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.

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