Where philosophical differences turn into meta-debates about personalities

This, ladies and gentlemen, will be a rant of sorts.  I’m not happy with humanity today, and it’s my own damned fault for reading blogs!

So, I’m a feminist of a specific kind.  I have evolving but ideologically-leaning views about the relationship between gender, history, and culture.  I think there are things that we should be focused on as a society to improve the world related to those feminist ideas.  I think that we need to become familiar with concepts which will be consciousness-raising and will shift our perspectives on how to behave.

The details of what specific kind of feminist I am, what ideologies I prefer, and what changes in perspectives we should work towards are almost not worth explaining, because all I have to say is that I read Freethought Blogs and Skepchick and I agree with them more often than not.  I think Greta Christina is an excellent advocate for both atheism and feminism.  I think Rebecca Watson had something to teach me in talking about a guy in an elevator.  I miss Jen McCreight’s contributions to the conversation.  I have learned lots about race and privilege from Ian Cromwell.  I think PZ Myers is witty, intelligent, and sometimes wrong (actually, he’s mostly right there).

So, now you know where I stand right?

Here’s the thing.  If you read any blogs who have a dog in this fight  (you know, the fight about the role of feminism, if any, in the atheist/skeptic community) then you will either think that Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, etc are generally right and are fighting for a worthy cause within the community or you will think they are bullies (FtBullies, if you would) who have a view based upon “garbage feminist scholarship” and who are creating a division in the community with their, well, bullying and such.  Some, such as my good friend Staks, have given up reading any FtB posts at all.  I think he’s missing out on a lot by doing so, and I’m not sure if he will change his mind.

It has gotten so bad that I am not even sure what the philosophical differences are, most of the time.  Most of the posts I see now are not substantive philosophical critiques of a point of view, they are an attack on the other side.  This has become a polarized, party-line division, much like what exists in politics.

And this is no surprise to me.  Tribal mentalities exist in all communities, so the fact that this happens in the atheist community is to be expected.  I would like skeptics to be better, but I’m too cynical to really believe that will happen even among those who should, ideally, know better.  Humans are emotional and irrational (which they then rationalize, in most cases), so all I can do is be both frustrated and amused at it all.

Take this post by Maria Maltseva called A World Without Dogma.  it starts off OK, but then you immediately see that PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, and Richard Carrier are all Marxist feminists who may endanger us with their terrible Marxist ways.  I really thought I had run into a Republican blog by accident, for a moment there.

The arguments there are straw men.  There is no attempt to take seriously the problem of how to address feminism as a skeptic (and yes, I know there are people who do take this issue seriously from some of them I also read), but rather the point is to show how untrustworthy, unskeptical, and how bad the other side is.

And yes, some at Freethought Blogs do the same thing, and I will admit that I am less annoyed when I agree with the one doing the mocking than when I disagree, even though I also do get annoyed, occasionally, by some I agree with (especially Amanda Marcotte, who I agree with more often than not but I find her writing to be abrasive, so I don’t generally read her stuff anymore, except in rare cases).


So, let’s spell it out; there are people on both sides of this issue being snarky, using mockery, and who dislike each other greatly.  I want to see people who are able to see that snark and let it roll off of them.  I don’t want the emotion, passion, and even humor to go away, I want it to be waved off and for us to be able to actually have a substantive discussion about things like feminism without it turning into politics as usual. I want people to be able to hear mockery, snark, etc and let it roll off them and pay attention to the message, but often there is little actual message to sink one’s teeth into.

Yes, some people I will talk to will be wrong (painfully wrong), but can’t we drop the meta-debate? Can’t we stop talking about elevatorgate and talk about the philosophical disagreements which underlie why elevatorgate was such a big deal? Can’t we address privilege, safe spaces, and the concerns that men have all while we recognize that understanding the perspective of others is part of the process of making it all better for all of us?

I know I’m biased, but I think that is precisely what people such as Greta Christina have been doing.  I want a world where the complaints that men have with our culture are solved. I want a world where the complaints that women have about our culture are solved.  I want a world where tribalism and petty interpersonal squabbling don’t dominate philosophical debate.  Mostly what I see now is that PZ Myers and Thunderf00t don’t like each other anymore, Rebecca Watson is (supposedly) an ugly bitch, and my view of feminism is a totalitarian dictatorship in the making.

I want to put aside petty interpersonal squabbles, platitudes, and deal with real issues.  But I won’t get what I want;  the battle-lines will be drawn more vividly and I will be forced to be a combatant even if I try and avoid perpetuating the divisions.  And the effect of this is that I will inevitably become further removed from any real dialogue between people on different sides of this issue.  I will have less exposure to views different from mine, despite my desire to understand their point of view, because the conversation will become meta-, rather than substantive.

I can try to keep it away from here, but the simple fact is that I do think that one side of this debate is mostly right.  It’s just like PZ Myers said some time back, compromise with crazy is half-way to crazy town.  I think that FtB, despite some of their poor behavior from time to time, is mostly right, and I find Maria Maltseva mostly wrong, but still worth listening to in case something good comes through.

Not saying so would be inauthentic, so I will be placed on one side of the battle lines, and when I take a step across to try and understand, I will be shot at because I’m perceived to be wearing the uniform of the person seen as the leader on my “side.”

It’s absurd.  I’m interested in the truth, if such a thing exists, and I will hope that these stupid squabbles evaporate into a truly skeptical conversation.


3 thoughts on “Where philosophical differences turn into meta-debates about personalities

  1. I disagree with most of what is written here also. Interpersonal squabbles are not what is being argued in the larger scope. One group is saying that to be a good non-believer you have to also believe as they do or you are wrong and bad. That hardly ever pans out well. If you want a calm and reasoned conversation you should probably work to get those you generally side with to be reasonable.

  2. @myatheistlife

    I think that what is driving this division is personal issues, ego really. I do agree that we should try to get those on our “side” to be more reasonable. I will keep trying to do so.

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