Third wave atheism or the ‘new skepticism’? August 20, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: feminism, LGBT, new atheism, privilege, third wave atheism
edit: I saw Jen’s follow-up post as well. I like this image best:
A couple of days ago (I’ve been moving and such), Jen wrote this post on her blog about how the atheist community has been a “boy’s club” and how we need to help progress towards a “third wave” of atheism. The key part is this:
I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of equality as mission drift. I want Deep Rifts. I want to be able to truthfully say that I feel safe in this movement. I want the misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and downright trolls out of the movement for the same reason I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner or to play Mario Kart: because they’re not good people. We throw up billboards claiming we’re Good Without God, but how are we proving that as a movement? Litter clean-ups and blood drives can only say so much when you’re simultaneously threatening your fellow activists with rape and death.
It’s time for a new wave of atheism, just like there were different waves of feminism. I’d argue that it’s already happened before. The “first wave” of atheism were the traditional philosophers, freethinkers, and academics. Then came the second wave of “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Hitchens, whose trademark was their unabashed public criticism of religion. Now it’s time for a third wave – a wave that isn’t just a bunch of “middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men” patting themselves on the back for debunking homeopathy for the 983258th time or thinking up yet another great zinger to use against Young Earth Creationists. It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime. We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.
Yes, I agree. We, in the blogosphere have been talking a lot about “new” (or “gnu”) atheism, but in the same way that a Jr. leads to a III, we can have the future of the skeptic/atheist movement be a third wave where we include all of the various effects that religion, theological thinking, and non-skepticism generally affects our lives.
In short, we need to transcend mere atheism and move onto application of skepticism to all aspects of culture, beliefs, and actions. We need a new skepticism.
I have been trying to do just that for years at this blog. I saw the kinds of arguments that people had about god, religion, and things like science, and saw parallels between how we think about monogamy and polyamory. I saw unskeptical thinking leading people towards conservative views about sex and relationships, and I began to draw those lines using what I had seen in the skeptical community since I ran into it a decade ago.
In the years that I have run this blog (and after subsequently adding some new writers), I have broadened my focus to include questions of orientation, gender, and have even wrote about my own neuro-atypicality. Yes, I still focus on atheism and polyamory most of the time, but that is because these are the subjects I know best. I look to people like Ginny (my lovely wife) to write about gender, trans, sexology issues (when she’s not burdened by grad school work, that is). And Wes and Gina do their things, whether controversy or convulsions of laughter.
In doing this, I have come to a fairly progressive perspective, which I suppose is no surprise to anyone who knows me. I support LGBT rights, including the right to marry, raise children, etc. I support people who are simply trying to live their lives with political and legal freedom afforded to them not according to theological concerns, but by rational and empirical arguments based on fairness and compassion.
But most importantly, I support the freedom of speech and thought, without which the freedom to act would be parochial and hindered. As Keenan Malik recently said,
Whatever one’s beliefs, secular or religious, there should be complete freedom to express them, short of inciting violence or other forms of physical harm to others. Whatever one’s beliefs, secular or religious, there should be freedom to assemble to promote them. And whatever one’s beliefs, secular or religious, there should be freedom to act upon those beliefs, so long as in so doing one neither physically harms another individual without their consent nor transgresses that individual’s rights in the public sphere. These should be the fundamental principles by which we judge the permissibility of any belief or act, whether religious or secular.
(H/T Greg Mayer over at WEIT)
I support maintaining a skeptical community that fights for the truth, is aware of concepts like privilege and how it influences or worldviews, and which perpetually self-improves by allowing for criticism and dissent, when dissent is warranted.
To conclude, I agree with Jen that we need a third wave of atheism. And whether we think of it as an atheist movement, a skeptical movement, or a social justice movement led by skeptics and atheists, the important thing is that we must keep challenging ourselves to understand more, listen better, and remember that religion and non-skeptical thinking has effects which may not be immediately obvious to us, with our perspective. Religion effects different groups in different ways, and so we need to be inclusive in order to progress towards the goal.
The goal of making ourselves, as activists, obsolete.
Thinking about “the OTHER side” with friends July 16, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: privilege, society
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OK, so I don’t know why I have not been reading Dan Fincke’s blog, Camels with Hammers, for longer than that last month or so. I don’t always agree with him, but he and I share a number of things, including graduate degrees in philosophy, a love of Nietzsche, and being atheist bloggers. It’s too bad he’s not poly or I might have to have a man-crush or something.
OK, not that last part. I’m totes hetero. Except for Patrick Stewart during the days of Star Trek: TNG.
Anyway, I’m getting off-topic (already), so I’ll just leave my Kinsey rating to the side for a moment and get to what I want to talk about today.
I had a long conversation with some friends last week about atheism, polyamory, privilege, etc that was rather frustrating all-around. In an email exchange, a friend wrote to me, and this was my response.
I think I address some issues which are interesting to readers here, so enjoy.
[I've changed names of people involved for the sake of anonymity or someshit]
I find it interesting that you read that post and got this from it:
I’m not sure which viewpoint you meant to espouse here – doesn’t this stand for the proposition that any prominent view can be blindingly pervasive?
And this is not because they are either brainwashed or intemperate, but rather because they know what you think already and are sick of it. They too were systematically enculturated to internalize the same values, beliefs, practices, and assumptions that you were. What you are about to say to them was drilled into their heads, quite often to their own detriment, with both words and consequences. And sometimes those words and consequences were extremely harsh in order that the point you want to make to them might sink deep into their little, obtuse heads. Whatever you are going to say, they have heard it already from their parents, their lovers, their religious leaders, their friends, their coaches, their colleagues, their teachers, and/or their employers. The assumptions you want to make explicitly clear to them, in order that they finally “get it”, have already determined the course of their lives in ways you can hardly imagine.
They have met you before. They have thought your way before, they have felt your way before, and they have valued things your way before. They have lived in your world their whole lives. They walk around with you already in their head.
They have struggled through hard experiences, wrestled with challenging educators, and engaged in a whole lot of personal reflection in order to learn how to think differently, in order that they might successfully think and feel at cross-currents with not only explicit sociopolitical pressures but implicit ones embedded in language, social norms, religious practices, and, even, what are taken to be moral assumptions.
People who come from your own culture and yet think so wildly differently from what you think you know to be common sense do not just wind up that way because they are stupid or emotional or have mysteriously not been presented with basic information or arguments yet. They have, in all likelihood, had some bad experiences and been exposed to challenging ideas that you have not seriously had to contend with yet. They have, in all likelihood, thought through the issues at hand in intricately complex ways that you have not even begun to take seriously.
Of course this does not mean that they have necessarily come to correct conclusions in all, or even in most, matters. Their radical reeducation may be mistaken. They may have drawn the wrong conclusions from their experiences in any number of areas or in any number of ways. They may have something to learn from a dialogue or a debate with you.
But neither you nor they will learn anything if you just dismiss them as someone who needs you to explain to them the obvious that they might overcome their apparent obtuseness. Nothing is going to be learned if you condescend to them by telling them they haven’t heard out the “other side” and that they are just some sort of extremist who does not get basic facts about the world. Nothing is going to be learned if you strawman what is strange and unfamiliar in what they are saying so that you never give it the slightest chance to prove itself to you and to expand your horizons. You are not going to grow if you look for their most obvious mistakes, interpret their views to have the worst possible implications, or try to attack their personal failings as a convenient excuse to shut them down without listening to them.
This is not talking about how persuasive or prominent an idea is, at least not directly. As I understand it, Fincke is talking about how worldviews skew how we approach topics. It’s talking about how a person can get at a problem from a view that others, who have not dove into the intricacies, simply don’t see. The simplistic view that those people, who have not dove in, is often paired with an untested certainty about their view.
I say “untested” because they have not dealt with the subject deeply and seriously, so they are incapable of understanding it in the way that the expert (or even non-expert activist) does. It does not mean they are lacking in intelligence or anything like that, just that they currently lack the relevant experience to comprehend the various subtleties of the problems.
As an example, let me address your question about self-doubting ideologies, where you said
So it would cut against any ideology which isn’t self-doubting, including atheism?
I’m curious why you see atheism as not being self-doubting. Granted, there are atheists who may not doubt (as there are theists who do not doubt), but this is either a false claim to cover up insecurity or a semantic problem. Atheism per se is nothing more than the lack of belief in any “gods” (whatever those are supposed to be). Atheism is a tentative conclusion based upon rational thinking, logic, and empiricism; in short, it’s due to skepticism; the lack of supporting evidence leads to the lack of belief in supernatural entities.
Any intelligent and mature thinker knows that their opinions, conclusions, etc are always tentative. The strength of their certainty is dependent upon the strength of the evidence in support for a position, ideally. My certainty that there are no theistic gods is very high (for deistic gods, not as high), and if I am given sufficient reason or evidence to doubt this certainty, that lack of belief is subject to change. If there is good reason to think there are any gods, I want to know and am willing to change my mind.
But my experience with theology, science, philosophy, etc have led my certainty to grow quite strong, and the area for possible evidence for such beings is vanishingly small. That is, the gaps for “the god of the gaps” grows smaller the more we learn about the universe. But in the end I will always concede that I might be wrong, that there may be a god, gods, or something supernatural. I simply see no reason to suspect that I am wrong, currently.
So in other words atheism is always tentative and thus, in a sense, self-doubting. An atheist should always doubt (everyone should). If I were to be precise, I would point out that because atheism proposes nothing about the world at all (it is a negative position; a- + theism=atheism), it is not even categorically meaningful for it to not be subject to doubt because it proposes nothing to doubt or not. Theism is the position, the claim, and atheism is the rejection of the claim and logically implies nothing else, directly. The only way to meaningfully doubt atheism is to be exposed to evidence or good reason to believe in a god. And an atheist should be open to the possibility of such (And there are atheists, like PZ Myers, who [seem to] disagree with that statement…for reasons too complicated to get into here).
The point of the post, as I understand it, is to show that ideas, whether popular, mainstream, etc (or not) are subject to a kind of bias, often called privilege, which creates a problem in communication. The Christian talking to me, for example, talks as if I have never heard the story of Christ. Or at least that if I know the words, I have failed to comprehend the meaning and significance of the story. But not only do I know the story, but I know the history, theology, etc better than they do (quite likely; studies have shown that atheists know more about religion than practitioners of those religions do, in most cases).
I know it more because I have spent years studying the subject. I have superior experience, so when I talk with people with other specialties (say, the law or robot-building), I run into ideas about the subject which fail to demonstrate sufficient understanding, let alone expertise. And the arguments that I hear are attempts to show a narrative which I not only understand (and better than the arguer), but which I have transcended, rejected, and have replaced with a superior narrative.
Like I said before; I would not try and argue a legal position with you (or anyone else who has studied such things) without understanding that my views on the subject are sophomoric (at best), and I would lend more weight on what you would say, even though I am aware that you may not actually be correct. But I hear people add their views about religion, atheism, philosophy, etc frequently who have little idea about what they’re talking about, because they are intelligent people and these are mere matters of critical thinking (or whatever their justification may be).
There seems to be a view in our culture that subjects such as religion and the complex issues surrounding “new atheism” are accessible to any educated person (and, I suppose it is if they do the work), and so many people feel (whether atheist or theist) like they can just confidently explain to me the popular narrative and I’ll simply get that I’m making it more complicated, extreme, etc than it has to be. When [name redacted] referred to me as “one-dimensional,” I wanted to say I saw him as sophomoric and simplistic, but I realized that wouldn’t help conversation. When I hear that, I feel like I’m talking to the freshman in philosophy class who thinks he knows everything because he read ahead and knows what the next reading offers as an answer. But that freshman doesn’t have a grasp on the problem at hand, and just looks stupid from the point of view of the expert.
There exists a (privileged) narrative about religion, faith, atheism, science etc in our culture which is largely nonsensical and flatly wrong. It sounds sensible at first hearing (that is, it’s compelling and persuasive and thus hard to respond to easily without explaining the underlying narrative), but it’s dubious and has been shown to be so by people such as myself for years. And yet this narrative drives the mainstream cultural opinion where the mass media, most of the middle class, and even educated people swim and pass around the memes which we, the experts in the field, know to be absurd. And so we get frustrated, labeled as angry, irrational, and “one-dimensional.”
The reason we seem one-dimensional is that whenever we talk to people like [name redacted], in the role he played during that conversation, we are viscerally reminded of the narrative we find so ridiculous, and have to confront it again. It seems like was are reactionary and combative, but we are defending ourselves against the dominant narrative. We are combating a privilege you have, can’t see, and everyone walks away frustrated. We have to explain the basics of the problem, for the thousandth time, to someone who thinks their opinion is intelligent when it isn’t.
So yes, we come across as angry, repetitive, and one dimensional. We have the choice of that, or shutting up.
This image sums that up for me, perfectly:
So, you don’t see atheist discrimination? June 1, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
Tags: activism, atheism, discrimination, privilege
Now, I have been wearing shirts that advertise my atheism for many years. I have some acquaintances who question why I wear them as well as why it matters. They are atheists too, in most cases, and nobody seems to care about it around them.
Well, a few things:
1) Most of my acquaintances who make such comments, especially people I’ve known from from high school, are very privileged private school educated, upper middle class, white men.
2) They rarely or never talk about their atheism, especially to non-atheists. How would they know if discrimination existed? It’s easy not to be discriminated against if you are so deep in the closet nobody can see you there.
3) I’m not sure if most of these people would know what discrimination looks like, from the receiving end, if they did experience it.
My own admitted privileged status in our culture means that I don’t fully comprehend the repercussions of discrimination myself, and this is magnified for those who don’t expose themselves to being out atheists. I am well aware of my ignorance about the experience of serious discrimination. But what small amount of lack of privilege that being an atheist entails in our society (especially when compared to what women, non-white, trans, etc (not to mention the various intersectionality that people experience), I can assure you it does exist.
It’s nothing immediately dangerous (in the vast majority of cases, but I also live in a liberal metropolis), and in most cases it amounts to awkward conversations with clueless people. It certainly can make job-hunting problematic, as advertising atheist activism on a resume may not be wise. Although I once did get hired for a job (years ago) while wearing a “Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood atheist” shirt.
So, atheist discrimination, in comparison with discrimination received by other groups of people is comparatively tame. But it exists. The more people that come out of the closet as atheists, the better it will eventually get.
So, whether you wear a shirt like the one pictured above or not, keep in mind that there are significant religious privileges in our society, and that we need more people standing up, speaking, and acting in the name of social justice of all kinds.
All social justice activists are working to make their activism irrelevant. Let’s make atheist activism irrelevant.
Polyamory is not a privilege, but is skepticism? April 18, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: polyamory. relationships, privilege, skepticism
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I wrote a long post two nights ago, in response to a post over at polytical.com which started some conversation. Today, I want to clarify a distinction that may help illuminate my central point.
There are social power dynamics which make achieving certain things more or less difficult in our culture. Those with more privilege have an easier time surmounting aspects of our culture than others. Some people avoid emotional, economic, etc hardships which makes certain things easier to achieve.
In other words, privilege exists.
For some people to arrive at polyamory, they need to overcome such hardships. For others, such struggle is not necessary. Thus, for many people to arrive at polyamory (or atheism for that matter), they need to take advantage of privilege. For others, lack of privilege can still lead one to polyamory.
The conclusions I draw from this are that there are privileged ways to get to polyamory, and for many people to get to it they need to take advantage of privilege, but polyamory is not a privilege per se.
Privilege will certaintly help to practice polyamory, but to simply be polyamorous is not a privilege.
Whether I could have gotten where I am today without my privilege of gender, race, economic status (although I have been quite poor myself at one time, I grw up without want), and education is unknowable. But that some people could have seems incontrovertable to me.
This brings to mind the question of whether skepticism is a tool held through privilege or not. Because yes, some people arrive at true opinions and healthy lifestyles without rational scrutiny, but is skepticism itself possible without privilege?
Smugness and arrogance in polyamory? April 16, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: arrogance, monogamy, polyamory, privilege, relationships, smugness
I have been following a blog about polyamory for a little while now called polytical. I try and keep up with a few poly blogs, twitter feeds, etc in order to keep my finger on the pulse of the community. I am not really a part of that community, even less than I am an insider the atheist community, but I have been listening for some time and know a fair bit about the issues, people, etc.
So, earlier today this post went up on polytical entitled I’m Poly ‘Cause I’m Better (which was a follow-up and partial change in views from a previous post entitled I’m Better ‘Cause I’m Poly). I had not read the earlier post previously (it went up before I started following the blog), but read it today for further context. I will say that I pretty much agreed with the older post. I have some reservations about the one from today.
Let’s just say I have some questions. Concerns even.
Lola O starts by saying how ze, after more presence in the poly community, has started to see the smugness of some polyamorous people; smugness about polyamory being better than monogamy and so forth. I have seen a little bit of that myself. I think that some of that smugness, that arrogance, can be justified. Not all of it, surely, but some of it. I’ll get to that.
So, let’s start with where Lola thinks the problem originates.
I feel it’s important to address this. Not because I enjoy being a naysayer, but I can see why the community alienates people. The smugness comes in two forms – a lack of acknowledgement of intersectional issues, and unchecked blatant privilege.
Oh boy, have we skeptics and atheists been over this ground in the last year! The debacle that was Elevatorgate, The ‘Amazing’ Atheist, and even Penn Jillette will remind us skeptics (the rest of you can use your Google machine) of what I am referring to (and of course there are many more examples). Alienating people, especially women and non-white people, from meetups, conventions, etc has been a huge issue in the skeptical/atheist world in recent years, and it exploded last year in a way that educated many people, including myself.
I still have not had a chance to thank Rebecca Watson, personally, for much of that unfortunately.
Once again, there are a lot of things that the polyamory community has to learn from the skeptic community, as well as the other way around. I know there is some overlap, but I don’t see a tremendous amount of discussion that deals with the intersection and how their trajectories might resemble one-another. Except, of course, for here at polyskeptic.com!
In any case, let’s get back to Lola. Ze thinks that there are two issues that are at the foundation of the problem in the poly community.
- a lack of acknowledgment of intersectional issues
- unchecked blatant privilege.
Intersectionality is a relatively new idea to me, although I certainly sympathize with the phenomenon as an atheist, polyamorous, skeptic. Privilege…well, that is not as new to me, but the debacles listed above must have increased the Google hits for that term by a significant degree last year, and I wrote a bit about it myself. But I don’t want to deal with these issues naked, I want to allow Lola to dress them up, give them shape, so that we can follow her reasoning.
People who say they’re polyamorous and critical of the assumption that we’re biologically suited to monogamy do not seem to bat an eyelash at gender stereotypes, and are more than willing to glue themselves to biological imperatives of the way “males” and “females” behave.
Yep, I’ve seen this. The nature of privilege (or am I getting ahead of myself) is that you don’t see it when you have it. I am in agreement with this statement, although I don’t know how common this actually is, having seen it rarely myself. As a point of comparison, I’ll add this; having seen how many atheists, who tend to be good at seeing past religious privilege, are blind to their own privileges has taught me that suffering the blunt end of privilege does not imply that you are incapable of having another form of privilege.
I find myself (and I’m not exaggerating) constantly having to remind fellow poly people that not only do intersex and gender variant people exist, but sometimes even that bisexual individuals exist. And when I bring up how sexism probably impacts the way people interact with others; the way people find partners; how comfortable, for example, those who identify as female may feel in situations where being poly means they are sexually available, I’m told that I’m pissing in everyone’s Cheerios or being too negative.
I have not seen this much myself. From my non-scientific sample, from my experience, this is pretty rare. Of course, most of my experience with the poly community IRL comes from being in Philadelphia; a very LGBTQ, intersex, etc friendly area of the world. I also attended an extremely liberal school where most of my friends were also extremely liberal. Just another privilege of mine.
It may be that the level of awareness, comfort, and overlap between the polyamorous community and the intersex/gender variant community varies from region to region or even group to group within a region, and Lola and I live in different parts of the world and may travel in different kinds of circles. Perhaps if I traveled around more I would find similar experiences as Lola did in recent months.
At one poly event, when a friend of mine brought up the struggles of women & gender variant individuals, and how – as poly activists, we need to mention and address these issues, she was condescended to by a fellow “poly activist” who told her that those people need to fight their own battles while we need to focus on poly struggles and poly issues.
I am in complete disagreement with this “poly activist” which Lola paraphrases here. This type of statement is another example of where the poly community needs to learn lessons from the gay community. I learned it through the atheist community, in a talk given by Greta Christina, where she talks about how the atheist community needs to learn from the mistakes of the gay community. (watch it, but perhaps after reading):
This larger fight for rights, recognition, etc for all of us weird, and even the not-so-wierd, people is the same fight. I stand for gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex, cis, feminist, men’s (but no so much MRAs), atheist, Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Hindu, Pastafarian, polyamorous, monogamous, asexual, etc rights. I stand for human rights. Anyone who thinks that we are all fighting separate fights doesn’t see the larger picture, and ends up segregating and tribalizing us all.
Lola then addresses the issue of whether polyamory should be included in with the “Queer” umbrella, and even whether we should add a “P” to the LGBTQ “alphabet soup.” In some ways, I think that there are good arguments for this addition, but only because I have seen good overlap between the LGBT community and polyamory. But if what Lola is identifying here is true, then I think that the following is very well said.
And when I voice my concerns as a queer person, that adding “P” to an acronym built on backs and blood of beaten, raped, tortured, and slain individuals is insulting when, while polyamory is misunderstood, it has yet to be a death sentence – I’m told by individuals who have no concept of being queer that I’m being divisive and discriminatory. What sort of welcoming do queer people find in a community that tells them to keep their issues to themselves, unless of course heterosexuals want to co-opt their struggle?
This is a fantastic point. I don’t know the extent of the real distance between the poly community as a whole from the LGBTQ struggles, but if it tends towards being as far as Lola is claiming here, even if not everywhere, then I think that the poly community should back off trying to add a “P” here, at least until this issue is rectified.
So, thus far in the post I am in agreement with Lola. I think that ze has some wonderful things to say about some problems in the poly community, and while I hope her experiences are the rare exceptions, my more cynical nature doubts that it is. We poly people have work to do, surely.
So I keep reading. When Lola turns to race relations, I don’t expect to find this sentence;
To put it bluntly, being polyamorous may cause one to endure all manner of ignorant comments and may even threaten the custody or family lives of a few, but practicing polyamory is overwhelmingly a privilege.
Upon reading this, something pops in my brain. ‘huh?’ my inner-voice says. ‘did I just read that correctly?’ it continues. Now, I have never thought of polyamory as a position of privilege. To me, it seems that monogamy has the position of privilege, and polyamory is struggling against that privilege. But being aware that privileged people are blind, I keep reading.
Loving more than one person is a capability I believe all human beings have. But having the time, energy, and resources for more than one relationship is, without doubt, a privilege.
Ah! I see. This makes a bit of sense. I see where the argument is headed. The immediate point following this, then, is not surprising.
I see a lot of poly people online and offline wax poetic about polyamory being the next stage of human evolution, degrade and devalue monogamous people for their silly triflings; all the while ignoring that a working single mother barely has enough time for herself, let alone dating.
This is an interesting point. And no doubt the observation is largely true, but consider this. A common response to polyamory, from monogamous people, is that they simply don’t have the time or energy for another relationship. This is basically the same point, and I think it falls apart for similar reasons. Let me address it in two ways.
First, what I think is overlooked here is that some ways to approach polyamory may actually help this problem, rather than exacerbate it. I think the assumption here may be that the single mother (or father) may not have time for two relationships, let alone one. Sure, this is a problem. But what if that single mother/father found an existing couple, family, etc? What if they found themselves a support network which could make the work of raising a child a bit easier? That is one of the major strengths of polyamory, IMO.
Granted, this is an idealized solution to a tough situation, and the logistical problems in finding said support group is a challenge in itself. I was raised by a single mother, until I was eight or so, myself. And while my mother didn’t find a poly tribe, she found a support structure despite the hardship. Finding a poly support structure, if that is what she had been after, may not have been impossible or even very difficult (especially now that the internet exists) for a single mother.
The second point is that this argument is no more a problem for polyamory than it is for relationships in general. It’s like my mother (who apparently has a lot to do with this post) talking to me about why I, as a poly person, should not get married. All of her arguments turn into arguments against marriage itself, rather than arguments against me getting married while polyamorous.
The essential point here is that when one argues that polyamory is a privilege because doing it is hard, one might as well be arguing against having relationships at all. Having a tough life does not stop people from finding what they need and want, so if they are open to and prefer polyamory, they can find that as well as any monogamous single parent could.
These discussions about how advanced polyamory is and how much better we are at relationships and life come off to me as incredibly ignorant of the realities many face. There’s a difference between being happy in and of ourselves for what we have, and being arrogant and ignorant. I have the economic privilege and free time to date more than one person, but I haven’t always had that. And people who have to spend most of their time working to keep their head economically above the water may have little time for conventions and long discussions about compersion. Love is infinite. Time is not.
When I met my soon-to-be wife, I was unemployed, nearly homeless, recently abandoned in a city I barely knew (Atlanta), and emotionally wrecked. I was already pre-disposed to polyamory due to previous experiences, introspection, etc. My being polyamorous was not about going out on nice dates, spending tons of time with many people with whom I had long-term relationships, or even actually having any partners at all.
My being polyamorous was about not creating arbitrary and absurd rules, when starting or solidifying relationships, about being exclusive. It was merely about recognizing that my ability to love is not limited, and that anyone who will love me has to know that about me because I will not lie to myself by artificially being exclusive for the sake of some silly fears and insecurities. Being polyamorous is about being authentic to my actual desires and tendencies, not living la vita loca with wining and dining potential partners.
It was a declaration of true maturity, skepticism, and self-knowledge, not a declaration of wealth of time and money to do the dating game with two or more people.
Polyamory is not about doing what the hetero-normative, middle class, educated world does, but just more of it transparently. It’s about recognizing that we actually do love more than one person, and this happens whether we are dirt poor, middle class, or of the 1%. For me, it is a part of a larger project to be a better person than I was, than most people are, and who I would be if I hadn’t challenged myself to be better.
I am not better because I am polyamorous, but rather I am polyamorous, like Lola said, ’cause I’m better. Not better in the sense of having more money, time, or people in my life, but because I have done the real, hard, tedious work of improving my ability to be a better person, including when I didn’t have the privileged economic means, and for me that means being polyamorous.
In my view, polyamory is actually better, unless you accidentally become monogamous, than what the world tends to do with relationships. Am I smug? Damned right! Am I arrogant? I don’t think this pride is unwarranted, I think it’s earned.
And no, not everyone will be polyamorous, nor will all people have the capability to be so. Also, not everyone will be a skeptic, an atheist, a PhD, an expert, or even famous. This does not mean that we do not respect, fight for, and care for those who cannot climb such mountains, but it means that in some way we have achieved something that others cannot, or have not yet, achieved. We can encourage others to follow, but will not expect all to do so.
My privileges (and I have many; I’m white, educated, middle class in a very wealthy country, male, and certainly some others that I’m not thinking of right now) are not what make it possible for me to be polyamorous, but they do allow me to do polyamory in a more privileged way. This is the distinction that, I think, Lola is missing. It’s not that polyamory is a privilege, but doing polyamory in a certain way is a privilege.
But this privileged way of doing polyamory is no different than doing any type of relationship in a privileged way. Again, this line of reasoning does not point exclusively to polyamory, but also to any type of relationship which exists in a privileged world. There is a logical error of confusing a privileged way of doing polyamory with polyamory per se. Polyamory does not require a privilege to mount, it only requires an open and honest mind about how we love people, what we want, and how we communicate between those two things.
Finally, I want to deal with what Lola talks about near the end of the post. The discussion here is things like mental health, ableism, etc. Lola says:
Discussions that centre around shaming jealousy, or the assumption that security is a realistic goal for all, or that you need it in order to be “good at poly,” create an environment that encourages people with mental illness (and people without) to not only misjudge red flags and pangs they experience as jealousy but also encourage them to ignore those feelings for fear of being the “green eyed monster”. There’s little to no discussion around these assumptions unless it’s pointed out that insecurity could stem from mental illness, and no advice or acknowledgement on how exactly folks with mental illnesses are supposed to navigate poly situations.
I struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder. If there are any MH issues which would be problematic with emotions, including jealousy and insecurity, BPD would be among the toughest to deal with.
I acknowledge that many people may not be able to do poly, for reasons of trauma, mental health issues, etc. Where “jealousy-shaming” actually exists, it needs to be confronted and eliminated. Jealousy is not something to be ashamed of, it is something to work through because it is unhealthy. We must be up-front with our personal struggles, and not be ashamed of them.
I think that Lola might be missing the distinction between shame and the frustration that comes with having to deal with something unwanted and pernicious, like jealousy (or faith, credulity, etc), which can cause emotional reactions such as shame. I have not seen much “jealousy-shaming,” but I have seen people bluntly proclaim that jealousy is an unhealthy attribute which we need to confront towards the goal of managing it maturely, honestly, and with aplomb. This is not shaming; this is asking people to deal with a difficult problem with things like maturity, courage, and lots of communication.
The experience of shame in response to such things is part of the problem, and it makes me wonder if the intent of people is always to shame, or if many times it is the interpretation of people who struggle with jealousy and are confronted about this. Shame, a Christian concept if ever there were one, is anti-human and festers beneath the psyche of many of us in the West due to the perpetuation of theologies which feed off of such unpleasant experiences. We need to be aware of that.
Jealousy, like faith, needs to be outgrown by our species for us to thrive in a future where we transcend the teenage years of our history. Not through shame, but by compassion, patience, and very good listening skills will we achieve such goals. We need to allow the love (the ‘-amory) to massage jealousy away a day, a word, or a touch at a time and encourage the best scientific methods to deal with the exacerbation of that problem for those with particular mental health struggles, just as people do in the monogamous world.
We don’t, after all, say that since many people struggle with violent tendencies we should, therefore, not confront and try to deal with people who have mental health issues which exacerbate those impulses because it causes shame. I know, from personal experience, that causing physical harm to people through violence brings shame, but that this response was mostly my responsibility.
I’m glad I realized that it was not shame, but motivation to be more healthy, was the intention of those confronting me. Otherwise, I might still be ashamed, rather than more healthy.
Near the end, Lola begins to sum up thoughts:
So, I have found the smug poly people. But it’s more than smugness. To me, smugness implies at the very least that there is something to be proud of, and you’re going the extra mile beyond being proud to being boastfully arrogant. This isn’t boastful arrogance, this is unchecked ignorance – and that is nothing, as a community, to be proud of. I see this problem in many communities, and I’m hoping that this is something that will change.
Well, maybe the community does not have anything to be proud of. Frankly, the community I have seen is small, unorganized, and struggles with all sorts of issues that differ from group to group. But this statement above goes further than I am willing to go. This, above, sounds like an attempt to shame.
I do hope that the polyamory community will continue to grow, evolve, and improve. But I think that many poly people have much to be proud of. I am proud of my accomplishments as a poly person, of our little group, and the thoughts that we have collected here at polyskeptic (we’re still quite young as a blogging group).
To sum up my own thoughts here which have gone long and long), I agree that issues with intersectionality need to be dealt with where they are a problem. I believe that education about what it means and how it affects us all are part of that solution. But I don’t agree that polyamory is privileged any more than any relationship is potentially privileged. I believe that Lola has committed a logical fallacy in arguing that poly is privileged because to do it in a privileged way is not possible for everyone. There are non-privileged ways to do polyamory, and many people are doing just that.
Polyamory Privilege Venn Diagram March 4, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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Privilege has been all over the place as a discussion topic in the atheist community since Elevatorgate, but I have not seen too much about it in poly discussions. I do suspect that monogamous privilege is a real thing, but the extent of it is not something I have spent a lot of time thinking about.
The Blindness of Christian Privilege February 19, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: anti-christ, Nietzsche, privilege
“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides.[d] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” [Matthew 15:13-14]
So, I’ve been reading Nietzsche again.
See, I went and got myself a Kindle. And I was getting free copies of all these books I already have (and will be donating many books at some point in the future to make shelf space for…something). And I downloaded a copy of The Antichrist which I have not read in many years. It is a fascinating book that makes many points that would be familiar to many gnu atheists. I have thought more than once of sending a passage to Jerry Coyne, Eric MacDonald, or even PZ Myers because they all have reminds me of things Nietzsche has said in this little book.
So, then the other day, on the way home from work, I read section 32 of said book. Before quoting and commenting, I want to point out that Nietzche does not identify as an atheist*, although his views seem pretty consistent with how the term is used today. I think it is fair to consider him an atheist for the purposes of simple categorization (as if Nietzsche could be easily categorized!) but recognize that he didn’t self-identify with the term.
As an introduction to today’s thought, allow me to make an observation. Many atheist writers, especially ones I read, talk about how Christianity, or theism generally—perhaps merely the concept of faith itself!—is philosophically and even methodologically opposed to basic critical thinking, skepticism, and secularism. There is a real worldview difference between the very religious and the essentially secular culture which surrounds it. Some call it a culture war, and this label is as good as any I suppose, but it is at bottom (one is tempted to say de Bottom) it is a difference of perspectives, whether those at odds see the underlying methodological distinctions or not.
I think part of Nietzsche’s point in section 32 of The Antichrist to point out that the faith of the Christian is incapable of seeing this perspective for what it is—a privileged perspective. But before he can make any such observations, he has a few necessary bushes to beat around. He starts the section with the following:
I can only repeat that I set myself against all efforts to intrude the fanatic into the figure of the Saviour: the very word impérieux, used by Renan, is alone enough to annul the type. What the “glad tidings” tell us is simply that there are no more contradictions; the kingdom of heaven belongs to children; the faith that is voiced here is no more an embattled faith—it is at hand, it has been from the beginning, it is a sort of recrudescent childishness of the spirit. [links obviously not in the original]
Nothing surprising yet. Nietzsche several times observes the child-like attribute of Christian faith, not that this observation should be surprising at all given that this idea is native to the New Testament. For example, in the book of Luke, chapter 18:15-17 (NIV):
“15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” [emphasis mine]
But Nietzsche seems to see a significance to this childishness which I think many gnu atheists either miss, or is no longer largely true. Nietzsche continues:
The physiologists, at all events, are familiar with such a delayed and incomplete puberty in the living organism, the result of degeneration. A faith of this sort is not furious, it does not de nounce, it does not defend itself: it does not come with “the sword”—it does not realize how it will one day set man against man. It does not manifest itself either by miracles, or by rewards and promises, or by “scriptures”: it is itself, first and last, its own miracle, its own reward, its own promise, its own “kingdom of God.” This faith does not formulate itself—it simply lives, and so guards itself against formulae.
Now, in light of the history of Christianity, the evangelical nature of Christians throughout their history (and no sign of it slowing!), and the various formulas by which sects argue (with atheists and with each other), one might think that Nietzsche is being either naive or ignorant here. But Nietzsche is quite aware of the history and character of Christianity, and seems to be saying such to raise your eyebrows here, in order to set you up.
So, given that he is certainly aware of the objections rising in your mind, let us follow his bread-crumb trail to see where it is leading:
To be sure, the accident of environment, of educational background gives prominence to concepts of a certain sort: in primitive Christianity one finds only concepts of a Judaeo-Semitic character (—that of eating and drinking at the last supper belongs to this category—an idea which, like everything else Jewish, has been badly mauled by the church). But let us be careful not to see in all this anything more than symbolical language, semantics an opportunity to speak in parables. It is only on the theory that no work is to be taken literally that this anti-realist is able to speak at all. Set down among Hindus he would have made use of the concepts of Sankhya, and among Chinese he would have employed those of Lao-tse—and in neither case would it have made any difference to him.—With a little freedom in the use of words, one might actually call Jesus a “free spirit”—he cares nothing for what is established: the word killeth, whatever is established killeth. The idea of “life” as an experience, as he alone conceives it, stands opposed to his mind to every sort of word, formula, law, belief and dogma. He speaks only of inner things: “life” or “truth” or “light” is his word for the innermost—in his sight everything else, the whole of reality, all nature, even language, has significance only as sign, as allegory.—
In writing this, Nietzsche is pulling you in, especially if you are prone to seeing an ecumenical nature to religion. He seems to want to sketch the humanity of Jesus in order to create a larger picture, a larger historical and ideological contrast, of Christianity. Nietzsche here seems to be addressing the character of the ‘Saviour’ as a foil for the church which he sees as degraded and stagnant (“Oh how repulsive is this falsified light, this stake air!”). He is seeing the humanity hidden under ecclesiastical religion, a humanity too-well hidden by the finery of its tattered garb.
Here, Nietzsche the philologist comes through clearly. He is seeing the Gospels as a picture into a life lived by a man who stands prior to the dogmas of the church as they would become. It is here that the liberal believer, the ecumenicalist, and in general the respectable atheist can step up and try to claim Nietzsche as their own, as a representative of those for whom standing up and proclaiming that religion is a part of our humanity (even if it is not true), and we gnu atheists who despise and degrade it (as if it needed our help for that) ought to be ashamed of ourselves. But it’s not quite that simple.
Here it is of paramount importance to be led into no error by the temptations lying in Christian, or rather ecclesiastical prejudices: such a symbolism par excellence stands outside all religion, all notions of worship, all history, all natural science, all worldly experience, all knowledge, all politics, all psychology, all books, all art—his “wisdom” is precisely a pure ignorance of all such things.
And it is here we see the first strong glimpse of what Nietzsche is enlightening us to. From a purely formal point of view, Nietzsche’s cloaked criticism of Wagner here (the phrase “pure ignorance” is from Wagner’s Parsifal, which was largely responsible for Nietzsche’s turning into the greatest critic of his former friend) is perhaps an analogy of his criticism that lies beneath it. That is, this cloaked criticism is itself a clue that Nietzsche is not here cuddling up with the Gospels, but is rather creating a caricature, again a foil, of both the Gospel and its subject in contrast to the Christianity which we find ourselves faced with in modernity.
He has never heard of culture; he doesn’t have to make war on it—he doesn’t even deny it…. The same thing may be said of the state, of the whole bourgeoise social order, of labour, of war—he has no ground for denying “the world,” for he knows nothing of the ecclesiastical concept of “the world”…. Denial is precisely the thing that is impossible to him.—In the same way he lacks argumentative capacity, and has no belief that an article of faith, a “truth,” may be established by proofs (—his proofs are inner “lights,” subjective sensations of happiness and self-approval, simple “proofs of power”—). Such a doctrine cannot contradict: it doesn’t know that other doctrines exist, or can exist, and is wholly incapable of imagining anything opposed to it…. If anything of the sort is ever encountered, it laments the “blindness” with sincere sympathy—for it alone has “light”—but it does not offer objections….
This observation lies in stark contrast to one of the sharpest criticisms of religion by many new/gnu atheists today; that religion and faith are anti-life, anti-science, and ultimately anti-reality. And while it is true that religion is all of these things, what I think Nietzsche is pointing out here is that this is a perspective that can only be seen from the outside, from one who looks at faith from the outside, and not from the inside of Christian faith.
(Remember, one does not need to have faith to look at it as if from the inside. This is the essence of accomodationism)
The Christian worldview, insofar as it is child-like, is not against the world or its various useful methodologies, technologies, or philosophies; it is unaware of them. A young child does not misbehave because it is against the rules of behavior and social interaction, the child cannot conceive of them yet. The child is just being child-like, yet to become aware of the society in which it is swimming, just like the proverbial fish. In much the same way, one whose entire world is lived within the simplicity of faith, worship, and promised salvation cannot see the conflict inherent with those who do not live with them in that world.
They see the world outside as rejecting this simplicity, and cannot comprehend why those outside would reject it. They see us secularists as the source of the conflict, and whine about persecution and oppression of simply living their lives according to the values (not their values, because that would require awareness of another possible value). They cannot see that their own worldview (if they are even aware that theirs s a worldview!) is in conflict with reality—they have no concept of “reality” as those who are methodologically aligned with science are!
In the end, it is just another privilege. In this case it is a religious privilege which blinds them to their own ignorance—they are ignorant that they are ignorant. As Christopher Hitchens pointed out many times, they are in chains and glad of it. They do not see their imprisonment for what it is, and they act in ways that look like whining children to the rest of us. They demand special privilege, undue respect, and don’t understand why we don’t give it to them.
It’s for the same reason you don’t allow a small child to do whatever it wants. That child has not yet learned to be an adult, and so we protect it and sometimes find it adorable, but we don’t allow it free reign lest it destroy itself and the things we value.
*Consider the following:
“God”, “immortality of the soul”, “redemption”, “beyond” — Without exception, concepts to which I have never devoted any attention, or time; not even as a child. Perhaps I have never been childlike enough for them? I do not by any means know atheism as a result; even less as an event: It is a matter of course with me, from instinct. I am too inquisitive, too questionable, too exuberant to stand for any gross answer. God is a gross answer, an indelicacy against us thinkers — at bottom merely a gross prohibition for us: you shall not think!