A Few Remarks On the Roles of Race, Sex, and Ethnicity in the Skeptic Movement

This shall be a quote-by-quote set of remarks. Most quotes come from this post.

You know what? That is a great big hairy naked sexist remark. It’s a plain assumption that men are intrinsically better suited to leading skepticism and atheism. You can’t get much plainer than “It’s more of a guy thing.”

-Agreed. Though Shermer’s statement is true in a sense, calling attention to arbitrary differences in the composition of individuals known to be intellectually active in the Skeptic movement and the fact Shermer is, himself, a ‘guy’, makes his statement look like a piece of self-backslapping, and as meaning to cause deliberate offense against all non-male Skeptics. He should have added a “the above remark should not be construed to mean that I claimed the very condition of being non-male causes one to have a lower likelihood of being intellectually active in the Skeptic movement-intellectual activity in the Skeptic movement is almost certainly wholly dependent variables other than sex”.

A good response would have been to admit that he’d made an unthinking, stupid remark and that he’d like to retract it. But that’s not what he does. Instead, he argues that he really does think the split in participation is 50/50, and points to TAM as having roughly equal numbers of men and women speaking.

-Or at least, explain the remark so as to make sure it did not mean sex alone determines one’s level of intellectual activity in the Skeptic movement.

Oh. So I guess it’s not a guy thing, and you were wrong, Michael. It might have been cleverer of you to just say, “I was wrong, I made a sexist remark, the evidence shows that it’s not a guy thing.” A column in which he recognized his own sexism and talked about conscious efforts to improve would have been a good and respectful step forward.

-I agree with the above quote.

Shrugging your shoulders and saying that there is nothing wrong with our values being different than those of the black community, or the Hispanic community, or those of women is an open admission that you aren’t working under the banner of Secularism, but under the banner of White Man’s Secularism.

-The ‘black community’, being based on an arbitrary characteristic (whatever ‘race’ happens to be) should not exist, though it apparently does (see the exit polls). Ethnicity (‘Hispanic community’) should play a role where it is useful (in the United States, this would be southwesternmost Texas, S. Florida, California, NM, and parts of Colorado and Washington State) to the spread of Skepticism. PZ’s apparent implication that ethnicity or race determines values is bizarre and preposterous. There is no ‘White Man’s Skepticism-such a thing almost self-evidently does not, and, as long as the white population remains above ten thousand or so, cannot, exist. I agree with Michael Shermer’s assertion that

Given this tribal propensity in human nature to divide people into In-Group/Out-Group and Us v. Them cohorts, we would be wise to not let our various affiliated movements (skeptical, atheist, humanist) be rent asunder. As Ben Franklin admonished his fellow freedom fighters, “we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” There is still very real discrimination to be combatted in our society, with gays and atheists as two of the last minority groups to be targeted.

As ‘race’ is one of the most arbitrary of arbitrary characteristics, it makes sense there should be no such thing as ‘White Skepticism” or “Black Skepticism” or “Western North American skepticism” or “South American skepticism”-ideas should stand on their own.

You are making an implicitly sexist/racist remark when you blandly insist that what ought to be a truly catholic movement to improve humanity is just fine if it somehow fails to engage the concerns of non-white non-male people as much as it does us.

Every one of us has preconceptions about people made on the basis of sex and race. You don’t progress by pretending that stereotypes and perception don’t shape how we judge people.

These are implicit biases in our views. This is racism, classism, sexism.

-Accepting correlations between race/ethnicity and certain behaviors does not equate to accepting that race as an independent variable has a causative role in certain behaviors. I define only the latter as racism. A truly catholic movement should not determine niches in its research on the basis of race, and should strongly limit specialization in its research on the basis of sex.

I could go on at length about Shermer’s other complaint: that the “invectosphere” called him names. He doesn’t get to complain about that at all with respect to Ophelia, who has been under a ferocious invective assault for the last few years; that he complains about being called a “jackass” is pathetic and feeble when you compare it to the non-stop abuse Ophelia, Jen, Greta, Rebecca, and just about every woman participant in this argument gets flooded with online.

-I call tu quoque fallacy.

There is nothing inherently bigoted, racist, or misogynistic in the fact that the demographics of the secular community do not reflect those of the general population (in gender, in age and socio-economic class, or in height, weight, or any number of other variables for that matter), so short of some other evidence of bigotry, racism, and misogyny, there is no need to go in search of demons to exorcise.

-I strongly agree with Shermer on this one.

Why I Partially Oppose The Intolerance of Atheism+

In recent days, a group of New Atheists, led by Jen McCreight, have been calling for an addition of social issues to the atheist agenda. While I agree that, in the long run, Dictionary Atheism will do little to stop the tide of stupidity and nonsense in this world, I do not think social issues should be made an absolutely necessary component of the mainstream atheist movement. This is due to a number of factors. The first of these is that it is not clear whether adding baggage to the atheist movement will help it become more effective at spreading itself. While it is beyond doubt that promoters of atheism treating underprivileged groups with respect will encourage the spread of atheism, it is not at all clear that the refusal of one group of atheists to cooperate with another will lead to a more robust atheist movement.

The second of these factors is that Atheism+ is largely, though not entirely, promoted by Freethought Blogs, a blog collective with no editors, but very strong common intellectual ties, among these being Progressivism, a strong support for anti-harassment policies, and a strong support for government-mandated anti-discriminatory policies, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act here in the U.S. Bloggers who persistently question even one of these positions are swiftly kicked out of the blog collective. The encouragement of Atheism+ will further cement this blog collective’s place in the Atheist movement, thus making the Movement one more of people than ideas. As this blog collective is extremely hostile to large swaths of non-bigoted skeptical atheists, most notably, libertarians, the rise of Atheism+ and Freethought blogs will further alienate large swaths of the atheist population from the mainstream atheist movement.

In short, I conclude that atheist movement should be primarily focused on atheism and skepticism in order to avoid further Deep Rifts. In order to continue its existence as an effective, potent, and robust movement, douchebaggery, assholery, and dickishness must be, in most situations, tolerated, though never promoted. While calling out and opposing racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry in members of the atheist movement is good and praiseworthy behavior, it should only be done to the extent that all major members of the atheist movement can still cooperate with each other when opposing religion and anti-skepticism. As I am on friendly terms with George Grena (a Young Earth Creationist Christian Conservative) on matters of archaeology, so should the misogynistic and feministic atheists be on friendly terms on matters of combating anti-atheist and anti-skeptical elements in our society.