Amanda Marcotte politely discusses the consequences of the CFI statement

Far more politely than it deserves, anyway.

If you want an effective movement with a broad reach, this is roughly the dumbest move you could make. However, if your goal is to reinforce the public’s belief that secularism and atheism particularly is nothing but a bunch of misanthropic white guys whose only real goal is feeling superior to believers but who don’t care about making real change in the world, well job well done. And fuck you.

I really wish I could have overheard what was going on in the CFI boardroom, because while straining to avert a PR disaster, they seem to have instead launched a PR armageddon. What were they thinking?

Even if they were trying to chart the maximally inoffensive course between jagged shoals, that horribly written limp noodle of a mindless document was going to offend simply due to it’s astounding vapidity.

Comments

  1. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I wish I could believe the CFI Board and Lindsay care about the backlash they’re getting today, but they’re probably too busy soaking in the adulation they’re getting from the Slymers and the “OMG, PZ was mean to me once” cabal.

  2. anteprepro says

    Well, now instead of people complaining about Lindsay, there are going to be complaints about the whole organization now. My bet: they mostly ignore/dismiss the incoming barrage of complaints, double down on their lack of a stance, and enter into full damage control mode.

  3. carlie says

    My bet: they mostly ignore/dismiss the incoming barrage of complaints, double down on their lack of a stance, and enter into full damage control mode.

    My bet: any loss of income they have in the next quarter will be blamed directly on Amanda, Rebecca, and PZ by name, and all feminists by group. We will be the bad ones because we are blocking them from doing their good skeptical work, we will be the ones creating rifts, and we will be the ones being told to “apologize for that behavior”.

  4. eigenperson says

    Why is Marcotte being so nice? I thought she was supposed to be a horrible mean feminazi harpy monster. I’m disappointed.

  5. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I am a progressive, a feminist, and an atheist. If you’re not with me on 1 & 2, I’ll be fucked if I help you with 3.

  6. Ben says

    For several years, I had considered myself a progressive first and foremost, who just happened to be an atheist. The whole fallout the last 2 years from the backlash to elevator-gate has served to reinforce that stance. Humans have such an astonishing capacity for compartmentalization that holding rational views in one area has almost no bearing on one’s positions in another. Given that affluent societies tend to become less religious over time, it seems to me that atheist social activism puts the cart before the horse. Conversely, humanity is facing such grave crises this century that it is vital for all socially conscious individuals to work together at solving them regardless of religious views. FIRST achieve and equitable and just society, and only then the twilight of organized religion follow naturally.

  7. consciousness razor says

    For several years, I had considered myself a progressive first and foremost, who just happened to be an atheist. The whole fallout the last 2 years from the backlash to elevator-gate has served to reinforce that stance.

    How have the failings of some progressives, over as many years as you’d like to count, changed (or reinforced) your stance toward progressivism?

    Given that affluent societies tend to become less religious over time, it seems to me that atheist social activism puts the cart before the horse. Conversely, humanity is facing such grave crises this century that it is vital for all socially conscious individuals to work together at solving them regardless of religious views. FIRST achieve and equitable and just society, and only then the twilight of organized religion follow naturally.

    I disagree, and I don’t see how it could follow from your first premise even if the correlation/causation issue were sorted out in its favor. There are plenty of sound criticisms to make from an atheist, agnostic, skeptical, secular and/or anti-clerical/anti-religious point of view. It’s not necessary that we first “achieve [an] equitable and just society” simply to make them. They can be an effective part of the overall strategy now, along with others coming from a “purely” egalitarian or liberal political angle without reference to religion, faith, pseudoscience, etc.

  8. =8)-DX says

    PZ, limp noodles are an understatement. Flaccid, retracted, and otherwise shrunken members would be a more approtiate metaphor, except this would be an insult to those actually genitally impaired. The only ways this could be seen as a victory for reason and humanity, would be if this was a diplomatic precursor to Lindsays upcoming resignation, followed by a deluge of personal, official and other apologies of the following

  9. =8)-DX says

    …leadership. That or a cynical smirk at the idea that this was the most assertive statement the old white guy in charge could push through. Guess he’s been censored or something.

  10. says

    I’ve been saying since maybe two years ago that this seems nearly intentionally designed to drive people away, and I feel like the pattern has really emerged to reinforce my earlier hunch. This isn’t just about protecting generalized privilege, it is also about specific people in leadership positions protecting their spot and the cash that comes along with it for themselves and their organizations. It is painfully obvious that these “leaders” are woefully ill-suited for their current status(takes one to know one?), and if they allow their organizations to get any bigger they’ll be flooded with people who will quickly supplant them.

    Hell, CFI’s board might have been scared shitless by the success of the Women in Secularism conferences, and are looking to nip that shit in the bud before their other conferences start looking poorly-run by comparison?

  11. Eristae says

    @consciousness razor

    I’m not Ben, but I will answer for myself.

    I am interested in the atheist movement only to the degree that the atheist movement is associated with and fighting for social justice. I do not care about the atheist movement for any other reason. I have never cared about the atheist movement for any other reason. The only reason I got involved at all was because the leaders of the atheist movement (like Richard Dawkins) chose to present religion as a major (if not the major) cause of social injustice. However I felt about the strength with which they blamed religion, I was given the impression that this concern with social justice was genuine rather than simply disingenuous mudslinging to damage the opposition.

    However, it has become increasingly clear that, to a sizable portion of the atheist movement, minority rights (including women’s rights) are only of interest when they can be used to score points against the opposition. To these people, sure, it may be great to criticize religion for marginalizing women, but that’s only until they encounter a group of women who are being marginalized independently of religion. When that happens, all of a sudden the marginalization of women is off topic and unimportant.

    This means that I entered the atheist movement under false pretexts. I was sold a bill of false goods. If I choose to leave the atheist movement, to return the good so to speak, that is my right. I am not obligated to be involved in a movement that is disinterested in my priorities because other movements have issues. If I find those other movements to better fit my needs than the atheist movement does, then the atheist movement has no right or ability to demand that I stay.

    I am not interested in the “atheist movement” any longer. There are sections of the atheist movement that I still feel inclined to throw myself behind, but only sections. CFI has illustrated quite clearly that I can’t simply trust that a “skeptical” organization, even a large and well established one, has anything to do with anything I care about. If the atheism movement as a larger entity wants my support (and many people will out and out tell you that they don’t want support from people like me), then they need to earn it, not simply expect it.

  12. CaitieCat says

    I’m with Eristae, all the way. Very well said. Atheism is only something I’m interested in being an activist about in so far as that accords with my other goals. If atheism isn’t interested in taking that path, then I wave bye-bye to atheism and keep on walking.

  13. consciousness razor says

    I am interested in the atheist movement only to the degree that the atheist movement is associated with and fighting for social justice.

    Okay. To the extent we’re referring to a movement about society and how society ought to be, then I agree that it should be fighting for social justice. It shouldn’t be opposed to that; it shouldn’t be pretending to have a neutral stance; and it shouldn’t be doing it simply to forward its own agenda while being ready to drop its support as soon as that comes into conflict with something else (e.g., by being about increasing membership, scoring rhetorical points against religions or conservative wingnuts, etc.).

    But as an atheist, I’m concerned with the truth and how we can relate to the truth, for example, even when it doesn’t have any obvious connection with society or justice or any sort of political issue. So there’s also value in having a community that can share their understanding and analysis of other aspects of the world, how we can and should interact with it, and so on. If that’s not “the atheist movement” per se, but just one facet of it, that’s fine with me. Or maybe we should have separate terms when it comes to this kind of distinction; it doesn’t matter to me, as long as we’re not assuming that everything worth thinking about or spending our time on (for an atheist) is stuff that has to do with social justice. It may be the only thing you care about (though I doubt it), but even though it’s extremely important to me, I don’t think it’s the only thing that matters.

  14. Steve LaBonne says

    I too stand with Ben and Eristae. What I have in common with UUs or UCCers or liberal Episcopalians who are working for social justice- and by the way, separation of church and state- is vastly more important than what I have in common with the likes of Lindsay. I have long considered the nest of Randroids that is pleased to style itself the “skeptical” “movement” to be worse than useless, and they have demonstrated that I was right about that.

  15. says

    Funny how the atheist movement seems to have been able to take LGBT issues on board (caveat: from my cis-straight perspective), but balked when asked to do the same for women’s issues. Unless of course the women in question are safely Somewhere Else, because that’s where all the Real Misogynists are.

    And what Eristae said. I was into social justice issues (in a modest way) when I was a Christian. I read Sojourners (though I could not now accept their waffling on LGBT), did some stuff with a local disarmament group, joined the Amnesty chapter someone at my church started, and the last church we attended was a fully LGBT-accepting congregation. And with the crap going on at CFI both in the US and Canada, I wonder if I shouldn’t find some other cause to spend my time on — because while truth has a value in itself, convincing people there’s no gods for it’s own sake doesn’t seem to be as important as helping people and improving the world in more direct ways. (Or maybe I’m just grumpy tonight. I have plenty of reasons to be!)

    And if I have to roll my eyes and sigh quietly when someone expresses their motivation to do good in religious terms, that’s more still comfortable than holding my nose when the Slymepit has another eruption.

  16. says

    Here’s the thing. Skepticism is an essential tool for the social justice movement. Debunking myths and teasing out the correct science about a particular issue is one of the most important things that social justice activists do on a daily basis. But the skeptical/atheist movement is worthless if it fights ONLY those religious harms that affect a small segment of society – the white men who make up the ranks of right-leaning libertarians. Skepticism is too useful to let them monopolize it, but apparently they’re going to throw a tantrum until they have it all to themselves again or until someone shuts them up.

  17. bad Jim says

    Here’s another thing: atheism only thrives in societies in which social justice has prevailed. Socioeconomic insecurity and religious intensity are so strongly correlated as to be nearly synonymous. The most effective way to spread atheism, it seems, is to make sure that everybody’s taken care of. (Jerry Coyne pushes this line from time to time.)

  18. Eristae says

    Okay. To the extent we’re referring to a movement about society and how society ought to be, then I agree that it should be fighting for social justice. It shouldn’t be opposed to that; it shouldn’t be pretending to have a neutral stance; and it shouldn’t be doing it simply to forward its own agenda while being ready to drop its support as soon as that comes into conflict with something else (e.g., by being about increasing membership, scoring rhetorical points against religions or conservative wingnuts, etc.).

    So far we agree.

    But as an atheist, I’m concerned with the truth and how we can relate to the truth, for example, even when it doesn’t have any obvious connection with society or justice or any sort of political issue. So there’s also value in having a community that can share their understanding and analysis of other aspects of the world, how we can and should interact with it, and so on. If that’s not “the atheist movement” per se, but just one facet of it, that’s fine with me. Or maybe we should have separate terms when it comes to this kind of distinction; it doesn’t matter to me, as long as we’re not assuming that everything worth thinking about or spending our time on (for an atheist) is stuff that has to do with social justice. It may be the only thing you care about (though I doubt it), but even though it’s extremely important to me, I don’t think it’s the only thing that matters

    What is this thing that you believe is connected with truth and how we relate tot he truth but not to social justice? Because I’m sorry, but I don’t think social justice can be separated from anything humans do, and only those in positions of extreme privilege can even act like or believe it can. I don’t mean this as an insult (people seem to have decided that “privilege” is an insult), but as a statement of fact. For the most part, I am extraordinarily privileged. I am white. I am educated. I am of reasonable income. I am able bodied. These are all areas where I can be completely blind to oppression that anyone facing the oppression get smacked in the face with.

    However, I am a woman. Wherever I go, I am a woman. I don’t even get out the door in the morning without my gender informing who I am. What shampoo I use, what clothes I wear, how I style my hair, the types of things I put on my face, all are tied up with my being a woman, and that’s before I’ve even interacted with another human being.

    I used to believe that I could be something other than “a woman in the skeptical movement,” something defined apart from my gender. I thought I could be a mind and a person in a way that didn’t depend on my chromosomes or genitals or anything else.

    I was wrong.

    Going on three years ago I watched Rebecca Watson (someone whom I was almost entirely unfamiliar with at the time) say, “Guys, don’t do that,” and the atheist community implode in response. If you had told me four years ago that those four words were going to be used as the justification to start such a horrible, massive shitstorm of hate, I would have laughed at you. But we’re still here, with death threats, rape threats, photoshopping of people’s heads on to pornographic images and images of animals, twitter bombs of conference hashtags, and howls of “feminazi” with liberal applications of “hysterical bitch” and “ugly cunt.” Here we are with some women already harassed out of the movement and the harassers doing their damnedest to harass out even more. When that’s going on, when I know that saying something as mild as, “Don’t do that,” could result in multi-year campaigns of death threats, rape threats, and more, I don’t get to forget that I’m a woman. When I’ve watched women who were better known, better liked, and who have contributed more to the movement be turned on without hesitation for daring to assert themselves as women, I don’t get to forget that I’m a woman. When the CEO of a major skeptical movement ignores all this in favor of being upset that people aren’t being properly deferential to his position and point of view, I don’t get to forget that I’m a woman. I never forget, not anymore.

    I can’t go into a conversation where people declare that they will speak solely on “the truth and how we can relate to the truth” and forget that I’m a woman, because it’s quite clear that no one else in that room will forget it, not really. Ignore it? Sure, at least superficially and at least when I’m doing what they want. But the minute I step out of line, I’ll be that ugly, hysterical, feminazi, bitch cunt. My truth will always be bound to that fact.

    Maybe you can navigate the skeptical community without having to deal with social justice and how it relates to you. Maybe you’re in a position where your humanity isn’t being questioned, or at least you think it isn’t. After all, I used to believe that the skeptical movement was such a place, and I’m a woman.

    I was wrong.

  19. Eristae says

    @consciousness razor

    I just wrote you a post. I think it got caught in moderation. Hopefully it will come out soon. It should be above this post somewhere.

    Also, thanks to everyone said nice things about my post! It gives me the happys

  20. leftwingfox says

    Skepticism is an essential tool for the social justice movement.

    Agreed. It’s a shame that a significant number of skeptics see it like a Mensa membership; a mark of tribal superiority. It’s easy to claim you know the truth. It’s much harder to know if they actually are.

  21. says

    Eristae, if it’s this one you were referring to, then let me congratulate you for putting your finger on something disturbing that has stuck out like a sore thumb for some time – the use of people as mere debating points, to throw back against religion.

  22. bad Jim says

    While we’re being nice, I once again want to commend Sally Strange, who has been indefatigable over at Pandagon, and Eristae, of course.

    Actually, comparing comments in both places, the people here are a lot gentler, which is only funny when you know what other people say about the viciousness at FTB.

  23. Ichthyic says

    This is just one long cluster-fuck of horrible vacuity, isn’t it?

    that works for both the CFI response, and the post by Ben just above yours.

  24. Antares42 says

    That the CFI is pulling the old “We’re sorry you’re offended” notpology is a monumental disappointment.

  25. Steve LaBonne says

    It’s a shame that a significant number of skeptics see it like a Mensa membership; a mark of tribal superiority.

    “New (Gnu) Atheism” unfortunately is not completely free of that, either. Atheism+ is a thing that was badly needed, and is the only atheist movement that I can get behind. Truth is a key with which to unlock minds, not a club with which to beat people who don’t belong to your tribe.

  26. smhll says

    But as an atheist, I’m concerned with the truth and how we can relate to the truth, for example, even when it doesn’t have any obvious connection with society or justice or any sort of political issue. So there’s also value in having a community that can share their understanding and analysis of other aspects of the world, how we can and should interact with it, and so on.

    That sounds nice, but…

    I don’t find Ron Linsday’s comments on feminist usage of the terms “privilege” and “shut up” to be well founded in fact, or to reflect any deep reading of the available source texts. I think quite a few men see the word privilege used in a sentence and feel personally affronted. I think this emotional reaction often causes their reading comprehension to drop precipitously, despite the many ways I have seen the concept of privilege explained in detail.

    I would like to discuss the truth value of Lindsay’s assertions. I think the examples he later gave are not at all on point. At some point we probably should talk about usage of the “p word”, but with real examples from women bloggers or commenters (on atheist topics).

  27. Liz says

    Skepticism is only really useful when applied to your own thinking…not relentless outward first…inward first…in this a large number of people who “do not see the connections” and act belligerently to defend their ignorance about those connections – fail on all counts.

  28. consciousness razor says

    What is this thing that you believe is connected with truth and how we relate tot he truth but not to social justice?

    There are lots of things which matter and don’t fall under the heading of “social justice” as I understand it. Epistemology and aesthetics, just to give two very broad categories which are undeniably valuable, because they’re about things everyone values one way or another. There are certainly a lot of justice-related issues in both of those areas, but they don’t make up everything there is to say about the subject. Even ethics isn’t (and shouldn’t be) focused entirely at the social level, because there are also perfectly valid (and valuable) things to say about what people should do at the personal level which couldn’t be expressed in those terms. (It isn’t clear to me that ethics at the social level should all work in those terms either, but I won’t even try to address that now.) The point is, unless “social justice” were construed so broadly and vaguely that it encompasses everything that’s worth any fucking thing at all (in which case, I don’t think the phrase is nearly as useful), there’s a whole lot to life besides that, which we shouldn’t simply ignore or dismiss.

    Maybe you can navigate the skeptical community without having to deal with social justice and how it relates to you. Maybe you’re in a position where your humanity isn’t being questioned, or at least you think it isn’t. After all, I used to believe that the skeptical movement was such a place, and I’m a woman.

    Not even close to what I’m saying. Far from it. We all ought to deal with social justice. My point is just that there’s more where that came from. This is not in any way to diminish its importance, but to avoid overlooking everything else.

  29. says

    @26: A minor nit: believe it or not, “elevatorgate” was a mere *two* years ago. It just seems so much longer.

    It started while I was on vacation and therefore off the net, and by the time I got back it was already layers deep in accusation, counter-accusation and innuendo. At first, not knowing the background, I ignored it as being just another internet dust-up which would die down in a few weeks (because I know from experience that when you’re not at the beginning of these things, figuring out how it got started is usually a frustrating waste of time). But it didn’t — it just got bigger and bigger until no one could ignore it. From such a moderate request, mildly expressed? Srsly?

    I’d been wondering for a while whether there was going to be a showdown between the progressive and libertarian wings of the atheist/skeptical/secular movement. It’s increasingly looking like this is it, except it arrived disguised as being about feminism.

  30. mas528 says

    I have never seen any social justice work on FTB and certainly not in A+.

    I’ve sseen a lot of whinng, YOu

  31. Lofty says

    mas528

    I have never seen any social justice work on FTB and certainly not in A+.
    I’ve sseen a lot of whinng, YOu

    You are an incoherent fool?

  32. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    That’s impressive. I’ve never seen any whinng, YOu. I feel left out.

  33. consciousness razor says

    Uh, hmm…. translating….

    A whinge and a prayer?

    Brevity is wit, Chris.