"And sometimes he's so nameless"

The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

A fairly short piece today, on something I have mused over this week. I think it all started with a friend finally persuading me to watch the US comedy The Big Bang Theory: for the record I enjoyed it, and it’s a fun sitcom about geek stereotypes. In many ways it is similar to the wonderfully written British sitcom The IT Crowd – which features the IT department of a large utterly awful London corporation, and remains one of my favourite shows.

Geeks come in all forms, and The IT Crowd includes gaming geek references – there is a shot of what is clearly the board game Ticket to Ride in one episode, and another episode in which Moss ends up running a Dungeons & Dragons style fantasy rpg. The DVD series box set even comes with one of its own as I recall :) Bravo! I personally enjoy these things immensely, just as I enjoy the mathematical geekery of Randall Munroe’s wonderful xkcd, which also featured the board game Agricola in one strip. :D

Both Big Bang Theory and IT Crowd provide affectionate portraits of geeks; they mock, but with genuine sympathy. The geeks are the good guys and gals. This is fine, though it is noticeable that in both shows the female character is the non-geek, or rather, the slightly less geeky. I assume this is to reflect the traditional issues geeks are said to have with “girls” (though it may simply be a narrative framing device for the non-geek Watson to be more sympathetic?) but  it is hard to say of that reflects reality any more. My experience is that geeks today, comic, science, maths, games, computer, whatever shade — that they are as likely to be women as men. I may be wrong, your experience may vary. Certainly geeks can get dates these days, and I was amazed when I googled it at the plethora of “geek” dating agencies out there. I actually think “geeks” are increasingly the sex symbols of our society — but I’ll get back to that later.

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Now when I was an undergrad I was told to start assignments by defining my terms. Being as pedantic as I am, this usually meant I ran out of words long before I started to answer the question, but it did teach me a lot. However I am fiercely going to avoid trying to define “geek” here: the term is fairly synonymous to my mind with the older pejorative nerd, in defining a group of scientifically/mathematically minded folks who have cultural associations with gaming and science Fiction and Fantasy: but ultimately geek is what geek is to you. We can argue definitions in the comments.

Kicking My Own Argument for Fun

I’m going to make the case that The IT Crowd and Big Bang Theory are symptomatic of a shift in cultural and economic power, and that the Geeks will (and have already to a large extent) inherit the Earth. I will try and defend that position. However, I’m going to start by critiquing the idea that a couple of TV shows really shows us anything. Back in the 90’s Graham Linehan, the urbane witty and genuinely brilliant writer behind The IT Crowd gave us another much loved show, Father Ted. For those who spent that decade on a remote Irish island, er sorry, in a cave, Father Ted gently mocks (and at times fiercely satirizes) the Irish Catholic Church. It was a masterpiece. And we can compare it with another show of the period, that did much the same to the Anglican Church in England, The Vicar of Dibley. (Vicar of Dibley deserves its own piece, for its romanticisation of English country life, and the feudal/pastoral idyll it depicted. I enjoy it, but there is so much we can say about it. That must wait however.)  So, given that Dibley and Father Ted both dealt with Churches, does that mean that religion was in the 1990’s gaining in importance? Far from it: I think those shows in their own way reflect a (at times hideous) past – they refer back to an earlier age, and our childhoods. The churches were safe to mock in the 1990’s, because they had to many become ridiculous, and yet reassuring. I’m going to write more on this theme: for now I simply ask you to consider it as a counterbalance to what I have to say below. In short, I may be talking utter rot about geeks.

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Here I Stand

So right, I am making the strong claim that geek has become mainstream, and may soon become the largest subculture, indeed perhaps even the mainstream culture of the UK (that is it will be hegemonic if you want to get technical – geek assumptions, morals and ideals will be seen as “common sense” and the reality, and those not sharing these values will be in ‘outsider’ subcultures.

Secondly, I am making the claim that geek culture is in denial of this reality, and continues to see itself as outsider and to some extent persecuted by “The Establishment” and “The Cool Kids”.

Thirdly, I predict that what we now regard as geek will simply become so mainstream that new oppositional subcultures will arise that will reject computing and Joss Wheldon programmes as much as geeks probably were not great fans of Blankety-Blank. We will see a new generation who just don’t think the internet is cool, and don’t give a hoot about SF or Halo 3. Based upon the end of the Victorian period in a dangerous piece of historical guesswork, I will claim that there will be an inevitable backlash and move to something very different, and probably anti-science and probably hedonistic and anti-intellectual. This is by far my most daring claim, because it is based on nothing more than what happened in the period 1860-1920, and history does not have to repeat itself.

To defend all these claims properly would take all day, so I have nailed my colours to the mast. I’ll just briefly explain my thinking. If I am wrong after all it will be forgotten in a week, and if I am right, posterity may credit me far more than I am due as having had insight rather than a bad sense of humour and a good sense of the odds. ;)

Defending The Theses

So let’s start with 1. that geek has become mainstream, and may soon become the largest subculture, indeed perhaps even the mainstream culture of the UK.

I think this is really easy to defend – how many people do not use computers today? How many people do not know who Cthulhu is? (And I must note with great sadness the passing of Lynn Willis, who only a tiny number of hardcore game geeks will recognize the name of, but whose cultural impact, along with Sandy Petersen and Chaosium generally, has been out of pall proportion to their sales as popularizers of Lovecraft.  Lynn gave me my first break in to game writing, and is sadly missed.) How big is xkcd? How many people know what a LARP is now compared with in 1997? and most of all, how many people have played computer games obsessively, and chat on online forums, or attend conventions? Cosplay is pretty mainstream now. Dr Who is once again massive. We can have a new Hollywood Star Trek movie, and we can have good sales for almost forgotten classics like Sapphire & Steel, Logan’s Run and Blakes 7. Even Robin of Sherwood has fan conventions these days. :)

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So geek is culturally pervasive, but it hardly challenges the Premiership and Coronation Street does it? No, but that is perhaps because the mainstream media and commissioning editors are woefully slow to seize the ball, and because geeks might neglect TV in favour of the net and social media. I have watched a tiny fraction of TV time in comparison to hours online for well over a decade now, though I was an early adopter of the web.

It is the Interwebz that really marks the triumph of the Geek. Who are the great heroes of our time? Well Steve Jobs came close to being beatified by his legion of Cultic Mac fans on his death, and Bill Gates has to be one of the most inspiring figures to a generation. Clive Sinclair has his fans as does Lord Sugar; and various hackers, programmers, game writers and tech-heads are way more popular than most pop groups these days. Or so it seems to me, I could be wrong, but if I wanted to check Twitter followers would be one way, and that while obviously a flawed methodology in this case still in itself tells us something about how our society is moving. When even footballers need Twitter accounts, we have reached the Age of Geek.

You’ve read Karl Marx and you’ve taught yourself to dance

OK, I’m now going to employ a bit of Marxist theory to try and explain what is happening. Technically it’s Marxistant – I’m using some of their economic theory stripped from the ideological assumptions. I’m not a Marxist, and don’t hold this stuff as dogma – I just think it makes sense to use it it here.  (And just in case the section header id bothering you as you cant work out where you have heard it before – here. )

I am going to invoke the Marxist Base/Superstructure Model. This arcane piece of economic/cultural theory boils down to this — societies are founded on an economic base, and from that grows the superstructure of our culture. So a feudal society will embrace different cultural means of expression to a mercantilist one, or a communist one, etc, etc. Really all it comes down to though is if you alter the way people get paid, make money, are employed and buy things you change society. Please don’t skip this – it is useful. I promise to return to happy geek topics shortly. And also note I am massively simplifying all this. Wikipedia is your friend.

Now I’m not asking you to read Gramschii and Althusser. Just grab the idea that the economy MAY drive our cultural forms, and that is this is right then a societies hegemony is dictated by economic factors. If so “common sense” reality for the UK today is at least in part defined by the fact we increasingly have economies driven by the net, hi-tech, science and communications technology. New technologies have given rise to a country where Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox are seen as proponents of good sense: the internet meme helps define our actual lived reality. Perhaps cats will inherit the Earth.

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If you don’t believe this, consider something that changed Britain forever. When I was young people were often unless professionals paid weekly, in little brown envelopes. Then to (I presume) cut down on tax evasion, the law changed and we all became salaried, paid monthly. So rents became due monthly, people had to learn to budget, but could make larger purchases each payday than before without saving, and could take loans which were pretty secure as their wages were now paid in to their bank accounts and deducted at source. Our whole society changed in massive ways in the 80’s through this one change – stop reading this rubbish and spend a little while trying to figure out all the impacts of that weekly pay packet to monthly bank payment change. Seriously, do it.

Even if you can’t follow, or disagree with the above, we can use a plain ol’ Yankee analogy – “Follow the money”. The big bucks are in computing, IT, social media, and online sales – soon the world of Are You Being Served? may appear as quaint as the world of the Vicar of Dibley. You can get rich in the City, or you can get rich in Silicon Valley, or you can get rich in writing the next big console hit, but you ain’t gonna be as rich if you open a greengrocers on the Lower High Street. The true power, the true sanity and sense in our society lies in the geeky IT department in the basement: because they understand the changed game rules. Their decisions are what matters now. Richard Ayoade’s brilliant portrayal of Moss – though to me he is forever Dean Learner – is the kind of character who today makes the real power decisions, NOT the boardroom. Well, maybe. We have a class struggle between the net literate IT crowd and the establishment business-folk — and we idolize those who combine both qualities, like Gates and Jobs.

By this analysis, Geeks are a) increasingly mainstream b) damned sexy – they have money = power = sex (Sheep on Drugs, 15 Minutes of Fame) and c) defining our reality and cultural norms. They are literally Geeks bearing gifts.

Now not all Geeks are by their skill set computer wizards working in IT implementation or emerging technologies. Gaming geeks, comic geeks, SF geeks, and all the other little geekdoms stand to benefit from this cultural transformation as well however. They a) provide services directly to a new market – I predict an increase in board game, rpg and comic sales in the next few years for example – and b) they are culturally literate in this “Brave New World”. Many accept the anti-homophobic socially liberal pro-science mindset as common sense and the norm for any society. They have embraced the new hegemony, because they helped define it. Let’s move on to claim 2.

Rebels Without A Cause

My second claim is that geek culture is in denial of this reality, and continues to see itself as outsider and to some extent persecuted. Now I would say that: I am oppositional, in that while i have spent a decade kicking around sceptic and atheist forums, I’m actively engaged in parapsychology and religion, two subjects the emerging hegemony dismisses as false or irrelevant in the main. (Or such is a sub-claim of mine). Yet I have noted, time and time again, that despite the evidence of book sales, conferences and general pervasiveness of memes, atheists and sceptics continue to regard themselves in the UK as  a persecuted outsider minority. I have argued their attitudes have long since become hegemonic, and that the cultural influence of say Richard Dawkins massively outweighs that of the archbishop of Canterbury, and that of James Randi or Richard Wiseman dwarfs that of say the late lamented Prof. Archie Roy or even Derek Acorah. These groups have become culturally mainstream here; yet their rhetoric remains that of the “Culture Wars” of the USA instigated by the Religious Right. Persecution complexes in majority groups can have horrible results. This is not the Mid-West guys.

Yet the elitism and outsider position are cool toys, and hard to give up. And yes, many geeks are scathingly elitist, if only in an ironic sense. Scientific literacy and intellect are valued over character and decency — we see exceptions, like Robin Ince, who has a great moral compass and seems from his tweets a genuinely decent guy I’d like to know, and Ben Goldacre who I also admire – but geeks can be cruel, scathing and vastly smug. It feels like being beaten up back in the late 90’s by nouveaux-Pulp fans, who had decided that you were one of the mainstream kids and somehow had decided to lash out in faux-nerd frenzy: the irony of geek on geek violence is never lost on me. “Hey Jarvis, can you hear me now?”

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Science is more popular than ever before, but the sense of persecution persists, together with dangerous historical myth-making I have torn in to on this blog. The Geek Revolution will not be a velvet one – and strangely, the modern generation of Geeks might not know much about 1989, or care. Come to think about it they don’t know much about the Velvets either — can you tell a track from Live at Max’s Kansas City  from something off say White Light/White Heat?  Geeks are scientifically literate, but sadly many are historically and artistically illiterate – there are many exceptions of course, like the aforementioned Ince, but I try to discuss Marinetti in vain these days.

So I think Geeks have failed to recognise they have gained power, and while mainstream broadcasting is partially denied to them, the last bastion of the older influence groups, that may be because they don’t want it. Geek-chic is outsider culture, hence this terrible pretence, just as in the USA the Christian majority make a mockery of themselves with their claims of victimisation (a few of course are absolutely legitimate, the rhetoric more rarely) based on cultural memes of Second century Roman Empire.

The first stage in dealing with a problem is often recognising it. I hope geeks will realise they hold the keys to the kingdom; they have the empire, now as then.

Flapper Culture

My third claim is geek will simply become so mainstream that new oppositional subcultures will arise. I think this is actually happening in youth cultures that stylishly adopt the memes of the last pre-computing age, the 1950’s. Rock n Roll hedonism, blues, soul, austerity chic all seem to be making a revival in disenfranchised younger folks. Amy Winehouse and even Bruno Marrs are raiding the dead vinyl dreams of a pre-download age to bring us a new subculture or movement, however loosely defined. Football, dancing, drinking, sex n drugs n rock n roll – may all arise again, and form the basis for new subcultures.  They will be subcultural though, not mainstream,and I am not sure if they count as geek or anti-geek. I’m thinking Jazz Age hedonism, the great Gatsby, the flappers and the rejection of science and militarism.  If there is anything to historical determinism, I think these memes may create the new youth culture as surely as hippy followed 50’s corporate America. I’m not even going to tray and defend this claim yet though. I can explain why I think there will be a there will be an inevitable backlash and move to something very very different, and probably anti-science and probably hedonistic and anti-intellectual though.

We have been through something similar before, from the age of the first Internet, the telegraph, through the social dislocation caused by the rise of typist pools and telephones, mass media and radio. The late Victorian Era was characterised by I believe HG Wells as the “Age of Whoosh” – there was a tremendous optimism about scientific solutions ushering in an age of progress, justice and ease. (And many of those beliefs have been historically justified in the 20th century). Prince Albert espoused something close to the MacDonalds theory of conflict prevention – that no two countries with a MacDonalds had ever fought (true till 2008 as it happens). Obviously Prince Albert did not foresee the burger empire — he felt mutually beneficial trade would result in less war, as countries worked towards mutual benefit and this led to constraints on military adventurism.  The Kaiser had similar visions of European Union, as did Napoleon, leading to less war and misery ultimately. yet all these ideas were blown out of the water in August 1914, and in the prolonged horror trench warfare in the Great War (1914-1919). The mechanisation of war had already wrought horror on  vast scale in the American Civil War, but it took the deadlock of Flanders for Europe to get it. World War 2 was less costly to us, but left us living under the shadow of the Atom bomb and mutually assured destruction. Geekery and worship of science could hardly prosper in a Cold War environment when our most brilliant minds were dedicated to the issues of how to destroy each other; and the culture that emerged in the 19320’s was frankly hedonistic, and that of the 1950’s was frankly at times anti-intellectual, or challenged the intellectual establishment as phoney. No more heroes anymore.

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So I think our situation now is similar in some ways to 1912. We don’t take prophets of doom, even the serious pontification of Lord Rees on threats to humanity seriously anymore. The Millennium Bug, the Doomsday Preachers, the 2012 nonsense, all have made the idea anything can interrupt our smooth progress seem loony. Our main concerns are the economy, politics, and faster progress. Yet some concerns are real, no matter how much those who express them are pilloried. We live in a complacent age, and age that reminds me of the one Walter Lord famously described as ending on April 15th 1912 when the Titanic hit an iceberg. If that smugness is justified it is hard to tell, but a Cold War era kid like me can smile at the beauty of Justin Sullivan’s 1989 lyrics in I Love the World, and a few of us still understand exactly what he meant, however much the geeks of today seem to have forgotten the lessons of history. I’ll leave you with some of his words…

Well I never said I was a clever man but I know enough to understand
That the endless leaps and forward plans will someday have to cease
You blind yourselves with comfort lies like lightning never strikes you twice
And we laugh at your amazed surprise as the Ark begins to sink
This temple that is built so well to separate us from ourselves
Is a power grown beyond control, a will without a face
And watching from outside I wish that I could wash my hands of this
But we are locked together here, this bittersweet embrace
Oh God I love the world

CJ, January 19th 2012.

 

Via Media: Reflections on the Appointment of Bishop Richard Dawkins

Posted in atheism, Dreadful attempts at humour, Social commentary desecrated, Unclassifiable! by Chris Jensen Romer on April 1, 2012

OK, just to make absolutely clear – this was my April Fool’s joke for 2012. No Bishops were harmed in the making of this post.

I expect many people were surprised, not least “New Atheists” and devout members of the Church of England, by last nights announcement from Whitehall that Richard Dawkins has been ordained in to the Church of England, and has in very short (holy) order been appointed to an episcopal see. Bishop Dawkins, as he will become on ascending to the office of Bishop of Bury St. Edmunds later this year, has for many years been an outspoken atheist, and indeed his best selling book “The God Delusion” was an impassioned call for a secular culture and end to traditional religious thought, almost as radical as those by Anglican Divines like Don Cupitt or former Bishop of Woolwich John A. T. Robinson whose “Honest to God” caused such controversy in the 1960’s.

Perhaps the greatest surprise to an Anglican like myself is that the obvious diocese for Dawkins was missed – one would have expected him to become Bishop of Durham. Still, with the lack of vacancy in that diocese Bury St. Edmunds is a good choice. My only fear is that his attitudes on religion may be too moderate and too simplistic and literal-fundamentalist for the average sophisticated pew dweller of the modern Anglican church. While I admire his liberal stance on many social issues, including his defining statement on homosexual marriage — “I don’t think it should be compulsory” — I too feel it should be restricted to non-heterosexual laity and clergy alike and non-mandatory– his rather direct and literal reading of a text as complex as the Bible flies in the face of my Neo-Orthodox reading of the Holy Scripture, and will cause him no doubt to have many problems with those who place Tradition and Experience and Magisterium above Scripture – indeed I don’t think we have seen the spirit of sola scriptura and emphasis on the Bible alone as the basis for the Christian faith so loudly advocated since the time of Luther and Calvin, except by certain Evangelicals. The fact Dawkins chooses to refute the whole book is irrelevant – he still accepts a theological principal that that is all Christianity is that has not been fashionable since the days of Augustine (with a few noted exceptions as mentioned), and that would make Origen blush.

Bury St Edmunds Cathedral

Bury St Edmunds Cathedral


Still, the move to appoint Dawkins as Bishop of Bury St. Edmunds is undoubtedly a courageous one, albeit not unsurprising. I seem to recall he is a good friend of former Bishop of Liverpool Richard Harries, and last month debated the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams. During that debate Dawkins made what many saw as a shocking announcement, that he was actually “agnostic”, not entirely excluding the possibility of a god. That this shocked anyone at all was a source of amazement to me, given that his scale of atheism and the words he used were almost verbatim those he has used in The God Delusion many years before. He is comfortably, clearly a pragmatic atheist, while admitting to being a “cultural Christian” — and as such I think he has to be accepted as the perfect candidate to reflect the views of the modern CofE Church attendee.

Of course I fear he may have problems with certain of the defining principles of the Church of England, in particular the first and most crucial of these, The 39 Articles. The first article reads “God is nice: preach this often, but cause no offense to any man, women, child or person of other gender.” In his practically absolute denial of the existence of the deity Dawkins will not got far enough for many Anglican pew sitters, but will outrage others who will ask how the niceness of God can be compatible with His non-existence. I think they should take a moment to reflect on Rorty’s non-representationalism, and non-realism in modern theological language – clearly Cupitt and others blazed a path here, even if Dawkins is slightly too much mired in traditional notions of faith to fully accept their principle that when we say something we don’t actually mean it at all like that, but something quite different, quite sacred, and quite mundane, and quite ineffable, as the word sacred means nothing.

While the new fast tracking system for Anglican ordinands has been controversial, I do like it. I myself am hoping to be raised to be Dean of somewhere one day, or perhaps a Royal Chaplaincy would suit. For too long the Church was a haven for the family idiot, or for Neo-Marxist social liberals who had been thrown out of Outrage for being too outspoken. The new meritocratic system, where merit is measured largely by the colour of ones old school tie promises to bring a reassuring conservatism back to the church, even if it is only a social conservatism not a theological one.

Richard Dawkins from wikimedia

Bishop Richard Dawkins


Most surprising to me was that while I can see Lambeth Palace would be enthusiastic for this move, that 10 Downing Street assented. Prime Minister David Cameron must have known that it would make the church relevant to 90% more modern British people than it currently is, and it is clearly a huge coup for the Anglican Communion – Dawkins book sales far outweigh all the Bishops combined since the Colenso affair in the 19th century, and the incorporation of the schismatic “New Atheists” back in to the Anglican Communion albeit with the new “Skeptical Rite” will do huge amounts to to boost church attendance and take pressure on hard pressed roof repairs off jumble sales and bailiffs enforcing Chancel tax. So why did Cameron agree?

Well, in the words of senior civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby the Church of England is primarily a social organisation, not a religious one, and one must maintain the balance, the Anglican Via Media, between those who believe in God and those who do not. Cameron clearly took this important lesson to heart, and Lambeth, with a long tradition on its side, have appointed the best man to the post. I fear that next month some long haired ex-acid head Graham Kendrick’s chorus singing loon will be appointed to balance the balance: but it for best perhaps, and at long last the CofE has learned from our current government – it is bad to look both heartless and feeble, so do both alternately?

Best wishes to Richard Dawkins on his ecclesiastical preferment. Further reportage here.
cj x

From Televangelists to Dawkins; the Selfish Genes will prevail?

Posted in atheism, Religion, Social commentary desecrated by Chris Jensen Romer on October 25, 2010

Well, yesterday I wrote a short piece on a character who long time readers of this blog may recall, Josh Timonen, and the case filed against him in Californian courts by Richard Dawkins. You can read the 18 page complaint here if you are fascinated by such things — PZ Myers first posted it on Pharyngula, and seems sensible enough. Last time Josh came up as a topic of controversy, over the (totally unrelated)  closing of the Richard Dawkins forum (see many previous posts) PZ defended his friend, as did Dawkins, which is fair enough.I posted Timonen’s blog “The Ultimate Betrayal” yesterday – here it is again if you missed it. Where the truth lies I still have no idea.

Now the story has got big: The Independent has carried it, and I expect many other papers will follow as people either love or love to hate Dawkins it seems. Me, I’m just exhausted after ploughing through seventy odd pages of comment on RationalSkepticism while trying to get some important work done for a deadline today.  I’m getting a few hits from people looking for Josh Timonen related stuff – I wrote a post called “In Praise of Josh Timonen”, the rather poor joke being I could find nothing to say. However that was over the mangled handling of the RichardDawkins.net forum closure, and Dawkins made it clear Timonen was in that instance only following orders, resulting in a few amusing press stories back in February (many inaccurate). Hers is Dawkin’s defence of his friend, since taken down

Outrage : A Message from Richard Dawkins about the website updates

Imagine that you, as a greatly liked and respected person, found yourself overnight subjected to personal vilification on an unprecedented scale, from anonymous commenters on a website. Suppose you found yourself described as an “utter twat” a “suppurating rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum inside a dead skunk that’s been shoved up a week-old dead rhino’s twat.” Or suppose that somebody on the same website expressed a “sudden urge to ram a fistful of nails” down your throat. Also to “trip you up and kick you in the guts.” And imagine seeing your face described, again by an anonymous poster, as “a slack jawed turd in the mouth mug if ever I saw one.”

What do you have to do to earn vitriol like that? Eat a baby? Gas a trainload of harmless and defenceless people? Rape an altar boy? Tip an old lady out of her wheel chair and kick her in the teeth before running off with her handbag?…

None of the above. What you have to do is write a letter like this:

Dear forum members, 

We wanted you all to know at the earliest opportunity about our new website currently in development. RichardDawkins.net will have a new look and feel, improved security, and much more. Visits to the site have really grown over the past 3 1/2 years, and this update gives us an opportunity to address several issues. Over the years we’ve become one of the world’s leading resources for breaking rational and scientific news from all over the net and creating original content. We are focusing on quality content distribution, and will be bringing more original articles, video and other content as we grow.

The new RichardDawkins.net will have a fully-integrated discussion section. This will be a new feature for the site, similar to the current forum, but not identical. We feel the new system will be much cleaner and easier to use, and hopefully this will encourage participation from a wider variety of users.

We will leave the current forum up for 30 days, giving regular users an opportunity to locally archive any content they value. When the new website goes live, you are welcome to submit these posts as new discussions. The forum will then be taken down from the web. You will not loose your username on the new system.

The new discussion area will not be a new forum. It will be different. We will be using a system of tags to categorize items, instead of sub-forums. Discussions can have multiple tags, such as “Education”, “Children”, and “Critical Thinking”. Starting a new discussion will require approval, so we ask that you only submit new discussions that are truly relevant to reason and science. Subsequent responses on the thread will not need approval—however anything off topic or violating the new terms of service will be removed. The approval process will be there to ensure the quality of posts on the site. This is purely an editorial exercise to help new visitors find quality content quickly. We hope this discussion area will reflect the foundation’s goals and values.

We know that this is a big decision. We know some of you will be against this change. We ask that you respect our decision and help make this transition as smooth as possible.

We’re confident that these changes will improve the site experience and we look forward to seeing what you do with the new system.

Many thanks again.

You will notice that the forum has in fact been closed to comments (not taken down) sooner than the 30 days alluded to in the letter. This is purely and simply because of the over-the-top hostility of the comments that were immediately sent in. Note that there is no suggestion of abolishing the principle of a forum in which commenters can start their own threads. Just an editorial re-organization, which will include a change such that the choice of new threads will be subject to editorial control. Editorial control, mark you, by the person who, more than any other individual, has earned the right to the editor’s chair by founding the site in the first place, then maintaining its high standard by hard work and sheer talent. The aim of the letter is to describe an exciting new revamping of our site, one in which quality will take precedence over quantity, where original articles on reason and science, on atheism and scepticism, will be commissioned, where frivolous gossip will be reduced. The new plan may succeed or it may fail, but I think it is worth trying. And even if it fails, it most certainly will not deserve the splenetic hysteria that the mere suggestion of it has received.

Surely there has to be something wrong with people who can resort to such over-the-top language, over-reacting so spectacularly to something so trivial. Even some of those with more temperate language are responding to the proposed changes in a way that is little short of hysterical. Was there ever such conservatism, such reactionary aversion to change, such vicious language in defence of a comfortable status quo? What is the underlying agenda of these people? How can anybody feel that strongly about something so small? Have we stumbled on some dark, territorial atavism? Have private fiefdoms been unwittingly trampled?

Be that as it may, what this remarkable bile suggests to me is that there is something rotten in the Internet culture that can vent it. If I ever had any doubts that RD.net needs to change, and rid itself of this particular aspect of Internet culture, they are dispelled by this episode.

If you are one of those who have dealt out such ludicrously hyperbolic animosity, you know who should receive your private apology. And if you are one of those who are as disgusted by it as I am, you know where to send your warm letter of support.

Richard

This is taken from the excellent thread by Gurdur on the HeathenHub, “The Closure of the Dawkin’s Forum, as it went down, in quotes”. It is of course also given in full on this blog in the posts about the closure, but Gurdur’s log has many more quote and perspectives and so you should read it if interested. I find it curiously amusing and ironic now, but still feel sorry for all concerned.

Now of course, the closure of the forum has bugger all to do with serious legal charges of embezzlement, or disputed IP and “work for hire” agreements.  However understanding all this explains why a vocal part of the atheist community lacks sympathy for either party now.

Josh Timonen and Richard Dawkins, photo by Elze Hamilton (click for link)

Josh Timonen and Richard Dawkins, photo by Elze Hamilton (click for link)

Hey, but I’m not an atheist. I’m an Anglican. I can be all smug right? :)

Well not really! Let us turn to the wonderful wikipedia List of Christian Evangelist Scandals. Hours of good reading in there; not all financial, many are sex, or other “inappropriate behaviour”, but still, you get the picture. Even if the claims were true, this is small beer. And compared to the claims of Vatican led cover up  of sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church (and let’s face it every Church has its abusers, not just the Catholics), this is just insignificant. Google News reports 5 cases from the last month for “stole church money” — well it reports more, buts some were burglaries or the church helping out those who had been stolen from.  I suspect financial crimes are even as common in other areas – “defrauded charity” gives seven results.

Now we don’t actually know that fraud or embezzlement took place here; it is merely alleged by the plaintiff, Richard Dawkins.  Even if it was found to be true, and Timonen’s defence was spurious (and possibly based on a misunderstanding, given oral contracts are mentioned in the case filed?) – that tells us nothing about atheists, atheism, or morality.

Yes of course we all know that. I think it was Sartre who said the existence of God would not resolve any important moral issues; that secular humanists can be extremely committed to humanist ethics no one doubts, and that humanist ethics are often admirable, when they are based in a genuine concern for ones fellow beings, again I think we can agree.  But I expect some people will take this as a chance to attack atheism as somehow inherently leading to greedy, unscrupulously and criminal behaviour. I would ask those people to look to the lessons of history, and the Churches record, rather than engage in uncomfortable hypocrisy.

Of course atheist organisations have a history of fraud, litigation, feuding and misery – I touch on this in a former post http://jerome23.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/death-of-an-atheist-forum-the-lessons-of-history/ None of those petty rows however compare with the ultimately tragic story of the life, frauds and eventual murder of Madalyn Murray O Hair. That is one hell of a story!  Yet really it’s just humans being human, and financial fraud has always occurred when there is money to be grasped.

What is obvious here is this is NOT a religious or atheist thing: it’s something inherent in human nature, that given ready access to money some people will take and run, and indeed one could argue such behaviour, while deplorable, does provide “adaptive advantage” – if you can get away with it. OK, I’m joking, and I know what adaptive advantage means – but should it really be a surprise to the author of The Selfish Gene, the final chapter of which reminds me of St. Paul in its call for us to rise above our “original sin”, or base mammalian instincts, and embrace altruism and compassion, that some will perhaps act in a manner that betrays others but assists their own success?

We have no idea that has happened here; the truth is for the courts to decide, and from the little I have seen it is less than clear-cut, hence the case. But ultimately, we have no winners, and it’s just another depressing incident of a type all too common, and all too human, but very little to do with atheism or theism at the end of the day.

cj x

Dawkins versus Timonen

Posted in atheism, Science, Social commentary desecrated by Chris Jensen Romer on October 24, 2010

Wow! Just wow! Long term readers of this blog may recall my angry articles when Richard Dawkins and Josh Timonen closed the RichardDawkins.net forums. Well it seems soon (within three months?) after Richard’s passionate defence of his friend, a major falling out ensued, now culminating in a court case.

The article which has sparked several rather amusing threads on various ex-RD.net members forums can be found here -

http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/10/22/31283.htm

Josh Timonen has responded here -

http://joshtimonen.com/post/1387207318/the-ultimate-betrayal

RationalSkepticism.org has a thread here -

http://www.rationalskepticism.org/news-politics/dawkins-sues-josh-timonen-t14455.html

The JREF here -

http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=189474

I do not plan to comment on the court case, as I am in a position of complete ignorance.  I don’t know who is right,and who is wrong.

However if you want to understand the vitriol this is causing, you have to understand that back in February a lot of us were very angry about the lies and misrepresentations regarding the closure of the RD.net forum – and the phrase “suppurating rat’s rectum” still brings a smile to my face. It’s all detailed on this blog here

http://jerome23.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/the-end-of-an-era-richard-dawkins-forum-to-close/

http://jerome23.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/death-of-an-atheist-forum-the-lessons-of-history/

http://jerome23.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/richard-dawkins-on-changes-at-the-forum/

http://jerome23.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/in-praise-of-josh-timonen/

and by former mod Peter Harrison here

http://realityismyreligion.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/locked-entry-will-open-soon/

However for a real decent analysis may I recommend Gurdur’s blog – many post on this and other related matters

http://heathen-hub.com/blog.php?b=254

I hope this all help people see why regardless of the ins and outs of the alleged misappropriation of charitable monies,  there is considerable amusement and interest in certain parts of the atheist and sceptic community.

Very sad for all concerned I’m sure

cj x

Psychic News closes down after 78 years — but why?

Posted in atheism, Paranormal, Religion, Social commentary desecrated by Chris Jensen Romer on July 27, 2010

Now let’s get this straight. I am NOT a Spiritualist, a Spiritist, a psychic, a medium, or anything similar. I’m an Anglican Christian, and one who happens to be passionately interested in psychical research. Still it came as a surprise today to learn from the JREF of this –

Psychic News final issue

Psychic News final issue: 1932 -2010

Now as it happens today is the busiest I have been in a very long time, and I really did not intend to blog about anything, but as the old gal disappears, I felt a few words were in order. Firstly, my best wishes to everyone who was involved in the publication — I know only too well how traditional print and broadcast media are struggling to compete with new media claiming an increasing share of advertising revenues. ITN is the poster child for this issue; as more satellite channels and web advertising take up, commercial television has taken a huge hit. ITN have bounced back, with advertising revenues up, but a lot of traditional print media has suffered what may be an irreversible downturn, and had to look to internet editions and subscriber services to pick up the slack.

Secondly, I am aware of the byzantine politics of the Spiritualist movement, and the complex theological, administrative and personality clashes which sometimes (always?) arise. In this the Spiritualist National Union is much like any other church, or much like any other organisation, be it poetry club or gardening society.

In those two factors, economic issues and doubtless some political manoeuvring we see the immediate reasons for the decline of Psychic News (a newspaper that as long term reader of this blog may recall once featured me on the front page!). It is a shame, but possibly to be expected. And yet…

CJ is confuzzled…

The reason for my confusion is simple. While the actual reasons for the ending of publication are pretty straight forward — see the Paranormal Review blog for a good explanation and commentary — I am deeply puzzled as to why the Psychic New should have fallen a victim to the challenge of new media etc.  While independent it was published by the SNU, and as such one might have expected it to be immensely popular among adherents of that organisation, which maintains a good number of churches, though possibly not enough to give the PN a future. Still, every time I go to Tesco to get my shopping I see this, and several similar publications…

Chat It's Fate!

Chat It's Fate! (c) IPC Media

There has been an explosion of ‘psychic’ publications. We have also this one…

Spirit & Destiny magazine

Spirit & Destiny - click for their website

and probably others I don’t know about. Back in the early years of this decade I noticed that Jane Millichip was changing LIVING TV from a channel that basically was Loaded magazine on screen, for the lads and laddettes, to something closer to the women’s interest magazines like Chat etc – a brilliant, visionary formula which paid off in spades. They brought Most Haunted to our screens, John Edwards,  Colin Fry, Tony Stockwell, and a host of others. Above all, Derek Acorah became a household name.

I doubt Spiritualists were wildly enthusiastic: the few members of the SNU I know seemed concerned that the glitz and excitement of celebrity mediumship was at odds with their own experiences of ‘Spirit’, and there were as always accusations of fraud. It’s an odd fact, but spiritualism does seem to attract critical thinkers, perhaps because it is such an empirically based religion — it professes to demonstrate the reality of its theological claims on platforms in spiritualist churches up and down the country every week after all, and almost every spiritualist i have ever spoken to has been convinced by the evidence they have seen of afterlife communication — yet remain sceptical of the claims of other mediums they have also witnessed.  As such, they can be  difficult audience to address for their Class A mediums (a designation something like ‘vicar’, not a dangerous drug!) and I doubt many Church of England vicars could handle the level of criticism and empirical demands of a Spiritualist congregation.  Quite the contrary to public perception in my opinion, spiritualists are not wild and wooly believers – they are often VERY sceptically minded folks, with a “i’ll believe when you show me proof” attitude.

As the 90’s ended and teenage Wiccan wannabes ceased to be fashionable and became more and more figures of ridicule, many who had been intoxicated by the promise of The Craft now wanted something more real, more empirical, and more directly answering to their needs – the need to see if their was a life after death, to deal with the terrible pain of bereavement, to deal with the inevitability of our personal deaths. These are real human concerns – you can find them on atheist forums, discussed and disected, just as much as in churches and in psychic groups.

Around 2003-2004 I think the UK underwent a major cultural transformation, as a TV-led taste for the psychic and for empircal rather than occult (in its literal sense of ‘hidden’) religions picked up. People did not just want comfort, vague promises of ‘pie in the sky when you die’ — they wanted proof. They wanted direct spiritual experiences – signs and wonders, something that the Charismatic Christian Churches had been providing since the late sixties, and especially in the late eighties and early nineties, and that Wicca had maybe provided for others. A religion that had in my youth been the staple of advertising jokes (I’m with the Woolwich/Toffee Crisp, etc, etc) and associated with elderly ladies and slightly dotty maiden aunts in the public mind suddenly became credible and relevant — and more than that, it provided something really appealing — the chance to experience the truth, not be told it second hand.

The years that Living TV and the psychic boom led to a population of facebook names like Bob Smith (medium) - an example I made up though there may be one – happens to coincide with the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the grim litany of names in the media of our fallen warriors. Historians always point out that the years of the the First World War marked a highpoint in Spiritualism (or so it is claimed) — yet after the grim death toll of the war it faded away again, and the Second World War does not seem to have seen a huge increase in numbers. I don’t know if there is a link, but there may be — please do comment with your thoughts on any of this, I’m no expert, I’m just thinking aloud!

And suddenly we have an explosion of popular interest in the paranormal and the psychic. Two other things arise from it — firstly, a plethora of Ghosthunting TV shows, following the path blazed by Most Haunted — and with them an explosion of paranormal research groups, up from maybe 30 in the late seventies to over 700 in the UK by 2006, if my memory of Dr Ciaran O Keefe’s research is correct – again a “hands on” empirical approach to finding out where spiritual truth stands. That ghosthunting group can be seen as a “New Religious Movements” is I think self evident – they are often technological approaches to ancient questions, a sort of hands-on theological investigation.  Enquiring minds that might have been involved in a church group, or in a occult prctice, or in a scientific pursuit were more and more going out and seeking personal experience – if in the sixties they dropped acid and sought Nirvana, in the seventies looked to the skies for UFo’s and talked to space-brothers, and in the eighties joined a charismatic church or in the nineties a Wiccan coven, in the 2000’s these same peopel became ghosthunters or psychic, or organised sceptics…

Hey, something to offend everyone? Yes, I regard the modern development of many organised sceptic groups as allied to these same cultural phenomena, albeit a critical response to them.  For established folks like CSI(COP), the JREF, or UK Skeptics it must be puzzling — now one can hardly throw a stick without hitting Sceptics in Little Snoring, or some other sceptical group.  While the mainstream media has not been as kind to sceptics as the psychics  – Derren Brown, James Randi and Penn & Teller made it by having other very real talents, ditto the immensely charismatic Dr Richard Wiseman, and Dr Susan Blackmore and Dr Chris French — there are now dozens it seems of sceptical podcasts (sceptics seem very New Media savvy) and while scepticism has been around as a movement since the 1950’s, i think the explosion of interest may well be a direct response to the ‘paranormalisation’ of our popular culture.

I’ll go a stage further, and even allege the New Atheists, and the public interest in Professor Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion and the TV shows he did on these subjects was a response to the same upswing of ‘empirical’ religion (undoubtedly strengthened immensely by 9/11 and the genuine fear of religious fanaticism and old fashioned xenophobia as alien religions and ethnicities become apparent on our streets.)

Ironically I think the thing the New Atheists and Dawkins champion, empiricism and science, have won the battle for the minds of the UK — and the strength of their victory, and the fear of faith based beliefs, can be seen in the upswing of empirically based ‘psychic’ and ‘ghosthunting’ faiths. The adherents of these “new religions”  have taken on-board the dangers of dogma and blind faith, and arcane theological formulations, and are part of the scientifically minded “show me the evidence” culture of doubt and “I’ll believe it when I see it”.   The Atheists are partly a response to some of the spiritual anarchy that has arisen as more and more weird claims are peddles as truth — I often offend by my statement that I prefer institutionalised religion to spiritual anarchy, but that is a discussion for another day — but the New Atheists are at least partially independent of all this – and share the same basic critique of taking things on faith many of the psychics, spiritualists and ghosthunters do as they reject the established faiths and go looking for themselves for the evidence.

The New Sceptics – they serve their role in the new religious landscape of the UK, providing (often badly, sometimes very well), a critique of the experiences that are taken as evidential by the ghosthunters and psychics, explaining them usually in terms of psychology, or less often having a stab at neurological explanations.  New Scepticism is a response to the psychics and ghosthunters to some extent, as Dawkins and the New Atheists are a response to the established Churches?

So why did Psychic News fail?

Well we know the obvious reasons, and looking at the glossy covers of the “rival” psychic magazines, we can why people might pick them up – glossy, polished, exciting, rather then poor old  Psychic News.  As I have hinted above, “people hate noobs”; while SNU churches are undoubtedly welcoming to new members, the criticism and rational analysis I might expect to find of the celebrity mediums in a spiritualist church may make them appear stuffy or conservative to the fans of the big name mediums who pack out theatres all over the country, rather than spiritualist churches.  We have seen this before – in Anglican resentment of John Wesley’s popular preaching in the 18th century, in the distaste for Charles Spurgeon’s evangelical meetings in the 19th century, in the at times snide response of the ‘traditional’ churches to the Charismatic churches in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  And sometimes, as history has shown, the conservatives are right — one remembers the collapse of the Nine o clock Service  rave-church back in the 90’s, and hell, plenty of big name psychics and mediums have been exposed — some like Colin Fry in the pages of Psychic News itself.

We see the same thing in ghosthunting circles – perhaps the SPR (www.spr.ac. uk ) could do more to reach the new ghosthunters, though it appears to me they are, in Atheism – many critiques of the New Atheists come from ‘old atheists’ rather than the religious — and even in scepticism, where politics and personality clashes are as apparent as in any human group. Enthusiastic ‘noobs’ (an internet culture term for a ‘newbie’)  are often a little brash, a little over the top, a little – well ‘enthusiastic’ (in the 19th century sense) – for the tastes of the ‘establishment’.

If I am thinking correctly though, it is not really the fault of those ‘establishments’ though, because a sceptically empirically minded bunch, be they psychic practioners, ghosthunters, sceptics, or whatever, out to tear done the nonsense they perceive in popular belief, and to find out the facts for themselves, put the emphasis not on membership of a church, a certain prestige group, or any organisation that impedes their independent thinking, but in their own experiences, their own thoughts, and their own findings. None like chiefs – they smack of dogma – and none like idols much either. The new spiritualism may be a grass-roots movement that nods at organised Spiritualism, but can’t be bothered to check if their beliefs and experiences tally with the principles of the SNU or orthodox spiritualist theology, or to get out of bed to attend a service or meeting — this is religion for the ‘me’ generation, and  they want a feel good Nescafe friendly morning read not an exposition of often technical spiritualist thinking and history: emotional, personal, experiential, not intellectual and institutionalised religion. The divide between the It’s Fate readers and the psychic news readers may be like the divide between the readers of Paranormal magazine and the ghosthunters and those who subscribe to the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research or the European Journal of Parapsychology – and that I think may be the key to why Psychic News has died, even as psychism as a belief system may be reaching its apogee in the uK??

Dunno, just some quick thoughts. I’d better go do some work, but I’d love to hear your comments…

cj x

Join DADD! (Dawkinites Against Dungeons and Dragons!)

Posted in Dreadful attempts at humour, Games by Chris Jensen Romer on March 6, 2010

Tired of religious nuts having all the censorious fun! Join my new campaign!

I hereby propose a new organisation, DADD, short for Dawkinites Against Dungeons And Dragons. It has long been troubling my conscience that one of the industries in which I work, role playing games design, encourages theism, supernaturalism and belief in the occult and magical thinking.

In the “roleplaying game” Dungeons & Dragons (originally 1974 by TSR, today published by Wizards of the Coast) players, often young teens at a very vulnerable and impressionable age, take on the role of “wizards” and “clerics” (!!!) who perform magical acts by casting spells (despite the fact that no one has ever claimed Randi’s millions and anyone who has ever read a book knows all parapsychology is bunk and part of an evil conspiracy of Jesuit controlled pseudo-scientists). The book positive encourages “worship” of these deities – many of which are actually based upon REAL deities whose followers have oppressed and persecuted atheists in the past! The infamous Deities & Demigods book contains for example stats for Zeus and Odin, and detailed description of polytheism, pantheism, and other religious practices. Players are expected to “roleplay” dedicated service to and worship of these deities, which in the game is actually OBJECTIVELY TRUE! and rewards the players character with experience points.

This seemingly fantastic and innocuous hobby has repeatedly been used in the past too attract teenagers from their natural interests in sex, drugs and rock n roll to a study of occultism as a way to rot their minds and lead them to magical thinking, and from there it is a short step to reading a well known Evangelical tract and being convinced of ones sinfulness and becoming a Theist! Church groups often encourage these roleplaying games, and there are even a number of explicitly Christian and Christian themed games out there.

Even such seemingly innocent entertainment’s as White Wolf’s Vampire, in which one plays a tragically hip angst ridden teenage vampire who gets “to kill people and take their blood” – all clearly harmless enough – has actually hidden within deep Christian overtones, with concepts of damnation, salvation (here cunningly disguised as Golconda) and objective morality. Even this most, on the surface, acceptable game has a hidden theistic/magical agenda – the Disciplines are clearly supernatural powers, irreconcilable with any logical naturalistic paradigm.

So what can the sensible atheist parent due to protect their child from this hideous threat? Firstly, take your copy of The God Delusion, and read it loudly to build the confidence to confront your child. Secondly, arm yourself with a big stick – teenagers CAN bite when roused. Thirdly, search their bedroom, and take and burn all this supernaturalist mind rotting theistic trojan horse stuff, in a big bonfire. And call all the other freethinking parents, and encourage them to do just the same.

Topics not directly associated with roleplaying games and often associated with roleplayers but possibly worthy of destruction are dice, drugs, drug paraphenalia, occult books, the works of Stephen J Gould, the Journal of European Parapsychology, BDSM gear, girls, hot water bottles, cats and Telly Tubby merchandise. Destroy it all! You may also want to ban your child from internet access to prevent them from going to such well known spawning sites of fundamentalist, Catholic and liberal theology as http://www.rpg.net !

If atheism is to survive, we must protect our children’s minds from this terrible threat! Say no to God and the Supernatural today, and organise a Freethinkers bonfire for your neighbourhood!

ACT NOW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

This warning was brought to you (mainly as a parody of the Religious Right)
by CJ x

Quick update and a new button!

Posted in atheism, Paranormal, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on March 3, 2010

As usual I am utterly broke, so the exciting new feature this week on the blog is – a DONATE button! It’s OK, don’t feel obliged, and I can’t imagine anyone will really want to financially support my blog (or me) but it’s always nice to give people the option, just in case.  So if you cribbed your entire essay off my site for a homework assignment, then feel free to express your appreciation! In fact if one in a thousand visitors gave a pound, I’d have thirty quid now and be very happy indeed instead of deeply worried about how I’m going to eat next week!  :)

So what goes on in my world? I’m actually quite busy – Becky is down to visit for a few days tonight, and I am very glad as an unexpected bank charge, just as mysterious as the last set, has cleared me out and i am now flat broke. I will get to the bottom of it and as before get it refunded, but it’s deeply frustrating as you can imagine.

On a happier note (which is not to say that Becky’s visit is not a happy note!) the new Rationalskepticism.org forum appears to be going well — I have stepped down as a moderator now that it is established, simply because of time pressures — and Richard Dawkins has apologised for the forum meltdown and a further update has been published by his admins.

All is well that ends well, I guess.

Despite having no money I have had quite a good week, and expect I will find time to write some more soon. I have been quite busy with various SPR related activities, and a friend has asked me to conduct some experiments on a psychometry claimant – should be interesting!

Sorry to have little to report: the old financial blues mean i have to spend even more time seeking paid employment, and less messing about on the internet. Still I’ll get there!

all the best

cj x

Dawkins.net Meltdown — New Forum for Exiles; rationalskepticism.org

Posted in atheism, Debunking myths, Paranormal, Religion, Science, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on February 26, 2010

A brief post for me, but a very important one. I know (from emails and comments) that a large number of ex-Richarddawkins.net forum members are passing this way in search of information. After a few days of gracious hosting from Rationalia.com and Thinking Aloud Forum, we now have a new forum of our own — Rationalskepticism.org

I am a mod over there (yes a Christian mod on a sceptic site!) and would like to take this opportunity to invite any of my readers, atheist, agnostic or religious, and anyone who enjoys good debate and good company to come join us there.  It’s been a hectic few days, and I am still recovering — the British media have taken up the story, but I’m happy to move on and make something new. (I also have  ghosthunting forum - email me if interested in such matters)

Thanks for reading!  I really must move on to other topics soon. :)  For very intelligent commentary on the affair (saying things I as a theist dare not!)  from an atheist activist perspective do  see Gurdur’s blog at Heathenhub.

rationalskepticism.org banner and link

cj x

In Praise of Josh Timonen…

Posted in atheism, Debunking myths, Science by Chris Jensen Romer on February 25, 2010

Update:

I have something extraordinary and positive ot report at last.

Search is now working on RD.net, and those of us not deleted can retrieve our posts laborious a sit might be for our personal usage. :)

A sincere thank you to Josh and Richard for this.

So, the anger and outrage about recent events at RichardDawkins.net continues unabated.   I think it’s two days now  since I jokingly posted a thread at Rationalia.com called “In Praise of Josh Timonen”, the rather feeble joke being that I could not find anything to say.

Well now I have, so I’ll say it. I have never met Josh, and i have no idea who he is., apart from Richard Dawkins dedicated  book to him I’m sure he is lovely, kind and well meaning. He has on this occasion shown a VERY sick sense of humour, rickrolling people trying to back up the database of posts.  He has acted incredibly poorly in his dismissal of the  forum mods  after repeated assurances they would be consulted on the new forum: utterly bastardly in fact.

I don’t think however he has horns and a tail, and even though I disagree violently with him and Richard Dawkins, deplore the petty deletion of millions of words of admins posts, and the clunky mishandling of this whole mess, it’s nothing personal. I feel outrage just like Richard, but I also feel gratitude to Josh and Richard for all the years of good times, the fun on the forum, and the fact we had the forum for so long.

No I’m not going back. I have had enough, and I will now go find other things to do, where comment is free, and I do not need to be moderated in some authoritarian comment system – because i enjoy, indeed love the anarchy of web discussions. I’m a populist, not an elitist, and I have no time for people telling me what to believe or what to think.  I hold  Dawkins and Josh entirely responsible, both of them, for this bad management decision and the outrage stirred up – and as a long term participant on the forum I know that ut was filled with good, rational friendly folks (a few loonie fundie atheists who gave me much grief :) ) – but on the whole they were great, sensible people, and i really liked and admired them.

But Josh is not the devil, he is a bloke with a job to do, who like many a manager made bad choices and walked roughshod over the backs of loyal employees who deserved better – he is human and made a mistake. And so is Richard –  human being, fallible, loyal to his mate, and at the end of the day an egotistical selfish muppet as we all are – hin short he is human. The irony of this all is rather disturbing – no angels, no demons, just humans being human.

A lot of commentators on the web have made reference to how Russian peasants before the Revolution reputedly believed that if the ‘Little Father’, the Czar knew what was going on, everything would be just fine. The Czar was invested with godlike benevolence, and could do no wrong in the eyes of those subjects (May be a historical myth of course, no idea!)

Many still believe Richard did not intend events ot pan out as they did, and lays the blame squarely on Josh Timonen and Andrew Chalkely, the forum administrators (who were reduced to the pathetic joke of rickrolling people trying to make back ups.)  I find this touchingly close to religious faith in RD’s benevolence. I think RD has clearly posted his opinions, his support for Josh, and to claim that he is misled is a peculiar kind of wishful thinking, that vilifies Timonen to no avail.

Angels and Demons…

In many ways they have done a good job under difficult circumstances. But we are revamping the whole site. It is going to be very wonderful when it is done. Part of that is going to consist of taking more control of the forum which will be called the discussion section. We cannot stop anonymous comments.’ (Richard Dawkins)

Dawkins knew, Josh knew. They cocked up, hurt people, an Richard downplays the mess as a “storm in a tea cup”.

How terribly human. But for all the good times, here is to Josh and Richard! They  are crap, but so are we at times – and they have misrepresented events, but we still owe them a debt of gratitude for the good times we shared on their forum in the past.  It still stinks: but I’m a forgiving chap.

And to all my mates from the forum, onwards and upwards lads! :)

Remember, no angels, no demons, just humans being human…


There’s probably no Forum – Now relax and enjoy your Life: Richard Dawkins on changes at the forum

Posted in atheism, Science by Chris Jensen Romer on February 25, 2010

(Title nicked from brilliant Twitter post by someone, mentioned on Rationalia.com  The image is by Gurdur)

OK, OK, I know I said I would not write on this tedious topic any more. But the despondency of this morning at seeing a lot of hurt unhappy people and musing over ‘rationalist’ websites ability to explode has no turned to mild good humoured amusement. Richard Dawkins managed to cheer me up – not because I agree with him or anything he says on this topic; completely the opposite — but because it was good old bellicose belligerent Dawkins coming out fighting, and because now we know not to blame Josh.  PZ Myers  has washed his hands of the matter, not wanting to get dragged in, but Richard Dawkins has now posted on his forum (shame nobody else can!) You can read his modest opinions on there…

A Message from Richard Dawkins about the website updates

Imagine that you, as a greatly liked and respected person, found yourself overnight subjected to personal vilification on an unprecedented scale, from anonymous commenters on a website. Suppose you found yourself described as an “utter twat” a “suppurating rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum inside a dead skunk that’s been shoved up a week-old dead rhino’s twat.” Or suppose that somebody on the same website expressed a “sudden urge to ram a fistful of nails” down your throat. Also to “trip you up and kick you in the guts.” And imagine seeing your face described, again by an anonymous poster, as “a slack jawed turd in the mouth mug if ever I saw one.”  (More there…)

http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=60&t=110356

All of the quotes he ascribes to posters are not from the few minutes between the letter being posted and the locking of the forum – they are all from Rationalia.com I can’t get on rationalia at the moment – the server is overloaded, but you can see there a discussion of how each quote was originally framed, and I note that many of them applied to Josh the administrator, not Richard. I’m not apologising – I never said any of those things.


UPDATE: More amusingly the row has made The Times Online – go read the (fairly inaccurate but well intentioned!) piece…
UPDATE: Gurdur who sounds like a sensible kind of chap comments on the mess at Heathenhub (love the name!)
UPDATE:  Hackenslash adds his informed and very good opinion.
UPDATE: A new forum for exiles - Rationalsceptics.org
UPDATE Ruth Gledhill seem to take DAwkins’ side – and Dawkins says “it’s a storm in a  tea cup”
UPDATE: Guardian Online pick up the story
Richard says in Ruth’s piece

‘I do think that the cloak of anonymity under which so many posters on the internet hide does encourage a culture of rudeness and extreme language which people would never indulge in if they were writing under their own name. I think anonymity does have bad consequences and we see them all the time. On the other hand, there are times when people genuinely need to be confidential. So I can see why, for example, people in America who lost their faith and do not want their families to know, or perhaps more seriously, people of an Islamic background who have lost their faith or become Christian, have every reason to be anonymous. But the culture of anonymity whereby the default expectation is anonymity does encourage rudeness.’

have fun!
cj x
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