Three views on social justice in atheism

Previously, I wrote a post framing social justice as a meta-movement, a movement which seeks to change how all other movements are run. Here I’ll talk about how that applies to atheism.

Why should the atheist community pay attention to social justice? The reasoning is quite elementary: The atheist community is a community. All communities should pay some attention to social justice. Therefore the atheist community should pay some attention to social justice.

Some atheists like to argue that social justice is beyond the scope of atheism. The argument goes that the community should take a neutral position, thus being inclusive of people with various relationships to social justice. However, this is missing the point. The “scope” of the community doesn’t really matter for the argument. All that matters is that it’s a community. As I said before, the same argument applies to the physics community, despite it being obvious that social justice is outside the scope of physics. The “neutral” position is not really neutral, but directly in opposition to the goals of social justice.

However, there are various degrees of “pay attention to social justice” which I describe below.

[Read more…]

Social justice as a meta-movement

What we think of as social justice advocacy today is a conglomeration of many groups and causes. The core groups are women, ethnic minorities, queer people, and people with disabilities. But there are also other groups that we don’t immediately think about, like polyamory or fat activism.

So, what’s the best way to think of the social justice movement? Is it a single movement with many facets, or is it an umbrella term for many distinct movements?

Here’s one way to think about it (not necessarily the only way or the best way). Social justice is a meta-movement, which seeks to change how social movements and communities work. According to common social justice standards, a feminist movement should pay attention to race. An anti-racist movement should pay attention to queer people. A queer movement should pay attention to disabilities, and so on.

There are a number of justifications for this, which I attempt to list:

[Read more…]

Origami: 360-piece polyhedron

A polyhedra made out of 360 edges
Double Sided Concave Hexagonal Ring Solid by Tomoko Fuse

The local origami club wanted to make something big for an activities fair, so we worked together to fold 360 pieces and assemble them together. You can see the result above (along with a few other models they had for display).  Assembly was quite tricky, because at this size the weight of the model pulls itself apart.

I don’t think this polyhedron has a name.  Let’s see, there are 20 hexagons, 12 pentagons, 90 squares, and 60 triangles.  All in all, there are 182 faces, 360 edges, and 180 vertices.

[Read more…]

Practical advice for struggling atheist clubs

Following my bitter retrospective on 9 years of participation in atheist university groups, here are some concrete tips for how you can do better than what we did. They are roughly in order from high priority to low priority.

1. Have a mailing list and a Facebook group. Announce every meeting and event through both channels.  Don’t have more than one.

2. Register your group with the university, and keep it registered every year.

3. Reserve room space for regular meetings. Weekly meetings in the evening are common practice. This must be done far in advance.

4. Know the dates of the activities fairs at your university. You probably need to register for them far in advance, so look it up immediately. The minimum requirement for the activities fair is a large sign and a sign-up sheet for your mailing list.

5. Make a good impression at the first meeting of the year. The first meeting is often the one with the most people, so make sure you know how to run discussions for various group sizes (see below). You may think that it will be exciting to discuss your upcoming plans for the year, but it usually comes across as sharing boring administrative details, so don’t do it unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your main objective is that students should meet each other and make positive social connections. That means that each person should learn, and remember, the name of one or two people who are not in the leadership.

[Read more…]

Are atheist clubs dying?

I’m now saying my last goodbyes to the local atheist student group. This is a significant event. I’ve been atheist student groups since 2008.  I first joined the UCLA skeptical group as an undergraduate, and then I participated in the UC Berkeley atheist group for the entirety of my PhD.

As I reflect back on 9 years, how do I justify my participation?  I don’t think I can.  Even when the leadership has been good, I have never felt they produced any sort of effective activism.  I was resigned to using the group just to have a few interesting discussions and meet a few new people.  Even so, I spent a lot of time being dissatisfied or angry with them.  This last semester, I skipped a lot of meetings (since an origami group competes for the same time slot), and I mostly felt it improved my life.

I’m saying goodbye because I intend to graduate before fall semester.  But also, the club is dying.  Right now, there is nobody to lead the group in the fall.  After years of struggling, maybe it will finally disappear.

This is a post where I present no evidence, and instead brazenly generalize my personal experiences.  Our atheist club is dying.  Are all atheist clubs dying?  Clearly not.  I’ve always heard that atheist groups in the southern US are more active than their counterparts on the coasts.  And lots of local non-student atheist organizations are still active as far as I know.  Even so, if the atheist group at UC Berkeley dies, it feels like an indicator of a broader decline, and a herald for the death of other atheist groups that now prosper.

[Read more…]

Ethnicity in Xenoblade Chronicles X

This is an article I wrote in 2015 about a video game.  My commenters had some insightful responses, so a few of their insights are now incorporated.

In my apartment, free time has recently become dominated by Xenoblade Chronicles X, epic Japanese RPG. The premise is explained in this video:

Quick summary: In 2054, Aliens destroy earth. Earth sends out colony space ships. One of these, New Los Angeles, crash lands on an alien planet.

Xenoblade Chronicles X offers an interesting case study of ethnicity in Japanese video games, because unlike other games which take place in fantasy worlds, this one takes place in our world (although a different planet). What’s more, it takes place in a future version of Los Angeles. Los Angeles, of course, is very ethnically diverse, so by looking at the cast we can see a Japanese interpretation of ethnic diversity.
[Read more…]

On equal opportunities and outcomes

I recently found an article interviewing Jonathan Haidt. It’s in the rather tedious “liberals are going too far and eliminating free speech” genre. I’m not going to address most of it, just this part (emphasis mine):

The left, meanwhile, has undergone an ideological transformation. A generation ago, social justice was understood as equality of treatment and opportunity: “If gay people don’t have to right to marry and you organize a protest to apply pressure to get them that right, that’s justice,” Mr. Haidt says. “If black people are getting discriminated against in hiring and you fight that, that’s justice.”

Today justice means equal outcomes. “There are two ideas now in the academic left that weren’t there 10 years ago,” he says. “One is that everyone is racist because of unconscious bias, and the other is that everything is racist because of systemic racism.” That makes justice impossible to achieve: “When you cross that line into insisting if there’s not equal outcomes then some people and some institutions and some systems are racist, sexist, then you’re setting yourself up for eternal conflict and injustice.”

Here’s the thing. Outcomes are a product of several things: opportunities provided by society, the abilities of the individuals, and random chance. I believe that people in these minority groups do not systematically have less inherent ability than people in the majority. So if we truly had equality of opportunity, I would expect that minority groups would also have equal outcomes, plus or minus some statistical noise.

Comic transcript: This Ayn Random number generator you wrote *claims* to be fair, but the output is biased toward certain numbers. Well, maybe those numbers are just intrinsically better!
Source: XKCD

[Read more…]