Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What did you expect other than a line in the sand?

   There have been some interesting reactions to Atheism+. There are many that seem to be focused around Richard Carrier using "with us or against us" language. I have essentially two issues with this. First, it is picking on what one person who is supportive of Atheism+ said and applies it to all. Second, I'm not sure what anyone was really expecting. I think part of the problem is a bit of confusion as to how Atheism+ has come to be. Mike Gillas on the August 26, 2012 episode of Ask an Atheist said the following:
Rather than saying "We're rolling out this thing. This is great for our movement, this is great, this is going to expand us, this is going to move us into areas we haven't been before," it more feels like this line in the sand has been drawn and it's "Which side are you on? Are you going to fight it? Are you going to be a knee-jerk fighter of this?"
The problem with Mike's mini-rant here is that Atheism+ is not a new thing. A number of bloggers I follow that are now promoting Atheism+ have been trying to take the atheist visibility movement in such a direction for years (even before I was monitoring or participating in the movement). But in the past 15 months or so, the assholes (I hesitate only slightly to use that term) have been fighting back, especially on feminist issues. This is discussed heavily in Jen McCreight's post calling for Atheism+. (Greta Christina has some more well as some repeats...that I also recommend. Oh, and I wrote one post of my own, too.)

   And some of us are tired of being associated with assholes. So what do we do about it? It's hard to reason with an asshole (it's been tried, too...sorry, no easy links for this). They are, after all, assholes. They like conflict. You can't kick out the assholes. They are actually atheists as atheism does nothing to prevent one from being an asshole. The assholes won't voluntarily leave. Again, they are assholes. Causing trouble is what they like to do. That basically leaves separating ourselves from the assholes. So, yeah...a line in the sand that says, "No assholes allowed beyond this point!"

   This has led to the "You're implying that I am an asshole if I don't join your little group!" reaction. No, not really. But I can see how one can draw that conclusion. Unfortunately, it would seem many of these people have clung, as I said above, to Richard Carrier's post as "proof" that this is the case. Back in reality, there can very well be other groups that don't necessarily associate with the assholes, but just have not joined the Atheism+ group.

   There have also been claims that this is "dogmatic" just like religion. Yep. I don't know if I could agree more, and I would hope so! I mean, if the group is not dogmatic about caring about social justice, women’s rights, protesting racism, fighting homophobia and transphobia, and using critical thinking and skepticism, then why would I want to consider myself part of this group? Seriously, this is a false analogy. Just because something is like religion does not automatically make it bad like religion. Now, I would agree that dogma, when it is unquestioned, definitely becomes dangerous...which is the problem with a lot of religious dogma. Much of it is not only unquestioned, but untrue as well. But I don't see what the big problem is with having some principles. Is there a reason I should not care about any of those things in that list above? If so, please provide it.

   I notice no one seems to apply this same standards to, say, basic arithmetic. I am quite dogmatic about 2+2 being equal to 4. If there were a group claiming otherwise and they failed to actually provide evidence? I'd distance myself from them, too. Now, I grant that this example is a bit on the side of absurdity, but only because 2+2=4 is quite basic to the degree that a first grader can understand this. Social justice seems to be a bit more difficult.

   As far as those who think it is implied that they are assholes for not being part of Atheism+, I think Greta Christina addresses the push back well when she says the following:
If you’re wary about Atheism Plus and want to see where it’s going before you decide whether to get involved... that’s fine with me. If you understand the motivations behind Atheism Plus, but prefer to align with another segment of the godless community, such as secular humanism... that’s fine with me. If you can see why people would want to form Atheism Plus, but personally prefer to keep your activism focused on more traditional atheist issues... that’s fine with me.
I don't mind so much the people who are hesitant about Atheism+. The people who bother me are the people who have no problem with the assholes (these people may or may not be assholes themselves) and blame those promoting Atheism+ for being "divisive." I must say I am curious as to why these people don't seem to be calling out the assholes for being divisive. Again, quoting Greta:
I am sick to death of people calling Atheism Plus "divisive"...and yet somehow not applying that word to the hate, abuse, harassment, violation of privacy, threats, and more that women in this community are subjected to as a matter of course, or to the stubborn, hyper-skeptical, willfully ignorant defenses of those behaviors. I am sick to death of people calling Atheism Plus "divisive"... and yet somehow not applying that word to the shit that motivated people to form Atheism Plus in the first place.
Is it simply because the assholes are not the ones saying "I'm sick of it!"? The truth is that their has been a growing divide for some time — a divide that could keep women and possibly even minorities away from the movement. It's quite simple, really — if a party has too many assholes, and no one makes a separate group away from the assholes, then people are going to leave the party. I see this as an effort to save the party.

   While I was drafting this post, Comradde PhysioProffe posted a much shorter version of the above:
If you are in a group and there are some assholes in the group, and you are all like, "You are assholes and I think you should stay the fucke away from me and the people in the group who aren’t assholes", that is divisive. But it is also the good and right thing to do.

Divisiveness per se is ethically neutral, as is incivility. And of course, accusations of divisiveness and incivility are the go-to weapons of privileged fuckebagges who want to silence those who are attempting to call out and extirpate their privileged fuckebaggiosity.

   Also worth reading is a comment from Josh, Official SpokesGay:
I think there is an built-in implication of judgment with any movement or self-chosen grouping. It cannot be otherwise. Yes, joining the Democratic party does signal that you think your political ideas are a better answer than non-Democrats. How could it be otherwise?

That’s normal. That’s how human interaction works. So, yes, though the A+ folks are going to great pains (they really are being far more patient than detractors deserve) to clarify that they’re not exercising a top-down philosophical judgment on non-joiners, the fact remains that continuing to mischaracterize it and shriek woundedness does tell us something about your priorities. It does throw into question your professed commitment to these issues or your commitment to non-assholery.

I can think of several possible motivations:

1. A critic has some personal, emotional objection based on an experience somewhere else. This causes a reflexive "don’t you judge me" reaction even when it’s unnecessary.

2. A critic (very likely not with malice, mind you) really isn’t comfortable with anything that could even obliquely suggest they might have some more examination to do about privilege.

3. A critic realizes (again, maybe not consciously) that the culture and conversation they were comfortable with is shifting. They don’t like that, but more, they really, really don’t like that it puts them on the spot in places and with people they didn’t think they’d be on the spot with.

There are many other possible motivations. But I don’t really care what they are. The consequence is the same. Reacting this way tells me that it’s more important to you to confabulate, double-down on your errors, perceive bad faith in people trying to do good work, and hog the center stage with your self-centered objections than you actually care about the issue itself.

That tells me things about you. "Ally who prioritizes social justice issues and cares about wounded people being given a damned break" is not among them.

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