Protest or Attend, that is a question

Over at Map’s place (which has a vibrant comments community) discussion goes on about the Uncensored Symposium and the consensus (admittedly not a scientific survey) is that attendance = bad; protest outside = good.

I’m not sure what to think about that.

I’ve never been much of a protester; I can count the number of protests I have been on with the fingers of one hand. In part this is because I don’t like crowds (one explanation for this is that my lack of peripheral vision makes being in a crowd an uneasy sensation) and in part I’m not necessarily convinced protests are the answer. An answer to some questions, yes, but not the be all and end all of reactions to things you don’t like.

Giovanni and Paul both agree that attending the actual forum means giving them money and giving them money is a bad thing.

And I agree. You hardly want to fund these people. That seems intuitively wrong, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people like ourselves shouldn’t attend. It might be a necessarily evil act (or rather, if I am being philosophical, it might be a morally suspicious but not necessarily morally wrong act) to attend but that cost might be outweighed but some perceived benefit, i.e. the chance to debate these people.

A quality debate, however, needs both quality and certain quantity of people; if, say, I went and no one else like-minded did, then I would be the lone nut in the room (I speak from a little experience in re how I was ignored by certain members of the Skeptics after that conference last year) and thus I would be drowned out by the noise.

Ah, the noise of anti-semitism and racism…

I’m fully aware that the debating practices, if they can be called that, of people like Doutré is based upon the notion of the info dump; if I present a credible critique of his position he will be liable to then list factoid1 after factoid, drowning out my critique with excessive verbiage2.

Which makes me think that attendance may not be the best option in the circumstances and, thus, you could, there is a credible case for not paying money to go; the cost and the style of debate would not be conducive to the aim of people like us3.

Yet turning up to the debate rather than simply protesting it seems to be a good in its own right. Doutré, Eisen, Gray; all these people claim that our silence and failure to debate them on the issues they think most critical shows that we are aware our positions are fatally flawed. Protesting will only confirm that view. Attending, even if we are seemingly defeated, may make the more duplicitous members a little more wary about presenting again.

Yet for organised resistance within the symposium to work you will need not just interested individuals but quality debaters; you will need rhetoricians who can play the game. Now, I consider that I am such a person, being both a critical thinker and a trained public speaker (due to years of speech therapy and speech and drama training) but I would, ideally, want a similarly qualified archaeologist, local historian, medical expert, et al. You would then want them to research their particular speaker, look at what they’ve argued in the past and what you would reasonably be expecting them to present at this symposium, et al.

It is, as they say in the trade4, a tall order.

Which is why I’m all for putting as many blocks in the way of the conference, of course. I think Map’s idea of approaching the city council about the use the hall is being put use to is superb and getting the anti-fluoride campaigners off-board, so to speak, could be a wonderful blow.

Maybe what this debate about the symposium shows, at least to me, is that we need an organisation of well-prepared intellectual types ready for the next ‘engagement.’ The ‘Rationalists and Humanists’ are definitely out; the Bill Cooke fiasco shows that they can’t be trusted to provide a spirited defense (and their lack of presence these days somewhat confirms that they are a dying organisation (which also seems to have become a libertarian article clearing house, in re the publication known as ‘The Open Society5‘). The ‘Skeptics…’ Well, whilst some of their membership seem on to it (I’m looking at you, Vicki Hyde) others are what I would describe as keen fans of science; they like science but aren’t particularly sure how it really works.

I.e. we should definitely make a secret society of our own. We can have a name, and badges and passwords and everything.

Which is where my thoughts end (temporally). I should probably get back to work; I have a table to make.

Notes

  1. I use the term factoid to refer to something that is taken to be a fact when it is nothing of the kind.
  2. Which is how Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates work.
  3. If you are reader is is not a member of our special ‘academic other’ cabal, I apologise.
  4. And don’t they say it in the Trades… Thanks “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again.”
  5. Karl Popper, I suspect, would not be pleased.

12 thoughts on “Protest or Attend, that is a question

  1. “and Paul both agree that attending the actual forum means giving them money and giving them money is a bad thing.”

    Who and me? Has this name been censored?
    And what kind of table? Occasional? Dining?

    I am coming round to your view; damn those rhetorical skills of yours! I also took some time to read the current issue of Uncensored. It struck me that what the readership needs is to get out more often, to be exposed to differering points of view. One writer thought that the vapour trails of aircraft were chemical trails left by UFOs. Another thought that time was being manipulated. His evidence in part was that videos shown on MTV were repeated. Uncensored’s readers need to spend more time with the reality-based community.

  2. Giovanni. Damn my slipshod editing techniques.

    If I convert enough people my illumined Masters will reward me with benefits beyond measure (where ‘benefits beyond measure’ is any good from the catalogue worth $50 or less).

  3. Giovanni and Paul both agree that attending the actual forum means giving them money and giving them money is a bad thing.

    I’m actually more concerned about engaging them in a situation where they get to decide the terms of the debate, although it’s not unrelated to the admission charge: if it was an open public meeting, I’d be more inclined to say ‘flood it’.

    • I agree that is a serious worry about engaging them on their own soil; I’ve recently been counseling Dr. Tim Dare as to whether he should reply to comments made on Kiwiblog about his op-ed reply to Dr. Shaun Holt (in re the role of Ethics Committees).

  4. PS I actually like the idea of being a silent or invisible foil to Paul. There have been at least a dozen situations in the last few weeks where I’ve read a post, thought about commenting on it, looked through the comments and found that he had already written what I was going to write, except he took five words instead of sixty.

  5. I don’t feel these types deserve any engagement other than mockery, and perhaps not even that. Their beliefs are not only irrational, they are the product of deep emotional problems, and so appeals to reason, however cogent, are unlikely to work. Any attention, even negative attention, is received by them as a positive reward, so we should not bestow it unless there is an even greater counter-balancing gain to be had.

  6. I see your point but raise you the issue of their fallacious reasoning; even though their arguments are bad they are still able to persuade others to think similarly. I’ve met people who read the Franklin E-Local articles and where convinced there was a giant conspiracy going on to hide our ‘true’ history. I’ve also been told of a Treaty negotiator who disbelieved the Celtic New Zealand thesis but, oddly enough, found the ‘Aliens built the pyramids of Egypt’ theory credible.

    The worry is not this group of speakers, per se but rather the people who might be persuaded by their fallacies. Any action that minimises that effect must be good, I feel.

  7. Dealing with the publications strikes me as a different to dealing with conferences.

    The free paper reaches a wide if inattentive audience, and is worth combatting, because our efforts have effects on those persuadable people.

    On the other hand, I reckon a conference that costs $40 is unlikely to have attendees who aren’t already committed fruitloops.

    • Yes, I’ve been thinking about this too; does the entry price mean you will only get true believers in attendance? It’s a bit hard to tell, given the wide scope of the symposium. Fluoride conspiracists do not normally lie down with Holocaust deniers… Except that it seems, if what I’ve been recently told, they might be about to start doing exactly that.

  8. I for one can see both sides of the attend/protest issue insofar as Matthew has pointed out. I am however skeptical of an ‘out and out’ protest being effective or even suitable in this situation. And attendance would be a preferable choice if, like Matthew said, we had had sufficient time to organize a structured counter. However, I suspect that, logistic issues aside, the audience at such an event is unlikely to contain many ‘unconverted’ members of the public. Rather, perhaps a better option is to continue to raise awareness about symposiums such as this in wider public domains. A kind of ‘cutting off the water supply’ if you will?

  9. all these people claim that our silence and failure to debate them on the issues they think most critical shows that we are aware our positions are fatally flawed. […] Attending, even if we are seemingly defeated, may make the more duplicitous members a little more wary about presenting again.

    I’m not familiar with the “Celtic NZ” brouhaha, but if my observations from the ‘debate’ over global warming are anything to go by, this simply won’t work.

    It may still be worth attending though, if only to get the loons’ looniness on videotape. 🙂

    — bi

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