Why are YOU here?


I’ve had this question rattling around in my head for almost a year now: why am I here, in the skeptical and atheist communities? Why do I include the labels “skeptic” and “atheist” in bio blurbs, and why do I cover topics and follow discussions associated with those labels? Why, given how little commonality I have with many of the folks who work full-time in these communities, given that some of the causes I care about the most are derided by vast swathes of the people with whom I’m expected to break bread, should I spend my time and effort on parts of my identity that I don’t find assaulted on a daily basis?

And more importantly, why are others in these communities? What do their reasons for being here say about the makeup of these communities?

I’ve answered the question for myself, by telling my deconversion story and the winding path it took me through other social justice issues. I deconverted shortly after my Catholic “confirmation”, ironically enough, and found myself swept along by witnessed injustice with regard to women’s rights, gay rights, and human rights generally. I consider myself a humanist, but because I am unashamed of my atheism I also appreciate and support the Atheism Plus movement which advocates for better inclusion within atheist spheres for minorities, the disabled, and viewpoints that are otherwise underprivileged. I strongly feel that the skeptical and atheist movements cannot succeed as movements unless diversity is embraced and the lessons learned from inclusion are thoroughly incorporated into our methodologies and philsophies.

The pushback that we’ve seen in our communities against Atheism Plus, or really, against any attempt at creating a “side-brand” of atheism or skepticism or secularism that explicitly deals with diversity, is exemplar of the sort of division that I’m talking about when I say that we are a loosely affiliated group of communities, rather than a unified overarching community known as “atheism” and another known as “skepticism”.

We each use a number of labels to describe ourselves as a shorthand, even those of us who claim to eschew labels; the Venn diagrams of all the labels we choose for ourselves help to narrow the number of people like us to such a degree that it’s well possible you might be the only person in your specific set of label intersections. Some of these labels are more important to us than others. My believing that there are no gods is a part of my identity that I feel is important enough to not eschew the label of “atheist”. My humanist perspective is derived directly from the logical inference that because there are no gods, and because I feel the human race is generally a good thing despite its innumerable faults and horrible pockets of self-interest, so I cannot extract how I feel about our obligation to our fellow human beings from the fact that I know there are no deities around to shoulder that burden.

And in the case of specific injustices, specific aspects of daily reality that I see and loathe and find the need to fight against, I proudly wear the labels of “feminist”, “LGBTQ advocate”, and yes, despite the hue and cry from antifeminists, I also wear the label of “egalitarian”. The fact that I am an egalitarian means I cannot help but ally myself with the people whose equality are under daily legislative and cultural attack. In the case of gender politics, women are decidedly and obviously disadvantaged, despite the “manosphere’s” protests to the contrary.

So when I categorize which of the labels I associate with myself primarily and which ones are the most important to me, I find “skeptic” and “atheist” bubble-sorting lower than others. As a result, it seriously grates on me that I’m expected to cohabitate in a “big tent” with antifeminists and bigots of all stripes for the sake of furthering the causes of secularism and rationalism in our society. I can’t squelch my own desire for rationalism and humanism in gender politics or race relations or other issues just because some of my supposed “allies” in the realm of secularism are uncomfortable with what I have to say.

Every time some new revelation about secular and skeptical leaders comes out, like the most recent one, that DJ Grothe is preparing to sue Pamela Gay to get her to stop talking about the attempted sexual assault that Grothe himself intervened to prevent, I question my involvement in this community once again. I can’t help but balk that we “skeptics” are supposed to cover up the truth of what apparently happened that night in 2008 when Michael Shermer “lunged” at Dr. Gay, according to accounts by both Grothe and another antifeminist, Barbara Drescher, which they’ve themselves publicized despite their ideological bents. I am unwilling to cede the moral high ground that no matter how famous you are, attempted sexual assault with multiple (and unprejudiced!) witnesses, crosses so bright and obvious a line that that famous person has done something repugnant and indefensible and I will not stand for apologetics of these actions, nor further abuse of the victim.

I’ve asked once before: “is the skeptic empire dying?” It’s still relevant, because we’re still being asked to shut up for the good of a man who’s supposedly a “leader” and a “luminary” in the skeptical community. I can’t help but think that any person who would sue someone for having the breasts that said leader tried to lunge at, and for thereafter having the gall to not swallow that casual sexism, is not someone we should support. And I can’t help but think that anyone supporting this behaviour and enabling it by attacking those damn PC feminists is not someone with whom I’m willing to cohabitate in any-sized tent.

I got into skepticism because I care that people are being objectively harmed by charlatanry. I care that anti-vaccination advocates deny the mountains of evidence that shows vaccines are safe, effective and save human lives. I care that global warming denialists work to preserve a status-quo pattern of human carbon burning that endangers life on this planet in toto. I care that the shoddy state of education in general results in adoption of pseudoscientific views that endanger lives. I care to a significantly lower degree, but I do still care, that people believing in astrology or psychics are throwing their money away on wishful thinking and enriching the lives of the intellectual predators who may or may not themselves truly believe the nonsense they’re peddling. I care very significantly less, but do still care to a degree, that people might actually believe in El Chupacabra, eroding their own ability to distinguish fact from fiction.

I want movement skepticism to be about debunking the bunk, educating the public. And yet I know that movement skepticism was founded largely by magicians — people who have long since made a living on lying to others, even where they admit that they’re lying (e.g. the “honest liar” meme). Movement skepticism was built primarily by magicians and libertarians, and it draws more libertarians to the detriment of any group that might find their political policies repugnant. It draws people who, as with movement atheism, are looking for a way to boost their own egos, preening and back-slapping one another over the fact that they are right about something that everyone else has gotten wrong. It draws people who are self-interested.

It even draws people who, while advocating for skepticism and against charlatanry, are themselves dirty con-artists, and like everyone else in the movement, their corruption is given a pass. And it even draws people who think that by being skeptics, by merely adopting the label without wholly adopting the methodology, they are inured against the mere possibility that they’re being manipulated by cynical and power-hungry actors at the top. Their “webs of trust” are so un-tuned, so naive, that they think that people who speak well on the topics of skepticism and atheism are de facto better people and the Halo Effect and hero-worship both kick in and they become “helpful idiots”, fighting the people who dare criticize their dear and glorious leaders.

The only people who generally get drummed out of movement skepticism are those who advocate for better morals or who disagree with the “luminaries” — corruption is given a pass, and advocacy for justice is derided (cross-reference the epithet “Social Justice Warrior”). It’s pretty disheartening that all it takes to make you persona non grata in this community is to disagree with the chosen heroes — that there’s enough intellectual capital behind the idea that you cannot disagree with a Shermer or a Dawkins or be put off by witnessed behaviour by these luminaries lest you find yourself thrown out of the room and the movement over even a disagreement of tactics.

So why do I stick around? Some days, I don’t quite have an adequate answer, and that demoralizes me to the point of clamming up. (Look around. Have I been as talkative as usual lately? I won’t deny it.)

But then I realize that we’ve already self-selected into a group of people that generally intersect on most of these issues — that FtB, while not a monolith, is a significantly less toxic environment for my particular brand of humanist intersectionality than any other major hub that I can think of. Yes, it is absolutely less toxic an environment for me than other places, even while I have significant and irreconcilable differences even with the fellow bloggers on this network, and even and more often than I’d like with the supposed overminds of our hive, PZ Myers or Rebecca Watson — whom the hero-worshippers in other camps project that we all hero-worship ourselves. And believe it or not, the simple fact that the more toxic, more odious advocates of anti-humanist, anti-social policies, who defend the “old guard” from their own indiscretions and who are willing to destroy the careers of people as gentle and good as Pamela Gay, find places like FtB to be so loathsome, heartens me.

Yes, it truly heartens me that they’ll go out of their way to smear and target us and attack us for being willing to disagree with or hold people to account for their positions or actions, that they’re willing to call what THEY do “disagreement”, and what WE do “rage blogging” or “drama”, that they’d be so dismissive of us advocating for humanist positions even while they themselves advocate against them, that they define themselves as being against us while we define ourselves as being for certain inalienable principles. We are for something and fight against people who are against it, and our enemies define themselves as against us. They self-arrange around the nucleus of being against us.

They want these labels for themselves, to purge us from them. I’m unwilling to cede the labels, especially not where their rank immorality is exactly the sort of thing I got into the community to fight against. I didn’t join the community TO fight sexism and hypocrisy and immorality in the ranks, but that’s the fight that needs to take place, and so I’ll keep fighting.

Now, to the question in the title of this post: why are YOU here? Why did you join the various atheist and skeptical communities that you’ve joined? And are you willing to be purged from these supposedly-overarching movements because you disagree with the leaders of a more localized subset of them? Are you willing to agree that the movements are owned by people you disagree with?

Comments

  1. says

    I’m in a skeptical community with little interest in humanist values, simply because my local group and has people in it I’ve actually met. Yeah, it’s owned by people I disagree with, but the infrastructure is so useful I’m willing to fight for access and try to fix things up from the inside.

    I’m in a humanist group that I rarely get to see due to distance, that rarely addresses subjects I’m interested in like alt med and vaccination. I’m happy to kick a few bucks their way every year.

    I’m in American Atheists because it got me a discount on their last convention, but I’m not at all pleased with how they do things and plan to let that membership lapse. Yeah, I can admit that it’s owned by people I disagree with.

    I hang out at FTB because I tend to agree with the people here, despite the rapidly decreasing Canadian content. :-)

  2. says

    Ryan: the Canadian point is very salient. It was less impactful for me to slack off and do my own thing when Natalie Reed and Crommunist were still around. *sigh*

  3. says

    I don’t associate myself with a label. I’m here because there are some bloggers here who occasionally discuss things I think are interesting. Do I see myself as part of something bigger? No. Do I feel invested in a group? No. Do I believe anything written here more than I’d believe anything written elsewhere? No.

    When I see things like the CFI and JREF titanic disasters-in-progress I see them also as cautionary tales about getting invested in a group that you have no great ability to influence. It’s basically asking for a beating.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    Me, I’m still in the closet. Commenting on other peoples’ blogs represents the sum total of my involvement in the “movement.”

    One reason I come here is that, actually, FtB is one of the better news aggregators and set of commenters on topics I’m interested in.

  5. John Horstman says

    Are you willing to agree that the movements are owned by people you disagree with?

    As an anarchist socialist, I think property is theft, so obviously not. :-P

    I’m here becasue I see atheist activism as a social justice issue, one of many. I’m specifically here becasue this blog, like a good number on the network, deals with intersectional issues of social justice (particularly feminism, my field of study and primary arena of activism) and atheism/skepticism. I’m here to discuss/debate both theory and policy (and especially to get dissenting opinions from people in different social positions but who share various general aims with me) and get info about specific events or pro-social projects/actions. I’m vastly more goal-/outcome-oriented than process-oriented or relationship-oriented, so I’m far more interested in social theory and its application than any sort of community-building, though I try to avoid actively working against any such projects becasue ultimately I’d like to see social systems that support people in maintaining access to whatever they need to thrive while minimizing direct impositions on other individuals (becasue what some of us most want is to be generally left alone). I’m very much not willing to cede ‘movement atheism’ to those who would simply like to use it as another discourse in which to construct hierarchies and exercise power over others – as I stated above, I am a socialist anarchist in theory, with my actions guided (as much as I can manage with my various biases and mental illness(es?)) by contextualized utilitarian pragmatism oriented toward progressive social movement in the direction of my ideals. Any defense of movement ‘leaders’ qua leaders is antithetical to this outlook. No gods, no masters.

    I haven’t really been involved with any large atheist/skeptic organizations nor have I attended any conferences. None of the behavior of any major organizations in the past several years has given me reason to do so, with the exception of FfRF, to which I sometimes send cash.

    I landed at FtB after occasionally reading scattered posts on Blag Hag (usually involving intersections of atheism and feminism) and WWJTD (involving intersections of atheism and mental illness), and I stuck around after Jen took a self-care/I-can’t-handle-the-constant-harassment hiatus and JT both left for Patheos and started tending increasingly toward sexist apologetics becasue I’d come to very much enjoy Greta’s and Jason’s and Ian’s blogs (I really miss Crommunist). Lately, I haven’t liked how I’ve been conducting myself at times (with increasing frequency), so I’m making an active effort to listen more without responding as well as to mediate – I’m finding that a lot of arguments, even some of the most vicious ones, are resulting from things like people using the same terms to talk about different things, talking past each other, assuming the other party knows things of which ze is actually ignorant (and then often projecting intent), etc. I’ve found that just trying to get everyone talking about the same issue in the same language can actually resolve a lot of disagreements, or if not resolve them, bring them to a space where discussion is more productive and (as kind of an unintentional and thus especially interesting side effect) less vitriolic. This is generally only true for good-faith actors, though I’ve also been noticing that a lot of (newbie, therefore somewhat clueless) good-faith actors get tagged as bad-faith actors becasue they’re coming from spaces where the only language for the issues under discussion has been supplied by bad-faith actors (e.g. intentional, self-aware anti-feminists, racists, transphobes, etc.).

    I like Jason’s blog especially because he’s a computer geek who talks about games and other geeky things sometimes, and the pervasive misogyny and homophobia in gamer/geeky circles drove me away from those spaces for a while and keep me only marginally attached these days. I was programming on the Apple IIe at age 5, making Hypercard stacks at age 6, building relational databases to catalog and track my Magic: The Gathering cards and coding web pages in text editors at age 8, building custom levels for Dark Forces and mods for Escape Velocity at age 10, and assembling computers for my school district for fun and profit in middle school and high school: those spaces are mine as much as anybody’s, but as women and feminists of all genders (and trans people and people of color as well) started (justifiably, of course) insisting on making the spaces more inclusive, the backlash became increasingly toxic. It was especially nice to find a few enclaves online where I could follow issues in gaming and other geekery without that pervasive backlash. I’m heartened by the increasing support for inclusivity in geeky spaces as of late, as I’m not really willing to cede those either (at least not permanently – I’m lucky that I can just check out when I need to without people following me around the internet haranguing me).

    So that’s some of why I’m here, for several different values of “here”.

  6. Ed says

    The only Humanist group I actually associate with personally is made up almost entirely of social progressives concerned about justice, equality and peace.

    But I have benefited from widely reading the works of members of the more “big tent” groups like Shermer`s skeptical movement and magazine (The Skeptic), the works of Dawkins and Hitchens (including once being active on the part of the Richard Dawkins Foundation forum that discusses news articles from around the world on atheism-related issues) and also Sam Harris.

    I also regularly read and buy Free Inquiry, the magazine of the Counsel for Secular Humanism, which is generally left-leaning but is a big tent containing a few libertarians like Tibor Machen and one regular contributor, Nat Hentoff, who is anti-abortion.

    Harris` and Hitchens` flirtation with the pro-war right gave me some concern years ago. Recently, Dawkins` casual sexism and much much worse, the revelations of Shermer`s revolting behavior make me less interested in them (especially Shermer).

    But (and sorry it took me so long to get to my point) I don’t think we should ignore the good they have done in promoting broadly rational values in the public square. Even when I was deeply religious I had progressive social and political views, but was often uncritical in my acceptance of all kinds of dubious or downright ridiculous ideas.

    Discovering a movement that promoted empirical thinking, clarified what constitutes valid evidence and appropriate statistical analysis of information was a lifesaver for me. I have a strong capacity for logical thinking, but when suffering from depression (occasionally with psychotic features) and obsessive anxiety I’m a sucker for all kinds of superstition, belief in telepathy and other psychic powers, demons, examination and general mystical fatalism.

    I don’t have to consider myself one of Dawkins` or Shermer`s buddies or devotees to appreciate their long careers of advocating liberty from these debilitating ideas and providing succinct, easy to understand and remember alternative arguments and explanations.

    Some people are good at promoting reason despite holding disturbing opinions or even in a few cases actually being bad people. For that matter, it works the other way, too. Others can be admirably devoted to fine progressive and egalitarian ideals while also holding irrational views about the nature of the universe.

  7. leni says

    I just followed Ed here :D The extent of my participation are various small donations and being a dumb ass in the comments.

    I have never really identified as a skeptic, not because I disagree with it, but because it seems like a natural outcome of good critical thinking skills. It just never seemed like a necessary label for me, although I understand why it is for other people. Michael Shermer and Richard Dawkins were pivotal in my journey and I’ve learned a great deal from both.

    Seeing two people I admired (and who both helped me grow as a person) flounder and lash out so much does not fill me with the schadenfreude of watching someone I dislike fail. It bums me out. I know we all make mistakes and often, maybe even usually, double down when faced with criticism, but if I wanted to be a part of something with leaders who I thought would do that every turn, I’d turn in my atheist card and go back to calling myself Catholic.

    So it’s sad and appalling. And toxic. I have never used the skeptic label, but at this point I never would. Atheist is here to stay though. If I can deal with being on the same “team” (not really) as Stalin, I can handle some misogynists and libertarians. My best bet is to support the people who are looking up and out. I know they’ll have successes and I know they’ll do good work. If they disappoint me at some point in the future I can just move on from that. too.

  8. says

    if I wanted to be a part of something with leaders who I thought would do that every turn, I’d turn in my atheist card and go back to calling myself Catholic.

    Plus one. Seconded. Liked. Et cetera. :)

  9. Helena Q. says

    I’m in Atheism (in the vague movement sense) because skeptical values were those I found empowering and I followed certain figures (such as PZ) to this site when it was created. I stuck around through schisms that forced me to strongly consider many of my assumptions and I began to feel less comfortable around those I had previously considered allies as they persisted in supporting unskeptical positions which justified bigotry and attempted to rationalize the harms inflicted upon minorities by the status quo. I’m glad that I moved towards this side, since without Natalie Reed I don’t know whether I’d ever have had the conceptual tools I needed to tear down the walls which prevented me from accepting myself.

    I still visit Freethought Blogs because it’s one of the few places that accepts the values of skepticism while not being hostile to those who speak out against marginalizing institutions, even if those institutions are labelled as Skeptic. Not that I comment often… but I need a place to come to whenever I’m sick of elsewhere and reading certain SJ-leaning blogs on FTB helps me vent some of my issues negotiating communities dominated by voices of the dominant.

    I don’t give a damn about Atheist/Skeptic organizations in general anymore, not unless they give a damn about my right to live without a justified fear of society.

  10. carlie says

    1. I don’t really know any atheists in meatspace.
    2. I’m mostly closeted for family reasons
    3. I didn’t have any understanding of how to be a good person as an atheist, so I had to look to people online as role models and to teach me how that works
    4. I made real friends in online atheist communities
    5. It helps me both formulate my own ethical rationales and find good ways to describe it
    6. Did I mention not knowing atheists in meatspace?
    7. It feels good not to be alone
    8. It feels good to know good people

    And like hell do the assholes own it. Maybe “atheism and nothing else matters” was ok for the early days of the movement (as it were), but it needs to stand for something more now, and I’m glad that it does, and they can’t take that away.

  11. says

    John Horstman @8: I can’t tell you what it means to me to know that someone here is actually interested in my geeky and video game witterings. Especially someone whose comments I value so highly.

    carlie @12: The same goes to you, with regard to comments I value — when we cross paths on the internet, I feel like I have a lot to learn from you. It does feel good not to be alone. Thank you for that.

  12. says

    I describe myself as a “humanist atheist.” I’d like to think it describes how I think and how I approach issues, without pigeonholing me into a box of ideology where I don’t belong…and if in doubt, I can always pull the “gay” and “feminist” qualifiers out for backup. “Skeptic” is a word I’ve never had as much a connection to…its connotations always skirted too closely to vagueness and denialism for me.

    I became an atheist years ago because Christianity didn’t make sense when I scrutinized it, and I was disturbed by the things it was used to justify. Once I started thinking atheistically, I approached other topics with the same scrutiny…and issues started snapping into place. Without religion and blind idealism steering my thoughts, any licks of sympathy for antiabortionism or the war on drugs fell away. Libertarianism wasn’t far behind. Confronting and refuting religion might not eliminate all the conservatism, racism, denialism, economic woo, homophobia, or misogyny from the world, but I reasoned that it WOULD kick out the biggest prop and train of thought holding it up. Atheism to me was inseparable from social justice from day one.

    “Movement” atheism (and, honestly, Richard Dawkins) changed the paradigm for me. Until The God Delusion and Out Campaign made waves, I felt there was little choice but to run from labels and “respect” the beliefs of believers, no matter how damaging they were. I felt that I had found a community of people like me who were angry about the same things I was, and it gave me hope that we could unite to achieve great social change towards a fairer and more sustainable world.

    I might have disagreed vehemently with Christopher Hitchens on war or with Penn Jillette on economics, but the atheist “tent” was a place where even the most adversarial would acknowledge that they were furthering a movement that was pacifist and egalitarian by and large. Dawkins made some thoughtless statements, but so what? He was just a man who wrote some books and did some good things; he wasn’t a leader of influence or a personality cult head or anything like that. I always thought the connection between organized skepticism and professional con-artist magicians was bizarre…but as long as they put their energy and influence to good causes, what was the problem? The atheist movement was surely a place where anyone who could justify their ideas with empirical evidence was treated with respect, harrassment was shunned, and the two-headed monster of homophobia and misogyny…without any religion to back itself up…was shunned at the door. That’s what I wanted to think.

    The connection between atheism and social justice always seemed so obvious to me that I didn’t start questioning it until things started blowing up a couple years ago. I walked out of a local “skeptic” group when the loudest member launched into a Thunderfoot-adulation tirade about how atheism shouldn’t be connected with feminism (and I couldn’t refute him because I had a mouth full of food at the time). The multi-year harrassment campaign against Jen, Greta, Rebecca, and others passed into the realm of common knowledge. The leadership of CFI destroyed their credibility at the Women in Secularism conference. But there were rays of sunlight in the mist: The Reason Rally. The explosive growth of the Secular Student Alliance. Anti-harrassment policies. A blogosphere that supported social justice more often than not. I was cautiously optimistic.

    Then the Shermer news broke…and much of the atheist blogosphere reacted by either ignoring the issue entirely or denying the allegations, attacking the people and sites that posted them, and asserting that one man having his reputation sullied was worse than multiple women being assaulted and raped. That was the breeze that pushed me over the edge, made me feel as though the movement I thought I was a part of wasn’t my movement, and people that I thought were friends weren’t friends…and if I said I wasn’t disillusioned with atheism as a social cause today, I’d be lying through my teeth.

    But where does that leave me? I am an atheist, being so influences my thinking, and that’s not going to change. I’ve never joined an organization unless I was clear that their leadership was competent and it was worth my while to do so…and short of signing up for an e-mail list or two, I never had a chance to become involved with the CFI, JREF, or SCA; so there are no knots to unwind there. Most of my participation in the atheist community consisted of reading and engaging with writers I saw eye to eye with…and that hasn’t changed (though some of the writers in question have). I haven’t changed, I still think that religion does more harm than good in the world…and if a coherent social movement free of harassment and magical thinking arrives to challenge it, I’ll be ready to support it tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m concentrating my energy on specific issues like marriage equality and reproductive rights and letting the pieces fall where they may.

  13. says

    I have agreed with the majority that people like me are not welcome or wanted and no longer participate or wish to participate in any skeptic/atheist groups. I’m here because despite that I still like some people who do associate or broadcast from that label.

    Completely disillusioned with the cause though and I feel Skepticism has proven itself to be a failed concept/experiment in regards to it’s goal of promoting critical thinking. It’s clear that what they’re doing is not helping and working within that current structure is just trying to knock down a brick wall with your forehead.

  14. says

    Jason asks why am I here and the best way for me to answer that question is to simply lay down my own philosophy as it is at this moment in time. I basically have two goals in my life. One is to become as educated as possible through the acquisition and understanding of knowledge and the other is to develop a greater sense of individual morality and become not perfect – as that is an impossible ideal – but less imperfect. They sound lovely but I hasten to add that I am not doing them for external gratification but simply because I want to so in that respect they are very selfish ideals but I still think them worth pursuing. They are life goals that are acquired over time but can never be fully realised for reasons of practicality but that is in and of itself no reason not to actively pursue them

    Although I am an atheist who engages with other atheists I see myself more as an individual rather than part of a community. And there is very good reason for this. I do not want to be part of something where the opinion of the mass is considered the default position. I much prefer to be just one voice because that automatically inhibits against tribalism and all tribalism is fundamentally bad for open debate because over time the mass – consciously or subconsciously – assumes moral or intellectual superiority. And being right and being popular are not always mutually compatible. Also monopolies on wisdom do not actually exist and tribalism inhibits against that by its very nature. I am not saying one cannot work with others to achieve common goals but that collectively thinking as one is somewhat limiting in scope and harder to reconcile when such thinking has been proved to be demonstrably wrong

    Not belonging to any tribe as such means I have the freedom to go and seek knowledge from wherever I want. As someone who believes in absolute free speech I reserve the right to seek it as I choose. For I do not want to only read those who I agree with for I gain nothing from that. No I want to read those who challenge my world view for that is the only way I can truly learn

    So although I believe in the general principles of social justice I will not accept uncritically everything done in its name no more than I would in any other area of human development. Of course it is a fine thing to want to change the world for the better but I realise that the first step to actually doing that is to change oneself. And because that is something that can never be fully realised it is a life time commitment. So I leave the world to change itself while I concentrate on just changing me. I see myself more as observer than participant. And even more so since life is but an infinitesimally small percentage of our actual existence as we are going to be dead for far longer. This may sound depressing but I do not see death as being worse than life. What is it after all but merely a transference from one state to another ? But while I am alive I will in my own insignificant way try to make the world a better place. But beyond that I have no real power so I just focus on that which I can change and leave all the rest to others more dedicated than I. So I hope this answers your question Jason

  15. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    To learn. To understand. And to be counted – because there are people out there who want to read/discuss what’s going on in the world from an atheist perspective, but who aren’t willing to tolerate the bullshit from the MRatheist douchebro assholes to do so and need somewhere that they can do that.

  16. says

    I continue to read because I’m looking for ammo for arguments. I read and collect stories (found here and elsewhere) on crimes committed by the religious because I want to debunk one of their biggest lies: “you need god to be good”. They claim religion makes people moral, but perusing the news will tell you otherwise.

    If the religious are forced to admit that belief doesn’t make for a better person, that religion has no bearing on whether people are ethical, it ends one of their biggest arguments for belief.

    http://youtu.be/jGFS_hkHfCc

    I proudly wear the labels of “feminist” etc.

    I tend not to label myself as one and not even an ally because I occasionally (often?) screw up and say something stupid. I’d rather not have my mistakes reflect badly on others. I try to be positive and supportive, to speak out in agreement and say something constructive or helpful if I have it.

    So why do I stick around? Some days, I don’t quite have an adequate answer, and that demoralizes me to the point of clamming up.

    I’ve got a good reason for you: The religious are eliminationists. If ever (or whenever) they achieved a majority, they would make it a criminal act not to belong to theirs. It’s happened before (catholics in Europe), happening now (Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, etc.), and many would like to do it if they could (christians in the US), attempts to create countries of a single, narrow belief.

  17. Pen says

    I’m not a fan of joining clubs so I don’t consider myself a Movement Atheist, just a plain old atheist, you know? When I’m being a skeptic (small s) I’ve sometimes turned my attention on the nature of human associations and organizations of various sizes, what can be expected of them and how they fare depending on regulation, accountability, etc. It’s not a precise science to say the least, but I think there does seem to be something about ‘resistance movements’ in general. Because of their nature they don’t have much overview from society at large, they’re demanding in terms of member loyalty (shut up for the cause), they may attract particular kinds of people as leaders – people who can live without widespread social approval for a start, and who may therefore be unresponsive to demands from within the organization, people who are able to feel superior in terms of their ideology, and probably also people who are relatively vulnerable and needy as followers (I don’t necessarily mean vulnerable and needy as personality types, simple isolation will do as a cause). All in all, it’s a situation which can act as a breeding ground for unhealthy tendencies.

    I wouldn’t join such a group myself. I have no aspiration to be leader (nor the possibility of being one) and no needs that could be met by being a follower. I hang out here because some of the discussions are interesting (and also, if I’m honest, because Ed showcases the stupidest people he can find for us to laugh at).

  18. reinderdijkhuis says

    I had to think about that question a bit…. I wasn’t really sure at this point that I remembered why I was here, just that I mostly liked it here.

    Fundamentally, though, I practice skepticism because I’m very gullible by nature and I needed something to counterbalance that. That’s what brought me to skeptical reading and skeptical communities. I stuck around because I heard about anti-atheist discrimination – rare in my own country but seemingly quite prevalent elsewhere including in the US.

    In other words, I’m staying because there are things that are wrong in the world and I want to do something about it. So when others who are quite happy with perpetrating similar wrongs, that offends me and I do not regard them as part of the communities that I joined.

  19. says

    I’m involved in atheism because I’m an atheist and I have an interest in the arguments for atheism, and I support Church/State Separation.

    I’m involved with Chicago Skeptics because they’re friendly, and seem like one of the few skeptic groups that care about anti-harassment policies.

    I’m on FtB because after listening to the anti-feminist in the skeptical/atheist community, I found their arguments lacking. The more interesting posts are on these blogs.

    I’m on your site because I like Jason’s writing and I feel like I can relate to some of his personal experiences.

  20. lippard says

    The Pamela Gay post you link to from the claim “DJ Grothe is preparing to sue Pamela Gay” doesn’t support the claim. The post quotes from an email from Grothe to the effect that he is prepared to speak out publicly contradicting her (the particulars of what he would contradict her about not mentioned), including contacting “relevant employers” (a rather vile suggestion), but no mention is made of legal action, which it’s not clear Grothe would have any grounds for. That statement could, in a legal context, imply giving a declaration or testifying in a suit presumably by Shermer, not Grothe.

  21. leftwingfox says

    1) I was upset with the poor quality of mainstream US media after 9/11, so I turned to blogs.

    2)I quickly realized the liberal-leaning blogs like Eschaton by Atrios were more willing to deal in facts, figures, reality and compassion.

    3)From there, I found Pharyngula and the wider skeptic/atheist/science blogging community, as well as a pre-Amanda Marcotte Pandagon. Once Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein moved on, I continued reading Amanda, Jesse and Pam.

    4)I became increasingly convinced of the truth and importance of atheism, feminism and social democracy.

    5)Elevatorgate. What the fuck.

    6)FTB.

  22. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    The 2000 “election” and GWB, in general, led to my political awakening. I realized that I am decidedly liberal and no longer have any patience for Conservatism, Libertarianism or the ludicrous misconception that Both-Sides-Do-It/No-Difference-Between-Parties. I started becoming much more active in reading political blogs when I wasn’t enjoying atheist blogs (I had already gotten into atheism and it’s battles a few years earlier.)

    I was always irritated by the way atheist bloggers largely avoided issues of politics like inequality because of concern for mission drift or said issue not being “atheist” enough. For a long time I only read PZ, the Horsemen, and Jerry Coyne. I was largely unaware of the more social-activist bloggers in the atheist/skeptic community until only a few years ago. When I finally stumbled upon FTB it turned out to be the perfect place for someone of my politics, atheism, science interest etc. While I still read several political blogs regularly, atheist concerns are usually hand-waved away as being trivial issues there, and most of the highly intelligent commentariats view atheism as being just the Horsemen and a bunch of arrogant, misogynist followers (obviously there is some truth to that) so it is nice to be someplace where the intersectionality of atheism, skepticism, liberal values and political goals is taken seriously and explored often.

    I also only recently (past 5-10 years) started thinking seriously about Feminism and realized that not only is it not the bogey man that MRA’s claim (and in my frustrated 20’s I was never an MRA but I did share some of their attitudes) but that it is actually movement that greatly reflects my values. FTB has played a big part in that. Greta, PZ, Richard, Jen, Ophelia, Stephanie Z, Miri, Jason (as well as Rebecca W, Amanda Marcotte) have really opened my eyes to issues of sexism and misogyny.

    I love the fact that when big political stories happen, I can count on coming here and reading what people who share so many of my values/non-beliefs have to say on it. Especially on stuff that I’m not sure just where I stand yet. FtB is also a wonderful resource for when I’m trying to explain to someone that I’m debating but am having trouble doing it. You guys often say exactly what I was “trying to say” but couldn’t get just right.

    Also, too- this place is just lots of fun. I mean just the Ferengi-MRA alone is more than worth the price of admission ;)

  23. carlie says

    Jason – that means so much to me! You’re pretty fantastic. :) One thing I really love about the parts of the atheist movement that I’ve been involved in is in being introduced (virtually) to so many people who are smart and challenging and making the world a better place.

  24. Spriteless myself says

    I’m here because Greta linked you, and you haven’t dehumanized me. I found her I think because a precursor to the lesswrong site linked her. I read atheism+ blogs reading people think about stuff is fun, and reading people dehumanize me is bad, so I end up deleting a lot of bookemarks that are mean or dumb, and find a larger portion of my bookmarks are intellegent reads by people who treat me as a person. Like you. Thank you for that.

    I find things like breaking out of the time loop in Majora’s Mask fascinating, because it shows how off a virtual world can be broken when you change a variable out of bounds. Were a number changed in our universe, like electromagnetic force, worse things would break.

  25. says

    And more importantly, why are others in these communities? What do their reasons for being here say about the makeup of these communities?

    I’m here for very similar reason as those you mentioned. I left Christianity in part because of just how little their reality claims actually reflected the reality I lived in. I was also concerned about how badly other groups of people were treated by society, and all the utter unreality in how these groups were portrayed by people that did not want them getting attention. First how they were treated by Christianity as a whole, and then society as a whole.

    I’m here because places like this are the bleeding edge of social conflicts that need to be had, while trying to maintain a social environment that allows the conflicts to occur in a constructive manner. I learned by watching people fight over ideas in the creationism versus evolution fights and that quickly became a useful education in what a person willing to honestly exchange and challenge ideas (of their own and others) looks like. I learned rational skepticism, logic, how to defend what I know and believe, how make sure that I really know what I think I do, how to learn to defend a belief properly and more. I learned how to be an ethical thug (ethical because you choose when to turn the thug on in appropriate situations) when it comes to arguments and ideas in places where emotions run high (and people arguing from only emotions can bog things down), and I try to continue to learn to do that well. To be an ethical thug is justified when considering the audience with some “debate partners” because sadly we still pay attention to dominance and aggression more than the contents of arguments.

    I am also here because I am learning about how these abilities often do not transfer from one issue to another in the same person, especially lately. I am learning more about how someone that does well on one issue will often toss rational skepticism, logic, and proper support for beliefs right out the window when things get to issues they are sensitive to and they are not very experienced in, especially many that have become leaders. I am learning how these people will go right to group political behavior and attempt to win by all sorts of irrational, illogical means in what is functionally an equivalent to the worst sorts of creationists that I’m used to battling in other places. This social compartmentalization is a very fascinating thing and worthy of being torn apart in the same way that knowledge of logical fallacies and cognitive biases is used to tear into creationists. Bad reasons and logic are bad reasons and logic and I try not to care authorities in my own areas of activism on this account.

    I’m here because despite the differences here is where I find people of better quality trying to be even better. Those have always been my people.

    I strongly feel that the skeptical and atheist movements cannot succeed as movements unless diversity is embraced and the lessons learned from inclusion are thoroughly incorporated into our methodologies and philsophies… we are a loosely affiliated group of communities, rather than a unified overarching community known as “atheism” and another known as “skepticism”.

    I agree and our current state should have been more obvious in retrospect. People are skeptical for many reasons therefore Rational Skepticism should be more strongly emphasized because reason for skepticism is where I often see the most problems with its application. People become atheists for many reasons therefore we should pay more attention to why a particular atheist found religion to be worth rejecting. We need to accept that some atheists really may have left religion because they don’t like social rules and have problems with rational ones.
    But as long as we have people who do not know how to use apply reason to their skepticism (and thus misfire when being skeptical), and want to use atheist activism as a means to their ends only (selfish people don’t really want to cooperate with rationally based social rules) while actively trying to deny it to people they are politically opposed to, we will remain a loosely affiliated group of communities because we are talking about people who are actively breaking up or attacking elements of the community.

    I proudly wear the labels of “feminist”, “LGBTQ advocate”, and yes, despite the hue and cry from antifeminists, I also wear the label of “egalitarian”.

    I like labels too because there is value in identifying, summarizing, organizing and communicating around sets of ideas and goals. I like feminism, LGBT activism, mental health activism, activism based on racial issues and more. But I find myself more often speaking of myself as being an ally of the labels (I need better phrasing there, labels are not people) and the people they represent because of how often I encounter people that can’t seem to get past them in conflicts. This is not because of people that can talk about the people the labels represent honestly and realistically, but rather as a means of strategy for people that can’t get past labels, categories, authority figures, and similar ways of dancing around a subject because they are emotionally invested, but can’t or won’t address specific issues on their own terms. I have actually discovered that it does not make things any more difficult for me to refer to “people within the MRM/MRA/etc…” and avoid using such as an object all by itself unqualified.

    So when I categorize which of the labels I associate with myself primarily and which ones are the most important to me, I find “skeptic” and “atheist” bubble-sorting lower than others.

    Yep. That is the effect of all those really irrational, illogical and domineering people that also just happen to be atheists and skeptics. We find ourselves choosing to rationally reorganize based on the things that made us skeptical and atheist in the first place. We are filtering out people who lack empathy and are emotional and unreasonable in their actions. This is a good thing and just needs to be done more effectively. Harmful parts of society remain that way even if one is currently benefitting or wants to get into a position where they will also benefit. People that can’t reject social structures that actively harm people, or attack social structures that don’t harm them, or support social structures that harm others and benefit themselves, or can’t even be bothered to understand these things they are a part of honestly offend me.

    I can’t help but balk that we “skeptics” are supposed to cover up the truth of what apparently happened that night in 2008 when Michael Shermer “lunged” at Dr. Gay, according to accounts by both Grothe and another antifeminist, Barbara Drescher, which they’ve themselves publicized despite their ideological bents.

    We are just as prone to authoritarianism and groupthink as anyone else as a group. In this case it lets some skeptics and atheists ignore what other people are actually arguing by irrational reasons that none of them would accept from any other group. I’ve yet to hear anyone supporting Grothe actually address the things that those they oppose are actually saying. We are not in the same group as them because we care about more than just skepticism and atheism so they use the groupthink biases.

    I’ve asked once before: “is the skeptic empire dying?” It’s still relevant, because we’re still being asked to shut up for the good of a man who’s supposedly a “leader” and a “luminary” in the skeptical community.

    Nah, it’s not dying. It’s just spreading out and different sorts of skeptics are finding the types of skeptics that they want to work with. People who use skepticism, are atheists, and also try to be rational and work on their group biases while engaging in other sorts of activism are avoiding what older parts of the network they feel they need to and creating new connections. Of course those groups will still have people working on their own rationality/bias issues (everyone has something), but this particular problem won’t be shaped the same way.

    I want movement skepticism to be about debunking the bunk, educating the public.

    More than skepticism is needed then. Rationality has to be a component. Cognitive debasing has to be a component. Actually making sure that one is addressing the actual positions, arguments, and complaints of another has to be a component. And finding ways to deal with the raw emotional politics of it when necessary.

    So why do I stick around? Some days, I don’t quite have an adequate answer, and that demoralizes me to the point of clamming up.

    I still like to watch ideas grind against each other. I still like to be a thug when it’s appropriate. But I can understand it getting tough to deal with often. I wish we were better organized in a rhetorical effectiveness sense because it is a war because other people are treating it like such. That has to be responded to realistically and strategically while doing everything possible to avoid a fight, and then using any fights for maximum advantage when they happen.

    But then I realize that we’ve already self-selected into a group of people that generally intersect on most of these issues — that FtB, while not a monolith, is a significantly less toxic environment for my particular brand of humanist intersectionality than any other major hub that I can think of…. the simple fact that the more toxic, more odious advocates of anti-humanist, anti-social policies, who defend the “old guard” from their own indiscretions and who are willing to destroy the careers of people as gentle and good as Pamela Gay, find places like FtB to be so loathsome, heartens me.

    This. I’m an asshole when I need to be. But uncontrolled assholery breeds behavior that makes everything a dominance match of feelings instead of getting down to substance. The balance is better here.

  26. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Now, to the question in the title of this post: why are YOU here?

    Because I grew up as (& still am) a bookworm who loved (& still loves!) reading the likes of Isaac Asimov Carl Sagan and others such as Dawkins, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Chris Hitchens. I found these people usually (if not always) made very convincing logical and reasonable cases and spoke / wrote very good sense.

    Why did you join the various atheist and skeptical communities that you’ve joined?

    That question pre-supposes my membership in such groups. In my case it’s a false pre-supposition since I’m not a member of any officially designated skeptics or atheist group.

    However, I guess if you mean why do I participate as a commenter on FTB blogs such as this it is because I (usually) enjoy reading and commenting on these blogs which often have interesting and moving news items, stories and discussions. I have a lot of respect for the bloggers here some of whoem have truly amazing and different life stories and experiences that we can all learn from – even when some of them such as PZ Myers disagree with me strongly and have totally misunderstood my worldview and words.

    (Not that I have always communicated them perfectly I’ll admit and I’ll also admit I’ve gone too far and said some things I shouldn’t have as well. We’re all fallible humans who behave badly at times.)

    Of course some of the FTB bloggers are better than others and this as in all artistic things is always going to be a subjective judgement.

    FWIW Personally my favourite bloggers here include (no special order) Taslima Nasreen, Maryam Namazie, Stephen “DarkSyde” Andrew, Ed Brayton, Ophelia Benson, Digital Cuttlefish, Avicenna and Dana Hunter. But I respect all of them and think all have written some great stuff on occasion and appreciate having this blog-plex thingamajig bringing them all together. I also miss having Chris Rodda and her ‘Sunday Funnies’ and Greg Laden here too as they used to be among my faves as well. So basically thanks and well done to all of the FTB bloggers even the ones I’ve had problems with in the past.

    I do have issues in terms of some of the extremely nasty and poorly thinking and feeling commenters on some of the FTB blogs – at their very worst on ‘Pharyngula’ – which is notorious online for the behaviour of some of them. These nasty and bullying and intolerant commenters who know who they are they are extremely problematic for FTB’s reputation and need to take a long hard look at their worldviews and who and what they are supporting and how they are treating other people online. I think they put off many better commenters and people from participating on FTB.

    And are you willing to be purged from these supposedly-overarching movements because you disagree with the leaders of a more localized subset of them? Are you willing to agree that the movements are owned by people you disagree with?

    No and no.

    That applies whether those people you are referring to are the likes of PZ Myers and Stephanie Svan or the likes of Sam Harris, Dawkins, Thunderfoot, Justin Vacula, D.G. Grothe, Michael Shermer and the Slymepitters.

    NOT, I stress NOT that all those are on the same level or equivalent to each other.

  27. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    D’oh! Add Kaveh Mousavi to my list of favourite bloggers too – thought I’d included him already.

  28. grignon says

    I am here, reading FTB, because it’s a clearing house for news of dominionist attitude and action.

  29. says

    So when I categorize which of the labels I associate with myself primarily and which ones are the most important to me, I find “skeptic” and “atheist” bubble-sorting lower than others.

    This is quite true for me also. The first label I ever associated to myself was “anti-racist”, and that is still a, if not the, primary label I carry. I also use progressive and feminist frequently. Atheist is pretty much default here in Denmark, so there is no real need to use that.

    As to skeptic. Well, I do call myself a skeptic, and I guess I must be considered part of the skeptic community at large, since I am a co-found/co-organizer of Copenhagen Skeptics in the Pub, and I have participated in skeptic conferences (in Europe). I also plan on going to Skepticon this year.

    I call myself a skeptic, because skepticism, unlike atheism, isn’t the default in Denmark. Rather, it is considered rude to address other peoples’ pseudo-science with facts as “everybody is entitled to their beliefs”. Since this means that there are people spreading not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense, I try to do what I can to counter it.

    The last year or two, I’ve talked with others about starting a skeptic organization in Denmark, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. A lot of the explanation for the lack of action is because of how I see other skeptic organizations behave (*cough*JREF*cough*), and I want to make sure that the organization I found won’t be able to do the same.

    I am not part of movement atheism in Denmark, pretty much because of the behavior of the atheist organization Ateistisk Selskab (Atheist Society).

  30. says

    Well, it’s a funny story. I went back to school at age 28. I decided to do environmental science. About a year into my return to college, I decided to look for websites that would allow me to keep up with stuff related to my major. So that’s how I found Pharyngula, on Scienceblogs. The snark and the politics and the science appealed to me. I wasn’t brought up with much religious training, but up until then I considered myself more similar to my parents, who are basically deists, than anything else. I’d been exposed to various traditions, but mostly as a tourist, found it aesthetically pleasing but nothing to write home about. I moved in hippie woo-woo circles and spent several years of my life trying to justify auras, chakras, past lives, Emoto’s water crystals, Mayan prophesies, and more. At the time I was going back to school, that stuff was already losing its appeal, but finding Pharyngula gave me a method to this distancing, and reasons, and useful analysis. From being a fuzzy maybe-sorta-agnostic-or-deist-or-pantheist I realized that it was just as unreal as the Bible that seemed so obviously false to me, and started identifying as an atheist. I realized a dear friend of mine who claimed, or at least didn’t contradict other people when they claimed that he was psychic was not in fact a dear friend, but rather a charming manipulator. At the same time I was immersing myself in my education. Prior to returning to school, I’d participated in protests and lived on communes and as my education progressed, I found myself wanting to bring this scientific and intellectual rigor back to the movements I’d participated in. The environmental movement, certainly, and feminism – though, back then, it wasn’t really on my radar that women would be SO under attack in less than a decade.

    When I realized that there were these organizations doing work and lobbying and stuff, my first thought was, “Here are some natural allies.” Imagine my chagrin now. I really would like to bring more skepticism to all social justice movements. Part of the difficulty in activism lies in the uncertainty of not knowing what works, even though people have undoubtedly tried everything you’re thinking of, probably thousands of times already. You just don’t know about them because, life being what it is, the unsuccessful attempts of oppressed people to resist power don’t get recorded in the history books as much as they might. To really do a good job creating this organized pool of knowledge about tactics and theory and whatnot, though, people throughout the world need a solid understanding of the value of data collection and good methodology. It’s a tall order, but that’s what I want.

  31. says

    A little bit more and some thoughts of the other comments.

    What I said earlier was more of a how I got to the skeptic community in abstract. But like everyone elase there are specifics that involve people and groups. So no matter how group-independent I try to be we humans do get to these places through group phenomena. I have been a fan of both Ed Brayton and PZ Myers for around ten years or so, prior to Scienceblogs and posted as Joshua White at the time. I was mostly interested in skeptic/atheism/science related issues, as well as gay rights in general. When they formed FTB I came over here. Since arriving here I started reading Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, Stephanie Svan, Jen McCreight, Jason Thibeault, Dana Hunter, and Crommunist and was introduced to lots of other important issues related to other social issues that I have since made a part of my activism on a personal level.
    Later I included transexual issues and bloggers to my reading list such as Natalie Reed, and Zinnia Jones and I discovered a really big common denominator. Society as a whole acts like a big bully and tries to beat down all sorts of different people for really crappy reasons and we discovered that many atheists and skeptics are a part of that (the anti-FTB wharrgarble). If you don’t match commonly understood gender roles and behavior that’s a beat down. If you try to point out and fix places where different groups are treated differently for no good reason that’s a beat down. If you see the world in a different way because of the way your mind works or the life you have experienced that’s a beat down. I’m trying to include more race and ethnicity related bloggers now but that’s quite a reading list. I’m also paying more attention to Ally Fogg, not because I’m into the MRM or the manosphere (that group needs to clean house really bad and I won’t associate with them), but because there are legitimate places where men have issues too and when the anti-feminist groupthink gets spliced out issues such as sexual abuse against men, the invisibility of male rape, and the way society treats violence against men by women as less serious can be dealt with effectively.
    The schism in the atheist/skeptic community was, is, and continues to be a good opportunity to hone the skills we have as rational skeptics. It is additionally useful in understanding how groupthink and group oriented biases affect us individually. I’m firmly on the FTB/SWJ “side” for several reasons. Not only are the broader social goals good ones (ending harassment of many forms, ending social bias of many kinds, more), every time I’ve asked someone lashing out against those labels (and other labels and authority figures) I don’t see rational arguments backed up by evidence. I saw and continue to see emotional reactions and irrational excuses that apply skepticism inappropriately. I saw and continue to see people that make excuses for cruelty and suffering and often engage in actively making people suffer or gleefully cheer things that create such suffering on in sub-communities that seem to lack any people calling out some of the most awful antisocial behavior. I saw and continue to see some of the most irrational bullshit used to avoid what people are actually saying, and irrational or made up emotionally charged motives and characteristics used as excuses. Groups earn my loyalty and don’t have to be perfect.

    I wish I could get into the gaming aspects here in FTB at large, but my own anxiety/depression issues have drained me of my love for things I used to enjoy. I hope it’s temporary.

    @ John Horstman 8

    I’m finding that a lot of arguments, even some of the most vicious ones, are resulting from things like people using the same terms to talk about different things, talking past each other, assuming the other party knows things of which ze is actually ignorant (and then often projecting intent), etc. I’ve found that just trying to get everyone talking about the same issue in the same language can actually resolve a lot of disagreements, or if not resolve them, bring them to a space where discussion is more productive and (as kind of an unintentional and thus especially interesting side effect) less vitriolic.

    I agree totally. I think that this stems from people using the symbols, names of social/political/philosophical/religious groups (and associated authorities) as objects like they were arguments all by themselves. One of the problems is that many people are very resistant to learning what they other person means by them. I recently had a long “discussion” with someone and during the whole conversation I never referred to any of these symbols and stuck to very specific issues. Yet they kept shoving examples of what they thought was bad behavior on my “side” of the argument. It’s a tough issue to deal with.

    This is generally only true for good-faith actors, though I’ve also been noticing that a lot of (newbie, therefore somewhat clueless) good-faith actors get tagged as bad-faith actors becasue they’re coming from spaces where the only language for the issues under discussion has been supplied by bad-faith actors (e.g. intentional, self-aware anti-feminists, racists, transphobes, etc.).

    Strategically dealing with bad-faith actors is an obsession of mine. I guess I’m not really sure how effective I am but creating a space where people are willing and able to deal on good-faith despite the presence of bad-faith actors is something I like to be able to do.

    @ carlie 13

    And like hell do the assholes own it. Maybe “atheism and nothing else matters” was ok for the early days of the movement (as it were), but it needs to stand for something more now, and I’m glad that it does, and they can’t take that away.

    Movements have to start somewhere, and I think this change was inevitable so I’m not all that bothered that some of the older groups may become vestigial and drop off. The damage caused by the irrationality and illogic of religion and various forms of woo was a decent thing to organize around. But eventually people start talking about why they became atheists and skeptics, and found other ways of organizing. It’s not a thing that can be stopped.

    @ Andrew T 15

    “Movement” atheism (and, honestly, Richard Dawkins) changed the paradigm for me. Until The God Delusion and Out Campaign made waves, I felt there was little choice but to run from labels and “respect” the beliefs of believers, no matter how damaging they were. I felt that I had found a community of people like me who were angry about the same things I was, and it gave me hope that we could unite to achieve great social change towards a fairer and more sustainable world.

    This resonates with me greatly. Respect is earned. Always and for everything. Lack of ability to demonstrate why religion should be respected will be its downfall in the absence of the ability of the religious to demand respect by force, which should keep us wary of their violent rhetoric and historical tendencies to force.

    @ surreptitious46 19

    So I leave the world to change itself while I concentrate on just changing me.

    That is a very valuable insight that applies to people more broadly. We have social memory processes. There are parts of our brain that function to transmit information from the surrounding society to us and many times we just need to separate to figure out what we should think of things. Someone linked this article elsewhere on FTB and it discusses how the audio hallucinations in schizophrenia manifest differently in different cultures. I get the impression that these voices are society made manifest in the heads of some of us.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/20/opinion/luhrmann-the-violence-in-our-heads.html?_r=0

    @ left0ver1under 21

    I tend not to label myself as one and not even an ally because I occasionally (often?) screw up and say something stupid.

    This is true of me as well, so I have more than one reason to avoid labels. Some I can speak about with confidence, some I can’t. But I can always demand that another demonstrate to me where they got their understanding of what one means. I’m not as educated on the various forms of feminism as I wish I was, but I can describe myself as an ally to various feminist causes.

    @ SallyStrange 37

    I moved in hippie woo-woo circles and spent several years of my life trying to justify auras, chakras, past lives, Emoto’s water crystals, Mayan prophesies, and more.

    Me too. I went neo-pagan at first and spent some time with some neo-druids (one of which was wealthy enough to build an actual stone circle on his property, rituals were awesome). I wonder how common quitting religion immediately is versus drifting among other forms before going atheist?

    I found myself wanting to bring this scientific and intellectual rigor back to the movements I’d participated in… I really would like to bring more skepticism to all social justice movements. Part of the difficulty in activism lies in the uncertainty of not knowing what works, even though people have undoubtedly tried everything you’re thinking of, probably thousands of times already. You just don’t know about them because, life being what it is, the unsuccessful attempts of oppressed people to resist power don’t get recorded in the history books as much as they might. To really do a good job creating this organized pool of knowledge about tactics and theory and whatnot, though, people throughout the world need a solid understanding of the value of data collection and good methodology. It’s a tall order, but that’s what I want.

    Very much this. Despite the fact that I am so hyper-rational and hyper-analytical, I try to recognize that in many respects culture simple IS despite any irrationality and illogic and has to be worked with as one finds it. I try to be very careful about when it’s appropriate to reject personal feelings as a result. No matter what I think the feelings of others are real and legitimate to them, so it’s usually only when specific claims are being asserted (usually in an aggressive and domineering fashion) that require specific evidence that I get more inflexible and reflect the aggression when appropriate.

  32. Hannah Wilson says

    The two big people that brought me to skepticism were Michael Shermer and Ben Radford. So, yeah.

    Shermer was a public face that brought me to the Skeptic’s Society. Through that I started listening to podcasts. I was drawn most to MonsterTalk because monsters are cool, and talking about them scientifically is even cooler.

    Through that I found this whole world of people who actually thought and cared about the world. My thinking evolved and grew in a way I didn’t think could happen to an adult. I found my long held opinions on many issues, from feminism to medicine, growing more sophisticated and mature. I found people who didn’t laugh at you for ‘overthinking’ or being proud to know things. I found a world view (actually not skepticism, but Naturalism) that I finally felt comfortable ascribing to myself.

    As the truth came to light about Radford and Shermer (my god, can I not kept the timelines straight about when we learned what about who), it took me all of about one minute to dismiss these men as not worth defending. But that didn’t mean, and it will never mean, that I will abandon a community that has brought so much to me, and that I feel can bring so much good to our society.

    If the labels change, if the people cycle in an out, that is fine. What matters is a commitment to a world view, to a way to make our world better.

    Another thing that has grown more sophisticated as I became a skeptic is how I relate to ‘idols.’ I follow people like PZ, like Rebecca Watson and Steve Novella. And I respect and admire them. They are leaders. But when I disagree with them, it does not mean I do not still respect them.

    So why am I still here? Because, and this is going to sound smug or whatever, I think people inside this community are in general, smarter than others. Reading comments here, or at Skepchick, or listening to SGU, is at once comforting and challenging. I can find like minds, but ones who are not afraid to (reasonably and respectfully) challenge my world view.

  33. kaboobie says

    I found out about Skepticism through my now-husband, back when we started dating. He was a big fan of Penn & Teller (and still is…me, not so much); I believe he found out about Randi through them and became a regular reader of the JREF’s SWIFT newsletter (written entirely by Randi at the time, now a blog with multiple contributors). I was already an atheist and very interested in church-state separation, especially when it came to reproductive rights, LGBT rights, and science education. I found overlap within the Skeptic movement and broadened the scope of my concerns to include the anti-vaxxers, alternative medicine in general, and “psychic” scam artists.

    When my husband found out that the JREF was hosting a cruise in 2006, we decided to make it our belated honeymoon (we had married with no fanfare the previous Fall and figured we’d take a honeymoon when something interesting came along). Jeff Wagg, then a JREF employee, was organizing the cruise, and we became friends. We would go on two more cruises with the JREF, one in 2009 (where we formed lasting friendships with many Skeptics, the bulk of whom are located in Atlanta) and one in 2010. Somewhere in there, we started listening to the SGU, reading Skepchick, and eventually befriended Rebecca Watson when she started organizing Boston Skeptics pub gatherings. We started going to DragonCon when they launched the Skeptrack; my husband has been back every year since, and I’ve only missed two. (Skeptrack is no longer the draw for us, though we still love hanging out with our Atlanta friends, as well as Rebecca and other Skepchicks).

    We attended our first and only TAM in 2011 (TAM 9 from Outer Space). Jeff Wagg was no longer working for the JREF at that point (we’re still good friends and continue to go on cruises that he organizes through the College of Curiosity). While we enjoyed the programming for the most part, it didn’t seem to us to have a value to justify its cost. We also hated Vegas and had no desire to return. This was just a month after Rebecca’s “Guys, don’t do that” video came out; I heard some joking about elevators but the backlash hadn’t reached nuclear levels. That would wind up being Rebecca’s last TAM.

    Here the timeline gets a little fuzzy. How long after elevatorgate did FtB form? I know I was following Pharyngula and Greta Christina’s blog and Blag Hag prior to the formation. I discovered Jason and Stephanie and Ophelia once I got here. Irrespective of my friendship with Rebecca, I knew what side I wanted to be on in the debate over sexual harassment. My support for the JREF weakened and died, though I still value the quality time we spent with Randi on the cruises. I joined Secular Woman, attended Women in Secularism 2 and 3, added CONvergence to my annual rotation. I call myself a Feminist before anything else, then an Atheist. I don’t particularly identify with the label Skeptic anymore; I think there are still people doing good work under that banner, but not organizations.

  34. kaboobie says

    Just one quick addition: I am an Atheist pretty much by default. My parents, who were raised in different faiths, decided to bring their children up in a totally secular environment. I don’t think I ever had a god belief; if I did, it was very fleeting. Longtime “Doctor Who” fan that I am, Richard Dawkins first came to my attention as the husband of Lalla Ward, second as a biologist, and a distant third as an Atheist. I never put him or any of the other New Atheists on a pedestal. Betrayal of women and minorities by these figures didn’t hurt as much as betrayal of people I cared about by “leaders” like DJ Grothe.

  35. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

     
    Comic: XKCD – Alternative Literature

    Telling someone who trusts you that you’re giving them medicine, when you know you’re not, because you want their money, isn’t just lying – it’s like an example you’d make up if you had to illustrate for a child why lying is wrong.

     
    – I’d always been atheist, though I was reclusive enough that until adulthood, I viewed the label, even the concept, as pointless as “round-earther”. Theism in a modern informed society was unthinkable to me, like the description of homeopathy above.
    – Same with “skeptic”. IIRC Wiseman once said, “I’m a skeptic. I look at evidence before making important decisions. What do you do?”
    – Elevatorgate!!!?!?
     
    I personally dislike saying “I am an X”. I may agree with particular people or contribute, but I don’t brand myself.
     
    I look for labels to find potentially interesting people (whatever their specialties). And to recognize anyone actually arguing against X-isms that amount to basic standards of intellectual competance and decency.
     
    Before that…
    – I think I found BadAstronomy because I used to be subscribed to Discover magazine.
    – Probably found SGU from Phil Plait.
    – Found Dawkins because of “The Selfish Gene”… then read “God Delusion” because, “Hey that biologist guy wrote more books!”
    – Found Pharyngula’s “Friday Cephalopod” posts on ScienceBlogs because of XKCD.

  36. adamo says

    I’m pretty new to the issue, seeing the tip of the iceberg from your and other blogs. I don’t consider myself anything but an agnostic, meaning I’m still waiting for the answers. Hearing you describe the issue, however, it occurs to me that atheism, scepticism, or whichever label, is still on the religion spectrum, and we are, through training or instinct or whatever, merely trying to do what most other religions have been doing through centuries: define ourselves as a special group with more and better answers than the next special group, which in turn defines itself as having more and better answers, ad infinitum. Because “we” are better, “we” deserve to be defended, regardless of our outrages, or sins if that’s your language. Thus priests protecting priestly pedophiles. Or throw in any example you wish. In order to defend our better system, we need power, and in order to get power we need to prosteletize (sp?) and gain more followers. Whether we then keep those followers by claiming control over an immortal soul or by another means like mass internet trolling, those invested in control find a way.

    In short, the whole system boils down to tribalism and power. Does that fit for you? Your trying to open the tribe up to all means you take away the power of the other narrow tribes by denying them the right to say theirs is better/best/only. Being invested in control, they fight to keep from letting that stand.

  37. Pliny the in Between says

    Like a lot of people here, I enjoy learning. With conventional media largely controlled by monied interests, access to reasonably articulate alternative views is in short supply. Many of the perspectives I encounter on the various FtB sites force me to think about my own prejudices and conditioning, which is a painful but good thing. I don’t belong to any of the major organizations mainly because I find that most organizations morph into the same sort of thing over time – defenders of dogma or excuses for misbehavior. I don’t particularly look up to any of the usual suspects as role models. As many of the threads discussed in these forums prove, being an atheist or humanist doesn’t necessarily make one more empathetic or a better person – just wrong about one less thing than average. At the end of the day, few people can be trusted with a badge, a whistle, a title, or a forum.

  38. canonicalkoi says

    I’m here likely because I’m a human–a social animal. It’s nice to know that there are others out there with at least a similar outlook on life, the universe, and everything. My “real” life isn’t exactly packed with people with a same outlook.

    I’ve leaned more towards A+ since its inception. I like its social activism goals; I mean, c’mon, you can only stand around going, “Derp….you believe in bigfoot? Dude!” for so long, you know? I like A+’s stated goals of equality and an equal voice for those who usually aren’t given one. I’ve faded from earlier contacts with “normal” Atheism with the huge rise in misogynistic twits and their bellowed pap. I was embarrassed to be associated with “leaders” who committed and/or condoned sexual assault, who used their larger platform to sic hordes of rabid followers on anyone who disagreed or who would descend to sending something like the, “Dear Muslima” letter. And why belong to a group that had no interest in even considering making their cons somewhere where I and others would feel safe? Why should I care about a group whose attitude toward me is less, “Join us!” and more, “Sit down, shut up and get in the back of the bus”?

    Enough. They can keep their tent. We can make our own where everyone is welcome and where we actually change things.

  39. leni says

    This was a nice little thread you made, Jason :) Very enjoyable to read. I don’t usually read every comment all the way through, for I am possessed by the twin demons of sloth and impatience, but I did this time.

    And I am smiling. Not in a creepy way, just the regular nice way.

    Also, I really miss Crommunist and Natalie Reed :/

  40. AnotherAnonymouse says

    I’m with CanonicaKoi that “I’m here likely because I’m a human–a social animal. It’s nice to know that there are others out there with at least a similar outlook on life, the universe, and everything. My “real” life isn’t exactly packed with people with a same outlook.” I visit this blog in particular (mostly as a lurker) because I like Jason’s tech talk in addition to all the other topics he covers.

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