Monday, June 3, 2013

Looking for "Middle Ground" in the Atheist community?

The last two years has seen a whole lot of debate in the online atheist, skeptic, and secular activist communities.  No surprise there, right?  But instead of atheists debating theists, skeptics debating the claims of the credulous, or secularists working against excess influence of religion in politics, much of the recent debates have centered on the current popular forms of social progressivism and particularly feminism.  There is not a thing at all wrong with this- it is, in my opinion, at least a part of what should be happening.  If you identify as a skeptic, a person who uses reason to decide their beliefs and actions, with recourse to evidence and a scientific perspective to inform you rather than commandments from wherever,  then you should already know that for this mode of thought and action to really work, NO subject can be off limits.  Subgroups in the community can have their "safe spaces", of course, where concepts can be refined, but those "safe spaces" cannot then easily function as a platform for the inevitable, needed discussions involving the whole community.

Sadly, much of the debate has been highly polarized, irrational, and ugly.  I believe one of the main reasons for this is that the fundamental reality of the debate and discussion has been largely ignored and misunderstood.  It is often portrayed as an Us vs Them: a pro-social justice and feminism side, and a side which is often conveniently and dishonestly labelled as "anti-social justice", or "anti-equality", or "woman-hating rape apologists" or "old sexist racist white d00ds defending their privilege", or other slurs, shaming labels, and bullshit.

In the context of the greater atheist/skeptic/secular communities, I don't see an Us vs Them.  I see something very much like political Entryism , combined with elements of a "putsch" where one group that is similar to or already a part of a larger group, tries to pull the larger group along to a more specific or radical alignment, as is not afraid to also try to replace existing leadership on whatever pretext available.  The current popular propaganda is that if you do not openly support a given social justice or feminist cause or perspective, and agree with their theories, then you are actively against the group professing it, and must therefore also be against equality, women, minorities, etc, even if you don't know it.  Even if you're just "blinded by your privilege."  Thus, the majority, well meaning and ready to discuss and debate, is painted as a sick and misanthropic group of cretins.  It's both funny and sad to see fairly well-educated middle-class liberals and their younger energetic followers act as if they are the first people to read and understand feminist literature or a sociology text.  These are groups with a very low number of conservatives and traditionalists, compared to the wider population. These are astoundingly liberal groups, and even the conservative and libertarian members tend toward a big-tent policy as far as concerns the larger communities.  The "other side" in this discussion, the "woman-hating rape apologists" side, does not exist.  What that "side" is, is the majority, a generally liberal and open-minded majority, who are simply not all  currently aligned with the furthest-left end of the progressive sub-group.    

So, if you are looking for that "middle ground"...
  1.  It's all around you already!

The atheist, skeptical, and secularist communities are quite diverse, even though there is overlap and shared goals, and many tend toward generally liberal to progressive in politics.  There is no shortage of perspectives.  I encourage everyone to read as many blogs as they can, to see where they fit in, to get comfortable, and still try to understand others.  Not only that, but maybe even further investigate the ideas presented outside the politics of the community. One positive result I have seen from the ongoing debates is that many new bloggers, who had only read and commented before, are throwing their hats into the ring, willing to stand up and take responsibility for their ideas.  Even though the market is bigger than in the past and more watered-down, some bloggers who have written for smaller audiences are finding their readership growing.

2.  If you want even more middle ground, you need to MAKE MORE!
Write. Blog.  At least comment in good faith at blogs or forums you like.  Express your ideas, and be willing to take responsibility for them.  Be willing to listen, be willing to think, be willing to interact, and be willing to talk back when you have something to say.  After almost ten years of reading and exploring the issues, these recent debates played a role in getting me to be more active.  You want to talk to the community?  DO IT!  The worst anyone can do is ignore you.  Or call you a hateful scumbag misogynist.  Or make unflattering photoshop parodies of you, although you generally have to be a pretentious ass to get much of that.

I don't see any deep community rift here...I see a potential second flowering of a wonderful and valuable internet and real-life community.  Call me an optimist.

So...what do you see?