The Treacherous Center

Not talking about centrism today, not strictly speaking about what’s wrong with it or anything. I’m thinking about this situation with the Atheist Community of Austin, and in the larger sense the youtubers and organized atheists around that situation, and in a larger sense any situation where degrees of progressivism start sorting themselves out. (And disclaimer upfront – this is pretty stream-of-consciousness. I wrote the title at the beginning and not sure how relevant it’ll be by the end.)

At the beginning of the gnu atheist movement the big heads were all about equality and lgbt rights and so on. Any time the subjects were up, they were very quick to proclaim them as their own. As if simply not having codified rules of repression like the abrahamic faiths would guarantee you a less repressive society.

But then the rubber met the road. Some mild feminist sentiment was issued from a perspective other than that of an old white man, and our whole shit exploded. Oops. As of now, do people like Harris and DickDawk even consider themselves feminist, even in a vile CH Sommers version of the term? Are they done with that? What about other progressive issues? When the old man tweeted that he’d heard the term SJW for the first time, he was boosting a very nasty bunch indeed.

Slice, slice, those who posture that they have some degree of progressive beliefs define themselves and their positions in a way that backs genuine progressives into a smaller and smaller corner. Now we have Austin – the most politically progressive city in Texas. The Atheist Community of Austin. Equality for women, people of color, them LGBTs. All seemed in order, right?

But this debate about intersex and transgender athletes (that first started being covered on FtB at Reprobate Spreadsheet). The old boy network of Youtubers that included important figures in the ACA closed ranks in favor of the more trans-exclusive side. Given the complexity of the issue, I don’t want to claim any authority to speak to it. But smart people who’ve taken a closer look say the instigating youtube boy was being unreasonable and transphobic, and their arguments are airtight. So is youtube boy a transphobe? Should he be rejected as such?

No, there should be no reproach for the special rational boys of rationalism. SJWs gone too far rabble rabble. Initially the ACA had enough progressives on board to denounce youtube boy, but the oldboy network hedged them out. Slice, slice.

Once again the political center has expanded in a way that shoved an oppressed minority into a smaller slice. Once you’ve defined yourselves that way as an organization, once you’ve excluded those voices, how long before any other lip service you’ve paid to progressivism disappears? How long before you’re all thunderf00ting about the joint, licking lady legs and moaning about feminazis?

Maybe you do keep most of your equal rights cred in place. It was just one marginal little issue right? You can be a feminist and anti-racist and pro-trans (in most instances) while still thinking the bodies of athletes must be crammed into narrow little genderholes.

But in a way that’s worse for the people you’ve sliced away. Because if you’re eating up progressive bandwidth and you’ve shown yourself to be an unsafe group for trans people to be around, they’re stuck on an even smaller fringe than they were already. Progressive atheism is small enough to fit in a schoolbus. Fully trans-inclusive progressive atheism is gonna be stuck in a Prius.

The right wing in the USA is a fucking nightmare show of hardcore nazi-assed hate goblins. Any degree to which you inch toward them, any inch you step toward the center, is necessarily coming at the expense of some of your friends, families, lovers. It’s a treacherous move.


  1. StevoR says

    (And disclaimer upfront – this is pretty stream-of-consciousness. I wrote the title at the beginning and not sure how relevant it’ll be by the end.) … (snip) .. The right wing in the USA is a fucking nightmare show of hardcore nazi-assed hate goblins. Any degree to which you inch toward them, any inch you step toward the center, is necessarily coming at the expense of some of your friends, families, lovers. It’s a treacherous move.

    (Last 3 lines there x 2 to quote for truth – Ed.)

    It was relevant – and it’s spot on. Truth.

  2. says

    I find it saddening how some people insist on not rocking the boat, not arguing among ourselves, not splitting up the atheist community. Apparently they live in some imaginary dream world where a single community can include both transphobes and transgender people, misogynists and women, racists and people of color, and it will work perfectly as long as nobody loudly criticizes bigots for all the bigoted claims they make. Just don’t rock the boat, and everybody will get along despite their differences.

    Some people claim that calling out a transphobe would only alienate this person and push them out of the atheist community. Sure, but are they really so naïve as to imagine that everyday transphobia doesn’t alienate transgender people from the atheist community?

    Here we are back to the good old entitlement of straight, white, cis guys. When some straight, white, cis male gets criticized for bigotry—be it racism, or misogyny, or transphobia—he will loudly complain about getting criticized. People who are at the forefront of movements, activists who are used to having important roles and being highly visible, these people aren’t used to hearing about themselves things they dislike. Thus they loudly complain, they even threaten with lawsuits.

    As people who belong to minority groups, we are used to getting discriminated on everyday basis. As a queer person, I’m used to hearing criticisms of myself. On countless occasions, I have attempted to approach some community, because I was interested in what they did, because we had shared interests. After familiarizing myself with the content created by members of said community, I quickly stumbled upon misogyny, transphobia, racism etc. forms of bigotry. Often it wasn’t blatant, instead it was pretty subtle—a few words that bugged me, a questionable statement here and there. Often I didn’t even find any outrageous quotes that I could complain about. Instead, the bigotry was subtle but ever pervasive. Whenever this happened, I simply left the community, I silently walked away. Obviously, it depends on the person, but many of us don’t loudly complain and make a fuss. Instead we just silently walk away. Especially if we are new to the community by the time we start noticing the bigotry. If you have already invested your time in some community, you are more likely to make a fuss and complain about bigotry directed towards your group of people. If you are a recent member, well, you probably won’t even bother and just leave instead.

    It’s inherently impossible to create an all-inclusive community where bigots and minorities could all happily get along and feel welcomed. Leaders of every community must make a decision to alienate one or the other. Because bigots tend to complain louder than their victims, in a futile attempt not to lose any members and please everybody, moderators of communities often side with the bigots hoping that this way the community won’t fall apart. Some people seem to falsely believe that as long as there are no audible complaints, everything must be fantastic. All you need to do is silence criticism and ignore complaints, and life will be pleasant and peaceful. This is the same false belief that results in reports of sexual assault getting ignored and victims getting silenced.

    I would be okay hanging out with a person who had different ideas about how the healthcare system ought to be funded and organized. That’s politics, and people can agree to disagree about politics. But misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, racism etc. is no longer just politics for the people who belong to some minority group. I cannot agree to disagree about whether I deserve equality and human rights. At this point the discussion is no longer about politics in the abstract sense, instead it’s a matter of my own survival and wellbeing.

    Amusingly, the end result is that white, straight, cis dudes start loudly pondering about why there are so few women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ people in the atheist movement? Maybe because they all silently left due to the prevailing bigotry? But no, a privileged white dude will never admit that it might be his own fault for pushing away other people. Instead he will seek fault with others. Thus we get claims that there are fewer women in the atheist movement, because, on average, women are dumber and more prone to bad reasoning that results in accepting religious beliefs. Amusingly, claims like this one only serve to further alienate members of minority groups.

    By the way, I have seen the exact same problem everywhere. Just to give another example—I’m interested in cognitive biases, how they influence people’s decision making, and how to overcome them. So a while ago I tried visiting webpages about rationality, like LessWrong. Guess what I found seeping out of them? Misogyny, what else! There were posts on pickup artistry, posts about evolutionary psychology bullshit that was supposed to explain the differences between men and women, and so on. Members of the community were aware of how few women were there among their group. Guess how they explained it? “Our contents appeal mostly to people with above average IQ. Women’s IQ scores tend to be closer to average, thus there are very few women with very high IQ out there. Thus there are so few women in our community.” It’s ironic how these incels who dabbed into pickup artistry and considered women, on average, dumber failed to notice how their own misogyny could be the real problem why women wanted nothing to do with them. After spending some hours reading the posts, I concluded that I wanted nothing to do with the rationalist community. I left their webpages silently, without making any comments of my own. They never got from me any feedback on why their own bigotry could be the very reason for their failure to attract more women to their community (or get laid—there were lots of wannabe pickup artists who seemed to struggle with getting a girlfriend). I found it ironic how a community interested in overcoming cognitive biases could so easily fall prey to confirmation bias without even suspecting it.

    And the atheist community, another group of people who value rationality, is just as prone to the same errors.

  3. Allison says

    I can’t say that this surprises me.

    My first contact with atheism was back when Pandagon was still its own site, run by Amanda Marcotte, sometime in the early 2000’s. There were a large number of avowed atheists in the comment threads there, and it seemed like most of what they did was to sneer at people who were not as “enlightened” as themselves. I came to the conclusion that for many capital-A Atheists, the real attraction of atheism is that it gives them a rationale for looking down on everybody else, and I had the distinct impression from what they would say that this variety of Atheist consisted largely of entitled dude-bros.

    Another thing I’ve noticed, and not just among A/atheists, is that when someone starts talking about the importance of “Rationality” and “Reason”, it’s a pretty reliable sign that what’s coming are unexamined prejudices and frequently simple bigotry, dressed up in rationalizations. If you truly want to search for truth (which BTW is not an endpoint, but a process), you need a lot of humility and willingness to consider that you might be wrong, which is apparently incompatible with declaiming one’s commitment to “Reason.” By this criterion, “Rationality Rules” has by his chosen moniker already revealed that what he is peddling are his unexamed biases, prejudices, and blatant bigotry which he mislabels as “reason.”

    Interestingly, I’ve spent my life working in fields which supposedly are based on “reason”, such as mathematics (I have a Ph.D. in math), numerical analysis, and computer programming, and I have found my gut feelings to be a far more reliable guide as to what will work and what won’t than any collection of reasoned arguments.

    Also interestingly, it’s generally accepted among mathematicians working in theorem-heavy areas of math that theorems do not arise from logical reasoning, but rather that the logical reasoning (the Proof) comes afterwards, to provide convincing arguments for an assertion that one has arrived at by other means and as a check against erroneous assertions. Moreover, it’s entirely possible to have well-accepted proofs for well-accepted assertions that later turn out to be false. So it seems that those who one might think were the most heavily dependent upon “pure reason” generally have a certain degree of skepticism towards it.

  4. lanir says

    I think there’s one big thing people who try to carve out minorities from groups are missing.

    To have a healthy group, even a fairly small atheist community, requires being willing to have people in it you aren’t completely comfortable with. This isn’t about their actions so no, the bros don’t get to claim that women should deal with their mysogyny and the same goes for all the other jerks. But when you’re looking at who someone is you have to be willing to acknowledge that your level of comfort isn’t the deciding factor on whether they get to continue being who they are. Or get to do it in a healthy group united by common ideas and ideals.

    To the people who are trying to argue against that I have just one thing to say: Your petulance is not rational. Examine it and find out where you’ve gone so wrong.

    Also worth noting, bigotry is conflating one quality with another that has no actual link to it. In this way you get increases in wrongful incarceration because a racial group is falsely linked to criminal tendencies (look at that again if it doesn’t leap off the page as wrong to you; bit self fulfilling, no?). You get one sex treated as chattel because they are dismissed as inferior to another sex. You get people viciously called animals and then treated worse than animals are because some quality of sex, race or religion is linked to being less than human.

    It’s all “if apples, then oranges” and all of the links are artificial and false. If apples then apples. If oranges then oranges. If your thought process takes any group of any kind and links them to a quality that is not inherently part of the selection that creates the group in the first place, then you’re not being entirely rational about how you think of that group.

    Case in point, I can’t say all Trump supporters are racist because that’s not quite the selection method for the group. It’s very common and I may choose to make that comparison anyway, but I’m not promoting it as a studied, rational response either. It’s a slap in the face and a shout to wake the hell up and look around at what he’s doing. It’s not a calm statement that this is true 100% of the time. I’m not fully rational about how I handle Trump supporters, conservatives, mysogynists, racists, jackasses who discriminate over sexuality and other types of bullies and their enablers. But then I’m not out there using my platform to say that I am.

    The basis of rational thought is being honest with yourself. Maybe all these supposedly rational people need to stop and try to do that a bit more.

  5. says

    Brilliant and insightful post. Brilliant and insightful comments.

    I am educated, white, cis, so there is lots of privilege for me but I will not support intolerance. I have loved the Atheist Experience for years, now I am taking my money and support and walking away.

    Why, why, if some people get a bit of power or public voice, they will throw away their morals and principles to gain more.?

  6. says

    Thanks for the big comments everybody. They definitely add some value to the blog that I don’t often bring myself, haha. It’s interesting that although I didn’t say RR’s handle, the comments gravitated to the hypocrisy in it, and of people like him. That’s surely one of the foundational problems of 21st century web atheism & adjacent communities.

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