On Witches and the Hunting Thereof

I’ve been accused of being on a witch hunt before. The same is probably true for pretty much any feminist who ever dares to point out that multiple men have demonstrated bad gendered behavior. Apparently, we’re limited to one observation per lifetime, or something like that.

Memorial to Bridget Bishop, first fatality of the Salem witch trials.

It’s happening again, of course, because I wrote up a post about a dirty little secret that Jen let slip about some powerful men in the atheist community. I somehow managed to shock people at the same time other people were minimizing the problem by pointing out that it’s ubiquitous in society. For that, I get people asking whether anyone has read The Crucible (hint: I went to public schools), and am on the receiving end of utter malicious nonsense. I am, once again, supposedly on a witch hunt. This time, though, I can kind of see their point… [Read more…]

Atheists Talk: Victor Stenger on “God and the Folly of Faith”

Many religious people claim that religion and science are compatible. This raises the question, what do we mean by compatible? A person may hold both science and religion in high regard, but this tells us nothing about their values as ideas. People can and do hold plenty of contradictory beliefs.

Where some people turn solely to philosophy to tell us whether religion and science are compatible, physicist and author Victor Stenger took a broader view in his new book, God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion. As you can imagine from the title, things do not go well for the compatibility argument.

In a sweeping historical survey that begins with ancient Greek science and proceeds through the Renaissance and Enlightenment to contemporary advances in physics and cosmology, Stenger makes a convincing case that Christianity held back the progress of science for one thousand years. It is significant, he notes, that the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century occurred only after the revolts against established ecclesiastic authorities in the Renaissance and Reformation opened up new avenues of thought.

The author goes on to detail how religion and science are fundamentally incompatible in several areas: the origin of the universe and its physical parameters, the origin of complexity, holism versus reductionism, the nature of mind and consciousness, and the source of morality.

In the end, Stenger is most troubled by the negative influence that organized religion often exerts on politics and society. He points out antiscientific attitudes embedded in popular religion that are being used to suppress scientific results on issues of global importance, such as overpopulation and environmental degradation. When religion fosters disrespect for science, it threatens the generations of humanity that will follow ours.

Join us this Sunday as Dr. Stenger joins us to talk about his book.

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

The Power of Coalition

James Croft has his next post in our dialog up, responding to my question about the benefits of creating humanist communities that may outweigh the negatives. Part of the fun of this discussion is that we’re really not arguing, even though we’re challenging each other. This post is no exception.

But how can we create moral communities and avoid most of the dangers of out-grouping and ostracizing? I think the first step is to be honest and recognize that this will indeed occur. We won;t overcome the human urge to enforce group norms to the detriment of others. But we can limit it in two main ways, I think: first, by ensuring that one of the explicit moral values that the community coheres around is respect for the dignity of every person without exception. That is an exceptional benefit of Humanist communities over religious ones – Humanism includes an explicit commitment to the worth and equality of all, unlike most religions.

Second, we can consciously design our communities to have institutional checks on outgrouping. This is another benefit of Humanist communities: we need not bow to any given design or have respect for any particular organizational tradition. We can work with the grain of human psychology and bring our full understanding of our own foibles to bear, so that when we design the community structures we ensure to take account of, and even work against, this problem.

I know where I’m going next with this, but you won’t see it until Monday. In the meantime, James has been very good about answering questions if you have any of your own.

Real Progress

Five atheist conventions have reacted to my two posts on speakers behaving badly and harassment policies (plus all the commentary there and all over the atheist blogosphere O.o):

  • The Secular Student Alliance will make their harassment policy more public.
  • The American Atheists will adopt a formal, public policy.
  • Freethought Festival will adopt a formal, public policy.
  • The Minnesota Atheists will adopt a formal, public policy for their events, including their convention this summer, as confirmed to me through email.
  • Skepticon will adopt a formal, public policy.

Additionally, Zach Moore has announced:

The next secular event I attend or organize will have a clear anti-harassment policy or it won’t happen. Simple as that.

Ian Bushfield, president of the British Columbia Humanists, has said something similar about conventions he plans.

That’s a good start, particularly for all happening within three days, but it’s obviously not enough. If you go to conventions, look for their harassment policies. If you can’t find them, or they don’t amount to anything more concrete than “We’re agin’ it”, tell the organizers you want them to do better. Volunteer to help if you can. Then come back and tell us what they said or what kind of policy they have.

There is more in the works too. [Read more…]

The Value of Defiance

This post is part of my ongoing dialog with James Croft about the idea of Humanist temples. Each of us, for part one of the series, is explaining the value that is most central to how we view the question. James’s post is here. This is mine.

I’ve been badly hurt in my life by group social norms. I’m obviously not alone in that, but for me, they have become a large part of what I think about, a large part of what I write about.

This blog doesn’t have a gender category or a race category or a class category. It has a “Difference” category. Posts on race, class, and gender go into that category, as do posts on sexual orientation, religious belief, and disability. In short, any time I’m talking about how the norms of a group function to excludes people who don’t meet those norms, that’s my category. It gets used a lot.

As I’ve written about this over time, one of the things that has most impressed me–and not in a good way–is how easy it is to develop these norms. [Read more…]

Making It Safer in the Meantime

Dear event organizers, in response to Sunday’s post about the broad, behind-the-scenes knowledge that some of the male speakers at our conferences use their conference appearances as an opportunity to abuse women, someone has finally pointed out the obvious:

You will, of course, do whatever you want, but I find it very upsetting to be told that, “You should come to our conferences! Of course, some of the people who really have a chunk of power at the conferences (the speakers) are known to treat women badly, and thus might treat you badly. But I won’t tell you who they are, so you’ll just have to hope you don’t encounter them or, if you do encounter them, that they won’t treat you badly. But do come!”

I’ve been to one secular/atheist/freethinker conference, and I was treated badly by a man (not a speaker). As awful as it was, the one of the things that made it bearable was the thought that no one knew this was going to happen and that if they had, they would have acted to support me. To think that I might go through a similar experience with a speaker while knowing that other people knew what was going to happen but felt no need to warn me makes me very angry, and it makes me feel like I’m not safe to go to conferences.

It’s all well and good to advise “networking behind the scenes,” but I don’t have a fucking network, and that’s part of the reason I feel like going to conferences might be good for me. But if I have to network behind the scenes to be safe at conferences, then I have to already have what I’m looking for to be safe.

Maybe I’m being selfish about this. Maybe I’m too angry. But I’ve been abused enough in my life. I am not about to set myself up to be abused again, and it makes my eyes tear up and my throat constrict to think that going to these conferences means going to interact with people who everyone else may know is abusive but won’t warn me because I don’t have connections.

Are you prepared to answer Erista? Are you prepared to tell her what you’re doing to help her have a safe and fun experience at your event?

I know you’re already in a bind. I know many of you are already frustrated with the situation. I know some of you are on the receiving end of this behavior yourself as a job hazard. But there are some basic things you need to do. The good news is that these will make it easier (though not easy) to shut this behavior down in the long term. [Read more…]

Zero Intolerance

I’m on my way home from CFI’s Women in Secularism conference. It was an intense conference in the best way possible. Speakers I have seen give speeches elsewhere were at their most passionate here. I finally got to see speakers who should be on every atheist convention organizer’s wish list. I’ll be talking more about the conference over the next few days.

Right now, though, I’m going to talk about something that happened almost outside the conference. It had its genesis on stage, when Jen McCreight mentioned that, when she started speaking at conferences, multiple people contacted her behind the scenes to tell her which male speakers she should steer clear of.

This announcement made no noticeable ripple in the room at the time. When I tweeted something to that effect, however, discussion started. One guy I’ve never heard of before thought we should tell him who these speakers were or, well, he’d just be snarky in the future when the topic came up because he couldn’t be responsible for knowing. Another said women should do more naming and shaming. A female speaker said the same happened to her. Someone who arranges speakers for her group expressed concern that this wasn’t common knowledge.

Then the topic started infecting the barcon and hallcon. I had multiple conversations over multiple tables yesterday. It turns out I have a few things to say on the topic.

So did other people, and you’ll find some of what they had to say here. You won’t find their names unless they let me know they want to claim their words. I’ll explain why in more general terms later. Most importantly, though, we didn’t talk about whether individual statements were off the record, but one of the premises of conversations like these is that the whole topic is off the record. If it weren’t, we’d have both less and more to talk about.

Without further ado, presented in the form of a FAQ:

[Read more…]

Austerity or Prosperity

Greece:

Walter Benjamin once said that “every fascism is an index of a failed revolution”. In that sense, the election of 21 members of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn to the Greek parliament could be characterised as the revolutionary failure of the century. Progressive forces in Greece have indisputably been unable to stop the wave of neoliberal austerity measures imposed by the “troika” (the IMF, European Central Bank and EU).

Leftwing politicians and academics predicted the debt crisis and even proposed radical solutions including default and bank nationalisation – but they failed to mobilise Greek society. Their voice was muzzled by the mainstream media, distorted by government officials and, most importantly, nullified by foolish internal antagonisms.

Nevertheless, the frightening revival of fascism in Greece cannot be attributed solely to failures of the anti-memorandum forces. It was the main political parties of Pasok and New Democracy who opened the parliament’s door to rightwing extremism. Their austerity frenzy not only destroyed the main pillars of Greek society but also legitimised deeply undemocratic procedures. The constitution was circumvented several times to allow for non-elected officials to implement policies limiting workers’ rights.

Iceland:

“The lesson to be learned from Iceland’s crisis is that if other countries think it’s necessary to write down debts, they should look at how successful the 110 percent agreement was here,” said Thorolfur Matthiasson, an economics professor at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, in an interview. “It’s the broadest agreement that’s been undertaken.”

Without the relief, homeowners would have buckled under the weight of their loans after the ratio of debt to incomes surged to 240 percent in 2008, Matthiasson said.

Iceland’s $13 billion economy, which shrank 6.7 percent in 2009, grew 2.9 percent last year and will expand 2.4 percent this year and next, the Paris-based OECD estimates. The euro area will grow 0.2 percent this year and the OECD area will expand 1.6 percent, according to November estimates.

Housing, measured as a subcomponent in the consumer price index, is now only about 3 percent below values in September 2008, just before the collapse. Fitch Ratings last week raised Iceland to investment grade, with a stable outlook, and said the island’s “unorthodox crisis policy response has succeeded.”

We still have ridiculous amounts of housing and consumer debt to deal with in this country, most of it owed to banks whose own policies had much more to do with the creation of the debt than any unreasonableness on the part of the people who are now responsible for paying it back. If we actually want a healthy economy, which strategy should we be using?

More Progress

President Obama’s words of several days ago are wholly inadequate to the task of winning marriage equality for all. At the same time, however, they do make a difference.

In February, SurveyUSA asked a sample of Minnesotan adults, “An amendment to the Minnesota Constitution on the ballot defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Will you vote FOR the amendment? Against the amendment? Or not vote on the measure?” These are the results.

Just after Obama’s announcement, the same company asked a sample, “President Obama says that same-sex couples should be able to get married. Do you agree with the president? Or disagree?” These were the results then. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: Movement

I already posted this story last year. I’m reposting it now as one of the 2012 Hugo nominees.

Nancy Fulda is an editor and short story author who is, as so many do, working on a novel. Hopefully it will be as good and as thought-provoking as this story.

“Would there be side effects?” My father asks.  In the oppressive heat of the evening, I hear the quiet Zzzapof his shoulder laser as it targets mosquitoes.  The device is not as effective as it was two years ago: the mosquitoes are getting faster.

My father is a believer in technology, and that is why he contacted the research institute.  He wants to fix me.  He is certain there is a way.

“There would be no side effects in the traditional sense,”the specialist says.  I like him even though his presence makes me uncomfortable.  He chooses his words very precisely.  “We’re talking about direct synaptic grafting, not drugs.  The process is akin to bending a sapling to influence the shape of the grown tree.  We boost the strength of key dendritic connections and allow brain development to continue naturally. Young neurons are very malleable.”

“And you’ve done this before?”  I do not have to look to know my mother is frowning.

My mother does not trust technology.  She has spent the last ten years trying to coax me into social behavior by gentler means.  She loves me, but she does not understand me.  She thinks I cannot be happy unless I am smiling and laughing and running along the beach with other teenagers.

“The procedure is still new, but our first subject was a young woman about the same age as your daughter.  Afterwards, she integrated wonderfully.  She was never an exceptional student, but she began speaking more and had an easier time following classroom procedure.”

“What about Hannah’s…talents?”my mother asks.  I know she is thinking about my dancing; also the way I remember facts and numbers without trying. “Would she lose those?”

Keep reading.