Some time back, I was an enthusiastic member of the local skeptics' meetup.  It was a chaotic, free form get together where people talked about, just about anything.  People got to know each other, discussed their experiences, and I felt a sense of community.

About a year ago, the meetup changed.  There was movement toward a more formal meeting, where people sat around one table and each person spoke in turn.  That change was largely instigated by one or two outspoken members who came to dominate the meetup.  When there were "side conversations", people were told to stop talking, it was too hard to hear the important people talk.  It was not said, specifically, that some people were more important than others.  Rather, some people were told to be quiet so others with "something to say" could be heard.


There are so many great conversations and interesting, kind, thoughtful, caring, intelligent, insightful, experienced people on Nexus.  Maybe what I sought was not monitored topic discussion, but rather flesh and blood, face to face, fellowship.  The fellowship here on Nexus means the world to me.  But it's still nice to explore the in-person aspect.  Shake someone's hand, see their expression, personal nuances that add additional feelings to being alive.  Make me know I'm not the only person in town who thinks this way.  And feel a sense of contribution to the local community.


I haven't been to the local skeptics meetup for about a year.  I attended a meetup yesterday.


It was still, just what I didn't care for - roughly 20 people sitting around a table, each speaking in turn.  Impossible to have a real conversation.  The moderator would ask questions that, I guess, were intended to illuminate certain topics. 


A lot of time was spent discussing agnosticism vs. atheism.  There were 3 self-avowed agnostics.  The moderator said, he was an agnostic because he does not have the arrogance to say if there is a god or not.   A pretty arrogant statement, I thought, but I didn't say anything.  A lot of that discussion went into the law of conservation of energy, with several people stating that it proves life after death  They regard their consciousness as a form of energy, so cannot be destroyed by death.  I wanted to say "compost" but did not. 


Another member was also convinced, his house was infested with poltergeists. The "spirits" moved pictures of the previous owner out of a box, and put them on the wall.  The previous owner was a bad guy with a lot of negative energy.  I wondered if the speaker was being spoofed, but did not say anything. Another member also noted experiences with poltergeists.  Their house was filled with the energies of prior inhabitants. 


There was talk about space aliens, and how humans may be different from other animals due to space alien influences, and religions may be vestiges of our confusing aliens with gods.  Someone said humans are special because we have self awareness, and animals do not.  There was no discussion of what self awareness is, why is it special, how we know other animals are or are not self aware, and whether all humans are self aware.  No skepticism.  I did speak up there and ask, how do you know that? and was pretty much brushed aside.


I left after about an hour.  This did not feel like fellowship or community.  It felt like a sunday-school composed of credulous, not-so-critical-thinking, so-called skeptics.   It was flesh-and-blood, but I didn't enjoy it.  I don't mean to criticize the folks who attended.  But the format and moderation left me feeling like this was clearly not for me. 


Some day I hope to wander around the country and meet more of the folks, who I meet here.  That will be the flesh-and-blood part.  I know, a gathering of the nonreligious can not be expected to meet my personal needs.   Just because other people self-identify as skeptics, does not mean they are. 


In a world containing billions of people, I feel very fortunate to find the folks on Nexus, diverse, likable, and interesting.  Thank Gore for the information superhighway, to find this needle in the human haystack.  No intention to attend another such meetup in my community.


(Illustration source  Gustav Doré English Bible, 1866.  They do not illustrate actual events or members at the Skeptic's meetup).



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Comment by Luara on February 5, 2014 at 5:17pm

It is wrong to spray paint my house with insults relative to my thinking.

People get insulting when they're embarrassed, to recover from embarrassment.  Or when they feel psychologically threatened (some illusion is threatened) and they get insulting to defend the illusion. 

With Sentient, he was trying to reach out and have relationships with people he can actually see and hear.  Which would be a good thing, but sadly it didn't work. 

I like the Socratic method for interacting with BS.  One doesn't insult the idea or argue with it.  One only presents information and asks questions.  (which is what Sentient did). 

I like not arguing with BS - because arguing is a lot of work; arguing doesn't work; and arguing often just gets you insulted. 

When one asks Socratic type questions, it's less likely to result in an insult - because a question, partially determines how the other person will respond. They're being asked for an answer, not for an insult. 

So for me, this style makes it easier to engage with people when they come out with stuff that bugs me or that doesn't make sense.  It makes it easier to be out there in the world where one is bombarded with miscellaneous strange beliefs and assertions. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on February 5, 2014 at 1:04pm

Luara, I really like your statement that Daniel did try to speak and was brushed aside. I am glad that he did speak, and I support his decision that the group was not meeting his needs so he left. What else can one do in such a situation? 

However, to look into the matter again, being brushed aside is a common experience when dealing with reason and religion. Of course religious know they are right, the bible told them so. Religious also believe they have a right to dominate because the bible told them so. People who give up one cloud of superstition often take up another cloud, whether it is magic or space aliens. 

Excuse me! So what if the bible told them so? so what if the preacher/teacher told them so?  so what if their family told them so? so what if their neighbor told them so? so what if their delusions change form? Do all these people, all these authority figures, all these delusions matter? 

They don't matter to me. They present evidence that I need to speak out more often, more clearly, and louder than I have been. I can even speak softly and quietly if that is my nature. But speak I must. 

Do people know about the joy of seeing a flower and knowing the long, long, tortuous journey that species takes to be in my garden? Or to see a bird and understand all the challenges it has overcome in order to nest in my trees and eat the foods I provide? Do people comprehend the many events that brought human life to this point in the history of time? Even more importantly, do people grasp the meaning of pollution caused by human activity and the consequences? 

People who hold onto a cloud of superstition and impact the things taught in public schools, and the laws that influence my life, or the sense of community that excludes me because I am an atheist surrounded by cloud-graspers, then it is personal. Personal is political. 

So, people who don't like what I say or how I say it does concern me, but not in the way that will shut me up. There is nothing wrong with being criticized or opposed. It is part of life. It is wrong to spray paint my house with insults relative to my thinking. It is wrong to knock on my door uninvited to infect me with their virus. It is wrong to impose upon me and my good nature with their bile. Therefore, I tell them so. 

Now, I can enjoy the sunlight and realize why it shines. I look at the night sky and see all those beautiful stars, constellations, planets, and the moon with a sense of awe that is so profound I am sure my brain waves do something differently. I know I have a physical reaction to such wonder. I can visit with my neighbor realizing we each have stories to tell of victory and failures, of strength and weakness, of fear and courage, of anger and tranquility, of pride and shame, of self-esteem and guilt. All of this exists, not because of clouds of superstition, but because what is, is. 

Comment by Easton Le on February 5, 2014 at 2:59am

Sentient Biped, when I read your blog from a while back I was sad for you and hoped you would give it another try one day. I am a hopeful and optimistic person and wish the best for most people, so I was really hoping you would find some place later in life that would address these issues. I am sad to hear that this attempt at finding fellowship with a new group of skeptics didn't go well. But it sounds like you have at least one person in your comments thread that would want to get together. Maybe you should try forming your own small group. You don't need to be loud and domineering to lead a small meetup of friends. Especially when they are looking for the same things as you do.

Comment by Luara on February 4, 2014 at 6:45pm

I am one of the shy ones

Their loss. The picture you paint of loud silly stuff dominating, is horribly familiar.

I wonder if poltergeists ever play lawn games - badminton, volleyball.

Comment by Daniel W on February 4, 2014 at 5:57pm

Jason you are right about the size of the group. Smaller would be better.

I do like the free form idea where someone can partake of and participate in various conversations with various people. I guess if everyone needs to hear what everyone is saying at all times, then one person at a time is the way to go. Homo sapiens is such an authoritarian species. One primate always has to dominate the group.

Maybe it depends on what happened to people in family gatherings when we grew up. In my family everyone always spoke at once. It was like a symphony only not so harmonious. Maybe more like a flock of birds.

Joan I am one of the shy ones. On the internet I can ponder for a while. Even then I don't get it right.

Comment by Luara on February 4, 2014 at 5:36pm


Daniel did speak up and said he was brushed aside. 

One thing that's nice about places like A/N is that there's an equality in written words.  Shy people write in the same size as loud, domineering people. 

I was wondering also when I read what he wrote, about questioning those people.  The bull poop about consciousness and energy conservation is particularly heaped and steaming. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on February 4, 2014 at 3:24pm

Daniel, your writing evokes such strong images in me and feelings, too. I wonder what the worst would be if you had said out loud what you were thinking? I wonder if others feel and think similar ways as you? I wonder if all the magical stuff some talked about were their way to avoid looking at the evidence of no such thing? I wonder if they feel depressed and anxious about feeling out of control of their lives and use superstitions to avoid reality?

No sense in trying to speak out in such an environment. I wonder if others in that group yearn for something more realistic, less magical? Were there others who were silent and who looked as though they were seeking more depth? Were non-theist? Non-ghostists? Non-space alienists? 

I don't like being in groups of more than 6 or 8 because the shy ones get left out. I suppose wanting to include everyone in turn is an attempt to have all voices heard; my expectation is that people who like to control others have taken leadership and others who are not leaders allowed them to lead. 

You write so powerfully I am glad you have this medium to express yourself. Your illustrations also evoke strong feelings in me. 

Comment by Jason Spicer on February 4, 2014 at 1:16pm

A big part of the problem is just the size of the group. If you get much beyond four people, side conversations and interruptions make it very difficult to be heard by the whole group. I'm sure that drove a lot of the people who wanted a more structured approach. I think it's probably better to just split into smaller groups if we want to socialize.

Comment by Luara on February 4, 2014 at 8:41am

How about suggesting to them that they have both?

I used to go to 12-step meetings for abuse survivors.  We would have the structured meeting, then a lot of people would go to a restaurant afterwards and chat.  It IS nice to get to know people in person, and this setup worked well for that. 

I went to a local atheist meetup for awhile, but it was unpleasant.  The conversation was loud and nonstop, and I tended to tune it out because people weren't saying anything thoughtful or intelligent - just rattling on.   

Perhaps with the structured setup, the people at your meetup were trying to discourage this kind of conversation where whoever's loudest dominates with whatever's rattling in their head, like shaking a gourd at you for hours. 

Comment by Michael Penn on February 4, 2014 at 5:26am

I've studied ghosts and phenomena for 20 years. Did I used to believe in them? Yeah. Do I believe in them now? NO. The world of phenomena encompasses some of the same woo used to believe in sky daddy. The evidence is all circular and if you believe it's because you want to. If you believe in ghosts I'll also ask you if you believe in faries.


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