On the value of local community
If you’re reading this, you’re active enough in online skepticism and freethought to be aware of even the more obscure websites (such as my own) and you quite likely are aware of all the bizarre kerfuffles that come with dabbling in skepticism and atheism online. Are you also involved in your own local freethought community? If not, I strongly recommend that you give it a go.
I’ve effusively praised my local community in this space before, but let me tell you one more story. We just went through a fairly rigorous election contest in order to determine the leadership board for one of the top ten atheist meetup groups in the world, and it would not be accurate to say that the campaigns were uniformly positive. I’m not going into any detail here, but it’s safe to assume that some feelings were at least bruised in the process, and it’s quite safe to say that I’m not blameless in this respect. That said, after all was said and done, my victorious opponent has made a point of reaching out to me and bringing me in to help with various projects, and she has made it clear that we have a clean slate going forward. Since I’m fairly confident that she doesn’t read this space, I can say without risk of embarrassment how very impressed that I am with her attitude and maturity in putting aside any negative history in favor of working together for the good of the group.
Now, when is the last time you saw that happen in the online movement? Maybe it has, somehow and somewhere, but it seems to me so much easier to reconcile and work with people whom you see regularly in person than with those whom you only know as a collection of pixels on a screen. Similarly, people whom you only talk to online cannot easily visit you in the hospital, bring you food for a wake, protest or lobby with you at the State Capitol, introduce you to the next love of your life, or help you pull off a secular wedding. These sorts of things require real-world interpersonal contact, and that is something you’re only going to get by creating and sustaining a local community of freethought and skepticism.
Generally speaking, the deep rifts and hateful recriminations which has come to characterize online skepticism are relatively absent from the local groups. In fact, most of the members aren’t even vaguely aware of all the hyperbolic rhetoric which has been flung about in cyberspace, and would just as soon discuss all manner of other topics. I’d be enormously relieved if the online activists would start taking their cues from the grassroots, in this respect, instead of expecting it should be the other way around.
If you’d like to seek out a local group and don’t know quite where to start, I’d recommend this helpful page from vjack. If you’re a misanthropic loner who fears the company of others, I’d recommend this page instead. Either way, share and enjoy!