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Semiformalishmaybe

SSA2009 Day 3

Unless something surprises me, my Columbus adventures are coming to a close soon. I have yet to do the final post on the trip - the next-and-last one will include pictures and detail the creation museum trip (I don't want to bother with downloading pictures from my phone right now) and might include in-depth thoughts about the content (I don't want to bother pulling the schedule out right now).

Up to the (likely) end:

Saturday's final sessions were pretty interesting, and some of us went down to a greek restaurant for dinner - the food there was quite tasty and I had a bit of someone else's dinner that was a variant on fondue. Yum! PZ Myers explained the role he wants to play in the movement - basically as a noisy "bad cop" that raises tempers and catalyses change. This brought to mind several arguments I once had when I was in SFF, as I was (and remain) a hardliner, but I realise that hardliner versus non-hardliner is not a clean distinction. My notion of appropriate behaviour (and I may be repeating myself) and hardliner-ness lies mainly in playing to win (in the sense that I do want society, as much as possible, to move towards universal atheism). I temper slightly my old position (which may be the stereotypical hardliner position, or not) that "We are better off without religion" to "We can do better of with other philosophies than religious ones", the difference between the two being a challenge to create that substance. I hold that while being secular is a "per se" good, the rest of the content of a worldview (individual or mass) could be very positive or negative (by my judgement framework), and there are many secular cultures we *could* make that would be worse than the status quo (e.g. objectivists). For that reason, people who think like me must not offer general solidarity to atheists - we would need to look at the specifics of both who they are and what the circumstances are. Secular Humanists merit considerable solidarity because of significant (but not complete) shared values, and our traditional solidarity with other (particularly liberal) Marxists and Anarchosocialists should remain strong. Forging a new liberal marxist movement (while discarding stupid bits of Marxism, like the phrasing and some ideas of "scientific socialism" (a theoretically objective social science that has values)) is our task. Returning to the point, I still don't think PZ Myers is a positive force - mocking religion is fune and is often a good tactic, but the mocking (and arguments) must always be intelligent. PZ's stuff is generally good, but it occasionally is kneejerk and unintelligent. Hardliner or softliner, we should claim an intellectual high ground and do our best to keep it. Jokes? Mockery? Sure. An intent to atheise the world? Sure. Neither of these are incompatible with a high amount of integrity and appropriate coverage of any event we talk about. The reason for this is that we're doing more than just knocking over religion - to just do that would be a terribly unwise rolling-of-the-dice. We're building a new society, and we should strive to advance the new values around which it is built, and to exercise them in ourselves as much as is reasonable in the meantime.

Example: A PZ Post. The problem: The conclusion. Find a terrible mishap caused by one flavour of faith and paint all of that (and all religion) with the same brush - "Religion matters, all right, it matters in an evil way". That's not careful, nor is it intelligent. I don't want our movement to advance that kind of sloppy (however fun in a viceral way) thinking. I don't want our new future to look like the toxic circus on PZ's comment sections. We can be hardliner, but polite. We can have religious friends (I daresay the wonderful discussions on philosophy I had with the one Christian pastor who showed up to the event despite the wide distance and enemies-on-one-level aspect might've turned into one of those weird friendly-with-some-tension relationships if I were in Columbus more often). We may have on average better philosophic conclusions (or at least I think so) than religious folk, but I heard very little philosophy beyond the simple preaching-to-the-crowd stuff.

I sometimes think I like to argue too much and maybe my attempt to shove careful philosophy to the front of all these debates isn't really realistic. I am very good at self-doubt!

Anyhow, after the PZ presentation, there were trivia and games. It was pretty amusing - the last bit had people dressing up like Xenu and throwing souls into a volcano (poking fun at scientology), then there was a trip back to AshleyP's place where I spoke with PZ for a bit about Bioinformatics. He's a pretty likable guy in person, and I can like him as a scientist as well. For reasons I won't go into, I couldn't go to the party, so I went off to get a room at the Red Roof Inn, then went back to Hounddogs. That place is a time capsule - looks exactly the same, same kind of waitresses, and for a while I had this impression that my life since leaving Columbus was just a bad dream. There was one small innovation - they had a Pesto Pizza (which I got), which was absolutely fantastic. I could only eat half of it, and I drove "home" to the hotel, found that the only thing available was T-Mobile's damned pay-through-the-nose internet, played some old NES roms for awhile, and went to sleep.

This morning: my body mistakenly thought that it was time to refinance all the sleep debt, and so I was late to campus for today's events. Today's stuff was mostly about the mechanics of passing on group leadership and staying involved after leaving a group. The advice was mainly for past leadership of a group (mostly go away so you can let a group become independent), although maybe it was a bit about older hangers-on too - I sometimes wonder about my light involvement in AHA (CMU's group) - I am indeed a lot older, and my biology and mind push me to seek dates and/or friends (despite other parts demanding reclusiveness) - I'm not sure if and how I should stay involved with student groups or if dating people that much younger is sane, particularly given different stages of life and .. meh.

Anyhow, the conference wrapped up, I said my goodbyes, and went for a nice walk around OSU campus. I keep forgetting how huge the place is - CMU would be swallowed up without a trace, and while CMU is kind of a "few-topics school" with Pitt being a full university, OSU is kind of an everything school - schools of dentistry, farming, etc. Following a certain family tradition, I rolled down the window and mooed at the cows while passing through those distant parts of campus. I miss that.

I miss Columbus - I'd hesistate to call them charms, but there are things I miss. Maybe a lot of it reminds me of the good old days of being on the philosophical edges of a lot of social groups - maybe getting older makes that metaphorical hydrostatic pressure more difficult.

and went to mirror lake for a bit, calling both an old friend Mac as well as one of my sisters - Katie. Sher-e-punjab and ice cream followed with Katie and one of her friends. Now I'm at Cup'o'Joe enjoying the tea and internet for awhile before I hit the road. I have a bit of a headache - I'm not sure if it's because I've had wine a few times while here, because I've eaten a good amount of cheese, or because of the normal stresses of travel and not much sleep. It's not too bad.

People seen:SharonAugAmandaPharmacyDan

New people met (non-exhaustive):AshleyPPZLizThe priest (whose name I have written down somewhere)

I guess I'll hit the road in a bit. I can't say I really want to go back, but I suppose after too much longer the lense of reminiscence would be replaced with a reality I probably don't want to see. Pittsburgh doesn't have much left for me, but neither does Columbus. Plus - I'm physically exhausted.

It was a good trip.

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