How does one live/do community as an Effective Altruist?

post by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-05-15T21:20:02.296Z · score: 23 (17 votes) · EA · GW · 14 comments


  Spreading Ideologies - Weddings
  Spreading Ideologies - Discussion
  Spreading Ideologies - Other

I used to be a conservative Evangelical Christian (cEC) (Christians who try to take the Bible as literally as possible and then tell others about it) and while I have fairly little positive to say about Christianity these days, my cEC friends were great at community. I think there are some questions then about how we can maximise our wellbeing and convince others to share our ideology.


Spreading Ideologies - Weddings

Weddings are an appropriate place for (appropriate) discussion of ideology. I've been to ~20 weddings (though only 2 non-Christian) and weddings can be a great place for revealing what you believe and how you live. I wasn't an agnostic atheist at the time so it's only a guess that I'll still feel that, but I have some musings:

Spreading Ideologies - Discussion

I have discussed my ideologies a lot with people over the years. Some things I have learned are:

Spreading Ideologies - Other

A strong community is a great place to invite others to, and through conversation they can be involved in important ideological discussion. It's good if these events are not just a weekly meetup, but more neutral events. This is openly evangelical, but I am evangelical, I'm just not a Christian.



I suggest there is a place for building and maintaining community for the wellbeing. I don't know how much of our time this is worth, but it's something I'm interested in. If there is an appetite for a more in depth piece, I'd be happy to write one. I am little vulnerable in talking about this, but I'm interested to hear your thoughts.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2019-05-16T11:57:19.047Z · score: 21 (9 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for opening this discussion - this feels like a really important topic. I've never been religious, and my parents moved around a lot when I was young. So I didn't have the experience of growing up in a community, but it has always seemed really appealing to me. One thing I've been particularly glad about being surrounded by EAs is that it's so accepted that living in group houses is a good idea. My parents generation, and even my non-EA friends, tend to feel that it's weird to live with other adults, particularly when you're married. But I've found living with friends to be immensely supportive and an easier way than usual to forge strong, lasting friendships. At the extreme of this, when I had a late term still birth my housemates cleared all evidence of baby away before I came home from hospital, made sure that all the friends I wanted to be told knew without me having to talk about it, bought groceries and cooked for me. This kind of community seems immensely valuable, quite apart from it being cheaper to share houses!

If you haven't come across it yet, you might be interested to go to Secular Solstice gatherings ( They talk about challenges humanity has overcome and ones we still need to face, and sing songs like these ( Unfortunately they're just once a year though!

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-05-16T12:01:41.481Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah I wonder if there is any home-finding app in the EA community. I'd love to live with some people with similar views. (I am equally wary of going from one strict ideology to another but there we are)

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-05-17T09:38:17.561Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

There are Facebook groups for EA houses in specific cities, though I'm not aware of any that cover wider areas. Is there a specific place you'd want to know about?

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley3) · 2019-05-16T17:28:43.782Z · score: 16 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

There's been a good deal of recent, related discussion [LW · GW] over on LW with a different framing which is likely relevant to this.

comment by technicalities · 2019-05-16T20:50:24.359Z · score: 11 (7 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yudkowsky once officiated [LW · GW] at a wedding. I find it quite beautiful.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-05-17T09:52:52.832Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Every question you asked in this post has been discussed... somewhere. Tracking down all the conversation is difficult, and there are few true "experts" on this material, but existing EA communities have been slowly shaped by it into their current forms (though of course, there are always new people and new groups and old lessons that must be learned anew).

Some examples:

  • Many of Eliezer Yudkowsky's posts in his sequence "The Craft and the Community" [? · GW] apply just as well to EA as to rationality. He's also written a lot of essays about argumentation and persuasion which have seeped into the EA community through osmosis. Compared to other communities I've known, EA has much less "chasing arguments that should be dropped" and much more "making and discussing models when that would be helpful". We aren't perfect, but I'm not sure whether remaining issues come from any deficit of theory.
  • There have been many discussions of EA and parenthood. Some of those that are findable on the Forum include this [EA · GW] (on the question of whether to become a parent) and this [EA · GW] (on building parent-inclusive communities).
  • Nearly every large EA event includes specific written standards for appropriate behavior, influenced by years of experience, discussion, and research on best practices drawn from other communities.
  • One more example of a social norm that EA has adopted, see "Ask, Guess, and Tell [LW · GW] Culture" [LW · GW] (a series of discussions dealing with, among other things, how people can communicate desires/opinions across oft-invisible cultural divides).

I don't know that a very broad discussion of "community" will be very helpful, but suggestions for specific improvements and solutions to specific problems often lead to concrete progress and mass adoption of new ideas. Are there any specific issues you think are especially important to address?

Also, in discussions like this, it helps to have a fair amount of experience living, working, or at least regularly interacting with one or more EA communities (physically or online). Are there any local EA communities you've spent time in, Nathan?

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-05-17T10:56:57.965Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Regarding there being answers. That's good to know, I guess I will search for them - also I've just found less wrong - which is useful.

I'll check out those links.

You might be right about a broad discussion. If it turns out that issues haven't been covered I might come back and write a more specific piece.

I have not spent any time in local EA communities. I'd like to though, but that will involve working out where I'm going to live next.

Thanks for your time.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-05-19T23:07:08.698Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

These answers aren't necessarily correct, or complete, but they represent time and energy and experience being put into attempting to figure out community, which is definitely valuable. I hope to hear more of your thoughts in the future -- the more people contributing to our collective pool of knowledge, the better!

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2019-05-17T08:27:03.914Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)
Seeing a core group of people often allows you to follow their lives

A comment on a recent article I posted to the EA Forum of neglected goals for local EA groups was that one thing I and others don't emphasize enough is that local EA communities give people a connection to EA as a community, which keeps them invested and engaged with EA, as opposed to communities serving merely directly utilitarian purposes. I agree, so I am glad you raise this similar point.

Group singing/ eating is really fun - are there any studies on this?

I am sure there are studies on this you could find on Google Scholar or some other search engine for research publications, though I have no idea what the best way to go about identifying the most relevant research on these subjects. In addition to Michelle's sources, the rationality and effective altruism communities in Berkeley, California have engaged these kinds of rituals for a while now. So, you may be able to learn more about how that has gone for community-building if you run across some. Raemon [EA · GW] might be the best person on the EA Forum to ask about this.

Support around illness, births, marriages, deaths is great - my friends all used to make meals for each other at these times. Not having to worry about food at a stressful time is a big plus.

Different local EA communities around the world widely vary in how big or close-knit they are, so how there isn't a standard way in the EA communities to address these issues. However, there is a confidential Facebook group called EA Peer Support for virtual support from the EA communities for these kinds of personal times. Anyone can contact Julia Wise [EA · GW] to be added to the group if they have a Facebook account.

Knowing people of different generations helps loneliness, particularly in the old and young.

The few people of an older generation I've known who have participated in EA appear to have mostly enjoyed and benefited from it. Since EA historically has been a movement that has such a high concentration of younger people, if it's difficult to say if or how EA will diversify along generational lines in the future.

Is there any good EA wedding liturgy? Liturgy ("We are gathered here today...") is, if written well is a great way to be clear about what you believe and say it in a beautiful, poetic way. I make no defence of some concepts in the wedding service, but it's a great service.
Are there suggestions for ways a wedding could convey EA concepts through form.

I know some folks in the Berkeley rationality and effective altruism communities have stuff for wedding services that contain EA-like themes or messages. If you ask Raemon, he should be able to point you in the direction of some of that stuff as well.

comment by reallyeli · 2019-05-16T01:36:24.107Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)


You write "I don't know how much of our time this is worth", but to me it seems clear that this is worth a *lot* of our time.

I have a model of human motivation. One aspect of my model is that it is very hard for most people (myself very included) to remain motivated to do something that does not get them any social rewards from the people around them.

Others on this forum have written about "values drift" ( and the role community plays in it.

comment by Khorton · 2019-05-15T22:49:23.883Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

As soon as you said "do community", I thought, "Ahh, there's the exvangelical!"

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2019-05-16T07:58:28.810Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's fair to remove comments one no longer supports but if someone did say this, I'd agree. :P I guess it stands out a mile away.

comment by anonymous_ea · 2019-05-17T03:56:17.252Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Regarding EA weddings, check out the forum thread Suggestions for EA Weddings Vows? [EA(p) · GW(p)] from just a couple of months ago.

comment by evemccormick · 2019-05-25T08:09:39.364Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this post! You might be interested in the podcast Humanise Me, which is primarily focused around this idea of learning lessons from organised religion about how to build better secular communities. It's not exactly information-dense, but I think there's some good nuggets in there. I started listening to it a few years ago when I first became a local EA group organiser.