Thursday, July 01, 2010

Secular Community Resource Centers - Getting Started

Let me assume for a moment that you thought that the Secular Community Resource Center that I wrote about this morning has some merit.

However, you think to yourself, "That is a huge project! It is well beyond anything I can accomplish. I'm just going to go back to watching soccer and playing video games."

Well, then, let's start with a smaller project - one that is more manageable. One will typically discover anyway that huge projects are nothing more than countless small projects all fitting together. The allied victory in World War II, for example, was not the act of somebody saying, "I am going to defeat Hitler." It was a combination of millions of smaller projects - projects as small as, "Today, I am going to stand watch right here and give a warning if any enemy soldier approaches."

Well, you may then ask, "What is my small project that I can do?"

I am going to further assume that you are a part of a secular or atheist organization, or that there is one nearby that you can join. Let me assume that you can gather three or four people who you can work with and some way to arrange for a place to have a public meeting.

That shouldn't be too difficult.

Mostly, a Secular Community Resource Center would be involved in collecting information - information that is useful to members of the community. So, this small first step involves picking one topic to collect information on, then start collecting, and finally holding a meeting to present what you have collected.

Here's an example of a small topic to start off with:

The Science of Alcohol Abuse

What are the actual physical phenomena involved in alcohol abuse, and how can this information be put to use to help somebody avoid or to end a pattern of alcohol abuse?

Tell the community, "We are going to spend one month trying to understand the science of alcohol abuse. At the end of one month time, we will hold a meeting where we will present our findings. Our goals, in that presentation, are to provide an account of the best current understanding of the science of alcohol abuse, options that are available to those who wish to avoid or end alcohol abuse, and how well those options square with the scientific facts."

Go ahead and book a room in which one is going to present one's findings. Start assigning tasks to those people who are willing to do the work. Start putting to use resources that are available to help people collaborate on projects such as this - such as Google Docs the organization's forums and online discussion groups. And get started.

This meeting in 1 month is not to be the end of the project. It may be called an 'Interim Meeting' - one in which the community can collect and present the findings that they have discovered to date.

By the way, at the end of the month, the organization could put their findings on a CD or DVD or prepare a PDF file that can be printed and bound for $9.95. As a community service, the same information will be available at the organization's web site online, where visitors will be able to make a donation if they feel that the organization's contribution to the community deserves some reward or compensation.

So, now, you have set your team up with the objective of having such a report written in 1 month. How are you going to write it?

Well, one will begin with basic research. One will start by going on-line and seeing what information exists on the science of alcohol abuse.

One of the special elements of this resource center is that its' objective is to determine what is actually the case when it comes to social issues about alcoholism. It is not a temperance organization seeking to give emphasis to the evils of alcohol to validate its call for prohibition. Nor is it a representative of the liquor industry seeking to deny those claims for the sake of promoting sales.

It is a community resource center trying to find out the actual impact on a community so that it avoids real harms and actualizes real benefits - not the imagined harms and benefits of those blinded by doctrine. This is how the organization will provide a genuine community service.

Its members will be people who are skilled at recognizing fallacious reasoning and wishful thinking. It will have a doctrine of "peer review" and other safeguards to spot arguments that fail and to identify them as such. It will be a trusted resource for those who think, "I want to know the truth of the matter, not what this or that special interest group wants me to believe."

As I mentioned in my previous posts, one of the services of the Secular Community Resource Center will be to permanently and diligently run classes devoted to being able to identify sound and unsound reasoning - knowing the principles of logic as well as the formal and informal fallacies - and to apply them to real-world issues.

This may be no more than a group of members agreeing to meet at someboy's home every Wednesday night, devoting each weekly session to discussing one of the informal fallacies and providing examples. They would be meetings that members should feel free to invite others to join, so that others can come and see the power and the virtue of being trained to cut through garbage arguments on any social issue.

I simply picked alcohol abuse as a sample topic. People should pick a topic that is relevant to their community. Other potential topics include drug addiction, debt, sexually transmitted disease, cancer, school reform, child abuse, or some sort of community economic crisis such as what might result from having too much oil spilling into a nearby gulf.

Once again, the objective in starting a community resource center is to pick a topic where, with the resources one has available, one can collect enough information in a month to create a valuable 'interim report' on the topic selected.

From here, the task will be to grow the organization. By promoting this first effort, one should seek to attract people who are interested in other projects - in answering other questions or dealing with other concerns. At the start of the first month, the center has four people working on one issue. Then, at the start of the second month, it has seven people working on two issues. And so on.

With modern technology, online, it would even be possible to create a network of resource centers, each working on different topics, pooling and sharing their findings, each adding some local information to the more general information found elsewhere, in order to provide the community with more information than any organization could have provided for itself.

My concern, when I mentioned the Secular Community Resource Center, was that somebody reading that post would consider it too big of a job. I have hoped in this post to demonstrate how starting such a project need not be an overpowering burden. All of the big tasks are accomplished by each person doing a small, easily manageable, little tasks.

This type of work is easily scalable, and can be started with just a handful of people who see that this type of work to improve a community can be worthwhile.


antonkozlik said...

Boy, did you ever save me a lot of time and effort since I was busy describing and documenting a similar process for The Milesians. We plan to get rolling in Elliot Lake, Ontario in September. Great Post!

Arduinnae said...

CFI-Canada has a building in Toronto and they've been very wonderful in providing us with information on running our own events, such as Living Without Religion, Secular Sobriety, etc. One thing I love about the organization is that they collect information from all over the world, projects and programs that work, and make them available to anyone who wants to do something similar.

While we're a long way from it, my local organization is looking into getting a "church" - a building where we can host community events, keep our organization's stuff (we have "Atheist Dishes" and "Atheist Fold-Up Tables" and many signs/banners/sandwich boards, etc.). One thing we're looking at for solvency is renting space out to other clubs and organizations when we aren't using it.

When I was a child, I had a really good relationship with my church. I used to get teased at school and beaten up, and when it got really bad, I would run away. Invariably, I would go to the village church. The door was always open and, if anyone found me there, they let me sit quietly until I felt ready to go back to school. It really was my Sanctuary. I want to be able to provide something similar for Atheists - a place where you can go whenever you need to just "get away." A place where you can be alone with your thoughts if you need to, or have someone to talk to if you need that instead.