Friday, 31 August 2012

Final word on Atheism+ - Part 2

Still blogging on my phone, I'm afraid. I wonder just how many parts this post will consume. Onwards regardless.

Notwithstanding the considerable abuse of rational and sceptical atheists thus far, a post I have just read by Greta Christina gave me some hope. She has always been one of the more responsible voices in gender and sex equality, in addition to her atheism. And it is with that in mind that her comments on Atheism+ were not lost on me. If she feels that there is benefit in incorporating non atheistic - but allied - issues to atheism, then I wish her and her co-pilots all the best. By her own admission, though, it is a monumental task that to my mind suggests that the abandonment of compartmentalism is a realistic way forward.

Atheism+ appears to be a genuine attempt to rally like minded people to become activists on all issues that have a common egalitarian goal. This in itself is nothing to be sniffed at, but in doing so, the activists that work 24/7 across the globe to promote equality for atheists, are being asked to take on even more responsibility. This, in effect - and if each atheistplusser subscribes to the same selfless goal for all - means that all arguments for positions under its banner are compromised. Certainly, a possible weight of numbers may make up for this dilution, but I fail to see that the divisiveness it has engendered is anything worthwhile spending any time on.

If Atheism+ were nothing more than an umbrella under which differing activists could organise, I would have no problem with it, but I foresee two major flaws.

The first is that if an umbrella group is all Atheism+ is, then why name it after one aspect of the group: especially if it excludes those that we may wish to bring to our way of thinking - namely theists? Also, in spreading each person's involvement across numerous disciplines and issues, the gravitas of each individual's efforts is compromised by introducing ideas each might have less experience with, further diluting their message's value. Would it not simply be better to form a similar minded group that allowed each specialist activist to continue their work to the best of their ability, in an environment where there work can be shared amongst people that share the same egalitarian goals? We could call it Equality+, because that is the common goal, right?

The second, following on from the first, is in diluting atheism into shared and worthy goals, we ignore the fact that if theism is compromised and diluted, race, sex, gender and other social justice issues will begin to crumble. I don't wish to say that atheism should form the backbone of a wider movement with similar goals, but that the goals we strive for in atheism have clear benefits for our brothers and sisters in other areas of equality. There is, to my mind, a clear benefit to specialisation in our fields: it gives our voices the weight of authority our goals deserve.

They are secular issues.

They are social justice issues.

They are each issues worth our attention.

Speaking as an atheist who is a secular activist, I see real value in what I understand FtB's initial goal was - giving a voice to those that feel they lacked one - but my observations of a number of those that have aligned themselves with the burgeoning Atheism+ movement (but by no means all of them) have been divisive and ill-considered.

I am sure, if feminism hasn't deliberately set out on a wedge strategy to piggy back on atheism's successes, that few would disagree with me if they are to be honest.

We do have a common goal, but Atheism+ is not a constructive strategy (such as it is). We all want to work towards equality, and we don't want people who undermine our shared goals to subvert us from our causes, but if we are to be an effective force to be reckoned with, dividing ourselves against ourselves is hardly a constructive path. Is it?

We are all responsible for calling out trolls and bigots on our respective platforms, and we need to be more vigilant, but blindly blocking and harassing people for asking relevant questions (in what is, for all intents and purposes, a sceptical community) is nothing short of activism suicide.

Remind me. Where does it say something about divided houses falling?

Part 3 to come. Oh dear. This is becoming an epic.

Your thoughts so far?

My final word on Atheism+ - Part 1

Let me make this very clear from the outset. I fully support the egalitarian principles that share atheism's and secularism's struggle for parity with those groups that wish to silence our perceived threat to the status quo. This includes gender and sexual identity, as well as all the other egalitarian principles put forward by Atheism+.

That said, in the year or so that has lead up to its inception, I have become increasingly frustrated at how atheism has taken a back seat in the atheism movement. Sure, if I genuinely support the statement made in my opening paragraph, I will continue to identify with those same egalitarian goals: and I do.

What I don't want to do, is to put my name to a group that - to my mind, and other reasonable and sceptical atheists - has co-opted the ongoing successes in our movement in order to wedge strategize a different agenda: hence diluting the hard work done by hundreds of atheist activists over a protracted period of time and undermining the credibility of the movement as a whole.

My personal forays into support for feminism (or at the very least gender and sexual identity equality) have been met with considerable vitriol, despite my support. The skeptic in me, though, does not allow me to permit people to call me a misogynist (I do not hate women) without some form of questioning or rebuttal. And so it was one day, on Google+, I commented on Ophelia Benson's withdrawal from TAM 2012. (Sorry, but I can't form links: I am blogging from my phone)

From the outset, I was enraged that the behavior of a few rotten types had lead to speakers pulling out from what should have been one of the year's top-draw events, but upon further inspection it appears that the threats claimed were not what I would recognise as a threat: not even a couched threat at that. Indeed, Ophelia herself did not deem them sufficiently threatening to inform the police, and she proceeded to dress me down for holding my own - commonly held - opinion. Maybe I do suffer from the miasma of privilege, but in isolating it to my being white, middle-class, straight and male, am I not also a victim of the heinous behavior of race, class, gender identity and sex discrimination of which I am accused? I was genuinely upset that the actions of the few were undermining the good work done by so many, and wanted to highlight that this sort of behavior should not be permitted. Quite how my support for feminists at this stage turned into a red flag event for my misogyny, I am afraid my accusers will have to elucidate. If this be a reasonable justification to be railed against in what would become Atheism+, so be it. Whilst my own experience of the debate was mystifying, my scepticism was aroused.

Not long after, my friend Justin Vacula was singled out for what has become the unofficial 'free thought' position of what I shall call non-slut-shaming. Like me, Justin had been politely supporting feminist issues, and like me, had also received a dressing down for his scepticism of the behavioral and logical positions of his interlocutors. Again, like myself, Justin kept a civil tone and concentrated on the subject at hand, rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks (I think I have, just once, called one of my interlocutors a moron. Not because she was female, but because out of the hundreds that had seen the offending blog post, she was the only person to twist the satirical nature of the article around - in true creationist style - to support her artificially generated vitriol against me). Justin - probably because of his wider renown and greater dedication - did not fare as easily as I did. What would go on to become the burgeoning supporters of Atheism+ (predominantly FtB bloggers) began to eschew some truly bizarre behavior and language at Justin: for merely asking people for clarifications and explanations. Off the top of my head now, sexist pig, misogynist and vacuous shitbag troll are just a taste of what he has had to put up with for politely doing what he has done from the outset of his atheist and sceptical activism.

Another incident involved Surly Amy. Justin posted a blog with an image derived from Amy's Surlyramics site. Some days later, he received a DMCA take-down notice claiming copyright infringement. 'Fair Use' issues aside, it turns out the named plaintiff was Amy herself. The notice was later retracted and as far as I am aware may not have been Amy at all, but one of her fangenda types. If it was Amy, her decision not to continue down this path was a wise one, but if it was made by someone other than Amy, this is considered a serious offence and I hope that the culprit is brought to justice.

Recently, Justin made an error of judgement in posting Surly Amy's address, despite it already being in the public domain. It was a poor decision which he has retracted and apologized for, but this is not enough for some apparently. Yesterday, Justin posted a video explaining the actions of an unnamed feminist that had published his address and had written to his parents informing them what a frightful character their son is. If this were not enough, this same feminist has started a state-wide campaign against him with the express aim of ruining his career. He/she claims to be an experienced journalist, but as a trained journalist myself, I know that he/she is much more likely to damage their own reputation and highlight Justin's activism. Seriously, has this 'experienced' journalist never heard of the Streisland effect?

So much for my final word on Atheism+. Blogging by phone is tiresome, and I have other things to attend to I shall have to change the title of this post to reflect the fact that this is part 1.

Your thoughts so far?