• Six Things I Learned at TAM

    I intend to write a relatively serious post of skeptical lessons learned at TAM, but this is not that post. Once I manage to rest and recuperate just a bit, I will write that post. This is more of a general impressions and incidental lessons post, and it will not contain any skeptical wisdom whatsoever. At least not much, and certainly not intentionally.

    1. The internet is made of people – This is overwhelmingly self-evident, at some level, but oftentimes it feels as if we aren’t fully aware that people that we’ve been talking to on social media and e-mail all this time are truly human beings with faces, feelings and a full compliment of all the usual foibles and virtues.  The difference between meeting someone in the flesh with their real name on a lanyard and seeing them online as an unidentifiable avatar with an anonymous handle is profound, in terms of how we communicate and read one another. To quote John Suler:

      Consciously or unconsciously, people may feel that the imaginary characters they “created” exist in a different space, that one’s online persona along with the online others live in an make-believe dimension, separate and apart from the demands and responsibilities of the real world.

      Thankfully, this problem can most likely be remedied with regular doses of real world interaction, and thankfully there are conferences like TAM which can draw in our online friends from all over the world.

      Skeptic Inkers at the Del Mar (John Loftus, Russell Blackford, Ed Clint, Jacques Rousseau, Caleb Lack, Damion Reinhardt)
      Skeptic Inkers at the Del Mar (John Loftus, Russell Blackford, Ed Clint, Jacques Rousseau, Caleb Lack, and me)

      If only we could hang out and have a beer with our internet foes, maybe then we could really get on with making the world a better place.

    2. South Point is the Death Star – A massive and completely self-contained structure with the ability to feed, shelter and domicile an army of drones, bent upon a mission to squeeze the lifeblood out of the hapless innumerate masses. Since it would be gauche (and probably cliche) to point out the situational irony of holding an event dedicated to enlightenment and consumer protection while countless scores of people piss away their Social Security checks downstairs, chasing improbable payouts with hopes firmly rooted in cognitive illusions, I’m just going to move on to something more upbeat.
       
    3. Everyone has a story to tell – The doors to the various events were most often covered by a tall and athletic fellow named Mario, who originally hails (like my parents) from southside Chicago. Because of the placement of the Skeptic Ink table relative to the door, we had plenty of time to talk and swapped all kinds of stories. I met some very interesting people throughout TAM, but very few of them spoke of experiences so far outside of my own. My favorite story was the one about the couple that started losing their minds when the husband blew through their savings.He also asked me to explain scientific skepticism to him, and I did my very best to fill him in on the history and core mission thereof. I was honored to get the chance to introduce someone to the movement for the first time, and I can only hope to meet more young people like him with an open mind and a bright disposition. If you’re reading this, Mario, good luck in the upcoming tournament.
       
    4. Booze is cheap and plentiful – I’ve never been to a hotel with a full liquor shop, much less one where the booze is more affordable than it would have been back home. Presumably, they make the profit loss up somewhere else in the building, possibly by taking advantage of decreased inhibitions and poorer judgment on the gaming floor. If you were hoping to put your own disinhibition to a less impoverishing use, this is actually a pretty good deal.
       
    5. Niche fame is a harsh mistress – Some people handle it with grace, humility, and aplomb, others not so much. This is the part where I don’t name names, but I will say that most of the people we met were open, kindhearted, and generous.
      There is one of good ones
      One of the good ones

      Naturally, I will do my part by scrupulously avoiding the sort of hard-charging, high-functioning behavior that usually puts people on the map. 😉

    6. Everything is connected – Speaking of maps, it’s not particularly easy to get from point 16 to point 1 on this floorplan (page two) but it can be done in real life if only you know which doors to open, and you don’t mind the gray areas. I’ve written before about massive interconnectness of the people who make up the skeptical and freethought movements, but if I had not already done so, I would have to now. It felt like most everyone we met already had something in common in the way of experiences or associations or mutual friends.In one particularly striking example, I discovered that Carbon Kyle and I attended the same university and wrote for the same student-run lampoon comic, waaay back in the way, but we didn’t meet in real life until Skepticon III, at a party in the hotel room of the president of Oklahoma Atheists. Last weekend, we met again (in yet another hotel room party) because he’d been sponsored to attend TAM by the lovely mangaka whom I interviewed here at Skeptic Ink just a few weeks awhile ago. I’ve actually left out a few other coincidences in that particular series of events, because they are a bit too much in the way of inside baseball, but you get the idea.What I’m getting at here (again) is that we have to think twice before publicly making enemies and holding grudges in a highly connected community, because the odds are very good that you have at least some mutual friends and interests that will eventually put back in the same room.

    Ok, that’s all for now. Tomorrow I will really buckle down and come up with a few lessons learned that the speakers were actually trying to teach us.

    Category: ConferencesSecularismSkepticism

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.

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    • An Ardent Skeptic

      7. The lighting and decor in South Point are awful for portraiture. Faces look greenish yellow in photos.

      • Chas Stewart

        Thanks for making us look like VIPs in the convention hall. By the 20th flash, I felt like looking around the room for adoring fans to wave at and smile.

      • An Ardent Skeptic

        I should have taken a lot more photos at TAM. Unfortunately, I was in pain and didn’t want to lug my camera around most of the time. Next year, Armchair and I should stand in the hall, and I’ll take pictures while Armchair takes notes on contact info for photo subjects. (I suppose we should do the same in the Del Mar if it’s allowed.) I’ll set up my camera on a tripod and put up a sign saying “Have your photo taken here”. I’ll be the unofficial TAM photographer for lowly peons like us who want their picture taken with and without VIPs.

        What do you think? Sound like a good plan?

      • Great idea! And, great to meet you and Armchair 🙂

      • Great meeting you guys, too!

      • An Ardent Skeptic

        Actually, photo ops with VIPs is a fundraising opportunity for the JREF. “Get your professional quality photo taken with a VIP for a small donation to the JREF.” They could have a photo shoot setup like they have on cruise ships.

    • Chas Stewart

      Hey bro, I like your caption under the Jacoby picture. If you want the bad one, just ask.

      Yes, good luck Mario! You were damn astute in the ways of all things sport and a fellow Heat hater. Show those young bucks next week how to do it and let’s all hope that the Bulls can represent the East next year instead of the Dark Side.

    • Brive1987

      A couple of questions immediately spring to my mind.

      In light of recent discussions I would be interested in the general vibe of TAM re CAM/BigFoot vs religion vs religious claims.

      Specifically whether there is (was) a frowning at atheism at the conference a la PZ
      complaints.

      If so, was it more because of the (perceived) agressive politics of the moment or the personalities, was it that Atheism was seen as conceptually to philosophically naturalistic for skepticism or did Big Tent Skepticism (ie TAM) just seem naturally more interested in other topics?

      But then again perhaps Atheism did make it onto the main stage?

      Secondly what was the practical fallout from the Surly walkout / skepchick boycotts of last year. Did you notice TAM responding in any obviouse way and (re)adjust the way it approached the problem of dealing with real or inferred harassment? I’d imagine that after last year and donglegate, regardless of your position, you would be motivated to at least reassess SOP.

      .

      • I’d say atheism was quite well represented (Coyne, Boghassian, and others spoke much on it during their talks).

        Also, I didn’t see any fallout in evidence, other than the fact that there was quite literally no drama and bullshit at TAM. It was quite lovely.

      • I’d agree with Caleb that atheism was relatively well-represented, but I will point out that atheism is just a small part of the overall rationalist project. Theistic faith claims are harmful, but they are just one kind of harmful claim based on faith.

      • Brive1987

        So fair to say Big Tent Skepticism isn’t crushing the life out Atheism IRL. Good. Thought not. I can carry on now.

      • I didn’t mention this earlier, but the atheist / skeptic ratio by table out in the hallways was even closer to evenly balanced, in my estimation. AHA, Foundation Beyond Belief, Church of Baconology, and a few others were on hand.

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