xenologer: (Ravenna)
Okay, this is too long to reproduce it all here, but if you want a linkdump for all the clusterfuckery going down as a result of Ron Lindsay (apparently) being deeply ambivalent about the reason we all came together and expressing that in his introduction, here is what I have.
xenologer: (objection!)
Pteryxx on the AtheismPlus board provides my quote of the day on people who walk into big kid discussions with Privilege101 questions that they demand be addressed RIGHT NOW no matter the opportunity cost.

The post itself lives here.

I assume you haven't yet discovered this, but newcomers who SAY they're here in good faith but persistently ask "why are there still monkeys" level questions? Generally are not here in good faith. In my experience (going on two years now) they're greater than 95% trolls. In the first year past Elevatorgate, on Pharyngula, the regulars dealt with *hundreds* of these good-faith trolls and I only saw six that ever said "I see what you mean now / I didn't know that, and I'll reconsider." SIX. Maybe one every two months. (On A+ so far? I've seen four. The ratio's still roughly 20:1.)

This "potential allies" argument elides the cost TO THE EDUCATORS and the silencing effect on the community. Innocent-looking questioning is a tactic used to derail productive conversation, sap the educators' time, resources, and trust while forcing them to constantly defend their own validity and personhood, and to obscure the few truly honest questioners. It is NOT productive to suggest that more and more effort and good faith should be expended across the board for a tiny gain in capture among supposed Goldilocks allies. The vast majority of newcomers who show themselves to be willing to learn, do so by their own actions with hardly any extra expenditure of effort from the regulars.

The primary purpose of this space is to foster *advanced* discussion, not to provide volunteer remedial education to the general public. 101-level education is a side effect and should not be allowed to detract from discussion beyond the core concepts. Heck, there are discussions I'd LOVE to have about sexuality, rape culture and navigating consent that can't possibly happen because of floods of Just Askers misrepresenting the extremely basic concept of Schroedinger's Rapist. Arguing over the fundamentals can and does happen in every other place on the Internet. It serves no purpose HERE.

I should think this phenomenon of flooding the field with basic misapprehensions long since addressed would be familiar to anyone fighting woo or creationism. Maybe other skeptics see their core purpose as debunking the same myths over and over and over again, but here we have better things to do.


This is why I feel so good about this place. I can read threads and not feel like I have to post, because there are lots and lots of people who already have this shit under control. For once there is a corner of the internet where I can read some person's arseness without any pressure, because there are so many people available to deal intelligently with arseness that the pressure on each of us to do so is minimized.

Also so far the mods have demonstrated themselves to be trustworthy, which is not an evaluation I make lightly.

Overall it has been a good place for me to find, and even though I don't post a whole lot... it's a relief not to feel like I need to.

Being Nice

Aug. 31st, 2012 01:05 am
xenologer: (snail cuddle)
Long (by my standards) but very worthy video that not only fits my experience as a skeptic talking both to other skeptics and to believers who are pretty sure atheists are empty vessels for their apologism, but also as a feminist talking to people who are pretty sure they don't talk to feminists, and as a liberal talking to people who are pretty sure they don't talk to liberals.

"Carrie Poppy, Director of Communications at the James Randi Educational Foundation and co-host of the popular "Oh No, Ross and Carrie!" podcast, discusses the importance of using inclusive language while doing outreach. Combining communication strategy and a spirit of friendly investigation, Carrie suggests that skeptical activists mirror themselves after a group she investigated and joined... the Mormon church."

Sorry I couldn't find a transcript of this talk. I would love one for accessibility reasons and for easy citation, but there doesn't seem to be one.



I think this is a great thing for people to consider. We have to be willing to draw boundaries, but it's also just plain tactically wiser to be kind to people up until the point when they make it absolutely clear that they'll repay it with dickery.

This is why when a friend of mine was finding that he cared more about truth than he did about what the truth could take from him, I explicitly told him not to chew his still-Christian wife's ankles off. I have been the still-identifying-as-theist partner of an atheist, and the best wisdom I had to pass on was that he should not get so excited about what he's figured out that he starts using his wife for target practice.

He took this under advisement. I was pleased. I didn't like the woman, but I felt I had done the right thing anyway, because what she deserved as a fellow human being and what would be most tactically effective for him happened to be the same option: be nice, even when someone is being ridiculous.

(It didn't work, but it was still the right thing to do!)

Now, this approach is exhausting and time-consuming to the point that not everybody can be required or even expected to do it. Additionally, an activist movement needs more than friendly and relateable people willing to connect on an individual level with every single goddamn person we encounter, which means we cannot all be diplomats. We cannot all be ambassadors. If we are all busy welcoming everybody, there's nobody left over to draw boundaries or do guiding work.

However, this kind of ambassadorial work--in my experience--is only effective if you do it the way Poppy describes.

Concede everything possible. Apologize whenever possible. Speak about personal experience only whenever possible. Rather than talking about how someone's unsubstantiated and potentially toxic dogma pisses you off (even though if you give a crap about your fellow humans, it probably does piss you off), speak from a position of sadness and hurt whenever you feel resilient enough to do so.

I cannot understate how important that latter one is. So many people who hold and act on toxic beliefs do so because they don't see the people they're affecting as real. This is true of people who think that atheists are heartless fun-ruining psychopaths just like it's true of people who think feminists are shrieking hysterical castrating harpies who want all babies born with penises to be pre-emptively convicted for rape at birth.

This is not a value judgement; it's a tactical decision. People are armored against outrage almost universally. Not everyone is susceptible to the "listen I am a person like you and I know you care whether you hurt people and this hurts me" approach, but far fewer people are armored against hurt compared to anger. For one example of how I have gotten back to this approach and the results I am having, check out my Obligatory Chick-Fil-A Post, an entry I wrote after all that bullshit with Chick-Fil-A shredded a lot of my peace and patience and I had to climb back up to the point that I was able to do what I know is most effective for me.

I am sure there are people somewhere who can make more progress by saying, "You are an entire bag of dicks and everyone who ever loved you was wrong," because there are lots of persuasive motherfuckers in the world and everybody's got a different approach. I know there is someone on the planet with a Charisma score of like 50 who could say those precise words and have people around them go, "Well I'll be goshderned. Am I a bag of dicks? I should work on that."

I am not that person, though. Here is what works for me.

Granted, it's vulnerable. It requires a lot of courage on my part because it means not pre-emptively striking at people I think are likely to be dickbags, and continuing to work through things this way even though lots of those people *gasp!* turn out to be dickbags after all.

But they won't all turn out to be dickbags, and the people who seem like dickbags but aren't (and instead just have no fucking clue how not to seem like dickbags) are the best candidates for outreach we'll ever get. They are the low-hanging fruit, people. Go get them.

When I have the energy for this exhausting but highly effective approach, I consider it one of the best things I can do for any movement I am a part of, not least because I know how few people have the energy to do a lot of it. The more I do, the better a contribution I feel like I am making, and so I wanted to pass this on in the hopes that others who could be good at the in-group empathy-based ambassadorial approach will take from this entry the motivation they need to give it a try.

The more ambassadors go out and pick up the easy converts, the fewer people our beautiful and precious firebrands will have to go stomp on. That's good for everyone!
xenologer: (Lisbeth)
So Elisabeth Cornwell spoke at the Reason Rally. The video is behind this link. My commentary is reproduced on that page, but I wanted it here as well to boost the signal on this, because it is not okay. It is not.

Trigger warning: mention of sexual assault.

The systematic degradation of women's control over their own bodies and lives is not just bad, it is monstrous. It is an act of war, as rape is an act of war. There are even a lot of parallels to how female slaves were treated, because they were considered always-accessible subhuman incubators for the valuable property of their masters, much as a disposable class of unsupported children is valuable for rich white dudes today who benefit from trapping other communities in generational poverty. There are a lot of parallels, and even if it was a little hyperbolic... I expect hyperbole at a rally.

There is a problem, though. I was there at the rally and I listened to Cornwell talking about how women in America are being enslaved then invoke the alleged ideals and opinions of Thomas Jefferson, to convey how appalled he would be by this kind of inroad toward theocracy. I realize that this is a thing easily forgotten by white people in this country, but Jefferson actually personally himself enslaved women. You know who made their reproductive choices? Jefferson did after he bought them. Sure, he'd potentially stand with the white women in the audience in their struggle for reproductive freedom, but if you think he'd stand with the women of color, I don't know where you got your history education. More likely you just didn't consider that what he did to black women reflects as strongly on his character as what the theocrats are trying to do to you now.

This is a problem.

How much more strongly can someone imply that black women aren't real women, their enslavement not pressing until it is shared by white women? I can think of no other reason why Jefferson's status as a famed enslaver and rapist of slave women should be overlooked so that he can be called upon as an ideological ally to modern women, except that to some people his serial rapes and violations of the reproductive autonomy of *black* women were less important as a measure of his character than his excellent insights about religion.

We did a good job on diversity of speakers and guests at the accompanying convention this year, but if you want to be mindful of not seeming like a movement run by white people for white people, please be mindful of whom you're asking your audience to idolize. We're talking about a guy whose reputation for raping slaves and forcing them to bear his children is so legendary that there are entire geneology projects dedicated to tracing just his descendants among people of color.

Jefferson's political theory was a good place to start (particularly when it comes to his views on religion), but it's a terrible place to finish and we sure as heck shouldn't retreat back to it to stop the enslavement of women. So let's keep that in mind before we canonize the man and ask the women of color in the audience to look up to the guy who raped so many of their great-great-grandmothers and forced them to carry and bear his "property" against their will. Maybe some of his nasty personal/"business" habits are overlookable by a financially secure white activist, but the fact that you can overlook it doesn't mean other people are going to be able to handwave it so easily.

I appreciated the rally and had a lovely time both there and at the convention. The sense of community was beautiful and necessary. It's just sad that it had to be undermined by something like this at a time when we are all clearly making an effort toward including the full range of atheists in all our diversity.
xenologer: (objection!)
Here's my explanation for why I talk about my atheism a lot.

It's the same reason I talk about the experiences of LGBT people. It's not that I'm evangelizing to make more LGBT people. Though these experiences of marginalization are obviously not equivalent, I do think that the atheist movement has a lot to learn from the LGBT movement on this subject. It doesn't all have to be about recruitment. Sometimes it's just about visibility. People will be better to atheists (and yes, this may sometimes extend to being more willing to consider what we're saying) if they know that they know atheists, that we're normal people, that we can be good people, that we aren't so different from them, and above all why we are atheists at all.

If all religious people were like Quakers running around pushing for the abolition of slavery, LGBT rights, and environmental protection, I don't think you'd even hear atheists griping about obnoxious theists or whatever. Those people aren't my main concern when I'm talking about atheism, though, because believe it or not? It doesn't always have to be about theists!

Atheists need to be able to talk about ourselves without theists making themselves the center of attention and discussion. Sometimes we need to be able to talk to and about each other, too. Sometimes atheists talk about being atheists because it makes it easier for other atheists to be atheists. It's just like how some people talk about being LGBT because it makes easier for other LGBT people to be LGBT.

So, in short, atheists need to talk about their atheism. We have the right to do it, we have the right to have our reasoning heard, and we have the right to reach out to each other. Yeah, I believe there are benefits to "deconverting" theists, but much of the time for me it isn't about that. Just because theists are the dominant group in my culture doesn't mean that every ounce of energy I spend and every minute of my thoughts needs to be dedicated to their wishful thinking. Sometimes it needs to be about us.

Agora

Jul. 3rd, 2011 06:29 pm
xenologer: (Default)
Just watched Agora, a movie that I heard about from the entries about it at The Wild Hunt.

I can't speak too confidently about the historical Hypatia (nor do I particularly expect this movie to do so, because it probably doesn't). Near as I can tell from totally cursory Googling on the subject, not only was Hypatia's religious affiliation not relevant to the circumstances of her death, but she herself was barely relevant. She could have been anybody sufficiently important to Orestes. He had pissed off Cyril (who was kind of a big deal at the time) and Hypatia happened to be an appealing target for a revenge killing.

So... I wanted to say first off that I'm not really inclined to believe anybody who says, "Hypatia was killed by nasty misogynist anti-intellectual Christians because she was an educated and independent Pagan!" or anybody who says, "Hypatia was killed by nasty misogynist anti-intellectual Christians because she was an educated and independent atheist!" Near as I can tell, she was killed for being there.

There's my take on the historical Hypatia. People who have actually spent some study on her will know more about her than I do, though, so if they post in the comments and say I'm wrong, y'all should probably listen to them instead of me. I just wanted to touch on the actual real person we are talking about here so that I could talk separately about Hypatia The Character In The Movie Agora.

Cut for that. )
xenologer: (do not even)
Having a perfectly lovely conversation on Facebook about reason and faith. Now, there was a guy, A, who was agreeing with me, and that's awesome. Then a woman posted to disagree with us, and he started showing his ass.

Here's the relevant bit of the exchange. )

NOTICE:

Mar. 14th, 2011 06:09 pm
xenologer: (objection!)
LGBT activism isn't about creating more gay people; it's about supporting and advocating for the ones who're here. Still, atheist activism is framed (by people who aren't doing it) as evangelism. We don't care about converting you; we're just... out. Get over it.

Jeez.
xenologer: (always shine)
Greta Christina's new piece, "Can Atheism be Proven Wrong?"
Yes, atheists pretty much agree that no existing religion has a shred of decent evidence to support it. That's why we're atheists. If we thought any religion had supported itself with decent evidence, we'd accept that religion. That's not the game. The game isn't, "What religion that currently exists could convince you that it was right?" The game is, "What hypothetical made-up religion could convince you that it was right?"

Or, to put it another way: We're talking counter-factuals. We understand that the universe, as it is now, is overwhelming in its evidence for atheism and materialism, and against any kind of deity or supernatural realm. We get that. We're talking about alternative universes. We're asking, "What would the world look like if there were a god or gods?"


There is good stuff to be had in here about what would actually convince most atheists that a religion was presenting a reasonable and worthy picture of the world. There's also a link to this page, which gives a pretty good rundown. Where this really gets interesting is after Greta gets done stating for the millionth time that actually atheists are not dogmatic zealots who take their conclusion as an article of faith (that we do, in fact, have standards of evidence--that no religion has met despite ample opportunity). She takes the, "no religion has actually managed to present a hypothesis supportible by evidence," point one step further by cutting off those last three words.

Religions haven't just failed to support their assorted hypotheses with good, solid, carefully gathered, rigorously tested evidence. They've failed to come up with hypotheses that are even worth subjecting to testing. They've failed to come up with hypotheses that are worth the paper they're printed on.

Religions are notorious for vague definitions, unfalsifiable hypotheses, slippery arguments, shoddy excuses for why their supporting evidence is so crummy, and the incessant moving of goalposts. Many theologies are logically contradictory on the face of it -- the Trinity, for instance, or an all-powerful/all-knowing/all-good God who nevertheless permits and even creates evil and suffering -- and while entire books are filled with attempts to explain these contradictions, the conclusions always boil down to, "It's a mystery."

And the so-called "sophisticated modern theologies" define God so vaguely you can't reach any conclusions about what he's like, or what he would and wouldn't do, or how a world with him in it would be any different than a world without him. They define God so abstractly that he might as well not exist. (Either that, or they actually do define God as having specific effects on the world, such as interventions in the process of evolution -- effects that we have no reason whatsoever to think are real, and every reason to think are bunk.)

And when I ask religious believers who aren't theologians to define what exactly they believe, they almost evade the question. They point to the existence of "sophisticated modern theology," without actually explaining what any of this theology says, much less why they believe it. They resort to vagueness, equivocation, excuses for why they shouldn't have to answer the question. In some cases, they get outright hostile at my unmitigated temerity to ask.


It's too bad that lots of the so-called "moderate" religious people that I know personally are all so invested in seeming and feeling rational that they can't just admit that they're not religious because they actually believe its claims are true. It would save us all a lot of effort if they did. I'm tired of having religious people try to throw reasoned arguments and evidence at me and then eventually concede--only after we've both wasted a lot of time and effort--that they don't really find those things persuasive either.

I mean, ffs. If it was never about evidence to begin with, if it's all metaphor and "personal revelation," then why do religious people get so upset when somebody points out that their sermons and holy books are full of fairy tales? And why do they let me give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that THIS TIME, THIS ONE TIME maybe they'll present a reasonable case, if they're just going to switch gears later and admit that they lied about their worldview in the hopes of getting me to sit still and stfu while they practice the flimsy reassurances that allow them to sleep at night?

I think that's one major reason why lots of religious people don't like talking to atheists, or even about religion to each other. It's not that we're all hurtful and mean, or that we're all joyless zealots, or even that we're all oversexed radical liberal feminazi pinko commies. It's this: If Pascal's Wager (or insert your fav apologism here) is the only reason you can face your day, you need everybody around you to be reassuring you that it's sound. Every person who shrugs and finds it unconvincing is a reminder that you've built your life on terror of your life, and an unwillingness to live in the real world. That'd suck, and I guess it does make us sort of mean.
xenologer: (transhuman)
Defining "faith" here as "the belief in something without needing or even in spite of a persuasive empirical case." Therefore believing in Germ Theory is not an article of faith, but believing in a God, or ghosts, or reincarnation, or heaven, or karma, is.

(Notable aside: I've seen it suggested that the word "saddha" which often gets translated "faith" in English is closer to "confirmed confidence" in meaning. This means that "saddha" refers to the kind of faith we have that rain is caused by condensing water vapor, rather than the kind of faith we have that rain is caused by cracks in the firmament.)

Dharma practice is good, because it's a set of tools to accomplish certain things. The rest is there basically for explanations and examples. Dharma practice is a process that can do some good for just about anybody. However, the things that Buddha taught which are actually tools to advance and improve oneself (4NT and the 8FP) don't require the practitioner to believe anything that flies in the face of evidence.

Lots of Buddhists say that Buddhism requires faith (in reincarnation, in metaphysical "what goes around comes around"-style karma, in bodhisattvas, etc.) but doesn't require blind faith. Frankly I've heard the same statement from followers of the big monotheist traditions which nevertheless require adherents to build their lives around assertions like "there's a wish-granting moody man in the sky who likes you best." People who believe this don't believe they're being irrational or believing things which fly in the face of evidence, and I don't see the people who believe in things like karma or rebirth as being all that much different.

Not everybody who has an opinion about a subject has an opinion because of "faith," but everybody who believes something supernatural, superstitious, or otherwise metaphysical most certainly does, because there's no empirical support for the existence of those things (or it wouldn't require faith to believe in them). As a result, "faith" (which is always blind wishful thinking, imo) plays a large role in a lot of people's dharma practice, but not in mine.

After I explain this, I often run into a few questions/objections (more the latter, since people of faith seldom think to ask me anything), and rather than go through this conversation again for the millionth time, I'm just gonna post the FAQ and hope that it saves a little labor for all of us.

OBJECTION ONE: "But there is no truth but personal truth, and nobody has the REAL answers, so one answer is as good as another, right?" (AKA Argument from Postmodernism)
The common question at this point is "what is evidence?" "What kind of evidence can you find which isn't subjective and on some level taken on faith?" I say it's a common question because I've had some of the same conversations with Buddhists now that I have had with Christians on this subject, and since it always comes up eventually, I'd better just address it.

It's occasionally an interesting thought experiment to say "nothing is objectively true, there is no reality outside of our perception of it, and there's no such thing as truth," but it's not particularly useful in the here and now. When I ask my doctor whether I'm sick because of a bacterium or a virus, this viewpoint is not useful. When I ask my partner whether we have enough money to cover our expenses, this viewpoint is not useful. Why? Because these are practical questions.

Questions of suffering are practical questions. This is why I often refer to my particular path as "dharma practice" and not "Buddhism." I've seen too much suffering caused by belief systems that come packaged with beliefs that must be taken on faith for it to seem plausible that yet another one is the solution.

Until anybody who believes in karma or rebirth fulfils their burden of proof and persuades me, I'm not going to live as though they're true. Why? Because I have actual problems to solve in my actual life, and I can't do this unless I'm only factoring in things which are likely to be true. Considering that the tools of dharma practice that Buddha laid out deal with actual problems for my actual life, I see no reason to distract myself by clinging to past lives or yearning for future ones. I see no reason to worry about them at all. Aren't we, as Buddhists, supposed to be living in the present and aware of what's going on around us now?

OBJECTION TWO: "But everybody has faith in something." (AKA Argument from I Know You Are But What Am I)
First off, see the beginning of this little ramble. If my answer to this isn't already clear, then I'll elaborate, becaue this one is actually a big pet peeve of mine.

On a personal level, I honestly find it rather distasteful to muddy the discussion by referring to everything that everybody gives weight to as "faith." I don't have "faith" in Germ Theory the way my dad has faith in Jesus. I don't have "faith" in natural selection the way some people I know have "faith" in Young Earth Creationism. By the same token, I don't have "faith" that I'm capable of disciplining my own mind the way that some Buddhists have "faith" that praying to a Bodhisattva will acquire them merit.

I think the difference between "faith in Jesus/reincarnation/etc." and "faith that gravity pulls objects toward the center of the Earth when we are standing on its surface" has been adequately covered earlier in the thread. After a while discussing this issue with various people in various places, it's starting to seem to me that the people who say, "well, everybody has something they take on faith" are either deliberately fudging the way evidence-based beliefs are formed so that they cease to seem different from articles of faith, or they don't actually understand how people form opinions without faith-based assumptions.

I'm going to argue again that belief in things without (or even despite) evidence is a bad idea, because we have more than enough problems in the real world to think we're going to solve anything by starting with a misapprehension of the conditions around us. We're not going to solve human suffering by inventing superstitious ideas about the sources or implications of suffering any more than we can cure disease by inventing superstitious ideas about how it spreads or its symptoms.

I don't mean to be harsh, but it's sort of a pet peeve of mine when people say, "Oh, well, everybody takes things on faith." It may serve to smooth over differences by implying that we're all doing the same thing when it comes down to it, but it's unfortunately demonstrably untrue, and lasting peace and tolerance can't be built on that sort of friendly dishonesty. I'd much rather believers think I'm strange and overintellectualizing and missing the point than have them be friends with a figment of me and my path that I don't really recognize.

Again. A lot of people make use of faith. However, it is extremely important to note that not everybody does. Assertions to the contrary don't help people get along despite their differences any more than misapprehensions about any other part of our human experience. Faith plays a large role in many peoples' Buddhist practice, but not in mine.

OBJECTION THREE: "Well, there are just some questions that aren't for reason and rationality to solve." (AKA Argument from Inapplicability of Arguments)
Dear Humanity: Stop conflating faith and confirmed confidence. These two things can only be conflated if you do one of the following things:

A. Create separate categories for things which may be decided upon with faith-based reasoning, and which must be decided upon with empirical thinking. For example: Most people (though not all) place medicine in this category. They'll pray for recovery, but they'll take antibiotics as well.

B. Allow faith to subvert empirical reasoning all the time. The Church of Christian Science is one big one. They'll pray for recovery, and be insulted by the suggestion that they need antibiotics as much as they need the protection of the Lord.

Option A seems to imply that there are questions which are "safe" to apply limited critical thinking and empirical examination to, and questions for which that's not good enough. I say that even that much faith is too much faith, because if you have to exclude something from the most important decisions, then it probably isn't helping the lesser ones either.
 
Again. Finally. In summary. Etcetera. Faith is wishful thinking. Period dot. Nothing I've read of the Buddha suggests that he thought very much of wishful thinking as a problem-solving tool. This doesn't mean that it has no place in Buddhist religions or cultures, but it does mean that it's probably something of a departure from what Buddha himself actually suggested. Furthermore, Buddha's opinion aside, there's nothing that suggests to me that it'd be worth including at all, which is why (once again) I don't.
xenologer: (always shine)
Reading Bridging the Chasm Between Two Cultures was an interesting experience for me. I found it on axelrod's Dreamwidth journal. It's about the gulf between the culture of New Agers and the culture of skeptics, and how those cultures create ways of communicating which do not meet in the middle at all.
In all the din, people in my culture hear what they deem to be hyper-intellectual and emotionally charged attacks upon their cherished beliefs, while people in your culture hear what they deem to be wishful thinking, scientific illiteracy, and emotionally charged salvos in defense of mere delusions.

This is of course a tragedy, but after reading through the skeptical literature for the last three years, I feel that this tragedy may be avoidable.


On the one hand, I felt at first like her point might be that skeptics like James Randi actually fuel a backlash against critically-evaluating cherished and fun metaphysical beliefs like Uri Geller's spoonbending. I sort of... tilted my head and got ready for the Tone Argument, the one that says "nobody is listening to you because you're an angry unlikeable asshole, and angry unlikeable assholes deserve to be ignored no matter what the merit of what they're saying. New Agers won't listen until you're not an asshole."

It didn't come. So here are a few sections from this very thoughtful article. I know it's long, but I read it, and anybody who's had conversations as either a skeptic or a believer should read it. In fact, anybody who has refused to have those conversations for any reason should definitely read it. I know that I've chopped it up into odd quoted sections and put it out of order, but this is at least partly so that when you get to the parts I've quoted you'll say, "Ah. There's that paragraph," and you'll have a chance to read it a second time like (in most cases) I did.

I've been studying the conflict between the skeptical community and the metaphysical/new age community for a few decades now, and I think I've finally discovered the central issue that makes communication so difficult. It is not merely, as many surmise, a conflict between fact-based viewpoints and faith-based viewpoints. Nor is it simply a conflict between rationality and credulity. No, it’s a full-on clash of cultures that makes real communication improbable at best.


Something the skeptics in the audience should note:
I couldn't find myself in the skeptical lexicon. I couldn't identify myself with the uncaring hucksters, the wildly miseducated snake-oil peddlers, the self-righteous psychics, the big-haired evangelists, or the megalomaniacal eastern fakirs. I couldn't identify my work or myself with the scam-based work or the unstable personalities so roundly trashed by the skeptical culture, because I was never in the field to scam anyone—and neither were any of my friends or colleagues.

I worked in the field because I have a deep and abiding concern for people, and an honest wish to be helpful in my own culture. Access to clearheaded and carefully presented skeptical material would have helped me (and others like me) at every step of the way—but I couldn't access any of that information because I simply couldn't identify with it.


Something the New Agers in the audience should note:
One of the biggest falsehoods I've encountered is that skeptics can't tolerate mystery, while New Age people can. This is completely wrong, because it is actually the people in my culture who can't handle mystery—not even a tiny bit of it. Everything in my New Age culture comes complete with an answer, a reason, and a source. Every action, emotion, health symptom, dream, accident, birth, death, or idea here has a direct link to the influence of the stars, chi, past lives, ancestors, energy fields, interdimensional beings, enneagrams, devas, fairies, spirit guides, angels, aliens, karma, God, or the Goddess.

We love to say that we embrace mystery in the New Age culture, but that’s a cultural conceit and it’s utterly wrong.

This one I was saving for last, because it hurt a little to read.
I've discovered in just the few (less than ten) conversations I've had with faith-based people that skeptical information is absolutely threatening and unwanted. What I didn't understand until recently is that when you start questioning these beliefs, there’s a domino effect that eventually smacks into your whole house of cards—and nothing remains standing. Opening the questioning process is a very dangerous thing, and people in my culture seem to understand that on a subconscious level. In response to their extreme discomfort, I've become completely silent around believers—which is hard, because they make up most of my friends, family, and correspondents.

This one hit close to home for me. I actually physically winced away from my screen as I read it the first time, because it hurts.

It's very isolating to be the one who can't stop herself from applying intellectual rigor where it's not supposed to, because when you make people uncomfortable like that, it feels sometimes like nobody wants you around. I've wrestled with this one a lot. Sometimes I come out on the side of, "Just don't say anything, because everybody already knows what your opinion probably is and if they wanted to hear it, they'd ask. But nobody is asking, because they don't like the way you think and can only be friends with you if they can pretend you don't think like that." Sometimes I come out on the side of, "Goddamn it why is everybody allowed to give their opinion but me! Screw it, I'm saying something like everybody else gets to do. If they don't want to hear from me, then they should stop acting like I'm allowed in the conversation."

I still wrestle with it, though. I don't know what the answer is. Sometimes I just want to crawl all the way into a culture where people like me who "over-intellectualize" the questions we find are considered okay, and useful, and maybe even desirable. Sometimes I'm afraid I'll miss the people I'll leave behind who used to love me, back before they realized that I'm the enemy.

I think that last quote is why I posted it. It's an apology for the fact that I can't unthink the things I've thought, and for the fact that it means I don't feel wanted anymore. Sometimes I want to slip away quietly so that I don't destroy anybody else's house of cards like I destroyed mine, but sometimes I just want to wreck it all because I know that in the long run that the tricky balance between reason and faith isn't sustainable anyway, and I hate feeling something so stupid: hurt that I've been kicked off the sinking ship.

I guess what I'm saying is that skeptics aren't angry all the time. Skeptics don't hate New Agers all the time or even very much of the time, honestly. We understand what New Agers are getting out of their culture, because a lot of us used to be there. Some of us even miss it. We just can't have it anymore. We can't unthink what we've thought, and we can't pretend we didn't see what we saw. We stared into the void of suspended assumptions, and it stared back, and now we're... not like you. And we know you can tell. Sometimes that hurts.

I didn't mean to make this about me. But... the article really resonated with me, and I didn't expect it to do that. As a skeptic, but more importantly as a social scientist, I am saddened by my inability to bridge this gap. I feel, as an anthropologist and a crowd-pleaser class clown, that I should be doing better. I should be the one who can be anywhere, who can fit in with anybody, who can figure out what everybody wants from her and give it to them no matter how complex and unexpected the demands may be.

I'm not doing it. I'm failing.

It's unsettling, and disappointing, and hasn't ever happened before to me. No wonder believers are afraid to ask certain questions; they're afraid they'll turn out like me. Maybe they should be. Sometimes it kind of sucks.
xenologer: (damn!)
I just had a server at a restaurant make a point to tell me that God is real and loves me more than I could ever know. I guess sitting by myself and reading counts as a provocative conversation-starter if I have the temerity to read The God Delusion where other people can see.

Look at me, flaunting my atheism. I'm no better than those women who hold hands with their wives, or men who meet their husbands for lunch. Look at me being a freak and flaunting it front of the normals, oh no.

Oh, the pushy preachiness of not hiding. I think that theism is pretty questionable on a lot of levels, but I wouldn't pause in the performance of my job duties to lecture somebody reading theological trash like the Left Behind series. Why? Because believe it or not, simply being willing to be seen publicly as a believer or nonbeliever is not the same as inviting a theological debate.
xenologer: (Default)
This entry started as a comment on this entry about what "Progressive Christian" actually means. It's a subject about which I've given a lot of thought, and I've held this opinion for a pretty long time before being willing to say anything about it. There's a lot that I believe that I'm unwilling to say, for fear of alienating people who would otherwise be my allies.

Isn't that silly? Once I really looked at it, I realized what a condescending and nasty thing that is for me to think about my moderate theist friends. If you learn what I really think, you'll stop caring whether the courts blame rape victims, whether our judicial system executes an inordinate number of mentally-challenged and black or latino convicts, or whether gays ever have equal contractual rights in this country. You'll stop fighting with me if you hear the things that I didn't want to hear back when I was a theist.

I didn't, though. When I was a theist, I listened. Eventually. Brian can attest that it took a lot of time and patience on both of our parts before we came to a meeting-place on the question, but I didn't abandon the people and causes I cared about, so I'm going to trust the people reading this not to do it either.

Cut for fragile things. )

"Agnostic"

Jun. 27th, 2010 07:23 pm
xenologer: (ravenclaws)
I posted this elsewhere in response to someone's query as to whether their position was best described as "atheist" or "agnostic." Thought I'd repost it here, since it manages to sum up fairly well how I feel about stuff, and that might make it a useful thing to link to or copy-paste from the next time this comes up and I don't feel like repeating myself.

Stephen Batchelor defined agnosticism as saying "I don't know" when what you really mean is "I don't want to know."

I disagree with him about what atheism is or should be, but that does fit my experience of talking with people who are really attached to identifying as agnostic, whether the label makes sense or not (much like people who like to identify as conservative or liberal as a matter of identity, even though they may not really know or care what they're endorsing).

Personally, it is very rare that we can use evidence to say anything with 100% certainty. That doesn't mean we stop vaccinating our children or start teaching the flat Earth theory as a credible hypothesis. All we need is to have some point or marker where we say, "Okay. We have gathered enough evidence that it'd be kind of silly not to make a reasonable stab at what is probably happening and/or why it may be so."

Atheists are people who are willing to place such a marker even on hypotheses about the supernatural, and who are willing to say that we've been exploring the issue long enough that we can make a reasonable stab at answering the question. An agnostic is someone who says that the question can never be answered, that there is no point at which we can say we have enough information to place confidence in a theory.

If we would not be agnostic about the theory that reptilian Jews control the banks (for the record, while we cannot 100% disprove this, we can say it is probably not true), then why should we place the question of the supernatural in another category?

Agnosticism just isn't really a useful step toward figuring anything out. Skepticism, yes. When many people talk about agnosticism, what they really want to convey is that they're skeptics--they're not making a statement of faith that there can be and must be no God. They just aren't convinced. However, the crushing majority of atheists don't make this as a statement of faith either. They're just no more agnostic about God than about the reptilian Jew bankers.

"Agnostic"

Jun. 27th, 2010 07:23 pm
xenologer: (ravenclaws)
I posted this elsewhere in response to someone's query as to whether their position was best described as "atheist" or "agnostic." Thought I'd repost it here, since it manages to sum up fairly well how I feel about stuff, and that might make it a useful thing to link to or copy-paste from the next time this comes up and I don't feel like repeating myself.

Stephen Batchelor defined agnosticism as saying "I don't know" when what you really mean is "I don't want to know."

I disagree with him about what atheism is or should be, but that does fit my experience of talking with people who are really attached to identifying as agnostic, whether the label makes sense or not (much like people who like to identify as conservative or liberal as a matter of identity, even though they may not really know or care what they're endorsing).

Personally, it is very rare that we can use evidence to say anything with 100% certainty. That doesn't mean we stop vaccinating our children or start teaching the flat Earth theory as a credible hypothesis. All we need is to have some point or marker where we say, "Okay. We have gathered enough evidence that it'd be kind of silly not to make a reasonable stab at what is probably happening and/or why it may be so."

Atheists are people who are willing to place such a marker even on hypotheses about the supernatural, and who are willing to say that we've been exploring the issue long enough that we can make a reasonable stab at answering the question. An agnostic is someone who says that the question can never be answered, that there is no point at which we can say we have enough information to place confidence in a theory.

If we would not be agnostic about the theory that reptilian Jews control the banks (for the record, while we cannot 100% disprove this, we can say it is probably not true), then why should we place the question of the supernatural in another category?

Agnosticism just isn't really a useful step toward figuring anything out. Skepticism, yes. When many people talk about agnosticism, what they really want to convey is that they're skeptics--they're not making a statement of faith that there can be and must be no God. They just aren't convinced. However, the crushing majority of atheists don't make this as a statement of faith either. They're just no more agnostic about God than about the reptilian Jew bankers.

"Agnostic"

Jun. 27th, 2010 07:23 pm
xenologer: (ravenclaws)
I posted this elsewhere in response to someone's query as to whether their position was best described as "atheist" or "agnostic." Thought I'd repost it here, since it manages to sum up fairly well how I feel about stuff, and that might make it a useful thing to link to or copy-paste from the next time this comes up and I don't feel like repeating myself.

Stephen Batchelor defined agnosticism as saying "I don't know" when what you really mean is "I don't want to know."

I disagree with him about what atheism is or should be, but that does fit my experience of talking with people who are really attached to identifying as agnostic, whether the label makes sense or not (much like people who like to identify as conservative or liberal as a matter of identity, even though they may not really know or care what they're endorsing).

Personally, it is very rare that we can use evidence to say anything with 100% certainty. That doesn't mean we stop vaccinating our children or start teaching the flat Earth theory as a credible hypothesis. All we need is to have some point or marker where we say, "Okay. We have gathered enough evidence that it'd be kind of silly not to make a reasonable stab at what is probably happening and/or why it may be so."

Atheists are people who are willing to place such a marker even on hypotheses about the supernatural, and who are willing to say that we've been exploring the issue long enough that we can make a reasonable stab at answering the question. An agnostic is someone who says that the question can never be answered, that there is no point at which we can say we have enough information to place confidence in a theory.

If we would not be agnostic about the theory that reptilian Jews control the banks (for the record, while we cannot 100% disprove this, we can say it is probably not true), then why should we place the question of the supernatural in another category?

Agnosticism just isn't really a useful step toward figuring anything out. Skepticism, yes. When many people talk about agnosticism, what they really want to convey is that they're skeptics--they're not making a statement of faith that there can be and must be no God. They just aren't convinced. However, the crushing majority of atheists don't make this as a statement of faith either. They're just no more agnostic about God than about the reptilian Jew bankers.
xenologer: (Default)
"Not everything has to be proven, the best things aren't. Can you prove that you love your parents or your children? Can you prove that your romantic partner really loves you?"

CAN YOUR SCIENCE EXPLAIN HOW IT RAINS?

(TO which Sokka insists yes, yes it can.)

Anyway, seriously. I've been getting this from a couple of people, and I thought that I'd just put my thoughts on it here. Saying, "It doesn't matter whether there's any proof of X Supernatural Event/Entity, because not everything that matters is about proof. Sometimes you just have to have faith."

When, um. Lots of things that matter are about proof.

This is the kind of thing that people say who haven't been shown evidence of the kinds of things people ordinarily take on faith. I know my partner loves me because I have evidence from the way he treats me. I know my parents love their children because I have seen the sacrifices they made for them.

I wouldn't believe my partner loved me if he didn't treat me in ways that gave me a reason to believe it. I wouldn't believe my parents love their kids if they didn't act in ways that lead me to this conclusion.

Very few of the things people say must be taken on faith are actually taken on faith by anybody.

Why should I treat the love of God any differently than the love of my partner? More to the point, shouldn't I have some evidence that I have a partner, and then proof that he loves me, and then belief?
xenologer: (Default)
"Not everything has to be proven, the best things aren't. Can you prove that you love your parents or your children? Can you prove that your romantic partner really loves you?"

CAN YOUR SCIENCE EXPLAIN HOW IT RAINS?

(TO which Sokka insists yes, yes it can.)

Anyway, seriously. I've been getting this from a couple of people, and I thought that I'd just put my thoughts on it here. Saying, "It doesn't matter whether there's any proof of X Supernatural Event/Entity, because not everything that matters is about proof. Sometimes you just have to have faith."

When, um. Lots of things that matter are about proof.

This is the kind of thing that people say who haven't been shown evidence of the kinds of things people ordinarily take on faith. I know my partner loves me because I have evidence from the way he treats me. I know my parents love their children because I have seen the sacrifices they made for them.

I wouldn't believe my partner loved me if he didn't treat me in ways that gave me a reason to believe it. I wouldn't believe my parents love their kids if they didn't act in ways that lead me to this conclusion.

Very few of the things people say must be taken on faith are actually taken on faith by anybody.

Why should I treat the love of God any differently than the love of my partner? More to the point, shouldn't I have some evidence that I have a partner, and then proof that he loves me, and then belief?
xenologer: (Default)
"Not everything has to be proven, the best things aren't. Can you prove that you love your parents or your children? Can you prove that your romantic partner really loves you?"

CAN YOUR SCIENCE EXPLAIN HOW IT RAINS?

(TO which Sokka insists yes, yes it can.)

Anyway, seriously. I've been getting this from a couple of people, and I thought that I'd just put my thoughts on it here. Saying, "It doesn't matter whether there's any proof of X Supernatural Event/Entity, because not everything that matters is about proof. Sometimes you just have to have faith."

When, um. Lots of things that matter are about proof.

This is the kind of thing that people say who haven't been shown evidence of the kinds of things people ordinarily take on faith. I know my partner loves me because I have evidence from the way he treats me. I know my parents love their children because I have seen the sacrifices they made for them.

I wouldn't believe my partner loved me if he didn't treat me in ways that gave me a reason to believe it. I wouldn't believe my parents love their kids if they didn't act in ways that lead me to this conclusion.

Very few of the things people say must be taken on faith are actually taken on faith by anybody.

Why should I treat the love of God any differently than the love of my partner? More to the point, shouldn't I have some evidence that I have a partner, and then proof that he loves me, and then belief?
xenologer: (vengeful)
Evidently complaining about racism, homophobia, and misogyny is just as bad as complaining about black people, gays, and women. Solution: refuse to have a problem with anything ever. Safe! (Bonus points for silencing minorities who don't realize yet that anger makes them bad people. TOP SCORE.)

I am really tired of being called angry and hateful because I have the gall to dislike the people who feed a system that shits on me (and several other sorts of people who may or may not be a lot like me) every day. I am particularly bothered by all the "bullying" language being thrown around. Here's what I feel is happening (and this is just my perception, but since it's coloring my reactions, I feel obligated to explain it).

A lot of people have a "zero tolerance" view of disliking other people the way that my junior high had a "zero tolerance" policy toward fighting. I ran afoul of this policy, and I think that the way it played out says a lot about how I approach these situations.

I was being bullied by a girl who not only followed me around the halls, but cornered me for what was clearly going to be a fight. It didn't come to that, but the administrators told both of us that fighting is wrong, wanted both of us to apologize, and we both got a suspension for in-school violence.

Seeing the connection? For those who aren't catching it, I'll beat the dead horse. Sometimes it isn't right to paint all parties to a conflict as though they are all equally wrong and all equally bad and all equally to blame for the situation. There are situations where this is the case, but they are far more rare than a lot of people would like to think.

The people who treat hatred of homophobia as though it were as bad as hating gay people, the people who treat revulsion toward racism as though it were as bad as revulsion toward other races, and the people who treat bitterness at misogyny as though it were as bad as bitterness toward women? They are doing to marginalized people what my school administrators did to me when I was a kid, and I don't stand for it now.

Just because there's a conflict doesn't mean everybody involved is a bad person, and just because someone finally hits back doesn't mean they're just as much of a bully as the person who's been brutalizing them all along. Conflating these two things is not only logically screwy, but it only serves to shame and silence people who are trying to finally stand up for themselves.

So yeah, I'll say it. I mistrust conservatives, mainly social conservatives. I mistrust social conservatives because people who identify that way have tried in many identifiable and clear ways to make my life less fulfilling than theirs, because I belong to several classes of people who have faced identical objections over and over to our desires to live as equal citizens in this country (whether it's my voting rights as a woman, my right to be free from religious coercion as an atheist, or my right to equal contractual rights when it comes to civil marriages).

My dislike is different from that of homophobes, religious zealots, or sexists, or racists, because I am not trying to deny them any rights except for their perceived right to hurt me. That means the roots of our dislike, as well as our intended aims, are not just a totally different animal, they're a whole world apart.

Every time somebody equates the two, calling both me and the people who hurt me "bullies," I kind of want to bite them in the face.

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