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.

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