In 2010, a previous convention there had around 2500 attendees, and in 2012, 4000 attendees.On paper, the 2018 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia should have been a huge success. Scheduled to take place this coming February, the guests included keynote speakers Salman Rushdie and Richard Dawkins, along with an assortment of science writers, comedians, activists, and ex-preachers.
So the organizers tried to top their 2012 convention. They decided to go ahead after getting some big-name speakers, a good organization team, and government funding, courtesy of the Melbourne Convention Bureau.
But early ticket sales were disappointing. So they decided to cancel rather than continue.
The Reason Rally, a big US event approximately comparable to that GAC, had fewer people attending in 2016 than in 2012. This was despite religious "Nones" increasing from 14% in 2004 to 24% in 2016.Heres the thing: For those of us in the U.S. who werent planning on making the trek to Australia, weve seen a similar decline in attendance for some huge atheist-themed events over the past few years, and its reasonable to jump to those same conclusions.
Hemant Mehta has these theories:
HM notes about (2) that the Skepticon conference's content has changed over the years, from atheism and criticism of religion to a broader range of topics, like ex-Muslims' concerns, copying with losing a loved one, mental-health issues, making allies, how to lobby, and even how to do podcasts.1) The novelty has worn off.
2) We no longer have a shared goal.
3) The most well-known speakers become lightning rods.
4) These conferences can be a financial drain.
5) Were suffering from atheist oversaturation.
6) Bad conference experiences ruin them for everyone.
7) Many organizers and attendees are dealing with activist fatigue.
8) Were victims of our own success.
About (3), various prominent "New Atheists" have caused a lot of controversy with certain of their statements.
About (7), activist burnout may explain why the United States has had bursts of progressive activism interspersed with relatively conservative periods, as Arthurs Schlesinger I and II have described. It may be hard to sustain activist mass movements for long, especially if they seem to have succeeded in some way. The first wave of US feminism burned out after the US women got the vote in 1920, and it did not revive until the 1960's.... Sam Harris gets frequent criticism for what is seen by some as anti-Muslim bigotry (hi, Ben Affleck) despite his insistence that hes only criticizing ideas inherent in Islam. Hes also been slammed for inviting people with bad ideas on his popular podcast. (I should point out that Harris rarely talks about atheism as a stand-alone topic anymore.) But inviting Harris also means inviting controversy.
Inviting a prominent feminist or social justice warrior will surely lead to online harassment of both the speakers and organizers as well as those attempting to discredit the entire event. I was told the Global Atheist Convention received more pushback for inviting one well-known feminist than they did for inviting Dawkins (though both remained in their lineup until the event was canceled); its unclear, though, if anyone actually refused to buy tickets because of her inclusion. Even Rushdie has his critics.
HM concludes by describing what he'd like to see in a convention, like having some theme that interests a lot of people, some theme like activism or entertainment.