Friday, March 2, 2012

Gator Freethought

The University of Florida has a student secular group called Gator Freethought. I follow them on Facebook, but until recently had not attended any meetings. The reason being that they meet on Wednesdays, and I have a pre-existing engagement with some friends and a bag of polyhedral dice. Nothing gets in the way of my dnd game.

Luckily, recent scheduling shifts have permitted me to check it out. The meeting format seems to be entirely discussion-based. They pick a general topic (the meetings I attended were titled 'LGBT Equality' and 'Politics and Religion') and start a conversation, with the president acting as a sort of moderator and providing talking points if the conversation slows. It was fairly engaging, and it was definitely fun to be able to talk to people about secular issues without getting hung up on the basics. No one in the room was advocating against LGBT equality, for example, or that the influence of religion on politics was appropriate. That was never a concern.

The whole thing did strike me as a bit pointless, though. Yeah, it's nice to be able to socialize and experience community with your fellow atheists...except there wasn't any opportunity to socialize, or even introduce myself, during the meetings. Talking about important issues is good, but three or four people (myself included, to be fair) basically monopolized the conversation. Most of the people there didn't contribute anything. Several times it felt like these guys just liked listening to themselves talk, and would ignore or cut off others trying to make a point. The moderator tried to keep everyone from talking over each other, but he was only partially successful.

It was predominantly a group of white guys, but I was prepared for that. There were a couple minorities and women present, but again the conversation was dominated by a few individuals in the majority. One in particular was at both meetings I attended, and most of the time it felt like the conversation was between him and everyone else. He always had to comment, expand on someone else's idea, or go off on a tangent about what something you said reminded him of, or provide unnecessary detail about what you said since he knows so much more about it than you do. I was severely tempted to politely ask him to stop talking and listen to what everyone else had to say for a few minutes, but as a n00b who didn't even know his name it felt kind of inappropriate.

I've posted a few comments on the Facebook page, suggesting service events the group could do and asking them to be a bit more friendly to new people or create some socializing opportunities. I have also suggested that if certain people would talk a little less it would encourage new or typically silent people to contribute more. No one has responded to anything, though. I dunno, engaging conversation is great but if it doesn't help develop social bonds or lead to making an actual difference, is there any reason to go to a discussion with people that all mostly agree with each other already?

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