Skeptical Justice

People keep telling me.

Avi! You cannot do social justice because you are an atheist or a skeptic.

To which I have to say this.

I am not JUST an atheist. Humans rarely fit into easily defined categories. I like metal, doesn’t mean I cannot appreciate cheesy pop music. I like Jazz, doesn’t mean I think Dvorak is a talentless wanker.

I can be an atheist and a skeptic and I can also do social justice. And since these things are not mutually exclusive, I can use the ideas garnered through each to support the other things.

So for example, my skepticism lets me campaign for better women’s healthcare. My atheism is tied into that as well as GLBT rights. A skeptical view of home birther movements and quackery has lead me to realise a lot of it is actually a justice issue too.

That’s like suggesting that if you are a skeptic you cannot enjoy Finding Nemo because clearly talking fish are not real.

There has been some confusion as to what I’m saying about skepticism and social justice issues.  I’ve written before, that skepticism has lead me to be vegan, to support the legalization of marijuana, and to oppose the death penalty, all issues I believe are social justice issues.  Those are my conclusions, butnone of which I expect the JREF to take on as their own issues.  This post is really just another way to look at why some are mixing their politics and skepticism.  I didn’t expect my usual audience of 20 readers to expand to 600, most of who don’t know me or ever had these discussions with me.

Let’s not get into arguments with regards to veganism and marijuana. That’s not why we are here really. That’s just to set the scene of this individual’s scepticism.

This post was inspired by Tim Farley‘s excellent takedown of the “Block Bot” , a blocking utility that is used ostensibly to block harassment, but only really blocks “harassers” if they’re on the “wrong” side.  I’m trying not to be too snarky, but one of the “editors” of the Block Bot list once tweeted that I should be blocked.  This was before the Block Bot, and I’m not high profile enough to be on it now, however, I also don’t harass, tweet nasty things, or even tweet much at all.  Presumably this was because of a few people I follow. The reasons I follow people really are my own, and following does not mean endorsement.  Furthermore, there are people I follow and communicate with on Twitter that I want to help and I think could offer a lot to skepticism.  PZ Myers, well known atheist thug, has blocked me on Twitter, as have a few other well know atheists.  People who I’ve never even tweeted at, mind you.  Now, I’m not saying this for sympathy for being blocked, I’m pointing out how out of control and ridiculous it’s gotten if small fry like me are being caught up in it.  I’m too unknown to be blocked.

For those who were unaware like myself about the full scale of harassment here, I will point out that I have been on the receiving end of harassment from “Anti-Atheism Plus”.

Want to know something funny? When being interviewed to see if I wanted to join FTB, I asked if me not being a fan of Atheism Plus was a problem. I considered the forums too unwilling to discuss topics or think fluidly considering field work in “social justice” and I considered the subreddit to be too prone too censorship and indeed regularly claiming that colloquial language that wouldn’t stun a nun was insulting.

And I must point out that damn straight we must be insulting. I don’t get to make changes by dancing on tippy toes around issues. There is a time for a soft touch and there is a time for a big hammer. If we are so bothered by the word “lunatic” (a word that has not been used to describe the mentally ill in nearly 50 years) or stupid (nearly a 100) then we have to make up new and more comical words to describe them and frankly it’s a gigantic waste of time speaking a language that no one else does. I am a bit more action orientated and that’s fine.

As I said. What I do is not for everyone. I am sure PZ Myers and Jen McCreight and Ophelia Benson and Melody and Oolon and Dawkins and Gervais and Penn and Teller are very good at what they do, but I too am very good at what I do. Else I would not be here. And I know that I am unlikely to be good at the things they are good at because of what I chose to specialise in being good at. Oh maybe I can outcook Physioproffe (Skeptic Ironchef? Let’s Make This Happen!) but for the most part our skills lie elsewhere.

So I cannot expect people to understand what I do, why I do it if they have no experience. Nor can most of these individuals cut it in the field in the same way that I cannot probably handle the cut throat world of stage magic and comedy. So I found atheism plus to be a poor fit. The last straw was the “Cultural Appropriation is ALWAYS bad” idea that lead me to write about how culture changes and how we should realise that not all appropriation is bad and that cultures need to mix to change and grow. And that a more nuanced touch is needed.

I am not a fan of atheism plus but I understand the sentiments behind it and I can see why it exists. Because there was a pressing need for it to exist.

So with that we come to blocking.

Why do we block?

These are private blogs. Our personal agreement is as long as we don’t indulge in blatant madness we can blog here. As long as I don’t offer pictures of myself eating oysters and sausages seductively (No! I am not making that calendar! No one needs to see that!) we can blog away. Now I assume the censorship whinge is about various MRA and people from the organisation officially calling themselves the Slymepit. But these are blogs aimed at stuff we like.

We cannot keep answering questions. We often have comment policies which if triggered will cause bans and deletions. But we can be as draconian as we like. I can ban people for supporting the breaking of eggs on the pointed side if I so wish and there is pretty much nothing people can do about it except NOT READ. However I am trying my level best to put in a sensible system and indeed people like PZ Myers offer places which are off topic and off topic with no moderation to allow his readers to say what they feel like.

I have banned just one person from the blog. And the wanker had it coming. I actually have one of the most open and relaxed posting rules here so to get banned this idiot had to do something spectacular.

The current major argument is whether or not women have it bad in Atheism. And I have repeatedly said that while women in Skeptic/Atheist circles are not badly mistreated like say women in Geek or Videogame circles (or Securities and Hacking for that matter) they are not represented well. And are often subject to Atheism having been a boy’s club for a long long while.

We keep saying this and you keep ignoring all the people who complain about it. And yes I agree it’s a western thing and kind of “silly” if you aren’t from the same kind of society but I recognise people care about things closer to home. You will lose more sleep about graffiti bandits tagging your house than genocide in a far off country. That’s horrid but that’s how life is for most people. So more people are worked up about sexism in their back garden. In 2 years time if a horrific attack on a woman came to my attention in India, I would be less pro-active about it because I won’t be here.

With this in mind there is a distinct anti-feminist drive amongst atheists. There is a simple piece of terminology you must understand. A feminist is just someone who believes and campaigns for equal rights for women. They don’t want to steal your penis and turn you into a zombie. If you believe that women are and should be treated as equals to men bar the obvious (Maternity) then congratulations you are a feminist. If you are willing to obfuscate or deny real issues amongst women then you are not. There is a major anti-feminist campaign to simply turn every argument here into an argument about them. The amount of personal attacks is astonishing and often they cross various acceptable lines.

So, I’m reading Tim’s post and it all comes down to Atheist-Plus or not Atheist Plus in comments it seems. There really is no such thing as Atheism Plus except for the handful of people on AtheismPlus [dot] com and a handful of bloggers.  Really, thats it.  There are more members of the Flat Earth Society and they’ve probably put on more conferences as well.  I’m not being snarky but that’s the whole of it.

Actually there are individuals like myself who have repeatedly been caught in the crossfire. However, these colours don’t run and all that, I have an nice position that allows me to sit in the crossfire.

The normal anti-argument is to call me a feminazi slacktivist and mock my poverty. I work for charity. Like you know. Third World Nation Charity. I am often the only healthcare many people can afford or see. I work 6 days a week and at 10 to 12 hours at a stretch. The blog is just my downtime. So that argument wilts up. Again the arguments that I am against women wilt up because my actions genuinely improve lives. Just they don’t use conventional logic in doing so. I figure that being more bothered about the women than the words we use has a more positive effect. I do wish A+ would realise that but that’s something that occurs with time and experience and they are newbies to this game. Given time, I have no doubts they will change and improve into a more active role and learn the tricks of the trade.

Most recently?

I received an e-mail falsely accusing me of sexual harassment and rape at TAM 2013. More long term readers will know I have been ill for the past few days and so missed out on all the lovely too and fro. I don’t have any opinions on that. I do know that my detractors sent in an allegation that I consider stupid.

It’s simple. I was not at TAM. I have never been to TAM. I was not even in the USA and if asked to demonstrate so I can post pictures of my Passport which will have travel stamps and dates. In short? I have an alibi courtesy of the governments of the UK and India and such an allegation is blatantly stupid.

But remind me again? Why should I have any discourse with such people. You see, the reason for this was no to silence me. No that is just a by product of their dickery. It’s to poison the well. Oh look, people are making accusations. We can do the same! Hur Hur Hur! Aren’t we clever.

You aren’t. You are a fucking well poisoner. You set out specifically to make a faux accusation either knowing it would force me offline (since posting my passport would entail losing my anonymity) and ironically silencing one of the few voices from the ex-hindu atheist movement. Hurray for Diversity Eh? Or the other outcome is that you will dangle my defence as “SEE! YOUR ACCUSATIONS ARE LIKE MINE!”.

If that’s the case then I recant my defence. You can run around telling people that I am the second coming of goddamn Hitler if it fucking pleases you. If I can survive the worst India’s thrown at me, then I can survive these silly little accusations. Sure women will be more cautious around me, but if that’s the price we have to pay for women to be secure and come out of their hiding place and become equals in the atheist and skeptic movement then it’s a rather small price. But it’s a price that I will have to pay because the anti-FTB brigade decided to poison the well.

But here is the thing. Most of my readers know I have NEVER been to any conference. Most don’t know what I look like (hence the requests for that joke erotic calendar) and most know that I am too busy to be a direct participant. So to make such a claim is quite indicative of how horrid some of the members of the anti-FTB anti-A+ group are.

Some atheists want to take atheism to a different place, where American progressive social justice politics are promoted from an atheist point of view.  If it sounds like secular humanism to you, you’re not alone.  Most people can’t figure out the difference. These atheists, however, are more hostile to different political views than secular humanists.  One of the proponents has even said Libertarians can’t be good skeptics (and therefore atheists in his mind) because they have faith in the invisible hand of the market.  Dumb statements like this make you wonder if the targets of social justice, you know, the people, matter more or less than movement purity to these people.

I live in a libertarian paradise. It’s not fun if you are poor.

Social Libertarians are different from Fiscal Libertarians and Fiscal Libertarianism is incredibly prone to abuse by the rich and powerful. And I don’t think libertarians are bad atheists. I just think their world view is heavily flawed since nearly every example of no rules has ended poorly. A lot of ideas need to be regulated because unregulated claims are quite damaging. Libertarianism harms the weakest and poorest of society. Penn Jilette can laud it because he is wealthy, Jen McCreight is a struggling biologist and so doesn’t see the benefits of no safety net because Penn is more likely to not need it than she is. Ultimately, libertarianism is a selfish ideal that can only work if society is truly open and free of bias.

Libertarians think society’s safety net should be charity. Not a dedicated taxation system. Which is daft. Charity has more cracks than a government safety net. In short? While intentions are good their ultimate plans are often at loggerheads. Penn is more likely to support a pure private healthcare system and hope that the market pressure drops the price. That has not worked in the USA. I am more likely to support a national health system. Penn will point out inefficiencies in the UK. I will point out that it’s due to procurement nonsense and attempts at privatisation rather than running it as a service.

There are many issues with libertarians that make them poorly suited and their ideas often are rather naive. You cannot work together when one group advocates government interference and the other advocates less. They are mutually opposite ideas.

This desire to mix progressive politics has even creeped into the skeptic movement, highlighted first to me by a panel at TAM9 where the idea of expanding the skeptic movement to tackle issues like drug legalization or minimum wage might be good ways to expand the skeptical movement.  I could write lots on how wrong this is, but if you want to read something well done, check out Barbara Drescher’s website

Actually. Looking at drug legalisation with a scientific eye will help legalisation issues. We are fighting a stupid fight and effectively burning money dealing with a non-problem that we can make disappear through legalisation and taxation of a select few drugs. We are not discussing legalising heroin dealing we are discussing the ones that are not as dangerous as people think they are. The problem I find with pro-legalisation arguments is that they are generally made by someone high on the drug. You rarely see someone sensible say “Look, LSD is harmless. Science shows this. Medicine shows this. We are wasting valuable time scaring people and it’s not working”. Instead we see people go “Well LSD can be used to treat Migranes! Marijuana for Cancer and AIDS patients!”.

Medicalising these drugs won’t make them easier to get. It just means that you will need a doctor’s note.

Minimum Wage? Really? If we pay poor people peanuts, they will somehow be able to live properly? This is why we think Libertarians are not helping social justice. No Minimum Wage = Most workers will get paid poorly and have to shut up and take it. We know this. We see it regularly in places with poor minimum wages. You need x amount of money to live in a place so you should at least earn that kind of money.

If you don’t earn that kind of money it won’t encourage you to work harder or quit your job forcing companies to increase hiring costs? It will just make you starve. You won’t be African Starvation Waif but you will be someone who is starved regularly over a long time. And that’s one of the problem in India’s poorest. This stunts development of kids and makes it harder for kids to actually leave poverty since they literally are not educated enough and are mentally and physically affected.

India is not a role model. China is not a role model. I am afraid these are the sort of conditions that get rich buggers like us lined up against walls and bayonetted through our diamond petticoats.

Why is this push lately? Why are people wanting this?  Why are sites like Skepchick (a name that contains a word that many women I’ve worked with find offensive, btw) writing more and more politics and feminism and less and less actual skepticism?

Do you know why black people use the word “nigger”? A word so entrenched in pain, suffering and hate? To subvert it, to take away it’s power and make it something else. Skepchicks do the same with “chicks”. It’s nothing more sinister than that. It’s like if I renamed the blog “Paki in Khakis”.

We write what we want to write. I write about videogames too. I know many readers don’t read those, yet I still do them because it’s what I want to write. The blog is designed to express what I, the writer wish to convey. If people don’t like the material they don’t read it or skip it. Or write in the comments or tell me by email. But that’s the thing. Sometimes it’s about spelling and grammar, sometimes it’s about creating a discussion and making people think.

We are more than just skeptics here. We have more than one trick we can play.

So my question is this:

“Do you even really care about skepticism anymore?” 

You mean that we are subsumed by a feminist crusade? Well I am in India. Feminism is big in the news here because  of all the goddamn rapes and infanticide and assaults and acid attacks and bride burnings. I figure it’s big among a lot of Americans due to the constant assault on the right of women to seek proper medical care. I also assume that some fairly big individuals within the skeptic movement have been asked to post information on behalf of women who suffered attacks since they don’t gain anything by making stuff up apart from the loss of readers. I also assume that atheism and skeptic communities that are heavily male dominated have the same issues as nerd and gamer communities with regards to the treatment of women. That we aren’t magically enlightened.

Skeptics do fall for stupid ideas too. I know a skeptic who was INSISTENT that home births were safer than hospital ones despite every evidence to the contrary. Why? All her research came from home birth organisations.

I know a variety of skeptics who belong to the anti-vax movement. Remember. Anyone can call themselves a skeptic.

What do I mean by this?  I simply mean, if the people who want to mix skepticism and their progressive politics, look deep inside their mind, is this desire nothing more than a taste change?  Could we be looking at people who simply have moved on in their minds about what they are passionate about? 

Or you know. Combining two passions. You can be passionate about more than one thing you know. Faberge Eggs and Vintage Erotica are not mutually exclusive. Neither is medicine and equality and scepticism and atheism and nerd culture. We got a lot of little things we are good at and a lot of little ideas that we can expand into and I don’t see why we should have walls between them.

I think the answer is yes.  I have no way to back this up though.  I’m simply basing this on looking at what people say, the kind of things they seem to get really jazzed about, and how much politics now dominates their message.  I think a lot of these people should just admit their not that into skepticism and just move on to other movements.  I know it’s tough to build up your audience from scratch, and  be a small fish in a bigger pond, but it’s a disservice to any movement to not have both feet in. 

I am also in to football. I find that there is a time and a place for each and there are times where we can look at a venn diagram of what passions to apply.

Let’s take women in the gaming community. It’s not news, the game community sucks at treating women well. This is not a bombshell. However discussing it means nerd culture, feminism and my love of videogames have to work together in a post on the topic.

At no point does someone say “I Am sorry! You are not being skeptical about women’s healthcare in the USA, you are being political. Cease and Desist!”

And have you considered that maybe our audience LIKES us? That there are people who think “That Avicenna is the coolest of dudes. I really dig his writing even if it is fraught with spelling errors. I shall read more of his work.”. The ones who don’t like the notion of a fluid interchange between topics really get bored of reading this and go read something else.

This isn’t bad thing, either.  Someone is not a worse person or skeptic if they’ve grown and changed.  I wasn’t always a vegan, I wasn’t always a skeptic.

Indeed, but now you are merely arguing over semantics. You called yourself A Million Gods, but there are more than that! I demand a recount!

Skepchick, FTB and pretty much everyone else have a niche of what they like to discuss. The problem is that there is a massive fight back from the skeptical and atheist movement when people say “Women are complaining about harassment”. This results in the argument repeating itself over and over again.

If we went silent now, a few months down the line something else would occur firing up the argument again.

So that’s my question, for which I don’t expect an answer, but maybe people will look at the “rifts” a little different and look at new possibilities. 

Maybe, but here is the thing. Do you think if Skepchick changed their names to FemFatale there would be a new skepchick that was filled with women only discussing topics determined acceptable by you?

Because it seems to me that the easiest way to solving the issue of complaints about scepticism is to simply reclassify the complainers.


  1. says

    The thing about all the “skepticism shouldn’t tackle social justice” people is the main question, what do they want skepticism to be?

    UFOs, Big Foot, and Christianity are easy to debunk. If it makes you feel smugly superior to show how much smarter you are than people who believe in the easily debunkable, go ahead. I’ll be over here tackling social justice issues.

  2. katzenklavier says

    Wait, you like metal?

    Okay, just kidding. (Cue music) “I love you just the way you aaarre.”

  3. says

    Really sorry the shitweasels decided to attack you with their tit-for-tat campaign to spread false rape and sexual assault allegations. I do like your response to it however, great post.

    Unfortunately things like the bit about reclaiming “chick” will be beyond them. Or I often also think – too convenient a sound bite to allow themselves to understand. It is very easy to attack the “hypocrisy” of allowing “chick” or “bitches” in godless bitches to “pass” while poor misunderstood atheists who describe women as “fucking bitches” get dogpiled by the hypocritical feminazis. Unfortunately this toy-town non-argument is very compelling to a subset of our community.

  4. says

    Hmm. Social justice issues involve facts- what problems exist, how did those problems come to be, who is affected by those problems, what effects various interventions will have, among other sorts of facts.

    What facts one accepts should hopefully inform what actions one takes.

    Skepticism is, at it’s core, an approach for deciding what purported facts to accept. The specific details of that approach are unimportant here.

    I’m still not entirely sold that social justice should be considered part of sketpicism, but the idea that there is no overlap and should be no overlap is absolutely ridiculous. Our approach to social justice issues will be informed by what facts about those issues we accept, and our skepticism will inform what those facts are. How can there not be crossover and interdependance?

  5. maudell says

    I find this assumption that political views cannot be based on empirical evidence troubling. I don’t care if some people aren’t interested in social issues, but why do these people assume politics is necessarily unskeptical? I don’t know of any topic in atheism that is not political. If we fight for separation of church and state, back up our complaints with data, no one calls us unskeptical. Yet, the exact same thing about issues of race, gender or class get completely dismissed by the self identified true skeptics. We have strong data backing up selective behaviour towards people according to race or gender. Why is this suddenly outside of skepticism?

    Further, the discussion started when groups claimed to be *excluded* from the community. So, we have data, a large consensus of the scientific community, and claims that it is also a feature of atheist/skeptic groups. How unskeptical is it to even refuse to consider it?

    I’ve read people calling it ‘hyperskepticism’, which I find absurd. Dismissal of evidence is unskeptical, period. It doesn’t revoke their skeptic card, we all have blind spots. But skepticism is a tool. It works for all topics that may be backed up empirically.

  6. says

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