Tag Archives: atheism

Top Anarchodog

Well, look at that. It seems that I’ve been found to be the 3rd top blog on the topic of Anarchism by the automatic calculations of Postrank for 2009.

Interesting. I don’t think that’s very accurate because as far as the topic goes, I consider myself quite a small fish in the Anarchosphere. I think it has far more to do with me being present in the Postrank analytics for a while now, specifically since I discovered it back when it was still called AideRSS and suggested it as a helping tool for the Atheosphere. Speaking of which, I’m nowhere close to the top for the Atheism category and as expected, it was Pharyngula who achieved superiority, although there were just 20 blogs in the topic.

Still, I’m glad I got even this small achievement. It makes me putting the effort to populate the category for anarchism worth it even more than the fact that it’s by itself a very useful quality-filtering tool. If you haven’t yet, take a look at the topic and subscribe to it to get all the goodness.

As for all of you who didn’t make it (either in Anarchism or Atheism), then make sure you visit the topic in question and add your own site to it so that it can start being calculated. Who knows, maybe in the next year you’ll be close to the top. And even if now, you’ll at least get a nifty badge for 2010 πŸ˜‰

The defenses of State and Religious law are surprisingly similar

A detail from Benjamin West's The Death of Gen...
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While discussing with people who are pro-state and even wish to increase its scale there are a few arguments that are most often used to base this position, the most notorious of which is the Argument from Human Nature. The perspective from the statist is basically that humans needs to be controlled from themselves lest they return to a beast-like existence as well as considering the state the most important institution for the advancement of civilization.

It is no wonder that those most supportive of the most authoritarian of states, the absolute monarchy, were also those who initiated the concept of Hard Primitivism to counter the Romanticism of the “Noble Savage” which made libertarian concepts such as self-management and direct action seem natural and possible. In fact the “Noble Savage” is all to often raised as a handy strawman when the idea that humans are not naturally bastards is put forth.

In this, the statists have a lot in common with monotheists who consider that a higher power is necessary to decide the hard rules all of us should follow. It is all too often for atheists to hear that without a god deciding the absolute rules for all of us (as interpreted by the official clergy of course), humans would immediately turn to barbarism. Without absolute objective morals, humans -is argued- would never be able to have a civilization, and thus religion (and the church) is necessary.

The basic idea from these two perspectives is surprisingly similar so lets look at them each in turn.

Is humanity inherently flawed?

Whereas theists consider than humans areΒ  inherently evil, coming from an original sin and can be made “civilized” only through strict religious authority and trust in a god’s rules, Statists consider that humans are inherently greedy, vicious and destructive and can be made “civilized” only through strict state authority and trust in the common law. The difference is that the former’s excuse lies in the supernatural, while the later in perceived scientific authority.

In short, the idea that fear of God or fear of the State is the only thing keeping society together and chaos & destruction at bay.

The counter to the former is fairly simple: We’ve observed that in fact humans do not turn to barbarism when religious moral are taken away, in fact many Atheists can be perceived to be “better” morally, even from the perspective of the theists and secular societies have a generally good correlation with civility.

The counter to the later is similar: Much like we don’t expect a Theist to become a rampaging beast when they discard their religion, so will a human not turn into a beast when the state authority drops away. In fact, we would consider anyone who does not become a murderer, rapists or thief only because of the fear of getting caught as having a very stumped moral system. We normally consider such a person a sociopath.

But this is in fact the argument that the statist brings forward. That we are a society of sociopaths, barely being held together by the heroic actions of those at the top, who somehow have managed to escape their personal sociopathy while also convincing all the other sociopaths to elect them.

I hope the absurdity of this proposition becomes obvious.

The truth is fortunately somehow different. While humans do have a capacity for both good and evil acts, they also have a tendency towards cooperation and mutual aid as well as having their moral code internalized rather than enforced externally. This is why when the state authority drops away, such as in national disasters like Katrina, we see humans managing to act civilized (even if they can get away not doing so) and helping each other, while those who assume the worst in humans, end up becoming what they fear.

Examples such as these are all too often in human societies, where those at the top, who consider themselves enlightened and surpassing their own “human nature” act the most brutally, while those whom they condemn end up proving them wrong in reality. One only needs to look at the communes in the Spanish Revolution, the Soviets of the Russian Revolution (before Lenin’s consolidation of power that is), the libertarian projects such as Christania or the Kibbutz. All practical, working examples that humans without the state can function just as well if not better.

Thus, much like a new atheist retaining most of their moral system once they lose their religion, so do people retain their moral system once they lose their rulers.

Is central leadership necessary for civilization?

This is another favourite argument from both camps and we’ll see, it is related to the previous one. Theists will argue that without their god’s code of laws, humans would never have been able to organize and achieve a civilization. Without religious scripture and leadership of the clergy/founding fathers/scribes/etc humans would have forever remained in a state of primitivism. In a similar vein, statists claim that without a state promoting science and reason, humans would have remained ignorant, superstitious and crude.

The religious argument is generally easy to counter by pointing out the existence of civilizations which existed along with religions other than their own. They may argue that no other civilization managed to reach the level we have no except Christianity of course, but one can point out that this happened <i>despite</i> Christianity and in fact we see the rise of secularism and atheism as the best correlation, not a particular religion.

The counter-argument from the statist claims is a bit more tricky. They will certainly point out that a state existed ever since we’ve had civilization but that is through a clever definitional trick: We define “civilization” generally from the point at which a state appeared.

Certainly, almost all cultures at some point achieved a state but that has obviously not been enough for the modern civilization and in fact, very often rolled any progress backwards. Rather, something else was necessary.

That was Rationalism. The Age of Enlightenment saw finally the time where humans started coming out of the dark ages and superstition and religious or arbitrary authority started being superseded by rationality and reasonable authority. And while the initial states and other assorted authority institutes were initially hostile to the concept, as it undermined their rule, rationality still increased as the environment of the time made it a competitive meme.

As this increased, we saw first the mellowing of authority and then the first steps towards reasonable authority as seen by the use of political democracy. Traditional customs were discarded and relationships of domination started getting criticized. As rationality increased feeding upon its achievements, so did human behaviour which was shaped by it, start becoming more civilized.

It is this that defines the rise of modern civilization, not the democratic state. That was a symptom of the need for reasonable authority. As such, the claim that the state was necessary is false. Humans would have progressed to a brighter future with or without a state, and in fact they were on the road of doing exactly that within their medieval cities which freed from the state authority, became bastions of progress. If anything, the state, initially feudal but later democratic as well, was the primary cause of the stalling of such progress, with it violently enforcing a system with a conflicting nature in regards to human progress: Capitalism

How? Well it’s a fact that Capitalism is not good at inventing new stuff. This is because of its necessity for short term profit, while research is a long-term goal. As such, the state is necessary to provide the funds for research and advancement, and it is exactly this fact that Statists will bring up as definite proof of the necessity of the state.

But this argument is flawed. The state is only required as long as a system which is inherently irrational in regards to progress needs to be pushed in the right direction. And then it can only do a half-job. But this argument is defeated once one poses the question “Why is Capitalism required?”. Can we not have a system which does not provide a disincentive for research? We can. And once this fact becomes clear, the necessity for the state collapses. Which is naturally why a statist will also maintain that Capitalism is absolutely necessary while moaning about the inability of the system to do what is needed for humans.

In the end, for libertarian socialists, this defense ends up looking more like schizophrenia, with the Statist on one hand trying to praise Capitalism for its ability to promote progress, while one the other trying to defend the state’s existence by lamenting on how bad Capitalism is for progress.

The Truth? Humans Can do Without Authority.

Fortunately, there is ample evidence to prove that humans are not the flawed beasts that theists and statists suggest in order to maintain the rule of their chosen leaders. While humans are of course not Noble Savages, they do have a natural tendency towards Mutual Aid and Co-operation, something which is both historically and empirically proven. We’re not talking about romanticizing the tribal structures, nor are we suggesting we return to such a living (another favourite strawman of the statists).

What we are suggesting is that since humans have the capacity for both “Good” and “Evil” it is the system around them which naturally selects which behaviour will come to the front. Obviously, a system like Capitalism which promotes Greed, Material Self-interest, viciousness, win-culture etc will require a state in order (among other reasons) to prevent this behaviour from unraveling the whole social order. Of course that wouldn’t happen anyway as without a state or other organized submission, humans would most likely follow their natural tendencies and discard capitalism as well.

But a system which promotes a behaviour based around co-operation and mutual aid, such as any system which has discarded private property, will not risk devolving into chaos and therefore a state would not be required to maintain order.

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Reddit (sorta) censors Atheism

How the Reddit bar looks like after the change in the algorithm
How the Reddit bar looks like after the change in the algorithm

Well, this is disappointing. It seems that Reddit has decided to practically hide the Atheism subreddit from public view. I may be posting late about this, since other have already started covering this controversy, but I might as well throw my two cents for all it’s worth.

Initially I noticed this yesterday night when rumors of this started popping up all over atheism. Initially it looked like a conspiracy theory but very soon the facts of the matter started coming up through investigation by redditors. Soon after, as the facts could not be denied anymore, an official explanation was posted. Needless to say, it failed to convince.

As other noticed as well, the argument is pretty weak. The reddit admins don’t think that Atheism is legitimately on the top and thus instead of fixing their algorithms, they decided to hide it instead. Now except from the fact that this looks very much like a quickly cooked up explanation, it does also raise the question of why this impression was had by the admins. The official take is that the Atheism reddit is not really so popular because of its controversy it rises to the top unfairly”. Which immediately raises the question “Why is this unfair? Why is the old algorithm deemed wrong just because it managed to reward controversial reddits with more popularity?”.

I don’t think an easy answer can be given to this, as it will be simply based on the developer’s perspective, which then as others pointed out as well, makes it a de-facto censorship. If the developers don’t believe that Atheism deserves to be on the top, then any way they modify the algorithm for choosing the top reddits will be deemed bad unless it can push Atheism down. That is, the measure of success depends on /r/Atheism not being on the top!

Nevertheless, although we can speculate on the developer’s motives, a charitable interpretation demands that we consider that it is, in fact, their site and their design, and as such they get to decide what makes a good algorithm. However there are still some unanswered questions.

First a modification is exactly what has happened. The algorithm was modified accordingly and Atheism was pushed down to the 16th position. However the deliberate exclusion of Atheism from the front page and from the top-bar selection of subreddits (visible to unsubscribed users) is still a concern as it points to the possibility that Atheism is still being deliberately excluded even when the algorithm puts it outside the front page. If the concern was simply about the trolling going on when an article from Atheism hit the front page, then why is this necessary?

Personally, even though I am not a big fan of /r/Atheism, mostly because my sentiments on it are similar to this guy, and even though I consider the whole ordeal a tad overblown, I have still removed reddit from my adblock whitelist as a minor sign of protest and I’ve messaged the admins with my disappointment of their handling of this situation.

I believe things would have been far better if the admins had posted in the subreddit with the problem they face, why this is, what they were thinking of doing and asking for feedback. They would then have immediately seen the feelings of the community, how popular or not it would be and most certain of all, they would have avoided all this controversy and negativity which is the explicit result of them changing things under the table without telling anyone.

Such an act starts to raise questions about motives and honesty on the part of the reddit admins, something which can be lethal to a site which is practically run by their community and thus based on the community’s explicit trust that they are not being manipulated for commercial or political purposes. Signs of underhanded tactics like this, done without informing anyone harm this and as such harm reddit itself. Which other reddits are being hidden under the table? Which other opinions are not considered “popular” enough to deserve the spotlight as already implemented? Will the algorithm be modified again if a marginal reddit like Anarchism suddenly rises in popularity and ideas the owners don’t espouse start being promoted to the front? Probably not, but the acts of the admins have put such uncomfortable questions on the table.

This is in fact a great sample to show how authoritarian decisions by those who are considered an enlightened minority (ie those who are assumed to know what is best for everyone) can diverge with a very considerable number of those they are deciding for. The backlash is only so large in reddit (as opposed to dictatorships or republics) because of its democratic nature and community participation but the same rules apply to all such authoritarian decisions. Most, if not all of this would have been avoided if the decision had been taken with the participation of the community they decide for. Not only that, but the solution implemented would have possibly been far better.

As it is now, I can only hope that the reddit admins have learned a lesson, even though their current actions don’t point to that direction. At best, next time they decide to modify their code with such an explicit purpose in mind they will inform and consult with the communities affected. At worst they will keep in mind that doing such acts in secret can backfire and possibly invoke the Streisand Effect.

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A way to help the third world without charity

Image representing Kiva as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Through one of reddit’s recent advert campaigns, I’ve come to discover Kiva, a non-profit project trying to alleviate poverty through micro-financing of entrepreneurs in (mostly) third world or developing nations. It’s quite an interesting attempt at this issue really. While Micro-financing (MFI) is not something novel anymore, the idea of utilizing the Internet to make it very easy for distributed people all over the world to provide credit for particular causes.

This is in fact I believe the most important part. While MFIs are quite a worthwhile way to provide credit to those falling between the cracks of the financial system, it must have been quite difficult for people with some spare money to contribute to it. Kiva is the necessary step which finally makes it easy to connect those with money, to those who will distribute it. That it adds a personal touch and a sense of connection of lender to borrower is just the icing to the cake.

The thing I like the most about Kiva is that this is not a charity. While there is a general charitable aspect of it – specifically in the sense that lenders do not receive interest on their loans and have a risk of losing some of their money – as a whole the concept is made so that people get a chance to receive funds for their purpose (whether entrepreneurship or personal) and then return it as a whole but on better terms.

Why is this noteworthy? For me, it’s quite important not to be a charity event as I consider charity to be the wrong way to go about solving poverty issues. I won’t get into a lot of details but in a few words it insults both charitor and beneficiary and it promotes a passive and victim mentality. Nothing really an Anarchist likes to promote. On the opposite side, the Kiva and MFIs at least push people to find a way to put the money to good use and then be able to repay it. If trains people to solve their problems with those of us who have it better giving the leg up.

And this is the most important part. Simply giving money to the poor in order to get them from one day to the next is just hiding the problem under the carpet. Helping the poor overcome their problems with their own solutions and empowering them to continue thinking this way is the important thing.Β  And I believe Kiva is a small step in the right direction.

Of course, compared to what should happen to finally resolve the problem of poverty, MFI is a drop in the ocean. However in a world where those of us who want to help feel so helpless to do so, the idea of helping people learn to stand on their own two legs is something.

So initially I was quite furtive in my first loan. I only gave out 25$ to one person and waited to see what would happen. Well, today I am glad to say I got 1.2$ of those back from the first return. Once I have it all back, I’ll be able to use it then to refinance someone else or even the same person if needed. This, along with me recently proposing to some rich online person to join Kiva as well, gave me the incentive to put my hand a bit deeper in my pocket and also to spread the word. Hence, this post.

kiva-redditThere’s also some other interesting thoughts about Kiva I’ve made. For example, one can also withdraw their money once its been returned. This means that one can theoretically use Kiva as a kind of savings account as well, in a sense hitting two birds with one stone. Both doing something about poverty and also having a small modicum of diversified security. Sure, it’s not getting interest and you may lose part of it, but it’s so spread out that it’s unlikely you’ll lose a lot and furthermore you can personally manage its risk to an extent and I am assuming it’s safe from bank runs.Β  Just an idea anyway.

This post wouldn’t be complete without me mentioning what I think is the biggest criticism about Kiva: Interest rates.

You see, while Kiva does not charge any interest rates for giving the money, the partners who actually are in contact with the borrower and serve as the intermediary between Kiva and entrepreneur, do charge an interest, and this interest can go quite high. To the tune of 50% even! On average, at the time of writing, Kiva has an average interest rates from partners of 23% but this varies wildly. I’ve seen 1% as well.

While Kiva does a pretty good job of explaining why MFI interest rates are so high, one also needs to consider that the interest rate sharpness is relative. While in comparison to the developed world they are astronomical, compared to their local money lenders, the interest rates are downright free. Local money lender average is at around 86% and I’ve noticed a lot of areas where it’s over 100%! So I think if someone really needs a loan, an interest rate of 70% less than one would get through local channels is a much better help.

Of course this does not mean that all partners have it so high. One can easily discover those who have it as low as 4% or even 1% and since Kiva provides the capability to search by partner, one can easily just look and provide loans with the lowest interest rates possible. Of course, you shouldn’t expect to be able to find such partners on areas with high risk and poverty as that would simply be not sustainable. Personally I prefer to use the word search and look for “coop”. This way I usually find entrepreneurs who are having a cooperative as a partner, which at least tells me that the money I give out is not going to fund worker exploitation for profit.

I think Kiva is a very nice idea and certainly a step in the right direction. It’s not the most radical of concepts but every little bit counts. I also like the idea that as a movement, it can also combine the powers of both the left and the right spectrum of libertarianism. Both those of us who want to do out little bit to fight poverty without insulting those we help and those of us who want to spread entepreneurship values.

Oh, and as a bonus fact, Kiva also supports groups. This means that when you lend money, you can do it as part of a group of people. And would you know which people are the ones who have lent out more and by a large margin? Atheists πŸ˜‰

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Meme Tagged: My first day as an Atheist

Here’a first, I’ve just been tagged by the Atheist Blogger with a new meme. I haven’t done any of these in the past (other than taking it upon myself that is). So let’s see…

Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist?

Well, Officially is a weird word that doesn’t apply very well since there’s no organised Atheist Religion. Nevertheless, I can’t really say that I remember the day I became an atheist. I know that I considered myself an Atheist for a while mostly because I could not consider myself a good Christian but I never expressed it. Truth be told, I wasn’t really an atheist but rather an agnostic at that point.

What I do distinctly remember is being in a church for a reason or other (I think because of Easter) with my aunt and for some reason I ended up telling a priest that I was an Atheist, which of course promted him to tell me that I’m just angry at God that I lost my mother. Highly presumtious of him I’d say.

Yes my memory is incedibly crappy.

In actuallity, I became a full-fledged Atheist in my current (and only correct) form only in recent years but it was a gradual process.

Do you remember the day you officially became an agnostic?

Again not really. I was really an agnostic while calling myself an atheist in my teens so I guess you could say that.

How about the last time you spoke or prayed to God with actual thought that someone was listening?

I remember occasionally, when in a difficult or sad situation, asking inside my head for help but I never explicitly prayed. Perhaps I was defending my self mentally or perhaps it was a leftover from school&church brainwashing.

I’ve since conditioned myself to stop doing this ridiculous mental trick and just get on with the problem at hand.

I never actually truly prayed, as in, “get down on my knees” kind of thing. I was seeing my classmates devoutly bending down their head and closing their eyes in the school’s morning mandatory prayer and I remember I tried it once (simply saying the ΠατΡρ Ξ—ΞΌΟŒΞ½ prayer internally) but I thought it was all too silly.

Did anger towards God or religion help cause you to be an atheist or agnostic?

Nah, although people were inclined to believe that because of my mother’s death, that wasn’t the case. I never really felt enough about them to feel anger. I am currently opposed to organised religion and their actions occasionally get me angry but this does not drive my irreligion.

Here is a good one: Were you agnostic towards ghosts, even after you became an atheist?

By the time I consider myself to have become a proper Atheist I had managed to achieve scepticism as well. By the time I first called myself an Atheist when I should have been saying agnostic or even agnostic Christian I still believed in various woo-woo like Energies, Auras, Magic etc

But fortunately not Ghosts. I think Holywood ruined it for me πŸ™‚

Do you want to be wrong?

I would not like to be wrong (I mean, who does?) as it would mean that I was living my life wrongly, based on false beliefs and knowledge. Having said that, If I did turn out to be wrong, I wouldn’t mind, unless the Christian God is, indeed such a bastard as the Old Testament makes him out to be, in which case I would summarily be going to hell anyway.

I would like to be wrong about other stuff however. I would very much love to be wrong about Global Warming, Aliens, Ghosts, Auras and the like. If those things existed, the world would be so much more interesting.

Unfortunately just because I’d like those to exist, I can’t bring myself to willful delusion.

So, that’s that. Time to spread the mind virus.

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Still wary of self-hosting? Then here's my ultimate proposal.

Right, so here we are, after one full week of me trying to convince you that self-hosting is the superior choice and most probably, you still have the same opinion as before I started.

That’s ok, I didn’t expect 6 simple posts to create a stampede of people falling over each other to take control of their own site. What I did hope to achieve is to dispel some of that wariness so that I don’t have to counter all these arguments in this post.

So here’s my cunning plan:

I’ll do it for you.

What will I do specifically? I will setup your wordpress installation. I will use all my experience in the platform to configure the most useful plugins, your SEO, your backups, your performance and importing your previous blog. I will take your wishes for your blog and attempt to make them come true.
You will not be required to spend any time in setting anything up, other than buying your new hosting plan and putting your new password once I’m finished. Hell, I’ll give you 30 days support while I’m at it.

And I’ll do it for free.

It is at this point that most sensible people would ask: “What’s the catch?”. Well, there’s no catch, but there are…stipulations:

  1. The people eligible for this offer will be personally chosen by me. I will only help people who have proven to hold values at least a bit similar to mine. This means no Ayn Rand Objectivists and no libertarians: These true believers in the free market can go pay for it.
    Initially this offer will be extended by invitation. Depending on how well received it is, I may allow people to request it. I will investigate and veto requests on ethical grounds.
  2. You will have to use Dreamhost and you will have to use me as a referrer. The reasons this are:
    • This is the provider I use and know pretty well by now. I do not know the admin panels of the other hosts and nor do I care to learn them. By using Dreamhost it means that I’ll be able to work very fast.
    • I will receive 10% of whatever you pay as a referral reward. This will be less than 5€ if you go for a yearly plan so don’t assume I’ll be earning a fortune. Furthermore, since by using my promo code dbzer0 you will pay 20$ less, I will not get anything for a while.
    • If you pay by credit card, you can cancel your contract within 90 days. This gives you ample time to abort if you don’t like it anymore and saves me from nagging. It gives you the peace of mind that I will not scam you as soon as you give me access.
    • It is cheap. You can pay from 9$ to 6$ per month, depending on how much you prepay. While this is more expensive than some, it more than makes it up for quality and support.
    • It is scalable. If you find that shared hosting is too slow, and you will only have that if you have too many plugins or too many visitors, you can request private server hosting for an extra 15$ per month which will dramatically improve your speeds. You can then further increase your speeds depending on your needs.
    • It provides overwhelming amounts of space and bandwidth. The initial plan will give you 500Gb of space and 5Tb of Bandwidth which will increase weekly. You will find it practically impossible to use them all, which means you can start hosting stuff for your friends, or special projects (say, online backup of your home PC).
    • You will certainly find naysayers of Dreamhost and I’m certain they have valid points but I’m quite satisfied myself and I believe you will be too.
    • They’ve been recognised as one of the only twenty five companies in the world to have a democratic workplace. I’ll gladly promote and pay a bit more to make sure that their employees are not abused and give an example for other companies. Plus, they are one of the few companies that don’t take themselves too seriously and their newletters and blog are actually worth reading.
  3. You are not required to give me any reward for this. That does not mean I would not appreciate any way you might deem to repay me and I will accept anything you believe my work deserves. This can be a linkback from your new blog, a permanent or prominent place in your blogroll, donations, a good word and generally anything else you might think of.There is only one catch:
    Any kind of reward you provide me for this work will be shown publicly.I will have a special page for this project and I will list all the people and sites I’ve created through it and all the rewards each has provided. Of course, on stuff that it is not easy to figure out if they are a reward or not (like a linkback), I will only require you explicitly mention it somehow.

So these are my only stipulations. I believe they are reasonable but if you disagree, I’m open to discussing it.

How will this work?

Simple. You follow my link and register to the only plan there is (I told you it’s simple). This will automatically set me as your referral so don’t go surfing around before registering. If you want to make sure, use my email dbzero@gmail.com
Alternatively, you can use the promo code “dbzer0” (minus the quotes) to get 20$ off. Alternatively you can not use the code which means that at some point in the future I’ll receive those 20$ extra πŸ˜‰

Once your account is ready, you give me your new admin code for your dreamhost panel.

I ask you some information like “What domain name do you want” and “This domain name is not available, choose another”.

Once I have all the information I need, I tell you to wait.

At some point in the near future I get back to you and tell you that your new blog is ready and provide you with a new username and password.

We spend the next month telling me what else you would like you blog to do and I try to make it do it.

Once the month is past, I keep supporting you only on a best effort basis as I attempt to help someone else. Hopefully by then, you’re once again to the stage where you’re happy to leave your configuration be and simply post new stuff.

Why do I do this?

I do it because I’m honestly disappointed to see so many good people not doing the smart choice because of time or skill constraints.

I do it because I find it a pity that these people cannot shine as they could, as they are moored in the limited free hosting.

I do it because I want to help fellow Atheists (with correct values) to become better.

I do it because I like attention.

I do it because I have free time and enough skill that won’t hurt me to put to good use. It’s either that or simply read more or watch some series.

I do it because I had a dream.

I do it because I think gathering goodwill is worthwhile.

I do it because I hope it will inspire others.

The first invitations.

So, to get things started, here are my first invites.

I will start on a first come, first serve basis. If more than one of you guys accept, I will do it serially.

If none of these three accept the invitation, I select the next batch of invites. If none of the next batch accepts, I will attempt to select one from the comments (so if you want me to do you, please leave a comment stating so along with who you are, in case I don’t know you already)

If I have no acceptances and no comments to select from, I will consider this experiment a failure and stop asking.

Personally, I’m hoping it does not fail.

As for the rest of you. I hope to hear your opinions on this. Speak up!

The Reddit Community and Why It's Useful for Freethinkers

So you’ve used the reddit voting system, you got some hits and you love the minimalism of it. By now you may have even gotten a post on the front page by which point you may have noticed quite a lot of comments, a lot of them inane, while others are long-winded. Should you care or pay attention if they’re not commenting on your own blog?

They’re talking about your thoughts and opinions aren’t they?

If you’re like me, and your main purpose in blogging is to spread your knowledge and replicate your ideas in other minds, comments are your bread and butter. There’s nothing else I give more credence to, than receiving comments (well, receiving trackbacks is also nice) and apparently the reddit community is more than happy to do just that.

The reason why so many people comment on reddit, instead of your own site is the same reason reddit is attractive in the first place: Ease of Use. It is much simpler for a logged in redditor to leave a comment on the story link than to leave in the comments of a blog. This just reinforces my impression that comment usability is important.

Just compare how many comments Vjack’s latest (excellent) post has received, compared to how many are under the reddit story and you will see what I mean.

Another useful feature of reddit is that it makes it easier for people to continue a conversation once someone replies to them. It is not as good as getting an email as with Intense Debate, but as soon as someone visits reddit, they will be able to see that they have a new message, which is really the direct reply to a previous comment. This really keeps the conversation flowing, unlike a blog where unless someone subscribes to the comments, they will most likely forget. If you want people to pay attention to your writing, you have a chance to make them pay attention there πŸ˜‰

Some may have some reservations about the quality of the comments that one may find in reddit. I’m glad to say that from personal experience, the maturity level of the redditors is quite higher than, say, digg. Not ony do you find great commentary but if you’re lucky, you can get some instant blogging material as well πŸ˜‰

As you’d expect, comments can be voted as well. This has the effect of making the least liked comments drop to the bottom while having the more insightful ones immediately visible. Very good for avoiding trolling and finding the interesting stuff to reply to.

“What about Karma?” I hear you ask. Well, in reddit’s, it’s not a case of a silly woo-woo belief in metaphysical retribution but it is a semi-accurate representation of a user’s activity and success in reddit. You get rated both on the quality of your comments and your posts. It’s not really important but it’s nice to see increase.

One final thing, relating to the various subreddits. What I have noticed in the Atheosphere is that generally the same news keep being recycled over and over. At some point one can always read so much about Crackergate, pedophile priests and whatnot. Using the various subreddits to subscribe to the things that interest you will not only allow you to increase the various subjects you might write about but it can help you posts your articles in various categories and reach a wider audience.

Sometimes it is worth hearing opinions outside our limited circle of the Godless.

How to use Reddit:Atheism and Increase your Readership

As I have taken recently a bigger interest in my blogging methods I have started paying a bit more attention to what services work and how. I have taken a special interest in what is related to Atheism and how the Atheosphere (which I’m hoping you’re a part of) can utilize them to increase our visibility.

To this end I wanted to raise your attention to the Atheism subreddit which has gone live a short 6 months ago, shortly after the creation of custom reddits was implemented. Within that short time it has acquired more than 15K subscribers which, if you consider that the most any subreddit has is 53K is pretty impressive.

Some of you may wonder how reddit:atheism has achieved this significant amount of users when The Atheist Spot is still struggling to get more than 5 votes on any individual post. The answer lies in usability.

Reddit is really simple and really minimalistic. Most things take just one click to achieve and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything requiring more than two of them. Indeed, a lot of care has been put to create widgets and bookmarklets that make voting and submitting as quick and painless as possible for logged in users.

How does this simplicity help?

First of all, as a simple reader you can just grab the bookmarklet(s), (put them in a folder if you want) and once you’re in an article worthy of your interests (not just atheism) just vote it up. If it’s on reddit you’re just told that it’s voted (without leaving the page!) and if it’s not, you can submit it with an extra click. How easy is that?

Contrary to digg (and clones) you don’t have to type a description or check for duplicates and pass through a 10 step process to submit. The only thing you need is the url and title which are automatically grabbed. If you have your favorite subreddits selected, the choices of where to submit are one of them, which make it a breeze to send to where it belongs.

As a blogger, all you have to do is grab one of the widgets and put it in the area of your choice. You can see mine on the sidebar under the “popularity” header. Not only does this allow your visitors to vote up/down and see how popular a post is but they (if they are good an loyal readers πŸ˜‰ ) can submit it with an extra click of the mouse. There’s practically no reason not to have the widget somewhere.

How about increasing readership?

Until now I considered Stumbleupon one of my better referrers as I would get at least a 100 hits per time one of my articles was stumbled. However after using reddit for a while now, I think there’s a new contender. Since the 7th, I have had five of my posts sumbitted on reddit, of which just one passed 5 votes (none passed 20) and I still got almost 600 unique visitors and my subscibers increased by 1/3. Compare that to Stumbleupon in which I had five posted since the middle of July and it still only barely managed to exceed 600 hits.

To be fair, Stumbleupon had a much lower bounce rate but I was pretty much testing the waters in reddit and submitting anything. Which leads me to my next point.

Submitting

As I said above, my submissions above ended up with me just getting downmodded quite aggresively. Even the post I assumed would do well barely got 5 points. It became obvious that the reddit crowd is quite opinionated.
To tell the truth, I still haven’t found the winning formula (impossible in 2 weeks) but I have noticed that news usually hit the top but insightful posts tend to do quite well. This is good news for people like me who generally don’t just repeat the same content over and over. Hell, even my interview did ok.

One good tip is to provide some kind of image for your posts. As reddit grabs an image automatically, it usually grabs the first image in the page. If you don’t have a header image like me, the first one is usually the article related pic which should hopefully be related to your content. From personal experience I find that images tend to attract attention.

There are two other good things about submitting in reddit however.

1. You can submit to more than one subreddit at a time.

While news tend to do good in Atheism, in the small cousin subreddit of Freethought, blogposts and opinions tend to do quite well. If you submit to both and someone votes from your site or with a bookmarklet, both will rise in votes.

If you write something that might be of interest to different crowds (say, Atheists and Bloggers) you should submit to all the appropriate categories.

2. New posts are not hidden away

It is a classic problem in Digg and Atheist Spot (for me at least) that when one submits a new post, that is hidden away in a special tab reserved for upcoming stories. This means that unless your topic happens to hit the front page by the few(er) that view these submissions, you’ll rarely see any referrals.

Reddit does this differently, when a new post is sumbitted, it appears without a rank on the front page and can be voted up and down. Once some time has passed, the rank appears and you can see how well it does. This hiding of the rank and appearing on the front means that even if you get downvoted by the various trolls that lurk in reddit, you can still get some views and hopefully catch up.

Another interesting thing is that the front page is not just the top posts but rather the order is decided by time and votes. Thus, as time passes, a post starts dropping and can only be buoyed up by getting voted on. Eventually there’s no one else to vote and it drops off, but until then it’s quite possible for a post to hang around in the middle of the page for a day or so, even with less than 10 votes. For blogs where we might get our normal visitors over the span of two or three days this is especially useful.

Solidarity

As I mentioned above, there are troll that lurk in reddit and opinions can differ quite a bit and as a result we may need at least a bit of solidarity as Atheobloggers. I make it a habit now to always vote up articles of bloggers where the widget is displayed (and the article is voted), unless I outright disagree. The more of us that register and do this, the better all of us will do. Since voting up is so quick & simple, I don’t see why we shouldn’t.

To be continued…

This post is starting to get a bit long winded with all the things I want to say so I’ll stop here. Look for the next (and hopefully last) part of this series where I’ll explain how the commenting system of reddit gives some unique opportunities for extended dialogue, the fun of memes, karma, maturity and various other little tidbits.

A Quickie

OK, on rapid succession before I hit the bed:

  • I finished version 0.9.5 of Complexlife. It now includes support for stumbleupon and reddit, an option to simplify the settings menu by hading the extra options and some code improvements.
    This is 5 minor versions since the fork. Go me!
  • I finally added a favicon on the Division by Zer0. I wanted to do this for a while but I never got around to it and I also didn’t have anything in particular I wanted to use. Finally a guest post from Pharyngula gave me the idea to use the atheism symbol which looks cool enough.
    It took me a while to figure out what the correct code is but a little Google prayer and I got my divine answer.
  • We now have 22 Atheists in Scoutle which is pretty impressive if you consider it was only 4 days ago that I mentioned it. However the more impressive news is that found a fellow Epicurean blogger through the new network I setup. Coolness!
    So, for the rest of you who haven’t joined yet. What are you waiting for?! Git!
  • I now have an actual Comment Policy so I’d appreciate any opinions on it πŸ˜€

G’night!

15 Resources for Atheist Bloggers

blogosphereI thought I’d compile a list of resources for Atheist bloggers which might be useful for new members of the Atheosphere or might have been overlooked by the old ones.

Joining and utilizing these services should give you more exposure and interaction. Of course it’s not a magic recipe but if you have good content that fails to get noticed this should help.

Participate

This is the first and most important tip I can give you. If you want more exposure and readers, the best thing you can do is be a part of the Atheosphere. Don’t assume that just by writing on your own blog people are going to flock to your brilliant writing. Well, it might happen but it’s going to be much more easy if you return the favour.

How do you participate? Just read what others have to say and then comment if you have something interesting to contribute. Bloggers are generally delighted to receive comments, even it it’s the occasional “well said” and if you seem to become a regular at someone’s blog, they’re bound to visit your site to see who you are and what you’re all about.

If you want to refute, analyse or improve on what someone else said, don’t leave it as a comment. Trackback instead from your own blog. Write a normal blogpost and aim a link at what someone else has written (don’t aim at their main blog unless you have to. Go for the permalink.) A trackback is sure to make the author of the original post follow it back to see what you wrote.

Finally, if you find something particularly good or interesting, do not shy from voting, sharing, redditing, digging or anywhere else he has been submitted. Indeed, subscribe in all of these services beforehand so that it’s easy to vote up people with interesting ideas. Simply, do as you’d like other to do with your posts πŸ˜‰

Atheist Blogroll

This is the classic first stop for most atheist bloggers. Joining the blogroll will not give you much more than visibility at the many blogs that have it displayed. Unfortunately since technorati changed their algorithms, appearing there does not help your authority.

The Atheist Blogroll is however a resource that some of us use as a way to create or organise other services for the Atheosphere.

Planet Atheism

Many people subscribe here for their daily news reading. By joining, you’ll appear at the feed reader of many pairs of eyes so there’s not reason not to. Unfortunately lately I haven’t been able to get in contact with the admin so hopefully this is still being administered.

Carnival of the Godless

You should use the Carnival to give some of your most interesting posts more visibility. Every two weeks these are compiled into a grand carnival and presented to the world. Posts submitted to the carnival generally get around 200 views from my experience. Not much for someone already estabilished but a nice boost for the more invisible of us πŸ™‚

Atheist Nexus

Join the Nexus and then also join the Bloggers group to find other like you. Taking part in the forum discussions is also a great way to find blogging material to write about. This is what I’m doing anyway πŸ™‚

Technorati

Go there, claim your blog and grab some widgets. Technorati is great at giving you some accurate stats about your popularity. Many prefer the authority widget (or bragging widget as I like to call it) but for me the simple linkcount widget is enough and a nice way to see how many people have found your post interesting enough to link back to it.

Once you join Technorati do not forget to favorite your…well, favorite blogs. Bloggers love when you do that and you may be rewarded in some way πŸ˜‰

You can find me here.

Twitter

This has only started getting more popular with the Atheists lately. Most use it to notify about their new blogposts but it also serves as a handy public channel for quick discussions. I’ve had many a quick answer as well as some good notifications for events of interest. And, hey, you can’t go wrong with befriending God and Satan either πŸ˜‰

You can find me here and I’ve also created a delicious tag for all the atheists in twitter. Use it to quickly populate your contacts and then tag yourself.

MyBlogLog

You can pretty much see this on every blog nowadays and most people use it for the same reason, to have the nice little avatars of their recent visitors. I’ve honestly yet to find another function to it as for statistics wordpress and google analytics give me much more powerful tools and for free. Nevertheless, that widget is quite nice as you can easily discover who reads you and perhaps find some interesting new blog from there.

Still, if you find any other great use except for the visitors widget, let me know πŸ˜‰

You can find me here.

Facebook Blog Networks

If you’re on Facebook and like me you don’t like to add friends you don’t actually know, the Blog Networks should be a nice alternative to show your support for your fellow atheist bloggers. Join, add your blog and join the network of the blogs you’re reading meticilously. Leave a comment and strike up a connection.

You can find the Division by Zer0 here as well as my profile.

Scoutle

This is the newest blog helping tool I’ve found. As I understand, it is quite new as well but it has some promise. I’ve blogged about it recently so I won’t repeat what I said but I think it would be a good addition to your sidebar as it’s automated and the more Atheists that join it now that it’s still new, the more visibility we’ll gain in general.

You can find the Division by Zer0 here.

Blogged

A nice way to get a rating for your blog. If your blog is not already in you can add it and in due time an editor of the site will give it a rating. It does not stop there of course as people who read you can rate and review your blog which should give you that warm fuzzy feeling. Return the favor and then everyone is happy πŸ™‚

You can find my profile here.

Voting Services

There’s a bunch of Popularity services that many atheists use to improve their visibility. You probably know most of them already but just in case, I’m going to mention some of the more useful ones.

It is in all of our best interests to join these social networks and vote each other up. We have 750 Atheist Blogs at the moment and if just 200 of these people were active on the voting services, the atheist voice would be hitting the headlights every day. It is a sad fact that between all of us, we are still invisible.

Reddit

I found that there is a reddit devoted to atheism just recently and it seems to be quite active. I wasn’t using reddit that much before but I started just for this. The good thing about reddit is its usability. A post that has the reddit buttons (like this one *wink*wink*) can be voted up or down just with a simple click which should make the action so painless that you have no reason not to do it.

Also, even if the buttons of reddit do not exist on the blog template, by putting the bookmarklets on your toolbar, you can vote without leaving the page either. Don’t forget to be bold as well. If the article is good enough and has not been submitted, do so yourself.

The Atheist Spot

Another voting system especially for Atheism. This is quite new and still in the process of building up a readership. It’s not as easy to use as reddit but it is certainly less abused. With the addition of the handy social buttons it becomes a bit of an easier process.

Stumbleupon

You may not think it but Stumbleupon can give you significant traffic if enough people vote your articles up. The same also apply for other people who have their articles submitted. Since stumbleupon has a limit on how many times one can submit a specific site, the page author cannot do so for every one of his articles. This, if you read something interesting, press that “thumbs up” and if it’s not there, submit it.

I don’t know about the rest but I’m delighted every time I see visitors coming from stumbleupon in a new article. I always go and thank the one who submitted it πŸ™‚ Remember that an post on stumbleupon gets more visitors depending on how many people have given it the thumbs up. My Firefox article of one year ago got 2000 visitors in the first 2 days and I’m still getting visitors now to it (just because someone voted it up again recently). So if you see something in there, give it the thumbs up.

Another way to help is join the network of atheists in stumbleupon. Not only will you find many great articles from there but the more of us that are there and vote each other’s sumbissions, the more visitors all of us get.

You can find me here.

Blogger’s Choice Awards

I’ve already written about this in depth so I won’t repeat it here. I will only mention that there has been very little activity on this front and it’s a pity. The same things I said before about mobilizing the Atheist presence on the Internet applies here too. Consider that the Atheist Nexus at the moment has 3000 members but the highest rated Atheist blog has had just 24 votes.

PMOG

This is not strictly a bloggers resource but I consider that it has great potential to increase visibility to blog articles, including the ones that were written a while ago. It also has the potential to make your web surfing a bit more enjoyable.

Epilogue

So here ends my little tour of the resources I use for my daily traves in the Atheosphere and beyond. I hope that I’ve given new bloggers some starting points and old geezers some ideas that might not have considered before. If you have anything I have missed myself, I’d love to hear it and perhaps update this small list.

Cheers!