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Let’s get some movement in the movement

I love that there is a skeptical ‘movement.’ I love knowing that there are like-minded people out there, compatriots with whom I can bitch and moan, hash out ideas, learn something, debate, and have some laughs. I love that here in Toronto we meet once a month at our Skeptics in the Pub event to do exactly these things. Having a movement provides a sense of belonging, of community — some might even say family.

But the movement needs movement, not just sedentary agitation*.

I spend a great deal of time thinking about how to get people more actively involved. Showing up at pub nights and lectures is one thing, but in terms of actually making a difference in the world it does little. All of us like-minded people show up in a room to complain about fraud, hoaxes, lies, hypocrites, and so on. We get quite passionate and emotional, even angry. But most of us do nothing to actually change things about which we complain. Oh, we do like to complain! We complain about the symptoms without bothering to address the causes.

Sure, we learn a lot. We love our guest speakers, blogs, podcasts, and magazines, but if we aren’t coupling that knowledge with educational outreach then aren’t we just bolstering the devoutness of the converted?

While there are many people out there doing a lot of good work, there seems to be a general apathy and lack of action in the science and skepticism movement. Why? Is it that we all have busy lives and are maybe a little lazy when it comes to ‘activism’? Is it because we think that what we’re up against is insurmountable? Because, as Mark Twain famously quoted, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”?

Even though the problems we’re up against may seem insurmountable, this isn’t about climbing a mountain to get to the other side; it’s about slowly chipping away at the mountain.

Even if one person is taught how to apply critical thinking in everyday life, then bravo us! If one person is saved the embarrassment and expense of being taken by a charlatan, then bravo us! If one person is saved from financial ruin by a ‘faith healer,’ then bravo us! If one person’s life is saved because they learned that Jenny McCarthy et al are full of crap, then bravo us! Isn’t that enough to warrant a little more action on our part?

Sure, showing up at a demonstration to tote signs and holler slogans may not be everyone’s idea of a good time. And not everyone can launch a campaign like that of Simon Singh and the Sense About Science folks — that takes immense time, energy, money, know-how, effort, and organization. It seems daunting. But there a hundreds of smaller, simpler ways in which people can get involved and make a real difference.

You can volunteer for your local science/rationalist/skeptical/humanist organization. You can write letters to the editor when newspapers or magazines get things wrong. You can write to politicians when they try to pass ridiculous laws granting, for instance, homeopaths the rights of medical doctors. You can spread the word — to friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers via conversations, newspapers, blogs, radio stations, podcasts, and television — about things that the public should be aware of.

Here is a fuller, though not exhaustive, list of other ways that you can actually turn your sedentary agitation into purposeful action.

We can start slowly and start small, and over time we will chip away at the mountain of misinformation, the wall of woo, and make this world a more informed place.

To quote Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, who just celebrated Newark’s first murder-free calendar month since 1966, “Don’t let your inability to do everything undermine your determination to do something.”

* This term is also borrowed from Cory Booker.

One response to “Let’s get some movement in the movement”

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