I don’t remember how it feels not to be stressed.

The last few months of my offline life have been ridiculous and absurd for reasons that I can’t explain right now because I still don’t have the time to write that long a post. Don’t worry, I’m okay! Good things are happening! But those good things have kept me tied up in such a way that today, I felt like I had to apologize to my co-workers for having been unable to work more late nights in the past couple of weeks. Just think about that for a second. I don’t get paid for extra hours, most of my co-workers don’t work nearly as many late nights as I do every summer, and yet I felt like I’d done something wrong by working no more than 45 hours per week.

With that in mind, I’m still not quite ready to unclench enough to write an interesting blog post, so I’ll leave you with a little meme. I haven’t been good about writing lately. The preceding paragraph should give you some clue as to why that is, but I miss feeling safe and rested enough to lose myself in my fictional worlds.

dontalwayswrite

The Most Interesting Man is the only meme who really gets me.

Just a tiny bit of news before I go: I’m officially done with Richard Dawkins. Gone. Good-bye. Lifetime member of the Nope List. There are some lines you do not cross. His latest round of shit-spraying is one of those things I’d like to blog about if I could get a chance to write in detail about anything, but for now, I can assure you that I am no longer interested in anything he has to say.

Book Review: Godless Americana

Friends, countryfolk, students of secularism, direct your attention this way, please. Grab your lined notebooks and pens and take a seat facing the board. It is time for the lessons you didn’t get in high school, or for that matter in college. Sikivu Hutchinson’s new book, Godless Americana, will offer you the history, sociology, psychology and social studies you’ve been missing while asking why black people in America are so invested in the supposed religion of their oppressors. Buckle your seatbelts and keep your hands inside the car, because you will travel a very long way in a short period of time.

As we have come to expect from Dr. Hutchinson, there are no sacred cows, no privilege unexamined, no prejudice left unexposed. She stands in the middle of a set of groups which encompass practically everyone in America, emphatically including several groups which count her as a member, and she calls them all out on their inequality-perpetuating shit. If you’ve followed the politics within the atheist movement at all in the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed that even a mild criticism of the behavior of some elements in the movement will open you up to an avalanche of shit raining down on your undefended head. Godless Americana is the honey badger of intra-atheism politics, because if you are under the impression that Dr. Hutchinson and her book give the slightest fuck about the Shit Avalanche, you will soon discover that you are mistaken.

Go buy the book. Do it. Click on the picture and buy the book.

Dominant American society is full of white supremacism and patriarchy, the black community is shot through with patriarchy and heterosexism, the mainstream feminist movement is soaking in racism and classism, and the mainstream atheist movement is generously laden with the baggage of patriarchy, white supremacism and classism thanks to its roots in the emphatically inegalitarian culture that enabled its development. These issues are all related in keeping black and Latina women heavily invested in Christianity.

Of particular relevance to mainstream (white) atheist culture is Hutchinson’s exploration of a syndrome known as scientism. This is a word that tends to make atheist brains (including my own) shut down as soon as we hear it from the mouth of a religious apologist, but I urge my fellow white secularists not to let this turn them off the book. For the purposes of this review, I will draw a distinction between small-s science, as a system of investigation, and big-s Science, as a cultural institution and body of acquired knowledge. Scientism implies not an appreciation for the former, but an overreliance and unquestioning trust of the latter, without concern for its long history of unethical and abusive experimentation on marginalized people whose descendants are now understandably mistrustful of the representatives of Science. While science is a self-correcting system, scientists are only human and their work takes cues from the system of inequalities in which they grew up. For a concrete example of the problems with atheism’s enthusiasm for Science, Dr. Hutchinson surmises that if Science were to take on the question of why so many African-Americans are incarcerated, it would conclude that blacks are a deviant race and must be socially engineered. The efficacy of using hypothesis, experiment and evidence to answer a question is a separate issue from the actions of scientists, and that tension between ideal and practice has made Science a problematic institution for many African-Americans, especially women, who bore the brunt of Science’s disregard for informed consent and human dignity.

The main theme running throughout Godless Americana is that while investment in theistic religion is erroneous and itself a driving force in many social problems, the fact remains that secular society is inadequate to meet the needs of many African-Americans and Latinos, which is why these groups are so much more invested in Christianity than whites. It is in answer to the question of how atheism can become more diverse and relevant that it is in the atheist movement’s interest to focus more on social justice issues, particularly those concerned with poverty, incarceration and sexual violence, and less on church-state separation. It is also because addressing these inequalities is the right thing to do. If the atheist/skeptic/humanist movement wants to do good in the world, then it must take interest in the concerns of people outside of those who are already educated in physical sciences and can afford to attend conferences. If you find yourself tearing your skeptical hair out over the question of how the movement can attract more people of minority racial groups, and/or attract more women—and these are not separate and discrete groups—then a great place to start is to read Godless Americana. It’s a much better deal than paying for all those history and sociology classes, but be careful about reading it on mass transit: you might miss your stop.

 

Disclaimer: This here blogger received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I have received no other compensation and have no financial stake in the book’s success. 

Amateurs

Someone made this happen, and Paula Kirby (who was until quite recently someone I respected) Tweeted it around:

We’re laughing at you, not with you.

So then Ophelia Benson showed it off on her blog so that we could point and laugh.

For those who have no idea what this is about: there’s been some assholery going around the atheist movement over the past year-and-change. Only now is the assholery leading to actual upheaval. This is one of those things that have been puked up due to the motion sickness of the rug getting pulled out from under them.

Clockwise from bottom left, we have Jen McCreight, Ophelia Benson, Rebecca Watson, Richard Carrier, PZ Myers and Greta Christina. The naked monkey-faced dude in the middle is just this guy, you know?

This is probably not the effect that the “artist” intended: I want to jump in there and assist Jen and Greta with whatever it is they’re doing on monkey-face. I want to kneel at Rebecca’s feet. I want to learn the wise ways of Ophelia. I want to have a beer with Richard and PZ.

These are just the sensations coming up from looking at this picture.

I see from the context that this little collage was intended to ridicule the FTB/Skepchick alliance, but the effect is that they all seem like an awesome bunch of people. If you’re trying to ridicule, it helps to make the object of your derision actually look ridiculous.

Sometimes, I just want to hole up in my little garrett and hunch over a typewriter.

You may have noticed lately that this blog is becoming more about writing and less about discussing socio-political issues. Part of that is quite prosaic: I write books, so I’m trying to be a part of the writing community and perhaps just a little trying to promote my books. Part of it is that discussing the issues is so fraught with derailment, hostility, silencing tactics and other douchebaggery.

If you have an even passing familiarity with FreeThoughtBlogs, you’ve probably heard that Thunderf00t has revealed himself as—how can I put this politely?—a net negative to the atheist community. PZ Myers gives us a handy summary and link farm post about the shit that TF has forced FTB to handle. I tend to agree with Ed Brayton that—again, putting this politely—TF should not be a respected figure in the atheist/freethought community anymore. He is a disruptive figure, and not in a creative way, just a destructive, energy-squandering way. I find Natalie Reed’s post on the destruction and energy-squandering the most relevant, however. If you’re ambivalent or apathetic about what Thunderf00t did to FTB, I urge you to read her post, and if you think that his conduct towards her is not that big a deal, please do not ever darken my virtual doorstep again. I am in no mood to engage with your callousness.

As if that’s not enough, she has to deal with derailing comments even on a post filled with that much vulnerability and exhaustion from people who think that their pet issues and reputations are so much more important than the dangers that she’s up against. This is the sort of environment that makes me want to say, “You know what? Fuck it. Nothing but fiction excerpts and grammar advice from now on.”

Which is not to say that I’m vowing never to write about real-world issues again. The real-world-issues blogging will still happen, not the least because the issues tend to come up in my fiction. Charlinder’s Walk engaged with ALL the socio-political issues. This sounds like hyperbole, but I’m only exaggerating a little. Religion/skepticism, science, education, gender/sexuality, environment, poverty, family, technology, caste, visceral racism, culture…ALL THE ISSUES. My future novels will be a bit more…contained, in terms of handling social issues. Fait Accompli mostly has to do with women’s bodily autonomy, focused on reproductive freedom and lesbian rights. Book 4 (tentatively titled Suicide is for Mortals) is perhaps more philosophical, but it deals with things like addiction, poverty, human trafficking and social isolation. I’m also planning a YA novel focused on bullying. Stuff will continue to appear on this blog. But at the moment, I’m seeing shit happen in the freethought community that destroys my interest in blogging about anything outside of indie writing.

This is me, choosing my battles.

Ugly bitches can still kick your ass.

Right. I went to the Women in Secularism Conference, and it was awesome, then I went back to work on Monday and found that my co-workers decided to punish me for taking Friday off. I’m reading “punishment” into the pile of work that I found on my desk on Monday, and anything that takes more than 5 minutes online at a stretch has to wait for the evenings at home.

One of the things that happened at the conference was that Jen McCreight mentioned during a panel discussion that she had been warned via email, by several separate, mutually unaware women, to steer clear of certain male speakers who often appeared at atheist conventions. These are men who are rather prominent in the secular community and have a history of harassing women at conventions, so Jen was warned not to be alone in a room with them. This was just a small part of a panel which was one of several presentations over the weekend, but, as tends to happen whenever someone brings up sexual harassment within a community, it has lit up the Internet.

Stephanie Zvan on social pressures and incentives.

Jen McCreight weighs in on the coming shitstorm.

Stephanie Zvan on policies.

JT Eberhard offers advice on flirting without harassing.

Greta Christina responds to the idea of women playing hard to get.

Greta Christina calls out some idiot who played the Ugly Card like it’s a new invention.

And finally, this shit happened, which has prompted Jen to suggest a new Internet law.

Proof women can be sexist assholes too! I really feel like we should have a law for this, like Godwin’s law. “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a woman’s appearance being mentioned grows larger.” The type of remark can vary. I’ve been called both pretty and ugly as insults (hurrrr, or pretty ugly!). Women just can’t win.

When a woman complains of sexual harassment/abuse, her appearance will be made an issue in either (or both!) of two ways. 1. She’s too pretty, so the guy who mistreated her just couldn’t help it, and what does she expect, anyway, looking the way she does? Or, 2. She’s too ugly, so it couldn’t possibly have happened and she’s just lying to get attention.

Sometimes both of these tactics will be used on the same woman in the same incident. Or, sometimes it doesn’t start with a discussion of sexist behavior, per se, but there’s an argument going on, and when a woman has the gall to express a less-than-popular opinion, some people find it easier to tell her she’s ugly than to respond to her argument. The implication isn’t really that being ugly means she’s wrong so much as that being ugly means she can’t have an opinion.

Alternatively, a discussion could begin with a woman posting something interesting, and instead of engaging with her point, some dudes show up and talk about how much they’d like to bang her. (And when she’s having none of that bullshit, they turn around and call her an ugly bitch.)

This happens a lot in Internet arguments. This is why Greta has a tag of #mencallmethings. It doesn’t actually matter how the woman in question looks. She could look like a toadstool, or she could rival the Greek goddesses, or anything in between. Somehow, her appearance will be used to silence her.

So, I’m with Jen. I think there should be an official Internet Law similar to Godwin’s. If, every time some idiot brought out the “Well, you’re ugly, durr durr durr” card rather than actually responding on ideas, we responded with, “Hah! I call Blag Hag’s Law, and you lose!” eventually the idiots would start thinking twice about saying shit like that.

(Finally, I’d like to point something out to women like Abbie Smith and Scented Nectar, who keep turning up on the wrong side of these encounters: the longer the debate goes on, the more women are willing to speak up, and the more men listen to us and stand on our side. The more that happens, the more the anti-feminist side selects for increasingly obnoxious and repugnant men. I know, you want to be the ladies who show the menfolk how cool you are, you want to win the dudes’ approval by showing them you’re not with those hairy feminazis, but that position only becomes more maladaptive every time we go through this debate. I will paraphrase Amanda Marcotte: guys like that don’t go down. The benefits of standing up to the Evil Feminist Machine aren’t so beneficial anymore.)

 

Review: Moral Combat

Coming to the end of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and the Values Wars by Sikivu Hutchinson, I am forcibly reminded of PZ Myers’s endorsement of The Greatest Show On Earth, by Richard Dawkins.

There are no more excuses. None.

Perhaps it’s a bad sign that I can’t think of a better comparison than a recent biology-focused tome by Prof. Dawkins, but bear with me a few minutes.

While Prof. Dawkins chose an ambitious but uncomplicated project of establishing in layman-friendly terms the reality of Darwinian natural selection, Dr. Hutchinson’s book takes place at a very different degree of sociological difficulty. She places herself between the black church, the larger white-supremacist and patriarchal society, and the developing atheist movement, and she schools them all. There are few people left uncriticized by her scholarship, only some largely invisible and unheard slivers of society left uninstructed to unpack some invisible baggage.

When it is finished, there are no more excuses. None. There should be no more hand-waving away the need for a wider range of voices in the freethinking movement, no more man-splaining and white-splaining about what issues should “really” be the focus of skepticism and atheism, and no more clueless hand-wringing over why there aren’t more women or more people of color involved in outspoken atheism. There are no more excuses for failure to comprehend these concerns, no more assuming that skepticism begins with the Big Bang and ends with Bigfoot. Outside of the New Atheism, there should be no more telling the godless that for the sake of harmony we should simply stop being so noisy about our non-belief. There should be no more pointing to disadvantaged groups’ reliance on religion as evidence of its veracity. There should be no more attempts to silence atheism with the presupposition that religion maintains a more ethical, just and civil society regardless of its explanatory power. These are the questions that live at the intersection of sexism, racism, economic injustice and religion in America, and if you just sit down for a while and prepare yourself to unlearn some party lines, Dr. Hutchinson will make everything clear.

There will be some ideas expressed in her book with which you disagree, and some connections explored with which you were previously unfamiliar, and that is only more reason to become acquainted with these concerns. Fear not the expanse of an overly ambitious tome, for Dr. Hutchinson’s writing covers an astonishing breadth and depth of research and insight in a remarkably modest word count. There is no more need for multi-megabyte Internet explosions of privileged obliviousness over godless demographic issues. Here are the answers to your questions.

 

Womb-Control Has No Place in Freethinking

Greta Christina writes about the idea that atheists should have more kids to keep up with religious folks. Her response is that: no, we should not do that, because it is both morally wrong to use children as ideological foot soldiers, and it is strategically unnecessary because young people are joining the ranks of the non-religious at an astonishing clip, with or without atheist fertility. I agree with everything she said, but because I am a compulsive pragmatist, I have something else to add.

It will simply never happen. The atheist community (to the extent that such a thing exists) will never succeed in out-procreating the religious, most especially the extremists. Why not, you ask?

  1. It’s misogynistic. Atheists having more kids will inevitably mean atheist women must spend more time being pregnant, and will lead to more atheist women spending more years of their lives raising babies. It’s true that once the baby is born, it doesn’t have to be the mother who does all the work, but the way it usually works out, even in more progressive communities, is that the mothers do the lion’s share of childcare duties. This will mean that more women will end up putting their careers on hold, and will be unable to devote time to grown-up activities like…attending atheist conferences, for example. You can’t very well go to TAM! or Skepticon if you’re pregnant and your doctor says no long-distance travel, you’re too tired to stay up late, you can’t drink, or if you have an infant at home and can’t find a sitter. The overwhelming majority of atheist women will not agree to this, because we’re accustomed to having choices. We like our birth control and we appreciate the freedom of movement we get from being in control of our fertility. This is one of the things we like about atheism: we’re not under pressure to be fruitful and multiply because God says so. When women have a choice in the matter, most of them choose not to have more than two or three kids. Some have none at all. There may be some atheist couples who decide to have large families because the world needs to have more people like us hanging around, but they probably wanted to have families of those sizes anyway. The rest of us are not going to put our life plans aside for the demographic good of people who really ought to know better.
  2. It’s unsustainable. See this here planet we’re using? It’s not getting any bigger. We don’t get another one. It cannot hold an infinite number of resource-burning primates. Most of us in the heathen crowd acknowledge that anthropogenic climate change is real and it’s not going away any time soon. The fact that a lot of religious groups insist on having large families is a problem. They are not an example we should emulate. Furthermore, they have a lot more practice at this business of birthing lots of foot soldiers for their faith than we do. If we heathens start making more of ourselves to compete with them, that’ll go on for about six months before they see what we’re doing and turn up the pressure even higher on their women of childbearing age to produce even more babies. It will be a reproductive arms race that we cannot win and should not enter. It will be bad for everyone except business owners who need more cheap labor.
  3. It is the opposite of freethinking. If we’re going to devote our lives to raising larger families than we realistically want, trample on women’s rights to make sure those babies happen, and ignore climate change because what the world really needs is more people like us, then how are we any different from the extremists we ostensibly oppose? Okay, so we believe in one less god than they do. So what? And what makes us think our children will all be atheists? What happens if they see through our hypocrisy and join the Quiverfull movement just to spite us? Really, how would their quality of life be any different? If the Earth’s resources don’t matter, women’s autonomy doesn’t matter, and children’s welfare doesn’t matter, then what difference does non-belief make?

Who asks these questions, anyway? Who really thinks the way to respond to Quiverfullers and other womb-control fanatics is for freethinkers to be more fertile? This isn’t even a question of should, it’s a matter of is, does and will. Fertility-as-competition is of no interest to people with a choice in the matter, atheists do not feel the same pressures to reproduce as religious people, and so the Make More Atheist Kids movement will never take off. There’s just no way around it.

And besides, as Greta points out: we don’t need to.

Incidentally, these are all themes at work in that novel I keep talking about. I expect to have it up for sale within the next month.

The etiquette of respecting boundaries

There is a shitstorm going on, and it might be sort of winding down, but there’s no time like the present. The sheer willful ignorance and hostility is so pervasive, and so repetitive that I almost don’t have the energy to wade in. Since pretty much every possible angle of the matter has already been discussed and explained, at length, hundreds of times, and some people still don’t see what the problem is, I can’t very well expect them to listen to me. If they didn’t hear it the first 3000 times, I’d be frankly the most arrogant piece of work on the Internet to think they’ll finally get it the 3001st time if it happens to be coming from my keyboard.

In truth, though, I do have something to add to the discussion, which I’m not sure has already been addressed in the extant arguments. It has to do with a general point of good manners which has been sorely neglected on more than one level.

Since the purpose of good manners is essentially to make everyone feel comfortable to the greatest extent possible, personal boundaries should be respected in terms of unnecessary, consciously decided behavior towards other individuals. This sounds awfully generalized and unhelpful, does it? I’ll be more specific.

If you’re unsure of how to act towards a person, and that person establishes a boundary, the polite thing to do—in fact, the only decent thing to do—is to respect that boundary, and not make decisions on that individual that would violate the stated boundary. See what I’m getting at? You want to know how a given person likes to be treated, and that person gives you an example of a boundary which she holds, by telling you about a recent experience in which that boundary was violated, and concludes with the advice of, “and it made me really uncomfortable, so please don’t do that”?

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Let me paint you all a picture

A young-ish single woman who happens to run a blog is enjoying (enduring?) a grayish, quiet weekend in her house. Conscious that she has not been posting to her blog as frequently as she used to (she still blames the Internet for failing to supply her with interesting blog material), she heads over to one of her favorite science/skeptic sites, RD.net, where she finds two articles, this one and this one, which both essentially say the same thing. The message on both sides, though with somewhat different tone and intentions, is that atheists don’t have enough children. That we need to be more like religious people and have more babies, or else we’ll all disappear.

The blogger reads these articles, takes another sip from her drink, and yawns.

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