More divisiveness: my conversation with Tauriq Moosa continues

Last week I posted an e-mail correspondence between myself and South African BigThink skeptic blogger Tauriq Moosa. He was kind enough to follow up his e-mail, and I am posting my response here. You will notice that I am quoting from his e-mail without printing it in its entirety. I am hoping to avoid a nightmare of indented quotations. I will provide the full e-mail in another post if there are issues.

Hey T,

Was a busy weekend spent mostly with my lovely ladyfriend, so sorry that this response has taken so long.

I suppose as he’s equated “the movement” with “organisational membership”, the continuing framework that he operates in will be slightly narrowed (ignores those instances where divisive behaviour does occur because they’re not part of “the movement”). I assume this is what you mean?

In the statement of his thesis, Mr. Lindsay posits that the reason why misogyny isn’t divisive within the community is that the major organizations have come out against it. If you keep in mind that the orgs are not representative of the movement, nor do they set its direction, then the entire argument is a non-sequitur. It would be just as effective if he had said “We know that global warming isn’t a threat because the ice cubes in my gin & tonic haven’t melted yet”. It’s a nonsensical conclusion to draw from the premise. [Read more…]

My application to BigThink

Some of you may remember the story of Satoshi Kanazawa, a “scientist” and “researcher” who made fame by raising some “tough questions” about the relationship between race, IQ, and health outcomes. He also pondered the evolutionary reasons why black women are just so damn unattractive (hint: it’s because they have so much testosterone – I’m not making that up). There was a predictable backlash against this brave scholar simply for asking “the tough questions”, and he was drummed out of academia, never to be heard from again.

But the career necromancers that are the BigThink editorial board have raised this errant genius from the depths of oblivion and have restored him to prominence on their group blog site:

Without a doubt, Satoshi Kanasawa is a willful, and highly effective, intellectual provocateur.  In his scholarship, he has boldly overstepped traditional academic disciplinary bounds to posit interconnections and relationships between our evolutionary past and psychological present that address questions very few of his colleagues are even asking, let alone attempting to answer.  In daring to ask these questions, Satoshi has made us think more than most.

His passion for endeavoring to think bigger and his deep-seeded contempt for the constraints of orthodoxy have informed a diverse body of scholarship that have turned a scientific light on an array of taboos, sacred assumptions and unquestioned — even unnoticed — realities.  Like all heretics, Satoshi has become a lightning rod for criticisms across the spectrum which has only hardened his resolve to defy convention and expectation.  In his public writing and blogging, he doesn’t posture or hedge to insulate himself from attack; on the contrary, he opts for the most extreme hypotheticals couched in the most sensitive, real-world contexts — he then stands firm and unflinching against the blowback.

Such a brave maverick! Not letting little things like “proper research design” or “understanding the topic” or “restricting your conclusions to the strength of the data” get in the way of preaching bold truths! Fuck your taboos of scientific rigour, squares! Satoshi is here to blow to roof off your narrow-minded “needing to do things correctly”! [Read more…]

Divisive: a conversation with Tauriq Moosa

Yesterday, CFI’s Ron Lindsay posted a lengthy discussion of divisiveness within the atheist/freethinker/skeptic community(-ies). If you haven’t read it yet, you should, otherwise much of the following will likely not make sense. Go read it and come back.

Okay? Done? Did you read the comments too? Oh, you probably should. Even though Franc Hoggle is there. Maybe just the first few? It’s okay, I’ll wait.

Okay. Welcome back. Let’s move ahead then.

I took to Twitter and expressed my dismay that Mr. Lindsay had, in my eyes, done a great job of articulating a bad argument. An exchange with South African skeptic blogger Tauriq Moosa followed, which led to the following e-mail (published with Tauriq’s permission):

I wanted to focus on where we disagree – I think – as per Ron Lindsay’s post. You wrote:

False equivalence abounds, and the basic tenet of his thesis is false. Conflates major orgs with “the movement”.

What I don’t understand is this: Are you saying because he “conflates” major organisations with the movement, which I’m mostly on your side he shouldn’t, does this undermine the rest of his points? After all, he made good points on how to read charitably; that devoting resources – in terms of time and money – which organisations like his constantly need, could be “wasted” on something that is only starting; that we shouldn’t tolerate incivility, etc. these are all excellent points that I don’t think collapse even if he’s wrong about what constitutes the movement.

Also, if these already existing movements are bad social justice issues, isn’t the solution to pick up on their broken forms and fix them, instead of create whole new ones? What evidence do we have to suggest “new” ones will be any more effective, as opposed to using the avenues and inroads already created by existing – if broken – ones?

I subscribe broadly to the goals of A+, but I don’t even use the label atheist. I’m not a fan of categorisation since it too easily leads to ad hominem claims and refusal to acknowledge dissenting views (as I think is happening with many people, who are lumped unfairly with labels like misogynist and, according to Myers “irredeemable pest with nothing positive to contribute”; but also those who view FtB as hivemind and conglomerate of one voice, which is also unfair, etc. etc.)

Twitter is like a coiled spring or a collapsed accordion – a blast of a few characters can contain a very lengthy thought process. This was my response to Tauriq: [Read more…]

What’s your room number?

In the comments section of my first post on atheism+, a commenter has opened up a line of discussion about whether or not it is fair and appropriate to respond to honest and non-malicious questions with abuse and vitriol:

I think part of the issue with a lot of the discussions that happen both here and on A+ forums involve privilege, specifically those who are lacking privilege in one area or another. Many (lets say strait white guys) can often feel that they are being told that they are wrong because they are strait white guys, or that they aren’t welcome due to their status. Certainly some/most of the blame is on them, but I think it is very important not to introduce people to the concept in a manner than can be perceived as hostile or rude. It can be hard to accept “You can’t know what this is like, because you are man/white/strait/cis” when that is exactly what is understood. Nevermind if it is presented in a way that sounds more like “You are wrong, because you are a man/white/strait/cis.”

Even when it comes across perfectly, you can still feel rather dumb about the situation that caused it to arise (I did). It isn’t pleasant. It just needs to be put in a way that is non-confrontational.

I responded from a place of frustration, and to hir eternal credit, kbonn has stuck it out and tried repeatedly to further articulate hir position. I will take a stab at paraphrasing it, and kbonn is free to step in and tell me if I get something wrong.

One problem (not the problem, but a problem) in social justice conversations is that people who have some kind of privilege-related blindness will say things that come from a place of privilege without realizing the harm they may be causing, or the flawed assumptions from which they are operating. When members of oppressed groups respond to the naiveté of the privileged with personal attacks and abuse, it makes understanding and learning from the experience difficult. It is especially difficult to get anything from the experience when the privileged person is likely going to respond defensively to accusations of privilege and insensitivity.

The answer is clear – social justice advocates would be more persuasive and effective if they maintained an attitude of generous sensitivity in these kinds of interactions, and make allowances and accommodations for the fact that many of the people they are talking to are ignorant but well-meaning. It is certainly unfair to heap abuse on people for simple misunderstandings. [Read more…]

The price of speaking up

One of the cool things about North American culture’s increased multiculturalism (as a statistical fact, if not a political one) is that we begin to see an increasing permeability in roles that were once divided strictly along racial lines. The United States has a black president, which is a nifty thing in and of itself, but the Calgary Flames ice hockey team also has a black captain who will probably be inducted into the hall of fame – perhaps an equally remarkable accomplishment. Jackie Robinson is the most celebrated of race-barrier breaking athletes, but golf (a sport once almost synonymous with white folks) has a number of established and emerging stars who are people of colour (PoCs). And then there was that whole “Lin-sanity” thing.

Perhaps it is precisely because there is a much stronger incentive (particularly financial) to pick the best person for the job regardless of race, and perhaps it is because of how high-profile the field is, but sports seems to be one of those places where racial barriers can drop pretty quickly. Part of this must undoubtedly be a cohort effect that is a by-product of the selection process. For example, your family has to be able to afford to give you tennis or golf lessons when you’re a really young kid – this is often beyond the reach (and/or lies outside the reasonable life expectations) of many immigrant families, meaning that it probably takes a generation or two before you’ll see athletes of colour rise through the ranks. Even those merely economically disempowered domestic (i.e., non-immigrant or non-recent-immigrant) minority groups will have some generational lag time before they will be recognized as a youth prodigy and receive the requisite attention and coaching it takes to become a star.

But it is tempting, in the days of Tiger Woods and Lydia Ko, to forget that the racism in the background of even the brightest stars follows them, and will find any opportunity it can to take them down: [Read more…]

What’s in a name?

This is the second (and hopefully last) post I will feel compelled to write about Atheism+, a group to which I have been assumed (by many) to belong to, but one about which I have thus far said essentially nothing. For those of you who don’t know, Jen McCreight recently stirred things up by announcing that she no longer felt at home with the atheist community at large, and recognized the existence of a subset of the larger atheist community who are focussed on issues that transcend religion per se and moving into larger arenas like anti-racism, anti-misogyny, anti-homophobia, and other so-called “social justice” issues. Because they were still identifying as atheists, but atheists who are interested in more than atheism, they branded this movement “Atheism+”.

The fallout has been typically ridiculous, with concern trolls and misogynist assholes alike flocking to social media to decry this development as a major schism and the death of atheism and a hostile takeover by radical feminists and… take your pick. The backlash against Jen specifically was so severe that she has temporarily but indefinitely suspended her blog – an entirely understandable move that serves only to showcase how at home the contingent of hateful, small-minded jerks feels among the anti-FTB/Skepchick/atheism+/anything-that-even-touches-feminism crowd.

Of course, as I noted this morning, Jen and those who immediately jumped on the Atheism+ bandwagon didn’t create a schism in atheism, they merely identified one that already exists. It’s not the same as dumping your boyfriend because he’s a loser, it’s the recognition that you two weren’t dating in the first place and the fact that he keeps showing up at your house is getting inconvenient and creepy. There are people who want to talk about this ‘social justice’ stuff, and there are those who don’t. Those who don’t can probably be divided into those who are merely apathetic and those who foster an active antipathy, but that’s beside the point I want to make here.

One of the first posts I wrote was a first-pass encapuslation of a maxim I’ve done my best to live by ever since I took my first social psychology course: I am not my ideas. I closed that post by saying this: [Read more…]

Because I am an atheist: Ashley Miller

Today’s contribution comes from fellow FTBorg Ashley Miller, who writes at her eponymous blog.

Because I am an atheist…

I’ve had a hard time writing this because for a long time I couldn’t think of anything that I could really attribute to my being an atheist.  I’m an atheist because I am a seeker of truth and I am an atheist activist because I am a humanist.

I came into the atheist movement sideways, from the LGBT rights movement.  After the Prop 8 trial in California had concluded, people like myself were put in a holding pattern, exhausted and waiting for news. Around this time, I heard that PZ Myers was going to be in town and you could pay 50 bucks to go have dinner with him.  I’d followed PZ for a long time, but wasn’t really aware of an atheist movement or blogosphere as such, I just knew I really liked his blog’s mix of science, anger at religion, and oktapodi.  At the time, I mostly blogged about filmmaking, women’s issues, and Prop 8, but not so much atheism.

I spent my $50 and I went to the OCFA conference alone to meet PZ, and in the process I discovered this whole subculture I hadn’t been aware of.  I got involved with atheism and skepticism, which I still conflate much to most skeptics’ chagrin, and discovered a movement that was involved in the social justice issues I cared about — protecting people from religion. [Read more…]

Finding the faults

Years ago I was in a relationship with someone who for the sake of convenience I will simply call ‘Rhonda’. Rhonda and I began dating shortly after I started undergraduate, and lasted about a year before, for reasons that are not really relevant to the story, we split up. It was an amicable split, and we both said that it was important to remain friends. Meaning what I said, I would invite Rhonda to take part in the things I was doing, we’d talk on instant messaging and phone on a regular basis, and I generally tried to include her the way I would do for anyone with whom I shared a close friendship.

A number of frustrating months passed before I realized that, despite my best efforts, I was deeply dissatisfied with my friendship with Rhonda. While I made regular efforts to include her, she kept me at an arm’s length and consistently begged off socializing with me. It did not help when she began dating someone else – someone I knew, and did not like (a fact she knew well). It was obvious to everyone that Rhonda was romantically involved with this guy, but she refused to talk about it. I will not pretend to some kind of maturity that I did not possess (and may still not), and certainly I had the option of confronting her, but she knew that I was upset and (I believed) she knew about what.

Her failure to talk to me on this issue (and a number of others), either because she was unwilling or unable, suggested to me that we had strikingly different views on what ‘friendship’ meant. So one day I called her on it, and basically spelled it out: we should stop calling our relationship a ‘friendship’, because we were not behaving the way I thought friends should. Whatever it was we had was not a true friendship, and had not been for some time. She was upset, understandably, but as far as I was concerned the only thing I had done was put words to something that was abundantly clear. [Read more…]

The Value of an Education

I began my university career a decade ago. I had grown tired of working for terrible wages in a hot and smelly kitchen, and I felt that the kind of challenge I was looking for in life would be found on some campus somewhere. Initially I had no idea what I wanted from a post-secondary education – I didn’t even know what sort of education I wanted. And so I drifted for the first two years between Biology, Astronomy, History, Literature, Philosophy, and Political Science. As it turned out, my fascination with biology was eclipsed by my passion for politics and philosophy, and I graduated with a degree in Political Science. I went on to do a year of undergraduate level sociology, where I discovered gender studies – and in particular the study of masculinities – and I finally went on to do a Master’s degree that allowed me to combine both political science and gender studies. By this time I had spent more time and money on education than I had ever thought possible – especially considering that the plan I had formulated during my last year of high-school would have seen me complete a two-year diploma in computer science. I was a youth of widely divergent interests.

I was also a conservative. I’m not talking about some high-minded, philosophical conservatism fuelled by an appreciation for tradition and a belief in prudent fiscal planning; I was a conservative of another sort. I believed poor people to be weak-willed failures deserving of their sad lots in life. I believed that expeditionary warfare ought to be pursued not only for the national interest, but because sometimes other nations simply deserved to be destroyed utterly – especially ones that I considered to be ‘barbaric’. I believed that women were inherently less intelligent than men, and that oftentimes they could not be trusted to make the ‘right’ decisions for themselves. I believed that because I had a black friend, I could never be racist. I distrusted and disliked ‘Indians’ and felt that the best thing we (as smart, advanced, white folk) could do for them would be to dismantle the reservation system and force them to assimilate into our obviously superior culture. Capitalism was good, Socialism was bad. Welfare was bad. Criminals should be put to death. I was the very model of a knee-jerk, authoritarian, proto-fascist conservative. I was so ridiculous in my outlook that I was approaching self-parody with a speed that bordered on the super-luminal. I knew that I was right.

By the time I had completed my undergraduate degree, I was a socialist. I had embraced many of the key tenets of feminism. I considered Foucault to be a sort of hero of mine – though I would later come to be critical of parts of his work. While I retained a respect for the purpose and history of the armed forces, I also recognized that they – like any weapon – should only be deployed in the direst of situations. I volunteered time with charities of many types, and I began to see the less fortunate members of our society as worthy of dignity, respect, and assistance. I had lost what vestiges of faith I had carried with me from my childhood, and I had embraced the analytical tools that my philosophical education had furnished me with. It wouldn’t be until I had almost completed my Master’s degree that I began to see myself as any sort of ally to social justice movements – in large part because I was still uncomfortable with the idea of standing out in a crowd. In a few rather short years, I had changed not only my political views, but my entire epistemology. I knew only that I knew very little.

A change, I think, for the better.

So what’s my point in all of this? It is only that education has value. My education in the arts and humanities changed the way I saw the world and interacted with it. It fundamentally deconstructed my old character and built in its place a person more able to empathize with – and more willing to assist – those members of my society who had been forgotten or discarded. My education stripped away uncountable layers of assumptions, false beliefs, and faulty heuristics that had coloured my perceptions of reality, and replaced them with a set of powerful tools that could be used to gain a far more accurate understanding of the world around me, and of the society I lived in.

Results may vary. Not everyone who pursues an education will end up a progressive or a leftist, and that’s not a bad thing at all. I’m not one of those people who argue that conservatism is evil or wrong, or that if we were all smart and rational and wise, we’d be progressives; a healthy society is one that that thrives on healthy debate between as many viewpoints as possible – at least in my view. I tend to think that conservatism is a necessary component of a healthy body politic; conservatives remind the rest of us that sometimes traditions are important, that prudence can often be a virtue, and that progress might sometimes benefit from a little bit of caution. These sorts of things are classical conservative values, and their importance doesn’t change, just because those who call themselves conservatives today are at best only casually familiar with the values of their ideological forebears. I think the contemporary conservative movement has strayed from its roots a fair bit – to the point where it might more accurately be called the ‘regressive movement’ or perhaps ‘the recidivist movement’. But I digress. Again.

Universities are not ‘indoctrination centres’ or ‘liberal brainwashing facilities’; they are crucibles that can, if we are willing to let them, burn away our preconceptions. Degrees in the arts and humanities are not wasted; they allow us to perceive the world in novel and challenging ways. Will my degree set me up with a career in the same way that an engineering degree can? Probably not, but that’s not why I spent all those years earning it. My education taught me how to think and how, I believe, to be a better person. That has value. That has worth.

You will be assimilated

One of the recurring memes that crop up in many discussions of ‘what is to be done’ with Canadian First Nations is the idea that multiculturalism in its current state is unsustainable, and assimilation is the only answer. My response to that is inevitably “you might be right. When do you plan to start assimilating?” You see, the argument is never that non-Aboriginal Canadians should begin to adopt the cultural, religious, and social traditions of Canada’s original people. The argument is always that those who have been colonized should, for their own good, simply acquiesce to the destruction of their way of life because, y’know… we’re bigger than them?

Of course I find this position both absurd and offensive. The problems we see endemic in many First Nations communities – lack of opportunity, abject poverty, substance abuse, take your pick – are not the result of a failed policy of multiculturalism. Nor is it the fault of those people who fail to adopt a “Western”* way of thinking and living. No, the reason we see these problems is because those people with power have failed, time after frustratingly-frequent time, to uphold their end of the bargain when it comes to providing adequate resources and support to these communities. When First Nations Canadians are perpetually considered the ‘other’, ignoring them and their needs become a matter of course.

Which is why I am particularly intrigued by this story: [Read more…]