July 11, 2013

Why I Am Sometimes Viewed as Neutral on 'The Great Rift'

Neutral eskelWhen it comes to "the great rift" currently plaguing the atheist community, I am not neutral. I do not recall ever claiming to be neutral, but this has not stopped some from criticizing me. Interestingly, I have been criticized both for actually being neutral and for feigning neutrality. I say again, I am not neutral on this subject, have not been neutral on this subject, and have no desire for anyone to think otherwise.

I believe that there are three important reasons why some have mistaken my position for one of neutrality, and I'd like to highlight them here. I hope that doing so will allow me to clarify my position and why I think it seems to be misunderstood or misrepresented so regularly.

I Recognize That There Are More Than Two Sides In "The Great Rift"

The first reason my position is misrepresented is that my understanding of "the great rift" seems to be a bit different from what I am hearing from many people. You see, I reject the perspective that this rift represents an open conflict between two well-defined sides (i.e., the Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+ side vs. the Slymepit side). I understand the appeal of simplifying this by pretending that there are only two sides and that these are those sides. It is very difficult to talk about a conflict involving more than two sides, and simplification is damned tempting. Unfortunately, this is a case where simplifying things to two sides does not reflect reality.

Not everyone involved with Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+ considers himself or herself a mortal enemy of the Slymepit, calls women who disagree "sister punishers," advocates doxxing against those they label "shitheads," or pushes a "you're with us or against us engages" stance. There are a handful of people doing these things and a larger number who have been defending them, but not everyone allied with that camp is doing so. Similarly, not everyone involved with the Slymepit considers himself or herself a mortal enemy of Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+, Photoshops images of Ophelia Benson, makes silly YouTube videos mocking PZ Myers, or uses gendered slurs to describe anyone they do not care for. There are a handful of people doing these things and some who defend them (or their right to do so), but not everyone allied with that camp does so.

More importantly, there are plenty of people involved in this rift who have no relationship to either of the two groups on which everyone seems to want to focus. I'm one of them. I've never been a member of Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+ (although I was a regular reader and fan of a few blogs on the Freethought Blogs network for some time), and I have never had any association with the Slymepit. I have no allegiance to either of these groups.

This group has largely been ignored even though it is far larger in size that either of two previously mentioned. It includes those of us who find much of the behavior described above objectionable. We disagree with the bad behavior on display from members of both groups, and yet, we are generally able to express disagreement without name-calling, doxxing, and the like. Some of us lean toward the Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+ group in terms of ideology but do not care for how some members of this group have been behaving; others lean toward the Slymepit in terms of ideology but do not care for how some members of this group have been behaving.

I Do Not Fit Neatly Into How Either Side Describes the Other

Not only do I recognize that there are more than two sides in this rift, but I do not fit either of the depictions offered by the two sides we keep hearing about by members of the other side. I am not an angry MRA who opposes gender equality. I am politically liberal and pro-feminist. I have studied feminist theories in an academic setting and found feminism to be extremely valuable in my personal and professional life. I am not opposed to patriarchy theory, although I do not accept it uncritically. I accept the reality of male privilege, and I believe that feminism can be good for men as well as women. I refrain from using gendered slurs because I find that they add little value to communication. I'd much prefer to focus on someone's words or behavior rather than firing ad hominem attacks because I disagree with them.

Even though I value political liberalism and feminism, I do not think that either should be given a pass when it comes to critical inquiry. After all, I am a skeptic. The fact that I value these things means I must guard against my natural human tendencies to be insufficiently skeptical of them. Thus, I oppose efforts to prevent free inquiry and the methods of skepticism from being applied. Those who do so are not operating as skeptics.

Because I do not fit neatly into either of these groups, some have not been sure what to do with me. I have been angrily labelled "a Slymepitter" and "a misognyist" by some associated with Atheism+. I am included on some sort of "block bot," which appears to exist for the purpose of preventing users from having to encounter information which may be critical of their ideology. At the same time, I have been angrily labeled "one of those Atheism+ nuts" by others (I'm not sure if they were associated with the Slymepit or not). And yes, I'm also accused of being neutral.

I Have Made An Effort To Remain Rational, Skeptical, and Reasonable

Perhaps the most important reason I'm sometimes viewed as being neutral is that I have made an effort here on Atheist Revolution to remain rational, skeptical, and reasonable. I have certainly made mistakes, and I have not always lived up to this, but this is what I have tried to do here.

I try to listen to what someone is saying before I make up my mind about what they are saying. I try to enter into interactions with unfamiliar people with an open mind and assume that their intentions are positive until I have reason to believe otherwise. I try to be fair in my appraisal of new or unfamiliar ideas, recognizing that there are times when it makes sense to withhold judgment until additional information arrives. I try to give people second chances because we all make mistakes.

When it comes to "the great rift," I am capable of seeing value in what the two camps about which we hear so much are doing. But this does not mean I see every position as being equally valid. While I do admire the fierce commitment to free speech I see coming from some of those who affiliate with the Slymepit, I see some in that camp inflicting deliberate harm on others in a manner that appears almost sadistic. And while some bloggers do not seem to know what a threat is, I have had no problem condemning legitimate threats. Similarly, I have seen many instances in which some of those associated with Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+ do things that are completely inconsistent with freethought, skepticism, and/or the feminist values some are fond of claiming.

I have explained why I think I am sometimes viewed as neutral or as feigning neutrality on the rift. I have not addressed the question of why I am not neutral. Maybe that will be a future post.

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