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Why Not AtheismPlus

This is written as a response to Jen McCreight's recent post calling for a new wave of Atheist Movement, as well as some followup posts by her and Greta.

The usual predisclosure of my thoughts on the authors:

  • My thoughts on Jen McCreight are pretty neutral. I haven't read much of her stuff, I met her briefly on a SSAcon trip to the Creation Museum some years back, among several hundred others. She did start the whole 「Boobquake」 thing some years back, which I thought was a bit skeezy and childish, but that's not a big deal. She also gets some small minus points for being on FTB, but also not a big deal.
  • I'm slightly more critical of Greta; I've heard/read more of her and she gave me the impression of the not-perspective-pluralist forms of third-wave feminism. I like her on some other topics though.
The first impression I get from the writings is that there's a lot of false choice offered; either we have a community that offers/accepts abuse (which seems to be her criticism of the existing community) or we have her particular third-wave feminism with its (in my view inappropriately comprehensive) critiques. That's the foundation of my full critique; it conflates a number of problems, some of which should not be actionable (meaning some are "shit you need to deal with as an individual" and some are things the community should work on), in order to construct what seems to be a recreation of the mistakes of third-wave activism in other causes. Let's not repeat that mistake.
  • On anonymous email threats/harassment - That sucks. I've received it myself when pissing off some trolls, groups, and the like. It's not really relevant to the discussion here though; threats and abuse of that sort generally come from a few nuts, they won't be silenced easily by community, and whether they're trolling or serious, they're best dealt with by police. There are some subcommunities that are troll homes that will probably never be tamed (although the flavour of trollness differs, PZ's blog and 4chan are good examples); anytime a community is not tended adequately, this can happen. Emphasis on dealing with this as a reason for her cause amounts to a strawman.
  • On identified-forum and in-person improprieties - That sucks, and it's often something that can be dealt with by a community (because norms are often at stake). We need to have good conversations on what this constitutes because the third-wavers have gotten it very, very wrong (more on that below)
That isn't to say that any discussion of feminism is inappropriate; let's stay close to the baseline definition rather than even the "Feminism 101" stuff the third-wavers push; what we should hope to see is a commitment to the following:
  • Males and Females (however defined) are harmed by having significantly different legal and social norms
  • The degree to which these social and legal norms are observed and enforced by the legal system and structures of employment (and to a lesser extent by society in general) affect how limited hman potential is by said norms
Additional commitments are welcome to individuals and groups but should not be mandatory for broad movements, and solidarity and friendliness within the topic should be expected among everyone who accepts that baseline (I've laid out the foundations of my commitments beyond the baseline in another post).

The means by which we seek consensus on this should not be that we're afraid or tired of these discusssions, no matter how difficult and tiresome they can be. Forming a new movement, unless policed, doesn't actually solve problems. If it is policed, it is just a power play, which is possibly fine, although I would advise people, just as I do with blogs and conferences that have policies that are obnoxious and "safe spaces" in general, to steer clear of them. Some policies are ok, some are mostly okay with a few showstoppers, and some suck. Some communities can get away with not having policies for these things, or can be tended by people with a vague mandate. While some amount of policy (or tending) can be very positive, a light hand and the least-specific theory that can do the job are generally better than expansive policies with broad notions of the forbidden. (I know I disagree with thunderfoot on this matter; he seems to prefer no policies)

The signs I see of problematic foundations in Atheism Plus (some of which might be misconceptions on my part, or more questions than statements; I welcome corrections or discussion):

  • (Mentioned in Greta's post) I am not sure what transphobia means to them. Does rejecting the third-wave gender-theory (and denying the legitimacy of claims of sex changes) count, or is it more things along the lines of denying employment to, suggesting violence towards, or suggesting shunning of people who identify as transsexual? If it's the first, I reject it in the same way that I reject the frequent dismissal as anti-semitism any criticism of an Israeli right to a Jewish state; no group can demand that kind of theory of another on threat of insinuation of bigotry; that's not what bigotry means. If it's the second, I accept it; there can be no duty to validate, but a duty to tolerate is acceptable and positive.
  • The movements she criticised have never, in my experience, been boys' clubs. They may not have been always friendly to third-wave feminism (this struggle for the heart of feminism has been going on for a long time), but there have always been women, often in leadership roles. The movement I was in in Columbus had at least two women in the top leadership role while I was around, and while they may not (necessarily) be the kind of woman third-wavers or the more radical flavours of second-wavers would approve of, they were effective leaders. There have probably been plenty of women since in that role.
  • In Jen's first post, she implies ("it's time for a wave that cares about...") that skepticism applied to all aspects of oppression will lead to her positions. No. That's never been the case. Philosophy is divergent; the third wave has never been and never will be an inevitable final destination for people who open their eyes wide enough. It's never been even a good solution to the problems it tackles.
  • (Greta's) Social Justice, likewise, as a third-wave concept is deficient; it marks all these struggles as equal (religion, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, economic struggles, disabled issues, and the like). They're not, and the demands of the specific communities working on these fronts have made demands that include the excessive, the unacceptable, and the thorny (worthwhile causes that probably should be detached from the main one because they make coalitions difficult) alongside the worthy and the good.
Specifically (I'm focusing on the proposed forum rules for the AtheismPlus community, which I believe expresses their first efforts in discourse-norms):
  • Let's not do trigger warnings or the Pervocracy notion of "consent culture". We all have some issues that are difficult for us, that make our skin crawl, and so on. I have some of these myself; they're my flaws, and it's my damage. Making it hard or cumbersome to talk about these issues or changing the norms of society so people have to ask before touching each other costs the mainstream too much and neglects body language and the like for the sake of our damage. I would not have my flaws be paid for by the rest of society, nor anyone else's flaws. It is okay that and we should be comfortable in the non-neurotic norms of society. If someone can't handle those norms, we already understand that that's because that person's a bit broken, and the broad norms serve most people well.
  • Insults that target a group may be in poor taste or not-classy, but their reasoning for prohibiting them are a third-wave activism brokenness. It is fine to be amused at various groups. It is fine to prefer that people not be disabled, or fat, or anorexic, otherwise mentally ill, or the like. Not because rudeness towards specific people who are is cool (we all have faults), but because our ability to approve or disapprove of things is not something we should give up lightly.
  • Prohibition of jokes of a certain kind is unacceptable in general-purpose forums and as a general speech norm. Jokes about a touchy topic are not the same as promoting the occurence of tragedy. Provided that humour doesn't actually promote bad norms (and I suggest a very very high bar for this), it is acceptable, regardless of topic and regardless of actual offense. Gilbert Gottfried, Sara Silverman, and Frankie Boyle are all members in good standing of acceptable humour.
  • Objectification is okay. We all objectify each other in many ways in life, from thinking of employees as human resources to pairs of people who explicitly "date" another person just as a sexual partner while between romantic ties (I've never done that, but I know people who have). Porn is objectification. So is employment. So are many of the specifics of flirting. Not all objectification is good, nor is all of it bad; the topic requires a more nuanced treatment (which I may attempt to offer in another post sometime) than saying "don't do it".

Summing up:

  • Some of the problems this effort would address are real and worth addressing
  • Using third-wave theory, discourse, and social institutions is a bad way to deal with the problems
  • We would do better to do mild reforms to existing groups rather than create new radical groups; the proximity to people one disagrees with helps keep groups stay sane and doesn't create large islands of otherwise worthy culture that are inaccessible to people because they don't like the specific theory
  • Anonymous trolls will troll, but they're not solvable with these means and just need to be ignored
  • Intersectionality is dangerous when it draws in commitments to groups that demand validation rather than tolerance/acceptance; criticising such commitments on grounds of divisiveness is valid