Friday, April 25, 2014

Why I'm not a "joiner", and maybe why "we" shouldn't be.

Happy evening all,

So I have been learning all kinds of things lately.  A lot of stuff I've come across in the "atheist community", especially stuff dated from mid 2012 to the end (roughly) of 2013 on YouTube, blogs and websites have been a schism that seems to have developed between "atheists" and what they refer to as "plussers" or people who are part of the atheism+ (plus) movement.  But before I get into the specifics about that and my take on it, I think I'll need to define a few things.

Atheism, for the sake of definitions, is the lack of an acceptance of the claim that "god" or "gods" exist.  I don't want to hear anyone complain about language here, but specifically, that's all that the word means.  Yes there is some baggage with the idea and yes, there is some commonalities with people in certain regions (or philosophies) who share common ideas along with this idea that "god" is an unproven argument.  That does not mean that that's ACTUALLY part of the word/label itself.

Atheism+ is a sociopolitical movement that believes in it's version of social justice amongst people who also do not accept the positive arguments for a god(s). You can find out more about the movement here -  From that site, their claimed goal is "Atheism+ is a safe space for people to discuss how religion affects everyone and to apply skepticism and critical thinking to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, GLBT issues, politics, poverty, and crime."  You can also reference them here on

Now, I have had a strong tendency to agree that these are rational, logical, and beneficial goals.  I would have to, from my current understanding of the ideas, is that I would classify myself as a secular egalitarian or a humanist, or a rationalist, or an empiricist, or ...  Anyway, there is value in the idea of treating everyone equal, and it seems that in the broadest sense of the terms, Atheism+ seems to support those ideals.  But something seems wrong to me about it.  From rationalwiki above, if you look at the original post of Jen McCreight, she lays out the following idea "
We are...
  • Atheists plus we care about social justice,
  • Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
  • Atheists plus we protest racism,
  • Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
  • Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism"
What is wrong here, if you will allow me the latitude, is that three of the five points (the first and last excluded) are, in practice, sided arguments or positions in reality.   Women's rights are important, and there is likely a need to continue to fight that good fight.  However, that should come as equal opportunity and not as a trade off for some other thing.  Yes, there are  times when men are given better opportunities (particularly in areas like the military or small business hiring), but that is often traded for women being treated more leniently in the courts (especially in domestic cases).  We need a more honest and clear means to treat all people more equally.  And I have to agree with one point (at least) that some feminism critics point out, and that is that equal opportunity will not breed equal outcomes. 

Racism, is not really "real" in that humans are all one species, and race is more a designation of ancestral origin, with the explicit purpose of comparing these assumed characteristics in terms of "better" or "worse" to other "races".  We should be fighting racism by stopping the use of the assumption of race by anyone, and not by using it to define ourselves as part of one in-group and not one  or other out-group.  Thus, fighting race as the source of racism.  Racism is, actually, applied to people and how we treat each other, but it's based on a fallacious notion that we need some special designation to differentiate ourselves from others.  It's similar to nationalism in it's scope, but lacks the formal boundaries of statehood and focuses more on arbitrary regions of ancestry.  We are no better, nor should we be, more proud that someone from our home town, state, region, etc has done something good.  I get the idea that this is somehow important to us, but what I'm saying is that it doesn't serve the greater community.  This is more based on physical resource management where is was more beneficial to have more people in your group living near you than away from you, but in modern society it has far less benefit.

Homophobia and Trans-phobia are not so much "real" as they are illustrations of in-group vs out-group thinking in my opinion.  I guess I can include race as a manifestation of this idea as well.  Are these people like "us" and do they conform to our ideas about who "we" are, or are they "different" from what "we" identify as our common identity?  We find whatever justification we need for this us versus them mentality in whatever sources we can identify with, typically some ideological framework (like religion or other group membership) and we try to normalize what we feel is our shared ideology/experience.  I'm not saying that homosexuals and trans-gendered people are not victims (frequent, at that) of discrimination (or worse) by any means.  I am saying that these differences SHOULD not be as divisive as they are.  Were it not for indoctrination by many Abrahamic faiths in the world, homosexuals would fare much better in western societies.  I think trans-gendered people make other people uncomfortable because cis-gendered people often don't know how to treat them.  People want to treat trans-people like other people, but we are a sexually dimorphic species and that only "allows" for two options for gender, male and female.  This is a simple, "no need to work it out and I've known this since I was 3 years old" which is held at the core of most humans.  It is though the hard work of reason and understanding that we often learn that it sometimes isn't that simple.  A lot of people don't want to do that work.

The simplest way to combat this would be though group inclusion.  Though frankly, that would almost certainly be true for women as well.  Heck, any discriminatory behavior is likely do to this in-group/out-group idea.  We typically want what is best for ourselves (or our group) because we want what will be most advantageous to us (primary biological imperative) to increase our chances of survival.  We do this in competition for resources against all other out-groups.  By limiting our in-group (by whatever standards we choose) we grant ourselves a type of conservation or resources by allowing sharing of tasks without needing to address what could be seen as small group free-rider problems, but we also conserve thinking about a too complex social group and allow that thinking to occur for more resource generative ideas. 

This is likely the result of an evolutionary process that allowed groups to survive successfully and pass on the social training to their offspring, and the more that survived led to the more evidence that existed that their way was good and useful.  We see strong "cultural" ties like these in smaller communities and as these groups grow larger we see more differences arise within the group and (consequently) either a weaker bond between individuals or a breaking off into sub-groups or into out-groups as the culture becomes more complex. 

But I digress.  Atheism+ may or may not be all in favor of these ideas in practice.  I'd like to assume they are for arguments sake.  However, while I agree with their premise as social advocates, they have developed some reputation for their more radical members.  Even to the point of having leaders of their movement make statements to the effect of "if you aren't with us, then you are the enemy".

Now this is in complete contrast to what should be the first (bust listed as the last) point in Jen McCreight's original calling for a "new wave" of atheism.  You cannot make dogmatic statements about, well, anything almost, and still be skeptical about what you are arguing for.  You then end up being "known for" sharing the opinion of more radical members of your group and that degrades your ability to sway opinions of people who can make a difference in what you are arguing against because you are just a group of dogmatic zealots who think that white, straight (cis-gendered) men are horrible people who are so endowed with privilege that they can't possible understand what someone else might be going though because they have never had to deal with such injustice as any person that might not be one or more of those things. 

No person should EVER have to "check their privilege" before being able to engage in dialogue about such issues.  The only purpose to doing such a thing would be to either demean someones position (like saying "I know I'm just an idiot, but I have this idea) before they can even make a statement, much like you would ask forgiveness of another person for being so bold as to trouble their exaltedness  with such trivialities.  It serves as a means to push someone outward, almost as a supplicant to be admitted to a group that they might desire to join.  Which would mean that the person who needs to "check their privilege" is already a member of an out-group and not part of the greater community working to combat "social injustice".  I don't think that that is an honest or productive position to take.

While I would be willing to do what I can to further these goals, I'm not about to subjugate myself to a group (any group) that would expect me to act this way, nor would I want to be associated with an organization (of any kind) that is represented by it's fringe membership. 


I don't want to be known as a member of any group that wants me to subjugate myself to it, nor one that is best known by it's fringe membership. And it's counter-productive for anyone to be part of such a group if they want to maximize their effectiveness in social change.

Not sure if I got all of that in there, but I could either go on for a few more pages like this or cut myself off now.  This should have been a couple of different posts.  Crap.  Oh well.


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