Discover more from Thinking in Public
What I learned at VibeCamp 2
and what I'm going to do about it
Last week I spent 4 days in rural Maryland with many friends and strangers. My experience and takeaways were dramatically different from last year’s event outside of Austin. I was at the end of a chapter of my life then, now I am at the beginning of the next. This is what I learned at VibeCamp 2.
1. A different mindset creates a different experience.
My decision to attend last year was motivated primarily by the desire to find people with shared values and a similar cultural context. I went with the strategy of casting a wide net and meeting as many people as possible. By the end of the experience there were over 80 people whose existence became real to me and whose names and faces I could remember (by the end it even became a running gag with people asking me ‘how many are you up to now?’ or doubting my memory and challenging me to look around a group of people and say everyone’s names). Of those I met over a dozen who stood out as exactly the kind of people I was looking for and I decided that I needed to move to be near them, ASAP. So I did. Now I live in LA and get to see some of those people on an almost weekly basis and they have truly enriched my life. With my more immediate social needs met my goal for VibeCamp this year was different. I wanted to spend time intentionally with the people who didn’t live nearby. So spending time with friends living in Europe or on the East Coast was my highest priority.
My first two days of VibeCamp this year were disorienting. I had a couple of great conversations with friends from Europe but most of my time was spent being approached by people I didn’t know who were very excited to meet me. I’m no stranger to notoriety, though at times in the past I’ve tried to intentionally avoid it, but for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me until I was there that I had also developed a reputation among the cluster of people attending VibeCamp. Before showing up I already knew >1/5 of the attendees, but apparently being a Twitter power user + writing cultural dating commentary, warning people about FTX, and being a successful trader has also given me reputation among a significant portion of the attendees who I didn’t already know. I think if I expected it then being repeatedly interrupted or approached wouldn’t have shaken me nearly as much as it did, but it took me by complete surprise. And by the second day of a near constant stream of introductions I needed a midday nap to recover from it.
For the first few of these interactions I was merely surprised. But as it happened again and again that surprise was gradually overtaken by something else, annoyance. I don’t have an internal monologue but if I had to put the feeling to words it would be something like—
Can’t these people see I’m in the middle of another conversation right now? Is there something I need to change about my body language to signal less openness? Is there a way I can make them leave me alone?
By day 3 I had enough of a moment of emotional clarity to recognize what was happening inside of me and redirected that feeling of annoyance—
People are going to keep coming up to me, what a great opportunity to practice gently setting boundaries and expressing my own needs to people I don’t know!
Boundaries are the distance at which you can love someone and boy oh boy did I do a lot of loving people from a distance on days 3 and 4. Once I realized how much emotional energy not setting strong boundaries was costing me, the rest of the week became much easier.
2. Auras are real, and yours are beautiful.
I find myself irresistibly drawn to certain people over others for reasons that defy explanation. It used to bother me to no end that these people who had a gentle but relentless psychic power over me existed at all but several years ago I gave up on trying to resist the endless supply of oxytocin that drips from their lips. Now whenever I encounter them I just give in. Their nonverbal communication is easy to read, their words match their actions, their motives are obvious, their touch is healing. They emanate a sweet sticky sap that coats everything. When I’m around them my entire body relaxes into their presence and my brain can’t help but come up with ways to serve them. It’s a total body, mind, and sensory hijacking—I love it.
Last year during my trip to Austin I learned of the existence of one of these people. She attended again this year as well. In my reflection piece I said that seeing her for the first time made my heart stop and it continues to do so every time since. I’m not sure what place she has in my future but I look forward to finding out.
Earlier this year I met another person who made my heart stop when I saw her. Her aura is different. It doesn’t overpower me. I could resist it if I wanted to but it’s more fun simply allowing the tropical rain to wash over me. Most people would probably see a storm coming and run away but I revel in it. She is like an Ivan Aivazovsky painting that you just keep noticing things about and the longer you look at it the more things you notice that you had missed before and the more admiration you have for the artist. I don’t know whether the Moirai will see fit to entangle our threads but I will continue to admire her for as long as they permit.
3. My Reluctant Hero era is over.
I grew up playing sports. It was my entire life until the age of 14 when for whatever reason all of guys around me suddenly started saying disgusting things about girls and I couldn’t stand to be around them anymore. During my last year I had a coach who gave me a letter as a parting gift after our last practice. The letter’s message is something I would hear repeatedly from every mentor I’ve had since. In it he told me that he had never met someone who was both so obviously a natural leader but also so shy to accept the role. He called me the Reluctant Hero, always trying to set up others to succeed and only taking control when absolutely necessary. And he was dead right. That has been my modus operandi my entire life. I’ve intentionally avoided doing things that I thought would draw attention to myself or cause others to defer to me and continuing down that path will no longer take me where I want to go. It’s time to change my default mode. It’s time to become absolutely comfortable receiving and controlling attention. It’s time to make enemies. It’s time to embrace a new archetype. It’s time to become the Romantic Hero.
4. Postrationalism is no longer a scene, it’s a subculture.
Subcultures were the main creative cultural force from roughly 1975 to 2000, when they stopped working. Why?
One reason—among several—is that as soon as subcultures start getting really interesting, they get invaded by muggles, who ruin them. Subcultures have a predictable lifecycle, in which popularity causes death.
Publications like The New Atlantis are talking about it, The New York Times has even taken notice, and I don’t remember the last time I had a conversation with my family about the news where they failed to mention something one of my friends had a hand in doing. Postrationalism has graduated from scene to subculture and VibeCamp is the first postrationalist social event. What is postrationalism? I’ll save that for another time; but it’s here to stay, and it took getting on an airplane to Maryland and dancing with postrats from around the world for me to realize it. Will it fall prey to the subcultural trap of being seen by outsiders as cool and get overrun by consumers rather than contributors? Probably. But VibeCamp attendees were almost universally paranoid about it so the subculture might survive for a while. In the meantime there’s much fun to be had and plenty of opportunities to practice playing a new role.
From David Chapman’s Meaningness: Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution