For My Stalkers…

You know who you are.

I’ll be speaking at a few upcoming conferences in case you’re interested/able to attend!

The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 (Las Vegas, NV)
July 14th – 17th
(Expensive, sold-out)

I’ll be live-blogging the conference on this site for those who can’t make it! (And you can always follow the #TAM9 hashtag on Twitter.)

I’m certain nothing controversial will happen all weekend.

Secular Student Alliance conference (Columbus, OH)
July 29th – 31th
(Relatively inexpensive, not sold-out, come!)

Lots of students. Lots of people who want you to succeed. Lots of pressure to keep everyone awake when I talk.

In other words, exactly like my day job.

Midwest Humanist and Freethought Conference (Omaha, NE)
August 12th – 14th
(Price unknown, not sold-out!)

There aren’t a lot of big atheist conferences in the Midwest so I’m excited to be a part of this!

I’ll be more excited when I can find Nebraska on a map.

Alright. I’m done plagiarizing off of Jen’s post. Apparently, we do conferences as a team.

Vjack had an interesting rant recently about why anyone should care about seeing speakers who are famous for just “being atheists.” He’s right: It’s not like we’re any more “atheist” than anyone else.

[cue heavy sarcasm] Oh look, TAM is coming to Vegas! Just look at all the atheist celebrities! You can see Richard Dawkins, the man who has repeatedly been dubbed our leader! And what’s this? There will be atheist bloggers (gasp) there like Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight featured alongside legitimate scientists like Elizabeth Loftus and Carol Tavris. Think of all the autographs you could get! [end sarcasm]

… Why the fuck would I want to go sit in a crowd and listen to atheist bloggers whose only claim to fame is that they are…wait for it…atheist bloggers? Conferences like this hold no appeal for me whatsoever. And a big part of the reason involves the hero worship I see.

(I’m in the mix of blogger-speakers he mentions, too.)

Well, I think he’s makes a good point about a couple things. The hero worship, for one. When we put any one person on so high a pedestal, it might be devastating when you realize you both disagree about something really important to you.

He’s also right that we tend to see the same names over and over at these conferences. I’d love to see that change because I think there are other atheists who have really important things to say… but they don’t get the same requests as others do. The responsibility for changing that, though, is mostly on conference organizers. I’m proud to say that the Secular Student Alliance (the group I’ve worked most directly with over the years) always gives the mic to up-and-coming student leaders, and they’re some of the most inspiring people you will ever see. They’re the ones I look forward to hearing the most.

But some people are more popular (for whatever reasons) and they bring in more bodies/donations/media interest, so organizers tend to go with them.

… what is with the damn bloggers thinking that they have something so important to say that it deserves a conference? If you give a fuck what an atheist blogger thinks, read his or her blog! And the groveling as if you are in the presence of greatness? You might as well go to church! They welcome that sort of thing there.

I think it’s less about our perceived self-importance than conference organizers wanting speakers who (obviously) have opinions about atheist issues, know how to articulate them, and are easy (and cheap!) to bring in. We rally the base, so to speak.

Why should anyone go out of their way to hear an atheist blogger speak? I’ll offer a few reasons:

1) It’s a chance to meet someone you read all the time in the flesh. It’s why I get excited when my favorite bloggers/authors come to town — I want them to know how their writing influenced me or changed me, and it’s something I just can’t accomplish in an email. Or maybe I just want to get drinks and talk to them outside the confines of a website. Swap ideas. Share stories. Learn from them. With certain bloggers, you feel like you know them well already, so it’s like meeting an old friend.

2) There are things I can talk about in person that I can’t meaningfully express in a posting. If you hear me talk, it’s not just a blog post I’m reading out loud. There are ideas I’d like to toss out there to see what sticks and changes I’d like to see college atheist groups make. It’s easier to do all that in a talk.

3) It’s less about the bloggers/speakers and more about the people in the audience. It’s nice to know there are other people in your community who care about the same issues and you tend to meet more of them when a popular atheist is in town. Once the speaker leaves, you still have contact with those other people and that’s how local change begins and how communities form.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Simon

    There are certain topics that people want to hear the latest developments on.

    However, I completely agree with the need to introduce *new* speakers (or at least not the same usual suspects over and over again).

    I would go a step further and add that we should also make an effort to introduce new subject matter to our events every now and then.

    We actually do put some thought into this in DC. And yes, this is my shameless self-plug, but only because I want to show that we’re not just paying lip-service. Here’s our upcoming all-day event in DC on October 22:

    Religious Politics and Secular Values

    Kwame Anthony Appiah
    Chip Berlet
    Barbara Forrest
    Johann Hari
    Ronald Lindsay
    Jeff Sharlet
    John Shook

    More info/registration: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/dc/events/religious_politics_and_secular_values_a_cfi_institute/

  • leanne

    ahhh! you’re going to be in nebraska! it’s about fucking time!

  • Pony

    Did he not stop to consider that maybe “Popular Bloggers” are popular because they are entertaining?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

    From elevators to conferences in general — Can’t we all just get along?

  • Rickster

    I hope your joking about finding Nebraska on a map. An I hope the Omaha airport hasn’t been washed down the Missouri river by then from all of our flooding. I may have to see about attending the Omaha conference and I’m actually in Vegas at the same time as you too.

  • Bee

    You should totes try going to the Texas Freethought Convention. It shall be my first. :D

  • fiddler

    You aren’t just an atheist, you’re also my favourite Mexi-Gay! Rofl!!

  • meko

    I don’t stalk and I don’t like stalkers, so no conferences for me. Stalking isn’t cute or funny in my book.

    But I’ll still read you online.

  • Paul

    Yes, why go to a live concert when you can just listen to a recording? Do real, live human beings have any advantage over their online/digital forms?

  • http://lostmyfaithinyou.wordpress.com TheDon

    Up here in Vancouver, we have Skepticamp in August. It gives normal people a chance to share a 5 to 10 minute lecture on issues related to science and skepticism. Almost like TED, without the celebrities. And it’s FREE to attend. I think it’s a fantastic way to get the skeptical community involved in a way that seemed exclusive to the big names. I’m really looking forward to it.

  • John

    oh come on, you are more atheist than anybody else!

  • meko

    @Paul, depends on the real live people. There are a lot of musicians I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with who I can still enjoy via recordings.

  • Matt

    It’s recognition and appreciation for those who consistently publicize those thoughts we all hold.

    I only wish I had the means/time necessary to do the same thing. It’s not hero-worship, it’s respect. There IS, like it or not, a huge risk for people with day jobs being overt and public about their atheism in this country. Again, it’s respect and appreciation for speaking up for us.

    Thank you.

  • CanadianChick

    he does realize it’s not MANDATORY to attend conferences, right?

    I don’t engage in hero worship (except of you, Hemant, our smiling mexigay) but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the opportunity to meet prominent people in the field, or to listen to them speak. Or more importantly, hang out with them in a bar or pub afterward.

    I’ll probably never go to TAM (not sure I want to see anyone enough to visit Vegas in July, let alone pay $1000 for the privilege) but I don’t think it’s wrong for people who do want to go.

  • http://www.blaghag.com Jen

    TIL I’m not a legitimate scientist.

  • rich samuels

    Conferences like bloggers because they entertain *and* have an audience to advertise these conferences too.

  • http://thingsfindothinks.com AndrewFinden

    I think he has a point. On the one hand we’re always told that Atheism is nothing but the lack of belief in gods (as if there simply are not those who believe there are no gods) and yet they then go to “Atheist” conferences. So either the confernce is a bunch of people just saying that lack belief in gods, or they need to acknowledge that ‘Atheism’ is often used as an umbrella term for a whole bunch of other (varied) postive ideologies and stop hiding behind the ‘nothing but lack of belief’ axiom.

  • Richard Wade

    Jen, of course you’re a legitimate scientist, and if anybody says you’re not, I’ll invite them to step into an elevator with me, and we’ll settle it very scientifically.

  • matt

    “If you give a fuck what an atheist blogger thinks, read his or her blog”

    We’re not allowed to hear them talk, too? I didn’t realize I was limited to one medium per person.

  • http://www.AtheistsHelpingtheHomeless.org Joe Zamecki

    I’ve thought of this quite a lot over the years, having attended several national and state conventions, as an activist, a regular attendee, an organizer of the convention and employee of a national Atheist group.

    On the one hand, if popular speakers are popular, they’re popular, and conventioneers should get to see someone who’s popular with them. Blogging or not, we have some very popular people making the stages at these conventions. Good!

    On the other hand, our movement used to do a lot more activism, and conventions used to reflect that. I don’t mean “credit card activism” either.

    Years ago, activists were the celebrities at these conventions. Now the celebrities at these conventions are…celebrities. lol

    The money must flow in larger amounts, and the convention attendance must be larger than in the past. I agree on both of those. But one thing’s for sure: If you want to hang out with people who do activism offline with their work, and not their name or their credit card, you should probably bring them to the convention.

    Yes there are still several notable exceptions, and a lot of new activists bursting onto the scene, but for most of them, it seems that their real welcome stage is limited to media appearances, and/or a sidewalk in public.

    I don’t mind saying here, that you haven’t seen me on a stage at a convention in a long long time…because I’m now doing activism instead. :)

  • Carlie

    Well, someone doesn’t become a popular atheist blogger unless they write well, in a way that captivates their audience and inspires a lot of conversation about interesting subjects. So saying someone is “only” an atheist blogger is the same as saying someone is “only a writer about subject x”. And if your conference is about x, why wouldn’t you invite people who are known to discuss subject x well? I guess I’m not sure what other qualifications he thinks should be necessary to speak at a conference about atheism. It’s not like you can get a Ph.D. in atheistic studies and claim that as a qualification to speak in public. It sounds like it’s not the qualifications of the speakers that person is really upset with, it’s the idea that atheists might want to actually gather in person to socialize and talk about stuff.

  • Cortex

    The fact that commenters and bloggers all over the internet rushed to criticize Dawkins, Watson, and everyone else involved in our most recent community-wide conflict seems completely at odds with the idea that there’s some inordinate amount of hero-worship in the movement.

  • keystothekid

    Blah blah blah. Hemant! While you’re in Columbus you need to head to Hal & Al’s bar. All the food is Vegan! Plus, they always have a really awesome beer selection…if you’re into that ;)

  • FriendlyAtheistStalker

    Stalkers!? your not cool enough to have stalkers mehta. :p

  • Troglodyke

    I’ll probably never go to TAM (not sure I want to see anyone enough to visit Vegas in July, let alone pay $1000 for the privilege)

    I’m SOOO with you here. That city is only tolerable in December or January, first of all. As for the $$$, I would enjoy skepticism/atheist conferences, but I cannot justify spending that much dough on something that is “just for fun” for me.

    One thing I will say is that when I attend conferences that DO relate to my work, one of my favorite things is meeting the other attendees, and sometimes, depending on the size of the conference, getting to meet the presenters as well and have a drink or dinner with them in a group.

  • JulietEcho

    I don’t know… when I hung out with you in Chicago it was pretty hard not to ask you for your autograph and then read you the epic poem I wrote about us teaching reason and skepticism to all the people of the world…

    It’s the same reason people love to meet people who’ve written books they’ve read, or actors who’ve portrayed characters they’ve grown to love – it’s another way of connecting, and it gives you a solid, concrete face to put to the name of someone who’s responsible for something that brings you joy.

    Blog commenters are not very shy about disagreeing with bloggers, for the most part (I love PZ, but the fact that anyone who disagrees with him ever gets treated like a troll over there is creepy), and you certainly get your share of corrections and disagreements. Still, the people who post them (sometimes that includes me!) would probably still be interested in hearing you speak and meeting you in person.


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