One-sided dichotomies

“One-sided dichotomy” is a term I would like to coin to describe a common situation in public discourse.

My first example is the distinction between second-wave feminism and third-wave feminism. Ostensibly, second-wave feminism describes a movement circa the 1970s, and third-wave feminism describes a movement circa the 2010s. But it should be obvious that feminists in the 1970s did not at the time make any such distinction. Thiss is a dichotomy between two groups, but the dichotomy is only made by one of the two groups. Thus, a one-sided dichotomy.

One-sided dichotomies have a tendency to be unfair, because it is only one side controlling the narrative. The narrative goes that second-wave feminists were primarily focused on equality for wealthy white women, while third-wave feminism is intersectional. But closer examination should show that at least some feminisms of the 70s were intersectional, and some feminisms of the present day fail to be so. Does that mean the dichotomy is unfair, or am I nitpicking?  You decide.

I must emphasize that one-sided dichotomies are not necessarily unfair. A model example is the gay/straight dichotomy, which certainly started out one-sided. Straight people would have rejected the label (“I’m not straight, I’m just normal”) or simply wouldn’t have given it any thought. Now the dichotomy is broadly accepted. Another dichotomy currently following the same trajectory, is the cis/trans dichotomy.

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After atheism, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop

In New Atheism: The Godlessness that Failed, Scott Alexander explains how New Atheism was a much bigger phenomenon than younger people realize, and theorizes about its demise.  Scott’s hypothesis is that New Atheism seamlessly transitioned into the social justice movement (while leaving the remaining atheist movement behind with all the anti-social-justice folks).  I don’t entirely agree, but I’ve advocated similar theories myself.

But as much as I enjoy theorizing about the demise of New Atheism, I’d like to highlight a point Scott makes in his conclusion:

I’ve lost the exact quote, but a famous historian once said that we learn history to keep us from taking the present too seriously. This isn’t to say the problems of the present aren’t serious. Just that history helps us avoid getting too dazzled by current trends, or too swept away by any particular narrative.

The “current trend”, the current paradigm of the culture wars, is social justice.  As a former atheist activist, and current social justice activist, I am perpetually concerned that social justice will crash and burn the same way atheism did.  I mean, isn’t it practically guaranteed?  Do you really think that 10-20 years down the road, people will be concerned about the same things?

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Grumpy takes on atheist sayings

Inspired by a comment I made in my last article, I’m making a listicle of common atheist sayings, many of which I had objections to even when I was involved in the atheist movement.

I want to stick to quotes that I’ve actually heard atheists repeating and paraphrasing multiple times.  And, it’s pretty hard to come up with a list like that, because any search for atheist sayings just turns up much more obscure quotes, voted up by… whoever hangs around websites that collect quotes.  So, I’m sure I missed a few, and if commenters identify a bunch then I might make another listicle.

Before I get to the list proper, let’s start with a grumpy take on atheist quotememes.  This is an image search for “atheist sayings”:

Results of an image search for atheist sayings. Mostly images of black and white faces next to quotes.

Atheists sure like quotes in overwrought fonts next to shadowed grayscale faces of celebrities.  This felt worthy of parody, so I amused myself by making a Pikachu meme.

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In (reluctant) defense of the atheist movement

Something I hear people say, is that self-identified atheists, and “new atheists”, are terrible. They’re racist and sexist, and their main mission is to bring about the death of religion through a series of trite “gotcha” arguments. Now, as someone who was involved in “new atheism” from 2007 to 2017, and then quit for some of those very same reasons, I always want to say, “Yes, but also no.”

Yes, the atheist movement is terrible, but no it has not always been so, and is not wholly so. In particular, you should not assume that every self-identified atheist is just a Dawkins fanboy armed with a series of atheist proverbs. I mean, I participated in the atheist movement for a decade and I was in fact never a Dawkins fan, and I spent many years complaining about atheist proverbs myself. Yes, be critical of the atheist movement, but be careful that it doesn’t veer into stereotyping and sweeping generalizations.

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The burden of proof and God

Because I recently discussed a blog post from March 2013, I was wondering what *I* was writing around the time.  So here’s a blog post from that period.  Please note that my opinions from six years ago do not necessarily reflect my current opinions.

One of the more tedious arguments concerning gods is the argument over who has the burden of proof.  Whereas many atheists argue that the theist must first make the argument for the existence of gods, their opponents argue that this is a cop out.  For example, on NY Times:

Contemporary atheists often assert that there is no need for them to provide arguments showing that religious claims are false. Rather, they say, the very lack of good arguments for religious claims provides a solid basis for rejecting them. The case against God is, as they frequently put it, the same as the case against Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. This is what we might call the “no-arguments” argument for atheism.

I take the side of atheists; I think theists have the burden of proof.  This is not about giving atheists an unfair advantage in the debate, nor is it about making a “no-arguments” argument.  In fact, I do not believe it is an advantage, fair or otherwise, at all.  It’s simply about who takes which role.

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The ghost of atheist past

A few days ago, PZ Myers pointed to Atheist Day, a new annual event sponsored by Atheist Republic and a handful of other organizations.  PZ didn’t care for the idea, and described Atheist Republic as

very 2005

Glancing at Atheist Republic‘s website I thought this description was apt.  However, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for an atheist organization to be 10+ years behind the times.  Let me expand that thought.

Last month I looked at some postmortems of the atheist movement, and there were two main themes: 1) atheists screwed up on social justice issues, and 2) atheism is simply declining in relevance as a personal identity.  The atheist movement is dead to me, because I lived through the entirety of the atheist gender wars, and also because I live in a location where nobody cares that I’m an atheist.  However, it stands to reason that this is dependent on your personal background and geographic location.  A social movement doesn’t just go poof, and there will definitely be hangers-on for a long time to come.

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Religion as an axis of oppression

Earlier, when I was talking about the death of the New Atheist movement, and I mentioned the idea that New Atheism contained an implicit critique of social justice norms. In social justice, it is common to treat religion as just another axis of oppression, similar to race, gender, or orientation. Religious minorities, such as Muslims, are seen as an oppressed group. However, New Atheism problematized the social justice framing by pointing to the harm caused by religion. New Atheism wanted to make it socially acceptable to argue about religious beliefs.

So, I’m curious how this all rolled out, especially among readers who participated in New Atheism and then shifted towards social justice. How did you view religious minorities around five years ago? Have your views changed since then? If so, why?

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