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:
- Missing a core part of the ritual arc for the second year running.
- Speeches were lower-quality versions of the previous iteration.
- Applause and misbehaving children interrupted to rob the speeches and songs of their emotional weight.
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.
I strongly agree and have messaged the organizers about personally arranging this.
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 ... (read more)
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.
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 bla... (read more)
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:
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- 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
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.
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:
... (read more)
- 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-sp
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.
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 ... (read more)
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)
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:
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- 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
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:
... (read more)
- 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 wer