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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Back in Melbourne - for now. And a miscellany ...


I arrived back in Melbourne earlier today and am now catching up with various small tasks. The big AAI bash in Los Angeles was great, and not at all a bunch of mean-spirited, snarky people as suggested by Andrew Sullivan in a rather mean-spirited and snarky manner over here.

Quote: "They're really charming, aren't they? It is as if everything arrogant about the academy and everything sneering about cable news culture is combined into one big snarky smugfest. Maybe these atheists will indeed help push back the fundamentalist right. Maybe they will remind people that between these atheist bigots and these fundamentalist bigots, the appeal of the Christianity of the Gospels shines like the sun."

Yeah, Andrew. Thanks for those kind words about a gathering of 700-plus people whom you haven't met. You may have met one or two of them, or even a few more, but I'm betting that you have no real sense of the ambience. The speech by Daniel Dennett that you object to so much was penetrating and critical, but delivered in more civil and good-humoured tones than you seem to have managed in reacting to it. And need I note how dangerous such accusations of bigotry are? It suggests that we are motivated by hatred, and once you suggest that about people you start to lay a foundation for persecution. Accusations of hatred or bigotry have their place - when they are made correctly and justly - but should never be plucked out of the air.

(In a spirit of atheistic charity, however, I must report that Sullivan gives a sort of obscure apology for his nastiness here and publishes some very cogent dissenting letters here. In each case, let it be recorded, this is to his credit. But still ...)

The AAI convention was possibly the best convention of any kind that I have ever been to. Where else would I get to see presentations by Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Carolyn Porco, Jerry Coyne, and others all in one day - not to mention the other days (with speakers of the calibre of PZ Myers, Eugenie Scott (whose talk was excellent), and on and on)? If I could afford it, or somehow got some funding, I'd definitely attend future conventions put on by this organisation. Next year, this annual convention will be in Montreal ... with big conventions that have AAI involvement in Melbourne, Copenhagen, and (so I hear on the grapevine) Rio de Janeiro.


Fortunately, as I've mentioned in an earlier post, my own presentation went very well (I felt in the zone as I gave it, and have received a lot of positive feedback). So I don't have to hang my head in shame, or anything of the sort. Quite the opposite, actually.

But all that said, it's great to be home with Jenny and Felix. All is well in Melbourne, though I've just read the manuscript of a new story by Jenny that is so good, but so sad, that it brought tears to my eyes. Now she just needs to find a publisher for it.

Meanwhile, I'll be catching up a little over the next two to three weeks before flying to the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose at the end of the month. Jenny will leave a few days before me to get acclimatised. This is an important gig for her in her role as one of the judges of the World Fantasy Awards (the outcomes of which will be revealed at the convention).

Thanks to Charla for taking a great photo of the moment when I met my e-buddy, Jerry Coyne, in person. (Jerry on the left, me still on stage at the right ... for anyone who doesn't recognise us.) And thanks to official photographer David Diskin for the shot of me with the mammoth at the La Brea tarpits.

18 comments:

Titania said...

Maybe you should tell Andrew Sullivan about the young Mexican blogger named Gerardo who spoke at AAI whose mother told him that she was cutting him out of her heart and that she wished he had never been born when she found out he was an atheist. His father told him that if he has to choose god or his children that he chooses god. He cries frequently over the loss of his relationship with his parents.

I did not meet a single mean or snarky person at AAI. In fact, I made many new incredibly nice friends. And I learned much from the speakers, many of whom I met, and not a single one was mean or arrogant, but gave generously of his or her time and knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Sullivan hangs out at PZ Meyers Pharyngula. How else would you describe someone who desecrates a communion wafer for the sole purpose of insulting people and telling them they are stupid for being believers.

Real classy guy that PZ.

To cut to the chase, nobody likes atheists for one simple reason: You all insist on acting like total dicks. With people like PZ, or previously the charming Madyln Murray Ohare, as your standard bearers is it any wonder that you have a PR problem?

Are there any atheists who don't come off as nasty, unpleasant, snide, smug, superior, jerks? Until these people come forward you all are going to be hated.

And you will deserve to be hated.

Greywizard said...

Well, at least you kept it brief this time, Anonymous. But do find out about PZ and the cracker, before you suggest that he did it for no reason. It was not done for no reason. It was done because someone had taken a consecrated wafer from a RC service, received death threats from Catholics, who also moved to have him expelled (for this heinous crime) from University, etc. etc. - nice Christian stuff that, by the way, running true to form.

It was only then that PZ got in on the act and asked what all the fuss was about. It's just a cracker. Get over it. So, while to RCs it really is (and that's hard enough to understand) the flesh and blood of Christ, since its accidents don't change, it's still a tasteless disk of flour and water. Only a Catholic can really desecrate it, since descecrating something like this requires belief. (That's why the Jews were often accused of desecrating the host, because secretly, in their heart of hearts, they really believed and rejected.) So don't get your knickers in a twist. Get the story straight. Besides, with Ratzi as the RC standard bearer, the Roman Catholic Church has the mother of all PR problems.

Russell Blackford said...

PZ Myers is a kind, quietly spoken bloke who also has a commanding intellect and plenty of guts. A good guy to have around.

Brian said...

And you will deserve to be hated

I don't hate you. Even given your interminable, bile soaked, incoherent rants. I guess that makes me smug and hate worthy. :)

Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

Russell - when I first saw that picture of you with Coyne I had to do a double-take. It looked at first as though you were showing him a magic "disappearing hand" trick. Then I saw that your hand is behind the podium.

I wish I had been there this year, but perhaps next year.

Was this the first time you met PZ? He is a pretty cool guy. I was rather nervous when I drove out to Morris with the kids to visit his lab. He was very nice to us.

Russell Blackford said...

Okay, anonymous that does it. I allowed your first post. It made your point concisely even though it verged on being abusive.

For some reason, though, you seem obsessed with this blog. For the umpteenth time, why don't you create your own blog if you're so deeply opposed to my view of the world and there's so much that you want to say?

The second post was okay for awhile, then got repetitive and abusive. Here's the deal: either address me and my friends the way you would in my living room (i.e. without rants and insults) or get out and talk to someone else. You're getting close being banned from this blog altogether. Lots of people would have done that ages ago.

If it happens, I'll be forced to tighten up moderation in other ways. I'll make an announcement about that when and if it's called for.

Before we get to that point, try to post in accordance with the following. Stay on the topic of the post (genuinely friendly off-topic asides are fine, but they're not your style); don't use my blog as a lazy substitute for your own blog by writing ridiculously long multi-part comments; and generally act as if you are a guest in my living room (which allows you to disagree with my views on any specific subject, but not to rant at me and other guests or to insult me or my friends or other guests). Try to say something original, not rubbish that we've heard many times before (at least David Heddle is interesting).

If you don't even pretend to want to get along here, don't be surprised if you're unwelcome.

Meanwhile, your first post can stay, but your second one bites the dust. Maybe you'll learn.

Russell Blackford said...

Mike, it was the first time I met PZ ... and the first time I met lots of the people I met. Jerry, obviously, but also Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Carolyn Porco, Michael Shermer, and lots of others whose paths crossed with mine. It's not easy meeting these people when you live in Australia.

Anonymous said...

but not to rant at me and other guests or to insult me or my friends or other guests

And the desecration of a communion wafer by your bud is an act of civil discourse?

Titania said...

Why is it that Christians cannot seem to spell whenever they post on the internet:

"Sounds like Sullivan hangs out at PZ Meyers Pharyngula"

It's Myers.

"previously the charming Madyln Murray Ohare"

It is Madalyn Murray O'Hair.

Why is it that they also love to hate?

"Are there any atheists who don't come off as nasty, unpleasant, snide, smug, superior, jerks? Until these people come forward you all are going to be hated.

And you will deserve to be hated."

Did you not read my first post here Anonymous? I was there for five days and every single person I met, even the famous ones, such as Russell, PZ, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, William B. Davis, Lawrence Krauss, and Donald Prothero were all gracious and kind.

In any case, why would you hate someone for being snide? Can't get away from wanting everyone who does not think like you do to go to hell?

One woman even bought Donald Prothero's book on Evolution and gave it anonymously to a 14 year old boy who asked several astute questions of Jerry Coyne after his lecture.

Steve Zara said...

I disagreed about Myer's communion wafer actions, but from what I have seen of his presentations he is a warm and witty guy, who presents science very well indeed and has great advice about how to campaign. I think he is pretty classy.

Russell Blackford said...

Apart from doubting that I am "famous", I'm with Titania (who also seemed gracious and kind when I met her).

Anonymous, you can rant as much as you like on your own blog. If you see me as ranting, I don't think you have much sense of tone, but I certainly don't turn up obsessively at the blogs of people with whom I disagree and make long ranting comments to them. If I have anything to say that is even remotely like a rant, I say it here.

Still, your new comment can stay. It wins points for being concise.

Greywizard said...

I happen to think that it is important to have the PZ Myers cracker affair in perspective. Here is a link to the story:

It's a Goddamned Cracker!

Certainly, it was uncivil. It was meant to be. What happened to Webster Cook, who took the communion wafer from the service, was also uncivil, but much more than that. He was accused of a hate crime, of being guilty of kidnap. Armed police were on duty at the church to make sure no others kidnapped a communion wafer. Cook was threatened with expulsion, and various other things, all over what some regard as holy, and others see as nothing more than a tasteless piece of bread.

So, no, PZ's 'desecration' of the wafer was not a piece of civil discourse; it was a move within a discourse which had already become exceedingly uncivil and ugly. But the ugliness was almost all on the side of the Catholic Church which, instead of dealing with this in a simple way, by approaching Cook quietly, made a big song and dance of it.

Religious people are entitled to all their rather high-flown beliefs, but they should not try to impose them upon others by supposing that those things which have heightened significance for them must have it for others.

Besides, take it away from the church, and one wafer looks like another, quite indistinguishable from one that has not been consecrated. How do we even know that the wafer that PZ 'desecrated' was consecrated? How could we tell? This is the real point of the story.

PZ was trying to bring a bit of perspective into what had become very ugly and unbecoming. 'It's just a cracker' was really, in the context, one of the cooler and more civil things that were being said at the time, and despite everything, this is what people now remember. Webster Cook, and his fairly innocuous action, are now almost forgotten. Good.

Michael Kingsford Gray said...

Ah! It warms ones very heart to bathe in the truly Christian sentiments expoused by the more pious of anonymous cowards who have responded.

articulett said...

I like my atheists smug and snarky. The atheists I hang around are much smarter, more humble, and funny than the whinging "anonymous", humorless faitheists, and the blowhardy, Andrew Sullivan. I also find atheists more honest, in general--probably because atheists are not seeped in the self delusion required to keep faith alive (not to mention the cognitive dissonance that lets theists imagine themselves "humble" while claiming to "know" "higher truths").

Does "anonymous" imagine we care about his opinion of us anymore than he cares about our opinion of him? I, personally, find nothing likable about him in any of his posts and I think it's magnanimous of Russel to allow "anonymous" to leave his bigoted droppings here.

What a fantastic weekend AAI must have been--some of the greatest, most honest, brilliant, people on the planet-- and no "anonymouses" ("anonymice?"). Heavenly!

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