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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Thursday, May 03, 2012

John Wilkins on the GAC speakers

I only just came across this old post by John Wilkins publicly asking why he was not asked to speak at the Global Atheist Convention in either 2010 or 2012. See the whole thread on Wilkins' site.

I've got say that I find this kind of public complaint unseemly, as a general rule, but maybe that's just showing my age - I grew to adulthood in the 1970s, which was a turbulent time in its way, but I suspect that we were socialised to be more self-effacing than is the case these days (mind you, Wilkins is about the same age as me, so I'm not claiming that that's a difference between the two of us, just that my attitude to things like this may seem old-fashioned to some of my readers). [Edit: See comments on thread - John apparently misunderstood the format and has since sort of recanted.]

Be all that as it may, Wilkins has a very good article on secularism in The Australian Book of Atheism, and he would have been a good speaker/panelist. I hope that the committee takes note for next time.

More generally, there's some scope for fine-tuning the mix of speakers. E.g. - people that I've been talking to have been questioning why so many speakers are flown in from overseas (presumably with their fares paid), when there are outstanding speakers available in Australia. It's not as if there's usually a huge amount of reciprocation (though in my case, I did get flown to Orlando to speak to the Moving Secularism Forward conference ... so I can't complain).

For myself, I wonder whether it wouldn't be better to make greater use of panels, rather than lectures. Panels can vary in quality, but so can lectures.


Neil said...

I think you're out of date on doings in the Wilkosphere (shame on you). He has since apologized for that post, saying that it was based on a misunderstanding of the GAC. He thought it was based around multiple papers, like an academic conference. Instead, it is based around big performances, *given that format* it made sense not to invite him.

Whether it should have that format is of course a different question. I have never been, and don't intend to (so my impressions of the GAC are just that). So far as I can see, the format makes much more sense in the US context than here. There atheists are embattled community, and forming a sense of beloning among ordinary people is important. This kind of festival is an appropriate way to do this. But here atheists are not embattled (though of course there are battles that need to be fought) and there is no need to forge a community. In any case, it seems unlikely that in this format the kind of detailed discussion needed to actually advance debate is likely, which is why it has no attraction for me. Again, these remarks are made from the outside so I might have it wrong,

Gerald said...

What Neil said. Linky link: http://evolvingthoughts.net/2012/04/update/

Margaret said...

I'd like to see a formal debate at the next convention on a topic of interest to the community, like for example, Free Will with participants like Dennett, Harris and... you!

Russell Blackford said...

Thanks, folks, for the heads-up that John recanted.

I'm not actually sure that he should have - it was a good question, even if less self-effacing than I would have expected (and I can see how a misunderstanding of the format could have led to that!).

And I think there is a legitimate question about the best format for it, and this is a good time to discuss it (in the immediate aftermath and all).

rorschach said...

2 things. I am pretty certain that Wilkins indeed is and was annoyed at not having been invited, and I think he (and conceivably you too, Russell)has a point. I mean, they flew in Aron Ra for 4000 dollars just to have him there, he didn't even speak or do anything at the GAC (and I know that because he told me). Secondly, as to panels, that seemed to work very well at the Dublin conference last year (and the one in Copenhagen the year before that to a degree), to get away from those pulpit lectures to more interaction, and more speakers and panelists, and IIRC it was very well received by the audience at the time.

Russell Blackford said...

What? Really? They spent $4000 flying in someone who wasn't even speaking? If you're sure that's right, it sounds bizarre.

Would anyone associated with running the convention like to comment on this?

rorschach said...

I shall explain. I barged in on Aron Ra talking to Wilkins at the Hilton, and it turned out they had known each other from the internet beginnings or something, but had never met before. Aron Ra told us that he was there on invitation, and had his expenses paid. They could have paid Wilkins and another 20 locals 200 bucks each to speak, and I'm sure John would have been happy with that. It is a little bit hard to fathom.

John S. Wilkins said...

Coming in very late on this due to work commitments and a failure to vanity Google (now rectified). Yes, I was immodest, but I had been approached for the 2010 event and then not contacted further, so I was annoyed. But I got it all wrong.

AronRa was paid for not by the GAC but by some other folk who wanted him there and who raised funds to get him. I was very glad to finally meet him and it was a Good Thing, as he is not much better off for funds than I am, and he'd have had to pay his own way. He does really good work on this matter.

I agree that the celebrity format is not really productive of anything other than rallying the troops. I would like to see some diversity of views at the next one - the few who did express differing views were not generally well received. However the social aspect fo the event was excellent.

Russell Blackford said...

Thanks for clarifying that, John.