The shortest ends of the short ends

Greta has an eloquent post about being “divisive” and what it’s possible to find common ground with and what it isn’t.

I do not want to be in unity with atheists who say that I’m an ugly dyke and therefore nobody should take me seriously. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who post their opponents’ home addresses on the Internet; who hack into their opponents’ private email lists and make content from those emails public. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who alert the Westboro Baptist Church to atheist events, and ask if they plan to attend. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who bombard other people with a constant barrage of hate and threats of rape, violence, and death. I do not want to be in unity with atheists who call me a cunt, who call other women cunts, again and again and again and again and again. And I do not want to be in unity with atheists who consistently rationalize this behavior, who trivialize it, who make excuses for it.

That is how I feel about the matter too, likewise, also.

There is literally no way that the atheist movement can be inclusive of everybody. We can’t be inclusive of atheist women… and also be inclusive of atheists who publicly call women ugly, fat, sluts, whores, cunts, and worse. We can’t be inclusive of atheists of color… and also be inclusive of atheists who think people of color stay in religion because they’re just not good at critical thinking, or who tell people of color, “You’re pretty smart for a…” We can’t be inclusive of trans atheists… and also be inclusive of atheists who think trans people are mentally ill or freaks of nature. We can’t be inclusive of atheists who are mentally ill… and also be inclusive of atheists who think mental illness is just a failure of willpower. Etc.

And when people, however well-meaning, make generic calls for unity — when they tell all of us to stop fighting and just get along — they’re basically telling those of us on the short ends of those sticks to shut up.

Which many of them probably don’t realize precisely because they’ve never been on the short ends of those sticks – or at least not on the very shortest ends of the short ends. There’s nothing quite like being a target of a hate campaign to sharpen one’s awareness of what it’s like to be a target of a hate campaign. In that sense I kind of see why so many people get it wrong, and think it’s far better to say “let’s all just get along” than it is to say “knock off the hate campaign.” I kind of see it, but that doesn’t make me like it.


  1. Steve LaBonne says

    I think this illustrates why it’s time to recognize that atheism alone- or “skepticism” alone (gee, we can agree Bigfoot doesn’t exist! BFD)- are not sound or useful bases for a movement. Working for secularism and social justice- now THAT is a good reason to build a movement. And as an added inclusiveness bonus, that movement can count many liberal religious people as allies (some of them are so silly that they’ll only consort with accomodationist faitheists, but many are not).

  2. Michael De Dora says

    That’s a good post. However, I don’t see the connection between what Greta is saying there, and what Jamy Ian Swiss said at the Orange County Freethought Alliance conference. Did I miss something?

  3. johnthedrunkard says

    Perhaps it is a good sign that non-theist groups have enough visibility, enough public voice, that we no longer feel the need to play ‘ecumenical unity’ games with people with whom we have nothing in common. Except opposition to religion or woo.

    Look what happens when the united front of Offended Islam is appeased. The divided sects turn on each other the full fury of hatred that they concealed from the outside world. I suspect the same divisions would show should the Xian Right begin to gain more power. Let’s see how close those Pius X Catholics really are with store-front evangelical fringe-groups.

    As an atheist, I have little or nothing in common with red-diaper communists, Randroids, or dingbat libertarians. They may not believe in Bigfoot or Jeebus either. What they do believe is scarcely less toxic and I don’t want to be in the same tent with them.

  4. says

    Michael – I don’t know. I haven’t heard Jamy Ian Swiss’s talk (or the earlier version that he gave at TAM last year), and what I know of it from reportage doesn’t seem connected to what Greta said, so I have no idea.

    Others might though. Speak up if so, others.

  5. Michael De Dora says

    I watched some of his talk from the Orange County Freethought Alliance conference last night. It seemed like he was mainly concerned with arguing that skeptics should embrace scientific skepticism rather than philosophical skepticism.

  6. says

    Huh. I’m tempted to come up with some new brands of skepticism so we can have even more arguments about what kind of skepticism is Topp. Transcendental skepticism; I think that would be a good one to start with.

  7. says

    @Michael De Dora

    Greta addressed this in her comments,
    “That wasn’t the only thing Swiss talked about. It was one of the things, but not the only one. He also issued a call for everyone in these related movements — atheism, skepticism, humanism — to stop focusing so much on our differences and focus more on our common ground. (Ironically, in a talk with a persistently hostile tone, and the same talk where he issued a snide, backhanded jab at Atheism+.)”

    Philosophical vs scientific skepticism is the party line and kind of annoying. Philosophical skepticism traditionally refers to the denial of the possibility of knowledge on anything. For skeptics they redefine it to be essentially NOMA for skepticism. Anything they don’t want to discuss usually values, untestable claims etc. is philosophical skepticism and I guess they don’t have to worry their little heads over it.

  8. Michael De Dora says


    Hey, great name! And thank you for the clarification regarding Greta’s commentary. I’ll have to go back and watch the entire talk.

    Re: philosophical vs. scientific skepticism, that’s pretty much exactly what’s going on. Many skeptics don’t want to address issues of values and politics, so they adhere to “scientific” skepticism. I happen to view skepticism as a broader philosophical approach that employs both science *and* reason. But hey, that’s just me.

  9. says

    I’m watching the talk now. I think I see what he means at some points; less so at others.

    Early on he seems to conflate philosophical skepticism with scientific. In an autobiographical bit he says he was less interested in what [some guy] believed than in how he thought, why he believed. “I believe scientific skepticism is about how to think, not necessarily about what to think.” But that wouldn’t be scientific skepticism, surely, it would be epistemology – i.e. philosophy.

  10. freemage says

    And, of course, the notion that, for instance, the points of feminism aren’t scientifically testable is bushwa, anyway–a point which Greta makes quite plain in her piece.

    As for the ‘other side’ of this ‘debate’–the rifts cannot be wide nor deep enough to suit my preferences.

  11. says

    I actually don’t think feminism as such is “testable” – just as for instance a commitment to human rights is not “testable.” It’s primarily a moral/political commitment, rather than a truth claim or an assertion of a fact.

    Granted, it rests on a basic assumption about what kind of entity can have “rights” – we don’t talk about rights for umbrellas or rocks. But it’s still much more about values than it is about facts.

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