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Jan 11 2014

Atheists Unite, Atheists Divide

There are two opposing ideas on what makes a society or a culture richer and stronger.

Most of what we worry about when we discuss culture is whether homogeneous or diverse cultures are stronger. The idea is that a homogeneous culture provides a single unified voice that produces a large effect. A good example of this are the Mormons who’s lock step practices makes them a solid political power despite not having huge numbers. But the other idea is that a multi-cultural diverse culture is stronger, the many different parts making up the whole provide different viewpoints that make the overall dialogue better, more self analytical and capable of progress.

We atheists are not immune to this.

There is an unfortunate problem in atheism, there are people who forget that we are a diverse bunch mainly because the diversity in atheism is often hidden away. The real problem comes when you point out this diversity.

This push for diversity and it’s backlash started with a throwaway statement. This statement is not “Don’t Be a Dick”, but was “Guys don’t do that”. And in a pique of untameable manliness (or being dickheads. take your pick) a lot of atheists decided that this was too far and this argument has been going on for years.

An argument so repeatedly brought up that to this day it’s still being brought up for discussion. If this argument were a dead horse, we would have run out of the glue by now. This argument has reached such a mythical status that the only dead horse fit to beat as an appropriate analogy is Shergar.

To this day there are still people who think Dawkins was attempting to talk sense after this incident. Sure you can call it that. “Attempting” being the key word.

Atheism schismed over four words and the battle lines were drawn up. And the war has had casualties, the dialogue is so poisonous now that one side will simply oppose anything the other says no matter the veracity and there is a significant attempt to silence, stop and harass.

And there are people who defend the homogeneous idea of atheism which is detrimental. In the homogeneous I am constantly told that I would have a voice but this is always couched along the lines of “Eurgh! I cannot read your work! There are grammar, spelling mistakes and rhetorical questions!”.

There are the usual other bug bears of “I can’t tell if your work is good or not because I don’t believe that you should get paid to write” (Yes because the usual heroes don’t get paid to write. Which is why my copy of the God Delusion and Hitch 22 were both free! Gideon Atheism, just check any Hotel drawer). Or I would read what you have to say but I dislike other people who write on the same network and so will not listen to you.

These same people have no qualms that JT Eberhard blogs alongside Christian Fundamentalists who explicitly stand for, campaign for and participate in pro-life movements. Yet somehow the sins of my fellow bloggers warrrant greater scrutiny.

I have repeatedly been called A+, which is a puzzle to me. I have little to no similarities with A+. Sure we may have the same goals in life but I find their work academic and mild. I prefer my active approach, so sue me. I can do the active others may not have the ability or the chance to do so. The dialogue I find is one of ignorance. A+ in general leave me alone, I am sure a few of them read my work but there is something people should know.

I don’t keep track of who belongs where in my comments section. I have no idea who is who and where they came from.

I did think A+ was a cool idea but later cooled when I saw it’s take on Indian culture and the insult and ignorance it levelled at it. A+ proponents didn’t quite realise that modern Indian culture is born out of western influence and that many Indians are shamed by their association with non-Indians by conservatives by similar arguments being made. Later I have had conversations (A fair while back) which lead me to believe that the excess academic bias A+ brings creates a situation where there is no practical application. There is no willingness to compromise which is the heart and soul of field work. I like other atheists chose to remain neutral.

But I won’t say A+ is all evil, it’s got good ideas. Atheism is a monolith until they started pointing out that diversity is needed. We still have to argue about things such as the rehashing of right wing Islamophobic and racist talking points. We still face down sexism. There are still arseholes who do terrible things and there are people who think those things are perfectly fine.

And if our community is so fragile as to not be capable of giving women and non-white and GLBT/Queer atheists a voice then why not? Is it a zero sum game that should I say something interesting the cool Hitchens quote will fall out of your ear? One of my outright favourite atheists is gay and a deadlier debater than Hitchens (For those who haven’t seen Stephen Fry at the Intelligence Squared debate, I urge you to  do so. I would consider him better in that debate. He is smart, he is funny and he is incredibly witty.)

We should encourage more voices, I cannot understand the drive to a unified voice, won’t that get boring?

Why must atheism only be about western issues? And why must atheists only really jump on certain issues if they are caused by religion? I see no qualms about atheists being willing to jump head first at Islam on a discussion about Female Genital Mutilation. I see less when we are discussing right wing ideas being bandied around populist atheism with no rationalisation, no checking of sources and no worries about veracity.

For those who want me to shut up and support the “majority” (Who just happen to be white, straight, American and Male) and not rock the boat, I must ask “Why”? Why must I support your causes when you rarely deem fit to support mine? Why must I listen to popular atheists support racists such as the EDL and UKIP without voicing my distaste?

I wish to do things with other atheists, what’s the harm in that? Are you being put off by my willingness to help others? How am I affecting your lack of faith by voluntary actions? I have rarely demanded that others join me in what I do and even my most recent fundraiser has an open invitation, I am interested in fundraising for a charity, I am interested in helping others, do you guys want to come along for the ride?

There is no gun being held to heads, there is no one forcing you to support what I do. I ask to be left in peace, if you do not want to contribute or do not want to assist then do not (try) to stop me.

I pretty much guarantee the day my fundraising begins I will have people who suggest that i am doing it only for the “Free Holiday” and that we should instead give money to other charities.

And there are people who are skeptical about movements. The usual dialogue is that the collective holds them back. That they are  a special little flower and the collective wants their orchid to look no different from a bog standard dandelion.

That they are better than all the rest and that by being part of a group they will have to temper their awesomeness. That we will only hold them back and hold them down.

To them any idea of an atheist “group” is toxic. That such would make mediocrity acceptable. Their usual argument is that “others are weak, just look at them cringing at things that don’t scare me!” which is fine. We are mediocre men and women making our mediocre way in the mediocre world. You go do your extraordinary things and leave us in the dust.

But that isn’t the case. So far all these exceptional people seem more content to tell me how exceptional they are. The sad fact is that we are just another brick in the wall and we are mostly mediocre, even those who claim to be exceptional. And by banding together and working towards a larger thing we can do something extraordinary.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants isn’t just a song.

There are those who say that we are victims of our success, that atheism grew big and so people demanded that the people who are the cream of atheism needed to give up some of their stage time for causes and ideas that were different to what they wanted to hear.

And some of those people simply didn’t like that. Some of them handled it poorly. Some of them think the rise of non-standard atheists is the death of atheism rather than an entirely new generation of atheists who never had a voice but now do.

You don’t have to listen to what we have to say, just respect the fact that we deserve the same platform to say those things. You can ignore what we say if you don’t like it.. I do that daily. I don’t agree with many things other atheists have said. Some of them even blog here!

But you cannot ignore the voices and tell others to ignore them.

Does anyone genuinely think atheism is ruined because I speak of Hindu issues? Because I try and ensure the dialogue on Islam avoids right wing fallacies and lies about Islam? That I want more opportunities for new speakers in Atheism and Skepticism? That I think we can get together and do some good? That I think we can even have hobbies and participate in them as a group? That we can be social?

I have a regular Google Hangout with Ed Brayton, we actually have little in common. Ed’s love of nice food and poker and American sports is a far cry from my diet of rice and pulses, my complete lack of understanding of gambling and my understanding that American Sports is designed to be as boring as humanly possible and this is from someone who is from the hometown of golf and whose ethnic sport of excellence is Cricket.

But we can still get along, we can still find common grounds to be civil over. I don’t have to mock his taste in sports (American Hand-Egg? PSSSSHHHH) and he doesn’t make bacon confit and eat it in a taunting manner at me. It’s called being “nice”.

We both pull in different directions but that doesn’t damage atheism. It expands it. It makes atheism more inclusive. You may think the “Tower” of atheism collapsed but what’s happened is the walls got wider and more people can take part in the tower.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    smrnda

    Personally, if it wasn’t for the more diverse voices I wouldn’t bother reading as much atheism related content as I do, being that I’m really more a person who is concerned for social justice who is an atheist, but I’m fortunate enough that though I’m from the US, I’m not from anywhere where this is going to cause any trouble.

    If atheism gets larger, and it’s growing, it will cease to be One Movement, but I kind of think that’s inevitable and won’t be bad.

  2. 2
    abear

    I like your blog because I enjoy reading about folks that live outside of my sheltered, privileged environment.
    You have lived and continue to live a very interesting life.
    I know you are really busy and can’t answer every question your fans ask you but can I ask you again which war zone you were raised in as a child ?
    I don’t want to annoy you by asking the same question all the time, but I suffer from OCD and sometimes I find unresolved questions vexing,
    Thank you in advance for your answer.

  3. 3
    Avicenna

    The First Gulf War! I was a refugee in that.

  4. 4
    abear

    Thanks Avi. Your story about being a rugrat in a war zone would make an interesting post, assuming you were old enough to remember much of it!

  5. 5
    abear

    Avicenna, I’m sure that you are not one of those thoroughly dishonest jackasses that intentionally frames another persons point of view so you can take a cheap shot at them. I suspect you have simply misunderstood the arguments of the anti-Watson crowd out of ignorance.

    This push for diversity and it’s backlash started with a throwaway statement. This statement is not “Don’t Be a Dick”, but was “Guys don’t do that”. And in a pique of untameable manliness (or being dickheads. take your pick) a lot of atheists decided that this was too far and this argument has been going on for years.

    The vast majority of Watson and crowd’s critics aren’t peeved with the “guys, don’t do that” quote.
    Watson’s proponents have been repeating that fallacy so often that very many gullible or poorly informed people believe that is what the big schism is all about.
    I have been following this matter from the beginning, When i first heard the “guys don’t do that” I wasn’t offended at all. I believe very many women might be offended or intimidated in that situation regardless of how innocent the guy’s intent was.
    After an obscure female blogger made a post that this was much ado about nothing, Watson gave a speech soon after, and seeing that woman in the audience, pointed her out and humiliated in front of a crowd saying she was ignorant of feminism 101. Push back came from that and a flame war erupted as more and more bloggers jumped into the drama. Name calling came from both sides of the conflict.
    Watson was smart and was able to take unpleasant remarks aimed at her and used them to fuel her transition from fading party girl to professional feminist martyr.
    I’m not surprised you are not very aware of the details of this sordid internet drama what with having your medical studies and all, it’s just a bit disappointing to see you sucked in by the A+ types.

  6. 6
    Holms

    The vast majority of Watson and crowd’s critics aren’t peeved with the “guys, don’t do that” quote.

    Yes, because that perfectly explains away the fact that the whole saga was kicked off by that specific video, and also explains why sites such as AVFM, and the anti-A+ anti-FTB crown in general constantly reference that exact quote.

    You prat.

  7. 7
    abear

    The saga had already begun by the time Watson made that stupid video you prat.
    The deluge of “hate’ messages didn’t get rolling until Encyclopedia Dramatica published an article on Watson and the 4chan folks gleefully supplied her with all the victim points she needed.
    I don’t read AVFM and I doubt that you do either. I also doubt that you read what FTB critics say and you’re getting your information from Watson’s side like the other A+ robots.
    If you read critics like the Slymepit frequently enough to get a clear picture on what they are really saying you would understand that although they do reference the “guys don’t do that” quote occasionally, that is not the main bone of contention.

  8. 8
    abear

    If you want an example of the sort of behavior that fuels Watson’s critics, check out the first 20 seconds of this video:

  9. 9
    oolon

    @abear, A WOMAN WITH A SENSE OF HUMOUR!!! SMASH! KILL! DESTROY!

    Yes I see exactly what your problem is with Rebecca, all too well …

    As for RWs talk having a go at Stef McGraw, maybe it was a bit unfair given the relative popularity of the two. Not really that big a deal however since the target is the one to decide how bad it is. Funny how Stef is friends with her and others from this “side”, while also blogging about feminist issues such as microinequities… But her white knights from the sexist contingent are determined to “save” her from Rebecca Watson to this day…. Hmmm.

  10. 10
    abear

    Actually oolon you sly candiru, the “sexist” contingent, lead by head misogynist Abbie Smith weren’t so much “white knighting” as they were disgusted by the snarky bullying that Watson was engaging in and continued to do.
    As far as white knights, the only one I see here is you, although you are doing a crappy job of it.
    You have a weird taste in humor and apparently women too. You weren’t the lovestruck dweeb in the elevator were you?

  11. 11
    oolon

    @abear, As I pointed out such horrible bullying that … they are friends, or at least on talking/friendly terms according to both. So you are right, “white knighting” doesn’t quite cover it as there is not even any need for the “damsel” in this case to be saved by you and the #braveheros at the Slymepit. So what is your aim?

    Rhetorical Q as I fully expect nothing more from you than your empty comment above :-D

    Also the idea that the Stef spat was what kicked it off is only something a delusional pitter could come up with. Ask the haters on Twitter, most of them, not associated with the pit, won’t even have heard of it. They all make reference to the coffee and Dawkins response is a massive part of that. Skepchicks “privilege delusion” post is by far and away the most commented on. This is despite the busy bees at the pit trying, desperately, to push this Stef-meme. Seems rather self defeating given her support for RW and feminism, but logic is not their strong suit.

  12. 12
    abear

    Way to strawman what I said oolon. Exactly what I would expect from you. It’s not just about “guys don’t do that” or Stef Mc Graw:

    Push back came from that and a flame war erupted as more and more bloggers jumped into the drama. Name calling came from both sides of the conflict.

    You will never make the ranks of true SJW’s until you learn to think holistically.
    You are a garden variety troll, a one trick ponytailed candiru and likely will remain so.

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