Designing social movements

Minimum viable utopia

On the theory of designing the precepts of replicating social groups. Often branded as “community stewardship” when applied.

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 non-monetary economies


Status within

See status for now.

On attainable norms



Left field, Benjamin Ross Hoffman on Why I am not a Quaker (even though it often seems as though I should be)

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.

Another foray into this kind of idea that I ran into in the wild is M. Taylor Saotome-Westlake’s Book Review: Charles Murray’s Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class. They analyse in particular a co-ordination-on-belief problem. They come at it from an economics-of-coordination angle, with the particular interesting example of taboos in discussing psychometrics:

And that’s where the blank slate doctrine absolutely shines—it’s the Schelling point for preventing group conflicts! (A Schelling point is a choice that’s salient as a focus for mutual expectations: what I think that you think that I think… &c. we’ll choose.) If you admit that there could differences between groups, you open up the questions of in what exact traits and of what exact magnitudes, which people have an incentive to lie about to divert resources and power to their group by establishing unfair conventions and then misrepresenting those contingent bargaining equilibria as some “inevitable” natural order.

If you’re afraid of purported answers being used as a pretext for oppression, you might hope to make the question un-askable. Can’t oppress people on the basis of race if race doesn’t exist! Denying the existence of sex is harder—which doesn’t stop people from occasionally trying. […]

The taboo mostly only applies to psychological trait differences, both because those are a sensitive subject, and because they’re easier to motivatedly see what you want to see: whereas things like height or skin tone can be directly seen and uncontroversially measured with well-understood physical instruments (like a meterstick or digital photo pixel values), psychological assessments are much more complicated and therefore hard to detach from the eye of the beholder. (If I describe Mary as “warm, compassionate, and agreeable”, the words mean something in the sense that they change what experiences you anticipate—if you believed my report, you would be surprised if Mary were to kick your dog and make fun of your nose job—but the things that they mean are a high-level statistical signal in behavior for which we don’t have a simple measurement device like a meterstick to appeal to if you and I don’t trust each other’s character assessments of Mary.)

Notice how the “not allowing sex and race differences in psychological traits to appear on shared maps is the Schelling point for resistance to sex- and race-based oppression” actually gives us an explanation for why one might reasonably have a sense that there are dread doors that we must not open. Undermining the “everyone is Actually Equal” Schelling point could catalyze a preference cascade—a slide down the slippery slope to the next Schelling point, which might be a lot worse than the status quo on the “amount of rape and genocide” metric, even if it does slightly better on “estimating heritability coefficients.”

I am not endorsing Saotome-Westlake’s psychometric opinions, as such, but I am intrigued by what this example suggests about what kinds of norms that groups can support and propagate.


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): 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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