Friday, August 24, 2012

Atheism+ and Richard Carrier: Exclusivity, labels, and names.

I mentioned in yesterday's post that some of Richard Carrier's rhetoric regarding Atheism+ made me uncomfortable.  His description of the values of Atheism + is spot on, and I support that entirely.

Here is the section he adapted from Christine Reese:

"A. Atheism and skepticism should embrace diversity (and not just be a bunch of white guys reading a bunch of white guys). In fact, we should be really keen on expanding our experience and horizons in that regard, aiming to learn as much as possible, and provide resources to help all our comrades in arms.
B. Atheist and skeptic communities should encourage everyone to apply skeptical analysis not just to religion, pseudoscience, and woo, but to socialmoral, and political policies, theories and activists.
C. Considering the history of religion and how it has even warped secular life and thought in countries around the world, atheists and skeptics should spend as much time and energy deconstructing illogical and/or inhumane secular policies and claims as they do actively fighting religiously-based interference. We have to be as critical of ourselves and each other as we would expect anyone to be of religion, so we can be sure we don’t make the same mistakes. We must police the rot within, if we are to stand strong against our foes without.
D. In the field of education, atheists and skeptics should help promote courses and curricula that include logic and abstract thought rather than focusing all efforts on science. We need to train kids with a universal toolkit of skeptical and critical thinking about all issues in their lives, not just the scientific, but the social, political, and ideological as well. And we need to take seriously the effort to push for that and make it happen at the fundamental and national level."
Seriously excellent stuff.  He goes on to list (and expand in detail):
"1. We believe in being reasonable.
2. We believe in being compassionate.
3. We believe in personal integrity."
Also good.  He quotes Jen McCreight's description of the "plus":

"We are… 
Atheists plus we care about social justice, 
Atheists plus we support women’s rights, 
Atheists plus we protest racism, 
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia, 
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism."

Very, very good stuff.   But Richard expresses other sentiments that are really turning me off, not from Atheism+, but from his approach to the matter.  Emily Deitle has already expressed most of my thoughts on the matter in the updated section of her post on the matter.  James Croft, who was among the voices saying "Um, that already exists, and we call it Humanism." has issued a statement of support that is awesome, and mature, and focuses on what matters here - our shared values.

"If Atheism+ is about “walking the walk”, then it really is the walk that is important, not the banner that people walk under. If some people want to walk the same path as I under a different banner, then I’m happy to walk beside them – ultimately we’re heading to the same place."

Yes, yes, yes.

But Richard Carrier also has those troubling sentiments of  "GTFO" and "for us or against us".  He finishes with:
"In the meantime, I call everyone now to pick sides (not in comments here, but publicly, via Facebook or other social media): are you with us, or with them; are you now a part of the Atheism+ movement, or are you going to stick with Atheism Less? 
Then at least we’ll know who to work with. And who to avoid."
No, no, no.  That's a false dichotomy.  Richard was accused of this in the comments, and responded that
"A proper dichotomy does not become a false dichotomy just because you say so. You have to actually demonstrate it’s a fallacy by identifying an excluded middle. So why don’t you try doing that (you know, actually try to make an argument)."
Alright, here it is. Plenty of people support these values, and identify as secular humanists, and do not feel the need to take on the label of Atheism+.  Others may take a different label, or no label.  Some may just consider these things to be part of being a decent person, and find the label unnecessary.   They are the excluded middle.

Lucy Wainright, and others like her who aren't on board specifically because of this rhetoric, are the excluded middle.

People who believe in equality but oppose particular labels, or have a different understanding of what those labels mean are the excluded middle.

Now, part of Richard's point is the same thing that Greta Christina and others are pointing out.  In order to create a safe space and an effective movement for people in groups X, Y, and Z, we must exclude the people who are being assholes to them.  Yes, absolutely.  Carrier seems to be going beyond that, and drawing the false dichotomy that you're either "Yay, Atheism+!" or total douchenozzle.

That sentiment is dead weight on a great movement.  Let's throw it overboard and get this thing off the ground.  It's important to talk to people who do not fully share our values, and not "avoid them."  I reserve GTFO for the incorrigible or disruptive.  For the people who do support our values, insisting that they take our labels is the same selfish, territorial nonsense that James Croft caught and gracefully corrected in himself.  Good on him.  Let's follow suit, and work together with all reasonable, decent people, whatever they may call themselves.

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