I started this blog less than 2 years ago, partially in a misguided attempt to impress a girl (how could that possibly have failed to work?), but also because I had some encouragement from friends who liked the kinds of topics I would talk about in periodic Facebook notes. I had also just moved and had started a new chapter in my life – I thought it was worthwhile to write some things down. In that short time my writings have attracted a small but loyal following, and I’ve been lucky enough to place them on a variety of platforms aside from my lowly former home at WordPress. Most recently, this includes a regular gig here at FreeThoughtBlogs.
When I was first invited to write here, I was delirious with happiness. Who would have thought that a pup like me would get a chance to run with the big dogs? How amazing it would be to get a big of splashover traffic from Pharyngula or from Dispatches? What a great chance for me to rub shoulders with people who I’d previously only been able to quietly admire from afar! And hey, maybe I’ll get a couple of bucks out of the deal too! Because I’m not an idiot, I said yes almost immediately.
But as the date for the launch grew closer and closer, I began to feel my anxiety grow. Blogging is not a game for the thin-skinned, to be sure. When you put your ideas out into the world, provided you actually care about your ideas, opening them up to the scrutiny of anyone who happens to pass by is a pretty daunting prospect. Imagine literally living in a glass house, where every move you make could be scrutinized by your neighbours or just people strolling down the street – people who feel entitled to spraypaint their opinions of you on your walls. Now, if you live out in the boondocks (as I have up until now), this kind of exposure might not be a big deal. After all, it’s the same few people passing by, and they’ve seen your man-boobs before – whatevs. Now I was being offered a similarly-transparent accommodation, but this time in a bustling metropolis.
Anyway, I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you some of the thoughts that have been cropping up in the ol’ noodle over the past few weeks.
What I am looking forward to:
- I really like talking to smart people.
While I do write this blog for you, I write it just as much (if not more) for myself. While I have some ideas that have become cemented in my mind over a number of years, I am constantly scrutinizing my beliefs and looking for opportunities to be more correct. Having a blog here at FTB means (hopefully) that my more egregious ideas will yield interesting and fruitful commentary, which will allow me to either find better ways of defending my position or abandon that position for a more nuanced and refined one.
- I am excited to have a larger audience.
I think I have good ideas. I think some of the ideas I have, if adopted by others, could make the world a better place. That’s pretty much the ethos of any polemic blogger. I’ve received e-mails from readers, I’ve received comments from friends, I’ve heard from other bloggers that I have tapped into an interesting niche that straddles my personal interests in a way that makes those interests accessible to neophytes to the worlds of atheism and anti-racism. The more people we have talking about these topics, particularly those who may not see the parallels immediately, the better.
- I think diversity is important.
While I work as a scientist, I am not a ‘real scientist’. I’m more interested in politics and law than I am in cosmology or evolution. While I think science is the key to understanding the physical world around us, understanding the human world around us is just as important. Beyond simple diversity of ideas, I also think that diversity of opinion is important. Who could possibly argue that Greta Christina’s voice is unwelcome in discussions of atheism, just because she doesn’t focus on religion all the time? She adds a perspective on LGBT-related issues that gives me a fuller understanding of what the experience of that group is like. I am looking forward to doing my level best at offering something similar.
What I am not looking forward to:
- Hate mail.
I talk about race and racism in a very explicit, no-punches-pulled kind of way. Because of power dynamics being the way they are in my country, our Southern neighbour, and in most of the world, this usually involves criticisms of white people as a demographic group. In the same way that religious people feel ‘persecuted’ when atheists disparage the actions of religious institutions, I have found that white people are unaccustomed to criticism that falls along racial lines, and often unwilling to distinguish criticism of ideas from criticism of people. I do my level best to make this distinction clear (although I am not always perfect and sometimes need to be reined in), but I am quite sure I will upset a few people along the way.While I have found the freethinking community to be fairly forgiving and tolerant, even when they themselves are being criticized, the experience of people who had the galling temerity to talk about something that criticizes the majority (I am thinking explicitly of Rebecca Watson here) gives me reason to be a bit anxious. At least I am less likely to be threatened with rape.
- Questions about my ‘qualifications’
I do not hide the fact that I am not a credentialed commenter on the things I discuss most frequently. I don’t have a PhD in racism or anything like that (although that doesn’t really seem to matter). I accept that I may (and do) get things wrong from time to time. I try to support my arguments as best I can, and never go so far as to equate my opinion with iron-clad fact. That doesn’t seem to matter to people who like to question my credibility at every turn, and dismiss me because I’m just some guy. I really am sorry that I’m just some guy who said some stuff you don’t like. Show me where I am wrong and I won’t say it anymore.
- Being the ‘token affirmative action black friend’
I don’t have a book or a popular podcast or even a position in a secular organization. I’m just a guy with a blog on some far-flung corner of the internet that got asked to sit at the cool kids’ table. I share your doubts about whether or not I’ve ‘earned’ the right to be here (if you have them). I can guess that aside from my ability to string together grammatical sentences, my reasons for being here have largely to do with my alternative perspective, which is directly informed by my racial identity, history, and familiarity with the subject matter. So be it.
What I’m not looking forward to is the implication that the guys here at FTB just needed to fill some kind of quota to deflect accusations of race bias (“See? We’ve got a black guy now!”) Such an implication is insulting to me personally, but I think it more strongly impugns the integrity of the people running the show. I am prepared to work my black ass off to demonstrate that I really do belong here, and that I really do have something worth bringing to the conversation.
Anyway, I wrote this mainly to clear the air, and to give you a bit of insight into my thought process coming into this. I am excited and eager to grow into this platform, and to engage with you good people on some issues that I think are important for us all to consider. We might not always get along, but hopefully we’ll still respect each other in the morning.
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If you didn’t have mixed feelings, you wouldn’t have an accurate sense of what you’re getting into. Even fourth-tier bloggers like me have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous commenters (although the notorious DM is finally getting the psych treatment he needed). Good luck!
This whitey, for one, is looking forward to hearing what you have to say re: race. I learned some things I didn’t know with regards as to what women put up with and their POVs in our society from the aforementioned “elevatorgate”, and my I’m sure I’ll learn a thing or three here.
Let the games begin!
I have no doubt that the vast (vast) majority of readers will be at least willing to give my arguments a fair hearing and reasoned scrutiny. The welcome I have received has been overwhelmingly positive, and that definitely makes me less apprehensive. That being said, I am braced for the onslaught of kooks, the butthurt whines, the recycled arguments, and the parade of straw men that inevitably follow these kinds of discussions.
Thanks for the vote of confidence.
I certainly feel for your anxieties. I brace myself for a beating before reading my own comments section and all I am talking about is philosophy and the vast majority of the comments are thoughtful, constructive challenges or elaborations of my ideas or expressions of support, etc. I get whacked regularly but I’ve only ever had to delete three comments as offensive. (But all three were racist comments—two towards Muslims and one towards blacks. And I almost never even talk about race—I prefer my feet on the ground, not in my mouth, thank you very much. I can only imagine with worry what lies ahead for you.)
So, yeah, I don’t envy your task at all. Far from being some advantaged “affirmative action” contributor, you’ve been brought on in part because you can do some of the hardest and personally risky blogging on one of the most important topics on the site. It is important but relatively easy to write blog posts for this audience that attack religion. Someone’s gotta do it for the sake of the larger blogosphere so it’s great that’s what we’re all doing. But nowhere is it easy to morally challenge people to get outside their comfort zones. Insofar as we all are making that challenge to religious people, we are risky, but we have a comments section filled with bulldog atheists to back us up. Hopefully, you will find enough bulldogs for racial justice in your comments sections too. I can’t say in advance whether you and I will always agree but in either case I’ll have your back against those who want to marginalize your experience and perspective or bully you into silence because you make them uncomfortable, and I am optimistic many others will too.
Do we at FTB explicitly want to cover a diversity of important moral and political topics and look for bloggers who can address to them? Yes. But that’s very different from wanting to do favors to undeserving people. It’s rather very much a matter of wanting to do justice to under-served topics. And it’s very different from only being willing to bring on bloggers from traditionally marginalized groups if they will talk about those topics. I don’t think, for example, that anyone is confused that Greta Christina is here just to fill an LGBT quota and not because she’s flat out one of the best bloggers on the internet. Keep up the quality of your previous blog and I’m quite sure there will be little doubt in your case either.
I have very little doubt that the authors here, and a good chunk of the readership, recognize the need for and value of diverse perspectives. I think I’m a good writer, and it seems that others agree, but it’s hard not to be intimidated when I look around the ‘room’ and see the quality and profile of my confreres. I’ll grow into the position, and this anxiety will pass I’m sure.
Thanks. I appreciate that.
Don’t worry, several of us have expressed anxieties about being out of our league being here. I know I for one feel them. As you probably know, it’s called “impostor syndrome”. And unfortunately there is still no known cure. Researchers were close at one point but then they lost confidence that they were really deserving to have such an awesome responsibility and just quit to go play video games in their underwear in their parents’ basements.
Internet super hero special to Freethought Blogs, Jen McCreight, has a great post about impostor syndrome, fittingly from a year ago today. So that’s just another way that you can say you are in her company now 😉
I’m also not looking forward to wrangling with the formatting of the WP platform every time I want to make an embedded bulleted list. Apologies for the font weirdness – after 6 or 7 tries this was the clearest I could make it.
Personally, I’m looking forward to being made a little uncomfortable by what you have to say. Otherwise, how will I learn and grow?
Congratulations on the invite to FTB! I was practically counting the days until you and Jen got invited, and I can hardly think of any more worthy (formerly-)independent bloggers to come under the banner.
In the realm of ideas, dismissing someone for insufficient qualifications is a tacit admission that you have no actual counter for those ideas. As long as one’s ideas are expressed clearly (and people are given a forum to respond–one reason I don’t frequent Andrew Sullivan’s ‘blog’), the only counter to ideas is a critique of the ideas. Now, admittedly, it can get when facing down an MRA or a religious nutbag or a racist who *just won’t learn* after you try to patiently explain how they’re not exactly right; not *every* idea needs to be countered every time it’s expressed.
But I think participating in your local CFI *is* qualification enough, given how many atheists (including myself) simply don’t. You have some very good ideas, and they’re worth consideration. That will frighten some people, and that’s a shame, but I hope the bumped-up attention doesn’t become too much to bear.
I once worked on a larger blog, and I know exactly what you’re feeling with regards to comments. People can be downright vicious, and there’s little excuse for it. Some of those comments stuck with me for days afterwords, picking away at my confidence.
All you can do is try to learn from the ones which might have a kernel of truth to them, and ignore the rest.
I’ve only followed your blog for a month or two, but when Greta Christina moved to FTB i wondered to myself how many new additions they’d accrue before you joined. Yours and Christina’s i find to be the two skeptic/atheist blogs of the most uniformly thoughtful, qualified content and simultaneously humble, personal appeal, and i’m delighted to see you brought together.
Enjoyed your work on your own blog and looking forward to reading more of it here. Hope the majority of comments are thoughtful and supportive 🙂
You folks are being so nice to me, thus rendering my first-day paranoia-thon gallingly ridiculous. Where are the “race realist” trolls? C’mon, I know you’re out there…
Seriously though, the support is greatly appreciated. I will consider it a challenge to which I must rise – producing content worthy of such an audience.
Look, races are real. You can deny it all you want, but the evidence is right there in front of your eyes. You’re intellectually dishonest. Just turn on the tv and see for yourself. There’s the Boston Marathon, the Americas Cup, Iditarod, the Indy 500…
How dare you, Enkidum? All your racy talk has really offended me. Next thing we know, you’ll be trying to bring up the average 50-meter-dash! Back to your troll hole!
OK, I’ll call Poe on this one – seems a bit too much made to order from #10…
They are. But one of the perks of FTB is that you’ve got a horde of ravenous cephalopods a few doors down who are always itching for a new chewtoy. *clenched-tentacle salute*
Personally, I’m just happy that there’s a semi-prominent skeptical blogger in my neck of the woods. Now I’m not so worried about how small the movement is here compared to the prevalence of woo.
Of course, I say this despite how a church just down the road from me recently had a ‘Creation vs Evolution’ event (work got in the way of me going, sadly)…and despite living where religiosity starts to win out. FFS, a creationist ran for my federal riding in the ’08 election.
There’s a pretty healthy amount of skeptical activity here in Van – maybe not equal to the sheer volume of woo-diculousness, but we’re building. Maybe I’ll be able to get a bit more of a spotlight shone on what we do here.
Welcome to the neighborhood! Don’t worry. The vast majority of people around here don’t bite, except when some trolls show up. Even then, only the trolls need be concerned with being bitten. In other words, we’ve got your back!
If you haven’t checked out Hank Fox’s blog a few door’s ‘up’, he had a great post about race and internal perceptions recently.
I grew up in the military (dad was US Air Farce) which is the weirdest contradiction in race relations I can imagine, although I didn’t really notice until much later, after I’d grown up and seen more overt racism for myself.
Military kids, by their very nature, are much less segregated than many in the civilian world. Most of us are ‘not from around here’, wherever here happens to be at the time. Growing up, I was pretty blind to any racism, and it didn’t seem to be an issue when we were young. Until 8th grade, that was the first year I went to a school off-base where we regularly mixed with civilian kids.
It was an eye-opener to say the least.
The reason the military is such a seeming contradiction is because racism seems so prevalent amongst many of the enlistees and officers (i.e. the ‘adults’), but all of us kids all sorta grew up together in the same boat, and it was all but non-existent. (at least it seemed that way, my perceptions could be wrong.)
I saw that piece, and I have it bookmarked and filed away because I hope to find an excuse to use it soon.
It’s weird when our entire world views come into conflict with those of our peers. Kids by and large don’t see the effects of race as such – it’s only much later that they begin to tease out their own biases. I’d wager it happens earlier to kids who are a demographic minority, regardless of what that minority happens to be.
Hey, we’ve met! I read your blog regularly! I suggested to Ed that we bring you in because I was impressed that you were a smart guy, and that you actually wrote lengthy, substantial blog posts about interesting and controversial stuff, and you were an out atheist. Also, all people from the Pacific Northwest are great, even if some of them are Canadian.
I don’t think color is an issue. I notice your blog is mostly white with black text, kind of like mine.
Thanks PZ. Not sure why this got caught in the spam filter…
We have indeed met. That was a really great evening for me – you’re actually one of the major influences that got me into blogging, and convinced me that regular posting was the key to success and happiness. To get a chance to share a platform with you is a big deal for me, so I’m determined not to screw it up.
I also promise no cats. There will be otters though.
I had never heard of your blog before you made the move to FtB, but you were added to my RSS aggregator after only reading a few paragraphs. Partially because I liked the idea of a fellow citizen of Soviet Canuckistan joining this group, but far and away the main reason was the fact that I found what you had to say interesting and thought provoking.
I try to be as open-minded as possible, and actively seek to eliminate stereotypes, preconceptions, etc. in my thought patterns. Having grown up in rural Northern Ontario, a.k.a. The Great White North, certain notions wormed their way into my head, despite being raised in one of the most progressive environments possible. I have learned to stop and double check why I have certain gut reactions to certain issues (mostly, it seems, coming out of the white, male “Why don’t I get special treatment?” reflex), and try and see why I hold them.
I look forward to reading your blog, for both the apparent quality of the writing, and the issues discussed.
Oh, and if I disagree, you WILL know.
Thanks Dave, and I am glad to hear that you will not shy away from throwing rocks at the big chair. I look forward to many productive discussions with you and the others who have chimed in to express such positive sentiments. The ones that have negative sentiments… well I look forward to talking to them too 😛
Bold and vulnerable dude.
.. But wait …. what happened to the girl????
About the rest of it: Don’t worry, we’re all totally faking it.
We are getting together a very interesting group here at FTB.com. I’m looking forward to being your colleague.
I can never be 100% what happened with the girl. I’m pretty sure I waited too long to pull the trigger but whatever happened we both ended up dating other people instead.
I am very excited by our line-up. Onward to victory!
I’m just a random lurker, but I’ve been loving your writing. You have nothing to worry about–you’re in good company here at FTB, but then so are the bloggers you’re worrying about living up to. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.