Designing social movements

Minimum viable utopia

On the theory of designing the precepts of replicating social groups. Important in “community stewardship” when applied, and as institutions when applied to the social structure of a society.

To discuss: Bay area rationalists, the Marrickville Warehouse Alliance, weirdo Honduran charter cities, every Schelling model.

Action manuals

See community maintenance.

On social norms

See social norms.

On governance and accountability

See community governance.

On non-monetary economies

Governance of community as governance of (some real or imagined) commons.

Chesterton’s norms

Why do we do it that way? 🏗️


Gwern, The Melancholy of Subculture Society

Pavlogiannis et al. (2018)

On attainable norms

Which norms are stable? Which are at the start of slippery slopes? I used to think no marginal change to group norms could lead to runaway extremism, but that no longer seems plausible to me. I have witnessed too many people tumbling down the conspiracy radicalisation pathway and seen social norms shift in ways that were not intended at the start. Name drop: Euphemism treadmill.

TBD for now see the Benajamin Hoffman bit, the logic of Pol Pot which casts light on this from an odd angle:

Pol Pot’s policies aren’t indicative of his personal badness, they reflect a certain level of skepticism about expertise narratives that benefit extractive elites.

Expertise narratives definitely have an extractive component. (Medical doctors use law and custom to silence others’ claims to be able to heal, but MDs are obviously not responsible for all healing, or only doing healing, and they ARE collecting rents.) If they are 100% extractive, then anyone participating in them is a social parasite and killing or reeducating them is good for the laborers. I think it’s easy to see how this can lead to policies like “kill all the doctors and let teens do surgery.” This naturally escalates to “kill everyone with glasses” if you are enough of a conflict theorist to think that literal impaired vision is mostly a motivated attempt to maintain class privilege as a scholar.

On hygiene and inner circles

On the need for hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, mottes, baileys, inter-cultural etiquette.


Beliefs that keep groups together.

This does not mean that material effects are absent or unimportant, just that you can’t hold everything equal. Take the Christianity example: there are huge boons to well-being and productivity and [everything else I talked about] in belonging to a church. Many of these are psychological themselves, but let’s only focus on material aspects. These come from “the church”, but you’d have to show me some really extreme evidence to convince me that those were the primary or only reason they joined. The religious aspect, however you think about that, seems more than a little important.

— Lou Keep, The Use and Abuse of Witchdoctors for Life

In the past year, I have noticed that the Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers) has come to the right answer long before I or most people did, on a surprising number of things, in a surprising range of domains. And yet, I do not feel inclined to become one of them. Giving credit where credit is due is a basic part of good discourse, so I feel that I owe an explanation.

The virtues of the Society of Friends are the virtues of liberalism: they cultivate honest discourse and right action, by taking care not to engage in practices that destroy individual discernment. The failings of the Society of Friends are the failings of liberalism: they do not seem to have the organizational capacity to recognize predatory systems and construct alternatives.

Fundamentally, Quaker protocols seem like a good start, but more articulated structures are necessary, especially more closed systems of production.

Lou Keep, The Use and Abuse of Witchdoctors for Life.


Aydinonat, N. Emrah. 2008. The Invisible Hand in Economics: How Economists Explain Unintended Social Consequences. Routledge.
Pavlogiannis, Andreas, Josef Tkadlec, Krishnendu Chatterjee, and Martin A. Nowak. 2018. “Construction of Arbitrarily Strong Amplifiers of Natural Selection Using Evolutionary Graph Theory.” Communications Biology 1 (1): 1–8.
Woodley, Lou, and Katie Pratt. 2020. “The CSCCE Community Participation Model – A Framework to Describe Member Engagement and Information Flow in STEM Communities,” August.

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