Hoping it’s okay to drop down to the object level for a bit...something that’s been bugging me about events like Solstice is the degree to which they resist being self-documenting. My ideal in this regard would be the Jewish Seder.
If you think about how a Seder works: there is a Hagaddah, where nearly everything that is said or done or sung is listed in the Hagaddah and read from it verbatim—it is an outline, it is a summary, and it is also the primary content. Most importantly, a Hagaddah explains its own structure; it starts out with text that clearly says what we-the-participants are collectively trying to do and why.
And everybody hears that explanation. The structure of the ceremony—what are we doing now, what will we do after that? - is not just intended as private knowledge for people running the ceremony—it’s right out there for the participants to know as well. All of them.
So if somebody invites you to a Seder and you walk in blind having never been before, you immediately are given a hook to hang the experience on. “We are here tonight to tell the story of X in the manner Y which we think is important for reasons Z”. The person who goes even once is clearly told as part of the event what it was the event was trying to do and if they keep a copy of that Hagaddah on their way out they themselves could run a very similar service next year by making some copies and following the instructions therein.
The fact that Seders are self-documenting and don’t change much year-over-year substantially reduces how “heroic” one has to be to run one. You still have to coordinate finding a room and people to fill it and ingredients to put on the seder plate, but once the guests are present running the event itself is easy-peasy; anybody who had ever attended one could pretty easily figure out how to run one.
The polar opposite of that approach would be to invite people to events which appear to be run by a Mysterious Old Wizard, wherein one section is labeled “have somebody get up and deliver a topical original sermon on the theme of being scared and hopeless in the face of certain doom” and another is labeled “have somebody deliver a topical original sermon on the theme of renewed hopefulness in progress and human ingenuity” and another part is labeled “now have somebody perform some original songs they just wrote this month incorporating themes that fit with the aforementioned original sermons”. This seems to me like playing the game on Hard Mode. Maybe there’s no way around it when you’re experimenting with a new format the first time, or even the first few times—the person starting such a thing is a Mysterious Old Wizard who has a wizard’s skillset and wants to iterate quickly to see what works—but after you’ve been at it several years it might be time to lower the difficulty level from Hard to Normal.
Yeah. I actually have a blog post upcoming called something like “The Moment of Darkness Speech may have been my single largest mistake”, essentially for the reasons described here.
I have more thoughts on this, essentially boiling down to “By now I do think there is (mostly) enough material for Solstice to switch to Easy Mode, but there are some reasons you want to at least preserve the ability to work in Hard Mode. There are also reasons for somewhere there to exist Big Solstice which has a lot of logistical issues that Small Family Solstice doesn’t need to deal with.”
More details than that start moving towards “this is basically a conversation for people in the NYC and/or Boston rationality communities to hash things out and make decisions in more detail.
There’s an alternate approach I’ve seen in Neo-Paganism—have a structure for rituals, and a high proportion of people who can improvise within the framework.
I don’t know whether this would work for rationalist rituals (maybe if we start having smaller more frequent rituals), but I’m mentioning it for completeness.
Yeah, I actully think the Pagan approach is almost entirely better, just requiring more skill, and in particular not being able to scale past 30 people or so, which is why I haven’t used it for larger tentpole events.
Huh. I don’t share the intuition that it can’t scale. As long as the improvising ringleaders are on the same page, why would it fail?
I think I basically answered this in the reply to vedrfolnir - more people requires more effort (the simple fact that you need additional ringleaders makes for a harder problem than a single priest scaling their audience). Each ringleader has more work to do the more people there are. Intimacy stops being felt when you don’t know everyone there, etc, it’s harder to know everyone there if there are more people. Scaling past 30 starts to mean you either need to project your voice loudly or use a microphone, which limits the ability to do soft whispers and/or ruins the pagan aesthetic.
(Also, this is a thing where empirically, it doesn’t seem to scale AFAICT. I haven’t done a formal study but my impression talking to pagans is that pagan groups rarely do scale past a couple dozen, whereas Christian churches frequently end up in the hundreds, so whether it makes sense or not it appears to be true)
I don’t think the barrier to scaling is the practice, but the people. Large group experiences can’t be narrowly custom-tailored because their aren’t enough people in the target audience; small groups can. People who don’t chafe at experiences that aren’t narrowly custom-tailored are unlikely to become pagans.
What do you think the barriers to scale are? Just difficulty in finding people comfortable with improvising within the framework to that many people, or?
Among other things, yeah—it requires more effort on the part of everyone. And the effort required scales with the number of people involved. The more people who are improvising, the more people you have to be paying attention to and modeling at once, the more you have to trust them, etc.
Also, the sheer trust and intimacy is an important part of it, regardless of complexity
I think this comment is actually a pretty important piece of “how to do Solstice” that should be entering into the “How to do Solstice” canon. It also makes me feel a bit better about including both
a) a more extensive Welcome Speech, and
b) the Meditations on Past/Present/Future in the 2020 Solstice despite those not being that popular, since I think they provide important framing for the whole thing that makes it more sticky.
(I don’t know that they actually solve the problem either, but, I think things in this space are important for Solstice)