Ear Hustlin’: Notes from the Field


Culture on the Edge‘s Monica Miller is presenting at Skepticon 6, which is held annually in Springfield, Missouri. While there, she’ll be sending us her notes from the field.

Most people who know me well know how much I dislike flying — it makes me anxious, nervous, and worried about being lifted off the “ground of certainty,” so to speak. In order to distract myself from the angst I often feel while being in the air, I turn my own anthropological mirror against myself — as data, taking stock of all the religious-like-type-traces and rituals of certainty that rather unconsciously inform my habitus in moments of perceived uncertainty (I’ll spare you the hilarious and somewhat embarrassing details).

And when I grow bored with studying my habitual fear of flying, I then turn my fellow passengers into data, too. I’m always ear hustlin’ and eavesdropping, usually everywhere I go, but especially on planes. (After all, what’s not data? What’s not an anthropological field?)

Yesterday I was traveling — on my way to Skepticon 6, which describes itself in this way:

Skepticon is an annual skeptic/freethinker/atheist/awesome conference that is held annually in Springfield, MO. It is the mission of Skepticon to support, promote, and develop free-thought skeptic, and scientific communities through inclusive educational programming.…which is really a fancy way of saying we all get together to share ideas, knowledge, and high fives. Skepticon is also the largest FREE skeptic conference in the nation, and quite possibly the universe*.

Following the gracious recommendation of Dr. Anthony Pinn (who was one of the speakers at Skepticon 5 last year), I was extended an invitation to give a talk this year, titled: “I Got 99 Problems but God Ain’t  One: Hip Hop and Humanism’s New Black Godz”.

I knew I was headed to the right place when I boarded my layover flight from Atlanta to Springfield, MO, when — pretending to sleep (so that I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of the Skeptics just in case I decided to chant or pray or something) — my ear hustlin’ antennas caught wind of a curious conversation about the classifications and labels of Humanist, Skeptic, Atheist, etc., to whom such labels should be extended, to what situations such terms should be applied, and who is in, who is out, and how do we know?

Luckily one of the participants on the plane recognized me as one of the speakers for the conference so I was able to involve myself in the continued conversations as we waited for our bags and while sharing a taxi to our hotel.

Some of the conversation entailed a discussion about what makes a Humanist more ethically inclined than an atheist — what makes an Atheist a better Humanist — what defines a Skeptic as sui generis from the other two classifications….

Lots of identification and identity-making going on here (as anywhere), made possible by and through strategies such as authenticity, identity politics, and strategic essentialism…. To be continued.

Having arrived safely, I’m back on the ground of “certainty” as I enter into the field where mostly everyone feels absolutely certain about their certainty about uncertain things like Gods and Angels and whatnot.

Stay tuned for more Culture on the Edge notes from the field of Skeptiland!

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