Atheist Infighting - Or Why I Think Our Thought Leaders Set Horrible Examples
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29-09-2014, 11:33 PM
Atheist Infighting - Or Why I Think Our Thought Leaders Set Horrible Examples
Rant Warning - I'll try and keep on track but if I go down a few rabbit trails please understand I am going a bit stream of consciousness on this one.

OK, let's start with a bit of context - what started me down this path was the recent post from Greta Christina excoriating Sam Harris' apparent sexism regarding his remarks related to the gender imbalance in atheist circles (Why Both of Sam Harris's Recent Comments Were Sexist...)

Greta may not technically be wrong; but she definitely isn't right. Here goes - Harris made two statements to which she originally objects. The first is as follows:
Quote: “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women”

As I understand it the core of her objection relates to the evidence that gender isn't really tied to biological sex and that even if there is some innate level of difference in biological or psychological makeup due to sex that it is still sexist to make an assumption about it because gender effectively overrides it due to social normalization of sexist stereotypes. I don't think Greta is wrong here. Where I think she is wrong is in making this a sexism issue.

The simple fact is that there is a gender disparity in the atheist movement and I think the biggest mistake Sam made as it relates to gender was using the word "intrinsically". This essentially gave anyone license to challenge his claim while ignoring the fact that he is making a salient point - that the prevailing socialization of women may in fact make them less likely to align with the atheist movement especially when you combine the outsider view of the atheist movement as being combative, angry, and inherently cold. This sexism is not Harris' fault and I believe the intent of his statement was that those two competing social viewpoints are in conflict. It's not a new point, it's one that has been made before. But his use of the word "intrinsically" inferred an unsubstantiated difference between men and women and people pounced on it.

What really irritates me is that it appears this oversight is more important than the original point he was making. By throwing the "sexism" label around Greta is serving nothing more than winning points with people who already agree with her while alienating those who already see atheists as contentious. PZ's jumped on board as have many others. So what does this do for the movement? Nothing, really. It's not consciousness raising in any way - by her own admission the problem isn't Harris' but the way people are socialized. She's right in that is isn't right, but we do need to deal with reality as it is and Harris' is communicating to an audience who, by and large, does not parse language in such minute terms. Few do. Maybe more should. But ignoring the larger point to essentially launch a technical ad hominem isn't leadership - it's myopic ego.

Harris' second statement went as follows:
Quote:“The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

Admittedly this is a bit more inflammatory, if you are looking for inflammation but again I go back to my main point - consider the context and the audience. Greta takes ample opportunities to launch into what I think is a point which completely misses the mark:
Quote:And it’s ridiculous to say that being “nurturing” has nothing to do with organized atheism. Tell it to the people running the many, many support organizations in our community: Darrel Ray at the Secular Therapist Project, Rebecca Hensler at Grief Beyond Belief, Andy Cheadle at the Secular Safe Zone project, Sarah Moorehead at Recovering From Religion, Robert Stump at LifeRing (the secular sobriety support organization), Vyckie Garrison at No Longer Quivering and the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network, many more that I don’t have space here to list. For years now, movement atheists have been talking about how we need to create secular communities and support structures, to replace the ones people lose when they leave religion — and a whole lot of atheists have been stepping up to the plate. Atheism absolutely has a nurturing, coherence-building vibe. Either Harris thinks these support organizations don’t matter, which would be grossly insulting — or he’s genuinely ignorant about them, which would make him profoundly out of touch with the reality of on-the-ground organized atheism, to the point where he’s grossly unqualified to comment about it. (Kudos to Rebecca Hensler, founder and co-moderator of Grief Beyond Belief, for pointing this out in her excellent post, Sam Harris, Meet the Secular Support Movement.)

She creates a false dichotomy about Harris' knowledge of the goings on within the atheist movement (apparently she can read his mind) and seems to forget what seems to be common knowledge to many of us who aren't headline atheists - we still have an image problem to those people outside of the movement. Even those who are atheists are still learning about these services. Considering the popular view of atheists previously mentioned it might be surprising to learn that we have such compassionate services to those who only view us from the outside.

This is only the latest in dozens of instances of infighting where the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. Instead of trying to make everything a publicly humiliating teachable moment about whatever gets under your skin perhaps these things are better handled in a more private manner. Lambasting blogs, news outlets, Twitter, & Facebook only serves to further distance ourselves as the liberal/intellectual/scientific elites in the minds of those to whom we are trying to relate.

But then I am a white male - the sad truth of the matter is that I don't know if I am allowed to have a dissenting opinion on topics like this. I am posting this here because I am afraid to post this in my normal circles because I can't anticipate the backlash. That is another sad truth. I have neither the time nor inclination to fend off the legion were this to blow up. Posting in this forum reduces the risk that it will have negative repercussions on my job. And there is yet another problem - within the movement, here I am; a relatively intelligent person afraid to speak up for fear of the backlash because I seem to see things from a different point of view. The only reason I am doing this now is because I've become fed up enough with this that it needs to be said - consequences be as they will - I am done sitting on the sidelines watching people undermine that for which so many have worked and sacrificed.

It's time to put the egos away, folks, and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
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30-09-2014, 12:30 AM
RE: Atheist Infighting - Or Why I Think Our Thought Leaders Set Horrible Examples
Nice rant, bro.

Smile

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30-09-2014, 01:23 AM
RE: Atheist Infighting - Or Why I Think Our Thought Leaders Set Horrible Examples
...We have thought leaders? Huh. Consider
And here I thought I was able to think for myself.

The truth is absolute. Life forms are specks of specks (...) of specks of dust in the universe.
Why settle for normal, when you can be so much more? Why settle for something, when you can have everything?
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30-09-2014, 01:35 AM
RE: Atheist Infighting - Or Why I Think Our Thought Leaders Set Horrible Examples
(30-09-2014 01:23 AM)One Above All Wrote:  ...We have thought leaders? Huh. Consider
And here I thought I was able to think for myself.

You think that because we told you to think that.

Drinking Beverage

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30-09-2014, 11:07 AM (This post was last modified: 30-09-2014 11:26 AM by Deidre32.)
RE: Atheist Infighting - Or Why I Think Our Thought Leaders Set Horrible Examples
I'm a feminist, and having said that, there are some feminists who look for every slight, perceived or real, against women, to exploit feminism. There's a difference between advocating and supporting the feminist movement, and exploiting it, using it to promote an agenda that has little to do with equality between men and women.

Having said that, many women (I am) are tired of "gender differences" being brought up when they have no bearing on a wide array of issues, and in this case -- the progress of atheism. (and the gender split)

Sadly, whenever I read an article like this, written by either a feminist or a sexist...I realize that we have much work to do in coming up with a better definition of feminism. Greta isn't right nor is Sam, and two wrongs never make a right. Wink

Be true to yourself. Heart
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30-09-2014, 11:27 AM
RE: Atheist Infighting - Or Why I Think Our Thought Leaders Set Horrible Examples
At first I was like, "blahh so much text, and a terrible title, there is no way I'm going to read this." But I did read it and I did enjoy your "rant."

I agree that nitpicking can be detrimental at times when a bigger (or just completely different) issue is at hand. And I can relate to the fear of raising a dissenting opinion because of the backlash personally and/or professionally.

I don't like the title "thought leader." I usually refer to those people as "famous atheists" sometimes with an extra, "who seems like a pretty smart man/woman."

Nice post Thumbsup

I prefer fantasy, but I have to live in reality.
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30-09-2014, 11:28 AM (This post was last modified: 30-09-2014 03:13 PM by Can_of_Beans.)
RE: Atheist Infighting - Or Why I Think Our Thought Leaders Set Horrible Examples
Sam wrote a blog post that explains his comments in a little more depth:

I'm Not the Sexist Pig You're Looking For

"I feel as though the camera is almost a kind of voyeur in Mr. Beans life, and you just watch this bizarre man going about his life in the way that he wants to."

-Rowan Atkinson
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30-09-2014, 11:43 AM
RE: Atheist Infighting - Or Why I Think Our Thought Leaders Set Horrible Examples
^^ lol
That's like saying..."I'm not a sexist, I just make sexist comments."

Very intelligent men find clever ways of saying sexist remarks that don't appear glaringly sexist because their audience admires their brilliance in other matters.

Aristotle comes to mind. He was a brilliant man but a sexist and advocated slavery. I think as a culture, we are often dazzled by intellect over character.

Off the beaten path a bit but .... Angel

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30-09-2014, 11:47 AM
RE: Atheist Infighting - Or Why I Think Our Thought Leaders Set Horrible Examples
(30-09-2014 11:28 AM)Can_of_Beans Wrote:  Sam wrote a blog post that explain his comments in a little more depth:

I'm Not the Sexist Pig You're Looking For

Sam Harris wrote:
Quote: “Listen, honey. I go to strip clubs every week. I love women—especially when they’re covered in oil.”

Bastard!

Angel

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30-09-2014, 03:08 PM
RE: Atheist Infighting - Or Why I Think Our Thought Leaders Set Horrible Examples
“The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

This one sounds more like an observation based on target advertising strategies or sociology and biology...

Its not like he's saying all women look for those things. He's not saying women are purposely excluded, or incapable. Atheism isnt a product. Nor was it designed or built. It was an unavoidable position that arose naturally when the god claim was first made. Equal numbers of males and females being attracted to a naturally occurring position isn't within our control. That shouldn't stop us from speculating as to why. Its surprising that anyone gets butthurt over this kind of thing.

The only sexist thing I could pull from the statement would be the very last bit, which sounds like he could be saying women aren't attracted to as many things as men and that everything would need those values to attract an equal number of women as men... But that's not what he's saying at all.
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