Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reactions to FtBConscience

Last weekend, I attended FtBConscience, a free online conference put on by Freethought Blogs. Here, "attended" means I watched several talks and panels live, lurked in the chat, and watched more videos in the following days. I wouldn't normally watch a bunch of hour-long videos, because the format really doesn't work for me, but the conference felt like more than the sum of its parts. There's something magical about designating it as a conference. I think it's knowing that a lot of other people in the movement who are watching the same videos and discussing them.

I don't know if it's really true that the atheist movement today is divided by Deep Rifts over feminism and social justice, or if this is a narrative exaggerated by reading too many atheist blogs. Whatever the case, the segment of the atheist movement surrounding FtB is partly formed by this narrative, with many people explicitly advocating a more social-justice-conscious movement. FtBCon made me feel pretty good about the resultant community.

In FtBCon, women were more than just a presence, and more than just a significant minority, they were everywhere. There were lots of people of color, and of many colors. There were queers of all sorts, of course there would be. There were trans people who weren't even on the trans panel, talking about completely different things. There were people with mental illnesses, and people with disabilities. A few years ago, atheists could only have dreamed about this degree of diversity.

This kind of diversity doesn't just affect who is in attendance, it positively impacts the topics as well. In particular, I very much enjoyed the panel on religion, pseudoscience, and mental illness, and the panel on the lack of Asian faces.

For those who didn't know, I'm half White, half Chinese, though my mother grew up in the Philippines, not China (thus the Catholicism). I don't think I'm very culturally Chinese or Philippino, based on how little I relate to the associated experiences. But it's pretty hard to miss the lack of Asian people in the skeptical and atheist movements. I don't really have any idea why that is, but the panel was able to provide some insights based on what they knew of several Asian cultures. Also, Yau-Man Chan is awesome.

I don't have any personal experiences with mental illness, but I was still struck by the panel on mental illnesses. Here were people who have been pressured to use alternative medicine, to "think positive", and to consult priests. Because of their personal experiences, they could speak with particular expertise, and also particular compassion, about many skeptical issues. It made me feel like the skeptical movement has been missing these voices all along, and never realized it!

You can still watch FtBCon talks on the website or on YouTube.  The next conference is already being scheduled for January 31 to February 2.