PZ Myers in Canberra

21 March, 2010

I saw PZ Myers (famed cracker defiler of pharyngula) at King O’Malleys in Canberra this Saturday. A bit of a talk, and then questions from the audience. Two points really struck me:

First, the appalling government-bashing. A weird blind-spot: the idea of “government” as some remote monster, here in Canberra no less! A great deal of pondering about how the atheist community could answer the role of church in community, and not the least inkling that local government might have anything to do with community, or should be an expression of it. Also no mention of registered clubs – lions and so on. The ACT government goes to great lengths (and expense) to do community stuff – floriades, multicultural festivals and so on. The best the crowd could come up with is have a video night with mates, and give ’em a hug. Oh – and PZ’s idea of what should replace the churches? Bowling alleys, bookstores. In a word: private commercial interests. Parks? Sponsored art? Not a thought for it.

I was reminded very, very strongly of Quagmire’s summation of Brian’s character in Family Guy. Not a lot of people there who’d want to feed the homeless, or even meet them. Myself included. Much rather pay to have someone else do it.

Secondly: the word “Islam” was not even mentioned. Plenty of talk about christianity, even an allusion to Juadism (circumcision), but Islam? Not a whisper. There are plenty of Indian skeptics, and not a few middle-eastern ones, who can fill in the blanks with regards to Hunduism and Islam – but they weren’t there Saturday.

You know, when I think of people mired in superstition, yes: I think of christians. I also think of people who will not purchase a house unless the street number has an “8” in it and the place has been thouroughly feng-shui`ed, food vendors who come from cultures where the germ theory of disease is not given much truck – illness being caused by bad chi.

What an opportunity! Of all the things in the world, skepticism cuts across race and culture. It’s not a creation of white europeans: in every age, in every place, there have been people who just didn’t buy it, whatever the local superstition might have been. Where was Omar Khyam last saturday? Dunno. Everyone there was white like me.