August 16, 2013

PZ Myers Says it is Time to Pick a Side

English: "Social Justice," founded b...
"Social Justice," founded by Father Coughlin, sold on important street corners and intersections. New York City Medium: 1 negative: nitrate; 2 1/4 × 2 1/4 inches or smaller. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In an August 15 post, "This is not an update" (Freezepage link), PZ Myers told his readers that it is "time to pick a side" and "build a better secular movement" even if he ends up being "squeezed out." He wrote this post shortly after the timeline given in the cease and desist letter from Michael Shermer's attorney expired. PZ does not appear to have complied with this letter. As of this date, the post containing the allegations against Shermer is still up on Pharyngula.

As tempting as it is to use this as an opportunity to conduct a critical examination of what PZ's side has contributed to the secular movement to date, I'm not going to do that here. Instead, I'd like to suggest that we all take a step back from picking sides for a moment and ask ourselves two questions:
  1. Do I place a higher value on reason, critical thinking, and skepticism or on the interpretation of feelings as accurate indicators of truth (e.g., if I feel harassed, I was harassed), arguments from experience, and the uncritical acceptance of third wave feminist ideology?
  2. When it comes to secular activism (i.e., the efforts of the secular movement), what do I see as the top priority?
The first of these questions tells us something about the sort of person you are, and it may also give us an idea of how happy you are likely to be in the secular movement. I certainly recognize that not everyone active in the secular movement is a skeptic or strives to be rational; however, I suspect this is true for many. From what I have observed, I cannot help wondering whether someone who finds himself or herself leaning toward the feelings-as-truth/experience/radfem pole may have difficulty finding a home in the secular movement. Will such an individual ever be truly happy here?

The second question is even more important. If your top priority is separation of church and state, you have a great deal of company here. After all, this is the secular movement we are talking about. If, on the other hand, your top priority is gender and third wave feminism, you are going to be frustrated. While there are many of us in the secular movement who value social justice, we tend to define it as involving far more than gender. We are interested in gender equality, but we are also interested in other forms of equality (e.g., race, sexual orientation), as well as poverty, issues of access, and many other facets of social justice. Moreover, we tend to be far more interested in promoting equality than obsessing about "rape culture," "MRAs," and "sister punishers." But most of all, we do not see any of these issues as being the primary ones on which the secular movement should focus.

I expect that most of the people one will find in the secular movement place reason, critical thinking, and skepticism ahead of feelings-as-truth, experience, and the uncritical acceptance of third wave feminist ideology. Most of the people one will find in the secular movement are focused on secularism. While many do indeed value social justice, few want to replace secularism with third wave feminism as their primary goal. In fact, many seem to prefer keeping their work in the secular movement focused on secularism while also contributing to social justice in the context of other movements.