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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Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week bloggin’

This week was Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week (ASAW). It’s a little visibility event that has been going on for a few years, but this year there’s been more promotion, so that I actually knew about it ahead of time. Also, this month I helped organize a blogging carnival and I wrote an article for my other blog, so now I’m fired up about it. These are my responses to the ASAW question prompts.

I suppose some readers might come here and just have no idea what I’m talking about.  Aromantic, what’s that?  Luckily I wrote up some aromantic basics.

1. Discovery

I remember back in 2008 when I had a conversation with some college friends wondering why I had never been interested in anyone. My understanding based on cultural narratives was that, as a guy, I was supposed to be interested in some girl and then spend a lot of time waffling before finally summoning the courage to ask her out. I thought if it happened to me I would be courageous enough, but had hit a little snag: where was the girl? I went to an all-boys high school, and thought that I’d find someone after a few years in college, but there was nothing, not even close. My friends were completely unhelpful.

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Atheist movement postmortems

PZ Myers recently linked to a postmortem of New Atheism written by a Jacob Hamburger, and offered his own postmortem. I looked around and it seems this is a bit of a genre, with articles appearing in The Stream, Slate Star Codex, and The New Republic.

I also wrote my own postmortem, when I finally quit atheist student groups in 2017. I would identify the problem as a lack of organization, and lack of ambition to do better. But perhaps that’s symptomatic of a movement that was simply failing to engage people, which could itself be symptomatic of even deeper problems.

I don’t think anyone really knows what caused the death of New Atheism, but it gives everybody an opportunity to raise their favorite grievances about the atheist movement, and pretend that’s why it really died. It’s fuuuuuun. Let’s look at what people are saying.

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A tumblr ban hot take

Anyone remember that time that Google tried to ban adult content on Blogger, and then took it back three days later?  No?

Tumblr announced that they are banning adult content, starting on December 17.  According to their policy,

Adult content primarily includes photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts.

The policy includes additional exceptions for breastfeeding, health-related situations, political speech, and nudity in art.

This morning I saw a lot of doom and gloom about the ban, which I would deem justified.  Most obviously, this hurts sex workers and erotic illustrators, who may be using tumblr as a source of advertising or income, and are now being evicted.  But more broadly, it’s a big concern for fandoms.  Although not all fans are interested in erotic art, fandoms are interconnected communities, and you can’t just excise the adult content without affecting everyone.  It is likely that entire fan communities will just get up and leave.  There is precedent for this in Fanfiction.net and LiveJournal.

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Reason is a powerful aesthetic

I feel like we’re living in a golden age of YouTube vlogging. Every month my link roundup seems to include Lindsay Ellis, Contrapoints, or the like, because they make powerful arguments, and they’re very entertaining. This past month, ContraPoints posted a video called “The Aesthetic”, which I felt was worthy of a longer comment.

The video asks, “What matters more—the way things are or the way things look?”

Justine: I’m not against reason. Reason is a very powerful aesthetic. If you’re a man.
Tabby: What if you’re a woman?
Justine: Oh, don’t be a woman. That’s not a good idea.

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On Asian student groups

Back in my college days, I participated in queer Asian student groups. When I’ve told people about this, many of them have had a kind of negative or suspicious reaction. Why is there a need for students to subdivide themselves out by race like that? One or two people have also compared it to the idea of having a student group for White people, which sounds problematic.

This is similar to reactions that people have to Pride parades, or Black history month. Where’s the straight pride parade, they ask? Where’s White history month? I’m assuming readers already understand why there isn’t a White history month, and I’m just listing out standard arguments as a reminder: Because Black people are an oppressed group, and White people are not. Because White people come from an incoherent collection of distinct backgrounds such as German, Italian, Polish, etc. Because every other month is already effectively White history month.

The funny thing is, the same arguments don’t quite work for these Asian student groups. My university had more Asian students than White students. While you could say that Asian Americans face some degree of marginalization and stereotyping, the fact of the matter is, that’s not the primary reason students came together, and not the primary thing students would talk about. And if you thought “White” was an incoherent collection of distinct backgrounds, I invite you to consider how much larger Asia is than Europe.

So why was it okay to have queer Asian student groups?

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Atheist celebrity culture: you’re swimming in it

There have always been several gaps between new atheists’ self-image and reality. One gap that I have often expressed frustration with, is atheists denying that any atheist movement exists. You could argue the details about what it means to have a “movement”, but I heard such comments coming from people participating in atheist student groups in the heyday of new atheism.  It’s a stubborn refusal to engage in self-understanding, a denial that there is any self to understand.

But today I want to talk about another gap. Atheists see themselves as having no heroes or leaders, and yet atheist celebrities are everywhere you look. This is a point that often comes up whenever an atheist celebrity falls from grace:

“Skeptics and atheists like to think they are above human foibles like celebrity worship,” Rebecca Watson, a prominent feminist skeptic, told BuzzFeed News. “In a way, that makes them particularly susceptible to being abused by their heroes. I think we see that over and over again.”

This is a problem composed of two opposites: (a) atheists see celebrity worship as a human foible that they have escaped, and (b) atheists are more susceptible to celebrity worship. And there are two opposite responses to the problem: (a) the tendency towards celebrities should be acknowledged, or (b) we must strengthen our resistance to celebrities.

The danger is that in focusing on just one response, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the other half of the problem. For FTB in particular, the danger is that we look at the downfall of our heroes and say to ourselves, “we’re moving beyond heroes”–without actually moving beyond heroes. By placing ourselves above celebrity worship, we may be replicating the original problem.

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