Why I stopped identifying as a rationalist

I’ve told this story to a few people in person, but I wanted to write it out because honestly I just wanted to challenge myself to say something that many people I know may disagree with.

Some background on how I got into rationality and my experience being a rationalist: Michael introduced me to LessWrong and Slate Star Codex when we “met” in October 2014. I became more interested in rationality because I wasn’t happy with myself and was getting more into self improvement around this time (during my freshman year). I attended a CFAR workshop during the summer of 2015 (the summer after freshman year). I became friends with a few rationalists and came to know quite a few others through Facebook, mutual friends, and various other random things (posting on the Princeton class pages looking for other rationalists, attending EAG in 2016).

I don’t want to pretend that I’m a super complicated person or try to construct a narrative that might be more compelling to others — the one “event” that made me stop identifying as a rationalist was my experience volunteering at a CFAR workshop in March 2017. I hadn’t been really involved in the rationalist community since getting into rationality, but I wanted to become more connected to the community, so one of my goals for my gap year was to volunteer at a CFAR workshop, as a stepping stone into the community.

The general thing I felt that really hurt me during the workshop was how many of the people in the community (mostly the instructors and mentors, maybe some of the participants) seemed to not treat me and others as human beings. I felt that I wasn’t valued or respected in many ways, whereas people who had more obvious things to offer to AI risk/etc. were. I can understand why this is true and why they would treat some people more preferentially, but the fact is that I need a community where I feel valued and respected.

One thing that made me feel really unappreciated was that one of the instructors didn’t know my name after several days, and didn’t provide a reason, apologize, or even make an excuse for not knowing my name. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I felt hurt because I was already feeling debased to an extent as a result of the ops/logistics work I was doing, and it just felt like this person wasn’t even acknowledging let alone appreciating my help. I felt so upset about this that I went to the bathroom and cried after this happened (and after trying to rationalize it to myself for a few moments). I feel like this incident tapped into my insecurities about not being competent. In particular, the fact that I wasn’t perceived as being able to provide skills to further rationalist causes meant to me that I wasn’t even important enough for someone to learn my name. And the fact that I had looked up to this person and it felt like I was just…nothing to them.

Another thing that I remember was some of the mentors (? I think) discussing how to basically win over one of the participants (who they saw as potentially “high value”). Again, it makes sense from their perspective why they would want to do this (which…of course it does), but it just felt inappropriate and honestly just unfair to the other participants. And hearing this helped me put some of my negative experiences from the CFAR workshop I attended (that I initially wrote off because my self confidence was not good) into perspective.

There were probably some other things along these lines that colored my opinion, but these are two that stick out. But I do want to mention that I have some positive memories (and one really positive memory) from the workshop, and I know that not everyone in the rationalist community views people in those kinds of terms, but since volunteering for this workshop, I’ve no longer felt a desire to become a part of the rationalist community.

I think another factor in my mental shift was having just experienced some deep human connections during my time at the Recurse Center (thank you Glen and SJ in particular!) a few months prior, and both strongly preferring that type of interaction and feeling that I could find a community where I could fit in and feel appreciated and respected.

My first Glossier experience

This post has been in my drafts for awhile… Last month, I visited New York and took a trip to the Glossier showroom, the first (out of two, now) Glossier store in the world! I had never purchased any Glossier products before, and I was not super familiar with their product line, so this was a very new experience for me.

The showroom is located in the penthouse of a building that is actually pretty close to RC. When I arrived, there was a line of about 10-ish people waiting to get in. It was somewhat deterring, but the woman in front of me told me that the line moved quickly. We were probably waiting for less than 5 minutes, and then we got ushered into an elevator and went up to the showroom together.

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The place was fairly crowded and smelled like roses. There was music playing. The interior decoration was spot on, and very on-brand, like the graphic design of the website in real life. Even though the place was crowded, the product layout made it pretty easy to try things on.

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Lots of products laid out (and multiples of many products), with adequate mirror space and sink space (not pictured) for trying on skincare.

I ended up purchasing the one item I went with the intention of trying, the Boy Brow. The checkout process is similar to the one at MAC, if I recall correctly (it’s been a long time since I’ve purchased something at a MAC store), where you go to the register and tell them what you’d like to purchase. I was surprised because I was told to wait a bit while my “purchase was being prepared,” even though I only bought one thing. But when I received my bag shortly afterwards, I found that my Boy Brow was packaged nicely in a pink makeup bag, along with a couple of samples and Glossier stickers, and I was no longer disturbed/put off by the fact that my purchase needed to be prepared.

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Beautiful (and recognizable) packaging. While walking outside afterwards, we heard someone comment, “I’ve been seeing a lot of Glossier bags!”

I feel that the most exciting part of the whole experience for me was not the actual experience of being in the store, but realizing that I had been “marketed to.” Even though I had previously read about the company and its founder (h/t Sonia ☺️) and watched videos of people applying and reviewing Glossier products, I didn’t really get the brand. But after visiting the showroom and making a purchase, I totally understood and bought into the brand’s appeal.

Unlike most other makeup companies which either seem to brand themselves as aspirational (e.g., Fenty Beauty, luxury beauty brands), more artistic (e.g., Kat Von D, MAC), or role-specific (e.g., Bobbi Brown for the professional woman, Huda Beauty for the Instagram baddie), Glossier advertises its products as bringing out the real you, but enhanced and cooler. Cool is the one word that always stays cool (I forget where I read this). Also, since Glossier is a makeup and skincare brand, their message is not only more believable, but they can also get consumers to buy in to the entire ecosystem, which is genius. The only makeup brand that I can think of that is as cool as Glossier is Pat McGrath’s line, but it’s more artistry-focused and isn’t geared towards everyday wear.

For me, someone who pretty much wears a full face of makeup whenever they wear makeup and is relatively high maintenance (people have commented on how frequently I wash my makeup brushes), the idea of becoming a “Glossier girl” was enticing. Since I’ll be traveling this summer and mostly living out of my suitcase, I knew that I didn’t want to pack a lot of brushes, and especially not my makeup sponge. If I embraced the your-beauty-but-slightly-enhanced Glossier look, then I wouldn’t have to pack any makeup brushes.

This idea was so compelling to me that I almost immediately changed my daily makeup routine, and honestly I don’t see myself changing it back even after the summer. I think the fact that the brand (which I only purchased one product from!) already made such an impact on my mindset and daily life goes to show how powerful—and craved—its message is. Glossier is definitely doing a lot of things right.

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The elevator everyone enters from. And notice the employee on the left wearing the cute pink jumpsuit that is a uniform option.
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People trying out skincare. Note the large promotional image, several of which are scattered throughout the store. This one was probably advertising their new Lidstar eyeshadow.
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Waiting/sitting area.