Sunday, September 9, 2012

Atheism+ Round Two

My recent post on Atheism+ drew some enthusiastic criticism from Nate last week.  I opted to post the original critique in full so that I could respond in a more public forum.  Having conversations like this in public is critical to free inquiry, as is mutual criticism and civil debate (as Nate rightly pointed in our private correspondence).

There are three main topics I'd like to address in response to Nate: my usage of the Atheism+ label, my opinions on the Atheism+ "movement", and the current state of feminism and men's rights activists (MRAs).

First, it's clear that my use of the atheist+ label has brought along some baggage that I'd like to shed.  I really like the label and the basic ideas it represents.  Nate has attributed a lot of ideas to me that I don't espouse and actively combat in many cases (mostly because of experiences he's had with other "A-plussers").

I am an atheist.  Being a vocal, civil, moral, and public atheist is very important to me because I grew up surrounded by people taught since birth to believe such a person doesn't and cannot exist.  But long before I was an atheist, I was a skeptic, a rationalist, an evidentialist, a science geek, and many more things.  Since becoming an atheist I have also become more heavily involved in Marriage Equality and other civil rights issues, in no small part to the collapse of the religious arguments against them.

This has led me to a personal identification crisis though, as I alluded to in my original Atheism+ article.  Improving the public opinion of atheism requires actively identifying as an atheist, but as many of the opponents of A+ have correctly pointed out atheism is simply a lack of belief in god(s).  I think Edwin Kagin (of FreeThoughtBlogs interestingly enough) puts forward the best articulation of this position.  Bald is not a haircolor, not collecting stamps is not a hobby, and atheism is not a religious or worldview.

The plus in A+ allows the atheism aspect of my identification to remain separate and center stage while acknowledging that I work towards many other goals that aren't a part of atheism.  That's why I love the label so much.  It instantly incorporates all of my labels without sullying pure "lack of belief atheism" with any of them.

Second, I also agree with Nate that the birth of the A+ "movement" has been a very messy one.  I often find myself supporting the principles and core elements of skepticism, feminism, and social justice while disagreeing with how other A+ people have portrayed it.  Richard Carrier, for example, has been going  overboard in his support and quick dismissal of critique.  PZ Myers has been one of the primary driving forces behind the movement and has regularly portrayed it as a rejoinder to the religious nature of some in the Humanist movement.  At the same time though, he argues that changing his personal identification is not at all divisive:
I was trying to be very explicit about the fact that identifying myself as a social justice advocate and humanist as well as atheist, does not in fact entail excluding you from movement atheism for mere disagreement about those things.-PZ Myers
I'm less frustrated by the us-vs-them mentality than I am by the fact that folks like PZ seem either oblivious to or not at all concerned by that approach.  As a result, I am withholding judgment on whether or not I will get involved in the Atheism+ "movement" as it were.  Still like the term though.

Finally, there's a lot of critique about modern feminism.  There are certainly aspects of the modern feminist movement that I cringe at, such as when Greg Laden says "the male brain is just a female brain that has been damaged by testosterone."  I also have said before that some modern feminists have played fast and loose with the term harassment and made mountains out of many a mole hill.

But to take those incidents and then make the claims below is so far removed from reality as I experience it that I'm not even sure how to respond.
"'Male privilege' is an illusion,"  
"Crimes overall against men are exponentially higher than that of men on women," 
"Men and women are not -- and never will be -- equal.  Sexual dimorphism is what evolution produced for us..."
"Today's feminist movement looks to control men as a sort of payback it seems and to only paint them as horrible members of society unless they're willing to suck the tit until their death, and making basic social orders difficult for men to access so that some women may reap the benefits (custody battles, WIC, government programs, healthcare)" 
-Nate Thomas
Unfair double standards is one thing, but men are hardly being subverted by feminists.  Women consistently earn 70-80% of what men make for the same jobs.  Women make up only 7% of the prison population.  I don't even know what to do with the third statement.  Will never be equal?  I hope you mean will never be the same or identical, because the other way to take that statement is that minor biological differences dictate that gender equality is not even possible or desirable.  This is a more egregious a statement as the likes of Laden and Rebecca Watson have ever made, throwing away the goal that all humans are to be considered equals.  And finally, how do feminists attempt to control men as payback?  Please point me to examples because I have never seen anything remotely like this in the feminist movement, and the feminists I know would be the first to speak out against such blatant inequality.

I'll stop there for now.  I have more to say but this post is long enough already.


  1. I don't see anything in your article here about what your problem with PZ is, especially since you seemed to pick out one of his statements that's incredibly reasonable and inclusive, while still involving him taking a stand.

    As far as the "us versus them" mentality goes, this is less a method that Atheism+ bloggers have adopted and more what the untethered morass of misogynists that it's a response to have been doing. They've been excluding women, male feminists, people of color, disabled people, and the poor for a long time now. They've been giving the "us versus them" style cold shoulder to anyone who wasn't a former WASP male with financial security. Atheism+ is, in that context, a wary line in the sand. I know if you self-identify as A+ that you're probably not an asshole. Likewise, I know that if you chose not to identify as A+ but you're an atheist, you've probably got some kind of assholeish tendencies.

    It's not about ideological differences, it's about being gunshy.

    Also, you may want to explore Atheism as a worldview (since it is, in fact, a worldview whether you like it or not). Greta Christina wrote something about it a while ago, as did I on my blog. Atheism makes a definitive statement about natural causes and, therefor, presupposes all moral information as necessarily being driven by natural understanding. Atheism necessitates a wider philosophy since you do not have the moral philosophy of a religion.

    Ergo, as an Atheist you must have a complex worldview that coincides with no belief in a Divine Agent of any kind. Since atheism as a philosophical stance precludes all theistic moral systems, it necessarily leads to a non-theistic (But still complete and complex) moral matrix.

    1. Atheism only makes definitive statements about natural causes insofar as everyone else is making god based claims that we can reject. Atheism doesn't even reject supernaturalism, that would be naturalism.

      As I said in my original A+ post though, being an atheist does logically lead us to reject the biblical grounding for sexism, racism, slavery, homophobia, etc. It also rules out a priori certain moral systems such as divine command theory.

      "Ergo, as an Atheist you must have a complex worldview that coincides with no belief in a Divine Agent of any kind. Since atheism as a philosophical stance precludes all theistic moral systems, it necessarily leads to a non-theistic (But still complete and complex) moral matrix."

      As an Atheist, I do have a very complex worldview. Atheism is a very small part of that worldview though and only serves to reject old beliefs not create new ones.

    2. Atheism still requires that worldview to have certain dimensions. Your atheism does not exist in some magical vacuum where it does not, cannot, and is forever separated from informing your worldview. To think otherwise is both ludicrous and absurd.

      Atheism is as much as part of your worldview as any other descriptive element. It cannot mean "just" no belief in a Divine Agent, it must necessarily be coupled with other philosophical stances. Atheism rejects deities which leads, naturally, to several other possible philosophical stances. There are very, very few atheistic philosophies that I know of that are supernaturalist in any fashion, and they're all flavors of Buddhism that come from schools that occasionally have Divinity within them.

      So if you think your atheism is "just" not having any belief in a Divine Agent of any kind, you're wrong. It has informed, and will continue to inform, your worldview as much as any other descriptive part of your philosophy. It's not a religion, but it is definitely a worldview when you do not consider the universe to be part of any kind of matrix with eon-spanning intelligences that provide moral guidance of any kind.

    3. Of course atheism informs my worldview. As you said though, it's as much a part of my worldview as any other descriptive element. It is not a self contained worldview like many forms of Christianity, that's all I'm saying.

      Being a part of my worldview and being the totality of it are two entirely different things.

    4. lemme see if i get this.

      you said " I know if you self-identify as A+ that you're probably not an asshole. Likewise, I know that if you chose not to identify as A+ but you're an atheist, you've probably got some kind of assholeish tendencies." member of a group,'X' is unlikely to be 'y', and a non-member of group 'X' is likely to be 'y'? is that the long and short of it? then in your oh-so-exalted 'worldview', allowing for evidenced based conclusions, i can only presume, since more blacks as a proportion of the population are in can see where this goes, right?

      i would hesitate to imply that your line of reasoning in the quote above is specious, so i won't imply it.

      maybe you should, as the a+ people are wont to say "check your privilege"

  2. The article about 7% of the prison population being female actually can be used to defend Nate Thomas' position, in that it doesn't state the reasons for women being 7% (well, it does, but not with actual sources). It could easily be construed that women are such a small percentage because they are not punished for crimes. Not saying that's the case (and I think that for the most part it isn't the case).

    The 70-80% earnings is also controversial when you get into the actual basis of the numbers. Not saying it's wrong, but I don't assume it's right. I have seen some stuff that makes me question.

    However, the whole women trying to punish men reeks of paranoia.

    1. Even if the 7% number was wrong or skewed by those reasons, it would have to be biased to a ridiculous degree to support the notion that "Crimes overall against men are exponentially higher than that of men on women."

    2. and btw....crimes against men are higher. men take more risks, and are more socially inured to violence and its perpetration. moreover, if feminists are right, and men have more privilege (which is bs, but whatever), they also have more that can be taken. in addition, men are the ones with the socially mandated duty to fight in defense of others, including their families, homes and possessions, not women. justice department statistics bear this out, and even accounting for underreported crimes against women, the fact is that a large proportion of the prison population of the US, which is predominantly male, are victims of perhaps millions of crimes each year, ranging from simple assaults to gang rapes, to coercive rapes, among many other serious crimes, such as being shivved, beaten and stolen from to name a few.

      the fact is, if everything (or even a few) things radfems say are true, even w/o evidence, the contention that men are the victims of most crimes, especially violent crimes, would stand to reason, since its men who vie for control within a patriarchal system-and hence are exposed to the violence that usually accompanies such contests. women are, a priori, excluded from contests for power, esp. those which can reasonably be assumed to include violence.

      more to the point, women barely edge out men as victims of domestic abuse by a small margin, and that margin lies in the questionable zone, since it is just as, if not more stigmatizing for a man in a patriarchal society to admit to being the victim of domestic violence at the hands of a woman, and so, it is likely a large number of what would qualify as domestic violence incidents against men by their wives/girlfriends go unreported for fear of public ridicule.

      so....uh...check your privilege. feminists assume that women can't be aggressors, women can't be violent, and can't compete with men physically, and are therefore disadvantaged.

      as to 'punishing men', i've no idea what lies inside the minds of individual feminists, so rather than concluding that 'it reeks of paranoia', i will abstain from offering what would amount to mere speculation, though i notice you have no such compunction.

      have a nice day.
      one last thing: who's the misogynist?