Atheism+: We are the 99%?

OK, first off the bat, it’s quite obvious that atheists are not the 99%.  While atheist/nonreligious numbers are growing, we have yet to break even 15% (The Crommunist has a break down of some numbers here).  But does this mean that our atheist+ values are not similar to the values of the 99%?

What seems pretty clear to me is that the focus on social justice in the atheist/skeptic/secular community cannot be an accident of history.  The Occupy movement of last year,  which continues in a transformed state, has obviously had ripple effects throughout the political and social world.  The 99% meme is now a part of our language and culture, and it has created an ideological watershed that will likely become part of our legacy as a set of generations active today.

So, to what extent are the values and goals similar to those of the Occupy movement? Well, I’m not sure, but people who are concerned with social justice will recognize the real divide between the economic elite and those below them.  The haves and the have-nots.

Control of the levers of political, and thus to a large extent social and cultural, power are in the hands of extremely wealthy people.  Most of the rest of us get to vote, but forgive my cynicism in pointing out that many people are frankly uninformed and thus have an oversimplified view of policy and thus support idiots.

Hence the current Republican party.  Is it a surprise that science, education, and social equality are not on the list of things-to-do for people who have done such a good job of swaying an electorate with propaganda and emotional appeal in the place of news and public policy? It shouldn’t be.

The Republican party is in serious need for a takeover by people who, while I disagree with them philosophically in most cases, have some important contributions to make to political thought.  You know, the old style intellectual conservatives a la Barry Goldwater.

Clearly Atheism+ is heavily progressive.  My guess is that atheists who lean conservative in this political climate will tend to not support the cause, and if they do so they will do so weakly.  And I don’t mind that it is progressive, because I am largely progressive myself, as are the other people here at PolySkeptic.  Hell, as I said yesterday, I am in favor of being radical, and perhaps I could be described as radical politically, to some extent.

So, do we try and overtly tie the messages and goals of the Occupy movement with Atheism+, or do we think that many of the Occupy people might resent that and leave their meme to their use, and simply help where we can?  Can we call ourselves part of this larger social movement? Because while people in the 1% are probably both atheist and theist, nonreligious and religious, clearly most of the atheists are part of the 99%, and the values of atheism+ contribute t0 the values of Occupy.

The Occupy movement is not about religion or god-belief, although certainly the levers of power have historically been tied to institutions such as the Catholic church and other theocratic forces.  But today the most wealthy don’t, as a rule, sit near an altar, a throne, or in the metaphorical clouds as gods or demigods.  Their power is levered by money, political maneuvers, and ideology.  All tools utilized by religion, sure, but we cannot directly tie the atheist movement to the 99% Occupy movement.

What we can do is point out that many atheists share the popular values of equality, social justice, and the existence of fair opportunity for all people.  Our culture, political institutions, and approach to problem-solving is in dire need of adjustment, and in some cases demolition and rebuilding.  Too much innate privilege is further privileged, too little room for proper application of skepticism is allowed, and too many people are uneducated about how to fix it or even think about it.

As Thomas Jefferson said to William S. Smith Paris in a letter written in 1787;

God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.

We have been too long without a real change in political and social atmosphere.  We, as a culture, are stagnating.  I don’t know what the best solution is, but I know the direction we are going as a culture cannot be it.

To get to a world of social justice and reason and to not continue on this path which empowers so few and keeps ignorant, distracted, and stupid so many, we need drastic change.  While we debate such easy questions as gay marriage, “legitimate rape,” and the place of religion in public policy, the vast majority of us are being swindled without full realization.  The classic misdirection of the pickpocket, except the pickpocket lives in a massive estate and pick-pockets millions of people every day.

We are not powerless, but we are not utilizing our powers.  We need more things like Occupy and Atheism+.  We need education, information, and a set of values to follow towards cultural and political transformation.


Wednesday was busy for me, with the debate and all, but before all that started I had gone over to city hall and talked with people from the Occupy Philly movement, who are affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street people unofficially.  I say unofficially mostly as a sort of joke because there is no central control, group, or message which is acting as the guide for these movements.  At least not yet (this notwithstanding).

Honest Discussioner and I talked with all sorts of people at the event.  He had his camera with him, and so there is video of some of our discussions from people lending logistical, technical, and media support.  Also, it became clear, as I had noticed even before Wednesday (I had been to the location a couple of times in the last week or so) that people have different opinions and expectations from the movement, even if they did share some common concerns and goals.

Some were antagonistic to the police, and others pointed out that they were friendly, part of the 99%, and even helpful.  This, among other issues (such as that of whether regulated Capitalism, Socialism, or Communism is ultimately the goal) are things which will have to be worked out internally and over time.

Here is what HonestDiscussioner put together from our trip:

The Library

The first thing to understand about this movement is that they have a legal right to be there.  They have a permit from the city, have received police assistance in terms of protection and even the ushering of some homeless people to the area (where there are resources to feed them and address their health issues).  There are tents for media, tech support, first aid, food/water, and many for people who are residing around city hall.

You know, like occupying Philadelphia.  In other words, this is not merely a place where people will get up and make there way over to for a day of activism, but rather it is that people are living around city hall right now.  It is a small sea of tents, information tables, a library, and advocacy groups of various stripes.  I hope that paints some of the picture somewhat.

A shot of a newsletter which was available in the library

Essentially, there is no central message coming from the Occupy Philly groups yet.  The reason for this is that the movement is still taking shape.  There are logistical concerns, and no one group is taking charge of anything except their own messages.

And, of course, there are various groups involved.  There are union groups (the AFL-CIO had an event on Wednesday, for example), as did Action United, Philly Jobs with Justice, and many other groups friendly to the goals of Occupy Philly can be found around and willing to talk to interested visitors of residents.

So, Shaun (says the impatient reader) what precisely are the goals? What is the message? Well, since you insist, I will summarize what I think the central message seems to be so far.  Money.  More specifically, money in politics.  The concern is that large business interests control how elections, legislation, and therefore policy are all implemented.  There is a feeling that the people (the 99%) are left powerless, unimportant, and sold out.

One sign I have seen several times says “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”  The message seems to be that as it stands, our political system is geared to protect corporate interests and not people’s interests.  Where certain banks are too big to fail, the majority of people who are struggling, with or without jobs, are not.  I’ll let economists tackle that question.

But what is clear to me is that in an economy like ours right now, jobs are needed (this blogger sure could use one). The people who have the ability to affect change in that direction are not doing much to help (Jobs bill, anyone?).  The “job-creators,” in other words, are not fulfilling their name-sakes.  Banks are holding onto money, many people are left with little to no money ( I think I do have 2 or 3 dollars around somewhere…quite literally), and there seems to be systemic reasons for this.

This has been true for a long time, of course.  In fact, this issue is not far off from the early Tea Party’s message (before it was bought out by business interests itself, of course).  So the question this presents to me is whether the Occupy movements will become something like the Tea Party movement.  The irony of it being bought by corporate interests would be high, but this does not make the possibility unlikely.  I mean, look what happened to the liberal movements of the 1960’s; totally corporatized both in image and ideology.  Not to say there are not still hippies out there who avoided corporate branding, just that they don’t have political power.

But I will not allow myself to become too cynical yet.  I will allow people who are working day and night for this movement to create something, and I will allow some small hope that they may achieve something beneficial for all of us.

So, I will continue to follow this movement and hope that it leads to at least some consciousness raising for more Americans.  The super rich (those 1%, or even there cronies the top 5% or so) are not likely to simply roll over and change how they operate within politics.  Their values seem to be at odds with those of us who are interested in seeing less disparity and inequality in the United States and the world.

If we educate ourselves, become involved in some sort of effort to change the world for the better, and demand more from people who have it we might be able to affect change in the world, even if only a little.  Oh, how I hope that’s true.

Here’s a touch of hope, perhaps: