Dec 14, 2020 • 9M

Ep 65: Good community, bad community

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David Gaynor
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Communities are great.


A "good" community can help us to transcend our naturally selfish instincts to work together as a team.

They incentivize us to do things for others in return for status.

Status, the positive regard of others, is something we all want and it's fortunate that earning this usually means helping people.

But not always.

Sometimes communities are structured in a way that gives status for doing things that aren't helpful, or in fact harmful.

I'm sure you've observed or been part of this kind of community in the past.

You've had peers that were respected for how much they put down others. Or peers that were respected for being a certain race, or gender.

These kinds of communities are not so great.

Not only are these kinds of communities uncomfortable to be a part of but they can harm the world outside them.

At best they produce leaders who have no history of providing benefit, but have status nonetheless. Think about Gaston, the narcissistic anti-hero from Beauty and the Beast. That guy did very little for his community, but thanks to his looks, got a bunch of status. Then he used that status to lead the other villagers in an attack on the Beast's castle! A bad idea from someone who had earned their status without providing much benefit.

At worst, communities can be actively destructive, rewarding members for destroying other communities.

I'm not a great historian, but I hunch that historically successful societies probably had lots of good communities and not so many "bad" ones. Conversely, I imagine that societies begin to fail when their constituent communities start to reward less productive or downright destructive behavior.

Recently I've wondered about where the US is in this regard. There's been a lot of talk about communities, particular those enabled by social media. From what I can see, a lot of communities, across the US political spectrum, fall into the "unproductive or destructive" category. I'm guilty of this myself. I seek status across the different communities I'm part of. Most of those communities use some form of social media as their primary communication tool. As a result I find myself spending a lot of time posting and commenting in order to win status. Is this ideal? Probably not. If I spent as much time actually building products as I do writing about building products, I'd probably have built 25% more products. How nice.

Of course, I hope my posts aren't entirely useless— they should have some educational and entertainment value. But, in the ideal world I'd be able to earn status by just doing my job well.

Politicians have it worse than me. Trump's tweets are a huge way he earns status as president, but they provide very little of the value that a president is supposed to provide. Trump has shown that social media expertise is necessary and largely sufficient to be elected president.

Not sure how to change this trend. It seems like the inevitable result of having a platform which enables anyone to mass broadcast information. If you can mass broadcast you doing your job (as Twitch streamers do) then that is a super productive way to build status. Great community. But if your job is not amenable to that (sorry politicians) then twitter posts are all you got. Not so great community.