Why Transhumanist Communities?
Transhumanists are still human, and we still have basic human needs. This blog post summarizes the literature on personal happiness, and the only factors which correlate to any degree are genetics, health, work satisfaction, and social life – which actually gets listed three separate times as social activity, relationship satisfaction and religiosity. Transhumanists tend to be less socially adept on average, and this can make it difficult to obtain the full rewards of social interaction. However, once transhumanists learn to socialize with each other, they can also become increasingly social towards everyone more generally. This improves your life. A lot.
Being a transhumanist in today’s world can be incredibly lonely. Many interactions reveal that our thoughts differ widely from those around us, and I had accepted that such a divide would always exist. In a healthy transhumanist community, I have dozens of people with whom I can act freely and revel in the joy of imagining the possibilities of the future without any social concern about looking weird – hell, it’s actively rewarded!
Everyone should have a group of friends to enjoy life alongside, try miracle fruit with, dance ecstatically until sunrise, actively embarrass themselves at karaoke, get lost in the woods, and jump off waterfalls. Poker, paintball, parties, go-karts, concerts, camping… a community where I can live in truth and be accepted as I am, where I can give and receive feedback and get help becoming a better person. To love and be loved is an unparalleled experience in this world, once you actually try it.
While many community organizers have largely proceeded via trial and error, the rest of you who are going to become organizers can learn from earlier experiments, and avoid a lot of mistakes. The lessons largely fall under two categories: how to build a group, and what to do with a group once you have one. I hope that you find this advice helpful in your own efforts to establish transhumanist communities.
Building a Community
Communities need heroes: Until we have a cadre of paid community organizers, transhumanism meetups will have to run on hero power. Most members are going to be passively attending, a few will actively contribute ideas and activities on the mailing list, but someone needs to be willing to step up as a leader and begin organizing people. Do you want a community badly enough to build one yourself?
Commitment works: Some groups started having regular meetings because one person committed to showing up at a specific time and place and staying for a minimum length of time, regardless of other attendance. Enough folks wanted to hang out that this resulted in successful meetups.
Schedule events first, get feedback later: Trying to ask everyone to state their preferences in order to accommodate them all rarely works, and can result in prolonged indecision. Just schedule a time and place and topic; people who want to come (but can’t) will speak up, and tell you why. With enough iterations, you can settle on something approximately utility maximizing.
Gender ratio matters: It is no secret that transhumanism suffers from a paucity of women, which makes it difficult to start a group with any women at all. There is no easy answer here, but it is important to address this factor as early as possible. Simply put, if you’re winning at life and having enough fun women will want to join you, and a balanced gender ratio encourages more people of both genders to attend. Work hard to find interested women, and be careful in the presence of newcomers when trying to sanely, explicitly discuss hot-button gender topics. In case the argument for more women is not sufficiently clear, gender-balanced meetups are a lot more fun, and it provides a unique perspective on ideas and group dynamics.
A mailing list is for more than just meetups: While scheduling meetups is an obvious function of a group mailing list, it can be used for all manner of discussions and coordination between group members. Given our significant overlapping interests, one function of a list is for people to invite others to join them on their adventures, be that going to conferences, parties, sous-vide steak dinners, rock climbing, or whatever else people feel like doing. Another very important use is to ask the group for advice on a particular subject, like optimizing OKCupid profiles, learning programming languages, alleviating bad moods, and more! Last but not least, mailing lists make large group discussions on serious questions feasible.
Interact with outside transhumanists as much as possible: Just as division of labor exists within a group, it also exists among groups. This allows a steady flow of new memes to try out, and an external evaluation of the current group memes. Humanity+ as an organization and local chapters have been working on different projects and have different perspectives, and it would be extremely helpful to both groups to have more collaboration between them. This provides constant perspective and growth.
Possible meetup topics
- Social/unfocused discussions: Attendance can be poor; some people think that hanging out is harder to justify than having a specific purpose.
- Discussion topics: Reliably good attendance and fun. The topics can vary widely, everything from life extension to science fiction. Note that large group discussions rarely lead to progress/insight on a question, but breaking into smaller sub-groups can work.
- Presentation/skill share: Depends on the topic, draws specialized crowds, but usually high interest.
- Game nights: Good for social bonding, some people reliably show up. Poker, Nomic, German-style games might be popular. Games also represent a very stylized domain within which people can practice their skills. Note that even folks not playing the game still show up to socialize.
- Group planning/meta: Will draw only core members, so low attendance, but that is actually useful in this context. Worth doing occasionally for feedback and direction if no other avenues exist.
- Structured exercises: Attendance will vary, but exercises tend to be highly engaging, we may explore with this format more in the future on a Humanity+-wide scale.
- Bacchanalia: Because sometimes, you just really need to party.
Spend time with each other: The biggest benefit of having the community is having the community. Hold meetups often, and use the mailing list to arrange activities outside the meetups as well. Do the things you like doing… together. Get to know other people in the group, figure out who your closest friends are and hang out with them. This is incredibly fun, promotes well-being, and encourages the spread of knowledge. When everyone is feeling good, the positive mood contagion can be overwhelmingly powerful.
Ask the group for help: There is a reason we identify as transhumanists, rather than just plain transhumans. Despite our best efforts, we are not perfect thinkers, but at least we can know the importance of saying oops. One of the biggest advantages of a group of transhumanists is that any of the individual members can ask the group for help when they are feeling indecisive, or they think their reasoning is compromised. When everyone else in the group unanimously agrees with each other and disagrees with you, that’s evidence strong enough not to ignore.
Learn to be social, and go forth into the world: To be frank, many of us are not very good at social interaction, which can definitely be painful, and, when socializing is an important part of our life or job, debilitating. Fortunately, transhumanists have a major hack: we can start socializing with each other in a non-judgmental environment. Once some of the benefits of regular social interaction settle in, and people become happier and more comfortable in groups, it becomes increasingly easy to socialize with other people outside the group. There has been a very clear trend towards increased sociability, and as a result, good social outcomes.
Most progress is accomplished in small groups: There is strong consensus that group discussions rarely result in updating, even if they are fun. Conversations of 2 or 3 (maybe 4 at the most) seem to produce the most useful insights. This is why spending time together bilaterally is incredibly important to group development. When a handful of people are all interested in a particular topic and practice it together, they form a de facto working group, which allows them to iterate rapidly and then teach it to the rest of the members.
Set goals and hold each other accountable: This has been a recent, but powerful, addition to the transhumanist memespace. Humans are not automatically strategic, but we have each other to remind us of this fact. The vast majority of people don’t even reach the first step of having explicit goals! Not only that, but being a social group allows us to leverage that social pressure on each other – it is legitimately challenging to stand in front of the group and admit that you have not achieved your goal for the week. These goals should either be focused on the most important step that would change your life, or radically push you outside your comfort zone.
The Road Ahead
The transhumanist community continues to change and grow, and every week brings something new. The problem of optimizing communities and group coordination is far from solved, and I hope to share articles on this topic with the H+ Magazine readership as we continue to write and publish them.
Most importantly, however, we should make everything that we have done and learned reliably reproducible. This post is one example of an attempt to codify what steps people can take to get here from there as a community, so that others can begin creating their own, and we fully intend to flesh out some of these in more exact detail. Many of us implicitly have a number of useful memes and heuristics around social groups, all of which we seek to turn into explicit knowledge: step by step instructions that anyone could follow to achieve similar benefits. Given that much of this knowledge will likely contain implicit components, instructors of these skills should be able to earn profits teaching them to others. Making more money seems to be one of the metrics on which most transhumanists do not yet perform exceptionally, but if we are truly creating value in the world, we should learn how to capture it.
Call to Assemble
You have now heard my case for group transhumanism, and it rests upon the individual benefits it incurs: you will be drastically happier, and you will gain skills and knowledge a lot more quickly. Armed with this knowledge, what should you do?
First of all, if you live in an area which already has a critical mass of transhumanists, you should take these lessons and create a community of your own, so that you and everyone else can reap the rewards. It is up to you to be the hero – yes, you. One piece of feedback we sometimes get from new members is that discussions can be intimidating, and they don’t feel qualified to even talk about these topics (much less contribute or become an organizer). They are invariably wrong.
If you find yourself having to move for any reason, then you should make every attempt you can to congregate in an area with more people. Note that in-person interaction requires minimal effective distance between people. There is a strong case to pick large cities with top universities: they are major urban areas with lots of different job opportunities, the good public transportation shortens effective distance, and we are creating a model which can scale with additional people. Two alternatives are suburban areas with good highways, or to move within walking distance of other transhumanists. Taken to the limit, you can share housing with other transhumanists.
You may have had a sense that more was possible, and if you did, then you were correct: groups of transhumanists should have more fun and win at life, and it’s time to scale up the awesome. If you want to share in the awesomeness, contact Humanity+ at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This essay was originally written by Will Ryan to discuss his experiences in community-building, and was adapted by Tom McCabe for publication in H+ Magazine.