattle - only marginally better housing costs, worse fires, and worse social decay (eg violence in Portland). 

If we wanted to stick close enough to California that it was easy to see families/friends/colleagues, there are lots of great cities in or near the Mountain West - Phoenix, Salt Lake, Colorado Springs, Austin. All of those have housing prices well below half that of the Bay (Phoenix's cost-of-housing index is literally 20% of Berkeley's!). Austin is a trendy exciting tech hub, Colorado Springs frequently tops most-liveable lists, Salt Lake City seems unusually well-governed and resilient to potential climate or political crisis, and Phoenix is gratifyingly cheap.

The most successful adjacent past attempt at deliberate-hub-creation like this I know of was the Free State Project, where 20,000 libertarians agreed to create a libertarian hub. They did some analyses, voted on where the hub should be, created an assurance contract where every signatory agreed to move once there were 20,000 signatories, got 20,000 signatories, and moved. They ended up choosing New Hampshire, which means we might want to consider it as well. It's got great housing prices (Manchester is as cheap as Phoenix!), a great economy, beautiful scenery, a vibrant intellectual scene, it's less than an hour's drive to Boston, it's very politically influential (small, swing state, presidential primaries), and (now) has 20,000 libertarians who are interested in moving places and building hubs.

If people are interested in this, I think the first step would be to consult MIRI, CFAR, CEA, etc, and if they say no, decide whether splitting off "the community" from all of them is worth it. If they say yes, or people decide it's worth it to split, then make an organization and take a vote on location. Once you have a location in mind, start an assurance contract where once X people sign, everyone moves to the location (I'm not sure what X would be - maybe 50?)

I think this is a really interesting project, but probably am too tied to my group house to participate myself :(

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2020-10-09T18:32:27.868Z · score: 55 (27 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Source: I work at MIRI.)

MIRI is very seriously considering moving to a different country soon (most likely Canada), or moving to elsewhere in the US. No concrete plans or decisions at this point, and it's very possible we'll stay in the Bay; but I don't think people should make their current location decisions based on a confident prediction that MIRI is going to stay in the Bay.

If we do leave the Bay Area, some of the main places we're currently thinking about are New Hampshire and some other northeastern US spots, and the area surrounding Toronto in Canada. (Caveat: The top places we're considering might look pretty different a week or two from now.)

I'll say more about this once MIRI has more solid plans (even if those plans are just 'we decided against moving in the near future').

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2020-10-11T19:12:08.344Z · score: 14 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A non-exhaustive list of factors people at MIRI are talking about:

  • General costs of moving, which are obviously much larger when we're located close to a lot of friends and colleagues.
  • Costs and benefits of moving now vs. later, given current events and the difficulties of coordinating a move during normal times.
  • Quality of governance, cost of living, infrastructure construction and maintenance, air quality, reliable access to electricity and Internet.
  • Tail risk of things suddenly getting much worse (e.g., nuclear attacks, or sudden changes in people's common-knowledge sense of the acceptability of violence).
  • Culture, including something like 'people naturally copy behavior patterns from their peers and community, which can make it easier or harder to feel grounded, patient, ambitious, intellectually experimental, etc.'
  • Costs and benefits of living in/near high-population-density places, living in/near tech centers, etc.
  • Ease of immigration, hiring, organizing visits, etc.
  • Weather, climate, and daylight hours.
comment by Viliam · 2020-10-12T18:58:02.870Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Costs and benefits of moving now vs. later, given current events and the difficulties of coordinating a move during normal times.

Speaking about costs and current events, has COVID-19 a visible impact on house prices? That could also be a part of decision whether to move sooner or later.

comment by cadillion · 2020-10-01T06:28:02.388Z · score: 33 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have been collecting interest in an unchartered community in Niobrara, Wyoming with plans to gain critical mass for a state charter.

It's the smallest county in the state with ~2,000 population; the state has the most national voting power per person; generally the law is about as libertarian as any other and they've made a specific push to be a replacement Switzerland after Zurich cracked down on the banks, with especially friendliness to cryptocurrency.

There are currently 2200 acres for sale for $1MM, or smaller lots for less. I am personally committed to funding $100k if I can get enough interest.

Eventual plan would be to create Deep Springs College for working professionals, and attempt quick trials of new community governance norms of the kind proposed by RadicalxChange and others.

If you're interested, please fill out the spreadsheet here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19cK7t4WNzUd1oi0Q1jw0vkqHsUxXqzCvNbuRD5G02LE/edit?usp=drivesdk

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2020-10-10T22:18:24.697Z · score: 12 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I lived in Wyoming and wanted to go to a fetish event, I guess I'm driving to maybe Denver, around 3h40 away? I know this isn't a consideration for everyone but it's important to me.

comment by RyanCarey · 2020-10-12T10:06:51.020Z · score: 13 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The same is basically true for any niche interest - it will only be fulfilled where there's adequate population to justify it. In my case, particular jazz music.

Probably a lot of people have different niche interests like that, even if they can't agree on one.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2020-10-12T12:24:46.118Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

True; in addition, places vary a lot in their freak-tolerance.

comment by lincolnquirk · 2020-10-06T11:45:04.110Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh, interesting. I'd like to hear more about your plans & vision, but I've put my interest in the spreadsheet.

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2020-09-25T23:40:04.727Z · score: 31 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But if the rationalist project is supposed to be about spreading our ideas and achieving things [emphasis mine]

Thanks for phrasing this as a conditional! To fill in another branch of the if/else-if/else-if ... conditional statement: if the rationalist project is supposed to be about systematically correct reasoning—having the right ideas because they're right, rather than spreading our ideas because they're ours—then things that are advantageous to the movement could be disadvantageous to the ideology, if the needs of growing the coalition's resources conflict with the needs of constructing shared maps that reflect the territory [LW · GW].

if we're trying to get the marginal person who isn't quite a community member yet but occasionally reads Less Wrong to integrate more

I don't know who "we" are, but my personal hope for the marginal person who isn't quite a community member but occasionally reads this website isn't that they necessarily integrate with the community, but that they benefit from understanding the ideas that we talk about on this website—the stuff about science and Bayesian reasoning, which, being universals, bear no distinguishing evidence of their origin [LW · GW]. I wouldn't want to privilege the hypothesis [LW · GW] that integrating with the community is the right thing to do if you understand the material, given the size of the space of competing alternatives. (The rest of the world is a much larger place than "the community"; you need more evidence to justify the plan of reorganizing your life around a community qua community than you do to justify the plan of reading an interesting blog.)

comment by faint reminder · 2020-10-01T06:48:04.924Z · score: 18 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel like there's a very serious risk of turning a 'broad rationalist movement' reaction, feeding on PARC adjacent extreme-aspirationals and secreting 'rationalists' into a permanently capped out minor regional cult by just deciding to move somewhere all avowed 'rationalists' choose.
I doubt most 'rationalists' or even most of the people who are likely to contribute to the literature of a rationalist movement have yet been converted to a specific sort of tribal self-identification that would lead them to pick up roots and all go to the same place at one time.
"Let's all leave and pick somewhere obscure" seems a lot more like a way for a movement that has decided to gracefully and deliberately coordinate self-annihilation than a strategy for growth.

 

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2020-09-25T19:43:20.298Z · score: 16 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with regard to Moraga. Habryka and a few housemates of mine drove down to have a look around, and I think their main updates were that each house had only like 2 bedrooms, were all ~5x the distance from each other relative to Berkeley, there were no sidewalks, and no natural meeting place (the place with the shops had no natural seating), which means people just wouldn’t see each other very much unless everyone had a car and made it a conscious and constant effort. Even though it was nice and clean and so on.

I also agree wrt CFAR/MIRI. I would be interested in talking with them more, to see if they‘re open to moving generally, and what their preferences are, I’d massively prefer (both personally and as the LW team) to move with them than away from.

On the side of small-scale moving, I’m curious how you feel about the South Bay? It’s been an idea that a few friends of mine have raised, that after the pandemic we could recongregate there. It’s cleaner, a bit cheaper, larger houses, doesn’t have as much protests and conflict as Berkeley, has far fewer homeless people, and the same distance from SF, and would still work for group houses. It does have less good public transport, which matters if a sizeable number of us don’t primarily Uber for such things, although I think perhaps most of us do.

comment by ioannes_shade · 2020-10-09T21:42:10.455Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually feel like East Bay (Oakland and every place north of Oakland) is really pleasant:

  • Cost of living isn't terrible except for rent, and it's still possible to find good deals on rent, e.g. I've lived in North Oakland for 6 years and have only paid more than $1,000/month for one of those years (granted for the rest of the time I've been living in group houses or with a partner)
  • East Bay parks are amazing
  • Minimal social decay except for downtown Berkeley and parts of Oakland
  • Wonderful weather for ~10 months of the year (every season except for fire season)
  • Lots of interesting + diverse people, intellectual communities, and social life

 

What am I missing? 

comment by ESRogs · 2020-10-09T21:35:48.995Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It also rules out Cascadian cities like Portland and Seattle - only marginally better housing costs, worse fires, and worse social decay (eg violence in Portland).

I'm not sure this is so conclusive, regarding Seattle. A few notes --

  1. The rent is 40% less than San Francisco, and 20% less than Berkeley. (And the difference seems likely to continue or increase, because Seattle is willing to build housing.)
  2. There is no state income tax.
  3. While the CHAZ happened in Seattle, my impression is that day-to-day it's much more livable than SF. (I haven't lived there in a few years, but from 2007-2014 I thought it was wonderful.)
  4. If MIRI (or others) want to hire programmers, Seattle is probably the 2nd best market in the US for it. (Think of where the big tech cos all have their first secondary offices. It's all Seattle or NYC.)
comment by ioannes_shade · 2020-10-09T22:07:30.174Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agree with these points, though Seattle doesn't seem very dynamic compared to the Bay, LA, NYC, or even Salt Lake. (It seems very normie, to use a pejorative.)

comment by romeostevensit · 2020-10-01T04:17:23.087Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

>it's less than an hour's drive to Boston

this is pretty damn strong for intellectual hub considerations. I had been thinking Denver or Santa Cruz were the only real choices due to decriminalization (leading indicator) but given NH's politics they might follow along in the next few years.

comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2020-09-24T15:35:49.651Z · score: 74 (30 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Additional factor: availability of compatible people who didn't move there for this group. This is important for several reasons, including:

  • Inflow of new ideas
  • Ease of joining and leaving. If rationalists take over a small town, the only thing there for them is other rationalists. That makes joining and leaving into very binary decisions. It doesn't let people slowly notice incompatibilities and amoeba into another social group.  
comment by Vaniver · 2020-10-04T21:28:50.860Z · score: 19 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ease of joining and leaving.

See also Let Me Go Back, which looks at 'barrier to exit' as one of the 'barriers to entry'; trying something out is expensive not just because you have to switch to it, but also because you have to switch back if you don't like it.

comment by juliawise · 2020-10-09T21:32:33.558Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

New Hampshire surprised me for this reason. There's a small group of LW types but my impression is they feel pretty isolated.

comment by sen · 2020-09-24T09:34:03.631Z · score: 54 (21 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We could pick a second hub instead of a new first hub. We don't need consensus or even a plurality. We just need critical mass in a location other than Berkeley. Preferably that new location would cater to a group that's not well-served by Berkeley so we can get more total people into a hub. If we're being careful, we should worry about Berkeley losing its critical mass as a result of the second hub, however, I don't think that's a likely outcome.

There's some loss from splitting people across two hubs rather than getting everyone into one hub. However, I suspect indecision is causing way more long-term loss than the split would. I would recommend first trying to get more people into some hub, then worry about consolidation later.

comment by Vaniver · 2020-09-25T19:22:08.818Z · score: 36 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think NYC was long a 'second hub', and there were a bunch of third-tier hubs, but I think the relationships between the hubs never really worked out to make a happy global community. Here's a post about some previous context [LW · GW]. I also suspect that the community has never really had enough people or commitment to have 'critical mass' for multiple hubs, and this is part of the problem.

I think there are some systems that have successfully figured this out. I am optimistic about a bunch of current EA student groups at top universities, many of which I visited on the SSC road trip, where there's both 1) natural recruitment and 2) natural outflow. If someone graduates from Yale and doesn't stay in New Haven, this is not a surprise; if someone who works as a professional in Austin moves to the Bay Area, this is more of a surprise. This does have a succession problem, where it may be the case that a particular student organizer is great, and once they graduate the group falls apart, but I think at least one university has gone through a few 'generations' of organizers, and there's probably more we can do to support future organizers.

I also think the Mormons have figured this out, where 'Salt Lake' controls a bunch of distribution and publishing and so on and is definitely the 'cultural capital' of the Mormon world. My sense is that in most places, rather than a weekly sermon cooked up by the local pastor you get a high-production values (in all senses) DVD from the central office. I think our version of that is popular blogs and podcasts, where a global community can be reading SSC and listening to the 80k hours podcast and so mostly be in sync with each other, but this only really works for the "excitement about cool topics" and "gradually fleshing out your world model" dimensions, and is not as good for local community norms or building pairwise relationships or so on. 

I think a problem here is that while we have lots of features that are religion-like, I think we don't really prioritize the "cultural center" aspects, and so there aren't really people who want to be rationalist pastors / bishops / etc.; Eliezer mostly want to work on AI safety instead of community-building, my sense is that CFAR mostly wants to work on skilling up / recruiting x-risk thinkers instead of community-building, and so on. For example, when I look at plans to make secondary hubs that seem likely to actually happen to me, most of them are parents trying to make good neighborhoods for themselves and their kids, where they are actually taking on the 'burden of cultural ownership' or w/e; I think a lot of orgs that people hope will be Community orgs are instead mostly interested in being Craft orgs.

comment by sen · 2020-09-28T14:21:30.960Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That was a fascinating post about the relationship with Berkeley. I wonder how the situation has changed in the last two years since people became more cognizant of the problem. Note that some of the comments there refute your idea that the community never had enough people for multiple hubs. NYC and Melbourne in particular seemed to have plenty of people, but they dissipated after core members repeatedly got recruited by Berkeley.

It seems like Berkeley was overtly trying to eat other communities, but EA did it just by being better at a thing many Rationalists hoped the Rationality Community would be. The "competition" with EA seems healthy, so perhaps that one should be encouraged more explicitly.

I'll note that for all the criticisms leveled at Berkeley in that post, I get the same impression of LW that Evan_Gaensbauer had of Berkeley. The sensible posts here (per my arrogant perspective) are much more life- and community-oriented. Jan_Kulveit in your link gave a tidy explanation of why that is, and I think it's close to spot-on. Your observations about practical plans for secondary hubs are exactly what I'd expect.

comment by adamzerner · 2020-09-26T02:49:06.784Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Similar point: it seems to me that having multiple hubs makes sense.

comment by romeostevensit · 2020-10-01T04:24:10.063Z · score: 21 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

a single second hub that specifically optimizes for the second largest cluster of desirable traits that the first hub misses seems optimal to me.

comment by Damian Tatum (damian-tatum) · 2020-09-24T17:57:16.561Z · score: 51 (28 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not a regular member of this community, OR a resident of the Bay Area, so apply extreme skepticism to my observations and my suggestions. They are submitted with significant humility. 

  1. I don't think there's any practical way to relocate a cultural hub on purpose. It might move on its own, over time, but that will be an incremental process. So, to some degree, I think this discussion is moot. Even if a few huge players announced an agreed upon "Second Hub" I don't think many people would/could just pick up and go there. 
  2. Nevertheless, various factors (COVID, better online collaboration tools, economic factors that make the Bay Area uniquely difficult) do seem to acting to make relocation an easier sell, so it's reasonable to think about this. 
  3. Trying to list all the things that would make an alternate location better is a bad approach. It will be a different list for everyone. Anywhere that would tick off most of the boxes currently ticked off by the Bay Area would probably also have the same flaws as the Bay Area. 
  4. That said, I think there is one sort-of easy answer that SORT-OF gets at the root problem. The root problem is not the Bay Area per se. The root problem is that "rationality" as a project, is not a location based activity, and putting all the rationality actors in one place is not an obviously-effective strategy to spreading and evolving rational thought. 
    1. If all the Catholics lived in Rome, I don't think most of the world would care about Catholicism very much. 
    2. Or, if religious analogies are disturbing, we could say "if all the Democrats clustered into two coastal states, they would win a lot of popular votes but lose the Senate over and over." 
  5. Concentration can help with sharing/incubating/evolving ideas, but it has enormous downsides if you're actually trying to promulgate a program. And sharing ideas without physical proximity is easier than ever. This suggests that spreading out may be a better strategy.
  6. I would advocate you spread out to somewhere close to where you are from. "Go home." Here are my reasons for advocating this: 
    1. The marginal value of one person applying science and reason-based approaches to local problems is likely to be higher in a community where such approaches are rare, compared to huge rationality hubs, where they're pretty common. As an example, leading an effort to institute ranked-choice voting in Charleston West Virginia might create a larger impact than working at a Bay Area startup, even if the startup is working on an interesting topic. There are communities around the country where no one is even TRYING to improve the epistemic quality of local culture and governance. Having even one person is much, much better than having zero.  
    2. Moving to a place where you have local connections may increase your utility. If you have established family in rural Oklahoma, it may be possible to meet and converse with mayors, city councils, school boards, etc. These are the advantages of being an average fish in a small pond, vs a tiny fish in a giant pond. 
    3. Holing up in a hub means that like-minded people can exchange ideas, but it means that people with very different experiences are not being consulted at all. Is it possible that the best ideas for improving zoning laws can be found in Texas, not California? Is it possible the best experts in automation are in Pittsburgh, not Boston? Is it possible there is better economics work being done in St. Louis than London? I'm not claiming this is true, but it's certainly possible. If it sometimes seems like Rationalists only seem interested in the problems, perspectives, and solutions relevant to 20-40 year-old upper middle class technologists living in central California, well, there are reasons that might have happened. I certainly get a parochial, elitist, Bay-centric vibe from this community. I once wrote something critical of the Bay Area in response to a post by Rob Wiblin, who responded, in effect "I don't know why we would cater to people who choose to live in the middle of nowhere." I mean, it's the vast majority of the human race, but ok, Rob. Geographic diversity would bring in new ideas but more importantly, it would bring in new people. Shout-out to the Slate Star Codex regional meetups. That's a great idea, and was a lot of fun even in central Kentucky. 
    4. The quality of life in mid-American cities is undervalued. Maybe this is an experience unique to me, and I'm just biased. But it seems true. I've visited New York and San Francisco and DC many times, and I admit they are superior cities. But dollar for dollar, I think they are VASTLY over-rated. The quality of night-life, local community, schools, housing, transit, parks, ecology, etc. etc. in other cities I've visited and lived in are perhaps 70-80% as good, while costing 50% or less, and avoiding huge logistical hassles. I live in New Orleans, where I can own a three-bedroom house with a separate rented unit that keeps my total housing costs below $1000/month, in a very safe neighborhood near one of the best public schools, while still visiting world-class cultural activities (well, pre-COVID). The ceiling is much lower than New York, no doubt, but how often is the average New Yorker attending the Metropolitan Opera or Broadway shows? I can still visit New York if I want to have apex cultural experiences. And I can afford to do so. 
    5. If you're from a small town that is literally a cultural backwater with nothing to recommend it, consider the nearest college town or midsized city. I lived in Lexington, Kentucky for several years and loved it. 
    6. I suspect that low preference for having kids may be, in some community members, an EFFECT of living in expensive, ultra-competitive, or difficult city, and not a cause. In other words, I wonder if people who say "I don't mind having to commute by train from my 500 sq ft efficiency to my urban-center job while not being able to accrue any housing equity, because I don't really want to start a family anyway," are actually downplaying any urge for family planning because it's logistically impractical. I'm not a die-hard having-kids advocate, but personally I underestimated the positive valence of having a child, so I think it's something to consider.
  7. The previous comments all basically assume the reader is American--I'm sorry that I'm only able to write from my experience as a native born US citizen, and I realize that there could be much more substantial costs associated with trying to "go home" to a foreign country, including loss of resident status, political oppression, etc. I still think immigrants should consider mid-America cities as an improved value proposition, but I don't know if it would offer opportunities to increase your effectiveness (especially if it opened you up to bigotry or discrimination), and it's possible the special benefits of having a local expatriate community from your own country would make large coastal hubs irreplaceable. Fair.

Thanks for the chance to offer my opinion. 

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-10-12T23:31:40.508Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If all the Catholics lived in Rome, I don't think most of the world would care about Catholicism very much.

Currently both the Amish and the Mormons are more effective at increasing their believer counts then the catholics.

In both cases there's a strong focus on a certain demographic region. 

The root problem is that "rationality" as a project, is not a location based activity, and putting all the rationality actors in one place is not an obviously-effective strategy to spreading and evolving rational thought. 

If you see the project of rationality  as mainly about spreading what we already have, then being distributed would make sense. If you see it more as being about going from 0 to 1 and evolving new rationalist techniques and models, it's more useful to be concentrated.

Evolving rational thought is about sitting down together and doing hard work. Being in the same location helps with doing hard work together. It also makes it easier to pass knowledge about experiments, both successful and failed along. 

comment by Viliam · 2020-10-12T22:57:17.567Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think there's any practical way to relocate a cultural hub on purpose. It might move on its own, over time, but that will be an incremental process. So, to some degree, I think this discussion is moot. Even if a few huge players announced an agreed upon "Second Hub" I don't think many people would/could just pick up and go there.

An incremental process may still benefit from coordination. If once in a while somebody decides to move to "a place with many rationalists that is not Bay Area", it may help if it is common knowledge that X is the place. So instead of three people moving to Boston, three people moving to Toronto, and three people moving to New Hampshire, we might get nine people moving to e.g. Boston.

putting all the rationality actors in one place is not an obviously-effective strategy to spreading and evolving rational thought. If all the Catholics lived in Rome, I don't think most of the world would care about Catholicism very much.

But also, if each Catholic lived in a different town, Catholicism would disappear in one generation.

I wonder how much "spreading rationality" actually happens offline. At least I think I haven't converted a single person, regardless of how many local meetups I organized. The local rationalists I know are those who came to the first meetups already being rationalists. It is great to meet each other sometimes, but it is unrelated to spreading rational thought.

Seems to me that as long as the internet debates remain, the recruitment channels will remain untouched, even if we all moved to the same place (which is unlikely to happen). Unless we all lived so close to each other that we would no longer feel a need to go debate online. But I assume there will always be more than one hub; and then there will at least be an online communication between them.

if all the Democrats clustered into two coastal states, they would win a lot of popular votes but lose the Senate over and over

Given our numbers, our situation is more similar to Libertarians than to Democrats, which kinda makes this an argument in favor of New Hampshire. :)

The marginal value of one person applying science and reason-based approaches to local problems is likely to be higher in a community where such approaches are rare, compared to huge rationality hubs, where they're pretty common. [...] Having even one person is much, much better than having zero.

This assumes that people listen to the lonely rational person.

But my actual objection is more like "put your oxygen mask on first". If rationalists are rare, it is important to protect them against burning out, which can be achieved by a supporting environment. And if a rationalist wants to address a local problem, it seems useful to have other rationalists familiar with the same problem, so they can share knowledge, discuss strategies, cooperate. (Which approach is better, probably depends on the specific problem.)

If it sometimes seems like Rationalists only seem interested in the problems, perspectives, and solutions relevant to 20-40 year-old upper middle class technologists living in central California, well, there are reasons that might have happened. I certainly get a parochial, elitist, Bay-centric vibe from this community. I once wrote something critical of the Bay Area in response to a post by Rob Wiblin, who responded, in effect "I don't know why we would cater to people who choose to live in the middle of nowhere."

I think here we agree a lot. You don't have to put a sign saying "if you are not a young technologist, you are not welcome among us" in front of your door -- moving to a place where hardly anyone else can afford the rent achieves exactly the same outcome. Which is why I am in favor of coordinating on another, less insane place.

This said, it seems to me that the Bay-centrism is gradually getting weaker than it used to be. (Not sure why; I suspect the influence of people who moved to Bay Area after participating in a local rationalist community elsewhere.) A few years ago, having a serious debate about moving away from Bay Area would be unthinkable.

I suspect that low preference for having kids may be, in some community members, an EFFECT of living in expensive, ultra-competitive, or difficult city, and not a cause.

Yep. I guess for some it is a genuine preference; for some it is rationalization of not being able to afford it; and for some it is a peer pressure from the previous two groups. (And a few can afford it, and go ahead.) I predict that if the main cultural hub moves to a cheaper and family-friendlier place, we will see a "rationalist baby boom" within five years.

Thanks for the chance to offer my opinion.

You probably just won the prize for the highest upvoted first comment. Congratulations!

To say the obvious, don't let my disagreement discourage you. (Also, we probably agree more than disagree, because I was more likely to react to those points where I had an opposite opinion.)

comment by jacobjacob · 2020-09-24T06:16:25.160Z · score: 41 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here are some other considerations. They sort of overlap yours; but some people might find these frames carve things at a more helpful level of abstraction. 
 

Groundedness [LW · GW]: Some people encounter rationality ideas and either go crazy, or do lots of harm to themselves (for example, by working themselves into burnout or depression from a sense of moral guilt). Living locations can be more or less conducive to this. Berkeley seems particularly bad -- it's filled with a pretty trippy aesthetic. It feel unsafe/unwholesome in terms of various problems with homelessness, crime, etc. Oxford is a lot better. It's small, calm, beautiful, safe and with a very stable and historic culture. Though it's still not on the Pareto frontier of groundedness. 

Proximity to power (or greatness on some other dimension): Hubs are real. People go to San Francisco to start startups, LA to become actors, London to work in finance, DC to work in think tanks... and so forth. For me this was an almost overwhelming consideration in wanting to live near San Francisco. Nowhere else has such a remarkable diversity of ambitious intellectuals; people like Jonathan Blow, Bret Victor, Peter Thiel (yes, I know he left eventually), Elon Musk, Michael Nielsen, the YC crowd, random people like the guy who wrote Thinking Physics and many many others... Whenever I did not live here, I'd pay a lot of attention to where interesting people and projects where located. And a ridiculously high number of roads would lead back to SF. 

comment by Vaniver · 2020-09-24T04:31:42.731Z · score: 39 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My sense is that coordination for this is basically impossible, because of competing access needs. I am most optimistic about versions of this that will:

1) Happen even if no one else signs on. [For example, people moving to small towns within commuting distance of SF/Berkeley, where it makes sense for them even if no one else moves to Pinole or Moraga or wherever.]
2) Be readily extensible. [If one person buys in Pinole, other people can later buy other houses in Pinole, and slowly shift the balance. Many rationalist group houses started off as a single apartment in a split house, and slowly took over through organic growth. Building a neighborhood of small houses in upstate Vermont to replace your group house, if it works, probably also means someone else could build a subdivision for their group house next door.]
3) Pick a vision and be willing to deliver on it. [You're not going to find a place that has great weather and cheap property value and proximity to great cities; that's not how efficient markets work. Instead, figure out the few criteria that matter most to you, and do what it takes to achieve those criteria.]

This is basically the only way I see for projects to get out of the planning stage and into the reality stage; there will be Some Children Left Behind, and also some people who decide that, well, they do really like the sun but lumenators will be sufficient to make upstate Vermont workable (or whatever).

 

Separately, I note that 'chance meetings among extraverts' seem to be a pretty powerful factor in shaping the history of cultures and organizations, and think that there really is a very large benefit to being in a central hub; I think those hubs have to become much worse for it to not be worth it anymore. [The main compelling reason I see for moving away from the hub is in order to have children--suburbs exist for a reason!--but for people still trying to find partners or meaningful work, the hubs remain very important.]

comment by johnswentworth · 2020-09-24T18:17:53.314Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're not going to find a place that has great weather and cheap property value and proximity to great cities; that's not how efficient markets work.

That's not entirely true - these are only three variables. Efficient markets says that everywhere will be on some pareto frontier, not on this particular pareto frontier. And given the extreme distortions in the Bay Area housing market, there's a plausible argument that the area isn't on any pareto frontier.

comment by Vaniver · 2020-09-24T19:19:32.920Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure, one could argue that Oakland actually fits the three desiderata, because I left out "low crime," altho I don't think Oakland is actually cheap. The broader point of "you get what you pay for" holds, I think, and the only way you get something 'acceptably cheap' is deliberately deciding to not pay for some things you could pay for.

comment by johnswentworth · 2020-09-24T20:27:58.699Z · score: 28 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"You get what you pay for" isn't really the rule. The rule is more like: in order to get it, you must pay for it. But the converse does not hold: just because you pay for it, does not mean you get it.

In the Bay Area case specifically: there's a lot of people in the Bay Area with very high-paying jobs, who would not make nearly as much money living elsewhere. In order to get those high-paying jobs, they have to shell out for expensive Bay Area living costs. (In order to get "it" - i.e. the high-paying job - they must pay for it.) This was certainly the main reason I lived there for many years. But paying those high Bay Area living costs will not magically cause one to make lots of money. (Just because you pay for it, does not mean you get it.)

In terms of pareto frontiers: the Bay Area is on the "software engineer salary" pareto frontier, but that has very little value to people who do not currently work in software. (Going by the numbers from this survey, I'd guess that about half the LW community is in the software industry. The other half can probably make about as much money elsewhere, at much lower living cost.)

comment by RenoSSC · 2020-09-30T04:45:14.715Z · score: 38 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We are two AI safety researchers (combined AF karma: around 200) who have been happily living as roommates for the past ~year in Reno, Nevada.  We have an empty room in our house.  The rent for the room is $400/mo.  Some factors to consider re: whether you want to come live with us in Reno (either as a roommate, or starting your own house):

  • Reno is about as close to the Bay Area as you can get without paying state income tax.  It costs about $20 to get a bus ticket down to the Bay.  The bus has power and wifi, so you can work during the ~8 hour drive.  (I'm not sure how good the wifi is, I try & use it as offline work time, but I tend to get distracted by the beautiful scenery.)
  • If you have a profoundly gifted child you want to send to school, or want to work with profoundly gifted kids, the nearby Davidson Academy is supposed to be the best place in the US for this.
  • Pre-pandemic, we had a nice SSC meetup going with a few people attending.
  • Short commute to Burning Man.
  • There are more gun people here than in California; almost 40% of households in Washoe County keep firearms in their homes: http://www.city-data.com/top2/co8.html  Unclear if this is good or bad.  Certainly should be easier to get a gun here than in California if you want one.  There's a mix of liberals and conservatives in the area; libertarians seem overrepresented.  There's a confederate flag bumper sticker or two in our rural neighborhood :/
  • There is snow and skiing in the winter.  Latitude fairly similar to the Bay Area, so theoretically sunlight fairly similar as well?
  • Reno's tagline is "The Biggest Little City in the World", and it lives up to it in my opinion.  At least pre-pandemic, passerby in Reno seemed way nicer than passerby in the Bay Area.
  • There have been some wildfires this year and we got advisory evacuations twice.  (We're out in the boondocks; I don't believe anyone in the city got an advisory evacuation.)  Air quality has been better than the Bay Area though.
  • Marijuana is legal here.
  • Reno is a tourist destination and has various events going on, especially during the summer--we don't really attend them though.

A little about our house:

  • We're hoping to add AI safety researchers to the house, potentially squeezing more than 3 people into 3 bedrooms, eventually splitting off into a second house (based on who is forming AI safety collaborations) and growing the Reno community that way.
  • We're both fairly driven and independently motivated, "no excuses" types as opposed to the touchy-feely people who do Circling you meet in the Bay Area.
  • Cleaning up messes is usually not a priority at the current moment but this is susceptible to change.
  • We're not super social, probably more due to being busy with work than introversion.  We communicate using Discord and occasionally go for hikes, do math/machine learning presentations on a whiteboard, play board games, drink and watch a movie, cook food and eat it together.
  • We have a dishwasher, laundry machine, dryer.

If you're interested, please send a private message telling us about yourself, especially what you're like as a roommate.

comment by Vaniver · 2020-09-24T04:05:22.105Z · score: 29 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think a more attractive option than a group house is something like a pocket neighborhood or baugruppe [LW · GW]; I think a location being favorable to that sort of development is a major point in its favor.

comment by mingyuan · 2020-09-25T01:16:42.688Z · score: 19 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a story in Happy City (great book, highly recommended) about some people becoming friends with their neighbors, knocking down the fences in their backyards, and eventually spreading this to their entire block, such that it became a big, semi-private park surrounded by the houses of trusted friends. Habryka and I are definitely pretty excited about something like that. In an area with less insane property values I would imagine this would be pretty doable. 

comment by lincolnquirk · 2020-09-24T18:13:30.086Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems absolutely right to me. I've been noodling on ideas in this space for a long time and it definitely seems like the right end-state for living long term is more like an archipelago / cluster than the group houses we usually see. I also don't know how to find places that are well suited to this sort of development.

But even without the support of a town, it should be possible, with enough planning/thoughtfulness, to purchase (over time) a high % of the properties within a given city block or cul-de-sac or apartment building or whatever. To me, this just seems like a chicken-and-egg coordination problem -- there are so many plausible cul-de-sacs you could buy, none will be perfect but any could work if there was already momentum, but there's not yet. (Also, most people are impatient and don't have the lifestyle slack to wait 2-5 years for a place to open up in their desired pocket neighborhood)

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-10-02T12:01:09.913Z · score: 27 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Case for Berlin ( I will add to it):

Language 

You can get by in Berlin without knowing German and I know people who do. Of course there are costs to not being able to speak German but Berlin might be one of the cities outside of countries where English is the official languages where you can get farthest without English.

Walkability (/ bikeability / public transit)

Walkability in Berlin is good. We are Of course for walkability to work for a community it's necessary for the community to live in the same part of the city.

Berkeley has fiber internet, 2-day Amazon delivery, a myriad of quick restaurant and grocery delivery options, and excellent coverage by Lyft, Uber, and bikeshares. I expect many would be reluctant to give up this level of convenience. This is a strike against private islands, remote castles, and developing countries, among others.

2-day Amazon delievery seems really strange to be listed as a benefit.

Amazon currently tells me about how I get free same day delivery for a bunch of items with prime. There's next day delievery to remote castles in Germany with Amazon. 

Berlin has great internet and Uber (and other companies like FreeNow) and bikeshares.

Cost of living

From numbeo

  • Cost of living index in Berlin is 30.66% lower than in New York.
  • Rent in Berlin is, on average, 66.50% lower than in New York.

General infrastructure

We have all the basic infrastructure things. We have parks and forest in the city as well as lakes. 

Occupancy laws

As long as you tell the government who lives in the flat, the government is happy. Having people who are not offiically registered also usually isn't a problem but German citizens have to officially register their home. 

Local political environment / culture

Berlin's culture is very accepting of all sorts of different people and might be the city that's most accepting of people being different. I don't the cultural problems that the Bay Area has of late exist here in a way that I come into contact with them.

I do grant that Berlin is not known for ambition.

There's little chance for meaningful unrest.

Medical care

Berlin has good research hospitals and a lot of different doctors. Germanies medical insurance is easily accessible.

Crime

Berlin has a higher safety index then Berkely. While Berkely is at 37.49, Berlin is at 59.18. Problem violent crimes such as assault and armed robbery is also happens less in Berlin

 Weather

No serious natural disasters or extreme weather.  The worst are storm where it makes sense to stay inside for a few hours. 

We do have winters.

Jobs

We have a local startup scene and both Amazon and Google employ programmers in Berlin.

comment by Jonas Vollmer · 2020-10-10T08:57:51.965Z · score: 28 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted, I would like to see Berlin considered more strongly. Having lived there for two years, I think it's hard to overestimate how high the quality of living in Berlin is, not just in the easily verifiable ways listed above, but also in more subtle ways. E.g., in addition to being much cheaper, restaurants/cuisine just generally seems higher quality compared to many other places. German housing is much better than UK/US housing in ways that seem hard to appreciate for people who haven't lived in both locations, etc.

Edit: To clarify, I don't want to suggest Berlin as the one single best rationalist hub, but as one of the global top 5.

To add some downsides:

  • The language barrier is still a bit of an issue if you care about making friends outside the rationalist community
  • The airports are among the worst in the world
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2020-10-10T16:58:04.021Z · score: 36 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of the biggest downsides from my perspective of moving out of the U.S. and the Bay Area in particular is drastically lower salaries in many industries, in particular software engineering. My guess is most software engineers we know would literally be looking at 70% pay reductions (as in make 30% of what they previously made). I think this is a strong enough reason that I would be very hesitant to move to Berlin long-term, and I think would reduce surplus income of individuals by something like 50%, which I think is a really big deal.

comment by Jonas Vollmer · 2020-10-12T08:23:02.722Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah. Adjusting for cost of living and purchasing power, it would be (much?) less, but still a good reason against moving.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2020-10-12T16:45:17.413Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I mean, most of the people I know live pretty frugally, which means that those differences don’t matter that much. Housing for people in group houses in Berkeley only costs about $12k a year, so you can’t save that much on that. In addition there are also much higher tax rates. Having done the calculations, I actually expect discretionary income to go down by more something like 75%, because you also pay a lot more in taxes.

comment by Jonas Vollmer · 2020-10-12T18:33:21.451Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, that seems very plausible for frugal people who don't pay much rent, don't eat out that often, etc. and updates me against Berlin

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-10-10T13:07:39.819Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The language barrier is still a bit of an issue if you care about making friends outside the rationalist community

I live in Berlin and do have nonrationalist friends with whom I mainly speak English. There are plenty of English-speaking events where people can find friends with whom to talk English.

I recently asked a person I meet about what issues she has with living in Berlin without knowing German and her main complaint was that it's hard to interact with the government as that requires someone to translate for them.

Raising a family would likely also require learning some German.

The airports are among the worst in the world

Our new one is finally ready :)

comment by Jonas Vollmer · 2020-10-12T08:24:36.521Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know of some EAs who lived in Berlin and found it very difficult to make friends due to the language barriers, and some EAs who had an experience more similar to yours. 

comment by bendini · 2020-10-13T18:57:22.363Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What about homeschooling? Many people within the community plan to homeschool their children, yet a quick google search indicates that homeschooling is illegal in all of Germany and you will be arrested if you attempt to do so. 

comment by ESRogs · 2020-10-13T19:28:22.223Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

FYI I think your second link is broken.

comment by bendini · 2020-10-13T19:48:30.792Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fixed, thanks.

comment by Avi Weiss · 2020-10-18T07:56:52.791Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the positive side - there is a sizeable cluster of alternative schools in and around Berlin - including forest schools, free/democratic schools, Montessori/Waldorf etc.

comment by cadillion · 2020-10-01T06:47:27.796Z · score: 21 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have been collecting interest in an unchartered community in Niobrara, Wyoming with plans to gain critical mass for a state charter.

It's the smallest county in the state with ~2,000 population; the state has the most national voting power per person; generally the law is about as libertarian as any other and they've made a specific push to be a replacement Switzerland after Zurich cracked down on the banks, with especially friendliness to cryptocurrency.

There are currently 2200 acres for sale for $1MM, or smaller lots for less. I am personally committed to funding $100k if I can get enough interest.

Eventual plan would be to create Deep Springs College for working professionals, and attempt quick trials of new community governance norms of the kind proposed by RadicalxChange and others.

If you're interested, please fill out the spreadsheet here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19cK7t4WNzUd1oi0Q1jw0vkqHsUxXqzCvNbuRD5G02LE/edit?usp=drivesdk

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2020-09-26T10:50:51.200Z · score: 21 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Overall I think the rationalist community is concentrated too much in one hub and the secondary and tertiary hubs are weaker than they should be.

The main negatives are
- this creates a bit of single-point-of-failure dynamic; imagine the single hub becomes infected by some particularly dangerous meme, or bad community norms
- the single hub is still embedded in the wider society of the place where it is located, introducing some systematic bias (the epistemic climate of contemporary US seems increasingly scary; Bay rationalists sometimes seems overcompensating for the insanities of the broader society)
- the single hub would be vulnerable to a coordinated attack originating from the environment

There are also advantages of single hub
- in theory in a single hub it is easy to visit people and form connections; in practice it seems this is true in Berkeley, less true in the whole Bay where travel distances are comparable to flight times between European cities

And there is the huge advantage of Bay
- being close to the nexus of power and the most future-shaping place is extremely important (as explained by Scott and others)

Advantages of more hubs are
- in my view, could support more strains of thoughts / more experiments with community / more opportunities where people can lead things 
- less fragility
- more of the total available talent used; some people will just not move to the Bay (will not get visas / can not bear with culture /....)

Instead of thinking "should we find the location X and move The hub" I would suggest thinking about optimal allocation of people in a structure of networked places

- which secondary hubs should grow / grow faster / be founded
- how to create links; people should consider moving temporarily between the hubs (for eg half a year or a year), even in the direction "Bay -> elsewhere" - this is often the best way to form links

What should be avoided
- some "holier-than-thou" dynamic where people who made the sacrifice of moving to the Bay and living there even if they think it terrible place with low quality of life assume that people who did not made the sacrifice are not sufficiently dedicated to the mission or similar; hence the rest of the world can be ignored

 

comment by Nicole Ross (nicole-ross) · 2020-10-09T23:00:31.106Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the robustness-fragility point is a very good one, and want to highlight it as I haven't seen it in discussions about hubs much.

comment by Ruby · 2020-09-23T23:14:54.670Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought about this, initially with the prior that people’s sense that elsewhere would be better, but then concluded that the Bay really was pretty good, even accounting for the weather. NYC maybe workable too, but I prefer the Bay. Maybe will explain reasoning later.

comment by mingyuan · 2020-10-10T05:31:11.405Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please explain later? Can happen over a call if you don't want to type.

comment by ESRogs · 2020-09-24T21:56:59.718Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

even accounting for the weather

Taking the Bay's weather to be a negative? Melbourne must really be idyllic...

comment by Ruby · 2020-09-25T01:51:04.149Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, so long as I lived there, the air was breathable all of the time.

comment by mingyuan · 2020-09-25T01:18:19.935Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I assumed he meant Apocalypse Sky.

comment by Edward Kmett (edward-kmett) · 2020-10-09T22:20:28.442Z · score: 20 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My working model of a good location is either in or around Ann Arbor.

Travel is going to be a concern for any location, I think. Why? I think you want visiting scholars, the ability to reach out to other organizations, the ability for folks who have become sort of part of the rationalist diaspora to be able to physically reach out and connect. You may not want to be in the major city, but ready access to an international airport seems like a good filter, as the farther the nearest one is away from you, the steeper the gradient to get anyone to come visit is.

If you run through a list of hub airports and rule out the west coast for fires and much of the south due to hurricanes, you're left with a pretty short list of cities and very few with good nearby colleges that might be cultural fits:

American Airlines:

  • New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
  • New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA)
  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

United:

  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  • Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Houston George-Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Delta:

  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
  • New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

I'm ignoring Southwest as they don't have "hubs" per se, and smaller regional airlines.

If you rule out most of the west coast due to ongoing fire troubles, and don't choose to go south, to avoid hurricane country, you're left with mostly DTW, ORD, PHL, BOS, CVG, or IAD. ORD hits some serious unrest and governance issues that give me pause. PHL is also a bit of a hotbed. BOS means you probably wind up an hour and a half plus out in New Hampshire, or dealing with Massachusetts taxes.

DTW seems to be the only one that you get a good college town (Ann Arbor) within a short drive, if you want folks to have a social life and access to a local talent pool, but also don't want to be _in_ the college part of the city over unrest concerns. So with that in mind, my working model of a good location is either in or around Ann Arbor.

It gets you a half hour from an international airport, DTW, which is a hub airport for Delta, meaning travel for visiting scholars and for folks on the fringe of the edge of the community is easy, and stays single airline, covering the US, Europe, and Australia (2 hops, but same airline). 

If you want to be able to isolate away from people in anticipation of either ongoing COVID concerns or another COVID-like problem or unrest, 5 minutes out of Ann Arbor, either east into Superior Township or west, you hit farm country, and can buy lots of space. Go a bit north and you get some nicer lakefront places.

There is a sharp political gradient which gives me pause about flashpoint concerns, however, most of that ire is directed at Lansing, not Ann Arbor. It does mean that you can pretty much pick the politics of your neighbors based on where you plant your flag though.

Downsides:

There isn't any good public transit link to DTW. (Yes, there is a bus or something, but I've never seen anyone make it work.) But Uber still exists for now, and cabs will likely exist after.

There are some anti-mask whack-jobs in the state legislature. On the other hand, alternatives discussed here so far aren't any better on that front. e.g. New Hampshire has no state mask mandate either.

All of the above travel analysis is contingent on airlines still being a going concern, of course, which will probably be a function of how long it takes for things to approximate "normal".

Thoughts on other locations:

Vancouver: Has all the breathing problems of California, and adds Canadian immigration.

Hamilton or Waterloo: Canadian immigration, no easy travel.

Seattle: Still trouble breathing, bit cheaper than the bay, but if you're trying to escape feeling like the world is on fire it doesn't seem to check that box. Also, CHAZ for good or ill.

New Hampshire: Gives access to MIT instead of University of Michigan, which is admittedly a better cultural fit, but is significantly further away. Though, Dartmouth, UNH might fill the gap somewhat. Politically it seems a bit more stable, which I confess may be a strong consideration.

Austin checks a lot of the same boxes, except for the hub airport one, and is arguably a better cultural fit. There was some talk in 2018 of Delta making it a "mini-hub", but who knows where that went. I don't have enough travel experience in/out of Austin to compare.

comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2020-10-11T02:27:00.308Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

dealing with Massachusetts taxes

MA taxes are not that different from MI? In Ann Arbor you would be paying 4.25% income tax and 6% sales tax, compared to 5% and 6.25% in MA.

comment by Edward Kmett (edward-kmett) · 2020-10-11T07:49:13.465Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

True. Sorry. My baseline for that passing tax comment was the previous clause about New Hampshire, as it seems a significant part of the argument trotted out in favor of New Hampshire, over all the other points scattered around Boston. e.g. northern or western MA, New Haven, Providence, etc.

I do agree that it is, as you point out, almost as strong a strike against my Ann Arbor narrative.

comment by Vaniver · 2020-10-10T16:25:18.458Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Austin checks a lot of the same boxes, except for the hub airport one, and is arguably a better cultural fit. There was some talk in 2018 of Delta making it a "mini-hub", but who knows where that went. I don't have enough travel experience in/out of Austin to compare.

I didn't travel that much out of Austin, and mostly to other hubs, but I never had a bad time and often could get direct flights. The main hassle is just that it's far from the other places, and so the flights take a while, but that's always going to be true for at least some people. [I suspect it's better to be close to some places and further from others than medium distance from everyone, but that's not obvious.]

comment by ioannes_shade · 2020-10-09T22:27:19.110Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

+1 to Ann Arbor. 

As a native Ann Arborite, I can vouch for its greatness.

I've also heard hearsay about Madison, WI being good.

comment by mingyuan · 2020-10-10T05:50:32.323Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm from Madison and had a really great experience growing up there, but my current feeling is that Wisconsin is a pretty bad place to be on the political polarization dimension. 

comment by Edward Kmett (edward-kmett) · 2020-10-09T23:03:13.846Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Madison checks most of the same cultural boxes, but it loses out on the ease of international air travel.

comment by johnswentworth · 2020-09-24T18:39:12.156Z · score: 19 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I moved from the Bay Area to Las Vegas three months ago. Some relevant notes...

First, not all the factors in the OP are equally important - visas/citizenship considerations and cost of living were more important considerations than everything else on this list combined. Living in the US is a hard constraint for my girlfriend; moving outside would have been a deal-breaker.

On the cost of living front, the cost-of-living differential between (Bay Area/NYC) and (basically anywhere else) is much bigger than the differential between most other places within the US. We got an apartment with 50% more space at roughly half the rent, and it has more amenities and (IMO) a better location too. I'm an independent researcher at the moment, so my financial runway is a major consideration; my runway went from "I have to think about money within the next year" to "I don't have to think about money within the next year". That's a major qualitative shift, which allows me to explore very different research directions.

Within roughly those constraints, we satisficed: Las Vegas was the closest city to the Bay Area with roughly "normal" (for the US) housing prices. (It was close enough that moving costs were ridiculously low - it was on the order of $300 for everything. Tip: a transit van which would cost $800 to rent from Uhaul for a cross-state move cost me $150 to rent from Hertz.)

I expect I'm not the only one facing roughly-similar incentives, especially with tech people all working remotely. The fact that we basically satisficed on two constraints means that there's enough degrees of freedom here for "location of other rationalists" to actually determine the decision - i.e. if there'd been a rationalist cluster in Pheonix or Salt Lake City or ... then there's a decent chance we'd have ended up there instead.

comment by adamzerner · 2020-09-26T02:58:43.062Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've lived in Vegas for the past four years or so and have a lot of thoughts about it as a place to live. I wrote some of them up on the Mr. Money Mustache forum and can elaborate if anyone is interested.

My main thought is that for 3-4 months out of the year it's hot enough where you really can't be outside (100+ degrees during the day with a brutal sun), and that to me is a pretty big issue. I expect that too many people would be put off by it for it to work as rationalist hub.

I also tried starting a LessWrong meetup here and never had anyone show up.

comment by RenoSSC · 2020-09-30T05:43:16.116Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reno [LW(p) · GW(p)] has tolerable summers!  (And is closer to the Bay Area.)

comment by Diffractor · 2020-09-30T09:54:26.100Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reno has 90F daily highs during summer. Knocking 10 degrees off is a nonneglible improvement over Las Vegas, though.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2020-10-01T16:57:16.300Z · score: 16 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So I'm trying to figure out what the goal of having a major rationalist hub in the first place would be?

I've seen the comments reference some considerations related to specific organizations, such as Scott's comment [LW(p) · GW(p)] which mentions that "if MIRI is trying to lure some top programmer, it's easier for them to suggest they move to the Bay" - okay, that sounds like a good reason for people associated with MIRI to live there, and if there are organizations that like to collaborate closely with MIRI, for them to be there also. But in that case I'd expect people to be more explicitly discussing the question "which organizations get value out of being co-located, and what would be a good location for those organizations in particular".

Or if the intended spirit of the post is "there are a bunch of people currently living in the Bay who form friendship networks with each other and if we move, we'd like to maintain those networks" - then that would make sense too. But Vaniver's comment [LW(p) · GW(p)] was saying things like

I think NYC was long a 'second hub', and there were a bunch of third-tier hubs, but I think the relationships between the hubs never really worked out to make a happy global community.

So there seem to be some implicit goals that people have in mind for a rationalist hub, but I'm unclear on what goals people are thinking of, whether everyone has the same goals, etc. Could someone elaborate on their thinking?

comment by Vaniver · 2020-10-04T21:21:28.792Z · score: 21 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could someone elaborate on their thinking?

I think there are lots of different good things that come out of having a primary hub, with pretty different valuations. I basically don't expect people to have the same goals here, or for them to maybe have them altruistically but not personally.

For example, one big benefit of a hub is that it makes dating easier if you're looking to date other rationalists (well, except for the whole gender ratio and poly thing). This doesn't matter to me anymore personally, as I've found a long-term partner, but that worked out primarily because I was in the major hub, and so had more options to find a good match. But it still seems like a major benefit of having a primary hub to me; if (say) MIRI wants new hires to be able to date rationalists or EAs, it seems like a good idea to have the office near lots of single rationalists and EAs. [Otherwise, you might find the only people you can hire to work in your volcano lair are the ones that are already married.]

Another benefit of a hub is that you get to have in-person conversations more easily and more spontaneously. I live in a group house that's organized itself physically to try to maximize 'organic connection units', where people end up talking or connecting who otherwise wouldn't have come into contact. The more connection needs to be scheduled, the less of it you get (because taxes lead to deadweight loss) and also the less serendipity you get (because you only talk to the people who you know about).

I think people are influenced by their surroundings and what people around them are doing; the thing where you know lots of people who care about X is social proof that you too should care about X and effort put into it isn't wasted. If everyone is living in some random town and just connected to the Craft or Movement through the internet, this increases the chance that they disengage to do something else instead.

comment by FactorialCode · 2020-09-26T06:01:10.766Z · score: 15 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As much as I hate to say it, I don't think that it makes much sense for the main hub of the rationalist movement to move away from Berkeley and the Bay Area. There are several rationalist adjacent organizations that are firmly planted in Berkely. The ones that are most salient to me are the AI and AI safety orgs. You have OpenAI, MIRI, CHAI, BAIR, etc. Some of these could participate in a coordinated move, but others are effectively locked in place due to their tight connections with larger institutions.

I think that more creative options need to be brainstormed and explored to deal with the situation in Berkley. [LW · GW]

comment by lincolnquirk · 2020-09-24T18:25:47.254Z · score: 14 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, I've thought a lot about this but I don't have a strong pitch to make yet.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Cost of living seems really important in the long run! High cost of living eats up lifestyle slack really quickly, which constrains the sorts of occupations that one can have while being part of the community.
  • That said, there is a pretty substantial tradeoff between optimizing a place for the community (essentially relying on your social life being in-community members), and optimizing it for the surroundings. e.g., if you pick a place for low cost-of-living, you might expect nearly all your friends to be people who live in your community. Whereas if you pick a big city, you are probably picking it because you expect a rich social life outside the community.
  • As Vaniver wrote, it makes sense to pick places which are well suited to create a pocket neighborhood. Living in the same city as your friends is good, but living 2 doors down from them is way more awesome!
  • I know people talk about the weather as being important, but I am not fully sold on that needing to be a constraint. Humans are adaptable and most people should be able to adjust to bad seasonal weather pretty quickly. Seasonal mood disorders are a real thing though, and if we did go to a place with bad weather, I would definitely want to invest as a community into infrastructure that can help with this. I also am not willing to accept bad air quality in exchange for more temperate weather - e.g., when I lived in Senegal, the weather was gorgeous but the air quality was terrible. (That said, in the US there aren't many places with really bad air quality.)

One weird idea I am considering is the monastery life: explicitly try excluding the outside world, optimize the space only for the gated community, and see how it works. It's just an experiment, but if people are interested, let me know. (Inspiration from Neal Stephenson's Anathem :) )

comment by weft · 2020-10-09T23:00:19.832Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I would be more happy in a gated / monastery community than in one with easy access to a big city. I love museums and historic architecture and whatnot, but on a day-to-day level I'd rather hedgehog than fox at this point in my life. I'd prefer a lifestyle that was designed to encourage frequent interaction with a small set of people, rather than a lifestyle that was designed to encourage frequent new experiences. 

I enjoy the "small town" feeling of walking down a street and knowing a bunch of the people you pass. Combining this with rationalist values (as opposed to the religious or conservative values frequent in many small towns) seems ideal. 

comment by Zolmeister · 2020-09-30T02:25:56.129Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been kicking around the idea of a 'rationalist cult', and am interested in the monastery idea.

comment by lincolnquirk · 2020-09-30T18:49:47.184Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh great! I realize a lot of different people might have different ideas about what the vision is. Could you spend a few sentences distilling what exactly excites you about the idea?

comment by Zolmeister · 2020-10-01T00:44:13.709Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am excited by the self-governance aspect, and the opportunity to live under a more personalized set of social norms.

The structure of monastery is specifically appealing because it greatly reduces 'distance' between individuals. See Going Critical.

I have some more concrete ideas about a shared ranch (with fast internet) out somewhere beautiful.

comment by Viliam · 2020-10-12T23:24:28.394Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Effective altruists seem to have something similar here.

comment by drethelin · 2020-09-30T17:58:02.876Z · score: 12 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

At this point I think enough people have tried to make pitches for various cities that have achieved nothing that I don't really see the value in adding another one to the pile of attempts to get the community as a whole to move somewhere.

On the other hand, a lot of people have moved to a lot of places on an individual or small-group basis so I'm happy to pitch where I live, Madison Wisconsin, as a potential place you might not know about which I think is a pretty good compromise on a lot of things that people want from a place to live. 

Downtown Madison Wisconsin from Above

Madison has a good variety of restaurants, bars, cafes, parks, and other amenities in a small radius. You can rent anything from an efficiency to a whole house in walking distance from all of this without much hassle since there is a large market for student housing due to the relatively huge University in the city.

Rents in this area can vary from 450 a month (if you want to live with me in my house) to around 1800 for a 750 ft 1 bedroom in a brand new high end apartment building a couple blocks away from me. 

Crime: In like a decade parking downtown I have never had my car broken into, although I have had it entered a few times when I left it unlocked. I have never been randomly mugged. My roommate is smol and has walked around here at night for longer than I have and has never had a problem. Like many cities we've had some rioting/looting and increase in other crimes this summer but it's mostly not impacting random people. 

Culture: In normal years, we have a ton of live music and events in various bars, cafes, and theaters, as well as plays, art shows, and so on. Madison is big enough that touring bands usually stop here, although not always, and sometimes if I want to catch a show I have to drive an hour and a half to Milwaukee or 3 hours to Chicago. There is an enormous gaming scene here, with a ton of great MTG players, lots of roleplaying and LARP, as well as tabletop, boardgaming, etc. 

We also have Contra, Swing, and other dance scenes, as well as a few night clubs and an immense amount of bars. 

If you like walking outside, Madison has more parks per capita than any other big city, as well as just tons of trees, gardens, and greenery in most neighborhoods, and multiple lakes and rivers in walking distance of downtown. I can walk from my house to the center of government or into a forest equally easily. If you have a car, you can drive to a ton of state parks in an hour, as well as to The House on the Rock, but even if you don't it's easy to bike to see nature, if that's something you're into. 

We have a start-up and tech job ecosystem, mostly focused around biotech and healthcare industry but we do have a Google office and as well as Epic Systems in the next town over so there is a very significant percentage of people in software also. We have good internet options available if you are going to be working from home going forward too. 

The biggest downsides about living in Madison from my point of view are:

Winter -- Personally I really like having seasons, but if you can't stand cold and snow you will be miserable here for much of the year. 

Population -- Madison only has around 250,000 people, which means that your selection of people to hang out with in niche interest areas is fairly limited. We used to have a nice 8-12 person or so Lesswrong meetup group which fell apart after a bunch of people moved to the Bay Area. If you go to nerdy events you will find that you tend to see a lot of the same people over and over. Depending on your interests, you can still find lots of people to hang out with, but if, eg, you are averse to drinking you may have some trouble. 

comment by Daniel Kokotajlo (daniel-kokotajlo) · 2020-09-24T07:44:11.386Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lately I've been thinking Singapore would be a good option.

comment by seez · 2020-09-26T05:56:40.603Z · score: 12 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't male-male homosexual sex illegal in Singapore? And I get the sense it's generally quite conservative. Seems like a bad deal for a lot of rationalists. 

comment by Daniel Kokotajlo (daniel-kokotajlo) · 2020-09-26T08:25:45.396Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mmm, didn't know about that. Yeah.

comment by artemium · 2020-10-06T18:56:32.807Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not to mention a pretty brutal Anti-Drug laws.

comment by FactorialCode · 2020-09-26T05:25:36.408Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ehh, Singapore is a good place to do business and live temporarily. But mandatory military service for all male citizens and second gen permanent residents, along with the work culture make it unsuitable as a permanent location to live. Not to mention that there's a massive culture gap between the rats and the Singaporeans.

comment by kuudes · 2020-10-10T01:29:21.263Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As requested, I would like to bring into consideration Oulu, Finland.

Cons:

Weather – SAD

Oulu is near the arctic circle. Can maybe be remedied by staying indoors and having adequate lighting? Summers are very sunny!

Salaries

Salaries in Finland and in Oulu are generally lower than those in San Francisco. Student trainee programmer earns about 2000 €/month, middle aged software developer about 4500 €/month, a specialist surgeon about 8000 €/month gross.

Pros:

Visas

About relocating MIRI into Oulu, I would contact Business Oulu, as they should be able to customize an actionable plan and help in details such as visas and permits. As we are talking of lot of people in this case, such an organization would be useful, and this is exactly what their mission is.

Language

You can function with English, Finnish population has generally very high proficiency in English. On basic life level you can expect grocery store clerks and taxi drivers to understand you and be able to answer and explain things to you in fluent English. In professional life, software development cluster of Oulu mostly uses English internally because of international cooperation connections stemming since Nokia times in 1990s.

National political environment / culture

Finland is a EU member state aligned with the Nordic model and tops in many international measures, notable among them #4 in State of the World Liberty Index and consistent top spot of Press Freedom Index.

Local political environment / culture

Some say Oulu is the tech startup hub of Finland. Notable Oulu tech includes Oura ring for personal health tracking and KNL Networks for over the horizon IoT mesh networking.

Oulu has, well, had before Covid, a direct air corridor to San Francisco.

General infrastructure

Finnish infrastructure is generally reliable, resilient and efficient. District heating is mostly done by cogeneration and waste incineration, availability is 99.98% in average year. Electricity is about 0.03 €/kWh for the energy and about 0.03 €/kWh for transfer, totaling about 0.07 €/kWh in Oulu. Tap water is excellent and drinkable, of a significantly better quality than bottled water.

In addition to smooth sailing under normal conditions, the government and private companies prepare for exceptional circumstances by coordinating through the National Emergency Supply Agency, for instance in 2014 they tested how Finland would cope in case of total loss of the electricity grid by powering down the grid in the entirety of Lapland in VALVE 2014 excercise.

So far Finland has fared ok with Covid-19, there are currently 349 deaths because of the disease, and the summer was about disease free. Finland has already got some amount of migration from California because of Covid.

Cost of living

The cost of living in Oulu is cheaper than in San Francisco. Housing is specifically cheaper, an expensive new single family home costs about 350 000 €, cheap older one 200 000 €.

Major price differences to note: Cars and work/services likely cost more compared to USA because of the tax structure, whereas public services such as healthcare, education and childcare cost less as they are funded by the government.

Public daycare is available in English, the cost structure may feel complicated but ends up to cap of about 300 € per child per month, less for parents of low income. Children have subjective right to daycare, which means that the city has duty to arrange daycare offer for the child per parent request.

Education in Finland is a human right and there is no tuition on any level of education including primary, secondary and tertiary education.

Public healthcare is in principle free, though there are nuisance fees of about 50 euros per each of first 3 visits in a year. Employers also need to offer workplace healthcare. Private healthcare insurance for a regular healthy adult person costs about 400 €/year. Cost of prescription medicines is capped to about 600 €/year for residents by national insurance.

Income taxes may be a bit different compared to USA, but as far as I understand, paying them is easier. For 100 000 €/year wage income in Oulu, per income tax calculator the tax percentage is 34% with no special deductions. Income tax is progressive, so lower incomes pay lower percentage and it increases per income level, having a cap at 60%. For 500 000 €/year the tax would be 46% if no special deductions. There is a special procedure for foreign specialist workers which sets the income tax for 32%.

The employer or the enterprise pays pension and social care payment on top of salary which is about 25% of total salaries of the enterprise. Employees are then eligible to the mandatory wage pension, which is covered by about 1/3 by the investment equity saved by the pensioneers and their employers and about 2/3 by pay as you go system where current payments are used to fund current pension payments. Finland's public economy has currently net savings comparable to 55% of GDP, and pension equity is invested over the international market. Pension capital is considered as property of pension principals and can't constitutionally be spent by the government.

Occupancy laws

It is legal in Finland to cohabitate, there is no need for registration. Legal system does not allow wedding multiple persons, but my understanding is that the cohabitation law recognizes polycules, as it considers if a person is deemed to cohabitate with another person, and does not specify that people can only cohabitate with one person. Gay marriage is legal. Sex work is legal, pimping is criminal. In general, there is little regulation on people's sex life as long people are consenting adults; in extreme, bestiality is not in itself criminal but abuse/causing harm to animals is.

Modern conveniences

Oulu has general availability of 1000/100 Mbps cable internet, in the area where the adoption was too slow, people created their own ISP OLKA. Taxi service is fast and reliable. There are multiple nice restaurants and multiple food delivery companies available.

Walkability (/ bikeability / public transit)

Oulu is the cycling capital of Finland and Northern Scandinavia. Oulu has more than 600 km (4 meters for each resident) of cycle routes that take you easily from one place to the next. 17 percent of all trips in the city are made by bicycle. Bikeways are also kept available through the winter (video).

Medical care

Healthcare in Finland is one of the best of the world.

Crime

Finland is a safe country. Gun ownership requires a license and proper reason. Home defense is not a legal reason, armed crime is very rare. Police use of guns is also rare, and police rarely ends up killing people, even terrorists.

Schools

The Finnish education system is highly regarded. Oulu International School is the main public international school in Oulu. Per my own observations, current pupils in our schools seem happy.

comment by sen · 2020-09-26T12:10:18.410Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In light of some of the comments on the supposed impossibility of relocating a hub, I figured I'd suggest a strategy. This post says nothing about the optimality of creating/relocating a hub, it only suggests a method for doing so. I'm obviously not an experienced hub relocator in real life, but evidently, I'll play one on the internet for the sake of discussion. Please read these as an invitation to brainstorm.

Make the new location a natural choice.

  • Host events in the new location. If people feel a desire to spend their holidays and time off in the new location, that's a great start.
  • Pick a good common hotel. For people that visit regularly, this hotel should feel almost like a second home. Rationalists can bump into each other in the hotel, and they can carpool or get meals together.
  • Identify people that can give an "open invitation" for others to visit any time. These people are basically the ones openly ready to make friends with new rationalists. The hope is that, eventually, rationalists start coming into the area to meet up with friends.

Create opportunities to move.

  • Invite rationalists to interview for jobs in the new location. This would directly target people that choose to move for work reasons.
  • Make the new location more homely for people that have had trouble adjusting to their current location. I've known people (especially married people) to move for social and comfort reasons, especially ones that have had difficulty making friends in a new location. Make it easy to socialize in the new location, and make leisure-time activities more accessible, either with good information or social events.
  • Keep track of cheap/shared housing opportunities near the new location. Sometimes people really do move to save money. If people know where the cheap housing is, that's one less excuse not to move. Such a list might even encourage people to get a second home in the new location.
  • Create guides to help people discuss remote work options with managers & HR.

Reinforce every move.

  • Make sure the work situation is stable: support people career-wise in the area. I don't have ideas on how to do this, but if it's a common reason for people moving, then it should be a common reason for people staying.
  • Make the new location homely. Keep track of good leisure-time activities and locations, help stabilize travel by keeping track of transit options, and make sure people moving have chances to socialize and make friends in the area.
  • Keep track of housing opportunities for people to move to increasingly-stable locations. For people that want cheap, keep track of cheap housing. For people that want social, keep track of group housing. For people that want a family, keep track of good neighborhoods and school districts.

Use every move to encourage further relocation.

  • Keep a counter of the number of people that have moved into the area (but not the number of people that have left). There's something oddly satisfying about making/seeing numbers go up.
  • Help new movers host/support events and get started socializing with incoming visitors. Try to get them to do the same things for others that others did to encourage them.
  • Encourage people in the area to spread out work-wise to create more interview opportunities for rationalists not in the area.
comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2020-10-10T00:17:08.489Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Things I like about the Boston area: many different industries, good tech jobs, good public transit for the US, don't need a car, many walkable/bikable areas, good air quality, not very disaster prone, decent governance, queer friendly, poly friendly, many multifamilies and other large houses that can be group houses, seasons, many universities including several very strong ones, nearby international airport, good schools, good traditional dance and music scene, not as expensive as the Bay or New York.

The biggest downside by far is housing costs. Other downsides include darkness in winter, winter in general if you don't like that, and that for many industries it is near the top but not the top.

EDIT: expanded this into a post: https://www.jefftk.com/p/why-boston

comment by CheerfulWarrior · 2020-09-27T11:35:49.987Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I recently spent a year travelling and deciding very carefully where to settle down. This is somewhat related to the question posed in the post, so I will briefly list what made me choose Bucharest in Romania.

  • English is (very) commonly spoken. Probably on par with Nordic countries.
  • Taxes - if you work as a contractor as I do, with the right legal structure you can bring your income tax rate (including obligatory social insurance, healthcare, etc.) down to 6%. Capital Gains Tax is only 10%.
  • Rule of law and civil liberties - those are pretty well established and respected.
  • Member of the EU - with all the convenience, efficiency and the extra protection of your freedoms and rights that a membership in EU brings.
  • Local population is extremely friendly towards foreigners.
  • Low crime rate
  • No tourists
  • The city is extremely walkable
  • Cheap (Uber here costs less than public transit in London or NYC)
  • Close proximity to mountains. 

No, I don't think that the LessWrong community should move here en masse. Just wanted to share my 2 bani's worth. 

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2020-09-27T12:06:19.181Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm curious how it comes about that English is commonly spoken in Bucharest and yet there are no tourists.

comment by CheerfulWarrior · 2020-09-27T12:30:13.573Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure where you see the contradiction. Do you assume that ease of communicating in English should attract tourists, or that the main cause for English fluency is usually tourism?

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2020-09-27T13:22:10.579Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was expecting the latter. If not tourism, how did English come to be spoken there? Is it more spoken in Bucharest than in other large mainland European cities?

comment by CheerfulWarrior · 2020-09-27T14:32:20.599Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

English lessons have been obligatory in schools for decades here. I've heard (not sure how true that is) that this way the local dictator wanted to put some space between himself and the overlords in Moscow. AFAIK all the other communist countries were teaching Russian to their children.

Is it more spoken in Bucharest than in other large mainland European cities?

I got a strong impression that it is, although I haven't checked the statistics.

Also, I think that the impact of tourism on English fluency is very limited - only people working directly with the tourists would be affected (waiters, guides, hotel staff, taxi drivers), and even then to a limited degree (you might master the vocabulary and grammar necessary to wait tables, but be unable to discuss the dissertation that you are writing).

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-10-03T10:30:55.967Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

English lessons have been obligatory in schools for decades here. I've heard (not sure how true that is) that this way the local dictator wanted to put some space between himself and the overlords in Moscow.

English lessons alone don't result in people speaking English over their native language on a day to day basis which does happen in Berlin and Nordic countries.

Also, I think that the impact of tourism on English fluency is very limited - only people working directly with the tourists would be affected 

No. Living in Berlin I do speak English with tourists in my free time. That both goes for rationalist events and for Salsa dancing. 

Expats matter more then normal tourists but tourists who don't speak German attending events is a factor for events I attend being run in English.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2020-09-24T18:54:31.634Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mati_Roy [LW · GW] makes the case for Phoenix here [LW(p) · GW(p)].

Full Disclosure: I'm in Phoenix.

comment by davidspies · 2020-10-04T18:51:08.852Z · score: 7 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Berkeley has lots of vegan food in comparison to most places and lots of rationalists are vegans.

comment by bendini · 2020-09-26T06:03:03.772Z · score: 7 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's my incredibly detailed pitch for Manchester, UK. 

If anyone has feedback, you can reply here or comment on the article itself.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2020-09-25T23:23:54.516Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The pandemic has updated me in the direction that having any particular place be the center of the physical community is not super important. In some ways, it would almost be better if we less anchored on the idea of trying to get everyone physically together in a single local, and instead thought of ourselves as distributed with many hubs that have strong connections within and between hubs, although those connections within and between look a bit different (local being more about human needs, and between hubs being more about project needs).

For comparison, many businesses operate with multiple offices, the community of academics is highly distributed, and religions have various approaches to this split local/global model. There's no special reason we all need to be physically together in the same city, so I don't think it needs to happen and thus won't.

Put another way, I think of a major rationalist hub that everyone was happy living in as a kind of fairy tale: it's a nice idea to dream about, but the ground conditions simply aren't conducive to it, and we should focus on meeting the conditions as we find them rather than hoping we can find a city that probably doesn't exist that will enable us to have a hub with features that sadly currently sit well beyond the Pareto frontier.

comment by weft · 2020-10-10T01:07:37.506Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

COVID has taught me that I don't need a big physical community, but it's ALSO taught me that I am 100% uninterested in virtual replacements. I still e.g. post on facebook, but have not enjoyed virtual hangouts and the like. 

If I could have a community of 7-200 people that were on the same street / property / very close, I think that would be my ideal. Being close to other similar groupings would be nice but not necessary. I think a community of about 20 is much stronger than a community of about 100 (the larger number necesitates weaker ties). A major issue is finding 7-20 people who would be a good fit and are willing to do it

comment by Raemon · 2020-09-25T23:41:14.690Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a blogpost brewing called "The Remote-First Community Hypothesis" exploring some of this in more detail. (although I also do think it's pretty important to have an in person hub even if it doesn't work for everyone)

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2020-09-24T11:08:37.499Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was fascinated by Robin Hanson's Our Brave New Merged World:

As jobs will less force people to move, people will move areas less often, and the areas where people live will be less set by jobs. As life at work will be less social, people will have to get more of their socializing from elsewhere. Some of this will come from remote socializing, but much will still probably come from in-person socializing. So people will choose where they live more based on family, friends, leisure activities, and non-work social connections. Churches, clubs, and shared interest socializing will increase in importance. People will also pick where to live more based on climate, price, and views. Beach towns will boom, and the largest cities will lose. [emphasis mine]

He mostly seems to consider remote work versus non-work social connections. Global online communities are both like work and like non-work. I am not sure what to make out of it. But I guess the tensions that mingyuan points out are exactly those that occur in such a brave new merged world. I would guess that the solution is not a single place X. I would guess it is rather multiple places that are connected by something that doesn't yet exist.   

comment by weft · 2020-10-09T22:08:55.861Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm a Berkeley rationalist. My partner and I have been considering leaving Berkeley, mostly due to the cost of living and the political climate. We're most likely to move back to the midwest where our families are located, but would move elsewhere for similar social support. We're most strongly considering Columbus or Louisville.  Or maybe a smaller town nearby. We've also considered Czechia, Poland, etc. for the low cost of living and beauty. I don't think we'd go to Canada, which has all the difficulties of leaving the States, but none of the cost benefits.

If you have kids, living near grandparents / relatives provides a LOT of free labor. For me to prefer a rationalist community hub, it would have to have similar kinds of support. I'm imagining a circle of parents that takes turns watching ALL the kids. Or passes toys around in an exchange circle. There is also an issue where rationalists often have very particular ideas about child rearing, and they don't all mesh. Even with people filling the child care role for each other, I think I'd strongly miss not having "elders" around. 

COVID has taught me that I don't actually need all the bells and whistles of Berkeley. I'm fine with my partner and my dog and some new hobbies.  So I'm torn between living somewhere like Berkeley where you can walk to cafes and nice little shops and such, and somewhere in the middle of nowhere where I can have chickens and a permaculture garden. 

Things I care a lot about:
- I love autumn. I don't like if it's very cold or very hot a lot. 
- Community. It doesn't have to be the rationalist community, but I like to exist in very tight knit communities.
- Access to relatives, or other people who will fill that role. 
- Cost of living as related to earning potential
- Being able to afford a nice house
- Less political heat. More "live and let live" than here.
- My partner has to be able to do software work.

 

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-10-09T22:55:43.908Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If your choice is between Czechia and Poland I would expect Czechia (Prague) to be better for a rationalist. Prague has a reasonable rationalist community. Poland has a lot of political heat. 

comment by weft · 2020-10-09T23:39:56.031Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, Prague is a definite draw. 

Amusingly, getting a dog is going to be a major issue to a potential move for us, since I'm pretty strongly against travelling with her in cargo which isn't very safe. There isn't a good way to get a dog to Europe. (There's a single international cruise line that takes dogs, but nixes anything pitbull adjacent since they only dock in England which has strong anti-pitbull laws)

You can charter a private plane or yacht cabin, but it's insanely expensive and I can't find anywhere where e.g. 12 people who all want to fly their dogs to Europe but don't care about the exact schedule charter a private plane together (at which point it's pretty affordable, and would definitely be worth it)

comment by ioannes_shade · 2020-10-09T22:13:25.844Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For me to prefer a rationalist community hub, it would have to have similar kinds of support. I'm imagining a circle of parents that takes turns watching ALL the kids. Or passes toys around in an exchange circle. There is also an issue where rationalists often have very particular ideas about child rearing, and they don't all mesh. Even with people filling the child care role for each other, I think I'd strongly miss not having "elders" around. 

Makes me think of this David Brooks essay, which includes a profile of the Temescal Commons in Oakland.

comment by Kerry McKean (ktmckean) · 2020-10-08T17:30:46.701Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just wanted to toss the Colorado Front Range (esp. Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs) into the hat, since I have a hunch this list might get referenced a lot in future conversations.  I don't think we're the best choice for primary hub, but I think we are a very attractive destination for rationalists looking to relocate out of Berkeley and/or for a secondary hub.

Pros:
-We have an existing rationality community, with regular meetups in Denver and Boulder (I host the latter).  I know there's local EA meetups as well, though I'm not plugged into that scene.

-There are lots of STEM jobs in the area.  We have several National Labs, lots of Aerospace contracting (Ball and Lockheed, Northrup, Boeing, Raytheon), plenty of big-name software companies (Google and Amazon both present, Microsoft in nearby Fort Collins), as well as innumerable smaller and growing ones.  Also startup-friendly: Boulder County has the USA's highest VC investment per-capita.

-Outdoor culture means it's easy to stay healthy while enjoying yourself.  Biking is big and growing; bike paths and bike-friendly roads are common.  Mountains are always in sight and make hiking, skiing, etc. all easy.  We have reliable sunshine year round, and winter frequently sees days/weeks warm enough for comfortable outdoor recreation.  I think this is all huge for quality of life, even if it was not all included in the considerations.

-Cost of living is very cheap by major metro standards, though not in absolute terms.  Median home prices are 450k in Denver, 800k in Boulder, and 350k in Colorado Springs.  Everyone complains about the price of housing because it's increased dramatically in the past decade, but salaries still go much farther here than elsewhere.  Even Boulder, known locally for high prices, is 40% cheaper than the disaster that is Berkeley.

-Misc:  We've got really good craft beer, farmer's markets, a growing foodie scene, and vegan / Gluten-free options are everywhere.  Politics are not completely crazy here.  The cities are growing so (except in Boulder) development is happening and often welcome; new urbanism is popular, though no one seems to know how to make it happen.  Crime is low, schools are good.  People are friendly and don't hate each other as much as I've seen elsewhere.

Cons:
-Denver is not a global metropolis.  It's the cultural and economic hub of the mountain west, which makes it more significant than you might expect based on population and location.  And it has an international airport for easy travel.  But some people really want the amenities of a top-20 world city, and Denver isn't.

-You'll want a car.  You won't absolutely need one, if you live in Boulder or Denver, but you'll want one, especially for outdoor recreating.  Distances are often too large to cover practically on bike.  Public transit gets you everywhere you need to go (and lets you take your bike with you) but it's inconvenient.  This is true of basically everywhere in the US outside of small areas in the downtowns of a few major cities though.

-Misc:  Seafood is not excellent, as we're 1,000 miles away from the nearest coastline.  High elevation makes sunburn more likely, and may be mysteriously associated with depression, (though the constant sunshine's got to help on that front).  Wildfires make for a week of bad air quality in a typical summer, though hellscapes like Berkeley is used to are rare.  Likely other negatives I don't see since I really like it here.

Depends on your preferences:
-Very hot and very cold weather exists here, and the climate is dry.  We are a politically moderate state overall, but the most walkable/transit-friendly areas of Denver and Boulder lean hard left.


A minor note:  One of the greatest things here quality-of-life wise is the culture, but the culture has been disrupted a bit by recent immigration from other parts of the US ("transplants").  That makes me slightly trepidatious about posting something like this.  If you think about moving to Colorado, please do it with the intent to coexist with the local culture, rather than to reform it.

comment by adamzerner · 2020-09-26T03:35:25.008Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've always suspected that connecting rationalists with other rationalists who are already nearby would be a relatively low hanging fruit. Eg. by pushing the community map [? · GW] harder.

comment by mingyuan · 2020-09-26T16:34:10.154Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, just general kudos for proposing ideas and being willing to make things happen. I remember when you were trying to get that meetup started in Vegas! :)

comment by adamzerner · 2020-09-26T17:45:37.554Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you :)

comment by mingyuan · 2020-09-26T16:31:00.454Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps, but I've found that without a Schelling event like the annual SSC Meetups Everywhere (sadly and obviously canceled this year, maybe I should do something to replace it...), people almost never take that step of reaching out. The map is just so passive, although maybe the real problem is as you implied: that we don't have critical mass.

In any case, whether or not it would work in normal times, it seems like not a priority right now given the state of the world :P 

comment by adamzerner · 2020-09-26T17:53:55.826Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In any case, whether or not it would work in normal times, it seems like not a priority right now given the state of the world :P 

Yeah, I definitely agree with that.

Perhaps, but I've found that without a Schelling event like the annual SSC Meetups Everywhere (sadly and obviously canceled this year, maybe I should do something to replace it...), people almost never take that step of reaching out. The map is just so passive, although maybe the real problem is as you implied: that we don't have critical mass.

Hm, maybe it just needs a kickstart. Like if someone from LW sends out a cold email: "Hey, there are 5 other LessWrongers around you. Interested in starting a meetup?"* From there, if you can get that meetup to happen and the people meet each other in person maybe they'll keep in touch.

Something like that happened for me with Indie Hackers. They reached out to me with that message, I started a meetup and it was sustained for over a year until covid.

*I noticed last night that you can subscribe to this on the community map, but it's opt in and difficult to find, and I suspect those two things explain why it hasn't worked.

comment by adamzerner · 2020-09-26T03:18:53.364Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a large benefit to being in a rationalist hub versus living in a rationalist house? Personally I'm pretty sure my answer to that question would be "no", but I'm curious how others feel.

comment by mingyuan · 2020-10-20T19:58:13.913Z · score: 21 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On this general question, Eliezer talks about this (in a more a priori way, since there was no in-person hub at the time) in the Sequences post Can Humanism Match Religion's Output? [LW · GW] His claims there broadly match my experience.

Excerpt:

Really, I suspect that what's going on here has less to do with the motivating power of eternal damnation, and a lot more to do with the motivating power of physically meeting other people who share your cause.  The power, in other words, of being physically present at church and having religious neighbors.

This is a problem for the rationalist community in its present stage of growth, because we are rare and geographically distributed way the hell all over the place.  If all the readers of this blog lived within a 5-mile radius of each other, I bet we'd get a lot more done, not for reasons of coordination but just sheer motivation.

comment by adamzerner · 2020-10-21T02:59:28.445Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hm, thinking about it now that does make sense.

comment by Raemon · 2020-09-26T04:15:51.682Z · score: 7 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The benefits are mostly about longterm life trajectory stuff – more new organizations or projects form, there are more mentors available to help people grow, you're more likely to be able to get hired at a rationalist org, etc. 

(these don't end up applying to everyone who lives in the Bay either – we have more mentors and job openings here, but still not enough to handle an infinite number of people) 

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2020-10-01T18:06:40.427Z · score: 20 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are rationalist organizations/mentors likely to be significantly better than non-rationalist ones?

comment by Raemon · 2020-10-01T18:45:06.418Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you’re trying to get mentored in x-risk or rationality, yes.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2020-10-02T10:01:20.481Z · score: 19 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even those don't seem completely obvious to me. 

I agree that in general, rationalists have a valuable package of insights that isn't found elsewhere, but "this package is deep enough and important enough to necessitate working directly with experts on an ongoing basis" is a very high bar. A lot of the relevant knowledge in x-risk and rationality can be obtained more cheaply by reading LW and papers, visiting an event or workshop a few times a year, etc. I agree that there are probably some subsets of x-risk and rationality that are such that rationalists happen to hold the best knowledge about it, and that if those are the things you're the most interested in, then it might pay to work with/be mentored by rationalists in particular. But it looks to me like there are plausibly also large subsets of both x-risk and rationality for which the best knowledge is found elsewhere, and for a person interested in those subsets in particular, it's enough to extract the other rationalist insights by shallower means than constant interaction.

For x-risk: there are many fields in which scholarship and amount of experience within a field does not actually develop real expertise: "experts" perform little better than novices. "X-risk in general" looks exactly like the kind of field where this applies, as it's much closer to the "bad performance" than "good performance" column of Shanteau's table [LW · GW] of which domains allow for expertise. In particular, developing expertise requires repeated objective feedback so as to allow you to revise your predictions and models: for x-risk as well as other similar domains (intelligence analysis etc.), such feedback is missing and mostly subjective when it exists. So the default assumption should be that people who have devoted a lot of time studying x-risk in general are not going to be much better than people who only have limited exposure.

Now if you move to some specific subset of x-risk work, such as AI risk or biosecurity, you might get better feedback loops. I talked about this in a presentation at GoCAS that I held a couple of years ago, and suggested that something like this is the way to go. Worth noting that despite spending two months hanging out with x-risk scholars in person there, I didn't feel like I'd have gotten a lot of valuable new information about x-risk in general.

But then the question is "does some community have strong feedback loops about this subfield of x-risk", not "is the community rationalist". It does seem plausible to me that with regard to at least some subsets of AI risk work in particular, the people who are most tightly embedded with useful work also tend to be rationalists to at least some extent. On the other hand, if one was concerned with e.g. biosecurity, then I do not see rationalists as being particularly engaged with that field, and it seems plausible that the best expertise for that subfield of x-risk would be found elsewhere. 

For rationality: It’s true that I have gotten a lot of rationality out of the Sequences, LW in general, CFAR etc. On the other hand, the Sequences/LW value was obviously gotten through online interaction. And I feel like I have also gotten a lot of rationality out of IFS training, meditation teachers, methodology discussion of various disciplines, etc. So again it seems like the relevant question is less "are you interested in rationality in general" and more "what kind of rationality are you most interested in and where are the best people with the particular skillset that most relates to that": some of those may be found in the rationalist community, but for many subsets of rationality, the best teachers are probably elsewhere.

comment by adamzerner · 2020-09-26T04:39:26.420Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Original: Hm, in my mind that stuff could largely be done remotely, but I'm probably underestimating the importance of in person interaction.

New [LW(p) · GW(p)]: This does make sense. After seeing Raemon's comment [LW(p) · GW(p)] and sleeping on it I woke up feeling like this could be a big deal. Mostly because of the fact that rationalist organizations do a lot of good for the world. Secondly because although it may be possible to "do networking stuff" remotely, in practice that just doesn't really happen.

comment by mingyuan · 2020-09-26T16:20:16.465Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you're underestimating serendipity. In a single rationalist house in a non-hub, you'll have the benefit of being around a couple cool people who think like you (to a first approximation), but you don't have many opportunities to make new rationalist connections like you would in a larger hub. I'm not really one to proactively reach out to new people, so having the opportunity to meet them at parties or hangouts or through mutual friends has shaped my experience a a lot. 

Plus, I've been really grateful for the opportunities to work at value-aligned organizations, which I almost certainly wouldn't have had elsewhere.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2020-10-01T18:04:45.957Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

you'll have the benefit of being around a couple cool people who think like you (to a first approximation), but you don't have many opportunities to make new rationalist connections like you would in a larger hub.

Does "think like you" mean "rationalist", here? I would assume that finding "people who think like you" would be relatively straightforward in e.g. any large city with a major university. That's been my experience in Helsinki (1.23 M inhabitants in the general urban area and a couple of universities) at least. Though it's true that most of those people aren't very familiar with Less Wrong or the rationalist scene (even if some are).

comment by adamzerner · 2020-09-26T18:09:16.931Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are the benefits you have in mind of making other connections? Intellectual? Hedonic? Networking?

Intellectual: To me, online discussion does a pretty good job providing diversity of opinion and conversation.

Hedonic: I'm under the impression that the 80/20 principle usually applies heavily, in the sense of the first 2 people you spend the most time with providing a huge chunk of the value, the next 5 providing a good amount, then there's drop off, etc. If that's true, then the marginal rationalist interactions would be filling in the tail end and not providing too much value.

Networking: This does make sense. After seeing Raemon's comment [LW(p) · GW(p)] and sleeping on it I woke up feeling like this could be a big deal. Mostly because of the fact that rationalist organizations do a lot of good for the world. Secondly because although it may be possible to "do networking stuff" remotely, in practice that just doesn't really happen.

comment by Viliam · 2020-09-24T17:33:06.219Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rationalists may be less likely than average to want kids, but that doesn't mean none of us are having them.

Many people don't want to have kids in their 20s, and change their mind later. Ten years later, I could imagine that many rationalists will feel ambiguous, and then something can start a chain reaction of having kids.

Actually, I think it would be super cool to have a generation of kids of approximately the same age, whose parents are rationalists living next to each other and can coordinate on school choice / homeschooling / providing extra lessons in free time.

comment by jacobjacob · 2020-09-24T05:58:34.167Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, kudos for bringing this discussion to a somewhat centralised placed! 

comment by remizidae · 2020-09-23T20:58:07.061Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems like you're making a lot of assumptions about this community. 

—They want to live in group houses

—They don't want to drive or own a car

—They don't want to live in places with cold weather

—They don't want to live in places with Confederate flags or lenient gun laws

You probably know this community a lot better than I do, but to what extent are these known facts vs. assumptions? Would it be worth doing some surveying to verify them? 

It's possible that some of what you observe, e.g. people living in group houses and not driving, is a function of circumstance and cost of living rather than people's true preferences. 

comment by mingyuan · 2020-09-23T22:21:15.624Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(1) My guess is that not all of the people who currently live in group houses would do so if rent were lower and they could live close to their friends anyway. However, I do know quite a few people who actively prefer group living situations, and a prohibition on such living arrangements would be a big negative for them. You could plausibly get around this by e.g. just renting every unit in an apartment building. These are all reasons why these laws are a major consideration but not a dealbreaker.

(2) My main claims were that it's really difficult to build community in sparsely populated areas, and that driving cars is dangerous. I think these are both pretty well-supported, and that they matter a lot regardless of anyone's personal preferences around driving / owning a car.

(3) Mostly anecdotal. I personally don't mind cold weather, but it is kind of annoying to have to be shut in your house for half the year. And I think even those of us from cold climates have acclimated to California's temperate weather, such that it would be somewhat unpleasant to go back.

(4) An assumption, I guess. Feels right though.

Good points overall, thanks!

comment by drethelin · 2020-09-30T17:19:20.928Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Driving a car is actually very safe. You can expect to drive a car full-time for 100 years before suffering a lethal accident. 

comment by Zian · 2020-09-24T00:42:36.222Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that focusing on urban areas makes sense. By definition, an area with high population is attractive to lots of people.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2020-09-23T21:06:18.050Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did start trying to make a survey on this sort of info once, and for me it quickly became unmanageably big, like it would have had over a hundred questions and would require lots of iteration loops with users. I spent a bunch of time trying to figure out how far from a major city people would be able to live, with lots of questions about earning, earning potential, openness and ability to do remote work, etc.

Probably someone else will figure out a clever smaller survey worth making though. (I'd be happy to give comments on any draft surveys people make.)

comment by Adele Lopez (adele-lopez-1) · 2020-09-24T03:24:22.937Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lot's of people in the community have seasonal affective disorder (see e.g. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/hC2NFsuf5anuGadFm/how-to-build-a-lumenator [LW · GW]), so that would lead me to expect people would want to live in places with more sunlight, which tend to not have cold weather.

comment by MakoYass · 2020-09-24T22:16:07.793Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it's almost certainly still better to live here than in a town where people fly Confederate flags and openly carry guns

I do not really like lenient gun laws, but I haven't gotten the impression that it's especially unsafe to live in those places? Also not sure free-thinkers in general mind being around their outgroup all that much.

 

schools

If you're forming a largish intentional community, running schooling ourselves would be a lot easier than it normally is, we can pool resources, have different people teach different subjects. Again, I wouldn't be surprised if there were a consensus among parents willing to move for community that we do not need state schools.

comment by gbear605 · 2020-09-25T00:22:20.626Z · score: 13 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that the confederate flags and guns were a poorly specified way to say "Republican." Obviously there are some Republicans who are part of the community, and even more conservatives in general, but a significant portion of the community is gay and trans, two groups that are often discriminated against in more conservative areas of the USA. That portion of the group seems to be even more prevalent in the Bay Area community. The concern, to me at least, is not difference of thought, but rather being discriminated against.

comment by mingyuan · 2020-09-25T01:14:11.318Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this comment! Yeah, the worry was not that we would be against being around our outgroup, but that they would be against having us there. I'm Asian, and I've heard from family members who live in smaller cities in the US that they feel increasingly unsafe traveling in more rural areas - there are increasing numbers of Confederate flags, even in the Midwest. Even when I was a kid we got funny looks, standoffishness, and frequent attempts to convert us to Christianity (and we're only half-Asian, which may well be the easiest type of non-white to be!). Sounds like it's worse now. This may be just a matter of perception, but I think it's important. I get nervous when my sister brings up being gay when we're in a rural diner; I definitely wouldn't want to bring a bunch of people who are trans, autistic, and/or talk openly about eugenics to an area like that.

Also, uncontroversial opinion: it seems generally bad to be around people who might perpetrate violence against you. For all of the faults of the Bay Area's liberal culture, it does promote a sort of radical acceptance of weirdness, which means people don't have to hide the fact that they're trans, poly, or whatever else they may be. And while you may genuinely have to worry about backlash for political opinions here (e.g. the 2017 Milo Yiannopoulos debacle on Berkeley campus), protestors generally prefer to cultivate an image of nonviolence, which means you are at least probably not in immediate bodily danger. In pro-NRA areas violence feels a lot more like a live option, though I don't have any statistics so that may be a faulty impression. 

Anyway, I'm sorry for unnecessarily politicizing part of the original post. But hopefully this comment has explained what I was trying to point at with that sentence. 

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-10-02T15:29:57.536Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For all of the faults of the Bay Area's liberal culture, it does promote a sort of radical acceptance of weirdness, which means people don't have to hide the fact that they're trans, poly, or whatever else they may be. 

There seems to be a radical acceptance of weidness that's politically correct. From the outside it appears to me that there's less acceptance of contrarian weirdness.

The show Silicon Valley joked that the Bay Area is more totalitarian then China in enforcing it's orthodoxies.

comment by arxhy · 2020-09-25T00:34:26.282Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would suggest about three, four, or five main rationalist hubs as opposed to one. This could be a compromise between total dispersion/decentralization and lack of respect for the differing preferences of rationalists.

comment by mingyuan · 2020-09-25T01:33:00.128Z · score: 19 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, it's sounding like this is probably going to end up being the right answer (insofar as there is a 'right answer'). 

Over the years there have been quite a few 'secondary hubs' centered around strong local groups, including:

  • NYC
  • Seattle
  • Boston
  • Oxford
  • Berlin
  • Melbourne
  • Ontario?

But things have shifted a bunch and many of those people ended up moving to Berkeley. My rough sense now is that we have:

  • Prague 
    • draw: Czech EA
    • type: big city , continental Europe
  • Blackpool 
    • draw: the EA Hotel
    • type: small town
  • Oxford? 
    • draw: FHI
    • type: university town
  • London? 
    • draw: 80000 Hours is there
    • type: big city

I notice that all of these are in Europe, and three of them are in England. (Moscow also has a strong community but I didn't count them because most of their stuff is conducted in Russian, which makes it a bad option for the median rationalist looking to move somewhere new.) Perhaps it would be better to diversify away from England and the US, like maybe some of us should move (back) to Australia. 

But more importantly, there already are other options for hubs, they're just not as well-known. Maybe we should focus on developing these hubs that we already have, rather than trying to find new ones? 

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-10-02T15:06:45.146Z · score: 13 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

While COVID-19 did make a dent in our community in Berlin and resulted in us not running LWCW in person we still had monthly meetups (in a park with distance) in the last months and I see no reason why our community won't be healthy once we can again meet more freely.

Out of hand I can only think of one person who left the Berlin rationalist community to go to Berkely (OpenAI) but multiple people who moved to Berlin because of the existing rationalist hub.

comment by PeterMcCluskey · 2020-10-16T03:02:19.493Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One type of evidence to look at in selecting a location is trust, as in how likely people are to say that others can be trusted.

See figure 3 in Trust, Growth and Well-being for evidence by state.

H/T Joseph Henrich's great book The WEIRDest People in the World.