Bay Solstice 2017: Thoughts

post by PDV · 2017-12-18T10:04:03.754Z · score: 26 (13 votes) · LW · GW · 102 comments

To me, this year's Solstice was a flop. While it's still somewhat fresh in my mind, I would like to say why.

(A few of these thoughts are ones I shared with others and found basic agreement. The rest were not discussed and may be entirely idiosyncratic.)

At the design level, it was almost exactly the same as last year. I think two songs changed in the choral parts, two speeches definitely were dropped (my I Have Seen The Tops of Clouds and Brienne's Invincible Summer from last year), and I think one was added (something from the Sequences I already forget, delivered as a dialogue). That left >80% unchanged. Perhaps the organizers thought it was in a good state and didn't need any big tweaks to the arc or main beats; if so I very much disagree.

Also at the prep level, it was significantly smaller than last year, admission was limited to smaller even than 2015 at Humanist Hall, and yet was not at Humanist Hall. Leaving Humanist Hall meant giving up the candle ritual, which I still consider the most important expression of the arc of Solstice. We outgrew it in 2016, and so we regrettably had to move. With the event limited by new rules of the 2016 space to be half the size of 2015, there was no longer a positive to balance that negative.

In terms of the execution, I think the speeches delivered were less polished and less emotional this year. I'd prefer not to go into detail as several people I call friends were on stage over the course of the night.

Further diluting the weight and emotional impact of the speeches was the applause. Every transition in the emotional beats of the arc, speech to song or song to speech, was disrupted by a round of applause. When the dominant theme is solemn, this felt extremely disrespectful, as blatantly inappropriate as a polka during Yom Kippur services or clapping along to the beat of Handel's Messiah. (This doesn't apply to the sing-alongs. My dislike for the clapping there is entirely personal distaste; it offends my inner drummer.)

While I'm mentioning the songs: They were good last year and were good this year. Though I can't claim to be at all objective on that front, my closest friends are all in the choir. IMO, Lean On Me in particular improved this year, but I couldn't put my finger on what I thought was better.

On 'Mixed Success' notes:

The half-Tarot card scheme. This was a neat idea, but Tarot was a poor choice, since most of the room had no idea what they had or were looking for. Also, something like 10% of the room had no matches by the end of the night. Me included, which was especially weird considering that I spent 15 minutes while people were eating at the beginning, and basically the whole intermission, bringing my laptop around to identify cards for people and help them find their match. I can't comment on how well it worked when it worked at all. and so I won't.

Kids at Solstice. There were definitely more of them and most of them were well-behaved and quiet, and temporarily removed by their parents when they weren't. Thank you, conscientious parents; you probably had a 20% worse Solstice so the rest of the room could have a 50% better one.

Unfortunately this was not enough; some number of kids ran up and down the catwalks upstairs and interjected loud laughter a number of times throughout the night, disrupting the emotional weight of the event further. I think from the sound it was the same kid doing the running repeatedly, and the laughter was at least 90% produced by one voice. So to whoever was responsible for those kids: You should know better. You wouldn't let them do this at the theater, or a religious ceremony, or during the vows at a wedding. If you bring your kids, it's your responsibility to ensure they don't mess things up for everyone else. If you can't guarantee that, it's your responsibility to take them home. You're especially hurting other parents and prospective parents whose well-behaved or well-controlled kids would not disrupt future events, but will have to be banned anyway to keep yours out.


So to recap:

102 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-18T20:35:47.596Z · score: 45 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I think there's some confusion about whether this is a religious ritual, a theatrical performance, or a community gathering. Different rules apply to each, and it's hardly fair to ask people to satisfy one expectation if they're led to believe that it's a different thing entirely.

The way Solstice is run in practice, is as a theatrical performance - there's a producer, who lines up a bunch of acts, and a venue, and finds an audience / sells tickets, and then the audience comes in and bears very little responsibility for what happens. Under that paradigm, it seems fine to have rules that preclude the presence of some children. The stakes are just not that high, for a once-a-year event - it's entertainment. There is lots of other entertainment to be had, though it's nice for some of the entertainment to be produced locally. Applause is appropriate at a theatrical event, unless there is a specific understanding otherwise.

If we want a religious ritual (and I think the intuition that there shouldn't be applause is pointing in this direction), then there needs to be an advance understanding as to what the ritual is, and what it means, unless we are trying to have a mystery religion - in which case the thing shouldn't be recorded for public consumption, and there should be some substantially stiffer admission requirements. The ritual should have power even without the addition of theatrical drama, because it should have meaning. It should be enactive. If we do this, then either it's a ritual for adults only, or there's something present for children to emulate, or be curious about. There should be aspects of it that are comprehensible to them, even if not all of it is. There should be things for them to do, to participate in the ritual. For the most part, I don't see this happening.

If we want an all-community gathering - if an important aspect of Solstice is that the whole community is there - then one of the central constraints in planning the event is that it has got to be run in such a way that the whole community can in fact show up without interfering with the event. If our standards of conduct are incompatible with parents bringing their children to the event, then we are excluding children from the community. If we want to be that sort of community, there should probably be some sort of public discussion on that point first. As far as I can tell, people care the most about the community gathering aspect, but a survey might be in order by someone who cares more about making Solstice a thing than I do.

There could, of course, be a multiple-part event or series of events, playing these different roles. I think there's been an attempt to triangulate the tension between these three things; audience participation schemes like last year's writing stuff on the wall is what it looks like to try to make a theatrical event communityish, and of course this is a theatrical event designed to deal on a very literal level with themes that the community is organized around, which gives it a bit of the flavor of ritual, but overall this triangulation seems like the sort of thing that is almost guaranteed to produce the sort of problem described in the OP.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2017-12-18T21:36:59.844Z · score: 19 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It does sound a lot like maybe what we need are in fact different events if people want different things. Personally I like the direction of being mostly a community event with a theatrical component that looks a little like ritual and so was pretty happy with the way it went this year (though I may be biased since I was a speaker), but I can definitely see having a separate, ritual-focused solstice for people who want it, maybe scheduled to be on the actual day of the solstice and timed such that it reaches the zenith of its ceremony at midnight. This would necessarily make it a smaller event, but I suspect that the only way to get stronger ritual is to change it in ways that make it more exclusionary.

This seems reasonable to me, though. Religions typically have multiple kinds of services for different occasions and different services are differently targeted. For example, in my Zen sangha we have regular sitting periods with service and dharma talk that obey certain norms, occasionally hold sesshin which obeys slightly stricter norms, and then hold community events that have looser norms.

I realize that with the rationality community it's a bit harder because we don't already have forms that guide this, but if someone wanted to start rationality church it sounds like at least one person would be interested in attending (or perhaps running it!).

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T22:30:52.382Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Personally, if someone started a rationality church I would first try to dissuade them, and second try to ostracize them from the community.

comment by ChristianKl · 2017-12-18T22:50:06.616Z · score: 18 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Formally calling yourself a church has a lot of benefits like not having to pay taxes and not having to follow various other laws. As a Munchkin it has it's lure.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-18T22:47:28.989Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why?!

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T22:51:39.542Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Hopefully they would fail, but they might succeed, and divert people away from rationality. I don't think a rationality church could possibly remain rationalist.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-18T22:58:08.872Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see any reason to expect that sort of thing to be any worse in prospect than CFAR was at its founding, and I see plenty of reason to expect it to be a better prospect, once you adjust for the quality of the founders.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T23:01:32.056Z · score: -6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How could it possibly not? Churches are built on affective death spirals. You might manage to prevent that but you're starting out with something that's designed to fail for your purposes.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-18T23:04:36.207Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's not at all obvious to me that religions are built on affective death spirals in the general case, more than anything other generic class of institution (such as a self-help organization running inspirational workshops) is. This seems like a claim worth fleshing out.

ETA (since the discussion below is currently hidden by default):

Religions differ in important ways from other institutions. This includes differing in how they relate to affective death spirals. I'm not saying everything's completely the same, or that religions don't have a worse track record in some respects. I'm saying that so far I'm unpersuaded by the case that religion's uniquely generically bad on this score.

Affective death spirals and other self-validating narratives are pretty common, and I can think of lots of different reasons you might notice them most prominently in religion, e.g. religion is trying to solve particularly difficult social coordination problems, or modern religion is more honest about the extent to which it is talking nonsense, or you're not a member of a religion but you are a member of various other types of social organization and affective death spirals are hard to see from the inside.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T23:12:37.227Z · score: -12 (8 votes) · LW · GW

It is extremely obvious to me and I don't understand how it could seem otherwise.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-18T23:19:34.416Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'll try to explain my side here. It seems to me like quite a lot of institutions reaffirm narrative at the expense of tracking reality. The startup world is full of this, for instance. So are political movements like Communism. This is unusually easy to notice in the case of religion, for two reasons. First, Christianity in particular tends to spin narratives about things "outside the world" in some way, whereas e.g. startups or political movements organize around ideologies that can pass for an honest model of the world we live in at casual inspection, especially if you're willing to commit the occasional fraud. Second, people in a liberal, skeptical, cosmopolitan subculture, like us, have social permission to notice when religion is a fraud and not just honestly mistaken, but don't have social permission to notice when other governing institutions are frauds.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T23:29:23.400Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That seems like the fallacy of grey to me. Yes, it's easier to notice when a church is cultish than a startup or political movement. Yes, there is significant incidence of cultish startups and political movements. That doesn't mean that churches aren't much worse. Fairly few churches are not cultish; fairly few of the rest are.

comment by Benito · 2017-12-19T00:59:27.146Z · score: 15 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Most good startups are very cultish (citation: Zero to One says this explicitly). I appreciate that you're taking the obvious position and properly acting on it, but I'm interested to hear what insights Benquo comes up with (his Sabbath post was super interesting), and generally do expect our bias to be not noticing the valuable insights and coordination effects of religion. I can imagine being sufficiently wrong such that over history religions been net positive relative to what society would've done otherwise.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T01:28:34.380Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would say something more like, most religion is badly wrong for the same reason most philosophy is badly wrong - you're working on a really hard problem! The problem being really hard doesn't make it something you can get away with not doing, it just makes you get wrong answers most of the time.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T01:17:01.050Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm happy to admit that there can be differences in degree. But because of the independent differences in perception, and because I've only recently started to be able to see past that, I'm not at all sure "religions" are worse generally, or even how you'd measure that. Most arguments I've seen on this particular subject completely miss the fact that the liberal frame makes religion's flaws easier to see.

(Note that in this case I'm making an "I don't know and for the most part don't trust others to know" argument, not a "no one can possibly know" argument. There's a fact of the matter!)

comment by PDV · 2018-01-10T01:03:33.968Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Specifically being narratives about things outside the world rather than inside it is deliberately disconnecting yourself from correction.

An ideology that may pass for an honest model of the world can be corrected by treating it as an honest model of the world and seeing whether it fails in that regard. If it is honest, this provides chances for it to be exposed as a self-sustaining ideology. If it is dishonest, deliberate work must be done to restrict it to the space of things that can withstand that inspection, scaling with the degree or scrutiny it may receive.

An ideology which has its grounding outside the world (all Abrahamic religions, Hinduism, every folk religious tradition I'm familiar with, debatably Buddhism, etc.), has neither of those good properties.

Or in short: Non-religious cultish ideologies are constrained to mimic the form of honesty to be considered honest, while religious ones are not.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T22:29:44.396Z · score: 16 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that there are multiple competing visions of Solstice, but I don't see the religious ritual format and community gathering format in as much of a conflict as you.

As I said in another thread, I see the purpose of Solstice, and rationalist holidays generally, as community values affirmation. Borrowing some traits of religious ceremonies is a powerful but dangerous tool for this purpose. Size and fellow-feeling is another tool. Theatricality is another, but definitely secondary. For the established arc and values of "The world is dangerous and fragile, but we have overcome impossible challenges and can do it again" for the Brighter Than Today, they seem like the correct tools. Other holidays, mine and other people's, use different tools and affirm different values; ideally, we would have all the central values of the community attached to at least one regular event.

I definitely do not think that Solstice as theatrical event is good or valuable. If it isn't serving a higher purpose than entertainment, it's just bad political art.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-18T22:51:29.066Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that what you read as "borrowing some traits of religious ceremonies," I read as, in effect, equivocation on whether you are doing a religious ceremony or not. But it's possible that you're thinking of different features than I am. Can you be more specific?

I have a sense that we're talking at cross-purposes about the category "theatrical event," and that this is related to our disagreement on what a religious ceremony is. By me, it would be possible to have an actual ritual in which people in community with one another gather to affirm their commitment to a shared narrative which implies certain values and practices. In other words, a religious ritual. It is also possible to sell that as a consumer experience. If you're doing that, you're doing participatory theater instead.

Fellow-feeling seems weird to call a tool, here, rather than an outcome. Can you say more about how it's a tool?

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T23:06:57.494Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, an atheist religious ceremony is a contradiction in terms. Observing religious ceremonies to see what mechanisms they use to reinforce beliefs and group identity, and which of those can be extracted to use in a way that respects good epistemics, is not. That is what I try to do in holiday design and what I think Solstice should do.

I don't understand what you're saying about theatrical events but a consumer experience would also be bad and not worth supporting.

Fellow-feeling is a tool because the Asch Conformity Experiment works.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-18T23:12:28.947Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

By fellow-feeling, do you pretty much mean social proof?

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-18T23:12:08.499Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW
Well, an atheist religious ceremony is a contradiction in terms.

That's just plain not true, unless you construct your definition of "religion" to exclude a pretty substantial chunk of world religion. I claim that such a definition doesn't cut reality at the joints.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T23:13:54.953Z · score: -2 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't believe you. Please provide three examples of atheist religious ceremonies.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T00:56:21.217Z · score: 19 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A Zen monastery, a Reconstructionist Jewish wedding, a Quaker* meeting.

*Not all Quakers, of course, some are overtly Christian, but it's worth noting that the whole thing works just as well for just about any level of belief-in-god.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T01:52:39.173Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't term those atheist.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2017-12-19T02:06:52.668Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I mean "atheist" is just "without god" and all the things Ben mentioned are in fact without god as far as I know, and I can specifically confirm the case that western Zen practice is atheistic. But I'm guessing you're trying to say something more like "aspiritual" or "without spirituality".

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T02:12:57.789Z · score: -4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Spiritual but not religious" is a separate category from "Atheist", to the government and to the people who identify as it. Glossing atheist as "without god" is a literal translation, not a true one.

comment by gwillen · 2017-12-18T23:27:01.097Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For what it's worth, I downvoted this reply because it comes across to me as inappropriately hostile. If it wasn't meant that way, I can explain why if desired.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T23:30:35.564Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That seems fair. It was a reply to a comment I perceived as hostile.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T01:12:34.287Z · score: 25 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I was being aggressively argumentative, because it seems to me like you're at least tacitly claiming that your view is canonical so the burden of proof is on me. But, interpretive labor claims are really hard to adjudicate, so most likely we're each gonna have to do more than we think is fair if we're gonna resolve this.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T00:51:48.759Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are we talking about Atheist Religious Ceremonies or atheist religious ceremonies? The former does exist but the exemplars are few and not-great.

For the latter: weddings, birthdays, graduation ceremonies, funerals, certain kinds of concerts. I'm guessing this is the sort of thing Benquo was talking about although I'm not that confident.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T01:53:00.386Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't consider those religious.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T02:04:46.851Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Weddings and funerals are not religious? (You are right that bithdays and graduation ceremonies are not. "Certain kinds of" concerts had a lot of work being done by "certain kinds of", but there are concerts that are absolutely religious. I assume you'll call them "not atheist".

You were the one that first brought up "an atheist religious ceremony is a contradiction in terms" and I'm not really sure what your goal with the sentence was.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T02:19:04.422Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Religious weddings and funerals are common because most people are religious. Most weddings and funerals of atheists I know of were not atheist, because the principals weren't antitheist enough to care and their families wanted a religious ceremony. But, for example, Ozy and Topher Brennan's wedding was not religious.

And I don't know what kinds of concerts you're referring to at all, but yes, I expect so. Religious and atheist are antonyms.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T02:48:52.037Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is an argument about definitions, and I'm not sure what the point is.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T02:20:54.907Z · score: -13 (5 votes) · LW · GW

As a short argument: Good is to Evil as Atheist is to Religious. It's as weird to say that an atheist ceremony is religious as to say that an evil person is good.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T06:51:05.208Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think this argument is especially worth continuing, but my short rebuttal is "no. The opposite of theism is anti-theism. Religion != Theism, and atheism is not even obligated to have a strong opinion on theism apart from "not true."

comment by moridinamael · 2017-12-18T16:35:06.554Z · score: 38 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't participated in these events because I have kids, which sounds really dismal when you consider that part of the point of these solstice celebrations is allegedly to build community.

If you want to build community, then you should want rationalists to bring their children. And if you want rationalists to bring their children and not have that ruin the ceremony, then you have to provide for the existence of children. Churches have this figured out. Short-term childcare is provided onsite at any church I've been to. Usually this just takes the form of an adjacent room with a couple of trustworthy adults.

comment by ozymandias · 2017-12-18T18:57:48.887Z · score: 28 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I strongly agree and have messaged the organizers about personally arranging this.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T06:38:39.682Z · score: 32 (10 votes) · LW · GW

My overall thoughts on the arc (ignoring more logistical concerns that I've touched on elsewhere)

I liked each individual thing at Solstice. The overall connection between those things didn't work for me.

Things I particularly liked:

  • the concept of the Tarot card pairings was good, went even more interestingly than I expected (I figured we'd just mill about randomly, and we actually tried to solve it systematically in ways that felt appropriate to the event). Not everyone found their solstice-mate but a surprising number of people did, and I think it was an interesting enough activity to repeat in future years (at least until we get collectively good enough at it to solve it thoroughly), perhaps adding additional wrinkles to keep it fresh.
  • Brent's outfit was amazing, and the hall generally had a look/feel that was very appropriate (Solstice often fails to have the right visual aesthetics)
  • The opening song ("Orion"?) was beautiful and perfect, and I would be excited for it to become a Solstice mainstay.
  • The Gift We Give to Tomorrow could have used more polish and rehearsal, but there were some features about it that made it work for me better than past years. Previously I'd seen it done in the center of the Solstice, where it needs to be very solemn. But one of the things about the original is that it's a bit... whimsical. And this is the first time that whimsicality got to come out. (Also, I think my single favorite moment of the solstice was when Naive Rationalist Guy A says "I just wanna know how humans ended up so nice", and Brent turns and is like ".... ..... seriously?" (I imagined him with his eyebrow raised, although he was turned away from me. I think Brent is quite possibly the ideal person to play the Austere Rationalist). I'd like to see the rough concept here polished more.
  • I thought the Goddess of Everything else was very well orated - the original story didn't actually resonate with me and Blake's rendition of it touched me in ways I wasn't expecting.
  • People in the hall singing Brighter Than Today despite lack of lyrics.
  • I liked both the introduction and final speeches. ("we are so, soooo sorry")
  • I hadn't connected Goddess of Everything Else and Gift We Give to Tomorrow before as two pieces approaching the same themes from different angles. I'm not sure whether I think they complement each other or are just somewhat repetitive, but I was interested in having the comparison made more obvious at least once.

There were bunches of other things I liked (I don't think there was a single thing I disliked, although some things I wish were arranged in the program differently), but those were the highlights.

I didn't experience much of an arc (the energy/vibe felt approximately like a straight line, mostly serious with small bits of comedic commentary). Beyond the Reach of God is a speech that normally makes me feel-serious-things, but all the things before it felt... approximately as serious, so it didn't stand out.

The key issues for me were:

  • I really wanted to be able to sing along with stuff. For me 80% of the point of Solstice is being able to sing together. Different people have different takes on what good songs sound like and I'm not that particular about which ones we pick as long as someone choose them with some kind of aesthetic eye for tribal sacredness. I think the darkness section feels a lot more impactful if we've come from a section where people are jubilantly singing together.
  • In particular, I think a magical thing happens when you have several communal songs in a row (maybe with 30-second stories in between) that doesn't remotely happen when you're alternating "long speech" + song. It lets people open up and feel more comfortable singing. It creates a feeling of "these are my people."
  • I think there is something valuable to having the lights go from "fully on" to "half on" to "only the stage is lit" to "everything is in darkness." (and back). This can be logistically tricky depending on what kind of building you have, but is pretty important.
  • Having intermission is fine, but having it in the middle of the dark, sacred section is fairly mood-killing. I liked the Tarot-mini-game, but I'd prefer it at a time when we've hit a natural stopping point. Goddess of Everything Else should be the culmination of a section, not the first speech that draws people back in.
  • I think, ideally, there is some kind of moment in the middle, when the lights go out, that actually draws us together and feels like true ritual. I have also reliably failed to really create that moment in the past few NYC Solstices. I think it's one of the most important things to get right somehow, but it's a hard problem and I personally do not yet know what to do with it.

With minor nitpicks being:

  • I think the "I want to become stronger" concept fits well into the center speech slot, but the Tsuyoku Naritai speech in particular doesn't have the kind of sacred tone I want there - it's more whimsical and funny. If you want this particular speech, I think it should be earlier in the evening, and I suspect the better call is to write a speech more custom-tailored for the event.
  • Hymn Acxiom was beautiful but didn't especially fit the rest of the event.
  • I'm not sure the event mentioned Winter even once. This isn't obviously wrong, but seemed a bit noteworthy.
comment by gwillen · 2017-12-20T22:31:55.011Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW
I think there is something valuable to having the lights go from "fully on" to "half on" to "only the stage is lit" to "everything is in darkness." (and back). This can be logistically tricky depending on what kind of building you have, but is pretty important.

Regrettably, the lighting in Anna Head Alumnae Hall is kind of shit. (The lights on stage are "some flickering half-burnt-out CFLs with faders", and "two giant floodlights, one burned out, which can only be full-on or full-off and take several seconds to warm up." To add insult to injury, the main entrance hallway with the bathrooms had no working lights, which was why we had the entrance elsewhere.) I believe that due to the various deficiencies of this venue, it's nearly certain not to be used next year, though.

comment by spiralingintocontrol · 2017-12-19T16:07:41.522Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's called "Bold Orion." (I found it in your Giant Epic Rationalist Solstice Filk spreadsheet.)

I think Bold Orion was supposed to be the "winter-themed" song for the evening. But it's subtle and doesn't explicitly use the word "winter." edit: no wait, "Old Man Winter" is in the lyrics once. But just once.

comment by hamnox · 2017-12-19T04:40:32.132Z · score: 29 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This Solstice had me thinking on what I had imagined, when I first read about Solstice. When I was young and dreamed that we were going to Do This Rationally.

The organizers would have actual models about what brain buttons we were pushing to what effect—entangling the wellbeing effect of light with a specific narrative of human progress, evocative and non-representative stories, inducing existential fears and directing people to soothe them through social bonding with a particular crowd, deep rhythmic resonances that just hit straight to sys-1's sense of "really big", etc.—and share them ahead of time to enable informed consent.

The event would enshrine people's right and duty to conscientiously object at any point they feel the goals or epistemics have drifted in an undesirable direction:

  • put in anti-Asch-conformity plants
  • intentionally give up/change the most beloved part of the ritual from year to year to avoid status quo bias
  • give the audience 5 minutes to actually consider whether to do this thing or what they need to do instead
  • make a place for objectors to stand and be counted instead of silently bouncing out
    • invoke curiousity about (but do not demand on-the-spot justifications for) why.

This year was lovely performances, nice speeches, an interesting activity, a good evening of food and entertainment. But I did not get what I wanted.

I'm not sure how much of what I wanted is actually doable.

But when I hear loadbearing speeches lifted straight from the previous year's lineup—unchanged from the sequences, I wonder—have we learned anything new at all? I hear a tidy little myth like The Goddess of Everything Else and worry about false appearance of consensus.

I know the arc of Bay's Solstice has moved more towards emphasizing community than x-risk, yet I do not think we have changed our ritual tooling to match this shift. One or two extra interactions happened that day, but is the audience any more empowered to act as a community than it was before? How could we have reliably solved the Tarot Card problem? What conversations need to continue happening after Solstice and how will they happen?

It would be ludicrous to reinvent something of Solstice's magnitude every year. But where there's risk of your logistics and epistemics clashing, I think we should err more on the side of vastly simplifying events than on the side of sloppier epistemics.

I think next year I only want yin meditation, oaths sworn by candlelight, and a playlist of personally meaningful songs. Perhaps I'll do it with five friends and one lonely stranger.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T04:45:22.644Z · score: 29 (7 votes) · LW · GW
Perhaps I'll do it with five friends and one lonely stranger.

FYI, there's still time to do this this year.

It's worth noting that I created Big Solstice originally, specifically because I wanted people to do small intimate solstices (and it seemed easier to accomplish this with a big flagship event to give a large number of people a sense of what it meant).

Big Solstice turned out to be more of a thing than I meant it to. I think this is good - it serves a useful function. But I think it is quite appropriate for people to build personal Solstices for their closest friends that are more closely tailored, and Literal Solstice is a quite reasonable time to do this.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T05:29:49.879Z · score: 16 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think the Anti-Asch stuff is something that Ideal Platonic Tegmark 5 Solstice would have, but is in practice very hard. (rest of this comment is not disagreeing so much as outlining the hard-ness)

On Changing Stuff to Preserve Flexibility

Building up sacredness I think does require sacred things to accumulate that don't change every year. Part of the way they work is feeling familiar, like part of your childhood. (I did write the song Endless Light specifically so that one year we could swap out Brighter Than Today and practice letting go, but I think stuff like that should happen every 5-7 years)

Meanwhile, writing or learning new songs/speeches each year is in fact really hard, and I don't think it's sustainable. (the effort that goes into Solstice is immense. The effort that goes into Rationalist Seder, at least in NYC, is pretty close to "we roll out of bed and do a rationalist seder". (Daniel Speyer does write some new content each year, but at this point if he stopped doing that I think things would be totally fine)

So I'd currently lean towards "Individual Solstices would benefit from accumulating a set of stories and speeches that more or less work, that don't require you to reinvent everything every year", so that the only effort required is the logistics and some rehearsal.

On Standing Up and Calling Out Bullshit

Re: "you can stand up and say if something seems epistemically unvirtuous" - I think this can work for a small-scale Solstice. At Big Solstice... where part of the point is to bring everyone together even if they have disparate viewpoints...

The options I see are either "come up with something everyone agrees with" or "be okay with a huge amount of Solstice being delving into some kind of derailing conversation" or "maybe people flag when they disagree but don't get into a protracted conversation until afterwards."

(Hmm, actually that last one sounds maybe doable)

You could come up with a set of things that literally everyone agrees on, but I bet those things would end up being fairly bland and insufficient to actually inspire anyone. I think most forms of enabling disagreement would automatically trip over something and automatically ruin most kinds of sacredness you'd probably go for.

I think embedding Anti-Asch conformity into the thing somehow is important, but I think it's impractical to make it a huge part of the actual event. Things that I can imagine working include:

  • At the beginning, note specifically that we're doing the ritual thing, that we are telling stories/songs that are somewhat hacking our brains, that this only really works if you lean into it with your system 1, and that we're trying to do this wisely.
  • Yes, make it clear what's going to happen so people can opt in or out sanely.
  • Maybe encouage people to do some kind of "silent but visible disagreement" thing if they disagree (I'm not sure if this would work without ruining things)
  • Make a dedicated space for people afterwards to discuss / disagree / argue.
comment by hamnox · 2017-12-19T06:00:13.918Z · score: 17 (4 votes) · LW · GW
"maybe people flag when they disagree but don't get into a protracted conversation until afterwards."

yup that's what I meant

At the beginning, note specifically that we're doing the ritual thing, that we are telling stories/songs that are somewhat hacking our brains, that this only really works if you lean into it with your system 1, and that we're trying to do this wisely.
Yes, make it clear what's going to happen so people can opt in or out sanely.
Maybe encouage people to do some kind of "silent but visible disagreement" thing if they disagree (I'm not sure if this would work without ruining things)
Make a dedicated space for people afterwards to discuss / disagree / argue.

These all sound good

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T01:56:57.618Z · score: 28 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Thoughts on small children:

I'm personally pro-small-children-at-holiday events. However, there are a few types of child-friendly events that serve different purposes.

There's community events for everyone, in which the purpose of small children attending is so they can actually participate, learn, etc. This requires content that kids can actually engage with.

Then there's community events for adults, in which the purpose of accomodating small children is to make sure all the parents can come. This requires making sure there's a place for the kids where they don't disrupt the ceremony.

I'm personally more excited by the former, although I think both styles of events are worth doing. The thing that stuck out was that last weekend's event felt explicitly like a serious-for-adults event, without actually giving the kids a thing to do or a place to be, so the kids runnin around stuck out more for me than they would have if the event was more lively.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2017-12-19T02:17:06.688Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree. I feel like there's a lot of competing access needs stuff going on which is really driving me to think we should have two events clustered around "serious, in-group" and "fun, welcoming".

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T02:57:52.066Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My own take is that I very much want a "serious" event that is also fun and jovial (i.e. Act I is fun, Act II is serious/sad, Act III is serious/transcendant), where it is ingroupy but still the sort of thing you can invite your older non-rationalist parents and non-rationalist friends to so long as those people are reasonably tolerant, and understand that they're going to a weird ritual for a community that isn't fully theirs. (This is basically how NYC Solstice is run)

comment by spiralingintocontrol · 2017-12-18T18:58:27.214Z · score: 27 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for sharing. As is often the case, I find myself agreeing with you on most concrete points but unhappy with the overly negative tone you're taking. I hope that none of the core organizers are reading this now, because if I were them I'd want to take some more time to decompress before diving into criticism this harsh.

So, on to specific points:

I agree that this year was pretty scattershot, and didn't feel like the arc pulled together well. Have you talked to next year's organizer about helping out with creative direction? Running a Solstice and getting the tone of the arc right is pretty hard. Not just to say "Hey, don't complain if you can't help," because that's a legitimate thing to do - but I legitimately believe that having strong opinions about how the arc should be is really helpful for someone doing that work. And you clearly have strong opinions.

Similarly, my sense is that the quality of speeches is heavily dependent on having people available and willing to not only perform, but to write original speeches.

I think we really need to focus on what the organizers of Solstice can do to help prevent disruptions, rather than blaming the audience. One huge problem is that this year's venue has no acoustically isolated indoor space to take kids, let alone having onsite childcare. We really do need to find an alternate venue.

I'm not really sure what to do to prevent applause other than just saying "please hold your applause till the end." Maybe organizers of previous years could speak to how well that works, and/or other strategies they've used.

edit: One more thing re: candles: I wonder why we haven't used LED candles at venues that don't allow them? They're obviously not as good as the real thing, but I do think they add to the atmosphere - I've run a couple small Solstices where we used them, and it went well.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T20:20:21.111Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I would like to help organize/creatively direct, and put my name in for this year. Interpersonal reasons mean that helping with next year is probably not an option for me. Perhaps for 2019. It's also about time that the Bay Solstice experience some mitosis, since we've outgrown every reasonably-priced space; last year and this I've considered what I'd want in running a separate fairly large Solstice, but thing #1 is the Bayesian Choir performing, and I expect that would be a sticking point.

For speeches, I agree that getting very high quality needs original speeches. But I also thought that the speeches shared between 2016 and 2017 were less practiced and less heartfelt, which seems like a different problem.

I agree that there is no obvious intervention to deal with applause. I find it very frustrating since it is obvious to me that it's out of step with the arc of the night, and I don't know how to convey that feeling to everyone else or why they don't have it.

comment by gwillen · 2017-12-18T23:24:06.543Z · score: 22 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As a choir member -- I think it's not totally out of the question that choir could do two events, if they were not immediately next-day back to back, and if they were not seen as competing with each other but rather cooperating, and if choir members did not have to also do non-choir volunteering/logistics for both (several of us did for this one), and -- this may be the sticking point -- if the total number of songs choir had to learn in a season did not grow to exceed three, which would require coordination between events to reuse songs.

Also, to be very clear, I can't speak for choir. But I think we generally like singing at things, if the conditions are right for us to be able to do that.

(Although, my comment about volunteering might point to a larger problem, which is that there are probably not enough volunteers in the community to sustain two solstice events. As it is, there is trouble getting enough to sustain one.)

comment by Alicorn · 2017-12-20T02:02:14.951Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that we could do more things. I think we could even do four songs if there were enough repeats.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2017-12-18T21:45:30.434Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd encourage you to go ahead and consider running a second, more serious event. I don't know exactly how things will shape up next year, but I'd guess that even if the trend reverses and the event becomes stronger on ritual it won't be as much ritual as you would like. The existence of such an event is likely to also have an effect on how the next iteration of the current event gets planned, and if there's enough foreknowledge then the two events could play off each other very nicely offering different experiences with different expectations and giving people the opportunity to choose which they prefer or attend both for a broader range of experience.

Experimenting with something in Spring, Summer, and Fall could also do a lot to setup expectations for how the events could work together.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T22:13:12.254Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

More ritual is not my goal. I've said before that I consider ritual extremely dangerous, and to be minimized as much as possible without impeding the pursuit of the goal.

The goal, in my view, is community values affirmation, exemplified by the dawn-darkness-light arc. "Civilization has brought us a very long way. There is a lot still to do, but humanity is powerful and victory is possible." If the audience leaves with that reinforced as an alief, and a sense that they are among a community which shares it, that is success.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-18T22:59:16.531Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What is the class "ritual" that excludes "community values affirmation", done at regular intervals, with regular content, including a standard narrative arc specific to the event? That seems like a pretty central instance of ritual to me.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T23:24:01.653Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Rituals are system 1 techniques, usually group-based. They are means of bypassing analytical filters to work directly on alief.

Some amount of ritual is needed to make a larger ceremony work, but referring to the large ceremony as a ritual is more of a synecdoche than a clear description.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T01:38:41.687Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW

BTW I agree with you that rituals are really dangerous - in the sense that they're powerful, and anything powerful is dangerous. I disagree with what I take to be the tacit claim that we can get away with mostly not doing them.

Not intentionally doing rituals doesn't mean you don't get mind-hacked - it means you get mind-hacked by the dominant culture. For much of US history, a lot of the practical role of religion has been to organize resistance to obviously unfriendly mindhacks like hard liquor and gambling. Facebook is going to respond in kind if we unilaterally disarm.

Of course, most religions are perfectly happy to eat up all the energy they free up from other mindhacks. One of the things that's so cool about Quakerism is that it seems to devote most of its ritual optimization to protecting individuals against mindhacks, and comparatively little to exploiting them.

I would be much more sympathetic to an argument along the lines of "Wait, before you consider starting a Rationalist religion, you should really start a minimum viable Rationalist antireligion, so you have some room to think."

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T01:58:42.218Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't agree at all. In an atomized society, a zero-tolerance policy for getting mindhacked can and should be adopted.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T02:13:55.342Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know how I would begin to implement such a policy. Do you?

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T02:25:41.890Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think Bryan Caplan has succeeded.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T03:03:07.813Z · score: 18 (4 votes) · LW · GW

OK, Bryan Caplan is actually pretty impressive on this account, and doing things that are very clearly pointed in the right direction. I agree that that is a pretty good thing to try and do. It's pretty hard to do while living in community with people unless there's a shared understanding of what the thing is, and that it's valuable - so I think we should prioritize building that understanding.

Regardless of whether you call it a religion, I claim that it would be very useful to do the work of building a shared and accurate narrative that such a thing is difficult but attainable, embedding into the narrative information about what the high-value practices are that point towards achieving Bryan Caplan's state, and creating the social institutions that allow people to hold onto that narrative despite pervasive outside pressure to do otherwise.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T02:18:13.150Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that your definition is sufficiently broad that it would include all cases of presenting intuitively compelling evidence, and especially evidence about common knowledge and intent.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T01:03:38.640Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think "community values affirmation" falls pretty clearly in this category. It's just an obviously epistemically valid instance - it's a case of social proof being applied to exactly the circumstance our social proof detectors were designed for. Of course, you can mislead with ritual, just like you can mislead by lying. But I don't think I could or should get away with saying something like "saying words is really dangerous" and leave it at that, as an argument against some particular instance of saying words, or even general advice to talk more.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T02:10:54.959Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Saying that something is a community values affirmation is not saying much at all. That doesn't give you enough information to make a judgment. How and why you are affirming shared values, and the shape of the event in which you do it, can range from "bland expression of allegiance to the Unitarian Applause Lights" to a coercive public session of a personality cult. The details, not the broad goal, are the important thing.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T02:15:17.331Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How are the details important? In what way do they affect whether community values affirmation is a group-based system 1 technique for bypassing analytical filters to work directly on alief?

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T02:27:18.942Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You can do a values affirmation entirely with system 2. As much as possible, if you want to avoid being epistemically toxic, you should. The Unitarian hypothetical probably does; the personality cult certainly does not.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T02:56:35.268Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're using "system 1" and "system 2" to mean things very different from Kahneman's usage. In particular, I think you're using "system 2" to mean something in the direction of Sattva. Unfortunately, it seems like nearly everyone around here equivocates in this way.

Can you try again to tell me what a ritual is, tabooing "system 1"?

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T03:54:48.866Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Uh, replace 'system 1' with 'instinct-harnessing'? It's pretty integral.

Also, you keep using words in really weird ways, which has made this discussion extremely frustrating. I still don't know what you have meant by most of your statements. So I'm disengaging now.

comment by Vaniver · 2017-12-20T18:43:27.972Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Also, you keep using words in really weird ways, which has made this discussion extremely frustrating. I still don't know what you have meant by most of your statements. So I'm disengaging now.

I am curious what could have been different about this conversation (primarily on your end, since that's easier for you to control) that would have made this conversation less frustrating for you.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T04:12:53.066Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Substitute a short synonym" is really, really not what tabooing a word is:

When you find yourself in philosophical difficulties, the first line of defense is not to define your problematic terms, but to see whether you can think without using those terms at all.  Or any of their short synonyms.  And be careful not to let yourself invent a new word to use instead.  Describe outward observables and interior mechanisms; don't use a single handle, whatever that handle may be.
comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T05:26:38.285Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You basically asked me to define "good" while tabooing morality.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T05:32:22.332Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That's basically the sort of thing the concept of tabooing was invented for, though.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T05:34:30.413Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To prove when two words are closely connected enough that it's impossible to define one without the other? I don't agree.

comment by hamnox · 2017-12-19T06:03:11.258Z · score: 15 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The point is to stop talking about words, and start talking about reality.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T04:15:53.054Z · score: 2 (5 votes) · LW · GW

EDITED TO SAY: I feel frustrated that you're only mentioning that there were specific word usages that were unclear to you now, concurrent with expresing intent to disengage, that you didn't bother to ask clarifying questions earlier, and that you still aren't bothering to tell me what usage specifically was unclear to you.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T05:36:31.741Z · score: -15 (7 votes) · LW · GW

[DELETED]

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T06:18:26.932Z · score: 23 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It's an honest expression of frustration. I've put in a substantial amount of work to try and bridge a communication gap, but ultimately that's not going to be possible without some amount of help from you. So it's really frustrating to me when you don't ask about any specifics, and only mention the mere fact that I'm using some words in ways you consider weird concurrent with intent to disengage.

Sorry for the tone, though, it seems unhelpful in hindsight. I've edited the comment to be more forthright and less emotionally loaded.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T21:04:27.358Z · score: -6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty much all of it.

comment by lahwran · 2017-12-19T01:49:06.402Z · score: 25 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I was going to write my thoughts here, but I am tickled to find that I would simply be copy and pasting the main post. Agreements:

  • Clapping kills the mood, and is by far the #1 problem I'd name. People being uncomfortable not clapping is not significantly different from people being uncomfortable participating in a ritual; it's what solstice is there for, so let's actually do it.
  • Quiet children being welcome during the ceremony seems reasonable, but [specific child who hasn't consented to be named] is an unusually loud kid. I noticed that, having other children there, it wasn't children in general, it was this small person specifically. I like the proposal of a kids room for loud small beings, I don't want to just kick small folks out.
  • Having a "solve this!" challenge in the middle made me suddenly go from trying to be solemn to trying to do a thing, and worried that I might fail. Which combined badly with
  • Being in a large crowd in a highly acoustically reflective space made it very hard to have conversations, on top of the feeling of rushed socializing: everyone is trying to find the best person to talk to, and so I feel like I'm taking my friend's time up if I try to talk to them when they could be meeting people; and this doubly so if I try to talk to someone new, because they don't even know me. This makes solstice completely fail as a community gathering for me. I was only able to interact with people I already knew. If we were going to make a community gathering, why not optimize for reducing friction in getting to know people better?

comment by PDV · 2017-12-19T02:03:56.726Z · score: 20 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have confidence that it was just [Munchkin] who was the problem, among kids. At past events that has been true, but there were more kids of an age with them this time, and so I specifically avoided rushing to that judgment. (Not that it kept me from getting yelled at on Facebook.)

I do think that the overall argument about kids at events has, up to this point, been a disguised referendum on [Munchkin] specifically, basically every time. Mentioning this did and honestly still does feel unspeakably rude because there's basically no way to have that discussion without it being a direct social attack on something intensely personal for them and their parental figures.

[EDIT NOTE: This previously contained a particular kid's name. Benquo pointed out that they have not and probably can't yet consent to that, so I have replaced the real name with [Munchkin]. I will privately share the kid's name on request, if it isn't clear from context.]

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T02:50:05.819Z · score: 18 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is actually a hard-to-avoid adverse consequence of the thing being handled like a (shoestring) theatrical production rather than a community event.

If the community had some sort of coordination mechanism for making Solstice happen that included some sort of venue for sharing info, then there would be a natural private venue to bring up how a thing affected you, find out to what extent there were contravening interests that made it difficult to accommodate yours, and search for a solution. But if the one, independent, overworked event producer wants to do things in a way that doesn't meet your needs, you don't really have recourse aside from escalating to a venue like this one. This seems like a corollary to Raemon's post about melting gold.

comment by lahwran · 2017-12-19T02:35:12.442Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Mentioning this did and honestly still does feel unspeakably rude because there's basically no way to have that discussion without it being a direct social attack on something intensely personal for her and her parental figures.

Right, that's why I wanted to not just say "kids bothered me"; no point in hiding it in subtext when it's just as awkward. I edited out name, though.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T02:21:58.226Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW · GW
People being uncomfortable not clapping is not significantly different from people being uncomfortable participating in a ritual; it's what solstice is there for, so let's actually do it.

I think there's actual disagreement on whether Solstice is or should be a ritual in the relevant sense, and disagreement about clapping is secretly disagreement about this.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T02:40:24.094Z · score: 12 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I mean, I'm pretty pro Solstice-is-a-ritual and I definitely disagree with the OP on clapping to at least some degree.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T02:42:51.162Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect you actually mean something subtly different than lahwran does by "ritual". But I feel like I'm going out on a limb a little there, this is at least some evidence against my claim.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T03:00:51.671Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would phrase it as "it seems likely that lahwran wants a subtly different kind of ritual than I do", and the subtle-distinction of my sentence vs yours seems important to me.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T03:04:03.049Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How would you characterize the different kinds of ritual?

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T05:11:17.788Z · score: 19 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I could describe the specifics, but the main thing is just... ritualspace is big, and rather than trying to define what True Ritual means very specifically, it's better to just... acknowledge that it is big.

Ritual is more of a cluster than something clearly defined, but I'd say the central things of properly done ritual are:

  • some kind of sacrifice (minimum viable sacrifice is time, which is a bit of a cop-out but not unreasonable. Solstice strives for a sacrifice of the form "experience things that are sad/unsettling")
  • symbolic and emotional power that transforms the participants (this requires their awareness and assent)

I'm not sure if everyone in this thread would agree with that definition, but I'm guessing it's pretty close. I very much want Solstice to have those things.

Clapping can push against that... but I don't think there's anything intrinsic to that, or that the effect is so strong as to destroy all ritualconcepts.

Clapping does ruin the solemn darkness, and certain kinds of sacredness. But my ideal Solstice has at least some songs that end with a bunch of excited energy (as well as appreciation) built up in me and clapping seems like an okay way to express that in those moments.

Clapping, for cultural reasons, does tend to send the message that you are an audience rather than participants. I think this is particularly the case when you're in the "seating + stage" setup we usually have. But even this varies:

Imagine a Solstice that's more like a Viking Banquet, where part of the thing that's happening is we're honoring the people who have done great things this year, and the clapping isn't a "we are an audience thing" so much as a "we are a community honoring our people" thing. (Relatedly, in a hypothetical solstice where the audience was always singing along, where they were seated in a circle, where there were no visible lead performers, I can imagine clapping happening that feels like "we just did a cool thing together and we're excited" rather than "good job people on stage who are Not Us")

Basically I think the clapping is a factor, just not an overwhelming one if the rest of Solstice is done right.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T05:50:57.468Z · score: 20 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Meta: I'm unsure how I feel about having this all publicly. I initially was going to say "I really think Solstices should have a feedback form set up to launch immediately afterwards so that you can get accurate feedback quickly." This has some properties:

  • nobody anchors off each other (or overcompensates for anti-anchoring)
  • by default you hear feedback on a the single-best and worst things people can remember. The feedback you get from a formal survey gives you a better sense of how the thing actually was overall. It tells you which parts were "okay but not great", and you see a lot of moderate positive feedback that you'll probably miss by default.
  • You avoid a weird giant public meta thread

On the flipside... you gain a weird giant public meta thread. Whether this is good or bad I think depends on the organizers - some people probably could really use a break before dealing with public opinion. I know I personally usually prefer to straight up find out what people liked and didn't like and start thinking about how to do a better job next year.

The giant meta-thread also serves a function of actually giving people who haven't been to Solstice yet a better sense of what it's like. Comments beget more comments which draw attention, and keep the thing in the public zeitgeist more.

comment by spiralingintocontrol · 2017-12-19T06:11:47.830Z · score: 17 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Nitpick: might give people a slightly better sense of what it's like, but mostly it's a meta-discussion that's gone way off the rails and has little to do with what actually happened on Saturday, and is more about What Is Or Should Be The Ultimate Idea Of Solstice, Really.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T06:40:28.263Z · score: 15 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This actually suits me fine - I'm thinking mostly of people who've never been to Solstice and aren't sure why they might want to. Talking about Platonic Ideal Solstice gives them a sense of what we're striving for, and the surrounding discussion gives a sense of where things are currently at.

comment by PDV · 2018-01-10T00:53:02.013Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think I would have created this post even if there was a feedback form, specifically because it is public. A feedback form response goes only to the organizers (if that), and is unlikely to get to the ears of anyone else planning anything in the future.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-18T22:51:33.278Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Thoughts on applause:

I agree that it is disruptive (the most obvious part was after "Sound of Silence"), but there is a weirder problem that needs solving to address that.

In years where people've explicitly banned applause, my reaction after a song that was really good is not to go "okay, the song is over and I feel sacred", it's "I really want to applaud right now and I can't and I feel awkward." This is exacerbated if there is a 30-90 second wait in between songs/stories as new performers get on stage.

I think people generally want to applaud for things that they liked.

So I think my preferred solution is to have an opening section of the night that's not attempting to be solemn per se, where applause is reasonable. Then, have a shorter section (30-45 minutes) that's explicitly "okay guys we are doing the sacred thing now, please do not applaud during this section. Then end with songs that are sacred but uplifting/inspirational in a way where applause is fine, and so feels natural.

And meanwhile, in sections (whether 30-45 minutes or the entire event) that you're not supposed to applaud in, I think it's really important to have the transition from one act to the next be immediate, so that I'm not sitting there wishing I could applaud and not having anything else to do.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T23:18:17.408Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Huh. I personally think the 10-60 seconds of nothing is the thing being disrupted. You need to have a space for the emotional weight to hit the audience and stick, before you move on.

Religious events don't have this problem so it's clearly solvable. I guess that points to creating some alternate outlet for reactions?

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T00:39:24.174Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My personal take is that I want that ‘wait alone in the darkness with my thoughts’ thing exactly once, and I want it to feel on purpose rather than because-of-logistics.

comment by Benquo · 2017-12-19T00:59:00.057Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Holy shit, television did terrible things!

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T01:00:21.913Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I can be persuaded that "more than once" is the right amount, but if so it should still be something that looks deliberately intended, not an awkward waiting for people to shuffle onto/off stage.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-18T21:49:35.799Z · score: 17 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I have a feeling this will become the defacto share-thoughts-on-Bay-Solstice-2017 thread, which seems mostly fine but kinda sad to have the explicit title "Bay Solstice flopped". I'd be interested in sharing my thoughts here (positive and negative) but would feel better doing so if the title was something more like "Thoughts on Bay Solstice 2017" or whatever. (This is not to say I think PDV is obligated to do that, just noting this as a thing to consider)

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T21:58:59.039Z · score: 14 (5 votes) · LW · GW

That seems likely, so I have changed the title.

comment by gwillen · 2017-12-18T23:33:25.131Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think this post is only on PDV's blog -- it might be good for it to get moved to the frontpage if it's going to serve that role? Although I'm not totally sure I'm using the new site right.

comment by PDV · 2017-12-18T23:49:05.066Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I believe there is at least a notional rule that community-focused posts do not get frontpaged.

comment by Raemon · 2017-12-19T00:42:20.001Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes - this is precisely the sort of community post that should be findable-to-people-in-the-community but not front and center and looking confusing to people who are not yet involved.