Michael Nugent is a humane and intelligent fellow, and he’s distressed by the rifts that have formed in the atheist community. So he’s written a good set of guidelines for how atheists and skeptics should interact. I have a small problem with one of his suggestions, but otherwise, it’s an excellent and idealistic plan…and unfortunately, one that has already struck the shoals of rabid misogyny.
As he notes, we’ve got a problem with people who are furious that atheists dare to consider sexism and racism to be serious issues that we should deal with now. He takes the side that I knew he would, that these are problems we should address, because secular thinkers should be best equipped to deal with them.
As skeptics we should objectively examine the impacts of social discrimination, and identify the best ways to promote diversity and inclusiveness. By definition, prejudice depends on not having all relevant information, and as skeptics we are ideally suited to develop and promote arguments for inclusiveness and human rights, based on the evidence of the benefits to individuals and society. We could use this research to tackle the emotional and irrational thinking behind racism, sexism, homophobia, and other prejudices and discriminations. It’s at least as interesting a topic as many we discuss, and a more useful topic than most.
I am fully in agreement. This is the necessary job of this generation of atheists and skeptics, to extend our principles to embrace topics of wider social import. Michael is on our side; unfortunately, you can already see the rifts widening. The very first comment on his article is from someone raving about me and my (?) “horde of five-minute-hate skepchicks”, who then goes on to make up a bunch of lies about the recent disagreement with Rationalia. And of course a known slimepit denizen immediately chimes in. So one obstacle is that a contingent has dug in with illiberal, anti-social justice values, and they are quick to howl at any suggestion that they are less than flawless champions of truth and freedom.
Yes, there is a problem here. And the problem lies in people who are affronted at any extension of atheist values to embrace other social values. Which is why I have some reservations about Michael’s first suggestion, that we have to stay focused on atheism and skepticism. Those ideas should be omnipresent, they should inform what we do, but they need to be a foundation, not a final end result.
We’re in the midst of a little civil war, a war with the smug. For so long, it was an accomplishment to be an atheist — we had rejected the dogma of the majority. It’s really something important. And now we’re growing, and we gather in greater and greater numbers, and while it’s great to find ourselves in large groups of people where we don’t have to be defensive about our disbelief, it also becomes obvious that it is not enough. We are all people who have taken that first step towards real intellectual freedom, and some of us like to just stand in wonderment and demand applause for that one step…while others of us are saying, “good, now we can march forward.” And of course that opens up rifts between us, and of course the smug are sitting there incredulous, resentful that we aren’t content just to applaud those who made that first effort, and laud them as heroes. They want a cookie right now just for being atheists.
So on one side we have smug jerks who hate the idea of being progressive, but on the other, on my side, we’re quite ready to cut the troglodytes loose, and we’re quite ready to move on without them. We see the rift forming, and we actually see it as a good thing; as Natalie Reed said on twitter:
I don’t WANT to be allies with ppl who need to be dragged, kicking & screaming, into treating me like a human.
Michael has stepped into the no-man’s land between the raging forces, and it’s a gallant effort. But judging by the comments already on his article, he hasn’t convinced the smug anti-progressives that maybe they should embrace a wider scope for atheism, and he really hasn’t tried yet to convince the people on the other side that maybe the angry sexists and racists and sneering self-satisfied libertarians are worth bringing on board. I’m inclined to say they’re not, until they grow up and change.
But let me say here: Michael Nugent has put up a plea for civil discussion on these matters. Try it. If you comment over there, be polite to the smug reactionaries already commenting; and here on this thread, too, try to avoid being too vicious, as much as you feel the other guys deserve it. Address his suggestions in the same spirit he made them.