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I think the rationalist movement has been especially blessed. Without really meaning to, and without having to deliberately believe cringeworthy things for the heck of it or unfairly attack others, we have managed to develop enough different ways of thinking that we naturally have a very strong in-group distinction – which in turn means a very strong community.
Less Wrong, More Rite, Part II - Slatestarcodex
Yesterday, the Bay Area and Boston each held a Solstice event. This upcoming weekend, the Seattle community will be putting on an event, and in New York City, we'll have a huge, flagship event with professional music throughout. (Details at the end of the post. If you'd like to come meet other rationalists but aren't into singing, there'll be a concurrent party hosted downstairs, turning into an official after party around 9:30pm)
The Bay Area folk were able to put together a streaming video. You can check it out here. It requires a little emotional investment to experience it through a computer monitor, but if you're willing to make that investment, I think it pays off well. I actually found myself singing along despite being alone in a room, and feeling like a part of the crowd. I also found myself clapping when several of the speakers delivered some excellent stories. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)
Watching the Bay Area video was a unique experience for me - quite possibly the proudest moment of my life.
For the first few years, Solstice felt like a thing that would only exist if I willed it into existence. Now, there are multiple communities running it without my help, coming together to create legitimate traditions that feel every bit as real and meaningful as an ancient institutions.
The winter solstice marks the darkest day of the year, a time to reflect on the past, present, and future. For several years and in many cities, Rationalists, Humanists, and Transhumanists have celebrated the solstice as a community, forming bonds to aid our work in the world.
Last year, more than one hundred people in the Bay Area came together to celebrate the Solstice. This year, we will carry on the tradition. Join us for an evening of song and story in the candlelight as we follow the triumphs and hardships of humanity.
The event itself is a community performance. There will be approximately two hours of songs and speeches, and a chance to eat and talk before and after. Death will be discussed. The themes are typically Humanist and Transhumanist, with a general audience that tends to be those who have found this site interesting, or care a lot about making our future better. There will be mild social pressure to sing along to songs.
When: December 12 at 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Where: Humanist Hall, 390 27th St, Oakland, CA 94612
Get tickets here. Bitcoin donation address: 1ARz9HYD45Midz9uRCA99YxDVnsuYAVPDk
Feel free to message me if you'd like to talk about the direction the Solstice is taking, things you like, or things you didn't like. Also, please let me know if you'd like to volunteer.
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)
As the holiday season approaches, we continue our tradition of celebrating the winter solstice.
This event is the offspring of Raemon's New York Solstice. The core of the event is a collection of songs old and new, silly and profound, led by the well-calibrated Bayesian choir. There will be bean bag chairs and candles. There will be campfire and chocolates (in case of dementors).
When: The Bay Area Solstice will be held on 13 December at 7:00 PM.
Where: We've rented the Humanist Hall, at 390 27th St, Oakland, CA 94612.
All humanists or transhumanists are welcome. We'll be diving our minds into the nature of the universe, both good and bad. We'll stare into the abyss of death, and into the radiance of our ability to remove it. We will recognize each other as allies and agents.
We're glad to provide aspiring rationalists with an alternative or addition to any holiday celebrations. There is an expected attendance of around 80 people.
Get your tickets here! And if you'd like to help us put it together, PM me.
On September 26th, 1983, the world was nearly destroyed by nuclear war. That day is Petrov Day, named for the man who averted it. Petrov Day is now a yearly event on September 26 commemorating the anniversary of the Petrov incident. Last year, Citadel, the Boston-area rationalist house, performed a ritual on Petrov day. We will be doing it again - and have published a revised version, for anyone else who wants to have a Petrov Day celebration themselves.
The purpose of the ritual is to make catastrophic and existential risk emotionally salient, by putting it into historical context and providing positive and negative examples of how it has been handled. This is not for the faint of heart and not for the uninitiated; it is aimed at those who already know what catastrophic and existential risk is, have some background knowledge of what those risks are, and believe (at least on an abstract level) that preventing those risks from coming to pass is important.
Petrov Day is designed for groups of 5-10 people, and consists of a series of readings and symbolic actions which people take turns doing. It is easy to organize; you'll need a few simple props (candles and a candle-holder) and a printout of the program for each person, but other than that no preparation is necessary.
There will be a Petrov Day ritual hosted at Citadel (Boston area) and at Highgarden (New York area). If you live somewhere else, consider running one yourself!
This is the final post in my Ritual Mini-Sequence. Previous posts include the Introduction, a discussion on the Value (and Danger) of Ritual, and How to Design Ritual Ceremonies that reflect your values.
I wrote this as a concluding essay in the Solstice ritual book. It was intended to be at least comprehensible to people who weren’t already familiar with our memes, and to communicate why I thought this was important. It builds upon themes from the ritual book, and in particular, the readings of Beyond the Reach of God and The Gift We Give to Tomorrow. Working on this essay was transformative to me - it allowed me to finally bypass my scope insensitivity and other biases, so that I could evaluate organizations like the Singularity Institute with fairness. I haven’t yet decided what to do with my charitable dollars - it’s a complex problem. But I’ve overcome my emotional restistance to the idea of fighting X-Risk.
I don’t know if that was due to the words themselves, or to the process I had to go through to write them, but I hope others may benefit from this.
I thought ‘The Gift We Give to Tomorrow’ was incredibly beautiful when I first read it. I actually cried. I wanted to share it with friends and family, except that work ONLY has meaning in the context of the Sequences. Practically every line is a hyperlink to an important, earlier point, and without many hours of previous reading, it just won’t have the impact. But to me, it felt like the perfect endcap to everything the Sequences covered, taking all of the facts and ideas and weaving them into a coherent, poetic narrative that left me feeling satisfied with my place in the world.
Except that... I wasn’t sure that it actually said anything.
This is the third post in my ritual mini-sequence. My first article was an emotional rallying cry around of the idea of a rational-(trans)humanist culture. My second article examined the value and potential dangers of ritual.
So far, I remain convinced that ritual is a valuable experience for most people. I don’t know if there can or should be a unified “Less Wrong” culture, but I do think individual communities should consider creating their own (“rational-humanist” or otherwise). Ritual can be a useful source of fun, comfort and inspiration for positive change. A decent heuristic for "Should my meetup try this?" is "Do the people at my meetup think this sounds cool?"
This article is both an explanation of certain design principles, and a case study of my attempt at one particular kind of community event.
So, say your community decides to incorporate some ritual. How do you do that?
Ritual-space is large, and includes things as simple as "Pass around dark chocolate at the beginning of meetups." You probably already have some kind of ritual going on. Over time, these small traditions can accumulate into something interesting and comforting. But if you’re like me, you want something more powerful - you want the gravitas of an ancient cultural cornerstone, and you want it now.
This is... a challenge.
This is the second part of my Solstice Ritual mini-sequence. The introduction post is here.
Ritual is an interesting phenomenon to me. It can be fun, beautiful, profound, useful, and potentially dangerous.
Commenters from the previous article fell into two main camps - those who assumed I knew what I was doing and gave me the benefit of the doubt, and those who were afraid I was naively meddling with forces beyond my comprehension. This was a reasonable fear. In this article, I’ll outline why I think ritual is important, why it’s dangerous, why I’d like to develop a Aspiring-Rationalist Culture and what I mean by Aspiring-Rationalist culture.
Last Friday, the NYC Less Wrong community held their first Winter Solstice Celebration. Approximately twenty of us gathered for dinner and a night of ritual. We sang songs, told stories, and recited litanies. The night celebrated ancient astronomers, and the work that humanity has done for the past 5000 years. It paid tribute to the harshness of the universe, respecting it as worthy opponent. We explored Lovecraftian mythology, which intersects with our beliefs in interesting ways.
And finally, we looked to the future, vowing to give a gift to tomorrow.
This is the first of 2-3 posts on this subject. In this one, I'm telling a story about what we did and why I wanted to. In the followup(s), I’ll explain the design principles that went into planning such an event, and what we learned from our first execution of it. I’ll also be posting a PDF of a ritual book, similar to the one we read from but with a few changes based on initial, obvious observations.
Why exactly did we do this? Doesn’t this smack of organized religion? Who the hell is Lovecraft and why do we care?
Depending on your background, this may require the bridging of some inferential distance, as well as emotional distance. Bear with me.
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