Like most things, winter was once a mystery.
The world got cold, and dark. Life became fragile. People died. And they didn't know what was happening or understand why. They desperately threw festivals in honor of sun gods with all-too-human motivations, and prayed for the light's return.
It didn't help. Though we did discover that throwing parties in the middle of winter is an excellent idea.
But then something incredible and beautiful happened. We studied the sky. We invented astronomy, and other sciences. We began a long journey towards truly understanding our place in the universe. And we used that knowledge to plan for the future, and make our world better. Five thousand years later, the winter isn't so scary. But the symbol of the solstice - the departure and return of the sun - is still powerful. The work we have done to transform winter from a terrifying season of darkness into a modern festival of light deserves a reverence with all the weight of an ancient cultural cornerstone.
And the work we have yet to do, to fully explore humanity's potential, is even more inspiring.
Almost three years ago, the NY Rationality community celebrated their first Winter Solstice. This year, I'm ready to share this with as many people as possible. I'm aiming to host a large, concert event, with a goal of filling an 800-seat auditorium. I'm hoping to reach several different communities, connect people, and teach a broader audience about some important rationality concepts.
A Brief History:
We didn't intend it to be a big thing - it was just twenty of us gathered in a room, celebrating something we thought was important. I put together a series of songs and stories about the oddly specific things that we valued.
I meant it as a small, personal holiday. But I took its construction seriously. I put a lot of thought into why ritual works, why it's so hard to build from scratch, but how you might build it from scratch anyway.
And then I wrote some blog posts about it, and... it turned out to really really resonate with people here. And when I shared with non-Less Wrong folk, even people who had little interest in rationality, they still by and large found it interesting and powerful. I had worried it might look weird - to the contrary, it almost seemed reassuringly normal... and yet also something distinct and new that seemed novel and compelling.
The first year, there were 20 attendees from NY. The second year, we had 50 people coming from Boston, San Francisco and other places, and a group in Ohio who took as inspiration to create their own event. The event was far more successful from an emotional standpoint - many people walked away feeling inspired, connected and awed.
A few months ago, the Melbourne rationalists, put on their own Winter Solstice as well. And this December, we have people in Boston, San Francisco, Ohio, Germany, and Washington DC planning their own events.
What Comes Next:
In NYC this year, my goal is to make a serious stab at creating mainstream culture. I should note that this is somewhat different from "Less Wrong Culture" - there are somethings that LW offers that I think are genuinely valuable to everyone, and there are things I think we focus on because of the people LW attracts. I'm branding this as distinct from Less Wrong (the website I'm running this from is 'humanistculture.com', and is intended to be a general hub for skeptical/rational/humanist artwork and culture.
But we have important messages that the rest of the world should hear. One of my primary goals with the event is to make the ideas behind Effective Altruism not just intellectually but emotionally salient, and to hightlight Existential Risk, in particular, as a concept that people should seriously evaluate. Dovetailing with this will be an attempt to reach people who have the potential to become valuable agents of positive change, and giving them some activation energy.
One event isn't enough to radically change anyone's life, unless they were already hovering on the cusp of agent-hood. So it is also my hope to host a large reception afterwards, where people can connect over what they just experienced, and find their way to a community that will meet their needs, where they can become the people they want to be, over time. For some people, this will be Less Wrong or similar groups. For others it may be Effective Altruism-focused groups, or more mainstream secular communities.
Although this is growing beyond the LW community at this point, it has firm roots in some of our most important ideas. I think it will continue to have value to the community here.
The kickstarter page is here, for those who wish to come, or to support the event.