In March 2021, I was dissatisfied with my current community.
Now, I was in a marvellous place for this to even be possible. For most of my life, dissatisfaction with my current community — or, more accurately, all encompassing, crushing, depression inducing incongruence with my current community — was a constant. I didn’t even know it was possible to really fit in with a group until the middle of 2020.
And yet, nevertheless, I was dissatisfied.
My primary community in March of 2021 wasn’t my school, but an online group that met over discord. It was founded by a person I became close friends with shortly after joining, a person named Daniel. The community was called the University of Bayes, a place for collaboration, conversation and connection.
And I was disatisfied with it, somehow.
March 2021 was arguably one of the periods of greatest reading measured by volume of words read of my life, and I had been reading a lot about community. I had been reading a lot about Dunbar’s Number, a not quite theoretical number which stated that the number of people an individual human could reasonably have an actual connection with was about 150. I had witnessed the University of Bayes in its infancy, and seen the closeness and vulnerability people had expressed at the beginning.
In the beginning, University of Bayes was my rock. I had very luckily found it through the rationality community, a community dedicted to the art of thinking well and truthfully. In turn, I had very luckily found the rationality community through, of all things, a fanfiction of Harry Potter written by an AI researcher. The fanfiction, which in length is equal to the first four books of the original Harry Potter series, was called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Reading it was an incredibly unique experience — it was the first time I found a character who thought like me! Who weighed and considered things! Who was always thinking about psycholgoy studies!
And at the same time, in being like me in so many ways that were comfortable, Harry was so much stronger. He was so much more formidable, so much more serious about his goals, so much more quick on his feet. In the two and a half years since, I have closed the gap somewhat between myself and Harry in the path of rationality, but he still stretches out far before me.
University of Bayes largely consisted of people who had too read and adored this book, and it was the first community where I really felt seen. I was more vulnerable in the community with people I had known for days than with friends I had known for years, and that vulnerability was rewarded with some of the deepest conversations I had had in my entire life.
I contributed significantly to the community, restructuring it many times to maximise ease of joining for newcomers. I also contributed scripts to the local robot, that printed out a welcome message to ease the welcoming of new members.
I cared very deeply about the community, but after almost a year, I had felt myself noticing something happening to the types of conversations that were happening in the server. They seemed to be getting less vulernable, as the server size grew and the amount of silent onlookers increased. I suggested we decrease the amount of silent onlookers in the main server, but this idea was met with resistance by the owner.
I was tempted by the pull of silence, to simply sit back and watch the community I had loved so much crumble, in such a subtle, slow way that it would be impossible to grab anyone’s hand and point to it and say “look! it’s dying!”.
But the University of Bayes was one of the most valuable things in my entire life, and losing what it had given me was too scary to bear.
So I decided to create Dunbar’s Hideout.
Creating a community was not something that came naturally to me. Existing primarily in communities that were on some deep level foreign to me made me rather sensitive to rejection, expecting it along far more paths than many.
But I put myself on the line, and created the server. I have many planning documents on the servers functions, goals, and ways to achieve those goals. I created an application form for potential joiners with questions such as “Why do you want to join the tribe?”, “What current weakness will you have shredded in a years time?”, “What’s the most awesome thing you’ve ever done? Show off!”
I sent the form out to my friends, and combed through the responses, selecting joinees and inviting them to the server.
This is where it all went wrong.
What I failed to understand then is that there was no point. The server existed for friendship and nothing else. Through all my readings I had never generated the idea, the realisation, that in the real world friendships existed through the medium of anything else. School, work, joint hardship, living together. Even the Univeristy of Bayes had the medium of learning together to provide the excuse of the glue to form friendships together, which it successfully did.
It took me a while to realise that Dunbar’s Hideout fizzled out of existence because it had no glue, it had no point.
So I kissed the project goodbye and layed it on the water, allowing it to fizzle apart as it drifted out beyond the horizon…
And I started again.
Knowing what I thought I had learned from the first time around, this time I created a book club. Two, in fact. I figured book clubs were a good way for me to stay in contact with people I had met, and to form friendships by doing a shared activity.
This, unfortunately, also didn’t work. I was still making silly, fatal mistakes.
The problem with always interacting with groups is that so much of anything that’s great about human relationships happens when we’re alone with another person, when we can truly speak our minds and only have to worry about one mind knowing what we really truly think, of being able to build off of our shared understanding and get to new, deeply vulnerable places so much faster than if we had to check three places for the correct foundations to build one level higher, instead of only one.
In book clubs, you talk in groups about the book, and about high level overview of your lives.
It’s a great tragedy to me that I never did become significantly closer with most of the people who joined my book clubs. We had fun conversations, but I now understand group conversations to serve more of the purpose for being solely fun, to experience the joy of listening without having to necessarily speak, and to determine who you truly want to talk to one on one.
Eventually it was my school that provided the most community. Even though I was a tremendous outsider being the one of the only ones from a state school, it was still at school where I finally understood what all my online communities, and even my book clubs, were trying to emulate. There was plenty of group interactions, as well as plenty of opportunities for in person reacitons.
However I still had the drive to lead something. It was apparently something that I had grown to enjoy, being the leader of a group. It was scary, being only two months in to a two hundred year old school, but I decided to found rationality society.
And it was amazing! It was almost another part time job, planning the sessions and the games that would communicate the rationality concepts in precisely the way I wanted them to be.
Running Wellington Rationality Society was one of the funnest eperiences of my life, and if it is something that could have only been built on the corpses of all the other communities I tried to run, so be it.
The moment I realised I had failed at buildling a community was the moment that ruined my life.
Community has always been extremely important to me, as it is to most humans. However, having lived in total absnece of it for the first fifteen years of my life, having people to talk to, to trust, to be vulnerable with and to understand and relate to their worries and concerns in turn, is one of the nicest things I know to exist on the planet.
In 2020, I had something like this. Through the amazing serindipity and luck of finding a six-book Harry Potter fanfiction written by an Artificial Intellegence Researcher, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, I had stumbled apon a discord server called the University of Bayes. It’s stated purpose was to be a place of collaboration, connection and community, and in it I had finally stumbled apon people who had thought like I had my entire life. Analytical and considerate, incredibly thinky and incredibly honest with the way they spoke.
However, after almost a year in this community, having made some of my best friends from attending it, and various book clubs and events inside of it, and taking up posititions of moderations and taking it apon myself to restructure the server and write commands to make introducing newcomers trivial, I realised that something was changing, and I thought it had something to do with Dunbar’s Number — a theory that the maximum amount of connections a human can have tops off around 150. At 600 members, we had far surpassed this number, and I thought this development was to blame for the decreased vulnerability I witnessed.
I had always been very vulnerable to rejection, trying to blend in communities I didn’tr really fit in my entire life, so the only solution I could see to this problem wasn’t something that came naturally to me. But I valued community so much, so I buckled down and created my own.
And it was great! For a spell. I created the appliction form, including questions like “Why do you want to join the tribe?” and “What current weakness will you have shredded in a years time?”. I invited those with the best responses and we began with biweekly video calls to catch up and share what we were going through.
Even as I describe it now, its point of failure is not something so obvious that it glares through the screen. Almost as though I am being tempted to fail iin the same way again.
I have strong aversions to forcing people to do things they do not want to do, so I put right in the main channel so start with that anyone could leave whenever they wanted.
And this was my mistake.
I was thinking in a blatant, silly way. I assumed that putting this at the head of the group meant that people believed it was actually safe to just say that to me, and I wouldn’t be terribly hurt. I assumed that I could simply hop around human social norms as I pleased, picking and choosing which ones served me and which ones didn’t, thinking that I could dismiss the ones that didn’t serve me as easily as a sentence.
People began to not attend meetings, but I said to myself in my head “surely if they didn’t want to attend, they would say so”. But eventually I worked up the courage to ask “is everyone still invested?” and of course got back “no, not really”. So Dunbar’s Hideout shut down.
The happy ending is that I integrated these lessons into my future projects. When I went on to create multiple book clubs to serve at the same purpose, as well as a Rationality Society that I founded and lead during Lower Sixth Year, I made sure to be concious of reading people’s signals, and giving people outs, and understanding that social norms existed for a reason.