Rationality Freiburg

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Our Social Contract


October 16, 2022 (Updated: February 22, 2024)

UPDATE 2023-01-23: This post was a proposal, but it has not been implemented and will not be implemented in this form! There are currently no meetup rules. The reasons for this is that several people were unhappy about the proposal and there was a general fear that these rules would be offputting for new people. Nonetheless, punctuality and preparation are much appreciated.

What is the purpose of our meetups? Surprisingly, not an easy question to answer. For me, it is having a place and time where I am challenged, surprised and intellectually stimulated. Where I feel safe to share a part of myself. Where I can learn and grow.

This is what I want for myself and what I want to provide for you, the guests, the participants.

A gathering is a social contract, even though we frequently resist thinking in such transactional terms because it seems cold. The organizer gives you something, or at least promises to, and the participant gives something in return. Frequently their time and energy, sometimes their money.

The organizer has the privilege and burden of ensuring that the gathering fulfills its purpose and that every participant gets what they were promised.

Sometimes this is in conflict with what a particular participant wants in a particular moment.

For example, if a meetup has started and a round of introduction is through, everyone has shared a small piece of themselves. An atmosphere of trust and commitment has been created. And, suddenly, one new person arrives. This new person will have missed all this introduction, and will therefore, gain less from the gathering than the others. But, even more, they are also taking away something from the other participants. There is a small disruption to the atmosphere that had been created. People don’t know this new person. Or even if they do, they can’t sense what mood they bring. The relaxation, the leaving behind of the world outside, is threatened. So, everyone loses a little bit. All of this just to benefit the person who came late. They will get 70% of the benefit of the gathering, at the cost of making it a little bit worse for everyone else.

The same thing is true if there was an agreement to prepare in some way for the event. If everyone except one person prepares, then that one person will get all the benefit of all the work the other people invested, but they themselves will give nothing in return. It is an unfair trade.

The duty of the organizer is to preserve the atmosphere, the purpose and the fairness of the gathering. This is an intuition I have had for a long time. Reading Priya Parker’s “The Art of Gathering” made me confident enough to express and demand it.

I therefore, propose the following rules for our gatherings. I request and want feedback on and criticism of this proposal, but I won’t easily be swayed because I care, very strongly, about these meetups and their purpose.

After having expressed some of my thoughts during the last meetup, I already got feedback from multiple people. I am very grateful for that! That feedback has helped shape what follows.

Rules (Punctuality & Preparation)

  1. The rules do not apply to people who come for the first time, because they can’t be expected to know them.
  2. The first 15 minutes of the meetup will be considered arrival time for informal chatting, snacking and setting up. You may arrive at any time within those 15 minutes. In order to accomodate this, the meetup duration will be extended from 2 to 2.5 hours.
  3. If you arrive 16 minutes or more after the announced start time, you will be considered latecomer.
  4. If you do not prepare for the meetup in the way described in the invitation, you will be considered unprepared. This is only based on your own word. If you say you have prepared, that is good enough, no further proof is required.
  5. If you are latecomer or unprepared you must make a one-time donation to a charity of your choice.
  6. The amount you must donate is 1% of your monthly income or 1% of your monthly expenses, whichever is higher. This is only based on your own word. For example, if on average you earn 2100 € per month and spend 2300 € per month, you must donate 23 €. You do not need to report any of your finances to anyone. Calculating the correct amount is entirely up to you.
  7. If you already donate money to a charity anyway, that does not count. This donation must be in addition to other donations.
  8. If you are both latecomer and unprepared, you must donate double the amount.
  9. You must provide proof of donation (scan, photograph, printscreen) before you can join a future meetup. If you do not, you will be asked to leave. You may obfuscate whatever personal information you deem necessary on the proof of donation, including the amount of the donation.
  10. You will sign these rules in order to symbolize that you accept them. If you do not, you will be asked to leave.

If the amount of preparation required for a meetup is too much or the reading uninteresting, please give early feedback, so it can be considered. It is perfectly acceptable to have meetups without any required preparation. We want to have gatherings that are useful and stimulating, not make you do tedious or useless work.

The goal of these rules is very clear: Ensure people come on time and well prepared. If this goal is not reached, then the rules will be adapted e.g. by increasing the donation amount.