The most frequent emails I get from atheists are the ones asking how to get more hits for their web site. Those emails infuriate me. Stop sending them.
“But JT, don’t you worry about blog hits?”
No. No I don’t. I’m aware of how many I get. It’s flattering. It’s nice to have people read my ramblings. But this is the first year in eight years of blogging that I have the first clue how many people visit my blog, and that’s only because FtB makes it easy. Up until this year I had no idea and didn’t care…because I was out doing shit.
I was refining my debate style and going out to engage religious people on my campus, not on a stage.
I was helping start a college secular group.
I was working with our college group to oppose evangelists and raise money for charity and, in doing so, developing my own unique style of activism.
I was starting and running an atheist conference.
You get the picture. My priority was getting shit done, not how many people saw me doing it.
Yesterday I wrote…
There are some prominent people in this movement who are good a gussying up to the famous atheists in the hopes of getting promoted, but who treat anybody who cannot directly benefit them with indifference. Those people piss me off.
There’s a lot more not prominent people doing the same thing. That’s because fame-seeking seems to be a lousy way to achieve fame.
Take Greta Christina for example. If Greta had to write under a pseudonym for her entire life, she’d still do it because the fame isn’t the reason, the writing is the reason. If you write to be well-read, you’ll burn out. It takes a long time of writing and refining your style with nobody giving the first shit before you pick up a readership. If you write because it helps you organize thoughts or because you feel personally moved to do it, that’s what makes a happy writer – and it has zero to do with how many people are reading.
And what do you think made PZ, Greta, or Hemant famous? Do you think it was because they went around sucking up to everybody who could promote them? Hell no. They did shit and people noticed! They didn’t have to ask people to promote them because they were out doing things that people naturally want to promote.
“But JT, isn’t it nice to give talks and have people applaud?”
Yes, it is. I enjoy it. Is that what you’re in it for, so you can feel nice? Well, that’s not what I’m in it for (nor what most of your atheist heroes are in it for, I’d wager). I’m a public speaker because that’s my niche – it’s where my skill set lies. And if you’ve ever encountered somebody who has seen me speak, they will tell you a few things:
1. I never go to a green room. I’m not there for the “famous” people (though some famous people are just fun folks, and I enjoy them for that…looking at you, Matt Dillahunty).
2. If there are seats designated for speakers and/or people who paid extra, I don’t go sit there. I feel more at home with the portion of the crowd with which I have spent most of my life as an activist.
3. I use my platform to empower others. I don’t see other atheists doing great things as a threat to my popularity, because popularity isn’t the damn point. I want to see more people doing great work.
4. If people compliment me, I generally thank them and quickly get right back into activism or talking about what they are doing in this movement.
If you envy a public speaker because of the accolades without first wondering if that’s the spot in this movement for which you are best suited, you need to rethink some things. Activism is not about accolades, it’s about change. If you are more worried about getting pictures on your group’s web site before your group has run a single event (I have seen this happen recently), you are going about it wrong. Fix it.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be like someone you admire. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to emulate a PZ Myers or a Greta Christina or a Hemant Mehta. But if the part you’re most concerned with emulating is their popularity, you’ve lost sight of what’s important. If you really want to be like them, ditch the pursuit of fame, because that’s not why they’re where they’re at. Adopt the best qualities of our best public atheists for the purpose of making yourself a better person and for making earth a better planet.
And being a great activist will probably not make you famous either. You know who is a better activist than I will ever be? David Burger, the contributor to this site. The man is the most incredible activist/leader you’ve never heard of, and that’s ok. My debate style was largely forged by watching Dave do it and mimicking his approach. I learned a lot of how to debate from him. Another example is Lyz Liddell, the director of organizing for the Secular Student Alliance. This woman has done more for this movement than literally anybody I can think of, and she’s done it with all the stealth of a ninja. That more people know my name than hers is a fucking crime.
But that’s how great movements work. The most ideal atheist movement is not full of a ton of people seeking recognition, it’s full of people doing shit who will give credit where credit is due if fame happens to glance their way. This is precisely what most of the high profile atheists do. It’s not about them, it’s about all of us. And in most cases, that’s why they are so loved by the people in this movement.
So, send me emails asking how to be a better activist. Ask me how to improve your abilities with debate. Ask me how to express yourself better as a writer. Ask me how to run an event. Do not, under any circumstances, send me one more god damn email asking how to get hits on your blog/youtube channel. Contributing to changing the world is awesome. Fame-seeking with the secondary goal of changing the world is shallow, self-interested bullshit. Don’t do it.