On #GreatSkepticism

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.

Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost for ever.

— Douglas Adams.

The following is being written in a rather dashing recently-refurbished university library and I have about half an hour of lolling about here before I head off to industriously prep for class. In addition, I’ve had one of those wonderful zen-like mornings where somehow I find myself pulling out my newly washed jeans out of the dryer without knowing how I got there. I even got myself breakfast and did the dishes in a state of blissful never-care-that-it’s-Monday state. So, here’s hoping that the following doesn’t harsh my mellow and if it does, well hey – I have a large cappuchino next to me and a restaurant date with a posse of atheist activists later tonight and they can help me drown any regrets in Pad Thai and Papaya smoothies.

You know, I spent over a decade teaching in high schools and I still think many of my high schoolers are admirable for how they conducted themselves during some pretty tulmultuous times. And that’s not just because I saw a photo of one of them being lauded for their charity work in a magazine while I was buying coffee this morning.

Which got me thinking about a project by a friend of mine – Jack Scanlan – who is relaunching the Young Australian Skeptics website and has a really good photo-caption competition to celebrate their fiftieth episode.

What about the enjoyment I get from The Morning Heresy? Every morning. Even though it’s evening my time when it arrives (Yes, I’m in Australia, this might be a factor in my writing so cheerfully when it’s night-time where you are. Just roll with it.).

And it struck me, on my ride into here, that we don’t see enough praise for such ventures. That we don’t have enough people taking such things as great blog-fodder or links on The Twitter / The Facebook / The What-Have-You. That maybe we should be modelling more of what we want than what we don’t want. It’s easier to point out how some people are lacking in X than highlight what we want with Y.

Maybe it’s because I came to similar conclusions to this article about a week before it was printed.

Or maybe that’s the coffee talking. Did I mention I’m blissfully zenned-out this morning?

We’re quite happy to launch into the latest conflict and whatnot (not to harsh the mellow)… but where’s the Site Of The Week rather than the Snarky Comment We’d Like To Highlight For Everyone’s Temporary Amusement? Where’s the Podcast Review That You Should Check Out  rather than the… great example that deserves it’s own blogpost rather than lost in the Tweetstream?

Hey, who noticed the SKEPTICISM 101 The Skeptical Studies Curriculum Resource Center? Have I mentioned that recently, and that it features some JREF resources I contributed to? I really am falling behind in promoting  such ventures myself, I suspect. And this with podcast episodes lined up and ready to bring admirable projects to a broader audience too. I never feel like I’m doing enough.

While I’m at it – why are there so few nominations for Skeptical Podcasts in the recent Parsec Awards listings? Last year there were four out of five in the list for factual podcasts. Okay, now, I’m really risking losing the buzz from this coffee. Are we losing the love for greatness that made us want to be skeptics in the first place?

Here’s a brief story:

A little while back, someone made a comment on Twitter (I’m not going to bother doing any research for this story, you’ll just have to take my randomly cheerful word for it) about how a convention site didn’t have a list of charities for people to support.

I could have rudely snapped back about how the convention site was for a bloomin’ convention - but I didn’t.

I said “Great idea, why not make a list? I think that’s an area of need and I’m happy to support it.” Or something like that. Maybe my coffee is making it more rose-coloured than the briefer 140-response I would have given. But I do remember stepping back and telling myself not to be an arse about it.

And they did it. They did some research (I think I provided one link to help) and popped up a list on their site. It was for their local area, their city, but it was a start. And I retweeted it to my however-many-dozen-followers-I-had-accrued-that-particular-month and hopefully others manage to Favourite it and pass it onto more people.

It was a #GreatSkepticism moment.

Now, what’s a #GreatSkepticism moment? It’s something that Sharon Hill and Michael Marsh have been encouraging via Twitter. I’d like to see more of it. I’d like to see more projects that get that zen-like buzz that makes the rest of the day feel like you’ve accomplished something. Even if it’s getting the mental equivalent of clean jeans ready for the day.

Maybe I’m being all Pollyanna-ish, mere hand-wringing, sentimental coffee-rush - and this moment of morning clarity will wear off as soon as I crack open my copy of Stephen Law’s Philosophy Gym in order to inspire me when discussing Kant (I’m thinking “Killing Mary to Save Jodie” is what I’ll most likely use) – and I’ll be back to ignoring issues on Facebook and lending the occasional pat on the back to everyone who doesn’t deserve to have the rest of the year plagued by things that weigh them down every morning.

But if this helps a Tweet-meme develop, by all means, feel free to use it.

Coffee finished, I’m off to class.

About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • Cuttlefish

    Do you rock? Yes. Yes, you rock.

  • Elvira

    Well said – may your positive glow last the week and beyond!


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