The Chats That Matter: Wrapping Up CSICon 2017

I’m missing the final day of CSICon activity, because I must return to my home planet of Maine in the Nova Anglia system. And those are very long rides, what with the limits of physics and whatnot.

But now I have a chance to reflect on the conference. Coming into CSICon 2017, there was a sort of cloud hanging over the opening proceedings. There was no denying that in some incredibly important ways, things had gotten worse for science and critical thinking since CSICon 2016. Robyn thankfully opened the conference by not only addressing the elephant in the room, but embodying it, both mocking Trump and communicating the threat he represents to pretty much everything skeptics stand for.

It didn’t take long, however, to see that CSICon 2017 wasn’t going to be about despair, anger, or panic. The White House and Congress are a disaster for us, no doubt, and social media is rife with misinformation consumed within filter bubbles of steel, but that’s not the end of the story. To me, the unmistakable theme that ran through the various presentations was one of locality.

We were reminded that we have a great deal of potential influence on a person-to-person level. While national conversations about critical issues is pinned down in a kind of digital trench warfare, in which the people we don’t agree with are abstracted to the point of absurdity, we can still have conversations with the people in our lives. We can still seek to see things from the perspectives of real-life human beings, and rather than engage in outright conflict, we can talk, listen, and learn. We will not alter a neighbor’s fast-held beliefs through a chat over coffee, but it’s just having the chat at all that matters. As Ross Blocher said of his work with Carrie Poppy, the point is to plant a seed.

Now, as a fellow with Asperger’s (a sort of hard-to-see, muted color on the autism spectrum), person-to-person chit chat is not my strong suit by any means. I am better suited for, well, what I’m doing now, communicating through text sent across the interwebz. But I have close family and friends who don’t share all of my skeptic views. There are those who I love that are afraid of “chemicals,” who know where one’s meridians are, and who think that there really is something to that Long Island Medium person. And we talk. And we ask questions of each other about why we think what we think. It doesn’t wash away the woo in one swipe, but understanding has increased, and new questions emerge, for them and for me.

This is a theme I picked up from all manner of speakers this weekend, veteran and n00b alike. So let’s look to the people around us more, and to the avatars in the Twitter stream less. You will probably reduce your risk of several stress-related diseases, for one, and you also might plant a seed that will bear a hell of a lot of fruit many years from now.

I mean, what else can we do?

See you next year.


Header image: James Randi’s bearded well-wishers, photo by Brian Engler

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