Revisited: Resigning My AFA Membership

Foreword.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t mentioned it on any of my blogs, nor at any great length on social media, but in late 2016 I sent an old fashioned snail mail to the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) withdrawing my membership. Later, in early 2017, not at all to my surprise I was sent an automated email telling me that my membership with the AFA was due for renewal.

As you’d expect, I fired off an email spanning all of three sentences (not including salutatory lines) asking them to read my resignation dated the 5th of December, 2016, and to amend their records. I’ve never liked the idea of resigning after getting into arrears.

The next day I got a reply from Julian Jordan, the AFA’s Treasurer/IT Administrator, apologizing for the renewal notice, informing me that the AFA’s records would be updated, and claiming that my letter did not appear to be received. Julian used the word “appear”, and I think it’s an apt choice of term.

I don’t suspect malice on Julian’s count on this matter. I do suspect he was being truthful in saying he’d never seen the letter. But despite the decline of Australia Post, I’m skeptical of the notion that my letter didn’t make it into the AFA post office box. Unless you’re sending vinyl in the mail, Australia Post aren’t that bad (yet); I was quite meticulous with my handling of the envelope (after having had resignations from/subscriptions with other organizations go “missing” in the past), and I can think of an array of reasons why some people in the AFA wouldn’t want folks reading my letter.

Fast-forward to now, and in recent days, Julian Jordan has commented on a post on a friend’s Facebook timeline, twice threatening to sue them in a manner that at least appears calculated towards leverage; “I may consider taking out a defamation case against you”, “You may be hearing from my lawyers.” [Emphasis mine.] It’s the lingering threat brought about by the ambiguity in the word “may” that makes it look purposed to elicit anxiety; as if Matt is supposed to consider himself at Julian’s mercy in perpetuity, or at least, for the time being. And that’s before taking all the gaslighting into consideration.

So what’s Julian got a bee in his bonnet about? In Inciting Incident podcast #139, Matt (of Iced Coffee fame) quoted an AFA committee member as saying that the accounting at the AFA was “terrible”. Said AFA committee member is named in the thread, and if what they say about the skill of treasury is a poor representation, then that’s not a great thing. I have no idea of how well the AFA’s finances have been handled and I decline to speculate myself, but quoting a committee member’s claims isn’t nearly the same as simply repeating them. This combination of a lingering threat, pompous gasbagging, and the attendant disregard of the use-mention distinction; it reminds me of the threats of legal action made against Julie Posetti in 2010. (But don’t take this as legal advice – I’m not qualified to offer it).

Also, it’s been my observation that this is often the juncture in a defamation complaint where lawyers usually tell their client to shut up and let the warnings and cease and desist letters get delivered under a legal professional’s letterhead. You have to wonder if the perception of trying to leverage someone with a defamation allegation in plain sight of the public would help a person convince a court that their claim was geared towards the redress of damages, rather than, well… other stuff.

I have difficulty abiding this kind of behaviour, and I think it’s best that when it happens, you don’t silence yourself, and instead express something honest and something that the people threatening litigation may not want expressed. So for my part, I’m going to publish the “missing” resignation letter from 2016.

Resignation from the AFA (5th December, 2016)

Dear Atheist Foundation of Australia,

Effective as of receipt, I wish for my membership with the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) to end.

Without wanting to bore either of us with long-winded accounts, I have been aware of complaints concerning the conduct of previous president David Nicholls, and current president Kylie Sturgess. While I have enough information from an array of sources to allow me to form an opinion of either president, and while my sources couldn’t be dismissed as being all hearsay or Internet gossip, these complaints in essence do not form the basis of my resignation – if they were, I would have resigned sooner, or at least would be approaching matters differently now.

Rather, my concerns relate to how a number of committee members and organizers have dealt with these complaints. Specifically in relation to these matters, I’ve been witness to both contradictions between the accounts these parties make, and to these parties contradicting themselves, usually when modifying their story based on who they’re attempting to appeal to or manipulate at any given moment.

Suffice to say I don’t think the truth, whatever either of us thinks that is, is quite that malleable even when one has such an array of interests and personalities to deal with. I’m not in a position to fix any of this, nor do I have the time or inclination to try burning it all down.

In case this doesn’t satisfy peoples’ curiosity, I’ll go on just a little further.

I’m considering becoming politically active again, as I was back before The End of Faith was even a thing. This would likely entail advocacy in an area where I’m supposed to be some kind of para-professional, so I’d at least like to be able to respond to people with a straight face.

Not being a particularly competent liar and given what I’ve seen of how the AFA executive accounts for itself, I’d find explaining why I’m a member of the AFA difficult to couch in compelling terms. Given some of the areas where the AFA presents itself as authoritative are proximal to my para-professional interests (e.g. science, critical thinking and secular education), such explanations would be relevant to colleagues assessing my trustworthiness.

The possibility of discounted tickets to another atheist convention isn’t nearly enough to offset this. It’s a liability I can’t abide.

I find it highly unlikely that the person reading this has no idea of what I’m talking about, but on the off chance this correspondence finds its way into the hands of someone that naïve, I’ll mention two things, then close.

First, when people appear vague in raising these kinds of matters, as I probably do, it’s not always because their concerns are incoherent or ill-conceived. Sometimes they’re not telling you everything they know just to see if you’ll try to fill the void with bulls**t. They’re giving you enough rope to hang yourself. I’d encourage you to use this tactic yourself, as it’s yielded tremendous results for me so many times; Australian secular circles are chock full of bulls**t artists, and mostly gormless ones at that.

This, however, is not the purpose for my brevity.

Another reason people omit details, especially when signing out, is for the obvious reason that it’s so goddamn fekking tedious dealing with bulls**t. On that note, I’ve already seen another AFA organizer given enough rope in the past few weeks via the above method, so I see no need to repeat the trick, as repeatable and comedy-producing as it may be. Nor do I have any desire to receive the same boilerplate condescension dressed up as rationalism I’ve seen served-up to others, so while formal confirmation of my exit would be all nice and dandy, the rest is quite unnecessary, thank you very much.

That’s it. I’m out.

With all due respect,

Bruce Everett

A Few Concluding Words

There’s a degree to which this kind of thing is too self-regarding. I’m certainly not entirely comfortable with posting this (or posts like this) for that very reason.

“I don’t know this guy. Who does he think he is, thinking his resignation matters enough to be published?”

I think I’ll decline this kind of invitation to passivity more often in future. But what’s so special about my resignation anyway? Well, nothing. It doesn’t need to be special in order to be worthy, even if it’s only just a little worthy of being put out there. And really, as far as the AFA is concerned, I don’t have terribly much else to say and I felt compelled to express something under the circumstances.

You don’t believe the complaints in my resignation letter? Want more details? Well fine, don’t believe me. That’s perfectly okay, albeit a bit beside the point.

You don’t always need to have material evidence resolving some point of contention in order to know when someone, or a faction of people, are bullshitting about said point of contention. If they contradict themselves enough, or they as group members contradict each other enough, you know they’re not being straight with you, whatever the truth may be.

If you keep a bullshitter talking long enough they’ll often trip up this way. If they’re canny enough, they’ll realise this and put a sock in it before too long.

Often, that’s enough information to make a decision, even if not entirely revealing.

So instead of hosting some kind of did they / didn’t they inquiry into the AFA, the prospect of which frankly bores me*, I’m just going to commit to continuing to not put up with people who can’t keep their stories straight, and ask that the reader does much the same.

No doubt there’ll be more examples to come, from a variety of sources. This shit’s not in short supply.

~ Bruce

* Which is not to pre-judge others that have an interest in doing so. It’s just I’ve seen enough for my own decision making, and beyond that it’s all supererogatory for me. By all means dig away at it yourself.

“I don’t know you”

I’m not sure if it’s just some eastern state thing I’m yet to familiarize myself with, or a genuinely hypocritical phenomena arising out of organized freethought; being dismissed on the basis of unfamiliarity with an interlocutor.

Basically, you’re in discussion with a self-identified free-thinker, rationalist, Humanist or whatever – often from New South Wales in my experience – and they try to shut you down with the likes of a cliquish “sorry, I don’t know you”. The thing is, the shut-down is neither pertinent to the content of what you’re saying, nor suited to the circumstance; it’s not like you’re actually in their personal space – as much as they may pretend to own the place, you haven’t crashed their tea party.

The setting will be a mutual friend’s Facebook timeline, or a freethought organisation’s page, or so on; an ostensibly neutral territory that may be purposed to someone’s whims, just not your interlocutor’s. The setting is somewhere where at base, the validity of what you argue isn’t contingent upon you having standing or being a stakeholder.

You’ll make your argument, you’ll make no effort to flatter or offend and you’ll make it critical, all of which is perfectly acceptable in any community aspiring to call itself a home to freethought. Then someone will snap at you – usually someone vain – sniffily asking “who are you?”, or otherwise proclaiming your status as alien as if it counters the content of your claims, or warrants that they not even be considered.

I mean, they can refuse to consider what you’re saying, and unless they have some degree of executive responsibility, you can’t expect to force them to tell you why. It’s just that they do tell you why, and the reason why is a bit shit. A bit shit, and a bit indicative of a deeper problem.

Not for the first time, I’ve just had a short discussion with someone online who imagines that they’re open-minded and critical, and that it’s the people who’ve blocked them that are failing to live up to the best rationalist ideals. And not for the first time, I’ve subsequently seen my argument dismissed on the basis of my lack of familiarity to an interlocutor.

The irony here, is the insistence on identifying as open and critical, while simultaneously enacting a motivated shut-down of an argument on the basis that it’s alien. In any given instance, this kind of contradiction is funny. The fact that it seems to get repeated so often is not. Certainly within communities aspiring to freethought it should be regarded as pathological.

Maybe I’ve just been incredibly unlucky in running into this kind of thing repeatedly, or maybe I just bring the worst out of “Freethinkers”, but the vain bunker mentality is not a good look for movements that advocate critical thinking and criticize cults.

~ Bruce

Contemplating Humanist affiliation

A number of years ago I left the Humanist Society of South Australia under somewhat of a cloud, ultimately opining in print at the end of an extended disclosure, that I didn’t have anything more I wanted to write about the organization specifically. Nothing much has changed in that latter respect; either in as far as I can tell, nothing’s happened that would make me want to comment further, or I’m left with smaller issues that I’ve been informed of that I’m not in a position to properly investigate before making a case. So don’t ask me to (thanks).

At any rate, after my departure, not wanting to sever with IHEU/CAHS affiliated bodies entirely, I did a brief mail-around of a couple of other CAHS affiliated bodies to see if they’d take a South Australian. Queensland didn’t reply, quite possibly relating to some pretty intense upheavals at an executive level at the time, while the Humanist Society of Victoria (HSV) did get back to me, and in the affirmative. So I joined the HSV.

***

It’s a fun fact that when you do anything remotely akin to whistleblowing in public, you’ll wind up being contacted by people who’ve either tried to blow the whistle themselves, or who have something they just need to get off their chest. I’ve had all sorts of feedback and information fired at me in the back channels, not all of it trustworthy, and even less usable.

But it’s the verifiably true stuff that you can’t or don’t know how to act on that’s the most vexing. The context of some of this stuff spans decades and countries, and it’s hard to tell if or how some of it can be meaningfully addressed; court cases from decades ago demonstrating malfeasance by a Humanist I’ve never heard of, who was then boosted by an overseas Humanist organization I’ve never had anything to do with are a little out of my scope.

People have told me things about individuals from the HSV, and they told me before I opted to join. I have no doubt that my joining pissed off at least one former HSV member who’d contacted me. The thing is, that while some of the info given to me was verifiable, it was hard-to-impossible to extrapolate from those facts, to the organization as a whole, or even the committee in particular. Stating that dickheads exist within an organization is a pretty insufficient critique. Functioning organizations have dickheads too.

In terms of cultural problems though, even at my distance from the organization – my membership is nominal and pretty much a mere formality – there are some pretty overt warning signs; the publication in the Australian Humanist (edited by a founding HSV member) a few years back of a poem that was zero percent critique of Islam, and 100% denigration of Muslims; a terrible defense of the choice to publish this poem and another work of garbage in the very same issue; a committee that wasn’t close to being properly visible, and so on.

Not a lot of evil, but a lot of things to make you consider how functional a group is.

In terms of my miniscule involvement – I’ve witnessed a couple of pathetic displays online by folks of influence within the organization myself, and have just recently witnessed one of the smarter ones – one with influence over a public organ no less – claiming that harassment, sexism and so-on within atheist circles is largely made up, essentially just because it’s obviously true. This kind of reasoning doesn’t bode well for an organization that’s supposed to pursue reason in service to compassion.

On the flip-side, at the very least the HSV’s organization and promotion of public events has seemed honest and professional. I can’t tell you how sick I’ve grown of seeing atheist promotional shenanigans, either from afar or up close; organizers publicly announcing speakers from serious projects prior to confirmation, only for those speakers to predictably fall through; promoting their own members as speakers with misleading titles, honorifics and superlatives, and peddling non-peer reviewed, untested and untestable crank hypotheses as central to public “seminars”. The HSV, however, possibly has the best average quality of speaker academically speaking, out of all of the Australian Humanist societies, and the speakers are promoted formally and accurately, without gimmickry. That ain’t nothing.

(No, I haven’t been to any of these meetings, being in South Australia during all the ones I’d liked to have attended, but I don’t need to to make the above judgements; a good number of the people speaking have published works they can be judged by.)

Of course, it’s not just the HSV that has merits and cultural problems. The NSW Humanists have quite an asset in Humanist House, and quite a liability in not having been forthright in discussion of how they fended off entryism from neo-Nazis, nor how it all got nearly as bad as it did in the first place. The Humanist Society of NSW has had changes to its leadership since then, and I’m not interested in castigating, or in investigating to see what miniscule portions of blame can be ascribed to specific members of the current executive, but still, it’s cause for pause. Things don’t ever go this badly without cultural problems being a factor, and a fresh new executive isn’t going to just make those problems up and disappear.

Then there are all of the asinine arguments and ideations that just grind away at you, turning your resolve to dust; “Public criticism of Humanist leaders betrays your oath!”; “Children are sexual beings!”; “I don’t care if they’re a demonstrably mendacious climate denialist, I’m interested in how they make me feel about myself!”; “Geert Wilders is just misunderstood!”; “I’m thinking of incorporating astrology into my counselling work!”; “The women who accused Assange of rape work for the CIA!”; “People should be able to fuck pigs!”; “If some of this finite publication space wasn’t allocated to voice sentiments at odds with the IHEU minimum statement, why, that would be censorship!”; “Michael Shermer is so cool *swoon*.” You’ll never be free of this kind of stuff, anywhere, but you’d think you’d encounter a little less of it from people in spaces purposed to rational, humane, critical discussion.

So basically, if I up and leave the HSV, it’ll be a choice between asking the ACT Humanists or the Western Australian lot if they’ll have me, or seeing if an overseas IHEU affiliated body will accept my membership (I’m thinking Humanists UK). I’d just like to be able to settle down, and ease my way into meaningful involvement, digitally, without having to worry about how a community’s accumulation of alfoil may influence my WiFi signal.

***

Increasingly I’m finding it difficult to credit Australian Humanist societies with the ability or even intent to pursue Humanist objectives. There have been a few recent positives – such as the turn away from awarding the AHoY Award to rather obvious celebrity choices, and the CAHS website has been improved dramatically.

But the speed with which time and energy can just be diverted away from intelligent, purposeful discussion, in order to service petty defensiveness and entitled bunyip-feudalism is just so damn discouraging. Too many Australian Humanists seem far too insular, and far too many are accustomed to being flattered as if flattery were the whole point of Humanism. The moment that Humanists of good will attain a little political momentum, that momentum risks being either co-opted for the purposes of virtue signaling, or shut down entirely.

I’ll continue to consider my options, and will ask around in due course.

~ Bruce

Disappearance of the “Scarlet A”, and musings on “Atheism Plus”…

AIn October of 2007, if you were a reader of my old blog, you may have noticed my signing up to The Out Campaign; a campaign where atheists donned the now near-ubiquitous (in one form of another) “Scarlet A” – outing or presenting themselves as godless in response to a world where godlessness isn’t always tolerated.

I make no reservations about declaring my “post-atheist” condition; I have never actually been religious; I don’t live in a culture where I am oppressed on account of my lack of religion; I live in a culture where in general, I am tolerated. Unlike some of my fellow Freethinkers from “post-atheist” cultures though, I have no intention of belittling the struggles of atheists in less tolerant climates, even in less-than-tolerant developed nations like the US.

(I.e. I’m not going to play that game).

Back in 2007, I had a Catholic friend who shunned me when I revealed that in fact, I was irreligious. Our friendship was originally fuelled in no small part by our mutual concerns about social justice. And then it was over…

Did I suddenly identify as oppressed? No. However, in a process resulting from this shunning, somewhat like being injected with the proteins of a virus, I was in a sense inoculated against the real thing. I found it easier to empathise with people who were oppressed, or at least marginalised on account of their atheism.

The “Scarlet A” then, was about solidarity.

It’s now 2014, and things have changed. The website for The Out Campaign is clearly no longer properly maintained, at the time of writing featuring broken image URLs. Iterations of the “Scarlet A” have mutated, speciated and in some cases metastasized.

While I don’t object to most instances of the use of the “Scarlet A” still in use, it’s just lost relevance to me. It’s not clear that it symbolizes what I wish to convey by displaying it, so I’ve recently dropped it from my sidebar. Indeed, I’ve been  meaning to do so for some time.

***

“Atheist plussers”…

I’ve nothing against the “Atheism Plus” crowd, and I utterly object to the abuse they’ve received – abuse both leading to the creation of “Atheism Plus” in the first place, and abuse directed at them afterward. I wish them all needed respite from this abuse as well. This alone, depending on your definitions, may or may not make me one of them, although I’m not giving you a stake in my identity either way.

My interest in social justice has me holding a number of values also shared by the “Atheism Plus” crowd (“Atheism Plus” essentially being atheism “plus” social justice). This may or may not, depending on your definitions, also mark me as objectively fitting in.

Only, I have next to no interest in identifying, nor being interpellated* as such.

I’ve said it before over the years and I’ll say it again; I’m a lefty before I’m an atheist. While I may have many of the same priorities on my list as “Atheist Plus” atheists, I’m likely to order my priorities differently. Also, given my experiences on the left seemingly being different to that of many of the “Atheist Plus” crowd, I suspect it is likely that there will be concerns I have that we don’t share.

There’s also differences between the American and Australian left to consider. In Australia, we haven’t slid as far down the path of neo-liberalism and anti-unionist culture, and hence aren’t likely to have all the same invisible assumptions about such things – the kinds of assumptions that can be unwittingly adopted even by their opponents.

(I see this to some extent in the small-business-owner-like culture surrounding a number of social-justice-oriented public speakers and writers from the US, not limited purely to those from an atheistic background).

Generally, what’s the “Atheist Plus” take on the Reaganite union bashing of the 1980s, and its spread via globalisation? I don’t know. This isn’t a criticism of “Atheism Plus”, but rather an observation of potential sources of difference of priority.

This may or may not signal a conflict between myself and any given “Atheist Plus” position in the future. And if it does, people involved may want to know where I’ll be coming from should this happen; all else being equal, if it’s a choice between acting on the material left-wing concerns of a unionist/worker who happens to be religious, and entertaining an abstract theological point raised by an atheist who happens to be leftish, I’m not going to be siding with the atheist. (Also, theology doesn’t interest me that much).

(I happen to suspect that there is too much of what could be considered tantamount to class blindness in “Atheism Plus”, albeit not wilfully so. Considerations of class aren’t as prevalent amongst “Atheism Plus” as I’d be happy to see in a left-wing movement/organisation. It all comes across as being a bit too exclusively white collar).

Such a conflict may never occur, however a fundamental difference in the sorting of our priorities remains, even if our values are largely compatible. This matters to me.

***

Nothing has fundamentally changed about me regarding these matters over the past ten years. The only thing that has changed is the broader context I find myself engulfed in. I doubt I’m alone in this.

At any rate, I’m not going to make declarations of loyalty to groups that I know in advance that I may not be able to honour. And the “Scarlet A”? Gone.

I will however say this much; I am still an atheist writer, only I’m not just an atheist who writes. Often I will focus on issues from an atheist perspective, however my perspective isn’t solely defined along such lines. This may be a source of future conflict.

Allies who fail to understand this may wind up feeling betrayed. Enemies who fail to understand this risk making themselves look foolish.

~ Bruce

* Also, I don’t think my status as a subject is secondary in the generation of my identity, thank you very much anti-humanists.

Plucked From The Nether: ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’

In November of 2010, on my previous blog, I wrote a post with the title ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’, ostensibly spurred on by a comment  by Sean of Bookonaut (née Blogonaut) fame. However, I didn’t disclose at the time that I’d already been mulling over commentary on much the same topic, made on Facebook, by a much-loved atheist who went by the name of Candy Hogan. This is what she posted, earlier in November 2010;

“when i go to read my newsfeed often want to scream. I understand the proud atheist thing, but WHY does EVERYTHING have to be about RELIGION? dammit, its boring! u might as well be practicing these religions u claim u hate cuz theyre ALL U TALK ABOUT!! in depth studies of inconsistancies… why isnt it enough to just not believe? new subject PLEASE???”

(Candy Hogan, November 18th, 2010)

I originally considered dedicating my post to her, however, given that I opened by quoting Sean (and that a dedication seemed potentially too familiar), I opted not to. A few weeks later, in early January 2011, after a bout of viral pneumonia, Candy Hogan’s life came to an end.

I’m periodically reminded of Candy every now and then (as I have been again, now) – she was witty, occasionally a little caustic (while still being witty), and thoroughly irreverent. Nobody, including atheists, could be guaranteed immunity from her sense of humour. Discussion, with Candy as a participant, was never allowed to stagnate for long, if at all, and even while for the most part I sat on the sidelines, I considered Candy’s thoughts worthy of attention.

So with the exception of a little spit-and-polish here and there, the following is ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’ as it appeared in November of 2010, now re-dedicated to Candy. Vale Candy Hogan.

***

Continue reading “Plucked From The Nether: ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’”

A decade and more of people coming and going in orbit…

StartrailsI first felt the tidal forces wrought by being flung out of social orbit two or three years ago, when silently, both other persons and myself, went our own ways. Their trajectory sent them in professional directions I can’t say I’d endorse 100%, while I may or may not have been relegated to the status of ‘crazy guy they knew on the Internet’.

For my own part in this, I was getting tired. Tired of passive-aggression, of in-jokes (some poorly veiled), and tired of a few people being too egocentric to realise that no, they weren’t dealing with someone who was gullible, they were dealing with someone who was being charitable; someone who was humouring them, not the other way around.

If I regret anything from this particular period, it’s my lame participation in what passed for some of the humour – which often involved my riffing off of someone else’s bad joke.

All the same, while we were friends, I did get something out of some of them, during what was a difficult time for me, mentally. I don’t know if this admission would injure their egos, or comfort them, and I can’t say I’m particularly worried either way.

If there’s anything I’d be concerned about with them, if I hadn’t put them behind me, it’d be the prejudicial assumptions and leading questions; annoying for me, worse for them if it insinuates its way into their journalism.

The greatest imposture in all of this though, comes from my own faculties – particularly my relative inability to forget things, even small things I don’t much care about. Inevitably something comes along to remind me… like goings on over the past few weeks.

At the very least I wouldn’t be recalling all of these details if I hadn’t been reminded.

***

Continue reading “A decade and more of people coming and going in orbit…”

Guest Post over at B&W: The Good Juror Pose

It’s been almost two weeks since I mailed this essay off to Ophelia Benson, but I’ve been on holiday in Melbourne sans notebook and passwords for most of the time. You’ll have to forgive me for my tardiness.

There seems to be a trend of late, of people lecturing jurisprudence at people who it is reasonable to assume, have been victims of rape or sexual assault. Notably, it’s often not just “Skeptics”, but “Skeptics” with friends accused of acting up and pestering people sexually (or worse), who engage in this practice.

It’s not that the presumption of innocence is to be suspended, it’s just that the presumption of innocence is often irrelevant to the context these discussions are taking place in, with potentially harmful consequences. I spend 2600 words (including quotes) on the matter over here

~ Bruce