Comparing Kerfuffles: Atheism + and social justice and stuff

A reply to a comment at File 770 that kind of ran away from me and was also both on & off topic in a some sort of quantum superposition of relevance.

<blockquote>David W. on August 15, 2015 at 11:09 am said:
True, but they also said that atheism should lead one to support social justice, based on atheism as a search for truth and justice being truth-based, as opposed to religion’s faith-based morality.</blockquote>

I recognizes this is very much sticking my finger straight into a particular can of worms and stirring it around and then saying ‘Hey look! worms!’ but…

Well yes, in so far as somebody who wants people to respect the rights and dignity of others and in particular the rights and dignity of people in groups that have often been marginalized by society *AND* in particular marginalized by organized religion *AND* for whom organized religion is often used as an excuse for retaining legal discrimination against, they had a strong point.

Personally, as an atheist I didn’t see it quite that way but probably because I saw my activism as being primarily as part of secular left wing movements with religious people involved. i.e. I’d rather be politically active in a movement that is orientated to social justice but has religious people in it, than active in an atheist movement that is focused on social justice. [In GRRM speak – I’m a fan of atheism but I’m not a truefan 🙂 ]

The key thing here was not who gets to call themselves an ‘atheist’ – anybody can but what should a movement advocating atheism be like. After all why even bother advocating for atheism unless there is some underlying ethical reason to do so. This is the point of the PZ Myers ‘dictionary atheism’ jibe – not believing in something isn’t much of a motive for doing something. If somebody is not only an atheist but actually feels that it is important to be active in organizations that advocate atheism and convince people that they should be atheists, then simply saying ‘I don’t believe in god’ is insufficient. I don’t believe in lots of things. What we could call ‘movement atheism’ or ‘organized atheism’ is going to depend on some kind of motivation or purpose or objective and the dictionary definition of atheism doesn’t provide that.

Now on top of that, moves to broaden atheist organizations so that more women, people of color and LGBTI people were represented and felt safe to speak in conventions (or safe to ATTEND) was met with significant push back from some quarters. Now it is important to note that the harassment of women was not confined to any one ideological grouping of men but the attempts to do something about it was met with a kind of quasi-libertarian and/or lets-keep-the-movement-big response from various quarters.

Focusing on that point is what brings me back to science fiction, ‘social justice’ and why it becomes an issue in any community of people. Putting aside wider ideological differences there is a principle that I think is actually coherent in most ethical systems: do not treat other people like shit. Or as expressed by the philosophers Bill S Preston and Theodore Logan esq. “Be Excellent to one another”. From a practical stand point of running conventions or online communities that means certain people have to change their behavior – you can’t act as if you are entitled to sex, you can’t act as if people who have been traditionally marginalized by society should stay marginalized in a community and , in short, you can’t act like jerk towards other people. That isn’t a new rule , ALL communities of people place some social (or legal) sanction on people who act obnoxiously to others – it is just that there have in the past been all sorts of exemptions that meant that communities would turn a blind-eye (or actively encourage) to people being a jerk (or worse) to members of particular groups or in particular ways.

Oddly this is one of the most fundamentally conservative things in modern thinking as it encapsulates two core conservative principles:

  1. Morality matters
  2. Social standards of behavior matter

The fury and the counter-reaction and the dressing it all up as either a quasi-libertarianism or an assault on religious freedom or an attack on male rights is actually about conservatives of various kinds (and certainly not ALL conservatives) reacting against the change to what those social standards of behavior are. Which is why discussion on these issues is so often covered in FUD and confusion. People on the right (with some exceptions) aren’t keen on arguing in against the notion that there should not be basic standards of decorum and decency. However if it is taken as given that there SHOULD be such standards it is clear that in modern society they can’t include sexual harassment, racial slurs or vilification, slurs on gender, gender identification/representation, sexuality or slurs aimed at men not meeting some masculine ideal*.

So just a quick comment then 🙂


One response to “Comparing Kerfuffles: Atheism + and social justice and stuff”

  1. From just reading the links, it seemed there was fault on both sides.

    Yes the original comment about sexism was out of place and even if you think it had validity, it was worded badly, leading to a feeling that it attacked Myers. It read to me very NuFeminist(a person new to feminist theory and language who having their eyes opened sees anti-feminism everywhere. Fortunately this seems to be a phase peple go through).

    But Myers compounded the problem by failing to understand the point. By labeling the female(?) bunny “religious” instead of “wrong” he showed he either doesn’t understand or care about feminist issues(or was rushed a sloppy reader when it comes to his comments threads)


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