State of the Solstice 2014

post by Raemon · 2014-12-23T06:18:46.346Z · score: 37 (37 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 48 comments

Contents

  Washington Post Article
  Building a Better Solstice
  What makes a Secular Solstice™?
None
48 comments

This'll be the first of a collection of posts about the growing Secular Solstice. This post gives an overview of what happened this year. Future posts will explore what types of Solstice content resonates with which people, what I've learned about how Less Wrong culture intersects with other cultures, and updates I've made about ritual as it relates to individuals as well as movement building.


For the past three years, I've been spending the last several months of each year frantically writing songs, figuring out logistics, and promoting the New York Winter Solstice celebration for the Rationality and Secular communities in NYC.

This year... well, I did that too. But I also finally got to go a Solstice that I *wasn't* responsible for. I went to the Bay Area on December 13th, traveled straight from the airport to the dress rehearsal...

...and I found a community coming together to create something meaningful. I walked into the hall and found some 30 or so people, with some stringing together lights, some people tying decorations around candles, a choir singing together... it felt very much like a genuine holiday coming together in an organic fashion.

(There was some squabbling about how to best perform particular songs... but it felt *very* much to me like real holiday squabbling, whenever a family of creative people with strong opinions on things get together, and I found it surprisingly heartwarming)

This year there were four large Solstices in the US and one small but intense 3-day event in Leipzig. Each of them had a somewhat different audience and a different focus. Each was put on by local communities who I encouraged to put their own spin on it, bringing a mix of new and "traditional" songs. I've gotten some interesting feedback on which parts of Less Wrong culture resonate with which people.

Solstices that I actively collaborated with and/or consulted on include:

Bay Area - The most explicitly Less Wrong-y and transhumanist Solstice this year. Approximately 130 attendees. I suspect had the largest choir leading songs. About half of the audience seemed to be from what I'd consider the collective Rationality community (i.e. EA/Less Wrong/CFAR) and half were "friends of friends" who were less Less Wrong-y.

(If you went to the Bay Solstice, you can fill out the anonymous feedback form here. If you don't have much time, at least answering the first couple questions would be helpful)

Seattle - Run by a mix of Less Wrong and EA types. It was a shorter ceremony but included additional activities like improv games, Non-Violent Communication workshops and other ways to break the ice and help people bond. There between 50-60 attendees.

(Feedback form for Seattle)

San Diego - This was put on by Sunday Assembly and the local Coalition of Reason (a collection of secular/humanist/atheist groups), with no Less Wrong connection at all. They also had fewer songs, more stories and other group activities. This one had about 100 adult attendees and about 20 children. (Probably the most family friendly of the bunch).

Leipzig - This was a three day workshop, with around 20 people who worked collaboratively to design and run a ritual together, along with some highlight songs from the "traditional" Brighter Than Today program.

New York - I ran this personally, co-sponsored by Sunday Assembly and Ethical Culture. My goal with the event was to highlight important ideas I've learned from Less Wrong and Effective Altruism, framed in the language of the general secular movement. I also wanted to address particular issues affecting the New York Rationality community. We had 180 attendees, about half from the Rationality/EA communities and half from various secular communities.

(If you went to the NYC Solstice, you can fill out the anonymous feedback form here. Again, if you don't have much time, it's still helpful if you answer the first couple questions)

Washington Post Article

I was put in touch with a reporter who was excited to cover the Solstice's growth as secular holiday. She ended up attending the one in San Francisco. (We talked beforehand about how the Bay Area Solstice would be put on by a local community with a lot of Silicon Valley tech-entrepreneurship-types, how it'd likely have more of a focus on technology, and that they'd be trying out some sillier songs that I wasn't sure would work at a more mainstream event. She noted that she would focus on covering the growth of the holiday as a whole rather than focusing on the particular execution at the Bay Area event).

She wrote an article for the Religious News Wire, which was picked up by the Washington Post website among other places. The article was extremely positive (although it mistakenly attributes some speeches to me which were actually given by locals). I mentioned that to her and she edited the original, but the Washington Post had already picked up the earlier version.

A brief snippet:

“We live in a world beyond the reach of God,” one of the service’s many readers said as 130 or so people gathered huddled over white candles in glass votives at Humanist Hall — a purple-painted house near downtown Oakland. “It is a hard universe. If we want to build a softer universe we will have to do it ourselves.” As a choir broke into “Here Comes the Sun,” an inscription painted on the wall beamed down upon the gathered, “The world is my country, to do good is my religion.”


Building a Better Solstice

I deliberately encourage experimentation with the format - real ritual evolves, and if we want great ritual (in particular, great ritual-for-your-particular-local-community, as opposed to great ritual-for-the-NYC-crowd that you're trying to emulate), we want to iterate faster, see what resonates with people, and let the less interesting variations die out. 

This year I'm working to ensure each local solstice does a feedback form and sends it out as soon as possible. I want to get a sense of what things resonate (or don't) fairly reliably across the world and what things happened to work for particular groups or small sample sizes.

There's an obvious problem that a) the most likely people to fill out the survey are people who like the event, b) the second most likely people to fill out the survey are people who hate the event. If you felt the event was "meh" (and perhaps don't want to fill out an entire survey because you don't care that much), it'd still be helpful if you at least briefly answered the first couple questions, so we have a broader sense of what works.

(And again, we definitely want negative feedback, in particular from people who want *something* similar to the Solstice but didn't like the execution of it)

One thing that's clear is that transhumanist and LW content is polarizing, even within the Less Wrong crowd - some people really love it and it makes them feel connected and inspired. Others find it very offputting. It's possible that the best solution is to have multiple events that cater to different people. But I've also found it's very possible (albeit harder - it took me a couple years of practice) to make an event that works on multiple levels, resonating with the mainstream secular community with Easter eggs that are funny/sad/inspiring to people in the LW or Transhuman spheres.

Another thing that's perhaps more surprising: people who don't know what Less Wrong or Transhumanism are at all tend to be perfectly fine with Less Wrong and a lot of Transhumanist content and can be pretty oblivious to even fairly direct anti-death messages. It's the people who know about the memesphere and either don't like it or are worried about their friends not liking it that are most uncomfortable.  

What makes a Secular Solstice™?

So, if experimentation is a core element of the whole endeavor, what makes something a Secular Solstice as opposed to a solstice-that-is-secular? Or any other non-theistic holiday? The previous attempt at a humanist holiday, HumanLight, hasn't really caught on, and I think that's largely because it's deliberately flexible - you can celebrate it on whatever day you want, with whatever traditions you want, so long as it ties in with humanity-as-a-force-for-good.

Being too flexible or generic makes for a watered-down experience that nobody especially likes, or a collection of random experiences that don't have much in common with each other.

So my answer is this:

The core element of the Brighter Than Today Solstice is the emotional arc. It begins fun and upbeat. It turns somber, then sad, before turning uplifting and inspirational. It should lead people from light to darkness to light again, both literally and metaphorically.

The single most important image people should imagine, when they are visualizing the solstice, is the Candlelit Story and the Moment of Darkness - a moment when all but one candle has been extinguished, and a story is told about the hardships we've faced and the hardships yet to come. The story should end giving people reason to hope, without resorting to comforting falsehoods.

Then that candle is extinguished, and people sit in the darkness for a minute before the lights are rekindled and hope returns in earnest.

The particular songs I've written and found are not essential, nor is even the idea of music itself necessarily. (Although I highly recommend it, and I highly recommend finding songs that fill similar purposes. You might not be a fan of the actual song Brighter Than Today, but it's very helpful to have some kind of emotionally uplifting piece that's rooted in an evidence-based worldview that lifts you out of the darkness).

Some people actively dislike music or group singing, but still like the stories that take them through that arc. Some people like "preachy" content that gives people a call to action, and some people hate it and prefer more casual personal stories.

I'm not sure how this holiday will evolve to best meet the needs of the rationalist community and the wider world, but there are many paths I can imagine it taking. I'm glad that the core concept has resonated with so many people, and looking forward to working together to make it better each year.

48 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Alicorn · 2014-12-24T00:49:10.086Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

The choir associated with the Bay Area Solstice (the Bayesian Choir) meets year-round (though we stepped up the schedule and acquire some extra singers close to Solstice), at my house. If you would like to be in it, you probably can, let us know and we'll get you on the mailing list and in the Google drive. When we're not prepping for Solstice we do other songs (including some goddier choral stuff) for fun.

comment by chaosmage · 2014-12-24T14:13:29.371Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

A brief rundown of the Leipzig Solstice! There were only 13 of us, not 20, due to a couple of people cancelling or not arriving. As is usual in these kinds of situations, the group size turned out to be perfect in retrospect.

On Friday, we arrived, set up things, cooked, ate, did two funny icebreaker games, sang our first song together, collected things to do the next day, and collapsed into a two-hour cuddle pile that might have broken the record for most number of people ever piled on a single mattress without any limbs sticking out because the floor was lava. We were sober, I swear.

On Saturday after breakfast and preparations, we had the celebration in three parts (Light, Dark, Light) from something like 3pm to 1am, with one meal in each of the light parts. We created the Solstice 2014 tumblr in order to be more connected to the rest of humanity. Then we saw Tim Minchin and the Heritage Orchestra which gave everyone who still needed to prepare a ritual time to do so, and entertained everyone else. Then we sang, did a meditation on our ability to call for assistance involving Spotted Hyenas, the infamous Pinkie Pie ritual, the very effective intimacy-building CFAR exercise "Hot Seat" , and "The Gift We Give To Tomorrow".

The dark part consisted of a very clever NLPish meditation on leaving behind in the ending year some things we didn't need anymore, the haunting "Song of Dissociation", "Adrift in Space and Time", "Beyond the Reach of God" and the Moment of Darkness. We got back into light wiith my personal highlight of the event, a (slightly altered) "This is a Dawn". After the "A Thousand Stars" song, we had food and feedback before building a huge pillow fort and in it, you guessed it, a cuddle pile. At some point the wine cooler came out and my memory gets hazy at that point, but apparently four guests were hardcore enough to go see the sunrise at something like 8am froom a nearby tower.

Sunday, between some people leaving early and others sleeping late, was mostly a long and lovely chat that took the entire day. We covered many topics, mostly LWish and personal, and built some good friendships I hope. And we're keeping the pillow fort.

The emerging feedback consensus was that the light-dark-light structure worked well, that the series of "Adrift in Space and Time", "Beyond the Reach of God", Moment of Darkness and "This is a Dawn" was most excellent especially in that particular order, and that the gratitude (Pinkie Pie) and leaving something behind parts were also especially valuable and worth keeping.

Overall, I think the great level of intimacy in our small group made a greater difference to the other Solstices than the length of the event in itself. Almost everbody actively contributed, by reading something, leading a song or a game, or cooking. I'd love to do it again next year, and I think most or possibly all of our guests would agree.

comment by Raemon · 2014-12-25T07:14:27.381Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for writing all this up!

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-23T15:59:15.394Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I really enjoyed our Solstice in Leipzig.

We had a Pinkie Pie ritual, that transcended the notion of secularism a bit.

We started in a circle with a giant Pinky Pie in the middle. In a circle everyone gave an example of how they make other people happy and how other people make them happy. When a person finished we pushed ballons around. When the circle finished we sang the Pinky Pie song, while putting the corresponding video with text with a projector on the wall. After we finished singing, the giant Pinky Pie was given as a Christmas gift to a 4-year old girl in attendence who was the kid of a couple that participated.

We might have violated two of the 10 commandments (You shall have no other gods before me/You shall not have any false idols) with it.

Given Pinky Pie to the child had a bit of a feeling of ritual animal sacrifice and the authentic happiness of the 4-year old made the whole ritual real and down to earth.

comment by Raemon · 2014-12-23T16:13:07.595Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's adorable. I'm interested in hearing more about how Leipzig went.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-24T14:26:32.760Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I really enjoyed the event. There was a lot of deep talk and cuddling. It's not an experience that's easy to summarize.

To give you a sense of the location:

One the one wall of the living room where we eat, there was a poster with "What can be destroyed by truth should be", on the other side a poster showing a person sitting down and meditating where the chakras were marked in color.

A dreamcatcher hanging above a poster of what I would guess to be a Hindu god. Then there's the big plush Pinky Pie next to it. Eres the owl, known to those who attend the LW study hall, is along as well.

We sang songs, listened to texts and meditated. We turned things we want to let go off by writing a label for them on a piece of paper and burning it in a candle.

We have room for improvement as far as structure goes. On Sunday two people were throwing up. Strong emotional activity + Alcohol in the evening + Staying up till sunrise aren't a good combination.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-24T11:52:09.878Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We started in a circle with a giant Pinky Pie in the middle. In a circle everyone gave an example of how they make other people happy and how other people make them happy. When a person finished we pushed ballons around. When the circle finished we sang the Pinky Pie song, while putting the corresponding video with text with a projector on the wall. After we finished singing, the giant Pinky Pie was given as a Christmas gift to a 4-year old girl in attendence who was the kid of a couple that participated.

We might have violated two of the 10 commandments (You shall have no other gods before me/You shall not have any false idols) with it.

Yes, you did, but PLEASE SEND HELP I'M DYING OF LAUGHTER.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-24T13:49:48.937Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Transmitting the sense of seriousness of the ritual over the internet isn't easy ;)

If you want a taste earlier that day we did photos, we posted online them online: http://solstice2014.tumblr.com/

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-28T21:02:46.485Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, several days have passed, and so at last has the impulse to go put the Smile Song on repeat on YouTube.

comment by notsonewuser · 2014-12-23T21:45:44.923Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your comment ends with an incomplete sentence.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-24T09:01:35.065Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, I removed the incomplete one.

comment by ozziegooen · 2014-12-25T05:56:01.031Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I was one of the people who expressed opinion against the LW content. In general I liked the event, but found those parts off-putting. I'm really surprised that people new to it seemed so oblivious.

Perhaps one reason why people who were familiar with that content were hesitant about showing it to others, was that they were afraid it would reflect poorly on them. If I brought a bunch of 'regular' friends to a 'transhumanist' meetup that I told them I was somewhat involved in, I would be really be afraid of them getting a poor impression of transhumanism.

It's kind of like taking your significant other to meet your parents. You're significant other may not mind your parents quirks (or vice versa), but you notice every one and horrified for them.

Another thing that comes to mind is that they some of the 'serious' talk was controversial even among this crowd. Personally I really don't believe that humans should live forever, for example. Here the people who care the most about it would also care the most about discrepancies. For instance, a very devout Catholic would be the first to get angered by what they feel to be a wrong or mistaken representation of Catholicism at what seems like a very sacred event.

Overall though, thanks for getting feedback and writing this all up! I'm really interested in how it progresses.

comment by therufs · 2014-12-25T17:08:27.782Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Other than human immortality, do you remember specific cringeworthy quirks?

comment by ozziegooen · 2014-12-25T18:49:02.351Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

For one, I don't think that much anti-religion talk is needed at an atheist celebration. It could be about the things we are passionate in instead (like science, the representation of which I liked), but I feel uncomfortable 'dissing' religion.

I have a lot of friends who believe in religions and know of many, many smart people who were religious. Therefore I find a lot of anti-religious writing to easily edge on the offensive, especially when said in the context of a celebration. (Much of it to me sounds a lot like "Obviously smart people shouldn't be religious, anyone who is is stupid", which I feel is incorrect and arrogant). It's a sensitive topic, and hard to do well, so I would recommend just in general avoiding it.

But also, I just find it repetitive. I'm already an atheist (agnostic), I was a long time ago. That's like a really, really basic thing in my philosophical understanding. Hearing someone provide an argument for atheism is like hearing them explain addition. By this point it's kind of uninteresting. I realize that some people here apparently had really important experiences discovering atheism, but I didn't.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-26T13:55:41.542Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The "Beyond the reach of God" text partly does advocate atheism but it does more than that. It's not like explaining addition. It also about challenging people who believe that democracy is always good and in general things will turn out well. It's about the idea that nothing will protect us from an X-risk wiping out humanity and we have to take responsiblity for preventing that to happen.

As far as the songs go, "God Wrote the World" doesn't seem to me like it's very offensive.

Did you have at your solstice other texts that fit into that frame that you consider to be problematic?

It could be about the things we are passionate in instead (like science, the representation of which I liked),

The light/dark/light structure does call for speeches that aren't completely positive in the middle. Ray's book doesn't speak only about fun celebration but says that a solstices should be scary.

It's a sensitive topic, and hard to do well, so I would recommend just in general avoiding it.

Avoiding sensitive issues is a recipe for being boring and shallow.

comment by Raemon · 2014-12-27T18:48:14.632Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The light/dark/light structure does call for speeches that aren't completely positive in the middle. Ray's book doesn't speak only about fun celebration but says that a solstices should be scary.

It's worth noting that if someone has a negative reaction to an event, "but the Ray/the-book says we should do it this way" isn't actually much of a counter-argument. If everyone was reacting negatively to the darkness I'd change the darkness.

It may be that Jayson just isn't the target audience for what the Solstice is trying to do. I have a feeling this was not so much about things getting negative/dark, but that they were dark in a way specifically reminiscent of Christian mass. (Being somewhat preachy and advocating transhumanist ideals that slot in, for good or for ill, very cleanly where the "live forever in heaven" elements are slotted out).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-27T19:39:47.528Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's worth noting that if someone has a negative reaction to an event,

He hadn't. He said he liked the event in general.

"but the Ray/the-book says we should do it this way" isn't actually much of a counter-argument. If everyone was reacting negatively to the darkness I'd change the darkness.

If someone watches a horror movie and then criticises the movie for raising uncomfortable emotions, that criticism misses the point.

If you analyse indivudal elements of an event without looking at the purpose of why those elements are there, that often leads to flawed conclusions.

Raising uncomfortable emotions to release them at the end, can make the dark portion feel uncomfortable but make the following light phase feel awesome.

comment by Raemon · 2014-12-27T19:54:52.793Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, I totally think you can argue the darkness is necessary. But I was made uncomfortable by the argument "Ray said it's necessary" as opposed to "it's useful because it helps appreciate the light."

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-27T20:10:53.601Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I had the impression that he considered uncomfortable feelings to have been created accidently.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-12-30T17:54:18.624Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Just to clarify, Beyond the Reach of God isn't what I felt was overly disrespectful (it seems more like frank disagreement, which I think is still compatible with respect). It was the song that had a chorus of "goddamn".

Also, my comment about cargo-culting church services wasn't meant as a criticism. Often cargo-culting something known to work is the best you can do as a first step (at least until more data comes in). I have no better ideas and think the planners did a better job than I could have done (by far).

In short, I don't think we should mock/disrespect those people/institutions, because (besides being mean for little benefit) it makes it hard to take them seriously enough to learn from them the things they are currently doing better (of which there are several).

comment by Raemon · 2015-01-06T20:36:58.411Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Huh. That song struck me as so silly and almost content-free (it's vaguely bemoaning that winter sucks, I think) that I didn't even think of it as something that might be controversial (except for being silly and almost content free).

But it was not a very popular song (different people had different criticisms, some more addressable than others), so I wouldn't be too worried about it next year.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-30T22:13:50.081Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It was the song that had a chorus of "goddamn".

Okay, I can understand that sentiment. It doesn't seem to be one of the songs published in http://humanistculture.bandcamp.com/album/brighter-than-today-a-secular-solstice

I think it makes more sense to focus songs on our positive shared values for the light periods and on uncomfortable issues like death in the dark period.

comment by therufs · 2014-12-27T17:57:04.524Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For what it may be worth, I've historically been pretty cranky about badmouthing religion, and I don't remember anything triggering my "harumph" reaction. (Edit: I went to Solstice in NY.)

This said, my current model of reality is that the atheist community in the US is marginalized to some degree, and it isn't the responsibility of a marginalized community to abide by the expectations of its marginalizers.

comment by ozziegooen · 2014-12-27T20:16:23.685Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think we agree a lot here, but that last sentence sounds to me like, "If someone is marginalized at all, they should feel free to act like a jerk".

I don't think any of us think that we need to completely abide by their expectations. But I think that having respect for another group and being careful to be respectful to them shouldn't be an unreasonable ask.

comment by therufs · 2014-12-27T21:08:19.459Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

As a guideline, I don't think anyone should be generally jerky. And I am on board with mutual respect.

I probably should have said something more like "It isn't the responsibility of a marginalized community to abide by the expectations of its marginalizers in its own space." In particular, I see a need for spaces where people can express their own experiences without censorship or self-censorship or having to explain themselves.

By way of illustration: I used to be one of those people who ran around nontheist blogs insisting that anyone with complaints to level about Christians or Christianity be excruciatingly specific that not every Christians was a terrible person (or whatever). Then #NotAllMen happened, and lo, I was ashamed of myself, and stopped doing that.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-12-25T20:53:40.945Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that much anti-religion talk is needed at an atheist celebration.

I too found this particularly jarring given the event was mostly cargo-culting Protestant Christian church services in the hope that it would allow the formation of a community similar in strength, but we don't yet know what it is about those institutions that allow them to form such communities.

Overall, the people were extremely welcoming and helpful (even more so than expected), but haven't quite figured out the whole "community" thing (something most people were honest about and seemed to be taking very seriously).

comment by therufs · 2014-12-27T16:51:07.254Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

haven't quite figured out the whole "community" thing

What would have been different if they had figured out the whole community thing?

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-12-27T18:24:10.344Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What would have been different if they had figured out the whole community thing?

Fewer people telling me about their deep depression (of course, maybe there is no difference between Bay Area rationalists and a typical Protestant congregation, but the rationalists are just more honest about it). Fewer people telling me about how they moved to the Bay Area to join a rationalist community, but that it doesn't really exist yet, so they are trying hard to create one.

comment by therufs · 2014-12-27T19:54:09.570Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds to me like voluntarily divulging private information, which I tend to interpret as a strong indication that the divulger is inviting me into community with them.

Maybe unless the content of the depression talk along the lines of "I'm depressed there's no/not more community"?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-27T15:45:35.772Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

but we don't yet know what it is about those institutions that allow them to form such communities.

As a first guess: couldn't it be the fact that they explicitly claim to put their community members in touch with cosmic, existential truths larger than their own lives and daily concerns?

comment by therufs · 2014-12-27T19:56:46.065Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The closest analogy I can think of is that it's like being part of an enormous LARP with millions of participants and thousands of years of history.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-12-27T18:33:02.575Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As a first guess: couldn't it be the fact that they explicitly claim to put their community members in touch with cosmic, existential truths larger than their own lives and daily concerns?

It could very well be that, yes.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-27T12:47:22.948Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Trying to do community by being welcoming and helpful, does have it's sense of cargo-culting, but to me it's seems like a reasonable first try.

comment by therufs · 2014-12-27T19:58:34.546Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Trying to do community by being welcoming and helpful, does have it's sense of cargo-culting

Er ... does it? I guess you can form community by deserting all the subjects on an island or something ...

edit: I just realized this sounds like I was trying to make a joke about cargo cultists living on islands, but what I actually meant was "well, how else would one form community, other than by being welcoming and helpful? I guess you could put a lot of people in a stressful situation together."

comment by Solvent · 2014-12-25T06:32:04.633Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I feel exactly the same way about the controversial opinions.

comment by notsonewuser · 2014-12-23T21:47:38.824Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I was actually in New York City on the actual date of the solstice, December 21. I'll be living there in a year from now, and this post makes me excited about taking in part in next year's event!

comment by DoubleFelix · 2014-12-23T18:37:22.648Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty disappointed in how hidden the San Francisco event was. I was looking forward to the possibility, but nothing on Google or even Less Wrong gave any indication that it existed (except in the hypothetical and previous years). I was sad to discover after the fact that there was one, but I /still/ can't find details for it.

comment by Raemon · 2014-12-23T18:43:04.178Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Huh, sorry about that. There was this post about it:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/lbs/the_bay_area_solstice/

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-26T13:22:02.503Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like Main post that aren't promoted aren't very visible.

comment by luminosity · 2014-12-27T22:40:20.578Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

We ran a summer solstice event in Sydney also. 8 people attended for a potluck picnic in Centennial park, general social interaction, then we watched the sun go down while reflecting on the year that had been. This was followed by an attempt to get candles working -- even with cups to shield them, they kept being extinguished. Fortunately, this was about the worst thing to go wrong.

After the sundown, different people ran various short sessions. We had one on the hedonic treadmill, one on what's known about planning new year's resolutions, a session where we discussed how the year had been for us, while everyone else listened, and one where people gifted ideas they thought were valuable, to everyone else present (an attempt for a better way to do kris kringle / secret santa type exchanges without the buying of pointless things).

All in all I consider it a major success. I had a great time, I think other participants did also. Definitely worth the time to organise.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-24T10:00:35.753Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I found this article in comments to Main, but it doesn't show up in Main (new) or Main (promoted).

comment by csvoss (Terdragon) · 2014-12-23T23:29:50.510Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I couldn't attend this year, but I loved the album and I'm really looking forward to it next year!

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-31T23:24:04.379Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Here are some suggestions for locations in North America that I'm aware have enough logistical capacity and numbers to host their own Solstice events for 2015.

  • Vancouver*(-Seattle)
  • Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto corridor**
  • Detroit-Toronto**

*Us in Vancouver are friends with those in Seattle, and may plan an event with them. Amongst ourselves we've discussed the possibility that Portland might also join in for a Pacific Northwest Solstice. This would almost certainly be centered in Seattle. The future of those who would organize such an event in Vancouver is uncertain, so we might find it easier to help out with and piggyback on a Seattle event.

**I'm aware this corridor of Canadian cities occassionally meets in Ottawa for extra-big rationality meetups. I also have contacts there who can and could bridge the gaps between separate secular communities to make this happen, as Raemon has done in New York. Alternatively, Toronto could host a cross-border event with Detroit, and Montreal and Ottawa could throw an event together if they wanted to, but found that neither city had enough of a groundswell to make the event feel exciting enough by hosting two separate events.

The idea of an intercity, or 'super'-solstice event seems interesting. Cross-border ones strike me as a stretch because the difference for travel is one bus somewhere downtown if one is staying on one's own side of the border, and a 2-3 hour drive each way if one is crossing the border. On the other hand, respective cities in Canada might not have a grand enough community committed to making a Solstice event happen all by themselves.

Either way, feel free to contact me if you live in any of these places, and would be interested in attending a Solstice event in 2015. If you would be willing to help plan, that would be great, esp. in Vancouver where we have a dearth of volunteers with enough spare time to handle how big this event can be. Even if you'd only be interested in just attending, or what it might be like, drop me a line.

If you live in Toronto, Montreal, or Ottawa, I don't live there, so I can't personally tell you what Solstice events they might hold, but I have contacts in those cities I can put you in touch with so you can start that conversation.

comment by Raemon · 2015-01-03T04:25:13.829Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks a bunch for taking this initiative!

comment by Maki1 · 2015-01-07T20:52:59.588Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

HI guys! I maybe totally misinterpreting the LessWrong community and Rationalist movements in general but it seems to me that rituals and holidays are exactly just that: Rituals and HolyDays. Whatever dress you put on them, with time they become religious crutches for people who need help or feel insecure. For what I understand of it it feels New Age-i/Scientology-i. Not that I have any problem with any of these. People believe in whatever they want to believe in. If it makes anyone happy it already made a step towards a better world, a better community (radical/hate religions excluded, however they may make their own community happier...). Anyway as a rocksteady atheist all I can see in these initiatives is another masked religion. Just think about it. How many devote Christians you know who actually follow the commandments to the fullest, who don't lie, don't kill, etc. Most of them are in it for the feel of security, for the support and justification they need. Again, no problem with that but how does that figure with people who think that a brighter future is possible by improving themselves and doing things just to do good. OK I see that the community can provide help, the feel that you are not alone it this, good advice, etc, but by formalising, ritualising it it feels like the whole thing is just falling back to the old and I think, outdated routines of religion and will lose the whole point long term:ie, creating a strong and independent individual via self improvement, informed and capable enough to do what is right. NB: some self-criticism: I have never attended any of these rituals, so I have no real clue how it actually looks like. I may be totally wrong. Please enlighten me

comment by Raemon · 2015-01-08T01:17:14.534Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wrote up my answer to that question here:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/93l/the_value_and_danger_of_ritual/

comment by Maki1 · 2015-01-26T22:32:10.578Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for the link, the article was very informative. You obviously have considered this type of objections before and found it to be low risk/ acceptable. Maybe I should leave the topic here but I still feel against it. I also feel you slightly downplayed the possible long term outcomes in your article.

By all means I do agree with the utility of rituals by helping the community to become coherent, induce otherwise possibly difficult changes in its members and provide support - at the beginning. When all participants feel strongly about its message and aim and interpret it as intended.

You see the danger right at the end of your article when you make the note about the possibility of a 'hollow, self-propagating memeplex'. You seem to think that this scenario is either unlikely or worth the risk. The way I see it, it is inevitable. As the community grows and with it the number of geographical places and members of partaking in these rituals increases,there will be an ever-increasing chance of people starting their own version of it. It is already happening. Their version will be slightly altered, abridged, possibly more focused on different aspects, eg minimizing reflection, which, as I understand, may be a challenging part of it, and maximizing the easy-to-follow, more automatic or interesting themes. They may even actively extend their sociological catchment area to include more easy-to-influence individuals, to 'spread the word' more efficiently. There will be no bad intention at any stage of the process, it merely 'dilutes' the original idea. It may even (likely) prove to be more popular than the original,but losing sight of the aim. How are you planning to prevent that? Would you nominate a regulatory body to formalize and control? Or a Pope? I am also not talking about near future events, but if you are serious about your and the community's aims, you are probably thinking for the long term, maybe decades, even centuries.What is you vision? How is it going to look like in, say, 200 years? What about a thousand? Not a few movements lasted that long... As I see it, that is long term planning and with great aims, the only way worth doing.

I am still not sure what the long term plans of LessWrong are anyway. Is it planning to form an elite, closed circle of people, capable of changing the direction the world is heading (a bit Masonist?) or is it trying to sow the seed for the wider population, aiming to change the way people think in general (rituals likely will end up forming a religion with a different name)? Is there a third (or fourth, etc) possibility?

I am not an anthropologist and maybe talking a lot of nonsense but I have read a very interesting book a few years ago, I would definitely recommend it on the topic. It is called 'The History of Magic and the Occult' by Kurt Seligmann. I think it is rather outdated and not too scholarly, however it gives a very good overview of the formation of rituals, religions, etc and highlights the connections between them over the ages.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2014-12-31T23:11:41.999Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I deliberately encourage experimentation with the format - real ritual evolves, and if we want great ritual (in particular, great ritual-for-your-particular-local-community, as opposed to great ritual-for-the-NYC-crowd that you're trying to emulate), we want to iterate faster, see what resonates with people, and let the less interesting variations die out.

One thing that's clear is that transhumanist and LW content is polarizing, even within the Less Wrong crowd - some people really love it and it makes them feel connected and inspired. Others find it very offputting. It's possible that the best solution is to have multiple events that cater to different people. But I've also found it's very possible (albeit harder - it took me a couple years of practice) to make an event that works on multiple levels, resonating with the mainstream secular community with Easter eggs that are funny/sad/inspiring to people in the LW or Transhuman spheres.

A few friends and I want to organize a Secular Solstice event in Vancouver for 2015. Thanks for emphasizing the idea of experimenting with the ritual(s) invovled, as I believe Vancouver, like New York, would be open to the event having transhumanist undertones, but not being so centrally themed around that. That being stated, the secularist community in Vancouver is a real mosaic. Personally, I'm aware at the point at which transhumanist circles overlap with the skeptic community, neither much involved with the rationality movement in Vancouver, with those same values vaguely shared by humanists of all stripes. Vancouver also has the densest secular population of any urban area in Canada, which could complicate things. the event could be planned small, with the number of attendees numbering in two or three dozen, but if word spread, and capacity for organizing was there, could easily balloon to over one hundred people.