This will admittedly not hit the skeptical community terribly hard, because I have never been to TAM (or Skepticon) anyway, and I have certain reservations with regards to some of those compartment skeptics, who manage to be all rational and sciencey about dowsing or Bigfoot, but get jittery when religion comes up as an object of skepticism. Anyway, and I’m sure the atheist movement will roll on without me as well. But I just wanted to make a few points as to why I will not attend these meetings anymore, in the near future at least. This post is at least partially motivated by the recent blog posts by Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight, and although my reasons differ significantly from theirs, and their beef is mainly with TAM and DJ Grothe, I am hoping that organisers read what we write, and that changes will be implemented to make our movements and conferences more accessible and safe.
It wasn’t that I finally realized that I had been wrong before in thinking that there are certain common values or attitudes that are shared by nonbelievers and skeptics, and that bullying, sexism, misogyny and irrationality are actually just as prevalent among atheists or skeptics as they are within the general population. I’m starting to think maybe even more so, but maybe that’s just my impression because we tend to talk about it more. In the end, atheists and skeptics are just people, and people can be assholes. Lacking belief in a deity is just not enough glue to form a cohesive social movement, or to get a large number of well-meaning and rational Facebook friends.
And it also wasn’t for the fact that I wrote a post pointing out Jim Jefferies’ misogyny and highly problematic “comedy” a month before the Global Atheist Convention here in Melbourne, and that he still was invited to perform there, to the shock of female attendees and presenters like Stella Young alike. And it wasn’t the missing response or apology from the GAC organisers to this debacle either, nor the lukewarm “Well, there was an email form you could have filled out to complain” by GAC presenter Kylie Sturgess that convinced me not to attend any of these meetings again (I would have thought conference organizers should try their best to avoid upsetting parts of their audience in the first place, and not just generously give them the option to complain via email after the damage is done).
And it wasn’t for the fact alone that prices for TAM, the GAC or other conferences are astronomically high, something that at least in the case of TAM and the GAC I fail to understand, since for one, we should be trying our utmost to make these events as affordable as possible for people to attend and listen to the often awesome speakers, and in the case of the GAC, I would have thought that with a government grant and twice the number of attendees, prices should have gone down significantly instead of up, compared to 2 years previously.
So in the end, there are a number of things that have made me decide to not go to any more atheist or skeptic meetings, or take part in these movements beyond writing here. I note on the various blogs and from personal conversations, that especially with regards to The Amazing Meeting, there seems to be a groundswell of people who will not attend anymore, until the pricing is reviewed and an anti-harassment policy not only implemented but also enforced. I think the same obligation applies to atheist conferences and in particular the GAC here in Australia. Until such time, count me out.