On ostracism

Today I heard a radio story about the Amish and was thinking how well their community functions. They’ve very deliberately chosen family and social cohesion over convenience. They have low rates of crime, substance abuse, and obvious discord. Crime or drug use by Amish is likely to make the news precisely because it is so rare.

They’re not a dying breed – quite the opposite; their population is constantly growing. I can’t find research on whether the Amish are happier than other people – part of me wonders if the pressure to conform affects their quality of life. But given that social connection is strongly correlated with happiness, I’m guessing they’re at least as happy as other Americans.

But what happens if you’re bad at being Amish? You are shunned, temporarily or permanently. Part of how the community does so well is sampling bias – bad Amish stop being Amish.  And some stop being Amish voluntarily – supposedly 15% of young people leave the community.

I was also reading an insightful list of Geek Social Fallacies and was struck by the one about how geeks hate to ostracize people like they have been ostracized.  “Nearly every geek social group of significant size has at least one member that 80% of the members hate, and the remaining 20% merely tolerate.”  Or, as Eliezer Yudkowsky put it, well-kept gardens die by pacifism.  He recommends ostracism for keeping a community in good order: “It’s a large world out there and there are literally hundreds of millions of people whom you do not want in your community, at least relative to your current ability to improve them.  I’m sorry but it has to be done.”

And yet it feels so yucky.  It makes my community better, but what happens to those people after they’re expelled?

But maybe I’m worrying too much.  You might be bad at being Amish, but maybe you’d be good at city life.  Maybe you drive everyone at Less Wrong crazy and you might fit in better at the local meetup for tango dancers or organic food enthusiasts.

Of course, there are people who are actually really bad at fitting into any kind of civilization, and some of those people are my clients at the jail.  It’s not pretty.

(Returning to the topic of therapy for niche cultures, there is a therapist for Amish people!  But he’s not Amish.)


1 thought on “On ostracism

  1. multiheaded

    An individual might be a good match for *some* culture, *somewhere* in the world, but not have the resources, knowledge and psychology to find one and make a transition after being ostracised by their native culture(s). Or those cultures might set up unreasonable barriers to entry that filter off people who might otherwise find good shelter there – maybe even without people realizing that they’re doing so.

    This is basically the same problem as with the libertarian/localist “If you don’t like a government, why don’t you just move to a different jurisdiction?” thing. Life would be much easier and more smooth if everyone could just magically organize into well-adjusted intentional communities, but I don’t think it could ever work with humans, even leaving aside the common problem of different communities ending up in a struggle for resources and living space.

    E.g.: “Why don’t all the queer people in Iran just move to San Fransisco?”



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