Wednesday, January 16, 2013

North and South

The internecine warfare in the atheist community is just too much of a guilty pleasure. The big atheist blogs used to subsist on a shared diet of calling us "dummies with three rows of buck teeth and poopy pants." (Yeah, these nitwits aren't your daddy's atheists.) They now spend the majority of their energy on a singular introspective topic: the role of women in the secularist movement. No doubt a reasonable topic, and productive too, providing it is approached and discussed in the same adult manner in which they discussed theism! Hah!

Happily, from the entertainment perspective, they (still) ain't behaving like rational grownups. Words are gone over with a microscope to uncover any male privilege, overt or latent, emergent or vestigial. New pronouns are invented. 1 Secular movement icons cum apostates like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are toppled like statues of disgraced former heads of state. Weird, sublogic arguments are made asserting dissension from feminist dogma makes one likely to be a racist, too. Oh, and by the way, dissension from feminist dogma doesn't mean being an anti-feminist, but merely dissenting from wholehearted agreement that everything decreed to be a serious problem stemming from male privilege does, in fact, have ramifications for the continuation of the free world if not the human species.

Consider the sad case of Dr. Michael Shermer, atheist, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, and columnist for Scientific American. A superb pedigree for the secular camp. So you would imagine. Except he was labeled a fatheist, an accommodationist (and a theologian!) by Hiz Coyneness, the lidless eyed cardinal Richelieu of the gnu atheist movement.

But that only got Shermer to about the third circle of atheist hell. But now, well now he has descended into the ninth and final circle, a place reserved for those who exhibit male privilege and make no atonement. Shermer describes his crime:
Here's what happened: last summer I appeared on an online television show called The Point, hosted by Huffington Post chief science correspondent Cara Santa Maria, who invited me and two other men (Sean Carroll and Edward Falzon) to discuss atheism. In a Q&A following the main discussion, a male viewer asked: “Why isn’t the gender split closer to fifty-fifty as it should be?”
Santa Maria responded first: “In putting together this panel I had a hell of a time finding a woman who would be willing to sit on the panel with me to discuss her atheism. Why is that?”
She then turned to me. I said: “I think it probably really is fifty-fifty. It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it; you know, it’s more of a guy thing.
Ruh roh.

Shermer was attacked by Ophelia Benson, a leader of the gift-that-keeps-on-giving "atheism must be about feminism or it ain't really atheism" movement. She cited (Shermer would say quote-mined) his panel comments and wrote:
“The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because ‘that’s a guy thing.’”
and then the flying monkeys of Pharyngula were released to seek out and destroy the poor, hapless Michael Shermer.

It continues. Here is PZ criticizing what he calls Shermer's delicate ego. PZ educates Shermer on his (PZ's) street creds:
Similarly, he [Shermer] praises the great strides the movement has made in increasing diversity over the last decade, but doesn’t seem to be aware of how that happened. Let me tell you: it’s taken constant nagging from people like me, and Greta Christina, and Jen McCreight, and many others, to wake up the leaders of organizations and conferences from their complacency.
The Nobel Peace Prize must be just around the next bend. And perhaps PZ is upset because of something else Shermer wrote:
When these same self-described secular feminists went after Sam Harris for a commentary supporting racial profiling in the search for terrorists, again I didn’t speak out. When Harris wrote, “If my daughter one day reads in my obituary that her father ‘was persistently dogged by charges of racism and bigotry,’ unscrupulous people like P.Z. Myers will be to blame,” I thought to myself: “Don’t worry about it, Sam. Your work is for the ages. PZ Myers’s work is for the minutes—the half-life measure of blogs relative to books.”
My oh my, how can you not enjoy this?

1 Case in point: the forum dedicated to that rarefied form of gnostic atheism known as Atheism Plus (A+) has a thread with the unsurprising title "Is this 'scientific' article sexist?". In that thread, in banning yet another atheist apostate for daring to suggest that an outrage, any blessed outrage, is just possibly an overreaction, the nonscientist moderator writes concerning the heretic:
I'm not really interested in entertaining xir any longer. Dismissing the concerns other people have already pointed out with "I honestly see nothing to be upset about" is a giant asshole move (and, I should note, present within Arguments to Avoid as "I don't think X is a problem." "I don't see why you're so upset about X." "I don't think we should be talking about X because it isn't that big a deal." etc.), and in light of the fact that xe's already been on the receiving end of two other temp bans for asshattery, I'm not optimistic that xe's here to do anything but piss people off. Sooo, yeah. Xe's not here anymore and won't be coming back.
Well alllllrighty then.

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