Friday, September 7, 2012

Atheism+: Growing Pains and History Repeating.

First let me say that I don't feel confident in my complete understanding of Atheism+. I can only say that people who identify as Atheist+ (A+) have opinions and goals that align with mine. Against misogyny and harassment and in favour of safe spaces for everyone? Okay, that sounds good. Atheism and feminism informing each other in some way? Sounds good to me.

Okay, so I've only spoken to a few critics of A+ and the criticism tends to fall into three categories exemplified by three groups.

1. Those who don't understand why it's necessary. Some people wonder why such a thing would be necessary because we already have secular humanism or they already identify separately as atheist and feminist. Well, I say that that's good. Fine, do that.

2. Those who worry that it's divisive. They think that we need to keep putting up a united front and are concerned that if the atheist visibility movement starts getting fractured we'll start in-fighting and getting clique-ish and tribal.

3. Those who hate it with a passion that seems much greater than what they say is wrong with it. These people see Atheism+ as a product of an inner-circle of Free Thought Blogs bloggers. An exclusionary and judgemental circle, intolerant of everyone who doesn't agree with them.

I'm going to articulate some ideas that I've had over the last few days and paraphrase some ideas that my fantastic wife and partner gave me.

First, as to the comparisons to humanism; is Atheism+ redundant? I don't think so. As I understand it, humanism is the philosophy that human beings are autonomous centers of moral development. So it's a launching off-point that it certainly compatible with feminism and atheism, but isn't quite the same thing. Also, humanism, while totally good at what it's for, doesn't seek to provide a safe space for anyone, whereas A+ does. One of the goals is to provide a safe space (virtual if not actual) for atheists who are also interested in discussing social justice and feminist philosophy free from harassment. This harassment has been rampant and vitriolic. It's been shocking that people who we have considered allies have decided that threats of rape, murder and exposure, insults, slander are all acceptable. Now, I think that this is mostly an internet problem, that anonymity allows people to behave in a way that they probably wouldn't in real life, but that doesn't mean that I think it's acceptable. So I think it's good that A+ is a separate thing and I hope that it provides a safe space somehow.

I'm going to address the haters next. There are people who just plain hate A+ and they seem to mostly hate it because they perceive it as a product of Free Thought Blogs (FTB). All I can get from them is that FTB is bad because it's a big hive-mind group-think and atheism isn't about that, man! What I can't seem to get from these haters is why this is a bad thing even if it's true, which it isn't. It's like they're frightened about FTB using A+ to do something sinister.

It occurred to me yesterday during a facebook discussion that the haters are reacting exactly the same way most people do when you point out their privileges. When people aren't aware of their privileges, or even what privileges are, they tend to perceive even mild criticism as an attack because it seems like the person criticizing them is casting an unfavourable eye on their essential being and their whole life. What I want to say to them is that this is not the case. Each of us comes with various combinations of oppressions and privileges. Some of us are mostly multiply-privileged, some of us are mostly multiply-oppressed. What you, the reader who is unaware of this, needs to know is that these privileges and oppressions are the result of circumstance and are not our fault. When someone points out your privileges, they aren't trying to condemn or silence you, they're trying to point out that your privileges grant you a perspective that may not take other people's oppressions into consideration. So, to recap, I think that the haters are reacting badly because they don't like the idea that they may be the villains of the story because they may have said some sexist, racist, ableist, or other problematic stuff in the recent past. Don't worry so much, we are all products of our society which is sexist and racist and everything else and if we're going to fight these things then it's got to be a life-long process of unlearning. Saying that you're against sexism doesn't mean that you'll never slip up and say or do sexist things.

Now I want to address the concerns of people who think it's divisive. Greta Christina already has a great response asking why the harassment she and her fellow feminist-minded bloggers have endured isn't divisive, so I won't retread. My wife gave me a history lesson on the feminist movement and here it follows:

All social justice movements go through this exact same process of the formation of sub-groups and the backlash against them. A sub-group within the larger group comes together with more specific ideas and identifies as a group with those specific ideas, then the larger movement gets nervous that the whole movement isn't presenting a united front, and maybe they feel a little betrayed. But then common ground is reached and here is the reason why it is divisive to form sub-groups and why that's not a bad thing. It is this; once a sub-group has been formed and the hullaballoo dies down a little bit, then the larger group and the smaller group can find common ground and can agree to disagree on certain issues. It's not bad that A+ has formed as a sub-movement, in fact, the larger movement needs its own label to differentiate itself, that way there will be more understanding and cooperation, not less!

My wife gave me the example of radical feminists vs. liberal feminists. The two groups have different goals and it can be difficult to get them to agree on some things, but when it counts they can still come together and agree on key issues. There are lots of different kinds of feminists out there! Radical feminists, liberal feminists, anarcho-capitalist feminists, socialist feminists, christian feminists, muslim feminists and atheist feminists. They all disagree on a lot of things, but they're all moving in the same direction.

So, do we need A+? Yes, it seems we do, and it's compatible with a lot of other things and not redundant at all. Is it a conspiracy? No, it's not, and I suggest you examine your privileges and take a step back and ask yourself why you think FTB is any kind of a threat to you or anybody. Is A+ divisive? Yes it is, and that's a good thing. We're still the atheism visibility movement and people who identify as A+ still have much in common with people who don't.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Forbidden Words of 2012.

Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, also created a long-running print cartoon series called Life In Hell. Every year he would publish a list of words that were henceforth forbidden. I like this idea and have a few of my own.



Politically Correct






More to come, probably.



Monday, December 12, 2011

Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, and Anti-Choice

There are people who believe in a woman's right to choose whether or not to continue with a pregnancy. There are people who believe that abortion is wrong. There are people who believe in suffering. These positions are called Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, and Anti-Choice.

Pro-Choice is simple. The Pro-choice position is that a person believes that a woman has the right to control what happens with her own body. It's simple. Pro-Choice means, ostensibly, that one would not have a problem with someone else seeking an abortion. I find this position acceptable as the logical outcome of belief that women are people.

Pro-Life is a little more complicated. People think that it means a complete opposition to abortion, but there are people who describe themselves as Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. This is a wonderfully complicated state where a person believes that in general women should have the option to choose whether or not they want to be pregnant but wouldn't have an abortion themselves. I find this position laudable.

Then there's the Anti-Choice stance, and this is the stance that activists take when they claim the title 'Pro-Life'. They're not interested in life. They're not interested in sanctity. They're interested in punishing fornicators. They claim to be about protecting the innocent, the unborn, even the mothers from the sin of committing murder, but they're not.

Would you like to know why I think that?

(Why else would you be reading this blog? Oh, wait, flames, never mind.)

Because the people who claim to be against abortion are also against any measures that science, surveys, and logic show prevent unwanted pregnancies. They're against sex education and they're against birth control. Now they'll say they're against birth control because it 'intereferes with God's plan' and they'll say they're against comprehensive sex education... well, for no good reason at all. The excuse is that they're concerned about 'corrupting children'.

So on the one hand they're against abortion, but on the other hand they're also against anything that might prevent the unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions.

Soundbites address this discrepancy. Phrases like "well, too bad" and "that's what you get" and "well, they shouldn't have been having sex" demonstrate what Anti-Choice people really want. They want to punish people. They want people to suffer the consequences of their 'sins'. It's a cruel, entitled, privileged way of viewing human relationships and reproduction that demonstrates that they have not only no sympathy, but antipathy for people who don't have the advantages that they do.

What I'm saying is that, basically, if you hold the Anti-Choice position then you're wrong. You're cruel and wrong and in serious need of education.



Sunday, December 11, 2011

Political Correctness.

Fuck it.

There, I said it. You heard me! I refuse to be politically correct! I don't take it into consideration and I hate it when it's complained about! I'm a modern man and I can decide what's offensive or not!

So who complains about it, you ask? Well, I'll tell you... feminists... no, they don't. Minorities complain.. no wait, it's not them either. Well maybe the disabled... nope, not really. Oh! A quick browse around the web reveals that the people who complain about political correctness are the people who say they won't conform to it.

Damn right! If they're being forced to conform - wait, who's trying to force them to conform if they're the only ones complaining about it?

Okay, I'm going to have to re-think this.

It seems, actually, that the people who complain about about political correctness are the people who think that they're bravely taking a stand against people who are "just looking for a reason to get offended". Alright, I'm going to have to perform a little more research.

(Pause in the blog while I read Reddit, Men's Rights pages, vicious anti-feminist pages, and the blogs of people with an abundance of privilege)

Okay, here's the thing. Resistance to political correctness seems to be espoused by people who want to use oppressive language and disregard criticism while continuing to leave their privileges unexamined. They seem to think they're being heroes, fighting against people who are trying to silence them. But the flaw in their reasoning is that, generally, no one is trying to silence them, they're overreacting to criticisms. It's a common reasoning flaw that people tend to interpret criticism as attempts at silencing. So if they're the brave heroes in this narrative, then who's the villains? Feminists, anti-racism activists, and a whole host of other progressives. The biggest mistake that anti-progressives make (because that's what the PC complainants are), is thinking that all progressives are complaining about is insensitive language and that, further, making sure that everyone speaks in a PC manner is OUR END GOAL.

So what about what I said above? That' I'm not PC and I'm not ashamed of it. Still true. However, on the other hand, I try not to use oppressive language. Not because I want to make sure to be sensitive (though I do), but because I think that using oppressive language is exclusionary and I don't want to exclude people.

And, further, I'm not perfect and I know it. I'm going to make mistakes. This is my promise. I'll consider criticisms leveled at me, examine to see if I've done something wrong, and, this is the most radical part, I'll apologize.



Monday, December 5, 2011

Sinead O'Connor and Acceptable Expressions of Femininity

I don't know if you were around or aware enough of pop culture in the early 90s to remember Sinead O'Connor. She was a very popular singer. She was a beautiful young lady from Ireland with a voice of such range and ability that she could shatter frozen hearts. She had her big break in North America with a song (that she didn't write nor had any emotional attachment to) called 'Nothing Compares 2 U'. It was a good song and she sung it very well, but she made a decision some unknown time before filming the video that has cemented her in the public consciousness – she shaved her head.

Much of the video was a close-up shot of her singing into the camera, and so her near-baldness couldn't be ignored. This had two effects – on the one hand, the song had the potential to sling-shot her into superstardom, but the look was immediately latched on to and she became an object of derision, scorn, and mockery.

Then she brought her politics into things. She refused to perform on Saturday Night Live because Andrew Dice Clay was hosting. She refused to attend the Grammy awards in spite of the fact that she was nominated in four categories because she said they were a corrupt organization. She made some statements that were interpreted as supporting Saddam Hussein. Finally, the piece-de-resistance, on a performance on Saturday Night Live (sans Mr. Clay) she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II, declaring him to be the enemy. The backlash was hard enough that her North American career was finished.

These political actions are remembered clearly by music fans and pop culture historians. There's some controversy about her intentions and mental stability. Did she deliberately attempt to destroy her career? Maybe. I happen to agree with her on several points. I wouldn't set foot on the same stage as Andrew Dice Clay, that misogynist prick. I think the Catholic church has been responsible for a great deal of harm around the globe in between cultural colonization, institutional racism, rape-enabling, not to mention the crusades and the inquisitions, and Pope John Paul II in particular, living in the age of AIDS as he does, promoted the idea that it would be better to spread the disease like a plague than it would be to use condoms and so put a stop to the possibility of a child being conceived.

But what do we remember most about Sinead O'Connor? That she shaved her head. We still make jokes about it to this day. Whenever we see a bald lady or even a bald man, we make a Sinead O'Connor joke. We could easily make a Brittney Spears joke, but I think we accept that she shaved her head as part of kind of a breakdown whereas we clearly thought and continue to think that O'Connor shaved her head with a sound mind.

Why does this stick in our collective craw? I don't really know, but I do think the staying power of the image is reflective of our discomfort with women acting outside their expected behaviours. Have you seen a picture of her lately? My partner bought one of her newer CDs back in 2003 and she let her hair grow back in. Time passes, you know. She's moved on but we still make jokes. But it was so jarring to our early 90s sensibilities that we just can't let it go. I guess it's a good example of how 'well-behaved women rarely make history' if only it were for something more notable. I guess her level of femininity wasn't good enough for us then and continues to fail to live up to our standards.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I got witnessed to!

I took Cole to one of the local parks and, while he was playing, I was sitting on a bench enjoying a coffee. A red Dodge Calibre pulled up on the street beside the park and a stocky man wearing black pants, a white button-up t-shirt and a baseball cap got out. The man walked straight up to me.

Though in the excitement I forgot his name, I do remember that he introduced himself as a pastor. He told me, in breathless tones, how he had accepted Jesus Christ into his heart at the age of 22 and gave me the whole spiel about how all people have to do is accept him and it's not based on works, etc., etc., as though he had given this speech 15 times already before reaching me. I noticed his accent wasn't local.

"What is your name, sir?" he asked.

"My name's Christian," I replied.

This gave him pause.

By now my heart was pounding and adrenaline was making me want to get up and perform some kind of primal display, so I took a few deep breaths to try to calm myself. I always get this way when confronted with someone who espouses a philosophy I consider completely wrong.

"Do you consider yourself a sinner?"


"You don't think you're a sinner?"

"No I don't."

"Well the bible teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God-"


"But let me ask you this, have you ever told a lie?"

"Oh! I know this one! Ray Comfort does this one! You ask me if I've ever told a lie, I admit to you that I have, and then you say that I'm a liar as though this were a way of life or my job or something-"

"Well, I sure am glad I got the chance to talk to you today and shine the light of the Lord on your heart. You have a good day, sir."

"And you."

He started walking briskly back to his car when I called out to him.

"Where are you from?" I asked.

He paused as though considering whether or not he should answer me. He half-turned back.

"North Carolina."

"Well, all right."

He got in his car and drove off.

The other lady at the park, there with his little boy, turned to me and said "That was so weird!"

Monday, July 25, 2011

Does life begin at conception?

Pro-Lifers repeat the talking point 'life begins at conception' with dreary regularity. As though they actually know when the soul enters a zygote, they state as fact that life begins at conception as shaming tactic against those who dare tread on their god's territory - sacred life.

I'm pro-choice. I believe that for the state to restrict access to abortion constitutes governmental violence against women.

Do I believe life begins at conception?


I believe life began approximately 3 billion years ago. Way way way back then it began as a self-sustaining chemical process and that through natural selection it organized itself into a highly complex process that constitutes an unbroken chain from the first self-replicating molecules to you and me. Does life begin at conception? Well, is the cluster of cells that constitute a human egg inside a woman's ovaries non-living matter? No, it's life.

It's pretty ironic that I have what I think is a stricter view of life than anti-choicers do and yet I am still in favor of a woman's right to choose.

Does life begin at conception?

No, life doesn't begin.

That already happened a long, long time ago.