An Idea for a More Communal Petrov Day in 2022

by Ben Pace2 min read21st Oct 20214 comments

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Petrov Day
Personal Blog

(This post is a lightly edited memo I wrote for a Lightcone Infrastructure team meeting on the topic of Petrov Day, that Ruby then asked me to publish on the site.)

The main thing I want with Petrov Day is a sense of community, trust, and the respect of the principle of taking responsibility for the ultimate consequences of your actions.

I think the current format for Petrov Day has lots of room to grow. I spent an hour or two thinking about what a better Petrov Day would look like, here is a pointer to something we could do next year.

An Idea for a More Communal Petrov Day Ritual

Next Petrov Day, we host a public, online ceremony that 100s of people attend to watch. It is based around the Ceremony Readings Jim Babcock has put together. It involves lots of people taking turns to read quotes, basically everyone who ahead of time signed up to do a reading, and could assure that they had a sane AV setup. It's open invite to anyone to view.

After the ceremony, we run an online Gather Town party for 100s of people. Perhaps it's for LWers only, or perhaps it's open-access for everyone.

During the day, a large red button is on the site. Several months in advance, we open a sign-up to be trusted with codes for the day, and encouraged people to participate, and most people are given the codes. If the button is pressed, the online ceremony is ended / the party shuts down after 10 minutes.

There is an online record of the day. How many people showed up, their names, and who spoke. This is a web-page designed for purpose, somewhat more in the style of the www.dontdoxscottalexander.com site that Jacob and I made.

Possible further ideas

  • Possible idea: A member of Petrov’s family is invited to attend and to give a comment at the end of the ritual.
  • Possible idea: Every year some speaker is invited to give a short talk about what the day means to them. Similar to how there’s an annual moment-of-darkness speech at Solstice.
  • Possible idea: a bit of singing, using Bucket Brigade.
  • Possible idea: we encourage lots of local groups to do their own ceremonies.
  • Possible idea: Somehow a planned false alarm? I would like the red button to have a serious game to it, but I don’t know how to do it every year for multiple decades. Some actual uncertainty every year?
  • Possible idea: To build up the numbers, if you apply and we give you codes, you can have codes every year (though you can remove yourself from the pool if you wish).

Longer Term

The goal with this is to get lots of people to be involved (e.g. 100s each year, eventually 1000s each year) in a communal ritual to respect the day and the principles. It would be an active effort on the part of the LW team to attract lots of people to participate.

One of the things I am motivated by is the desire to have better online ways to build a communal commemoration for the day. Recently I've been thinking that the format we have for publishing ideas on AI and rationality is not ideally suited for rituals (e.g. comment sections encourage critique and disagreement, whereas a ritual is more meant to be shared acknowledgment). I'm interested in suggestions for webpages that would allow a lot of people to feel connected to the other people commemorating Petrov Day.

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In red button game the players should be enemies (or at least unaligned) which doesn't play well with the in-community ritual. Adding EA forum this year was, IMO, a step in the right direction. What about getting some further off community involved? Maybe anti-nuclear activists like https://www.icanw.org ? One wouldn't, of course, expect anti-nuclear activists to press the button, but the community may be different enough (UN politics, anyone?) to make it interesting.

I think an event like you describe might be more powerful for the participants, but it's also inherently less visible. There's just something about going to a website and seeing a big red button, it can affect even people who stumble on the site for the first time. Perhaps it would be good to do both.

I agree about the visibility, I wish I had ways to show something that meaningfully connects you to all the other LWers who are commemorating the day.

Could the ceremony's big red button also be mirrored on the site, with a similar shutdown trigger? Non-attendees would still see the results, similar to the status quo. (Much like actual wars are decisions of a small, hopefully trusted group but affect the world more broadly.)