Why I am atheist

I run a blog that is for the most part dedicated to skeptical matters. I write about the problems with ‘ancient aliens’ hypotheses, or why chiropractic is a poor use of one’s money, and every now and again I write about skepticism with regards to social movements, philosophies, or belief systems. It’s fun, it gives me a chance to exercise my critical thinking skills, and it allows me to interact with people I might never otherwise deal with.

Running a blog also opens me up to criticism from people who think that I’m wrong, in the pocket of “Big Insert_whatever_I_hate_here”, or that I’m an evil, hell-bound sinner. I’ve been called everything from an egomaniacal fascist, to a ‘boy-raper’, to a dead man. Yep, actual, honest to Vecna death threats. Apparently some people think that I deserve to die in horrible ways for daring to question the efficacy of homeopathy. Moving on…

One of the things I don’t often write about is atheism – specifically my atheism. It’s not that I am ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it; it’s just that I don’t find it to be a particularly important part of my life. Yes, I understand that it can be very important to other people, but it’s just not something that’s very central to my self-concept. I was a skeptic long before I acknowledged my atheism, and it was through skepticism that I lost my faith. [Read more…]

Having Gender, or Doing Gender?

I began my stint here at the Manifesto with a post discussing the current state of gender studies with regards to men and masculinities. That seemed to go pretty well – especially after it was linked to a rather notorious MR forum. Good times were had by all. While the primary purpose of the post was to illustrate how far research into masculinities has come since the early (and embarrassing) attempts of the early 1980s, there was another element that I chose to gloss over. It wasn’t that this topic isn’t important, or that I thought it might bore you all but rather that I felt a discussion about the structure of gendered behaviour would have made an already long post longer. I still think the topic is important for us to take a closer look at though, so buckle up, adjust your sociological monocles*, and let’s drive on ahead into the world of gender performativity.

Traditionally, the concept of gender was pretty much built around the concept of biological essentialism – a woman was a woman because everyone with her genitalia and physiology shared certain intrinsic traits, including mental ones. In the same way, there were some things that were intrinsic to being a man, like being strong, brave, honest, and forthright. Notice that men somehow ended up with all of the ‘noble’ traits. Weird, I know. In any case, being a woman or being a man had everything to do with biology, and the social, political, familial, and even religious roles, duties, and privileges were merely expressions of those innate biological elements. That understanding has moved on somewhat – which is to say that in large part, the essentialist model has been abandoned altogether.** The reason for this move away has been a steady march towards increasing our understanding of the social aspect to the formation and maintenance of gender. Social scientists began to ask themselves, “if gender is biologically determined – if it is hardwired into the human brain and body, then shouldn’t its expression be rather narrow in scope? If there is an essential ‘maleness’ or ‘femaleness’, then shouldn’t it manifest plainly and consistently across national, linguistic, and cultural boundaries? If it does not, then how can it be universal?” [Read more…]

Irrational Rationalists

The other day while perusing a few of my usual skeptical and atheist haunts online, I came across a conversation that seemed rather out of place; two individuals were having a serious discussion about the plausibility of extraterrestrials having constructed the pyramids. The cheerleader for the aliens had linked more than a few YouTube videos, conspiracy theory sites, and a book or two into the conversation, and appeared for all the world to be a die-hard ‘ancient aliens’ enthusiast. “Really?” I thought to myself, and then moved on.

A couple of sites later – again one deeply aligned with the atheist movement – I read another conversation; this time the topic of discussion was the “weather-controlling” abilities of the U.S. HAARP program. Specifically, the debaters were arguing whether HAARP was responsible for all of the ‘weird weather’ this summer, or just the droughts that have been punishing parts of the United States. “Or how about none of it?” I muttered to myself, clicking away from the site, “Jackasses”.

Throughout the rest of the day’s online browsing, I stumbled across even more of these conversations – some focussed on aliens or the paranormal, others centred on 9/11 conspiracies. In each of these discussions, I noticed individuals – many of whom had proudly been displaying their atheist bona fides – abandon reason entirely and plunge headlong into logical fallacy after blindingly obvious logical fallacy. But these flights into fancy weren’t the real source of my growing frustration; after all, flights of fancy can lead to remarkable places. No, the primary source of my angst was the fact that I knew from previous browsing, discussions, and even a debate or two that these same people were often the first to write theists (and believers of all sorts) off as ‘delusional’, irrational, or ‘crazy’. If only there was a word to describe someone condemning another person’s behaviour while behaving in the same way themselves… [Read more…]

The Allure of White Supremacy

[TRIGGER WARNING] There’s going to be some pretty racist stuff going on in this post. Please be aware of that before diving in.

NOTE: I had originally opted to use more inclusive and gender neutral language when I first wrote this post, but I decided to change it so that the voice it is written in is clearly that of a white male.  In several places I am trying to bring us all into the heads of white supremacists, and I have yet to meet a single white supremacist anywhere who has ever used the words ‘zie’, ‘zir’, or ‘ze’. I hope you’ll bear with me here. Also, while you and I may understand that concepts like ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘race’ are socially-constructed abstractions that have little to do with reality, white supremacists don’t. They see race as an essential characteristic of a person (unless they need to remove a person from their ‘natural’ racial category as we’ll see a bit later).

NOTE THE SECOND: I will not be linking to any white supremacist websites, forums, or book links of any kind in this blog. I absolutely refuse to be a party to driving traffic to their sites, or to drawing traffic to this one from theirs. I will provide a brief bibliography at the end of this post, and I will provide links to pertinent information from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Racism is ugly. It is damaging, and it is cruel. Yet for a significant chunk of society, racism is also highly attractive. It is appealing on many different levels; it can be psychologically rewarding, and it can even sometimes (and in some situations) be praiseworthy – at least by some members of society (and not just the goose-stepping, sheet-wearing segment). There is a reason why people become active (either actively or passively) in white supremacist activity, and that reason isn’t always simple ignorance; there are more than a few highly educated and articulate people who are nevertheless wedded to the idea that their skin colour makes them a higher order to being than others. [Read more…]

But what about Teh Menz!?!1!

Part of the problem with starting a new blog (or joining an already stellar one) is hitting on the right tone for the first post. Come on too strong and the writing appears forced (“ALRIGHT EVERYONE! HERE ARE MY WORDS AND YOU WILL LIKE THEM ALL AND YOU WILL KNOW HOW AWESOMEANDWITTYIAMBYTHETHIRDSENTANCEBLAKJSRSR!!!”), but exercise too much restraint and the blog post may read more like a detailed analysis of proper moisture content for haylage (yes, it’s a real word, and it’s 30-50%, by the way). I had originally written a fairly lengthy article about the current state of research on masculinities in the social sciences is but, you know, haylage. So here’s the plan: I’ve scrapped the post and written a new one, and done my best to lighten the tone a bit while keeping the core argument intact. I probably won’t have too many links contained in the body of the post, but I will absolutely put a small bibliography at the end (complete with Amazon.com links) for some of the more important works in the field.

The study of men and masculinities in the social sciences has been taking place since the very birth of the social sciences. Of course, back in the day just about everything that could be talked about with regards to society and social institutions was about men, by men, and for men. It wasn’t until the arrival on the scene of those uppity wimmenz with their ‘rooms of one’s own’ and their radical demands to be allowed to vote – or even be considered ‘persons’ under the law in the first place – that the analytical lenses of sociology, anthropology, political science, psychology, etc. began to swivel to scrutinize women and women’s lives. And what they found was that women had it pretty bad. Horribly bad, in fact and perhaps it would be wise if some small amount of time was devoted to trying to understand why they had it so bad, don’tcherknow? [Read more…]