TAM8 was amazing, as advertised. It felt like a big family reunion. I loved seeing old friends, and especially meeting those of you I had only interacted with online previously. Thanks to all of you who introduced yourselves and chatted with me throughout the conference. It was great fun.
But, as with many good things, there was a downside. I came home with an epic case of the con crud, and proceeded to have quite possibly the worst week ever. So I’ve spent much of the past 9 days in bed, staring at Tweetdeck, playing Mah Jongg, and catching up on podcasts.
The SGU episode just before TAM (260, I think?), with guest rogue George Hrab, was great. I was really captivated by the question and ensuing conversation about collective iconography as it relates to the American flag, and whether it was strange that many people feel it contains meaning beyond its paltry physical existence (as a cheap piece of nylon, probably made overseas).
The discussion eventually came around to psychology, and the human need to be part of something bigger, and research into people’s willingness or unwillingness to use iconographic items for practical tasks; very much in the vein of Bruce Hood’s work on the seemingly inherent roots of superstitious thought.
Steve asserted that he didn’t believe these tendencies to be necessarily unskeptical, and a normal part of the human experience. I agree. I don’t think people who have these feelings should have their “skeptic card” revoked (an idea which I find utterly ridiculous, anyhow, but that’s another topic for another day), but I do feel very strongly that these feelings should be challenged, as Steve also mentioned on the show, so that people at least understand rationally what’s going on and don’t get swept up in tribalistic nonsense.
Thinking about this gave me some fresh perspective and understanding on something that happened at Skepchicon. As those of you who attended the Skepchick room party at Convergence may have noted, we used the Gideon’s bible as a doorstop. We did it last year, and again this year, and plan to do it in the future. This, obviously, is controversial, both to parts of the general audience at the con, and to some skeptics and atheists.
I’m not generally a confrontational skeptic or atheist. I tend to like to get along with everyone, generally respect people’s right to believe what they want (until it bangs up against my right not to), and I don’t normally try to push buttons. But this bible doorstop thing is something I feel very strongly about, and I didn’t really understand why until that SGU conversation.
I value the subversion of iconography. I want people to question their cultural feelings of connection to the bible. I want them to see it in a context utterly removed from worship and sanctity. I want to make it known that it is possible to see it differently. For many people, this is uncomfortable, and they get angry, or decide not to come to our party. I know it’s probably offensive to at least one of my close friends. Maybe it makes me a little bit of a dick, but it’s one thing I won’t compromise on.
See, the tendencies that make people feel like the bible is sacred are the same tendencies that make it easy for lawmakers to legislate religion into public life. If most Americans to some degree believe that religion should be held up on a pedestal, free from criticism, it becomes almost inevitable that they will see such legislation as right and good, regardless of what the constitution says, or how it might affect their rights to practice the religion of their choice, or none at all. We need to peel back, expose, and examine these emotional responses in order to get real, rational discourse and policy that is fair for everyone.
So if my little act of desecration makes a few people think about why using a stack of paper surrounded by cardboard to keep a door open invokes such a guttural reaction in themselves, then I’m okay with turning a few others away.