Tribalism, empathy, atheism, and Chapel Hill

In the rush most Big Name Atheists are making to disavow or diminish the role Craig Hicks’ atheism played in his murdering three Muslim students earlier today, I am not shocked at all that some — most, even — of these Names are the same people who demanded that every Muslim disavow the actions of the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo massacre or else be judged complicit. Nuance goes right out the window when viscerally reacting to a traumatic event, and doubly so when your instincts incline you toward protecting The Tribe. Nor am I shocked at the need by some to attempt to perform contrafactual judo in order to attack the intersection of identities that they most easily consider The Enemy Tribe, pinning it on Them, Not Us. Even when the “Them” doing this are more proximate to the problem, insofar as they are the ones advocating against the pluralists and the tolerant liberals and the “Social Justice Warriors” who want people to stop being assholes to one another. All in service of defending The Tribe of Atheism against the heathen Religious who are trying to sully our good name by holding us to account for an antitheist murdering some religious folks.

I’ve said innumerable times that knowing only that someone is an atheist is insufficient information to make the determination as to whether or not they’re a good person. Dictionary atheists — those who staunchly defend the idea that Movement Atheism should be solely about antitheism and must not let our mission creep — reacted quite astonishingly antipathetic to the idea of Atheism Plus. They were evidently quite put out by the idea that one should be more than just atheist, that people who also cared about humanism and feminism and anti-racism anti-ableism and LGBTQ rights might want to find one another, befriend one another, and provide one another with support.

These people have decided that “The Movement” should only be about atheism, and that we should be a granfalloon Big Tent and we should all overlook the nasty behaviour of certain quarters of atheism. Given that said behaviour makes the environment generally toxic to various underclasses and makes the movement inaccessible to all but the whitest, dudeliest, most “un-PC” jackasses whose idea of “edgy” is telling racist or rape jokes as though nobody’s ever said shitty things about women before, this functions as entitlement over an environment.
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FtBCon 3: Confirmed Participants

Cross-posted from FtBCon:
Here’s a preliminary list of confirmed participants for Freethought Blogs’ FtBConscience 3. This list is subject to change, but at time of writing, all participants have confirmed their availability for panels and talks for the conference.

FtB Bloggers:

  • Alex Gabriel
  • Heina Dadabhoy
  • Jason Thibeault
  • Miri Mogilevsky
  • Richard Carrier
  • Russell Glasser
  • Stephanie Zvan
  • Tauriq Moosa

Invited Guests:

  • Adam Lee
  • Amy Boyle
  • Amy Davis Roth
  • Ben Blanchard
  • Caleb Harper
  • Cerberus
  • Chana Messinger
  • Cindy Cooper
  • Dan Fincke
  • Dan Linford
  • Dan Williams
  • Danny Samuelson
  • Debbie Goddard
  • Donald Wright
  • Ed Cara
  • Elizabeth
  • Erin
  • Franklin Veaux
  • Harry Shaughnessy
  • Hiba Krisht
  • HJ Hornbeck
  • James Billingham
  • James Croft
  • Jared Axelrod
  • Josiah “Biblename”
  • Karen Hill
  • Karen Stollznow
  • Kaveh Mousavi
  • Kay Vee
  • Lauren Lane
  • Leigh Honeywell
  • Lilandra Ra
  • MA Melby
  • Mai Dao
  • Maria Greene
  • Matt Lowry
  • Michael Damian Thomas
  • Michael Nam
  • Michelle Huey
  • Misha Greenbaum
  • Misty Taylor
  • Monette Richards
  • Muhammad Syed
  • Neil Wehneman
  • Nick Fish
  • Nick Geiger
  • Niki Massey
  • Olivia James
  • Raina Rhoades
  • Razib Khan
  • Reem Abdel-Razek
  • Rich Wisneski
  • RJ Redden
  • Sakeena Almulhida
  • Sastra / Sue Strandberg
  • Scott Lohman
  • Shelly Henry
  • Susan Porter
  • Tim Farley
  • Trina Gardinier
  • Tristan Miller
  • Valerie Aurora
  • Vic Wang
  • Vivian
  • Vyckie Garrison
  • Wesley Fenza
  • Yau Man Chan

We hope to add more to our roster as panels are finalized in the run up to the convention. Hope to see you there!

Brief thoughts on Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech

Satire depends heavily on the cultural context in which it was made. Charlie Hebdo is certainly a leftist rag, and certainly satire, and certainly understood as such within France’s cultural context. However, there are some universals about satire that people, time and again, forget.

The first and most important thing to remember is that satire can damage just as much as the original offense, and sometimes more. Charlie Hebdo’s satire was about taking some aspect of the news cycle — some politician or celebrity who held racist and sexist views — and illustrating the logical end result of those views. In a context where a great deal of damage has been done by outright propaganda by outright racists and sexists, where “Evil Banker Jew” and “Monkey-Like Black Person” are well-worn tropes, depicting them as though you’re resurrecting the trope in order to scandalize the person who still holds those views is fraught and potentially more damaging to the person who’s damaged by the original racism.

The second thing to remember about satire is that it is a powerful weapon, to be wielded carefully so as to avoid splash damage. Attacking a class — or being perceived to be attacking a class — that is already under siege by society, is “punching down”. Even if you’re trying to shame the person who’s holding an antisemitic or anti-black or anti-woman view, you could very well legitimize or normalize attacks on that class of person by increasing the number of instances where it’s perceived to be acceptable. Increasing the frequency of a meme does not NECESSARILY legitimize it, but it CAN.
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The curious case of a man named James who thinks the secular community should be in bloody civil war

A few nights ago, a post hit my moderation queue on movement cohesion, wherein I speculate that there is no single unified movement, and that as long as the introduction of other values into particular communities continues, “rifts” will only solidify where people have fewer common traits. In my post I further fretted regarding the requests frequently made of feminists, anti-racist activists, gays and trans folk, to swallow their other causes; to put their causes outside of atheism aside in order to cohabitate in a “big tent” with anti-feminists and anti-social-justice folks — who are themselves never asked to stop with their targeted harassment, their bullying, their hate speech.

Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson just released a joint statement that amounts to a request of our communities: stop doing all of that. Included in that request is a statement by Dawkins that he does not, even tacitly, support the people engaging in such tactics.

I’m certain that James In The West, who left this lengthy screed on my earlier post, has since seen Dawkins’ statement and wishes he could recant on his strange fan-fiction.
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CONvergence 2014 panel audio: Superheroes in our Modern Day Pantheons

This conversation ended up taking quite a few unexpected twists, including a lengthy interjection by a stalwart of the comic books industry that you’ll need to hear if you’re any sort of comics nerd. It was a small room, thankfully, and he was seated in the front, so it should be relatively audible. The panel also took a number of theological turns that I wasn’t expecting, mostly owing to ideological differences between myself and one of the panelists.

Nobody really worships Hercules or Thor as Greek and Norse gods anymore, but don’t despair, because now they’re both members of The Avengers. This panel will explore the commonalities and differences between our ancient and modern pantheons.

Panelists: David Schwartz, Jason Thibeault, Roy T Cook, Jonathan Palmer, Ryan Consell

Sincere apologies for the noise at about 20 mins — I tried to quiet it somewhat, but you may want to be careful with your volume then nonetheless. Ryan Consell dumped half a bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper on my phone when he reacted to a comment by one of the other panelists. Luckily, the phone survived, and wasn’t even sticky thanks to it being “diet”. But boy did mopping it up cause a racket on the mic!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(or download the Superheroes in our Modern Day Pantheons mp3 – 31.1 megs)

Morgentaler Clinic saved, temporarily!

The FundRazr campaign I blogged about recently has been fully funded, and New Brunswick’s only reproductive health clinic that offers abortion services has been saved from impending bankruptcy!

Canada.com reports:

The Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton is slated to close when their lease expires at the end of July due to lack of funds. Unlike every other province with private abortion clinics, the New Brunswick government refuses to provide funding for abortion services unless they are performed in a hospital and are deemed “medically necessary” by two doctors.

With time running out, more than 1,100 people have now donated more than $100,000 to a crowdfunding campaign on FundRazr.com. The group behind the campaign, Reproductive Justice NB (RJNB), plans to use the funds to negotiate a new lease agreement for the clinic’s building on Brunswick Street in Fredericton.

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Maddow: The long history of violence in the anti-choice movement

If you imagine yourself to be defending free speech when you laud the Supreme Court for overturning a buffer zone law, mandating that protesters can’t swarm over abortion clinic patients intimidating them, then you have no sweet clue what “free speech” is. The violence and outright terrorism that happens at abortion protests, that buffer zones have actually helped to curtail to a degree, is not “free speech”.

Ontario public health policy under review, religious exception for doctors debated

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has written the current public policy, adopted by Ontario in December 2008, which binds physicians to provide Human Rights Code-mandated services without discrimination for any reason, including religious or moral beliefs of the physician.

This means that physicians cannot make decisions about whether to accept individuals as patients, whether to provide existing patients with medical care or services, or whether to end a physician-patient relationship on the basis of the individual’s or patient’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status and/or disability.

That code is currently being reviewed, and people are being asked to submit comment:

The College recognizes that religious and moral beliefs are central to the lives of physicians and their patients. The current policy addresses situations in which physicians’ personal, moral or religious beliefs may affect or limit the medical services they provide. The policy provides physicians with an overview of the relevant legal obligations and factors related to these situations. The policy also articulates the College’s own expectations for physicians who limit their practice, refuse to accept individuals as patients or end a physician-patient relationship on the basis of moral or religious belief.

Have Your Say

We would like to hear your thoughts on the current policy, along with suggestions you may have for how the policy could be improved.

In particular, we are interested to know:

  • Does the policy provide useful guidance?
  • Are there issues not addressed in the current policy that should be addressed? If so, what are they?
  • Are there other ways in which the policy should be improved?

Please provide your feedback by August 5, 2014.

[…]

The feedback obtained during this consultation will be carefully reviewed and used to evaluate the draft. While it may not be possible to ensure that every comment or suggested edit will be incorporated into the revised policy, all comments will be carefully considered.

Obviously, this is a cultural touchstone for reproductive rights activists, as religious folks have primarily held the anti-abortion banner and their current assault on those reproductive rights in Canada — fully legal since Morgentaler, mind you — are presently being eroded via a series of legislation changes that allow religious doctors to refuse to provide medically-indicated services that conflict with what they believe their religion contraindicates.

We can safely assume this is entirely a concern as pertains abortion, and not some other religious mandate, because not one single instance of a Jehovah’s Witness doctor refusing to give a blood transfusion has hit the press, whereas Jehovah’s Witness patients refusing blood transfusions abound (often despite legal challenges initiated by doctors).

The issue is reportedly largely being ignored in Ontario; the religiously-motivated anti-abortionists are spreading disinformation and getting a disproportionately loud voice on what channels do exist, likely owing to the word being spread through anti-abortion camps. Since we around these parts happen to believe that women deserve basic human rights and that bodily autonomy is one of those rights, I figured it might be good to get the word out and try to tip the scales back toward the only morally justifiable stance on abortion: any time, by any woman, for any reason.

You can leave feedback here, or better yet, take the online survey.

There is also a poll, which at time of writing was already heavily tipped by others’ efforts in the atheist community:

Do you think a physician should be allowed to refuse to provide a patient with a treatment or procedure because it conflicts with the physician’s religious or moral beliefs?

No (81%, 5,575 Votes)
Yes (18%, 1,247 Votes)
Don’t know (1%, 22 Votes)
Total Voters: 6,844

Feel free to tip that even further toward the side of more perfect morality, as well!

Huge tip of the hat to George Waye. Cheers, mate.

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?
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