Epistemic Status: personal observation (n=1)
tl;dr: EA groups not in central hubs (Loxbridge, Berkeley) generate a lot of value they don't see when members move to central hubs to work. Intuitively, this may feel like losing compared to members who stay near the peripheral group.
If you're running an EA group anywhere outside of a large hub (e.g. Oxford, London, Berkeley), what does the best case look like for an individual who interacts with your group?
Obviously there are several answers to this group, but I'll focus on two:
- Somebody who stays in the city and continues to help the group as an advisor or senior member, who also works at an EA org or earns to give.
- Somebody who leaves the city for an EA hub and has little/no contact with the group, but works at an EA org.
I won't debate which of these is more valuable at length, because I don't think it's that important to my central point. It seems plausible that the additional movement building of (1) could be comparable to the productivity gains of (2), and what's more impactful for one person might not be for another.
My central point is this question: which do you feel good about? At EA Edinburgh, there's something of an undercurrent that Oxford is 'taking' our best members, or an implicit assumption that having people work in Edinburgh and set up EA organisations in Edinburgh is better than them setting up elsewhere. I bought into both of these assumptions for a long time! But I think they are, fundamentally, tribal.
Another model that isn't just a black box labelled 'tribalism' is that the impact produced by people who leave Edinburgh for greener pastures is completely invisible to you, while the people who hang around turn up to meetings every month telling you about all the exciting, impressive things they are doing. It seems pretty easy to not update sufficiently for this selection bias.
Some suggested actions for your group:
- Notice if your discussions/thoughts/plans run this way
- Question the assumption that things happening nearer to you is more impactful than them happening elsewhere
- Stay in contact with members who move away! If you're going to be tribal, you might as well get them to give a talk now and again about what they're doing, or give advice about how to run your group
I'd be interested to hear any other suggestions, and if anybody else has noticed this effect (maybe it's just Edinburgh for some reason?).
Special thanks to Q for giving a talk about egregores which triggered this thought initially.