Move to Secular Woman

I have returned to blogging after an unplanned but very long break. But mostly it won’t be here. It will be at http://www.secularwoman.org/salon/Jadehawk. I will be posting links to new articles that will be published there at the same time as the articles are published, so there will still be a way to follow this blog. Occasionally I might still publish an article here, usually when it’s unsuitable for the Secular Woman Salon (fiskings of craptastic articles elsewhere, for example; or 3000 word theses I can’t break up into a series.)

Suggested reading — insightful sites that are currently on my reading list

Blogrolls are supposed to be a sort of promotion of other stuff one reads and stuff that’s interesting, but I feel like my reading is never that stable and I’d have to update the blogroll once a month to have it representative. There’s really only maybe 3 sites I visit regularly, and it’s often not for the reading but for the socializing. Maybe instead I should do occasional “what blogs/sites have I recently been reading” posts instead, pointing out interesting blogs I’ve discovered. Today, I’d like to feature the following sites for that purpose:

1)http://tressiemc.com/ written by Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd). From her bio:

Woman. Friend. Daughter. Scholar. Armchair activist. Hell-raiser. Intellectual Catfish.* Not particularly in that order.

I am also a PhD student in sociology at Emory University where I study education, inequality, and organizations. My research has surveyed for-profit students and the organizational mechanisms of the for-profit college sector. . My questions are less who and what and more why and how. Why are so many black students enrolled in for-profit colleges? So many women? How do status competition and stratification processes intersect with labor and economic structural change to produce these patterns?

As of Fall 2013 I am a Graduate Fellow at the Center for Poverty Research at UC-Davis. I am examining poverty policy and credential seeking. I cover highered debates at Slate and write about inequality, race, gender from time to time.

2)http://www.gradientlair.com/ written by Trudy (‏@thetrudz) From her bio:

I’m a 34-year-old Black woman who identifies as Jamaican Black (yes, Black is the noun, H/T to Nikki Giovanni). I am cisgender and identify as an ace; asexual, heteroromantic to be exact. I am a Womanist who includes Black feminism and intersectional feminism in my social justice work and writing, but Womanism most accurately speaks to my collective sociopolitical framework for anti-oppression praxis. (I reject the use of “social justice” as a dismissive label when I happen write about my personal life.) Politically, I identify as neither Republican (barf) nor Democrat (Zzz). My political leanings are very Left, but that includes intersectionality and a plethora of perspectives, not solely raceless conversations about class. I identify as an agnostic atheist but still very connected to Black culture in most ways though zero interest in monotheisms and I try to have nuanced perspective on non-Eurocentric, Afrocentric theisms and deities. Though I am an atheist, I am not interested in White supremacist atheism either.

I am college-educated. I have a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice and I completed 2 years of additional graduate work in Psychology and Mental Health Counseling. I studied race, gender and adolescent mental health/education and I have a lot of interest in how media/culture impact this. I studied Behavioral and Social Sciences at the baccalaureate level. (It’s a NO on pursuing a Ph.D.)

3)http://criticalspontaneity.com/ written by Suey (@suey_park). Short bio: “Freelance Writer. Organizer. Graduate Student.”

4)http://nataliereednewblog.wordpress.com/ newly started by Natalie Reed (@nataliereed84). From her bio:

Natalie Reed is a queer trans grrl, (…)-survivor, former addict, writer and activist currently living in Vancouver, BC. This is a space for thoughts and writing on feminism, gender theory, trans and queer rights, rape/abuse issues, addiction and drug issues, other social justice concerns such as sex worker and prisoners’ rights, and also pop culture, comics and other stuff, as it occurs to her. Intersections of various political and cultural issues are a particular interest.

5)http://colorlines.com/ which is a news site “where race matters, featuring award-winning investigative reporting and news analysis. Colorlines is published by Race Forward, a national organization that advances racial justice through research, media and practice.”

Swallowed by The Feminist Hivemind

I’ve not quite been able to return to full-on blogging (working on it though). However, I did commit myself to writing one of the inaugural articles to the new secular feminist bloggy-thingy, The Feminist Hivemind, so I kinda had to make myself write it.

I’ll be still primarily blogging here, but articles written for the Hivemind will be linked to from here rather than cross-posted. And especially, major articles I want to have greater visibility will probably go there, since I expect a place with more writing and more varied perspectives to also receive more traffic than my blog over here (which only sometimes gets a large audience).

Anyway, here it is: Feminism, Skepticism, Secularism, and a Venn Diagram

A collection of reading comprehension fails

I was going to respond to the second pitter response in the “dialogue” the same way I did to the first, but it turns out that’s not possible. That’s because there isn’t nearly enough content, and what content there is looks like a massive reading comprehension fail when taken at face value (one can speculate whether these pitters really are that dumb, or whether they’re playing dumb to avoid having to answer properly).

So instead, I’ll pick at some of the more interesting fuckups of that response, rather than focusing on the supposed point of the dialogue. (content of quotes not altered, but form adjusted for easier reading)

a pitter: We seek to establish real truths from untruths, for without this discernment we end up with religions, dogmas, and demagogues poisoning our society. We establish truth through the application of logic, evidence-based reasoning, critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Our competence in this truth-seeking endeavour is the most valuable asset we have.

Stephanie: I agree and disagree. We dont only seek truth for reasons that are that dramatic or noble. The basic reason we seek truth is that, without it, were flailing ineffectually in the dark. Curiosity drives us to seek truth. The desire to predict and control the world around us drives us to seek truth.

a pitter: Scientifically driven skeptics like us may pursue truth for different reasons compared to others in society. We agree that curiosity serves as an impetus for some people; so may a desire to explain the world around us. While desires to predict and control the world around us may serve as an impetus for some people, those reasons seem less likely to be widespread among atheists & skeptics.

1)The pitter response to Stephanie totally reads like “but we’re not like other, normal people, we’re better than the commoners! We Are Skeptics!”
2)I’m pretty fucking sure that curiosity and a desire to explain the world is the main motivation for knowledge-seeking among scientists.
3)Wanna bet they read “predict and control the world around us” not in the clearly intended sense of bending the environment to our needs (e.g. curing disease, improving agriculture, etc.), but in the Pinky and the Brain sense?

a pitter: We seek to establish real truths from untruths, for without this discernment we end up with religions, dogmas, and demagogues poisoning our society. We establish truth through the application of logic, evidence-based reasoning, critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Our competence in this truth-seeking endeavour is the most valuable asset we have.

Stephanie: I am unwilling to put competence at truth-seeking above other-Ill call them ‘virtues’ for lack of a better word. It is certainly important, but making it our primary consideration has come to be recognized as a bad idea. Placing the collection of knowledge above all else was the kind of thinking that led to the Tuskegee experiment. Researchers uncovered a great deal of truth about the progression of untreated syphilis, but they did so at the cost of the health and lives of people who did not volunteer to be sacrificed for truth. In response to this and other travesties, weve instituted safeguards intended to curb unchecked truth-seeking. Putting truth-seeking above ethics and compassion is deeply troubling.

a pitter: I dont see any disagreement amongst the atheist community on the importance of ethics in biomedical research.

Dumb or disingenuous? You decide! Definitely fucking hilarious though.

a pitter: In our pursuit of truth, we must test our beliefs in the forum of open and free debate. Nothing is left off the table; all claims can – and sometimes must – be fully examined and tested to determine the best evidence, arguments, and explanations. We can do this without rancour or dismissal and it is a key requirement in achieving our objectives: freeing this world of the terrible injustices we see all around us.

Stephanie: [...]Where I disagree in that case is that science is supposed to be a cumulative process. Once consensus has been reached on a particular topic through that process, its typically time to shelve that topic and move on until we come across information that doesnt fit the models. Continuing to study geocentric models of planetary and stellar motion at this point would not advance our pursuit of truth. Debate does not go on forever on a topic without the introduction of substantial new information.

a pitter: This description of science seems at odds with that typically seen in a research environment. Scientists do not shelve topics and move on to the next subject. Nothing is proven absolutely in science and even topics that seem certain are being constantly tested – for example the recent experiments testing the idea that some particles might be able to exceed the speed of light in a vacuum. The principle that every hypothesis must be open to falsification is the primary means we have to distinguish science from pseudoscience. In other words, I agree that the scientific process should be as open as possible, and disagree that science is supposed to be a cumulative process in which a topic is shelved once consensus is reached.

1)How ignorant do you have to be to disagree that science is a cumulative process? If it weren’t, we’d still be trying to figure out whether the earth goes around the sun or vice versa. As Stephanie noted.
2)Wanna bet this is just their attempt at defending their refusal to let go of privilege & the biases that come with it?

Stephanie: If this is intended to suggest that individuals must test all their beliefs through debate and that this process will lead to understanding the truth, I strongly disagree. When people who are taught to debate are taught to be equally comfortable taking either side of an argument, we are looking at a process designed for winning, not truth. If we want to arrive at truth through give-and-take, we need a more collaborative process in which the goal is not to win.

a pitter: This is rather confusing and perhaps would be better expanded so that the meaning is made clearer. Certainly we cannot expect the scientific method to determine every aspect of our lives (for example regarding the love we have for family and friends, taste in music, literature, etc.) These are questions about emotions. Again, many political questions are based on personal values that have an emotional rather than empirical basis. It is best to separate out value-based questions from those that have an empirical solution.

reading comprehension fail, disingenuousness, or do they really think science is practiced like a debate club?

a pitter: We can work together by following the principles core to atheism/skepticism and remembering we are each and all fallible humans, each with one life to live and with an equal right to self-determination. We owe it to those who are hurting, suffering, and dying in this big wide world of ours.

Stephanie: Promoting reason, critical thinking, science, skepticism, atheism, and secularism is worthwhile, necessary work. I would disagree that any individual owes it to anyone to do specifically this work. There is other humanitarian work that is just as necessary and just as worthwhile. One of our challenges going forward is making people feel that ours is the worthwhile, necessary work on which they want to spend their time.

a pitter: [...] we disagree if you are saying that “making people feel that ours is the-work on which they want to spend their time” is a widespread goal among atheists and skeptics.

lol. I wonder how the pitters imagine social movements grow, if not by convincing people that theirs is the work they should consider important to do/support?

Scratching at the veneer of reasonableness

I’ve been sort of half-assedly following the Atheist/Skeptic dialog thing, and was already taking notes to take the opening statement apart, but now that Stephanie Zvan has posted her “official” response which is part of this dialog, I figure I better finish up this post, before it becomes obsolete. So here you go, my version of a reply to “Jack Smith’s” introductory statement:

The primary purpose of this dialogue is to find common cause on which we can ‘work together’ while accepting diverse political and social beliefs.

If the point is to promote skepticism and evidence-based thinking, why would it make sense to accept political and social beliefs that go against the available evidence?

In our pursuit of truth, we must test our beliefs in the forum of open and free debate. Nothing is left off the table; all claims can — and sometimes must — be fully examined and tested to determine the best evidence, arguments, and explanations.

Except those ideas that are so thoroughly embedded in our society that we don’t even see them. Those must be left off the table, lest we upset the status quo and get accused of promoting “ideology”. Can’t talk about why the atheist/skeptic community is so white/straight/cis/male/middle-class dominated; can’t discuss the ways dominant perspectives dominate and exclude others; can’t talk about the unwarranted assumption that the perspectives of dominant groups are seen as “objective”, while the perspectives of minority groups are seen as biased; those things apparently must be left off the table. But discussing whether it’s women’s own fault they’re not better in STEM, that’s fine and dandy.

We can do this without rancour or dismissal

I see no evidence for this being the case; especially given that this very message accuses people who disagree of “imposing political and social beliefs on others”; also, “dismissal” has been a long-standing tradition, to the point of having its own name. The whole point of the Courtier’s Reply is that it’s something that can be dismissed because it’s an argument that assumes its premises (that god exists) and demands that the atheist do so, too.
Or to put it in the words of a dude apparently well-liked by the “atheist and skeptic community”: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
Apparently the thing about not dismissing people is only relevant now that it’s not just the religious but also other atheists who are the ones having their ideas dismissed.

We recognize that personal feelings have limited utility when determining objective reality.

True, except when the emotions in question are the reality under discussion. Also, we’re back to the part where dominant perspectives are considered objective (or in this case, free of emotional investment), while minority perspectives are not. Apparently it doesn’t cloud someone’s “objectivity” to have one’s privilege challenged. Because no one ever reacted to that emotionally, amirite?
Embedded in this is also the unwarranted assumption that one can’t be both emotionally expressive and right. Another unwarranted one, but another one that serves the status quo insofar as discussions of minority perspectives are more likely to elicit responses coded as “emotional” from the minorities who are the subject of discussion, than from the dominant groups (and as already noted, discussion of the dominant groups gets coded as ideological, and even genuinely emotional reactions to such discussions get coded as “rational”. funny how that works)

We therefore feel, in the interests of mutual cooperation, that it is appropriate to consider the best in others, give the benefit of the doubt, and assume others are acting in good faith.

I thought we were supposed to be empirical? People who’ve shown themselves in the past incapable of arguing in good faith don’t deserve any further benefit of the doubt; and since harm is caused regardless of intent, it’s often irrelevant at that point whether a person didn’t mean the harmful effect. t still happened, and it’ not gonna un-happen because you didn’t mean it. As such, “good faith” is worthless. Either you’re saying harmful shit, or you’re not.

Imposing political or social beliefs on others.

Sez the crew who’s trying to get RW blocked from speaking, and who throws a shitfit at the existence and popularity of FTB, and complains at the existence of WIS2 as somehow bad for skepticism/atheism; and who tries very hard to make sure that its own political and social beliefs remain the dominant flavor in the skeptic/atheist community.
Another benefit of being a dominant social group: you get to define your ideology as neutral ground, and perspectives conflicting with that ideology as impositions.

Attributing motives or character traits on others. Ad Hominem fallacies serve no good purpose in reasonable dialogue.

For the love of FSM, learn what an Ad Hominem Fallacy is. Hint: attributing motives and character traits ain’t it.

Our strength is in our diversity.

Actually, the lack of diversity in the atheist/skeptic movement is one of its greatest weaknesses and one of the main reasons we even have this rift.

Commenting on others without accepting a right of reply. The right of reply is fundamental to any open society.

Pathetic dog-whistle is pathetic. If I comment on your behavior on my blog, you have every right in the world to respond to it on your blog. What no one has a right to is a right to my readership. There’s no right to other people’s comment sections or twitter feeds.

If we criticise others then others have the right to respond to that without being personally attacked for doing so.

Ah, I see. This is one of those irregular verbs: “I criticize”, but “you attack”.

Ignoring the feelings of others. However we should not use our feelings to shut down valid and genuine debate and discussion.

And who gets to decide when an action is “ignoring the feelings of others”, and when it’s “not allowing feelings to shut down discussion”? Who gets to decide what is or isn’t valid and genuine debate and discussion?

Shutting down all forms of criticism. Criticism has been a mainstay of free debate for hundreds of years. Satire, caricature and critical commentary are a valid human response to any issue and have been for millennia.

1)”Shutting down all forms of criticism” is a strawman so huge and ridiculous, it’s absurd someone could take the claim that it was occurring seriously.
2)Again with the “valid”; what the fuck is “valid” about making fun of someone’s weight, health, or gender identity? What the fuck is “valid” about using gendered slurs?

it’s even on the walls of ancient Pompeii.

So are dick jokes and “Livia is a cheap whore” comments. The walls of Pompeii are not to be taken any more seriously that toilet-wall scribbles; which they pretty much are. Weirdest argument from authority ever.

We see the issues as a clash of ideas between those who wish to impose a particular political and social ideology, and those who wish to maintain the rationalist principles that have served us well for so many years.

What was that about “good faith” and “attributing motives” and “fully examining all ideas”?
Anyway, this is like Carlin’s “your stuff is shit, my shit is stuff” thing: “my ideology is principles, your principles are an ideology”. It also raises the question who “us” is here, since the whole point of the current “rifts” is that the ideologies that have dominated the atheist/skeptic communities so far has in fact not served many people who are atheists and who use the tools of skepticism.

This kind of imposition will necessarily divide the movement and weaken it. It will set up an ‘us vs. them’ mentality which distracts from our core aims.

A movement that will be weakened by becoming more attentive to the aims of its minority members is not worth maintaining. Like my feminism, my atheism/skepticism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit.
Aside from that, this assumes that there hasn’t already been an us vs. them going on. Judging from the comments and reactions of many minority atheists/skeptics, they were already being treated as a “them”. The difference is that they’re now speaking out about it and insisting that they want their fair share of the atheist/skeptic community.

And it will alienate our friends and allies who would otherwise wish to support us, but will be discouraged if they do not hold the same political beliefs.

If someone holds a political belief that will in effect harm me or actual friends of mine, why would I consider such a person a friend or ally?

It will impose unelected political leaders and encourage schisms.

I don’t remember the Four Horsemen being elected. And don’t tell me they’re not “political leaders”. New Atheism is and always has been political, and Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins at least have never shied from political expressions even in the pointlessly restrictive sense of politics = gubmint-work.

And why exactly are “unelected political leaders” something bad? No one ever voted for MLK or Lucy Stone. Now, unlelected government leaders, that’s a problem. But last I checked, the atheist/skeptic community was not a nation-state or any other entity with a formal governmental structure.

We do not seek to control anyone’s space, the policies in others’ spaces, or their expression of their beliefs and values. However, when people in one such space criticize or challenge other people, we feel it’s important for them to accept rebuttal or presentation of counter-evidence in accordance with the core principles outlined above.

IOW you do not seek to control anyone’s space, you just seek the right to take over other people’s spaces. Yeah, no.

Failure to reach a common ground on these issues puts at risk our efforts in achieving our common goals.

Not really. It just makes it impossible to be part of the same community. But I’m also not in the same community as the progressive Christians here in town, and yet I’m perfectly capable on working with them on common issues.

We can work together by following the principles core to atheism/skepticism and remembering we are each and all fallible humans, each with one life to live and with an equal right to self-determination. We owe it to those who are hurting, suffering, and dying in this big wide world of ours.

Meaningless, pompous waffle.

Day of Solidarity with Black Atheists/Nonbelievers

Day of Solidarity
As Naima Washington’s blog-post on Black Skeptics noted, these sort of events tend to be decried as “balkanization”, “dividing the Movement”, or similar crap:

when we ask everyone in the secular community to celebrate along with us, and we set aside one day out of the entire year to do so, there’s a problem! Last year, some very intelligent and insightful atheists declared efforts to organize a Day of Solidarity for Black Non-believers as segregation! Those same people are otherwise dead silent about the segregation, hostility, and alienation directed towards black atheists within the secular community year-round.

This is bullshit.

What events like the Day of Solidarity, the Women in Secularism conference, the African Americans for Humanism conference, etc. do is a)discuss issues not given much space or weight in the “general” (rea:, male, white, straight, cis dominated) conferences, groups, or writings; and b)highlight speakers and activists not given much space in the same “general” venues. To complain about them because we “shouldn’t have to” have such separate events is a lousy, blinkered argument for not having such events, or not supporting them. After all, we “shouldn’t have to” have skeptics or atheist conferences either, since that’s how all people ideally should deal with the world anyway, right?

So on that note, here’s my (admittedly measily) list of black atheists, skeptics, and nonbelievers that write stuff everyone should read:

Bridget R. Gaudette, contributor to Black Nones, blogger at Freethoughtify and Emily Has Books; she also currently has a kickstarter going for her next book: Grieving for the Living, so go contribute!!
Ian Cromwell, also a contributor to Black Nones, blogger at The Crommunist Manifesto
Anthony Pinn, author of African American Humanist Principles and The End of God Talk
Sikivu Hutchinson, author of Moral Combat and the forthcoming Godless Americana, contributing blogger at Black Skeptics
G. Andrews AKA Flexx, blogger at Human2O