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Nov 04 2012

RD Extra: Remembering Paul Kurtz (1925-2012)

The following is a rebroadcast of the doubtcaster’s 2007 interview with the late humanist philosopher, author and activist Paul Kurtz.

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  1. 1
    grumpyoldfart

    Thanks. I hadn’t heard him speaking until today.

  2. 2
    Dago Red

    Not to belittle a great man…but I have to say, in his later years despite becoming very gracious in relenquishing the reins as a leader of skepticism to the younger generation, I felt he had become a bit of a crank when it came to the rise of the “new” atheists, who took skpetical criticism of religion (which Kurtz decidedly avoided in his career) to a new important place, especially here in America. While I respect Kurtz’ own position and strategy, his derision of this new flank (which I admit is not without its flaws) — precisely his silly “fundimentalist atheist” name calling in his letters published on the CFI blog, along with his inability to see the benefits of a multi-pronged approach, the need especially for young people duped by years of fundimentalist Christianity to vent their anger, and his lack of acknowledgement of the beneficial changes in societal views of atheists and religion over the last few years that coincides with the rise of the new atheist movmement — I thought was a lousy place to leave this ongoing discussion with one of the greatest skeptical minds of the 20th century. For me, this tainted the frosting on a career that was an otherwise near perfect cake.

    That siad, I still love listening to his older recordings (he was also on Point of Inquiry a number of times — for those who would like to hear more from him) and, of course, reading his books.

  3. 3
    Strider

    New show soon? Please?

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    Persian Poetry, مهدی اخوان ثالث, Mehdi Akhavan Sales

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    la femme fans

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    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

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  8. 8
    andrewviceroy

    I figured that a forum dedicated to the sorely missed reasoning of Paul Kurtz would be the most appropriate place for this (since you don’t have private email anymore). I wrote a petition to Atheism+ and I would like the Doubtcasters’ opinion of it. I wanted to do this privately for your sakes, because it appears you are trying to remain neutral, which I completely understand (and you can reply to me privately if you prefer- I’m a friend on facebook). I hope to get enough enthusiasm over this petition for it to reach all the right people and actually inspire changes sorely needed in this increasingly divided movement, but first, I’d like criticism (or praise! hehe). Here it is:

    PETITION FOR ATHEISM+ TO CHANGE ITS CHARTER LANGUAGE FROM AN EMPHASIS ON “FEMINISM” AND “WOMEN’S RIGHTS” TO AN EMPHASIS ON “GENDER EQUALITY”

    It is widely held by the charter leaders of Atheism+ residing @ Freethoughtblogs that ‘gender equality’ is implicit in the labels of “feminism” and “women’s rights.” We contend that the phrase “gender equality” is more appropriate in the charter for the following reasons:

    • “Feminism” sine qua non is too easily interpreted as “feminism” simpliciter and so is often perceived as philosophically institutionalizing inherently polemical sexual bigotry. This has caused a great strain on the atheism movement and even misperception is a pragmatic concern.
    • If ‘gender equality’ truly is implicit in the labels of “feminism” and “women’s rights,” then these labels are *still one step away* from semantic accuracy. And it matters, because as technical writers will tell you, a title should be a promise of what’s inside. Atheists spend half their lives defining the word “atheism” as it is.
    • The label “gender equality” is superior in the sense that it is more in line with the neutral American principles in the Bill of Rights, which used forward thinking to anticipate possible counterexamples of reverse favoritism in general. To semantically exclude or underrepresent one single male victim in the charter does not comport to the kind of ethical accuracy that atheists cherish. For example, we feel that “In God We Trust” or “under God” is actually semantically untrue and/or doesn’t represent us semantically (and we take issue that the Supreme Court has downplayed the semantic relevance).
    • “Gender equality” is a superior label, because it still allows for everything good in feminism, but also accommodates male victimization, which is a real and ever-potential problem in everything from custody battles to the fact that males receive more violence upon their gender than females receive (and it would be ethically fallacious to contend that because men commit more violence than females, being a male victim somehow warrants that violence upon them from other males). This makes a strong pragmatic case for the change.
    • If the use of the terms “feminism” and “women’s rights” are compensatory and/or reparative devices, there are currently no charter standards of empirical evidence for when the use of these terms should be abandoned, become irrelevant, or become less beneficial than the term “gender equality” or even, “male rights.” We submit that gender specific labels- male or female- should only be used in specific contexts and not as inappropriate umbrella labels for the movement.
    • The label “gender equality” is superior in the sense that it is more likely to prevent the fringe positions of both men and women (i.e. underlying misogyny or misandry) from actually taking over and/or from being perceived to be taking over on gender lines. It presumes, analogously, that members of a ‘purplism’ movement wouldn’t actually have as much of a propensity to be for ‘all the colors in the rainbow’ as members of a ‘rainbowism’ movement would; that there would more likely be a higher propensity for members who favor a more purple agenda in the ‘purplism’ movement.
    • If A+ truly is a progressive movement, the change of the labels “feminism” and “women’s rights” to the label “gender equality” in the charter will show atheists that A+ is capable, in the least, of semantic progress. This will be a step to healing the movement and help prevent an absolutely *unnecessary* division.
    • The division in the community creates an intuitive unwillingness to both access and support other atheist’s academic and/or social work based upon ideological barriers that are debatable and, most importantly, *can change with the context of evidence in the world*. Institutionalized sexual polemics, even with reparative, compensatory roles, are very difficult to abandon when ethics progress or the context changes.
    • “Gender equality” is not anti-women in any way; it is pro-equality. More important to being on the side of women in history is being on the side of equality in history. The face of atheism as a positive ethical proposition will be remiss in the eyes of future generations in a very salient way concerning violence upon men.

    The absolute worst thing A+ could do right now is suppress, belittle, or hand-wave away these kinds of objections to the current wording in the charter. We ask that you rise above, be real ethical leaders (if that’s how you choose to represent us to the world), and genuinely consider, with the foresight crucial to any ethical founder, what is right, what is fair, and what is best for the movement.

    Sincerely,
    Andrew D. Viceroy
    Freethoughtblogs member

    I trust the doubtcasters more than anyone to address these kinds of concerns with integrity. I hope to eventually put it in the hands of everyone who isn’t completely beligerent over this already (PZ). If I could find a way to get signatures and/or exposure from high profile people in the movement, the more the better.
    Cheers

  9. 9
    andrewviceroy

    By ‘charter,’ I mean the original standards proposed by Jen McCreight in “How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism” that high profile A+ ‘leaders’ are “amen”ing. Here, in a list of social standards, “women’s rights” are *polemically singled out*. It’s unknown to what extent this does/will *function* as a compensatory device or be more fundamentally evaluative in a long term setting. As far as I know, there is no ‘official’ committee or charter… yet.

  10. 10
    andrewviceroy

    I’ve already made an improvement. This is the better version:

    PETITION FOR ATHEISM+ TO CHANGE ITS CHARTER LANGUAGE FROM AN EMPHASIS ON “FEMINISM” AND “WOMEN’S RIGHTS” TO AN EMPHASIS ON “GENDER EQUALITY”

    It is widely held by the creators and leaders of Atheism+ residing @ Freethoughtblogs that ‘gender equality’ is implicit in the labels of “feminism” and “women’s rights.” This is in the context of “women’s rights” portayed in Jen McCreight’s seminal post: http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/08/atheism/:

    “We are…
    Atheists plus we care about social justice,
    Atheists plus we support women’s rights
    …”

    While we do support women’s rights, we contend that the phrase “gender equality” is more appropriate in an A+ umbrella charter for the following reasons:

    • If ‘gender equality’ truly is implicit in the labels of “feminism” and “women’s rights,” then these labels are *still one step away* from semantic accuracy. And it matters, because as technical writers will tell you, a title should be a promise of what’s inside. Atheists spend half their lives defining the word “atheism” as it is.
    • “Women’s rights” are often equated with “feminism.” “Feminism” sine qua non is too easily interpreted as “feminism” simpliciter and so is often perceived as philosophically institutionalizing inherently polemical sexual bigotry. This has caused a great strain on the atheism movement and even misperception is a genuine pragmatic concern.
    • The label “gender equality” is superior in the sense that it is more in line with the neutral American principles in the Bill of Rights, which used forward thinking to anticipate possible counterexamples of reverse favoritism in general. To semantically exclude or underrepresent one single male victim in the charter does not comport to the kind of ethical accuracy that atheists cherish. For example, we feel that “In God We Trust” or “under God” is actually semantically untrue and/or doesn’t represent us semantically (and we take issue that the Supreme Court has downplayed the semantic relevance).
    • “Gender equality” is a superior label, because it still allows for everything good in feminism, but also accommodates male victimization, which is a real and ever-potential problem in everything from custody battles to the fact that males receive more violence upon their gender than females receive (and it would be ethically fallacious to contend that because men commit more violence than females, being a male victim somehow warrants that violence upon them from other males). This makes a strong pragmatic case for the change.
    • If the use of the terms “feminism” and “women’s rights” are compensatory and/or reparative devices, there are currently no charter standards of empirical evidence for when the use of these terms should be abandoned, become irrelevant, or become less beneficial than the term “gender equality” or even, “male rights.” We submit that gender specific labels- male or female- should only be used in specific contexts and not as inappropriate umbrella labels for the movement.
    • The label “gender equality” is superior in the sense that it is more likely to prevent the fringe positions of both men and women (i.e. underlying misogyny or misandry) from actually taking over and/or from being perceived to be taking over on gender lines. It presumes, analogously, that members of a ‘purplism’ movement wouldn’t actually have as much of a propensity to be for ‘all the colors in the rainbow’ as members of a ‘rainbowism’ movement would; that there would more likely be a higher propensity for members who favor a more purple agenda in the ‘purplism’ movement.
    • If A+ truly is a progressive movement, the change of the labels “feminism” and “women’s rights” to the label “gender equality” in the charter will show atheists that A+ is capable, in the least, of semantic progress. This will be a step toward healing the movement and help prevent an absolutely *unnecessary* division.
    • The division in the community creates an intuitive unwillingness to both access and support other atheist’s academic and/or social work based upon ideological barriers that are debatable and, most importantly, *can change with the context of evidence in the world*. Institutionalized sexual polemics, even with reparative, compensatory roles, are very difficult to abandon when ethics progress or the context changes.
    • “Gender equality” is not anti-women in any way; it is pro-equality. More important to being on the side of women in history is being on the side of equality in history. The face of atheism as a positive ethical proposition will be remiss in the eyes of future generations in a very salient way concerning violence upon men.

    The absolute worst thing A+ could do right now is suppress, belittle, or hand-wave away these kinds of objections to the current wording in the workings of any current or proposed charter. We ask that you rise above, be real ethical leaders (if that’s how you choose to represent atheists to the world), and genuinely consider, with the foresight crucial to any ethical founder, what is right, what is fair, and what is best for the movement and each individual within it.

    Sincerely,
    Andrew D. Viceroy
    Freethoughtblogs member

  11. 11
    andrewviceroy

    Judging by the closing comments in the last episode, my intuition tells me you may be addressing A+ and/or the elevator gate issue, banning and shunning, censoring, etc. I’m currently shocked to have just had several completely benign and thoroughly respectful (though apparently threatening) posts not accepted on Richard Carrier’s blog. (His argument, from etymology, is that feminism is the same thing as gender equality. THAT’S IT. Apparently, this argument is unassailable). Anyway, in the context of squelched dissent, here are some examples of my replies that didn’t get accepted…
    *
    ME: “Thank you for your thoughtful replies Richard. I hope I can shed some more light on the problems that still exist [...] I think you misunderstand my concern. I am not advocating undermining feminism in the context of battling misogyny. I am advocating replacing it as an imbalanced gender label in an ethical charter for a movement meant to be inclusive of ALL victims of social injustice. It is inconsistent to let “we believe in social justice” cover the context of men’s rights and then isolate women’s rights as being special, even if you have your revised charter. Consider that the need you felt to do that alone shows that you already know that there is a perception issue that will affect the ability of a person who is very specific about their ideals to have to align with an overall ethical principal that can be improved semantically. In the age of extremists, charters that are not designed to thwart that are a real practical consideration for people shopping in the marketplace of ideas (as Taner Edis once called it).”
    *
    ME: “Why pick one ethical battle and ignore another at the macro-level, when it is unnecessary to do so? It appears to ride on a bias against male victims, justified by a natural implicit association with group culpability. The existence of this kind of bias makes perfect sense, considering the social science, but male perpetrator does not justify male victim. You have written in the revised charter that you agree with this, but you need to take one more step and NEUTRALIZE the charter. I mean, answer me this: why don’t you have “we believe in the rights of Native Americans” or “we believe in the rights of African Americans”? Because they are included under “social justice”? Surely you can’t say that women have suffered worse than these groups enough not to be isolated out in a charter? This is why it smells funny.”
    *
    ME: “If you truly believe that you are using the term ‘feminism’ not in order to highlight the ‘nurturing nature of women,’ but rather, their unfortunate plight at the hand of violent men, then you are championing the woman as victim. That’s fine when it’s true, but if we’re championing victims because they are victims, then gender should be irrelevant anyway. Basic ethical philosophy. You have nothing to lose.”
    *
    RICHARD: “There is simply nothing controversial about asking Atheism+ to endorse all gender equity. We already do. But that doesn’t take away the utility of all the other things we do. Thus, for example, this petition is about the way women are being treated, not men. It is therefore a feminist issue.”
    *
    ME: “Thank you. I don’t mean to criticize that petition! That’s great, but I’m not talking about the *particulars* of social justice work or their utility *inside* the movement. I’m talking about the semantic framing of an *umbrella identity* that doesn’t have a jarring and salient inconsistency. An ethical charter is not merely a to do list. As a former Taoist, you know that a “cart is more than the sum of its parts”:
    *
    *
    *
    “We are for universal transportation! We are for wheels! We are for axles! We are for pink carts!”
    *
    “YES! YES! YES!… WHAT?… I have all brown carts… too bad… because I LOVE UNPAINTED CARTS! What about people with brown carts?”
    *
    “Being for pink carts is the same thing as being pro- cart in general…”
    *
    “Well why does it have to say ‘pink’ then?”
    *
    “Pink carts have always meant ‘carts in general’ and there are people who hate pink carts and vandalize them…”
    *
    “Oh yeah, I know what you mean. They destroyed my brown carts too- and my neighbors, although one of my carts was vandalized by a pink-cart owner! I don’t why- maybe she was mad at some other brown cart owner. But did you know that while brown cart owners vandalize pink carts much more than pink cart owners vandalize carts of any color, more brown carts actually get vandalized than pink carts?”
    *
    “Well… since the people who own brown carts are the ones usually doing the crime, that’s why we can’t be “pro-brown cart.” It sends the wrong message.”
    *
    “You mean, you can’t just have ‘pro-cart’ or ‘anti-cart vandalism’ as the group’s motto, which still highlights the issue of ‘cart damage,’ and then work internally against those specific criminals over both pink and brown carts?”
    *
    “Sorry, we feel for your loss, and said as much when we said, “we are for universal transportation,” but this way is the more effective way to defend pink cart owners. Being “pro-brown cart” sends a confusing message.”
    *
    “Okay, well, it’s kind of strange that you won’t explicitly say that you’re for all carts from the getgo, rather than just pink carts, but I do hope that you reduce pink-cart vandalism, at least. Guess I’ll look for some other group who cares as much about our brown carts as pink carts to explicitly say so…”
    *
    *
    *
    ME:”The point is creating a non-polemical *umbrella* charter, in the least, for marketing reasons. And I don’t mean marketing in any shallow sense; I mean it in a pragmatic sense that actually DOES some ADDITIONAL social work, by *taking in more members to influence*. It takes into account the same psychology we appeal to constantly: linguistic cues for out-groups and in-groups have a social function that matters- even just a change in grammar makes a difference http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/10/politicians-watch-your-grammar.html.”
    *
    ME:”Founders must have foresight and humility regarding what they do not know or experience in their immediate circle. You will alienate a lot of male victims if you don’t frame your charter in an a more inclusive way. This is a fact. Why would you do this? It’s crazy for you to write over and over and over again to so many people that feminism ACTUALLY means THIS… and even knowing that people like me agree with you that most feminists are for gender equality… but then when it comes time to cash out with an umbrella charter… YOU GO POLEMICAL! You’d think you’d do it just by the evidence for accomodationism. You prefer to reify your personal grocery list for generations to come, rather than the more inclusive, “we promote groceries that makes humans thrive.”
    *
    ME: “My argument is that feminism, as a universal ethical charter label, *has the effect* of under-representing a large population of victims *beyond the ability of the nuance you’ve provided to recover it*, regardless of etymology, or whether it’s because you’re focusing on micro-agendas, or whether you or others actually do intuitively associate blame via gender (and so males deserve it. And I think you’d agree that when someone intuitively promotes feminism in a way that proposes a superior gender, i.e. ‘women are more nurturing,’ then you’re NOT for gender quality. It’s one or the other.)
    *
    ME:”I’m not going to repeat the evidence for accomodationism- and no, it does not require ANY ethical compromise on your part, just a practical one. Ethical leaders should use this knowledge to be more inclusive, while simultaneously still getting all the same benefits of what feminism really wants. This is achieved by making a bigger tent- a bigger umbrella, then working on less macro-terms from the inside out. Nothing is different, except that you get more people in the group exposed to your ideas and work, because the equality in the charter is more explicitly accurate, and therefore more salient and easier to accommodate them. It’s a practical improvement if nothing else.”
    *
    RICHARD:”If you are for gender equality you are a feminist. So there’s nothing to argue against.”
    *
    ME:”Yes, there is: it pertains to the well evidenced psychological effects of reactance/ the boomerang effect over polemics in a meta-context. That’s what I’m talking about. And it matters. You are apparently willing to perpetuate these entrenched polemical reactions, rather than liberating them. I tried to explain this in my recent posts, but it looks like you’ve deleted them all. I really wanted to have a reasonable conversation about it, but you think you’ve answered the issue. You haven’t. The etymology of feminism is not important; the reactionary behavior is what is important. To hide behind the etymological argument shows an absolutely unnecessary self-indulgence- that even a technically LESS CORRECT frame is more important than actual positive influence in our community. Breaks my heart.”
    *
    ***This was the kind of conversation deemed unworthy of being posted in the discussion at Richard Carrier’s blog on A+ (I saved it before I posted it. It was being ‘moderated’ for 5 days, then disappeared). You decide if this is justified behavior for A+ ethical charter designers. I’ve said plenty of stupid things and inaccurate things in blogs- even Carrier’s blog and probably this blog, but not this material; on this point I have strong conviction: long term ethical charters need to be as semantically inclusive as possible and focus on long term ideals, not short term polemical reaction. That these posts disappeared is just sad. Jen M did post this petition on her blog, but did not reply to it. She has stated somewhere that she ignores anything that even smells like dissent now.
    *
    The crux here is that just as neutral “secularity” is considered to be an attack on religion by theists, the ethical banner of “gender equality” in A+ is considered to be some kind of unfair concession by feminists. It’s not right.*
    *
    *
    *
    This is something to talk about in the movement.
    Cheers.

  12. 12
    andrewviceroy

    Okay, my comments are back under “moderation” status again at RCB after my complaint. Great. That’s all I ask for. I trust you guys will give the A+ issues a fair shake. What I wrote about is just a splinter. The whole idea of rebranding atheism as necessarily being secular humanism is another issue in itself. At the end of the day, A+ won’t be what I hoped for, something like Kurtz’s “planetary ethics”; it will be ‘atheist feminism.’ That’s fine, as I’ve said many times, feminism in its polemical context (i.e. against misogyny) is work to do. But it shouldn’t be macro-framed as more important than gender equality. We need to fight in-group instincts and champion ALL victims. A+ is clearly just not going to be as big and as inclusive as it could have been.

  13. 13
    andrewviceroy

    The conversation with Richard goes on, more amicably and deeply, thankfully, if anyone is interested in following it further. It’s a really meaningful conversation about gender equality worth reading from here down: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/3018/ We go down a few rabbit trails, but quickly refocus on the crux. I believe my argument still stands undefeated. It’s very difficult to deny explicitly equal representation for victims of violence based upon gender, without implying a non-sequitur that male victims deserve it because they are male or because MRAs are creepy and beligerent. Trolls are irrelevant. Male victims need sanctuary and first class recognition alongside women. That is all that need be said… but we’ll see what else is said…

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