Punks and anarchists unite!


I’m a bit shell-shocked today — man, that was a long drive yesterday — and I stumbled into work today thinking this might be a really good day to bag it early and take a nap. And then I found something in my mailbox that perked me right up.

As a little background, I’ll summarize my talk in St Louis. I pointed out that there was more to evolution than natural selection. Natural selection answers the question of adaptedness — how do organisms get so good at what they do — but there’s another important question, about diversity and variation — why do organisms do so many things in so many different ways? And I made the point with stories about people like Spencer and Galton, who so emphasized optimality and how Nature, red in tooth and claw, ruthlessly culls the weak allowing the survival of only the fittest. Spencerian evolution is a very narrow and limited kind of biology, but unfortunately, it often seems to be the only kind of evolution the general public has in mind.

And then I contrasted it with Kropotkin’s ideas about Mutual Aid (pdf), and the greater importance of cooperation in survival.

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I’m back!

I spent the weekend at Gateway to Reason in St Louis, and I’m sorry, Iowans, but the worst part of the event was Iowa. I had to drive through it.

It was like Minnesota, only worse. Long drives from nowhere to nowhere through endless tunnels of corn, decorated with anti-choice signs, anti-government signs (Iowa farmers really, really hate the government — they must not get any subsidies at all), pro-Jesus signs, and nothing but Christian/far right talk radio being broadcast. It’s bizarre that this place is the first stop on the presidential campaign trail, and it’s no wonder we’re screwed up if this is the atmosphere of our politics.

It’s a bad sign when you feel relief the instant you cross the border into Missouri.

The conference was excellent. It was very well attended — they filled a large auditorium on the Washington University campus. The talks were diverse, and everything moved smoothly.

The press coverage was surprisingly good, too. That’s a substantial article in the Post Dispatch, and I read the comments: of course there’s the usual small group of know-nothings babbling about atheism being a religion, and of course a few of my chronic harassers show up, but for the most part there are a fair number of commenters being open-minded and expressing an interest in finding out what these atheists are all about.

That’s a good result.

The tyrant taketh, and the tyrant giveth

I took away your social threads, and there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. I had my reasons, though: off-topic threads were just getting too cliquish and leading to too much annoyance.

It wasn’t because I was trying to punish anyone. I want to encourage conversations, but productive, focused discussions. I’m going to try something new.

I’m going to create discussion threads on particular topics, with specific people appointed as curators. The model here is rq’s wonderful work on the ongoing racism thread. I’m going to formalize that, and have created a new thread titled “Racism in America“, where she and her co-curator Tony can continue to add links and commentary (and others can chime in, too!), and I’ll make it easier to find by adding a link to it on the sidebar. rq just needs to keep doing what she’s doing; I’m also going to require that discussion threads be free of argument and conflict, and if problems develop, I’ll step in and fix it in my usual tyrannical fashion, so any moderation duties should be minimal.

Now here’s the other part of this deal: anyone can propose a discussion thread. Just email me and tell me you’d like to curate one and on what topic, and I’ll make it happen, if I think it is a good idea. I could imagine, for instance, that we might want to have a discussion thread on the US Presidential Election, where you could share news, links, comments. It’s also OK to propose a temporary one: if you want to have a thread on some current theme for just a week or two, that’s fine. I also reserve the right to close a discussion thread if it becomes too wrangly, although I’ll normally just let them continue as long as the curators maintain an interest.

So email me proposals for discussions you think we ought to be having, and that you’re willing to add links and news to. Anything you regularly post links about in the comments? You can give it a little more attention with a discussion thread.

A St Louis weekend

I’m going to be taking off for the Gateway to Reason conference this weekend, and will be speaking on Sunday morning. The title of my talk is “Evolution and Cooperation: A Historical Perspective”, and I kind of suspect that the audience, what few of them show up, will be either a) mildly bored, because too many atheists are uninterested in history and philosophy of science, or b) mildly pissed off, because I’m going to show them that the history of evolutionary theory isn’t as clean and tidy as they imagine, because it got hijacked by conservatives from day one.

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