By Sasha - 30 Aug 2012

What “Atheism Plus” means to me.

Everyone’s talking about Atheism Plus, new-new-atheism, social justice atheism, whatever you feel like calling it. I already shared the thoughts I had been having along those lines, and now I want to really get in to where I stand on things.

I support Atheism Plus, at least in so far as I support atheists caring about social justice and equality. If I could be said that I have any reservations or concerns about this new “movement” it is that apathy will eventually lead to it being a bunch of relatively privileged people paying lip service to social justice and equality, but not really doing much about it. I called for action and I aim to act.

I think the value of being atheist-identified while doing this work is purely a benefit for atheism. By going and doing things in the world, our good works show a secular face connected with acts that benefit more than ourselves. Secularists have a long history of being involved in social justice (abolition, suffrage, etc) and I would like to see that continue and expand. It’s important that we don’t do this stuff to make atheists look good. That’s just a side effect of being an atheist-identified group or individual doing this work. We need to be doing it because it’s an important issue for us.

We also need to not colonize others’ issues. We need to act as allies, not directors. Contact the organizations doing the work you care about, even if they are theistic, and ask how you can help. Use your skepticism to know what’s true, your humanity to know what’s right, and let people know you’re doing this without supernatural inducement. Do all that, but listen to the real expects on these issues. As a white man I wouldn’t lecture women or people of color about what their priorities should be. I won’t fumble my way in and just do what I think should be done. Learn the nuance of an issue and give support.

And please do the work. The best response to the haters and the trolls and the bullies is to make the world a better place. To live our principles and by doing so show them for liars when they say we’re seeking attention, that all we do is complain about them. I am asking myself questions about what social justice issues matter to me most. I am currently researching who is working on those issues.

I will be making a call once I have the issue and group that’s best for me and my principles and I will say “I’m an atheist, how can I help?”

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By Scott - 27 Aug 2012

You never get a second chance…

…to make a first impression.

Typically we find this “gem” of advice applying to an individual’s approach to an important meeting of some sort or even daily life. However, as a “First TAMmer”, I had the opportunity to do a little role reversal and get a true first impression from the active skeptic community at TAM2012.

I’ve been a skeptic for a long while, but never really considered seeking out or joining any skeptic community. It never even crossed my mind. However, I had found myself in a position to help out at the CosmoQuest booth this year, which allowed me to jump into the skeptic scene head first. I had heard many different things about the tumultuous situation happening online, but made a conscious choice to avoid reading it. I wanted to walk into this situation with as little personal bias as possible, and I’m really glad I did.

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By Tesla's Butler - 22 Aug 2012

The Trouble With Biotruth

For those who have been fortunate enough to escape biotruth logic, I’ll start by giving a brief summation of the kinds of arguments that fall into that abyss.  When it comes to discussions about gender, they take the following form explicitly, but there is always an implicit context to these arguments (which I will include in brackets as part of the quote):

“Men are x, women are y.  That’s just how humans are; it’s biology.  [And therefore the behavior you're complaining about is acceptable.]”

There is a problem with both the explicit and the implicit portions that come from completely different directions.  One is scientific, one is philosophical and logical, both render biotruth little more than a joke in rhetorical form — especially to skeptically minded audiences.

Starting with the explicit portion, “Men are x, women are y” is a scientific claim.  Biotruthers believe they understand the behavior that human beings are naturally programmed to exhibit.  The question that dispels their myth is a simple one:  “how do you know this?”

Human behavior IS influenced by hard-wired tendencies, but also by culture.  In order to get a reading of what human behavior is when the slate is clean, we’d have to actually observe humans in a culutural vaccuum.  Biotruthers most certainly have not done this (even when they attempt to do so in a rigorous way as many researchers have), as their observations are always made in the culture in which they live.  Their conclusions are based experiments that abjectly fail to control for all the variables and can therefore be dismissed immediately on scientific grounds.

The problem with the bracketed portion is much more damning however.  Even if we could ascertain what the natural tendencies of men and women are, that would tell us nothing about how men and women should behave.  Believing otherwise is a classic Is-Ought mistake; that is to say, nothing about how the world is tells us about how it should be in any rigorous sense.  You still need an external moral system for that.  Arguing that because women and men naturally behave a certain way they should continue to behave that way is as logical as arguing that because women and men naturally shit outside, bathrooms are immoral.

It saddens me that rationalists regularly employ these lines of reasoning, but we aren’t infallible.  This merely underlies the importance of self-criticism and keeping an open mind.  When we fail to be skeptical of ourselves, we fail to be skeptical.

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By Sasha - 20 Aug 2012

A call for revolutionary action.

For some, skeptical atheism took a turn for the revolutionary this weekend. There’s a mood in the air that had me write an earlier draft of this post. Then Jen McCreight beat me to it with her brilliant post calling for a new wave of atheism. Ophelia Benson, Jason Thibaeult, and Greta Christina soon blogged their support. Jen followed up with a crowd sourced name for this new wave and a report that grassroots support is, at the moment, growing. You can add my voice to that chorus.

Skepticism is, at it’s core, merely a way of knowing. A set of tools we use to cut away assumptions, misinformation, and myth to get as close as possible to objective truth. Skepticism and science are how we know that homeopathy doesn’t work. Atheism is a truth claim. For most atheist it’s merely a statement of what we believe is the most reasonable position to hold based on available evidence. Some atheists merely reject theism because it offends them for other reasons, but myself and most atheists I know arrived at our conclusions regarding god by using skepticism. For this reason the two are linked for many, many people.

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By Sasha - 17 Aug 2012

Hey White Guys

By Tesla's Butler - 15 Aug 2012

Patriarchs?

“Patriarchy” is a term that is often thrown around in feminist circles.  Loosely speaking, it symbolizes the claim that we live in a male dominated society that condescends, controls, and diminishes women.  This is a central tenet of feminism, but is a bit hard to swallow to the uninitiated because it makes it sound like there is some ominous, seemingly-conspiratorial group of men that sits in the upper echelons of society that enacts an anti-woman agenda.  And although there are powerful lawmakers with agendas that are largely in opposition to women’s interests, this claim isn’t really being made.  However, that doesn’t mean that the Patriarchs don’t/didn’t exist.  Lets peruse some quotations from a few of them.

Nietzsche, a philosopher of incredible influence:

“Woman’s love involves injustice and blindness against everything that she does not love… Woman is not yet capable of friendship: women are still cats and birds. Or at best cows” – in Thus Spoke Zarathustra

“Woman! One-half of mankind is weak, typically sick, changeable, inconstant… she needs a religion of weakness that glorifies being weak, loving, and being humble as divine” – in The Will To Power

Aristotle, one of the first scientifically-minded polymaths in the history of the western tradition:

“Females are weaker and colder in nature, and we must look upon the female character as being a sort of natural deficiency” – in Generation of Animals

“Woman may be said to be an inferior man” – in Poetics

“Woman is more compassionate than man, more easily moved to tears, at the same time is more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike. She is, furthermore, more prone to despondency and less hopeful than the man, more void of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive, and of more retentive memory” – in History of Animals

Hegel, a historian and philosopher who laid the foundation for Marx and many others:

“Women are capable of education, but they are not made for activities which demand a universal faculty such as the more advanced sciences, philosophy and certain forms of artistic production… Women regulate their actions not by the demands of universality, but by arbitrary inclinations and opinions” – in Elements of the Philosophy of Right

Most of us acknowledge sexism’s presence in the religious sphere, but few people expect to find the same bullshit coming from secular philosophers and champions of science and truth.  In actuality I haven’t even scratched the surface:  Sigmund Freud, Emmanuel Kant, Alexander Pope; the list goes on and on of great, secular thinkers who have perpetuated inaccurate, belittling ideas about women.  Antiquated notions about women are part of our intellectual DNA from both secular and ascetic intellectuals.  This is Patriarchy.

If Aristotle can hold such disgusting views of women, is the idea that many people in the skeptic community hold regressive views to a lesser extent really that shocking?  Being a man of reason didn’t prevent any of these great thinkers from being wrong about women.  None of us should consider ourselves above historical geniuses, and somehow impervious to falling into similar traps.

And by the same token, when the argument is made that Women’s Rights isn’t a “rationalist topic” you have to ask yourself, well then why did Bertrand Russell (the genius behind the Principia Mathematica) champion itCarl Sagan was a feminist too.

Maybe you should rethink joining us?

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By Sasha - 13 Aug 2012

“Coffee Loving Skeptic” Lays Bare the Intellectual Dishonesty of Misogynist Skeptics

What passes for wit in some circles.

Coffee Loving Skeptic, who seems to want desperately to be Rebecca Watson’s bête noire posted this super hilarious(ly badly Photoshopped) image on his Facebook wall. What I find really interesting, and telling, and instructive here is that the picture is obviously intended to cause offense and outrage in the targeted people, Ms. Watson and PZ Myers. In the image, calculated for outrage, he accuses his victims of profitting from “manufactured outrage”.

We’ve seen this charge before, that Watson, myself, and all other feminist not horrible skeptical bloggers are making mountains of molehills. We’re looking to be offended where no “normal” person would take offense. We’re accused of bullying, we’re criticized for blocking people who badger us online.

But this image is obviously, to anyone without massive amounts of angry cognitive dissonance, designed to be outrageous…and it is created by someone with so much intellectual dishonesty and with such a complete absence of self awareness that in this bullying, offensive provocation he implicitly claims that there are no such bullying, offensive provocations.

It’s the #FTBullies hashtag all over again. It’s the bullies denying their bullying as they bully. “Pay no attention to the insults I hurl at these people, and ask yourself why they are so upset?” It is absurd, and they are either too stupid to realize what they’re doing or they think everyone else is too stupid to notice it.

For extra icing on the cake, I give you the two images below. I commented, making the point I make in this post. Mr. CLS didn’t like what I had to say, and deleted my comment, while adding some dismissive bullying of a woman. I suspect he thinks you’re all too stupid to realize what he (and his allies in hate) are doing, and was afraid my comment would spoil the sweet scam they have going on.

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By Sasha - 10 Aug 2012

“Surly” Amy Davis Roth does more than her share.

Image copyright Amy Davis Roth.

As if creating the beloved and beautiful Surly-Ramics jewelry that has become one of the main social signifiers of the skeptic, atheist, nerd, and smartypants sets weren’t enough, Amy Davis Roth keeps bringing the awesome with her writing on Skepchick and at Mad Art Lab, plus her frequent appearances as a speaker and panelist. Then she goes and raises money to send women to the largest skeptic event on the planet as well as helping cure cancer. You’d think that would be enough to be fully qualified as a badass, but then she goes and does even more.

As I wrote about before Amy’s gone and contacted male leaders within the skeptic and atheist communities to ask if they would like to speak out against the hate being directed at women by the cadre of angry, bitter sexists within our communities. The response she’s gotten has been overwhelming, and I wanted to collect links to all of the statements she has so far to make sure people can see them.

And if that’s not enough, did you know that while bibles have been rumored to do so, her jewelry actually survives house fires.

 

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By Sasha - 06 Aug 2012

A lesson on shitlords from my local news.

Here in San Francisco domestic violence has been in the news for all of 2012. The abuser just happens to be our sheriff. I’m bringing it up because it’s a public case that documents many of the strategies employed by misogynist shitlords when they’re confronted by distaste from decent people.

Ross Mirkarimi was elected sheriff of the city and county of San Francisco in November of 2011. Over New Year’s Mirkarimi and his wife Eliana Lopez got into an argument that became physical. Lopez went to a neighbor who was a fundraiser for Mirkarimi’s election campaign. Lopez showed the neighbor bruises and made a video to document the abuse. Lopez told the neighbor that she wanted to document the abuse because of fears that Mirkarimi would take their children away from her. Lopez indicated that she had been telling Mirkarimi that they “need help.” The next day Lopez contacted the neighbor and implored her not to contact the police about the abuse. Two days after that, on January 4th the neighbor did call the police. The investigation became public on Friday the 6th — two days before Mirkarimi was due to assume his duties as sheriff. Under a cloud of controversy – but with no charges formally pressed — Mirkarimi was sworn in as sheriff on January 8th.

On January 12th the police contacted another neighbor who reported that Lopez had told them about the New Years abuse, displayed her bruise, and said that this was the second time in a year that Mirkarimi had assaulted her. Lopez ended this conversation with the second neighbor by saying that she didn’t know what to do because Mirkarimi had warned her that he was “a very powerful man.” At the end of this conversation Mirkarimi arrived with their son who told the neighbor that Mirkarimi had caused the bruise on his mother’s arm. The next day Mirkarimi was arrested and charges with domestic battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness.

Mirkarimi plead not guilty to the crimes, but over the course of the preparation for the trial and his attempts to discount the evidence against him failed he ended up copping a guilty plea to a charge of false imprisonment in exchange for the more damning charges being dropped. He was sentenced to three years of probation, 100 hours of community service, 52 weeks of domestic violence classes, a $400 domestic violence fine, as well as parenting and family counseling.

SF mayor Ed Lee gave Mirkarimi a chance to quit or be fired. When Mirkarimi refused to quit Lee began proceedings for a misconduct trial to have Mirkarimi removed, saying bluntly:

“I think that as one of the top law enforcement officials for the city, he ought not to have engaged in the beating of his wife…. I just think that the violence against a spouse was not appropriate for occupying that office.”

The misconduct trial is ongoing at the time of this writing, but here are some interesting thing I want to touch on. The details surrounding this that may right familiar when you deal with shitlords in your life.

  1. Mirkarimi had an established history as “a tyrant”.” In other words people knew he was a jerk, just didn’t know how big a jerk he was capable of being. You see this time and time again. Those people who keep sticking their foot in their mouths and getting pridehurt about being accused of sexism? They are often (though not always) the ones who have shocking and dismaying behind-the-scenes behaviors.
  2. Mirkarimi initially tried to say that him abusing his wife was “a family matter” and therefore weren’t appropriate for anyone to even be discussing. Compare this to the tendency of anti-feminists who say that talking about harassment, abuse, and sexism have nothing at all to do with skepticism so STFU already.
  3. When domestic violence activists staged a protest outside Mirkarimi’s office he sent the following text: “Unbelievable! Beverly knows that I’ve always been a fervent supporter of the dv community. am I really guilty until proven innocent … we know of the political forces at work here and yet, I’m advised to say nothing” Compare this to the frequent claims from sexists, homophobes, racists, etc that “I’m an ally, how dare you point out my bad behavior!”
  4. Mirkarimi’s few supporters have taken to painting him as the victim of a smear campaign by bullies. Compare this to the ridiculous #FTBullies tag on twitter and the frequent claims that Rebecca Watson and the Skepchicks are callously abusing people rather than themselves being subject to a campaign of bullying and angry threats.
  5. Mirkarimi has most recently taken to using the “Ed Lee is a liar and he lied and I’m still a victim” strategy to derail the campaign for San Francisco to not have a domestic abuser as sheriff. Compare, again, the the frequent ridiculous claims that feminist skeptics and atheists make shit up that happen when the antis in our community run out of logical fallacies to hurl at us.

Now to be clear in case any of the antis are reading this, I am not saying that the people who are so amazingly hurt by feminists talking about feminism in their sandbox are actually domestic abusers. What I am saying is that the bigoted shitlord mentality is one shared by abusers like Mirkarimi and the antis trying to tear apart our movements. Not only do they share a mentality, but they share many of the same tactics when under pressure and out of options. Food for thought.

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By Sasha - 03 Aug 2012

Ordinary men speaking out against misogyny.

More The Men is not about me, it’s about all men speaking out in favor of diversity. Last week I asked people to comment here, email me, or link me to comments elsewhere where they, as ordinary guys, speak out against the recent campaign of misogynistic abuse directed at women in our communities. Many of you took a stand and told the haters that you are not on their side:

dasregal:

Threats and intimidation are never acceptable. You have a right to disagree. You do not have a right to attempt to scare or bully others into silence.

We don’t need or want people like that as part of our community. Nobody does.

wbrinkman:

There will be disagreements in any community. Sometimes they will be heated.

When those disagreements turn into threats of violence and intimidation, a line is crossed.

Most people in the skeptical and secular communities are decent people, but there are vocal few who are not. When these people call for women to be raped or beaten, they hurt all of us. They silence valuable voices within secularism. They discourage others, men and women, from joining secular groups. They provide powerful statements that enemies of secularism will use against us.

They have a right to speak, but we also have a right to speak out. We have a right to say that if you want to kick someone, we don’t want you around. If you have to ask if raping someone is moral, then do society a favor and lock yourself away.

There is no perfect code of conduct, and we are not perfect individuals, but we can and should try to do better. There may be a fuzzy line, but we should stand up to people who are way past that line.

PatrickG:

There has been an appalling amount of vitriol and hatred towards a number of women (and men) who have advanced the apparently shocking argument that women deserve to be treated as people. I want to speak specifically of my reaction to this, and how that comes across to me.  Mind you, I’m a straight white male, aged 18-35, and the abuse I get from online commenters is peanuts compared to what women deal with, both online and in meatspace.

I cannot discuss issues or work with people who call me a “mangina” or a “feminist-licker just hoping to get laid” simply because I think rape is a very real issue, and “jokes” about it contribute to real harm. I cannot engage with people who tolerate (even encourage!) this behavior in their communities. If you have no problem with the abuse directed at the SkepChicks and others, count me out as a potential ally, because I want nothing to do with you.

Your voice matters. Please add it to our chorus today.

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