Someone commenting on Scofield’s Tikkun post endorses the claim that “new atheists” are totes privileged.
The literature, social spaces, and most widely recognized voices of atheism are predominantly populated by Western, white, male, heterosexual, cis, middle class (and above) people…[T]he lopsided demography of our communities tends to draw upon otherwise privileged life experiences, and as you have illustrated, this privilege inadvertently shines through in our literature and our actions.
True up to a point, but there’s another way to view that, which Scofield seems to be not just overlooking, but perhaps self-disabled from even recognizing.
Many of those “voices of atheism” are privileged, but what is the most conspicuous kind of privilege they have? It’s actually not anything mentioned in that list, except for the hint in “middle class (and above).”
The really big privilege they have is education, and the associated ability and freedom to think critically about their culture’s myths and how those myths are related to social control.
And what they’re doing with that privilege is trying their damndest to share it.
Not hog it, not Bogart it, not put a wall around it with a sign on the gate saying Rabble Keep Out, not charge a fee for it, not demand an oath or an initiation ritual as the price of entry, but share it.
Another way to put it is that their most basic form of privilege is cultural capital, and again, what they are doing with that capital is trying to spread it around.
Hank Fox has an argument in his Red Neck Blue Collar Atheist that has to do with the privilege of education, including self-education. (Hank doesn’t have a background of privilege. On page 2 he writes, “I don’t know of a single blood relative who got a college degree. Neither of my parents even finished high school.” But Hank is saturated with the privilege of self-education. He has the privilege of valuing it, of doing it, of sharing it.) The basic idea is that without education, people come up with bad mental models for how things work, relying on luck and magical ways of trying to get some, instead of figuring out what they need to do to change their circumstances. That’s a matter of privilege, if you like, but the good news is that it’s a kind that is inherently non-zero-sum…provided there is funding for good universal education, which there so often isn’t.
The privilege of education and cultural capital has this awkward aspect – often called “elitism” – that educated people may well know more about something than uneducated people do. That’s inequality. That’s class. That’s a one-up one-down situation. There is always the potential for shame and humiliation…but there is also the potential for learning and sharing. Yes no doubt it can be shaming when some posh Oxford guy says your god gives no sign of existing…but that’s not all there is to it. Would it be shaming to hear some posh Oxford guy reading the news tell you that Robert Mugabe had decided to retire? You do the math.