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Paradigms of demarcating culture: Why skepticism of woke culture is valid July 18, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
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TL;DR version:

The current trend of the “woke” left is slipping more and more into the authoritarian side of the political spectrum, is increasingly non-skeptical, and is in danger of alienating the left, in general, through it’s self-righteous behavior.  We, as progressives, need to emphasize individual skepticism and enthusiastic willingness to accept authentic criticism from people who want to be our allies, or wokeness will become just another blip in the history of cultural progress which will, in time, become as normal, dogmatic, and oppressive as any of the cultural norms it was conceived to resolve. Authoritarian, rule-based thinking is what makes an ideology oppressive. Shaming, ostracism, etc, which many radical progressives have been doing to people they perceive as “problematic,” is just another form of inquisition against heretics, and can only lead to a a world of authoritarians, Left, Right, and Center, where the Right (and possibly Center) is better at coalescing and thus will be able to win in that fight. The anti-skeptical Left is dooming itself by seeking ideological purity through fear of consequences rather than through agreement through encouraging a community capable of actual freedom of thought.

We all fuck up, because we’re human. But all too often the distinctions between “problematic” people and people in good standing in communities, exemplified here in the local Philadelphia group Polydelphia, are based more upon who you are friends with than what you actually did.

 


 

Let’s talk about keeping up with cultural progress within an increasingly toxic and fragmented world.

 

Popper, Kuhn, and the demarcation problem of cultural progress

A new sort of philosopher is emerging: I venture to baptize them with a name which is not without danger. As I figure them out – to the extent that they let themselves be figured out, for it belongs to their type to want to remain something of an enigma – these philosophers of the future may have a right, perhaps also a wrong, to be described as attempters. This name itself is finally merely an attempt and, if you will, a temptation.

–Nietzsche, BGE #42

For those of us who think of ourselves as progressives, there is a shared value of improving our lives and the world in general by finding ways to make things better. Our goals may be different, and out tactics certainly differ, but we at least share the overall goal of making things better through change, and hopefully improvement, of one kind or another. In some cases, the change is largely a reactionary table-flipping in response to the perceived dangers of the traditional culture in which we grew. In some cases it might be improving of, or slow replacement of, those traditional structures to make sure we’re doing it right. That is, even within the larger umbrella of “Progressive,” in terms of the political spectrum of the United States in particular, there is a tension between those who seek to burn it all down and those who seek to improve by tinkering with some things. And, of course, all the grey areas in between.

But these efforts exist within a cultural milieu, meaning that whatever political goals or tactics become popular must start somewhere outside of politics; they are a function of people making attempts to make sense of and to improve our understanding of the world, ourselves, or to redefine what it means to be human. People who live on the various fringes of society, whether artists or just younger people who grew up with newer information about the world, will continue to expand the logical space of what’s possible, find fault with what has been traditional, or redefine the questions through cultural criticism of all kinds.

Thus, so long as we keep learning and challenging ideas as a species, every generation will push our culture in various directions which will seem uncomfortable or merely unfamiliar to previous generations or those not close to the fringes. This is not to say that these cultural shifts don’t cycle, because they often do, but anyone paying attention now must admit that the cultural tensions, conflicts, and wars are dealing with topics which were not conceivable to the vast majority of the world just 50 years ago. And yet the logical structure of the cultural struggles seems to historically rhyme, as it does from time to time.

The biggest mind-fuck, for me, is the question of whether most fringe cultural experimentation is an analog of Kuhn’s concept of a paradigm shift, or is it one of tentative and slow excavation of the limits what it can mean to be a human in a group of humans, more like what Karl Popper had in mind (if we’re taking the analogy of the Kuhn/Popper tension to it’s limits, here).  In short, the question is whether cultural progress is (or should be) a question of completely overturning old ideas and creating new ones or whether it is a slow, deliberate, process of separating the wheat from the chaff, in terms of what’s actually true. Is it revolution, slow deliberation, or a combination thereof?

And this is a difficult puzzle (and perhaps it’s a true “problem”) because if there is a legitimate paradigm shift happening right now, the new paradigm would not only look incorrect to those outside of the know, but it would actually appear dangerous. When you hear Christian conservatives warning their followers of the dangers of (as they tend to call it) “liberalism”–that “liberals” want to destroy the traditional family–they aren’t really wrong in some cases; I, an example of who such people think of as a “liberal”, would be fine with the destruction of the traditional family structures in our culture, at least as the default or norm. But what of the distance between the radical woke left and the more cautious, moderate, incrementalists? Here we have a similar dynamic, which (if you pay attention to places like Twitter, Facebook comments, etc, you might understand) illuminates a potential stark difference in not only the goals, but whether grey areas are even possible.

And then the question becomes whether the new paradigm is “true”, and which methods or definitions we could use to determine such truth or falsity.  The very nature of a paradigm shift is one of overturning truths, making this more problematic. Of course, if one’s preferred methodology of achieving progress is not analogous to table-flipping, then one is advocating for the incrementalism of the moderates, or at least some skepticism of the validity and applicability of all of the theory behind a paradigm-shift of (for example) woke politics. Because if even any of the theory or particular conclusions of the woke are in need of skepticism or criticism, then slowing down and making sure that it is well thought out would be wisdom, not conservatism or compromising with actual NAZIs.

In short, just in case woke ain’t all right, we might need to slow down and make sure we haven’t taken a wrong turn somewhere instead of yelling about NAZIs. Yelling about “actual NAZIs,” when faced with internal criticism, is a very good example of the red herring logical fallacy. We’ll return to that issue later, but first we need to address a tangential issue.

 

Top down or bottom up?

I want to have a better understanding of whether cultural change is better effected by top-down, legal, rule-based methods or by organic bottom-up structures. In other words, does culture change and/or sustain because of rules, or because individuals make decisions which supervene upon the whole through a culture of individual decisions and relationships?

(Side note. Readers within the larger non-monogamous world may recognize a reference to the tension between hierarchy/couple privilege and anarchism/individualism here, which is part of the ideological splits within the poly world and has a similar mapping to this conversation. But that’s a whole post unto itself, and I don’t want this to become another Master’s thesis…)

You may have already guessed my answer, but rather than maintain the dramatic suspense which I’m sure you are all riveted by, I will get to the point.

Rules don’t work as a means to change. Rules are what we create after the change has started and we need to define what’s happening and need to create some boundaries for moral behavior and logic of the ideas. Along with rules come a vocabulary and some redefinition of truth or at least facts held together by some tentative theory to tie them all together. It’s very similar to science (hence the Kuhn/Popper analogy above) in that new ideas are tested and the results start to form a picture, a proto-theory, to describe it all. While it’s happening, at the cutting edge of cultural progress, we can never be too sure about how certain to be about our developing worldviews.

And yet I’m noticing a lot of woke people being disproportionately certain about the world they are in the process of creating, while admonishing and shaming those who either aren’t keeping up, disagree, or are still more tentative than those who are certain would like. And I think that the reasons they have being so confident aren’t justified, and thus their certainty, admonishments, and shaming are unwarranted consequences for not being sufficiently woke, in at least some cases. (I want to distinguish this phenomenon from those on the right claiming, for example, that feminism and the like are mental illnesses or dangerous delusions, which are not, in my opinion, valid criticisms nor interesting, philosophically. I’m talking about disagreements within people who agree with the underlying power-dynamics, but might disagree about tactics or fringe applications of the theory).

People don’t behave because a rules exists, unless there is a fear of punishment by some authority (and then in some cases, not even then, necessarily). In terms of religion, it’s the punishment of some god, either in this life, some imaginary afterlife, or potentially both. In politics, it’s state power; if you break the law, you go to jail, get ostracized, get executed, etc. In the case of relationships, you risk losing a relationship and/or trust which would be otherwise salvageable. In a community, the driver of fear is loss of reputation or even participation in the group. You behave because, if you don’t follow the rule, you’ll get smacked down. Especially if you disagree with the rule and decide to question it.

In other words, rules only work because of fear. And while fear can be a motivator, it also leads to cheating, dissent, and rebellion. And it’s extremely common. Basic game theory here, people. Loosen your rules and they will be thwarted, to the chagrin of leadership, moderators, and members alike. Ruling with an iron fist will make people afraid to rebel or be a dissident, but it requires some level of autocratic or at least top-heavy control to maintain subservience to a strict rule, and makes the community hierarchical and a self-selected binary of the decision makers and those who don’t want to stir the pot, when dissenters are ostracized or removed. When woke people take control of communities, and heretics are removed for not adhering to their ideals, the community self-selects for certain people and the group, as a whole, distances itself from people who have valuable things to add to that community due to mere disagreement and unwillingness to not rock the boat. It creates insular echo-chambers and bubbles where criticism will eventually be invisible and anathema.

This is how authoritarian regimes form, and how dictators or oligarchies come to be. Just look within the bounds of Trumpistan, and you’ll see the same thing. But if you look within certain communities on the left, you’ll see the same behavior and result; even among anti-hierarchical, anarchist-leaning groups you’ll find that there is an orthodoxy, and a few people who defend it at the loss of contrarians and critics who were problematic for the goals of the group, as it is rationalized. It’s so much easier to control because it’s much more efficient for those who seize the levers of power. That is, I don’t think that such leaders actively seek to create such orthodoxies, they are genuinely just trying to keep the group remain civil and weed out trolls and such. But sometimes telling the difference between a troll and a person bringing legit and authentic skepticism is difficult and time-consuming, and eventually personality conflicts will enter into the equation of which this person is. For the sake of simplicity, it’s easier to make rabble-rousers feel unwelcome or to remove them. Completely human and understandable, but with dire consequences for communities of all kinds in the long run.

Thus, eventually what was a cultural conversation and conflict of goals, tactics, and so forth becomes a political one, when the average person is put in charge of moderating, steering, or leading a community. And, if we aim to use politics, laws, or policies to solve our problems within communities, a strong personality who is willing to take a no-nonsense approach to a problem might be needed if we want to minimize drama and conflict. Such a person will be human, be subject to manipulation from other members (lobbying), and some of those people have specific agendas and interpersonal conflicts. And, in the end, the best lobbyists win even while such lobbyists are often guilty of the same, if not worse, behavior. This is how corruption forms, both in small communities and in governments. It’s just an accident of human behavior and how it effects group dynamics, and is rarely intentional or an actual planned conspiracy.

Take our current political climate with this president, this congress, and the continued presence of lobbyists and special interests at war for control and influence. My problem with our current cultural climate is that the tension is pushing us towards either a dictatorship by a narcissistic, inept, and corrupt millionaire (Trump and the like) influenced awful people versus a set of progressive ideas by a community who is similarly incapable of self-criticism and seems allergic to pragmatism (often for good reason, but the question is when it’s NOT a good reason to defy being practical). On the left, especially by woke elites, most criticism is handled as if it were indistinguishable from a snide comment by Infowars, Fox News, or actual Nazis. Anyone remember that argument between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck? Yeah, Ben Affleck is an idiot. Sam Harris, despite his own flaws, is correct here.

And the larger point is that even if Sam Harris and Bill Maher were wrong here, that doesn’t mean they are equivalent to actual islamaphobes or other right-wing bigots. There is a difference between being critical of someone who holds Affleck’s view and someone who wants to destroy all leftist ideologies. Sam Harris, and also I guess I, want to create a world where it’s still OK to have arguments and disagree, but not be considered apostates or -ists of various kinds just because we disagree with your conclusion. The attempt to legislate laws or top-heavy hierarchies of control is not creating an open, just world. Rather, it’s just another form of authoritarianism. And if the left wins this cultural fight (it seems unlikely to win the political one, partially because of this problem), then it is just another kind of orthodoxy and heresy to divide us even further, and make us more inneffectual and perpetually powerless.

But at least we can feel self-righteous.

The narrative of ‘The Right v. The Left’ is too simplistic; but insofar as it has any meaning, each facet of the current social/political/cultural divide is subject to tearing themselves apart from within. And in such an environment, it’s the one which coheres around a narrative which will survive. Right now, the narrative gaining strength is the one on the capitalist/fascist/Trump end of the spectrum, while the Left is arguing itself into oblivion over nuances so allusive and arcane that I can’t even follow the threads. But what I have seen within the many communities I have been a part of is an increasingly authoritarian tendency, creating the above-mentioned orthodoxy and the heretics that become pariahs. We can, and need to, do better.

Authoritarians, both Left and Right. But the right tends towards obedience better, so they will win that fight, unless we make some serious cultural changes within the left, now.

I’m not optimistic.

 

Political Power and the Cutting Edge of Cultural Growth

So, is politics the art of compromise and pragmatism? Isn’t all politics, especially the notion of practicality the center of realpolitik? Therefore, aren’t the fringes, including the radical “woke” left and the proto-fascist (alt-)right (among others) of our current political conversations merely a means to make any actual political movement impossible except via power struggles?

Isn’t the failure to realize that politics is not the cutting edge of cultural growth the very failure responsible for the political tribalism, factionalism, and ineffectualism of our current state? Isn’t the inability to compromise the reason we’re falling apart in an #AmericanDecline?

I’m making the point too strongly. I don’t actually believe that change and progress are impossible within the political sphere. I don’t actually think that practicality, or the willingness to compromise with one’s opponent, is the only valid move within politics. I don’t actually think that (for example) Nancy Pelosi’s incrementalism or Joe Biden’s willingness to work with segregationists in the past, as compared to the more radical efforts of the Congressional “squad,” is better or more wise. I don’t actually believe that idealism and real progress is impossible in politics.

But I do believe that no matter how much idealism and radical change exists within the purview of people in positions of political influence, it will always, by necessity, lag behind whatever cultural progress people are cutting into the vague, undefined, space of the universe that human intuition, intelligence, and imagination are charting. The more one lives in the halls of power, the more they lose track of the ideological cutting edge out there in the world, mostly because of time-management and exposure to such things makes it harder to be near that cutting edge.

Having to work within the framework of any system necessitates some level of compromise to such a system. The question then becomes to what extent one compromises. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her “squad” compromise minimally (perhaps), and Nancy Pelosi compromises a lot more. It’s a question of quantity of compromise, not whether one will compromise. The only way to not compromise would be to become a dissident, off the grid, not intertwined with the political system at all (except, maybe, as a prisoner within it).

Total anarchy, right? For that, maybe check out this guy (who just put up the attached video, below, today about getting too woke, for a different perspective on this issue), who seems to pretty minimally interact with political power and does not advocate for doing so, and makes great videos with a very interesting point of view. But I’m not advocating for anarchy, exactly. Not at this point, in my growth as a political thinker, anyway.

To reiterate for emphasis, I believe that the more time a person spends in politics, they will necessarily lose the narrative of that charting of new ideological space. Digging into policy and whatever compromise with realpolitik, which such positions necessitate, ushers one’s attention from the cutting edge of all human experimentation. And I think that we need to keep in mind that all of this exploration of what is possible–from all the artists, cultural critics, and daring explorers of what it means to be human–is a space of testing and not yet conclusions.

Because sometimes those attempts fail, or at least need some significant reconsideration before implementation. We need a way to test these ideas in a way that will figure out if they actually work, sort of like what Adam Gopnik argues in this book recently published (and which I just started reading) about the concept of liberalism; liberalism not as a centrism, but as a methodology rather than community membership. It’s a method, not a clique.

To sum up, those who cut into the unknown fabric of logical space around our culture, language, and social mores occasionally fuck up, as all experimentation will inevitably do. We need to apply an effectual set of tools to figure out how and in what way they have fucked up, and this self-criticism needs to be built into not only the policies of the ideas but into the very culture of the people who take part within expanding our view of it. Because sometimes it takes decades or centuries for us to figure that out, thus we need to defend against creating orthodoxies or sacred laws which we’ll just have to fix in the future.

Even entrenched political, cultural, and social rules were once revolutionary, radical, ideas. As we continue to chart the expanses beyond the status quo, remember that what is radical now may one day be an oppressive status quo for some future generation. So we need to be extra skeptical and critical of what we are creating, for their sake. Wouldn’t it have been great if our fore-bearers did that better?

 

Religion as an example

Whatever the origins of religion, and it’s utility for society, it was certainly one that allowed human genius and creativity to make many wonderful and terrible things. The insight that there was a source of inspiration for moral improvement and a space to explore the meanings, origins, and goals of human life is one that, at least metaphorically, was necessary for our human development, I think.

And yet, the insights of religion, especially the notion of gods, spirits, and all the other supernatural beings, were simply incorrect ideas about the world. In addition to being wrong, they have caused as much (perhaps much more) harm than it has assisted us in our exploration of what it means to be a thing in the universe aware of itself.

Religion was both a source of creativity and growth, while simultaneously a delusion and a mistake. It is, in fact, the same mistake that the philosopher’s made in the mind of Nietzsche, who’s insight into how profound this mistake has been has been one of the most earth-shattering realizations of my own life. Here’s Nietzsche:

“To translate man back into nature; to become master over the many vain and overly enthusiastic interpretations and connotations that have so far been scrawled and painted over the eternal basic text of homo natura; to see to it that man henceforth stands before man as even today, hardened in the discipline of science, he stands before the rest of nature, with Oedipus eyes and sealed Odysseus ears, deaf to the siren songs of old metaphysical bird catchers who have been piping at him all too long, “you are more, you are higher, you are of a different origin!”—that may be a strange and insane task, but it is a task”

We have fooled ourselves with our own genius. We, throughout history, have had revelations of both sacred and profane matters, and the light from these realizations have both blinded and led us to new horizons of human possibility. Walking into each of our sunsets, unable to see either our future nor the true source of our inspiration, leading to the error of placing gods in the place of minds reaching blindly into unknown space.

And throughout history there have been critics who stand by, willing to look the sun directly in the face and stare it down until it resolves into shapes, and have been willing to say “uh…what?”

We are in a cultural moment, historically, where there are a lot of things up for grabs. Religion and unskeptical thinking concerning the nature of reality is still dominant, in both organized and unorganized spiritual forms. Various forms and levels of economic slavery, and general manipulation of the masses by people with power, money, and influence is still as common as land and water. And millions of people affected by these realities still follow and chant in favor of the foundational political orthodoxies and cultural dogmas responsible for their position, genuinely ignorant of the underlying problem. People are overwhelmingly unskeptical, easily manipulated, and ignorant. Some people, some of them smarter, wealthier, or at least luckier get to take advantage of this for their own benefit. Nothing new, really. It’s just scarier to lots of us right now because we see Trump’s rallies continue to get more and more ridiculous and potentially dangerous, and so we are anxious, scared, and want to stop it before it’s too late.

Subsequently, some people are waking up and seeing potential ways out. People are using their intuitions, intelligence, and imaginations to find ways out of this mess, and coming up with all sorts of ideas, explanations, and worldviews to make sense of it all. We have red pills, woke, people, and Brights all over, trying to lead others out of the morass of lies and manipulation. And they all have conflicting answers.

We have been a species desperately trying to figure this out for at least 6000 years of civilization, 3000 years of philosophy, literature, and oral traditions, and decades of sharing this historical information through technology. And we’re making the same goddamn mistakes over and over again. Because even in our genius we are blinded by our own insights.

And just like with every other era, there are people standing on the side, watching it all, and saying “um….what?” from every direction.

And you know what’s worse? Those contrarians, cynics, and grouchy commentators are just as easily subject to the same fundamental software bug that all humans share, and they have ideologies of their own. So there’s no simple way to say “it’s fine, just look to the contrarians and skeptics for the truth” any more than there is a way to say “no, it’s fine, because the young people, on the cutting edge of defining what it means to be human, will figure it out.”

Nope. It’s never that simple. The kids might not be completely alright, just like we weren’t all right.

 

Skepticism and the Left

I, primarily, identify as a skeptic. This is not a community identifier, it’s a methodological one. Again, method and not tribe. That is, I use skepticism as a methodology of belief and inquiry, but don’t think of myself as a part of any skeptic community any longer. This qualifying distinction is necessary because within the atheist/skeptic community, to be called a skeptic is often associated with a group of people who, according to some others, are “problematic”. And, in many cases, they are right.

Michael Shermer, for example.

Right. So, in case you don’t know, Michael Shermer, who leans right politically and largely identifies as a Libertarian (which, in the US, is a person who is a capitalist who wants a small government and lots of personal freedom, free speech, and freedom of thought through dissent). He’s also the founder of the Skeptics Society and publishes Skeptic magazineIn addition, he’s also been accused of rape, racism, and a bunch of other things which are largely anathema to the Progressive “woke” world.  I met him once or twice, and was not especially fond of him. But I like some of the things he values, in the Venn diagram sense where I will overlap with pretty much everyone on something. Thus, while we share some values I’m not a fan of him personally. Concerning the accusations referred-to above, I’m unconvinced of the extent of PZ’s vilification. Let’s say I’m skeptical.

So, there’s a difference between being a skeptic and a Skeptic.  An unfortunate consequence of the association of skepticism with personalities such as Michael Shermer is that the word ‘skeptic’ itself is largely met with derision by some within the woke left, which has led to a lack of the practice of methodological skepticism within those circles in recent years. Perhaps incidentally, there has been a rise of practice of things such as tarot, astrology, and pagan “magick” within the left, especially among younger queer people. I have no idea if there is a causal connection between these facts, but it has always struck me as interesting and depressing for the communities I am closer to, in terms of their not valuing critical thinking and truth.

One more controversial facet of this conflict lives, I believe, within the #MeToo movement. The idea that we need to believe accusers (“believe women”) and support them is in philosophical tension with the core of skepticism, which has led to many arguments between people within the larger skeptic community and the woke world that sides with people who claim to be victims.

The issue is complicated, and I don’t want to spend too much time with it, because I don’t feel qualified to do so and because it’s largely tangential to my primary set of points, but I cannot completely gloss over the topic, either. The truth is that for decades (centuries, millennia, etc) men have gotten away with all sorts of sexual misbehavior towards women, and we exist in a time when feminists are leading the way towards a future where this can be ideally minimized and, hopefully, a cultural change can make this a bad historical memory rather than a perpetual reality.

The general goal of the feminist movement, in this regard, a very good thing and I certainly support a world where a woman (or anyone, really) feeling safe to step up and talk about their experience in an effort to identify problematic people, behavior, and social mores concerning sexuality, consent, etc is a good thing. But the tension exists precisely where we have been instructed that it is morally superior to believe women immediately, which includes to not speak in favor of any skepticism about the accusations. Because a skeptic, qua methodological skepticism, should require evidence before believing a thing. The fact that we exist in a world where a non-consensual sexual behavior can be hidden behind the wall of the lack of evidence has pushed us into a cultural moment where believing women appears to be a necessary act to protect people. I understand this perspective, and I want to believe women when they make their accusations because I understand how pervasive the problem is.

However, where the line of skepticism is placed depends on who you talk to. In some cases, the false accusation problem is considered so minor that it shouldn’t even be factored in, so such people will argue that we need to believe the accusations in all cases. I’m uncomfortable with this, as are many people who hear this narrative. Where the line should be? I am not sure, but absolutism is not the answer.

And, let me be clear, I do think that false accusations are rare, but I also think that this is a false dichotomy.  I believe false accusations, as in claims of events which never occurred, happen,* which is why I think that this progressive value of believing victims is in need of some skeptical criticism. I accept the underlying reality that sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, etc are serious matters that need to be addressed with restorative justice, as opposed to transitional justice or any sort of “justice” which amounts to assumed guilt, ostracism, etc.

But then we need to deal with the fact that this false accusation/belief narrative is a binary which needs to be put aside, because that is not the real problem. The real problem is the tendency in recent years to equivocate regret, resentment, bad breakups with abuse, impossibility of consent, and predation. The reason it’s a problem is that it equivocates actual predators and mutually toxic relationships or situations where people who did very little wrong, in my view. In other words, the arguments that many people make concerning the definition of abuse and particular instances of it have not, in my mind, made their case well. I’m not convinced, in very much the same way and I’m not convinced a god exists. My disagreeing with you is not a form of enabling or giving cover (we’ll get there), because I just think you haven’t made a strong logical case. Am I supposed to pretend I agree because it will get me woke points? That’s what critics on the right call virtue signaling. The result of such equivocation is that many people who read about a situation with a lot of grey areas will apply that equivocation to the times when they read other stories about actual predators, and thus conflate them.

In short, we need to stop equivocating bad or regretted relationships with abusive ones. Because any “justice” system which equivocates (for example) any power imbalance with an inability to consent, and therefore concludes that any such power imbalance is equivalent to abuse or rape automatically, is not what I mean by the term “justice.” Both may be bad and may need to be addressed through work and so forth, but we need to be careful with our new attempts to redefine these words and rules designed to police such behavior within our communities. Such ideology and subsequent rules seem, to me, to be attempts to grow culture in a direction that is emotionally compelling, but doesn’t stand up to skeptical scrutiny in many cases. We need to be able to criticize when we see this policy-making go badly, as it sometimes does despite best efforts of people trying to do the right thing.

There are way too many people being vilified, accused, and generally made to feel unwelcome because of a combination of petty personal politics, exaggerations of actual events, and flat-out fabrications that can be fit into the letter of the law, but which would never hold up to actual scrutiny by most people. My removal from the secret Facebook group, Polydelphia, could be included as an example. Not only was I informed I was threatening people (which was the reasoning given for my removal; I most-definitely was not threatening anyone), any request for evidence of any kind was brushed off. I was treated the same way an actual predator was, with as much recourse to appeal as they would have. And I know of many other similar situations of other people both from this group and others (of which I cannot, or will not, speak publicly at this time).

There. Now I’m outed as a problematic person to everyone. It’s already become clear to me that much of the “woke” left is incapable of handling nuance or critical thinking in any effectual way, so even while I overwhelmingly agree with their worldview when it comes to systematic racism, sexism, and all the systematic problems in our world, I’m already a pariah so I won’t be heard nor taken seriously by their leadership. All because of a few bad apples playing political games, and manipulating some people who have never even spoke to me, but who have the levers of power within their local groups and have unskeptically believed what they have been told by people with bad blood against me, but with whom I have not spoken in years.

So, for those people here’s what I have to say; I’ve done a lot of awful things in my life, and hurt people. I’ve also had years of therapy, self-reflection, and growth. I like who I am, have healthy relationships, and my experiences have led me to a place in my life where I’m not only not a danger to your community, but may be a person your community needs. I have heard that you feel like your actions and opinions of me are justified, but very few of you have ever actually spoken to me, and the ones who have haven’t done so in years. So, all I can figure is you still consider me anathema because we disagree and I have challenged some of you in comments? I still haven’t learned to stay in my lane as a privileged person? Or do you actually believe I threatened people in the community? (if so, where are the screenshots? I unequivocally deny those charges). Perhaps you should look to the people who have been the most powerful lobbyists against me, and consider what I may know about them and their behavior? (cards I haven’t played because I know everyone fucks up, and I believe they are generally good people, as I am myself).

I think you need to apply some skepticism towards your decisions, your policies, and perhaps some of your friends. Because if all of our skeletons were removed from our closets, I think just about everyone would be considered problematic

And this is the thrust of my essay, here. The Left, in general and specifically those small groups I’ve seen this pattern emerge within, needs to clean their own houses. And not clean as in remove problematic people, but by taking a hard, self-critical, skeptical look at it’s values and group policies and make damned sure that your own shit makes sense before trying to self-righteously remove people, lecture to the world about moral behavior, and define social justice. Because nobody is going to listen to you if you aren’t making any goddamned sense and you allow personal enmity to drive who is problematic. Because we’re all problematic; we’re all humans who fuck up.

 

 

Transcending Woke

Personal politics doesn’t equate to truth, although that is effectively what it happening.

As a former acolyte of the extreme wokeness, I am willing to say, publicly, that many of y’all have lost your damned minds. And no, I’m not red-pilled. I’m not an MRA or an incel. I’m not a NAZI and I’m not even a centrist (I’m pretty far to the left, politically), but I simply reject some of the values and arguments popular in much of the communities on the left (including the atheist community, poly community, political organizations, and even just some friend groups) where most disagreement, especially by contrarians and skeptics is treated as heresy. Because much of the left has become authoritarian in its thinking and is drunk on their own self-righteousness and power. They have created, for themselves, a kind of proto-privilege which could, potentially, become oppressive if they win the culture wars. So no, this isn’t a white cishet male claiming I’m the victim, this is a person recognizing the same logical structure of what you want with what you are fighting against. You have emulated the enemy, and while their conclusions are worse (at least, I think so), it’s not the only dimension that matters, in terms of calculating what’s problematic.

politics

And that’s the issue. Because in the classic 4-quadrant political diagram, there is a left and a right, but there is also a top and a bottom; authoritarian and libertarian (the above mentioned “Libertarians” in the USA exist on the bottom right). And, in recent years, those on the Left have been divided by those on the upper end of the spectrum from those, like me, on the lower end.

The authoritarians have been advocating for sets of rules. A lot of groups require that the leadership must have people who are not white, cishet males, for example (Polydephia has a rule, like this). We must believe victims. We must use pronouns of people’s choice. And whether these rules are good things or not is not the issue. The issue is what happens if you violate one of these rules? What’s the punishment?

Laws and rules are impotent without a consequence, and so such rules are really about creating fear. That is, this effort of setting rules of behavior, language, and safe opinions seems to be less about building up a culture of understanding why we don’t do these things, and more about creating consequences, such as ostracism, being labeled as a heretic (“problematic”), and considered equivalent to the enemy (you know, actual NAZIs) for breaking the rules. It creates an us/them mentality where anyone who doesn’t accept the rules is a “them,” and thus, in this binary thinking, the “them” become functionally the same as the actual fucking NAZIs.

Remember; rules don’t work without fear. So, the rule that we must believe “victims” will only backfire the more we learn that some people are making shit up and other people are equivocating a power/age imbalance with sexual assault or predatory abuse. If you are not willing to have a real conversation about the important nuances, then you are simply practicing a form of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, which is a top-heavy, legalistic, rule-based system which seeks to change the world through law rather than actually working on ourselves as individuals who are willing and capable of questioning the orthodoxy. You force people to become dissidents, which then trigger the us/them responses in our brains, and expands the rifts between people rather than understand why they disagree; after all, any of us, at any time, might be wrong.

There’s no need for orthodoxy. If you’re right, then your values and arguments will survive criticism. But the woke left is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with criticism, as I have seen, personally, time and time again. Criticism makes one problematic. A relationship regretted becomes a power imbalance, and therefore abuse and possibly sexual assault. And heterodoxy makes one a threat, and subject to ostracism.

And, locally, Polydelphia has become an example of all these things. I’m sure you all have people, communities, and ideologies that fit the same bill. I’m done playing nice. Y’all aren’t woke. You’re just self-righteous. If y’all were really woke, you would be skeptical more and comfortable having your worldview challenged from within, rather than remove or isolate people with differing conclusions or who you heard stories about. I know several people who have left Polydelphia in recent years (most of them female, incidentally), in some cases with messages left behind telling the leadership that they are akin to Mean Girls (you know, like the movie about cliques), and the political games played within is a microcosm of the problem that may end the United States as a country.

Our road to becoming Gilead (the name of the country that replaces much of the USA in The Handmaid’s Tale) is being paved by people incapable of introspection and self-criticism to be willing to coalesce into a group powerful enough to defeat a community led by a corrupt, narcissistic, inept person named Donald Trump. Let me emphasize; Donald Trump will continue to win, politically, because the woke Left insists upon rules of behavior, 1984-style, backed up with consequences. This dynamic is pushing people away who think that you, defenders of the right truth, are incorrect or corrupted by personal politics. And it’s possible that they are, sometimes, right. Your self-righteousness is part of the reason we are in this place, because without it, we could coalesce into a leviathan with reality and science on our side, except that you insist upon ideological purity to a set of ideas which are so new, so cutting edge, that we can’t rationally even be sure are yet well thought out enough to be worth your certainty. Because even if you are, ultimately right (and I think you, at least generally, are right), as a person who could be wrong, you should dial back your certainty.

If Donald Trump wins again (and I think that’s likely, at this point), it will be because y’all woke motherfuckers won’t wake up to the reality that you are pushing millions of people away from your cause because you are so far up your ass that you can’t actually grow among disagreement or nuance. We can’t have revolution if the leaders of the potential revolution can’t even see their own plank in their own eyes. We need everyone to have a revolution within themselves, first. We need communities where people are able to safely be skeptical of the whole enterprise, and these mini-revolutions can create a culture of enlightened, awakened, wise people who don’t need rules to be decent people because they have worked it out for themselves why woke is right and how woke is right, rather than feel the fear of being ostracized for mistakes, disagreements, etc because they had some questions or concerns about whether and to what extent woke is right.

Criticism is not uncivil, and it should also be part of being woke. Right now, in many places, it’s not.

 

 

The false-equivalency argument, “Centrists”, and actual fucking NAZIs

I know, I know….actual fucking NAZIs, white supremacy, and systematic injustice.

I’ve heard y’all screaming about it. I get it. I agree with you. There is a significant problem with the rise of the right, of fascism, and autocracy in much of the western world, formerly the great democracies of post-WWII. There are real bigots, racists, and a lot of people are worried about their cultures and communities no-longer having the privileges they are used to. True, they frame it as a kind of reverse-racism or a threat of being erased, but what it really is is a loss of privilege.

It’s the same with religion, especially Christianity in the west, which sees itself as being under threat. Millions of Trump supporters see him as a savior, a Cyrus-like great leader who will save Western Christian culture from the hordes of secular, liberal, and family-hating nihilists who will stop at nothing to destroy their values and bring about a demonic world of ash.

Think I’m exaggerating? Then you aren’t really paying attention. Because much of the Right is cohering around a narrative. Now, their’s is a narrative much less based on reality than that of the woke Left. They are much worse at believing bullshit, usually peddled by their insular media outlets (Fox News being the moderate voice in their world). Their worldview is conspiracy theory upon lies upon paranoia, and it’s truly terrifying and absurd and represents an existential threat for millions of people, and needs to be stopped.

So, why am I not directing my rage and criticism at the Right? Well, 1) I am 2) They view me as part of the demonic/atheist (they often don’t understand the difference), secular, and perverted (they may be right, there) world they think is unreliable and dangerous, 3) they very likely aren’t even reading this and 4) because I think that the progressive left is potentially reachable and fixable before it’s too late.

See, I’m not totally cynical? A touch of optimism.

The Right and the Left are both suffering internal problems, but I’m part of the Left. I’m interested in cleaning up my own house, even if most of the people there hate, distrust, or consider me problematic. And while I don’t have the readership I used to (a couple years of inactivity and the drama from a few years ago fixed that), I have some readers, and some who are probably keeping an eye on me to make sure if I misbehave they can tell their friends that I’m still being awful (hi there, former friends! Hope you’re well….)

So no; this isn’t an argument for some moral equivalency or relativity in which I state that the values of the alt-right are just as valid as those of the radical left. Nor am I saying that the woke Left is just as bad as the proto-fascist Right, because it isn’t. But just like small injustices are still unjust, small errors are still errors. I’m not a moral relativist. To be clear, I think the woke left is largely on the right track, but I see them as too prickly and defensive to criticism, especially from a cishet white male, such as myself.

I just hope to be judged by the content of my argument.

Again, I’m not optimistic.

 

What am I saying?

I’m saying that all of the woke people fighting for social justice, historical awareness, and a better world have their hearts in the right place, but are blinded by their own ideologies to see when they are occasionally fucking up and giving ammunition to our cultural opponents and enemies. I’m saying that all those red-pilled, alt-right, or Jordan Peterson admiring people also have their hearts in the right place, but are similarly blinded by their own biases to be able to see how silly they look. And I’m also saying that the cautious, skeptical, incrementalist liberals are too far up their own asses to see that they are similarly fucked up. Literally every one of us is subject to this, without exception.

Especially me (just in case you might be wondering how narcissistic I am)

It’s not that the truth is relative, or that all is permitted because of the death of gods, but is is true that we’re merely specs of semi-sentient bits of carbon taking a ride on a big rock orbiting a ball of fire in a universe so immense we cannot conceive of it, and someday we’re going to die–we’re going to simply blink out of existence–to be replaced by trillions of future bits of semi-sentient pieces of matter all over the universe, each with their own perspective, worldview, and tribe of friends, family, and co-ideologues to exist for a little while, all signifying nothing.

The Truth exists, it’s just that none of us have it. What truths we do have are based upon biased perspectives and narratives shared among people with similar experiences, and are at best statistically defensible based upon limited evidence. We know evolution happened but we aren’t so sure that your conclusion about your ex is going to hold up to scrutiny. And yet we yell at each other over the meaning of “concentration camp” and “racism” and “patriarchy” and “freedom of speech” and on and on and on to no other effect than demonizing each other and creating safe tribes for ourselves.

Let me be really clear. You don’t know shit about the vast majority of everything. You don’t mean shit to anyone except maybe a few dozen other people who don’t mean shit to most of humanity. You’re ideas are, merely from a probabilistic point of view, probably stupid and incorrect. And you are yelling at someone else in the same goddamned predicament as you, because they got a different question wrong from the one you got wrong. That’s all the culture wars are, at bottom.

And it doesn’t matter that one side or the other may be more wrong or right, because insofar as you ignore your own shit, you will never effect change in any meaningful way by merely yelling at other bits of semi-sentient carbon. You cannot convince your enemies to side with you, excepting rare individual cases, by sticking to your narratives and orthodoxies and not trying to understand the orthodoxies of others. So, unless you are willing to wipe them out, you’re going to have to work on making yourself better and hope that in the process you inspire more people outside of your peer groups to pay attention more and dismiss you less. Ideological purity and self-righteousness just magnifies any differences between bits of semi-sentient carbon, and only hastens the coming apocalypse which we should be trying to avoid.

Your beliefs about the world, again statistically, are hung upon a thin string of hearsay, from a small segment of people who happen to cohere to your experience and community, and it’s almost certain that the vast majority of every thought you have ever had is in some way wrong, biased, and informed by other wrong and biased people.

And yet all you do is shame, ostracize, and dismiss other people making different mistakes. It’s absurd.

But sure. You heard a thing about a guy, and because it fits with a narrative which you have accepted based on cognitive and emotional factors which you barely understand or even have access to, that thing is true.

Have fun with that. Continue to spread your memetic narrative of what the world is most definitely like along with your tribe, and feel self-righteous. Refuse to challenge yourself, or listen to the problematic person who broke the orthodoxy and made some mistakes, because what has conflict and mistakes ever taught anyone? What could that person, with whom you disagree about much, possibly teach you? They are obviously wrong about that one or few things, so they can’t have any value to you, right?

And I’ll be sitting along, on the side, saying “um…what?” while you sneer at me saying “um…what?” and then we’ll all die, letting the next generation to continue the dance, for as long as our species manages not to kill all of ourselves.

But sure, you’re woke. Or sure, you aren’t one of the sheeple. Sure, you are enlightened. You know what’s real. You know what’s right. You know that throwing a milkshake is not comparable to actual violence, so fuck all them. Or you know that abortion is murder, so fuck all them. Or you know that atheism is devil-worship, so fuck all them. Or you know that men who say that it’s #notallmen misses the point so fuck that guy and possibly all men. You’re perspective is special and right, and you don’t need any more perspective at all.

Nonsense.

Last question; Why do you think that the direction you want culture to go isn’t a mistake at least in some ways, just like every worldview that every human being in all of history has promulgated?

You don’t.

And neither do I.

 

All I’m hoping for is that as we try to create a better world, we have enough humility to build into our cultures the enthusiastic willingness to prove ourselves wrong. If we, as a progressive segment of our culture, have any chance of making the world better, we better make damn-sure that we are making ourselves better individually, and include in our next culture patch the enthusiastic willingness to consider that our newer attempts to make rules, guidelines, and means towards justice are all correctable and open to criticism from grumpy contrarians, centrists, and other crotchety progressives such as myself.

The alternative is that we risk being mostly right, and mostly and perpetually powerless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


*It happened to me; some Facebook friends may have received a message from a woman (no need to name her) back in February accusing me of abuse and sexual assault, but nothing of the sort ever happened with her (I can provide screencaps to show that she was, in fact, pretty awful to me when we were living in the same house).  I do not believe she is necessarily lying (that is, intentionally telling a falsehood) but I do believe she is not only capable of lying, but I think she actually might have rationalized it being right to do so in this case for political reasons related to people trying and succeeding to get me removed from the secret Facebook group Polydelphia, who trumped up charges that I was threatening people through the group (I wasn’t) within a day or two of her messaging people on my Facebook friends list. I was informed by a few female friends who received these messages, who either blocked her or responded skeptically. I subsequently blocked the woman and limited access to my friends list only to friends. I also lost some friends who unskeptically believed the claims, because that’s the “right” thing to do. I don’t blame them, nor am I surprised, because who would make that shit up? This experience has heightened my skepticism of this worldview, where previously I was on-board with believing “victims” on face value. More, similar circumstances I have become aware of has also raised my level of skepticism. I hate that this is the case, but nonetheless, here we are. I don’t want to disbelieve women who come out publicly, but now I have reason to be skeptical.

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Let’s Talk about Seth Andrews and NAZIs June 25, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

So, this image popped up on my social media radar, today. It, of course, turned into a dumpster fire of a conversation. And, unsurprisingly, it demonstrated Seth Andrew’s point.

So, I don’t listen to Seth’s show. I’m saturated with podcasts and also since I’ve felt like the atheist community has become largely a cesspool of infighting and absurdity (much like the local polyamorous community here in Philadelphia), I’m mostly unplugged from movement atheism. Aside from the Puzzle in a Thunderstorm people and their affiliates, especially The Scathing Atheist, I don’t listen to much atheist-oriented podcasts, anymore.

That is to say that I don’t know enough about Seth Andrews to know what his positions are, specifically. From what I do know about him (he’s a friend of friends), it seems he and I would agree on most topics. But when it comes to this post of his, I think I can say I agree with the underlying sentiment.

As a leftist, I see a lot worthy of criticizing on the left. The fact that actual NAZIs exist doesn’t erase this point.

 

Woke

I grew up attending a school back in the early 1980s, and graduated in 1996, in an educational environment which valued things such as tolerance, diversity, community, and social movements dedicated to making the world a more peaceful and just world. In those days, I didn’t know terms like “social justice” or “woke,” but those terms would have described the culture in which I grew. And, from what I can tell, those values are part of the culture of the current culture of that same school

I like those values. I still largely value the same types of things to this day. But I’m also critical of Quaker values, for a number of reasons. It’s true that in comparison with much of the rest of the world, and especially our own United States’ cultures (yes, plural), it’s pretty idyllic. But if I’m concerned with the truth and the striving for a yet greater world  and worldview, I will not ignore the relatively small imperfections just because larger ones exist.

When I read criticism, from the Right, of my own Leftist communities I see a caricature and often many outright falsehoods in such criticism. But I also see genuine misunderstanding; a failure of two framings, worldviews, and sets of values to understand one-another. In other words, I see authenticity on the Right, Center, etc when they criticize “wokeness,” even if I disagree with their criticism. It’s possible to be authentic and also be wrong.

I’m aware of the fact that I’m playing the game of life on easy mode. I’m aware that the color of my skin, my gender, my sexual preference, and many other facets of my life give me an automatic set of advantages in our society that I am able to easily ignore or shrug off. That’s what privilege is; I’m able to not be faced with certain social injustices that many other people cannot ignore nearly as easily or at all. 

I also have some aspects to my life that give me a disadvantage, though this disadvantage is significantly less likely to get me discriminated against, beaten, or killed. But I am aware of the privilege which practicing traditional relationship structures and being religious (especially Christian) provides in our culture. 

The fact that I’m aware of this, that I’m (too some extent, at least) woke is, I think, a good thing. I’m aware that the tiny amount of discomfort and annoyance I have to deal with when trying to explain what being nonmonogamous means, or why being an atheist is not “just as bad as being a fundamentalist,” is easy in comparison to being (for example), a POC trans woman. But it’s still true that the world would be a better place, that justice would be better served, for those small injustices not to exist, right?

That is, even the small injustices are still unjust.

 

Providing NAZIs with “Cover”

The image above was posted to a facebook group I belong to. And since I decided to procrastinate at work, I decided to scroll through some of the comments below it. Now, the comments were all over the map, and there were many I agreed with and many that were making Seth’s point for him. 

The accusation is that people like Seth, and his defenders (in terms of this post from which the image derived), are spending too much time being critical of the Left while not paying sufficient attention, or perhaps out-right denying, the reality and threat of actual NAZIs. 

I don’t know how many actual NAZIs there really are. And if we added the white supremacists, white nationalists, and all the other bigots in the world, I imagine that the number would be “way too many” of all of them. Mostly because any number is way too many, in my estimation. 

But can we agree, I hope, that not all of the people on the Right, and especially the Center, are NAZIs or other bigots? I’ll assume we’re in agreement there. So, then, are those same people overwhelmingly complicit with many of the goals of all those NAZIs et al? That is, are the people who exist in the gray part of the continuum between woke progressive social justice warrior and actual NAZI all providing cover for NAZIs, insofar as they disagree with any particular pertinent conclusion of the woke Leftist in question?

I mean…I don’t know. It seems to me that many of them probably aren’t. And then I’m reminded, once again, of Sam Harris.

See, Sam Harris is seen, by many on the woke Left, as providing cover for the Right, especially insofar as he is willing to have conversations with people who have all sorts of questionable political perspectives. Whether it’s Charles Murray or Ezra Klein, Sam Harris is willing to have difficult conversations with people he doesn’t necessarily agree with. And Sam Harris, being human, is going to make mistakes, have bad ideas, and disagree with you (no matter who you are).

But there is a sort of irony here, since it was Sam Harris who, for me anyway, introduced the idea of moderates providing cover for extremists. In his case, he’s talking about moderate Muslims, Jews, and Christians providing ideological and political cover for extremists within their communities. In other words, people on the Left who criticize free speech advocates, such as Sam Harris, because they provide cover for the far-Right are utilizing the very same type of argument that Sam Harris uses against the Left for defending Islam and religious belief in general.

It seems to me that we might, as a culture, need to take a closer look at the logical structure of these similar arguments to see what values we might choose to apply to them. 

 

The Relativity of “Liberal”

In our various ideologies–whether they are political, religious, etc–there will be people who exist on greater or lesser fringes or closer to some cultural center or “norms” (which, of course, shift with history). 

In politics, we have the familiar Left/Right and Libertarian/Authoritarian diagram, as below:

politics

 

This is the diagram which Seth’s meme refers to, and which largely encapsulates the various political ideologies in much of the world (though I’m sure it has it’s critics). 

For a person on, for example, the far right of this but towards the bottom, we have what we call, in the U.S., a “Libertarian.” They have tendencies towards a free market (which usually includes free expression) and allowing that market to choose who is successful and who is not. Our efforts determine our place in society, and they just want governments to generally leave them alone; lower taxes, legal drugs, smaller government. 

Looking at them from the point of view of someone from (again, for example), the upper left region of this diagram, one can obviously see where they would conflict. And they would not agree on very much, at least politically. 

But what about someone closer to the center? Where does a “classical liberal” land on this diagram? Are they near the center? A little more to the right? to the left? Above or below the horizontal line? To be honest, I’m not sure. I know Sam Harris thinks of himself as a classical liberal, and I know I share some of those values, but what this really means is Sam and I are definitely not in line with the culture of progressive wokeness.

Wait, but I thought I was woke? I thought I was progressive? I’m aware of my privilege and I want the world to keep learning and evolving into a better world, so then the question becomes to what extent are the cultures who refer to themselves as woke and progressive reflect the same values as those of liberalism. I mean, I know a lot of the woke progressives detest liberals, and this means that both the Trump-supporting MAGA hat wearing crowd and those they refer to as “libtards” often both dislike liberals, but I am not sure they are referring to the same groups of people when they use the term liberal.

For me (and, I think, Sam Harris), liberalism is about freedom of thought, speech, and determination in life. The idea is that there isn’t an overbearing cultural or social authority demanding submission to an ideology. No church, political party, or moral framework being imposed from above telling me how to live my life. I can choose to be what I want to be. That’s the gist.

To the MAGA crowd, it means a whiny snowflake artsy type with purple hair, probably a Wiccan, and probably a bunch of homos and lesbos. They are brainwashed and hopelessly naive, and most definitely won’t survive without the mommy state to protect them.

To the Progressive woke Left (which the previous crowd ironically includes within its collective term libtards, obviously derived from “retarded liberals”), “liberals” are the comfortable, entitled, and largely privileged center. They are hurting progress by being (ignorantly) politically tied to the corporate powers, and they are part of the problem. Because while the political Right, including those ubiquitous NAZIs, are the actual drivers of everything awful and bigoted, the liberals are just standing by with their Amazon Prime and brunches to be aware of the struggle against the impending fourth Reich. They are complicit.

In other words, both the Left and the Right view the center as complicit in the other’s destruction of America (or ‘Murica, depending). I mean, those are the framings, anyway. Except those framings are both dubious. 

There is a real divide in values here. And while it’s not binary, it’s definitely fractured and potentially irreconcilable. What’s worse, even if one of them were actually more rational, evidence-based, or even just plain right, the other factions would never be able to see it because of the nature of human tribalism and the subsequent demonization and enmity.

So, we’re fucked. Might as well just blow it all up. It’s all corrupt. Let’s just drain the swamp, completely. 

Oh fuck, I think I just figured out why we are here, at this political moment….

 

Where’s my MAGA hat….

And so I’ve found myself having slippery-sloped myself into the centrists’ nest, looking at the Left with distance and the beginnings of distain. I’ve become “problematic” and I’m probably providing cover for the Right and possibly for NAZIs, because I, indeed, will fight for a person’s right to say a thing even if I disagree with them. In fact, for many years part of my signature file on my personal emails is this exact phrase:

I’ll fight for a person’s right to speak so long as that person will, in return, fight to allow me to challenge their opinions as the content of their ideas merit.

This is the core of my ideological values. This is my highest goal. And I think I have found myself uncomfortable with the parts of the Left which are slipping from the libertarian left to the upper, Authoritarian, left.. So when I see memes such as the one below, I feel a pang of agreement.

classical-liberal

And then I have the thought; shit, am I an alt-right type, about to be red-pilled at any moment? Do I have to, contractually, start attending Trump rallies?

I sure hope not, because fuck those guys.

I mean, whenever I engage with people on the left, I find we have largely the same goals and beliefs, but I think we might have different values, insofar as some of the Left seem, to me, to be advocating for a kind of world where certain ideas, words, and criticisms are “problematic” and should be ostracized and possibly outlawed. And people get booted from communities for being critical or not toeing the political line. And then I just realized (or was this all a set-up?) that I’m describing how those snowflakes on the Left are so politically correct that they can’t handle any criticism and live in their little “libtard” bubble, and so I might as well go get a MAGA hat, because these questions are obviously binary and you are either with the snowflakes or you are against them.

And it is exactly here where I think the problem exists.

 

We are Gray. We stand Between the Candle and the Star…

Because these questions are not digital nor binary. We have gotten to a place in our society that there is, for some people (and they are quite vocal) a kind of purity test that one must submit to. That’s how it feels, anyway. That’s not the truth, because the reality is much more nuanced than that, but the arguments on social media are the loudest, most angry, least-nuanced people who are the ones who keep coming back. Any attempt to see the gray areas between positions are not disallowed, but they are quickly scrolled past, at best, or labeled as giving cover by those loud voices.

Because to say something like “NAZIs have the right to speak,” whether or not you add the epithet “fuck NAZIs” is allowing a genuinely awful and destructive set of ideas to exist out loud, in the world. Those woke progressives, doing the necessary fighting against actual NAZIs, will so often bridle at any criticism of them. They are doing holy work, after all. The NAZIs cannot be allowed to return to power, so there is no room for criticism of their methods or ideology, because ACTUAL FUCKING NAZIs!

But this is a cover, and I see right through it. Nobody likes criticism. I’ll bet the Inquisitors would have responded the same way, as they were battling ACTUAL HERETICS! The analogy is weak, I know, because heresy is a label for being wrong about a thing that isn’t even real, and actual NAZIs are real people doing actual harm to real people, but the structure of the defensiveness is the same

And this is where we need to be able to pay attention. Because whether we are defending our wokeness, our inquisition of heretics, or our Nazism, it is the same set of human behaviors, tribalism, and groupthink at work. That is, it’s not the content of the arguments I’m objecting to (please, keep fighting NAZIs!), but it’s the unwillingness to clean one’s own house.

All criticism must start within one’s own self and one’s own group. It must be built into the fabric of your fight. So that when @centrist_John2472 on Twitter points out that your ideology, method, etc might be irrational or problematic itself, pointing out that you are fighting actual NAZIs sort of misses the point. We need to make each other stronger and better by hearing what we and our loved ones might be doing wrong, openly and enthusiastically, or we risk calcifying orthodoxy into our communities and ideologies.

 

A Rebel is Gonna Rebel

What happens when you tell a child not to do something? What happens when a word is a “curse” word (the history of that concept is really interesting, btw) or when a certain group is anathema? When you forbid something, it becomes interesting and potentially drawing to people, especially if they are already largely dismissed or socially awkward.

Forbidding words, groups, or ideas might be done with good intention, but it will never work. It’s pragmatically not feasible, and will cause a backlash. You want to understand the alt-Right? just look at human behavior in general. Humans go where they are told they shouldn’t go, and do what they shouldn’t do. How many kinks are formed by this very notion?

That’s why Donald Trump is so loved and revered by so many people; he doesn’t give a fuck. In his case, I think it’s partially narcissism and ignorance as opposed to mere rebellion, but it’s also just classic bad boy entitled swagger. It’s a rebel without a clue nor care.

It’s as American as it gets.

So, to the Left. I’m with you. We need to grow, progress, and make the world better. But the more you make ideas taboo and define yourselves as woke (fellow movement atheists, remember how the Brights were reviled? It’s the same thing), the more you are going to be ignored. The Right will never cede to your wisdom, whether you are right or not. They are just going to be human and tell you to fuck yourself and call you a snowflake, because nobody likes being told what to do. So, enjoy being right and also enjoy watching Trump win again while the Right continues to ignore, not understand, and yet still win on the political stage.

And to the Right, you’re acting like a damned child. You’re selfish and you’re woefully ignorant of so many things. I also know that they are not likely to be reading this, so that was really for the Left as well. Because that’s what they hear from us, and it’s not going to work. If you’re ideas are correct, then argue your points. Because I think we have reality on our side. But first we need to take the self-righteous stick out of our asses. Or we will lose any chance to save the future of this society and culture. We, on the Left, need to drain our own swamp, because we know the Right has no interest in actually doing so.

I think the Right is incorrect in maintaining capitalism and the like. I think a socialist direction is better. But the more we, on the Left, slide into authoritarian thinking, the more the Right will ignore us. So yes, there are real, actual, NAZIs out there. And yes, we have actual homophobic, Christian dominionist, and greedy capitalist politicians supporting this Trump administration and raking in millions while fucking over the environment, the majority of the people, and the place of The United States in the world. 

And if they keep up their trajectory then we would not only have a Right wing capitalist society, but eventually it will become more and more authoritarian. And then we truly will be a culture of Right and Left authoritarians yelling at each other, and all the rest of us caught in the middle as the country, and the world, slowly dies. And the Left will lose this fight, almost certainly.

To everyone: stop the authoritarian dictator within yourself, first.

 

Yelling at Each Other Through Trees April 18, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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Last night, in a conversation over a couple of beers, an analogy just sort of spontaneously emerged from my brain and spilled out of my mouth.

We are all walking a path of life, each carving a path through a dense forest, and yelling at each other through trees.

Yes, many of us travel in packs, with a few trailblazers hacking away at the brush in front of them with machetes of varying quality and sharpness, defining the cultural path for those behind them. And some, behind them, will wander off into the forest around them, perhaps bumping into other cultural paths, but in general the world is a network of paths being blazed through a forest, leaving the separated groups in the position to yell at each other through trees in order to try and figure out what is going on, where we are, and if there is anywhere to go better than this.

We are a tribalistic species. I’ve written about this all too often over the years. We truly, and literally, don’t understand each other much of the time. A dominant narrative metaphor for the lack of understanding frames this problem in terms of us not sharing a common set of facts, anymore. The political Right, especially those supporting Donald Trump, have a different set of facts than, say, the progressives on the political Left, and neither understands each other.

Now, it’s quite likely that one of those political tribes is closer to “the truth” than others. You may guess which camp I think is closer to such a truth based upon my previous commentary, but the larger issue here is that none of the various political cultures who are contributing to the inter-cultural conversations are likely to be right, in any objective sense.

Wait….”right”? Do I mean in the sense of having facts that cohere to a skeptical methodology which sifts between those ideas supported by evidence from those that do not? Or do we mean right in terms of values?

I’ve written about the false dichotomy between facts and values in the past (see here and here, for example), but I’ll summarize that I don’t think that they are really all that different. We can have wrong values, in the same way we can have wrong facts.  With facts, the question is evidence. With values, the question is whether our values support human well-being, fairness, and transparency.

Of course, the larger issue is meta-ethics and such, which is a thorny mess I don’t want to deal with right now. The bottom line, for me, is that if you aren’t concerned with well-being, truth, fairness, etc, then I’m not sure you are interested in being a good person. Why should you care about those things? I’m not interested in playing those sorts of games with people who aren’t. They aren’t acting in good faith, I believe. They are interested in power, control, and manipulation. Those values are not values worth respecting. If you disagree, I will fight you.

 

But, back to nobody being right….

The problem is that we conflate being more right than someone else with being right in general. I believe that I’m right that there isn’t a god, or more specifically that sets of ideologies such as Christianity or Islam are not real. If I’m talking with someone who believes that Jesus is real, Heaven is real, Hell is real (and I’m going to it), and I believe I am right in not thinking those things are real, I’m not (ideally) claiming that I’m right in the sense that what I actively hold to be true is correct, but rather that I’m right concerning the specific question of whether their religious beliefs are rational or real.

I want to paint this distinction, because I think it’s lost all-too-often in such conversations. In the atheist community, some debaters and thinkers have tried to make it clear that their atheism is merely a “no” to the question “do you believe in god?” In other words, it’s a lack of belief. But, based upon my many such conversations, it often seems that my interlocutor is hearing something else; not merely that “I don’t believe you” but also “my worldview is actually correct, not yours.” Those are quite different claims.

Now, I, of course, do believe my worldview is correct. This is true by definition. If I didn’t believe it, it wouldn’t be my worldview. But it’s a different claim to say “I don’t believe you” and “My worldview is right.”

Because while I do believe my worldview is right, the fact is that none of us has a completely defined, seamless, systematic worldview which covers all possible questions. We don’t carry around a systematically air-tight philosophical theory of the world which can answer all possible questions. We have loosely knitted ideas based off a set of methodologies, and they might not even be logically consistent with each other.

If you ask me about what I think about the Christian concept of sin or what the soul is supposed to be, I can come up with an answer. How I do so is based upon how I organize and coalesce information. I may have a few quick and easy answers (sin is a concept which essentializes us and causes guilt, for example) or even sound bites to pull out of memory (the impermanence of the soul is akin to a flame, waiting to be extinguished ), but worldviews are generated in real time, perpetuated by the way my brain has formed itself through experience, and always subject to change with new experience.

In an analogous way, a political movement, made up of people of related worldviews, is neither right nor systematically defined. The current progressive leftist movement is, in my view, superior to that of the alt-right in terms of both facts and values, but there are processes in the Left which are as flawed as anything in the right. In the absence of an alt-Right to compare it to, the left would be a set of ideas in need of both criticism and improvement. But so long as the alt-Right exists, they are the lesser of evils with a large margin of point-differential, so they have my support until a better movement comes along.

None of the teams are worthy of worship or unquestioned reverence. We need to stop being so attached to groups, parties, and especially our own in-groups (this is my major criticism of hard-core Democrats, right now; loyalty to party over social improvement). I’ve seen too many groups become subject to tribalism, cliquishness, and corruption to even trust any group, no matter how well-intentioned its people are. My recent interactions with the secret Facebook group, Polydelphia, is a prime example of how a group with good intentions can become corrupted and internally ruined by people who think they are doing the right thing.

 

What to do?

I don’t know. I’m not optimistic. Talking to people from vastly different worldviews was always hard, but it’s much harder right now because of the demonization, cultural bubbles, and enmity which has been created by well-intentioned (in many cases, anyway) social media outlets and meta-narratives which cannot parse fringe movements nor their criticisms (neither can those fringes understand each-other).

But we are trying to get a bird’s-eye view of the forest terrain by yelling through trees at each other. And so far the best ways we have found to do such things is to pull ourselves out of ourselves, to transcend and elevate ourselves above the hacking and slashing. Skepticism, science, and any other methods we can use to minimize bias (both individual and group biases) is the only means we have found, thus far. Seeking ecumenical similarities in religious traditions (for example) as a means to unite us is nothing more than people comparing their paths through the forest, and is unable to transcend the question.

Only by attempting to prove ourselves wrong, through skepticism, can we hope to transcend the forest, or at least draw an accurate map.

So long as we continue to abandon skepticism and the answers it supplies–and both the Left and the Right are doing so–the further way we get from the truth, collectively.

I’m not optimistic.

Tribes and Worldviews: why I’m largely an outsider in today’s Progressive world September 11, 2018

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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Step right up! That’s right folks, step right up!

Have we got a deal for you! Today only, come get yourself some worldview! And if you get one today, we’ll throw in some values, causes, and issues free! No need to wonder why these free extras come along with your worldview today, just know that you aren’t being charged extra for them, and that if you don’t take them, the people around you will question whether you really are one of them!

OK…that’s a little too overt and heavy upon your head, I think. No subtlety or nuance here, so far. Let’s take a different approach….

 

Progressivism

I grew up in a progressive world, at least in terms of education. I went to, for 13 years, a Quaker school full of LGBT-friendly activists concerned with social justice and peace, where values such as compassion, tolerance, and diversity were held in great esteem. It was a good education, compared with many other schools, and it gave me values that are overall good, and I liked the Quakers. Mostly.

Part of my family is rather conservative, traditionalist, and even reactionary. My father would throw around the ‘N’ word as casually as I would throw around “fuck” or “the,” and I once made a joke at dinner (when I was an adult, mind you) that I couldn’t eat the ham because I had become a Muslim. My father’s reaction was quite serious and memorable; “No son of mine is becoming a Muzzie.”

This was a few years after 9/11 (fuck…that was 17 years ago, today), and he definitely identified with the pro-Bush (“Dubya”) camp, politically, and wanted to kill all of the Muslims and turn the deserts of the Middle East to glass, as I remember. At the time, all I could think was “Jesus, dad, you really don’t know me; I’m an atheist. I find Islam as silly as your Christianity, and would be very unlikely to become one”. In my world, being a Muslim wasn’t a bad, evil, scary thing, it was just another thing to be. For him, Islam was the enemy.

Neither my father nor I were going to become Muslims, but for quite different reasons; he was afraid of, and therefore hated, Muslims because they were a threat to his idea of a Christian America, and he saw this enmity as defending his traditional view of what that America was and is supposed to be. I, on the other hand, was a member of the early atheist community,* and my opposition to Islam was a mostly rational and educated opposition, rather than an emotional and jingoistic reaction to the presence of an alien religion attacking my tribe.

As the culture wars started to become further defined in the years that followed 9/11, how people saw Muslims became attached to a political identity. People on the political Right, the conservative and traditionalist people who are overwhelmingly Christian and often evangelical (think of the Battle Cry events, and similar proto-nationalist, Christian, and politically conservative events like it, that dominated the Bush years), started to oppose Islam, Mosques, and Muslims encroaching upon American culture and space. The rhetoric was of an invading culture, and the Right was opposed to it vehemently

On the other end of the spectrum, the Left started to take the opposite strategy, and started to defend Islam, and welcome the cultural change that involved more Muslims being welcomed into communities. The values here are the same as those I was raised with in my Quaker school upbringing; compassion, tolerance, and diversity. And, in at least one respect, these values are ones I share; I support the rights of Muslims to live in our culture just as much as I support Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, or Pagans. That is, I recognize all of their rights to exist, legally, while I would very much prefer that they all become rationalists and atheists, because ultimately I think religion is not worth our time, as humans, and we should just leave all that behind as the toys of our species’ childhood.

Welcome

These signs are very common in progressive neighborhoods, in many parts of the United States

And this is where the problem begins, for me. The world I live within, specifically West Philadelphia, is one dominated by political Leftism, tolerance, compassion, and diversity. There is a strong sense of wanting to welcome people to their communities, whether they share their religious or ethnic backgrounds, where more conservative areas would be more likely to feel uncomfortable with people of color or minority religious traditions moving down the street.

This is just one of the many particular examples of how the differences in political worldview has real world consequences on how we feel about other people and their ideas, and usually you can tell someone’s political identity by how they would think about Muslims; either they are not comfortable or tolerant of them being neighbors, or they are welcoming. Because conclusions, opinions, and support for issues is largely an indicator of one’s identity or inclusion in a worldview, or the tribes which hold such worldviews.

But what happens when you disagree? What happens when you, for example, are uncomfortable with Muslims? Not because their religion is different from yours, but because they are part of a religion that has many problematic beliefs and traditions which are at odds with your values? What if you are uncomfortable with Muslims in the same way you are uncomfortable with people who still practice Catholicism, despite the fact that it has been shown, again and again, that the Catholic church is a criminal organization?

Well, that’s intolerance, right? It’s at odds with one of the fundamental progressive values, and it is too much like the intolerance, fear, and hate coming from the Right of the political spectrum. In other words, it doesn’t fit in with the worldview of most progressive people, so holding such opinions places you in a precarious position, politically and culturally.

Where does that leave you?

 

The Center

The problem with the tribalistic nature of worldviews and the cultures they create is that if you don’t belong in one place, you must belong somewhere else. For many skeptics, atheists, and other people who attempt to use rationality as the framework for making decisions, this leaves them in some middle ground, the political “center,” and you are stuck next to Sam Harris.

Now, don’t get me wrong; Sam Harris has some really interesting things to say about metaethics, and I am on board with how he talks about morality with his analogy of landscapes. When I first read The Moral Landscape, I found a strong argument that was very similar to how I viewed the problem of morality in a world arguing over whether morality was absolute, relative, or objective (no, objective and absolute are NOT the same thing, here). I recommend the book for anyone interested in the subject of ethics.

In fact, the distinctions between those who accept some authoritative moral framework (the Christian Right, for example), those who accept a relative framework wherein we need to tolerate different views are valid (the Progressive Left, for example) is a fair analogy for the Left/Right worldview split I was talking about above in some ways. And if one does not find either satisfactory or convincing, one is left with having to find an alternative. In the case of Sam Harris and myself, that takes the form of objective morality. In fact, watch Matt Dillahunty’s video (below) where he argues for the superiority of a secular (and in his case, objective) morality. Like Sam Harris, Matt and I are mostly eye-to-eye here, and it is a nuanced, middle, position between two views on morality I find equally problematic.

 

 

Just like how we view Muslims in America, how we view morality is largely attached to the political and cultural worldview we identify with. All too often I run into Leftists (which I largely am) who become infuriated or offended if I suggest that, for example, some cultures, religious views, or moral values are better than others. To ask a progressive-minded person if they thought that (for example) Islam might be a more problematic religious worldview than Buddhism, to answer yes would be tantamount to seem to agree with the “racist” and “intolerant” Right, and to be seen as having something in common with a political/cultural worldview they are opposed to. They might ultimately agree, but the suggestion is one met with resistance, in most cases.

This is why people like Sam Harris are seen as racist and conservative to people on the Left, and it is why Sam Harris will never think of himself as a Leftist, but rather a “classical liberal” (a term that means, for the Left, he’s actually just another racist and intolerant right winger). There is a disconnect on values, here, which makes Sam Harris not seem doctrinally pure enough to be part of the Leftist tribe, even where Sam Harris largely is a progressive (to be fair, he is resistant to what he calls “identity politics, which would place him more in the center, but he’s much closer to a progressive than a Republican and definitely not a Trump supporter). All it takes is to be critical in a way that alienates him from progressives for them to dismiss him as a racist and conservative, and thus ignored and ostracized by most people on the Left. Tribalism at work.

But these issues are not digital; One is not either completely accepting of Islam, Muslims, and all the cultural, historical, and ideological baggage that can be attached to those sets of worldviews or intolerant and hateful of them. There are nuances here, and in an age of Twitter, soundbites, and knee-jerk reactions to not being confused for the other side of whatever political spectrum you identify with, you are wise to be careful about expressing an opinion that doesn’t fit in with the worldview of those in your tribe. Better to stick to the party line, and keep up appearances.

It would not go over well, in a conversation in the back courtyard of Dahlak where everyone is an anarchist, progressive democrat, or radical waiting for the revolution to finally come, if you were to suggest that 9/11 happened (even if only in part) due to genuinely held religious beliefs consistent with a fair reading of the Koran and the Hadith. No, it was definitely American foreign policy, military action, and colonialism.  And this isn’t to say that people all over the world don’t have legitimate political grievances against the United States for decades of bad behavior which might cause people to want to retaliate militarily and with terrorism. But it is simultaneously true that Islam is a great ideological tool to implement such actions, and one could get from Koran to terrorism without any need for political grievances as an intermediary.

Yes, that last paragraph was inspired by a real conversation I had in exactly that space.  And yes, my interlocutor insisted that religion could have had nothing to do with 9/11, because Islam is a religion of peace, and it would be intolerant and racist to imply that Islam might be violent and dangerous as an ideology. He stuck to his guns, ran the party line, and maintained consistency with his worldview which values of compassion, tolerance, and diversity. Just not truth. It’s not like the guy ever read the Koran or studied the history of Islam, or anything, but he knew that conservative jingoists hate Islam and he’s not like them, so he has to accept Muslims as a non-problematic addition to the culture in which he lives, without sufficient criticism.

The Left is too afraid to be critical of religious and spiritual beliefs, where criticism is not only valid, but perhaps necessary.

 

Where do I belong?

My issue, here, is that I’m largely a progressive. If you sat me down with a bunch of Social Justice advocates who wanted a tolerant and diverse political and cultural society, I would get along with them and agree on many things, but I’d be at odds with them on some others. And I get myself in trouble when I disagree with some issue or position. Many rationalist and secular people find themselves in this position. I see people around me, politically, defending religious nonsense and even genuinely believing in paganism, tarot, or psychics. More and more, recently, I hear people talking about magic, reiki, and nature spirits in my progressive circles, and it’s becoming worrying to my skeptical heart and mind.

In some sense, I get it; it’s a reaction to the authoritarian and patriarchal religious identities of conservatives. Rather than a vengeful and authoritarian Jesus, we have the nature loving and progressive gods and goddesses of pagan lore (let’s ignore the fact that Islam’s Allah is a lot more like Yahweh/Jesus than those pagan artsy spirits). It fits with the political and cultural worldview better, but it does not fit my worldview at all. I’m left with the choice of a tribe who accepts that God is judging you or one that believes crystals or healing hands on your body might be able to heal cancer.

They are both laughably absurd, and I will not accept them as legitimate. I do recognize that they are equally protected under the law (at least in theory), so I definitely am closer to the Left than the Right here in terms of tolerating religious beliefs, where the right tends to defend the privileged status of Christianity, but it’s hardly an association I’m happy about.

Again, it all boils down to skepticism for me. We need to be able to not only challenge particular issues, beliefs, and people within our tribes and worldviews, but we need to be able to question the height of the pedestal we place our values upon. Values are good to have, but they are not absolute.

The Left has values, the right has values, everyone has values. And whether they are authority, purity, compassion, tolerance, diversity, etc, we all have these values to greater and lesser extents. In short, we value them to differing degrees. They are not worthy of worship or unquestionable, they are guidelines at best. Tolerance is a good value, but what are you tolerating, and why? How much do you know about the thing you are tolerating, and would there be a point where you would stop tolerating it?

Muslims are people. As such, they deserve legal protection, a willingness to hear their concerns and experiences, and the freedom to live their lives as they want to so long as they are not harming others. But we also need to be aware that there are many terrifying and dangerous ideas that are contained within the many ideologies called “Islam,” and insofar as people have those beliefs, their actions will be compelled accordingly. And similar to how many Christians oppose women’s right to choose how to live their lives and make decisions, gay rights, and many other progressive issues, Islam is no friend to many of those things in similar ways. We need to be as wary, as Progressives, of Islam as we are of Christianity.

The fact that Islam does not currently have political power here is a fair point, but if we actually seek to give Islam a seat at the cultural table, we need to be aware that if Muslims were to earn their legal right to that political power, the ideas they bring with them would be as problematic as those of Christianity or any other religion.

And if the Left, with it’s tolerance and practices of paganism, new age religion, Buddhism and all the other ideas that contain problematic views about reality, continues to not be skeptical about these things, then we will continue to live in a world where we’re forced to choose between anti-gay Jesus and vaccine-avoiding Progressive morons who will endanger us all by rejection of medicine, science, and reason.

I’ll end with an old favorite video, because it’s still relevant today.

 

More skeptical, rational, progressives please.

___

 

*this may have been before the various books were written and the community started to gain some traction, but my memory is not clear enough to remember precisely when this was. My guess is around 2005

Why I can’t be a conservative June 17, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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I was sitting at my desk the other day and was thinking about what conservatism means.  Ginny was at her desk, next to mine, so I bothered her by asking what she thought conservatism was, fundamentally.  I don’t remember her wording, but it seemed to agree with how I was thinking about it; an attempt to conserve the current social, political, and cultural norms.  The implication is that those who are conservative generally believe that the world, as it is, is fine.  The world is fundamentally right, and as old Pangloss said, “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”

Yep!

Yep!

Now, I don’t think that the primary motivation, especially consciously, of conservatives is the mere preservation of their current cultural values (or what they think of as the best values of some past golden era, perhaps).  I don’t think that conservatives generally think about it in these terms. But in many cases, especially in relation to social justice issues, conservatives seem to side with preserving a status quo, at least in the sense that they maintain traditional definitions concerning mores, values, etc.

So, the question arose for me, in context of this question, as to whether there could be a possible world where I could be comfortable calling myself a conservative.  What I mean is that given the fundamentally broken nature of our current culture, society, and political atmosphere, I cannot be a conservative now (why would I want to conserve this?), is it potentially feasible that a future world might exist that has a culture I’d want to conserve?

But this question gets complicated really quick, which is related to two different questions:

1) Is my personality naturally contrarian?  That is, is my fundamental personality architecture such that no matter what culture I live in, I will be critical of something? If I was raised in what I would call an ideal culture, would I still feel so radical? I don’t know.  I would like to believe that I would follow the evidence, that I would only be critical where criticism is deserved.  That is my goal now, and I hope taht I’m at least close to being good about that.

But perhaps the more interesting question (especially to all of the people who are not me), is this one:

2) Is the value of freedom of criticism, of challenging the culture in which one lives, more important than conserving an ideal culture? That is, if humanity were to achieve some ideal culture, where no unnecessary (logically, that is) inequality exists and no social justice activism is necessary, then would it be more important to maintain that culture, or would it be more important to maintain the right to criticize, challenge, and question?

Because if the world is right as it is, then any challenge is simply a means to make the world not right.  And this, I believe, is how many conservative-minded people must see liberals or radicals; as acting to destroy something that isn’t broken.

This issue is related, at least in part, to The Crommunist’s recent series of posts about the culture wars, using the idea of the dueling myth hypothesis, which I summarized here.  The fundamental question is whether the world is fair or not, and the implications of those views.  I do not think the world is fair, and I think that this is because of the social constructs, derived from faulty individual cognitive and behavioral biases, which we live within.  In other words, I’m almost never a fan of traditionalism, because our history carries so many terrible traditions based on very oppressive ideas (hetero-normativity, patriarchal power structures, monogamy, etc).

I’m concerned with things such as gender equality (for an example which has been all the rage recently) because there are cultural constructs surrounding concepts of gender which are poorly conceived, and which we could make better with education and perspective.  There is a potential culture which would be much less unjust, concerning gender, than we have now and so I care to help implement those changes.

But if someone genuinely believed that the way that the majority our culture views gender (as being more or less digital; male and female and no room for gender-bending let alone actual transitioning), and that this is the right way to think about gender, then trying to change that would be an attempt to destroy a good thing–a correct thing.  From this point of view, conserving the traditional gender roles, including the many personality attributes associated with those gender roles, is defending what is “normal” or right.  And from the point of view of such a person, there is no significant philosophical difference between the rightness of those gender roles now and my hypothetical future world where an ideal social world exists that I might decide to defend.

This, I believe, exposes the fundamental flaw of what I call conservatism, and what Ian Cromwell was calling “the fairness myth.”  And yes, I know that Ian’s concept of the fairness myth does not always correspond with conservative politics (in The USA or elsewhere), but in the sense I’m using “conservative” here it overlaps quite well.  The problem is not that one is defending an idea they think is right, but in defending an idea that is entrenched in culture in such a way that they may be blind to how it is harmful.  Those who defend traditional gender roles don’t think they are causing harm (at least I hope not), because those roles seem natural, normal, and right to them.  That is the nature of mainstream ideas; they seem right to mainstream people (and often to non-mainstream people, which is another problem related to staying in closets and feeling guilty).

As you may have guessed, I think that the value of criticism, skepticism, and the ability to be contrarian (even if not for its own sake) is superior to the value of maintaining traditional ideas, even if those ideas happen to be defensible.  Thus, I do not think that the fairness myth, at least in the world I see, is a defensible myth.  I don’t think conservatism is good per se, even if it might be right on a case-by-case basis.  I cannot be a conservative in this world now, and for the sake of the possibility of my being wrong about what I might potentially try and conserve, I cannot be a conservative in any potential worlds where social justice “wins”.

I think there will always be room for critics, guardians of honesty and the pursuit of truth, and all others who seek to maintain the pursuit of ideals, rather than the defense of them.  True ideals don’t need defense, as the truth does indeed point to itself.  Thus I think that liberalism, radicalism (at least when things are very bad), and skepticism are the superior values in any culture, and thus I can never be a conservative.

Here’s a related article I wrote 2 years ago.  The Tea Party doesn’t want America to change:  I do

The atheist culture wars; applying moral foundation theory to the great schism May 13, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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This morning I found myself pondering the idea of cultural relativism, tribalism, and how it relates to the various fights which have emerged in the atheist and skeptic communities.  Cultural relativism is a concept in anthropology which developed as a reaction to a kind of tribalism which is called ethnocentricism.  Just think of Bush-era conservatives with their nationalistic, jingoistic, and what they called “patriotism.”  Ethnocentricism is exemplified by the idea that America was getting it right (well, at least their red-state America, anyway).  Those of us on the political Left, those who voted for Al Gore and who saw Dubya as an awful president surrounded by an awful administration (which dragged us through scandal after scandal) would sometimes point out that perhaps we were not doing it all right.  Perhaps some relativism was necessary…which led to us being told we hated America.

culture_warsIn other words, the culture wars.

As writers such as Jonathon Haidt and the (discredited, but largely for different work) Marc. D Houser have pointed out, much of these political and cultural differences are based in differing value-sets.  There are different ways that we perceive information, in emotional and moral ways, which change how we draw conclusions about reality.  In short, what values we have will influence our intellectual opinions.

Both of these writers have emphasized two primary narratives which lead in two major directions concerning how we think about our tribe, other tribes, what kinds of rules our tribe should have, etc.  In American culture, this translates into the conservative “red state” America and the “blue state” America.  You know, the culture wars distinctions we have been talking about for more than a decade now.

I think this is what’s happened to the atheist community.  I don’t think that the main differences are precisely the same as they are in the larger culture, but I think this is the type of thing that has happened to us, and I am not sure anything can be done to fix it, just like with the larger culture wars.

How can you change someone’s values? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do things like criticize other people’s values (I, for example, think that liberal values–such as care and fairness–are actually superior to largely conservative values –such as loyalty, authority, and sanctity.  But of course I would say that; I’m a pinko ‘Murica-hatin’ liberal).  The question is  how, assuming that I am in any meaningful way objectively (or at least inter-subjectively) right that my values are better, can I convince a loyal, authority-loving, sanctimonious…sanctified conservative of that?

That’s a harder thing to do.

imagesEver talk to a creationist? How about a “pro-life” (or pro-choice, if you are on the other side of that fence) activist? There is more than a distance of facts (although there often is that), but there is a distance of language-games, values, and worldviews.  Such a conversation needs more than a good moderator, it needs a cultural anthropologist in order to shake out the worldview distinctions.

Ever read a blogger who uses the term FTBully not ironically? Ever read a post by PZ Myers or Rebecca Watson? I do, fairly frequently.  And guess what; I think one side of that fight is crazy, and I think that they are fundamentally wrong from the bottom up (guess which).  The problem is not the factual disagreements (that is a symptom, not the cause), the problem is the fundamental worldview distinctions.  The problems are fundamentally about what values matter to us.

That is, they are not wrong because of their bad logical argument itself, but of their assumptions, worldview, and moral values. This is because logic is only a tool.  It can only manipulate information given to it.  Just like a Bible-toting evangelical conservative Christian can use logic to make their points, so can the atheist they are arguing with.  And while both may make logical errors (guess which I think is likely to make more), the source of the problem is at the level of things like values, assumptions, and biases; not mere facts.

Those who oppose the efforts of inclusion in the atheist community are not wrong because they are opposing inclusion.  In fact, the very framing of that statement was (intentionally) worded to lean one direction (hey, Fox News does it, so can I…).  They are wrong because they are valuing the wrong things.

Value divisions in the atheist community

Surely, there are both political liberals and conservatives in the atheist community.  But how the foundational values we have get expressed in the larger political sphere will differ from how they will create splits in our smaller atheist culture.  The values which split us here; values such as authority, loyalty, and sanctity being expressed in the atheist/skeptic communities as opposed to liberty, care, and fairness will illuminate the foundations of our disagreements.  In other words, I’m applying moral foundation theory to this split, and I’m claiming that it is largely analogous to the conservative/liberal split in the larger community.

Let’s take a look at the third moral foundation, for a clue:

3) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.

I will bet that both sides of this split will identify with this, but in different ways.  Clearly, some people feel bullied by others in the community, and claim that those people are trying to wrangle authority over everyone else.  Those people trying to define what atheism, skepticism, etc mean when it’s clearly not what it means (to them).

But on the other side, the argument is that mere philosophical or semantic precision are not what matters.  PZ Myers’ concept of the “dictionary atheist” was not an attempt to redefine atheist in the philosophical sense, nor to force this definition on anyone, but to recognize that those philosophical senses are secondary to many people.  And he’s right.

See, we are not primarily rational beings.  We are emotional beings who believe things for largely non-rational reasons, and then we rationalize (or explain) the causes of our beliefs.  Hopefully, we are willing to change our minds based on new information, but believing (or not believing, in the case of atheism) is an emotional phenomenon which we later rationalize.  Some people are not aware of this and get overly focused (as I have, in the past) on the semantics and philosophical side of the question.  This is, I believe, Justin Vacula’s primary fault, as a thinker, and why he fails to get it so often.

In other words, rationalized arguments about semantics when the difference is one of values.

Let’s get back to moral foundation theory to see more facets of this disagreement.

Some people want to employ fairness:

2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

If we interpret this in the sense of giving everyone a fair chance to participate, then there are at least two ways that we can go.  The question concerns the issue of whether we should treat everyone the same or whether we should treat people in the way which produces equal outcomes.  The question of privilege, which has become a lightning rod in recent years, is relevant here.  Treating people the same, irregardless of their place relative to privilege, often leave people in different outcomes (says this liberal pinko).  This is part of an old argument which is reminiscent of not only recent atheist discussions, but culture war arguments over the last few decades.

In the atheist community, this has been most obvious in terms of the treatment of feminism, which some see as exclusive of the rights of men, but which other’s see as learning from the experience of women to make it better for everyone, regardless of gender.  If we seek to include more women, do we treat them like men or do we try to dig deeper and understand that the assumptions about gender need to be revisited so that we stop perpetuating gender roles and expectations, hopefully leading to a more gender equitable community where the varying perspectives are better seen and understood? Seems simple to me, but other people have different values and view equality either secondarily or as a simple function of treating everyone the same, even if that means people get to different places.  One of these values is superior to the other.

Then we can ask whether this foundation is more or less important than purity, or sanctity:

6) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

But don’t let the description fool you; this is not a strictly religious behavior pattern.  This pattern of behavior, in my opinion, is not religious per se, but was usurped by religion just like morality and rituals.  The feeling that something does not belong; social justice is not relevant to atheism (for example) is a deep and important value for many people.  The question is whether this or the desire to include those affected by social injustice, and trying to counteract that, is more important.

For me, the sanctity of pure skepticism or atheism (as it is seen by some, say Jamy Ian Swiss) are not more important than addressing the intersectionality of skepticism with atheism, racism,gender inequality, etc.  But if someone else feels disgusted by that degradation of the purity of the cause of skepticism (or atheism), they will reject movements such as Atheism+.  They will feel that to include gender issues, race issues, etc into the larger cause is a form of contamination; it just is not what atheism/skepticism is about! (says our sanctimonious friends).  Again, this is a difference of values more than a difference of facts. Again, one of these sets of values is superior.

Accommodationism

Remember the old argument about accommodationism? One of the issues was whether it was important to care about people, despite their beliefs.  How nice were we supposed to be? Well, that’s all about the care/harm foundation:

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

Take that in balance with other values, such as the liberty/oppression foundation:

3) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.

and we can see why the anger at oppressive religious institutions and doctrines might override the care/harm value.  Some people were so angry, justifiably so or not, that they were not concerned about being sensitive to people’s feelings. Who cares if some Christian’s feelings are hurt when their beliefs are criticized when you balance that against the harm Christianity is doing to so many people! On the other hand, argued others, if we do not accommodate their beliefs, we will never change their minds and we will simply push them further away.  Whether this is true or not is relevant too, but at an emotional level it exposes how our values are the origin of such arguments, not the facts per se.

Big Tent Atheism

What about our desire to create a large umbrella organization or a big tent? The goal of coming together as atheists no matter our differences, for the sake of our shared rights? Well, that’s the value of Loyalty/betrayal:

4) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”

Here, anyone who is perpetuating the drama is a traitor.  They are betraying their larger cause in the name is stupid arguments over secondary concerns.  This is, I believe, the motivation behind my long time friend Staks’ anti-drama pledge.  It is a value I understand, but which I do not share as a primary moral concern.  I am more interested in making our community better than making it bigger and closer.  That is, I would rather be a part of a smaller, more inclusive atheist community than one which is more concerned with what I see as a false sense of community around the answer “no” to the question “do you believe in any gods?” I’m more concerned with addressing social justice and the intersection of issues around atheism than focus on merely getting along for the sake of what I see as short-term atheist rights issues.

As I see it, any movement that focuses on its own civil rights over the intersectionality of all human rights is participating in short-term thinking, and will eventually be left behind with the conservatism of history.

As our community continues to grow, transform, and gain political and cultural influence, we will become institutionalized, inevitably.  How we think of ourselves now will effect how we will leave our mark on history.  I would rather leave a smaller, but more inclusive mark on history than a larger but more conservative and exclusive mark.  With this in mind, I want to address the fifth, and as of yet unmentioned, moral foundation; the Authority/subversion foundation:

5) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

Five years ago, this foundation would have had no place in this discussion.  Five years ago, we were all subversives, pulling away from a larger tradition of hierarchical religious institutions which dominate our culture.  And, of course, this is still largely true.  But in another sense, this has become a point of division within the atheist/skeptic community, now that we have at least established, at least internally, some traditions (or at least tendencies) and some leadership.

No, there is no atheist pope.  There is, however, some hierarchy and some power.  Richard Dawkins saying something about atheism carries weight.  Not for all of us, but he is a symbol of our movement and his opinions carry some weight.  We can and do disagree with him (some more than others, of course), and his words are not officially conclusive, but because so many people respect him his words have an effect on our thinking.  He’s just one example.

If you love PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, or Justin Vacula, then their words carry weight.  The people you are willing to listen to will influence your thinking, and those whom you vilify you will, tribalistically, either ignore or hate.

If you have written off someone like Rebecca Watson or PZ Myers (as bullies or whatever), then you will only see her words when someone you like quotes them, and your view of them is skewed.  If you hate Justin Vacula, the same is true from the other side.  Personally, I make a point to read the words of those I disagree with as well as those I tend to agree with.  I never agree with anyone all the time, but there are certainly people with whom I agree more often than not, and those with whom I rarely agree.  I am aware that this is more about values than mere facts.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m on board with Atheism+, that I am very appreciative of Skepchick for exposing me to many ideas and perspectives I did have 3 years ago, and that I abhor Men’s Rights Activists.  I’m a third wave feminist who makes the attempt to be aware of the privileges I have, and to understand my cultural blind spots.  I have chosen my side, not because I think my side is always right and the others wrong, but because I share values with them.  Just like I am not a Republican or a conservative politically (even if I might occasionally agree with them), I voted for Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama (twice), and I think that Fox News is pretty awful, I have a side in this atheist schism.  But I still listen to the other side.  I try to understand their values and arguments, and understand that I may never be able to get them to see what I see.

But, most importantly, I think that my values are superior.  Not such that I will force them on anyone, but insofar as I think that they lead to a better world.  Am I objectively right? Well, I don’t think that’s a meaningful question.  Am I intersubjectively right? I think so.   The difference between the two is that the former assumes an objective perspective, while the latter only assumes that such a perspective is always abstracted from a subjective one, and is thus not universal or authoritarian.  This is what I think many political conservatives do not see; liberals may think their views are superior, but they are not actually trying  to demand authority over others based on it.  We want you to see that we are right and join us, are frustrated when you don’t, and we are amused when you call us bullies or totalitarians.  We find it funny because the values which make totalitarianism or bullying possible are conservative values, not ours.

bulliesThe same is true for those in the atheist community who call people such as PZ Myers bullies, to whom the remainder of this post is addressed  The values we have do not include authority as strongly as do yours, so we are not natural bullies.  But since you have those values in stronger measures, you think everyone feels the same and so you project the authoritarian attitude onto us.  We’re not telling you what to do or what you should think, we are just saying what is better (and hopefully why they are better).  And we are sad when you don’t understand it and pull away from us, creating the schism.  We don’t create the schisms; we identify the sources of them and offer a bridge to join us where things are better, which you subsequently see as a demand, a redefinition, and as some sort of totalitarianism (a Horde, if you would).  We don’t seek to control you, we seek to have you understand that the controls already exist and that you are subject to them because you don’t see them.

We are not bullies.  The bullies are your projected values onto us.

The Crommunist’s myth metaphor for the culture wars January 24, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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I have been thinking about the philosophical, emotional, and historical underpinnings of the culture wars in recent months.  I have been try to come up with a way to categorize it in such a way that will make sense to people who don’t understand that it  is a matter of different values, and I have not been particularly successful at it.  I did write this post last month, but it felt like an incomplete attempt to articulate my thoughts.

Ian Cromwell

Ian Cromwell

In the last few days, Ian Cromwell, over at The Crommunist (one of my favorite FtB blogs) has been writing a series of posts utilizing the concept of myth (which he defines here) in a quite interesting, and I think useful, way.  He continues with his next post to define, for this conversation, the concept of  fairness and justice–but in a way I have a subtle, but perhaps important disagreement with.  Briefly, I think that fairness is a concept which is objectively (or inter-subjectively) definable, but we don’t have access to all the relevant information at any given time, so what appears to be fair may not actually be fair.  Because we don’t have sufficient information, or we are under a delusion about the facts, we will not recognize the unfairness of the circumstance until we understand more.  I’ll leave that aside for now.

I also appreciated the disclaimer that Ian gave to who his intended audience is.  I have come to write for a similar audience recently, realizing that I don’t really care what the others think most of the time.  There does come a time when you simply have to ignore some potential readers as being irrelevant to what you are saying, although the irony here is that we are writing about how to think and talk about fundamental mythological and value differences.

On his fourth post in the series, he comes to the meat of his thought, which he calls The dueling myth postulate.  here is the gist:

I wish to postulate that it is useful to think of many disagreements as the collision of two opposing myths. The first myth, what I call the ‘fairness myth’ (and will heretofore refer to as f-myth) is very simply stated: the world is a fair place. You will undoubtedly have heard this described as the ‘just world theory’, ‘just world hypothesis’, or ‘just world fallacy’. I prefer the term ‘myth’ for the reasons I spelled out in yesterday’s post – it is a story that we tell about ourselves, the world, and our place in it. Those things we have were obtained fairly, and our position is justified according to our understanding of moral axioms.

The countervailing myth is, of course, the ‘unfairness myth’ (u-myth) – that our position in the world is not in accordance with moral axioms, and that we (or others – more on that later) are being arbitrarily deprived of access to a state of harmonious existence.

In the past, I have described this as a clash of values, and while I still think that is true, I think that this approach has merit, and I will gladly steal it in the future, where I find it useful.  I don’t think he’ll mind, especially since I will credit him for the idea.

He then goes onto flesh out the idea some more, and comes up with the Ethical dimensions of the dueling myth postulate, which looks like this:

Morality within the Fair Myth framework

If one starts from a position that the world is fair, then any attempt to change the world would bring it into a state of unfairness. It is morally reprehensible, for example, to arbitrarily deprive someone of something that ze deserves. Indeed, it is highly morally reprehensible to take goods or status from one who has earned them and give those goods to someone who has not.

We saw an example of this when people believed that tax money was being used to bail out large banks and give bonuses to wealthy executives whose risky practices had caused a financial collapse. The taxpaying public (largely blameless for the economic troubles) were having their goods and services curtailed in order to reward a class of people who a) didn’t need the bonuses to live, and b) did not face any criminal charges for their malfeasance. It was monstrously unfair to redistribute wealth in a way that rewards irresponsibility and excess.

Indeed, in many cases it is morally laudable to fight to protect a fair system. In the last American election, when new laws were brought in that would disenfranchise voters, a public outcry went up to preserve the existing system (whatever its flaws might have been). The belief that the current system was fair, insofar as it allowed people to vote regardless of their skin colour or age (with the caveat that there is a legal voting age), motivated a strong resistance to change, fueled by a general agreement among proponents that people deserved to vote, and were threatened with having that status taken away from them for reasons that were seen as arbitrary.

Morality within the Unfair Myth framework

Conversely, there is a similar moral dimension to the u-myth. If one has the ability to intervene, it is morally reprehensible to allow an unfair system to persist. The u-myth invokes the image of the ‘Good Samaritan’ parable, where it is morally laudable to take action to either prevent an unfair thing from occurring, or to stop an unfair thing while it is happening.

For example, there are a number of people who believe that the state has a moral obligation to provide health care to its citizens. A state, with its wealth and power, is in a ready position to construct, administrate, and fund a system wherein all citizens receive at least some rudimentary level of care. Most industrialized nations, and many with different economic circumstances, recognize the duty of the state to ensure a level of basic health, and consider it a moral failing when a state does not. The fact that it also makes financial sense for the state is worthwhile including in a discussion of policy, but I wish to focus solely on the moral dimension.

As above, it is morally reprehensible to defend an unfair system. We have precious few people today who would jump to the defence of South Africa’s apartheid system (though there are many alive today who have defended it). We recognize the unfairness of a system that stratifies human beings by an arbitrary characteristic such as skin colour, and would roundly condemn anyone who argues that such a system was fair and/or necessary.

I think this is a pretty good set of frameworks to start with.  I am not sure that any one person will fit cleanly into either, and I’m sure we use both of these to some extent depending on the issue, but I think this a is a fair categorization of how many of these issues are, in fact, rhetorically spun.  In his four consecutive posts, Ian addresses this framework in terms of the issues of welfare, #IdleNoMore (a movement concerned with First Nation rights in Canada), religious persecution (or privilege), and then feminism.  I’ll quote a snippet from the post about religious persecution.

So let’s see if we can break down Mr. French’s [of WND] argument within a competing myth framework. I would identify it as springing from a f-myth belief, and will analyze it thus:

The world is fundamentally fair when it comes to the place of religion in public life (or at least has been up until recently). Overt displays of religiosity are protected free speech under the Constitution. The use of religious invocations, symbols, and practices are part of American history – a tradition that stretches back for generations.

Because the world is fundamentally fair, the attempts to change such a system are morally reprehensible. Conversely, it is morally laudable to resist the changes that threaten to remove religion from public life. Religious people should not have their rights taken from them in order to appease the growing chorus of anti-religious voices.

By opposing these changes to tradition and to American identity, the FRC’s actions/positions are morally laudable. By fighting to change a fundamentally fair system by abridging religious freedom, the actions of the ACLU and the U.S. government are morally reprehensible. By opposing the core of the American identity and long-standing tradition, the beliefs of the ACLU and the U.S. government are morally reprehensible.

For fun, we can also parse Ms. Feinberg’s argument in a u-myth framework:

The world is fundamentally unfair when it comes to the place of religion in public life. Overt displays of religiosity on behalf of state actors is specifically precluded by the Constitution. The use of religious symbols, while popular, is a reflection of an unfair system of religious hegemony and preference – a tradition that stretches back for generations.

Because the world is fundamentally unfair, the state has a duty to intervene and increase the amount of fairness. Fairness, in this context, looks like no religious preference for any group. Public schools are state entities, and as a result they must not be used for religious promotion. Any history of such promotion does not abrogate the duty of the state to ensure that it lives up to its obligation to be fair to all groups.

By acting to ensure that the Constitution is upheld, the actions of the NYCDE are morally laudable. By attempting to uphold or restore a fundamentally unfair system of religious privilege, the actions of the FRC are morally reprehensible. By asserting a right to preferential treatment that would propagate an unfair system, the beliefs of the FRC are morally reprehensible.

So we can see from the above analysis of the example that the specific statements of ‘both sides’ of the argument can be expressed as a function of an underlying myth about the fairness of the system in which the dispute is happening.

I have seen this type of argument between people on one side or the other concerning church/state separation over the last decade, and I think that this, in conjunction with Jon Haidt’s recent work (which I am not in complete agreement with, but I find his  Moral Foundations Theory extremely helpful) is a very good way to approach thinking about the culture wars, values, and the myths (or worldviews, as I might call them) we use to construct our concepts of the world.

So, in summary, I think this postulate of the dueling myth postulate, described in the recent series of posts by Ian Cromwell, is at least a useful, if not powerful, tool to use in talking about these types of issues.

In the future I will be thinking more about the relationship that this tool, this dueling myth postulate, has on the conversation about privilege.  For example, is privilege the circumstance of being stuck within the perspective of a “air myth framework,” at least in most cases? Do people who argue against shifting our behavior and views about what normal is, what is expected, and what efforts we should make to fix such things a function of feeling like the world is fundamentally fair, and by pointing out the effects of privilege we are trying to upset the apple cart?

In any case, a nod and a thanks to Ian Cromwell for thinking about this and sharing.

—-

I’ll add that Ian added, a few hours ago, a follow-up post entitled The usefulness of the dueling myth postulate, which I am about to read now.

American Politics, old and new. January 6, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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Here is a quote from John Ferling’s Adams vs. Jefferson, page 153-154:

The Federalists also fixated on Jefferson’s religious beliefs, maligning him as an atheist.  This was grounded on what Jefferson had written in Notes on the State of Virginia, drafted in 1782 and first published in the United States in 1788.  Jefferson had lauded the Virginia Declaration of rights of 1776, which provided for religious toleration, but, wishing to go further—he hoped for a law that would separate church and state—Jefferson had dilated on the “rights of conscience,” about which individuals were “answerable [only] to…our God” and never to the state. He then added  that “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket or breaks my leg.” These two sentences were reprinted endlessly in Federalist newspapers as proof of Jefferson’s impiety.  In addition, Federalist scribes cautioned that Jefferson viewed the clergy as “curses in a country.” Primarily, however, they depicted him as a “howling atheist” and “infidel.”  Filled with contempt for Christ, Jefferson supposedly embodied iniquities that would bring on the moral decline of the United States.  In New England people were told to hide their Bibles should Jefferson be elected, and the warning went out that his election would call down God’s vengeance on the United States.Though more from the pulpit than the press, lurid tales were told of bizarre worship services at Monticello at which Jefferson supposedly prayed to the Goddess of Reason and offered up dogs on a sacrificial altar.  One Federalist newspaper advised its readers to vote for “GOD—AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT or impiously declare for JEFFERSON–AND NO GOD.”

How many current cultural tropes did you notice there?

Thomas Jefferson, never self-identified as an atheist, as far as I know.  The conflation of religious tolerance and freedom with repression felt by the dominant religion was as real then as it is now.  We are not dealing with anything new, in talking about this religious privilege and the association with separation of church and state with impiety and even lack of patriotism.

There are simply some people, whether in 1800 or 2013, who simply cannot see that asking for religious neutrality from our government is a good idea.  Those that declare the United States to be a Christian nation have the precedence of idiots from the 18th century who did not grasp the importance of said separation then, and who wanted a Christian president rather than a supposedly godless president.  And those who see the legal foundations of the United States as secular, as its founding documents state, have the precedence of people like Jefferson and Madison on their side.  It’s not simply that we were a secular nation and people forgot, it’s that some people simply could not grasp it at the time, and that tradition seems to have run parallel to the actual law and history.

In short, there are always idiots in society, and it may be the case that they will never go away.  One of the weaknesses of democracy is that those idiots also get to vote, and thus we have Michel Bachmann and Rick Perry.

The Culture Wars will continue November 8, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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So, Obama won pretty big the other day, and overall the Democrats had their day of victory.  Now, in my opinion the Democratic party is not very liberal, but they are certainly the better option of the two major parties.  I like Obama, think he has been a fairly good president, and realize that having a truly progressive president is not a reality in today’s cultural climate.

Is Florida really still counting?

We live in a culture which is largely conservative and pragmatic.  Even many of the liberal friends and acquaintances I have are pretty moderate, much like Obama is.  And of course there are some radically-minded people I know, who argue for socialism, communism, etc, but I only sometimes agree with them.  I think our culture needs some radical change, but that change does not have to be political in nature.  That is, we don’t have to become a socialist nation, but we need to be more aware aspects of history, philosophy, and psychology which most people are almost completely ignorant of.

What do we need? Well, to name a few things I think are important, I’ll list skepticism first.  Skepticism is the methodology which we should be using to determine the truth of some claim.  We need science, critical thinking, and a willingness to listen to perspectives from outside your own to grow beyond our narrow views.  That is, we need to be aware of things like privilege, biases (whether cognitive or ideological), and tribalism.  We need to educate ourselves in pragmatic ways as well as in academic or philosophical ways.  Mere pragmatism is not sufficient to offer us a means towards improving our culture, as it takes the most efficient and traditional routes, rather than the best routes.  We need our pragmatism tempered by skeptical inquiry into the harms and benefits of that pragmatism.

But how can we do this in the context of such comments as this, from a comment from someone named ‘Doc’ over at a post called “Dresden in DC“:

Being the opportunist that I am, I started the night at a Romney party – because I hoped he would win. But when it became apparent he wouldn’t, I headed over to an Obama party that I knew of, met a sweet young thing who was happy to have turned 18 early enough to vote in this election. I took her home so that I could add to her night of firsts…

I learned long ago – hope for the best, but always take advantage of the situation. So I’ll continue to take advantage of the situation which is this train-wreck.

Over the last 4 years, I’ve moved more and more of my assets overseas – taking advantage of every tax loop-hole this administration created to be sure I paid zero in the US due to “losses” and “expenses” – of course all of my real profits were “elsewhere”… I’ve done quite well, although in the US I’ve been losing money left and right… I will continue this, but now I think I’ll leave the US at some point for good.

It is no longer “my country” since I believe in hard-work, opportunity, and succeeding by your own effort – rather than looting others. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to take advantage of the stupidity of this administration (Government) – so if I can get guarantees that I can go bank-rupt on to hurry the inevitable destruction along, I will – especially if it is beneficial to me. :) Just like the young lady last night, whom I’ll be seeing this coming weekend to continue enjoying what she can “give me”…

Ugh, that poor woman….

This guy is my enemy? This is going to be easy….

Granted, this is just one comment from a conservative blog, and it is certainly non-representative of conservative ideas, but it’s also a fairly common worldview which stands in the way of progress.  And it’s not going anywhere soon, so the culture wars will continue.

The post itself, from which that comment was quoted, was not much better:

The Obama economy, poised to hit the young in urban population centers very hard, might be their Dresden. Make it rain. . .fire.

How lovely.  There is a real cultural war out there in American culture (also elsewhere, I know), and those who side with this guy are my enemies.

But there is reason to believe that the future will be an improvement.  Younger people lean towards the liberal as well as non-religious end of things, the last election brought in gay marriage, legalization of marijuana (not my thing, really, but it really should be legal), and Arizona has a bisexual atheist representative!  (Too bad about Pete Stark though…).

So, yes, we have a lot of work to do yet.  But in the free marketplace of ideas, skepticism reigns and progressive social policy wins.  I am not afraid of going toe-to-toe with such people as hiddenleaves, pictured above, or his misogynistic cronies.

The Tea Party does not want America to change: I do July 5, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Today I am going to do something which I rarely do, especially here.  I am going to talk about politics.

More specifically, I want to address an idea that has taken root in the Tea Party.  It is probably not universal among them, nor do I expect it to be the most important aspect of the Tea Party movement.  However, when I ran into a rally at Independence Mall, near Independence Hall, on Independence Day, it was a theme that was mentioned more than a few times, especially by Presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who spoke among others.  The key note speaker was John Bolton, who has no chance as a candidate, and whose speech I found silly and uninspiring.

It seems as if one of the problems that the Tea Party is trying to combat is the ‘liberal’ desire to change America.  This was said in context of the “ripping up of the Constitution” (supposedly by people like me).  Herman Cain said several times that there are people who want to change America, and many said that this is the greatest country in the world.  Perhaps.

So, what is wrong with changing America? And why is ripping up the Constitution associated with this, as if one could not change America and follow the Constritution?  Best nation? In what way; culturally, economically, politically, or some other way?

And yes, I do want America to change.  I would like to be part of what changes it, as well.  But I do not want to rip up, either literally or metaphorically, the US Constitution.  I have read the Constitution and  appreciate my rights as well as defend the rights of others even if I disagree with them. Further, my understanding of the process by which we create Constitutional amendments implies that change is an inherent part of our Constitution and therefore our country.  It just seems that this idea is empty rhetoric without real substance.

Despite the empty rhetoric of many of the speakers and apologists I heard from there yesterday, I (as a liberal, at least in most political senses), am not trying to destroy our Constitution.  I am trying to use my constitutional rights to influence the public towards a better America, by use of speech, protest, and litigation in some cases.  Our nation is ripe with cultural problems from sex negativity, poor education, and political naivete which helps cripple our growth to a better nation and a better world.

Me talking with one Ron Paul supporter

I want citizens who are more educated, mature, and willing to challenge their own worldviews.  I want the legality of gay marriage and polyamorous marriage.  I want better healthcare, whether through a single-payer system or some other option.  I want the divide between the rich and the poor to be addressed in a meaningful way.  I want discrimination, breaches in the wall between government and religion, and other effects of poor education and indoctrination to disappear.  All of these goals, and many others, can only be reached by changing America.

The idea that we should not change America is conservative by definition.  And as one conservative-minded person I know told me, there is a difference between wanting to retain traditional ideas per se and simply opposing progressive ideals.  Granted.   However, whether you want to conserve traditional ideas per se or not is not the point.  The point is that our culture, and therefore many governmental policies, need to change if we are going to improve.  Arguing that America should not change sounds a lot like a person telling there therapist that they don’t need help.

In other words, this ideal within at least some Tea Partiers that we should not change, and we should fight change, is a sign of denial of real problems within.  We, as a culture and as a nation, are sick in many ways.   We need to change, if we want to survive and thrive.  Right now, we are not thriving, and more of the same will not help.

So, in 4 years will "2016" be over the "2012"?

Finally, concerning what one Ron Paul supporter told me, which was that the Tea Party movement was started in 2007 to protest the corporate ownership of the two major parties, and that it is trying to remain independent from such influences.  But the recent motions of people associating with the Tea Party, such as Sarah Palin, have taken the name brand and changed it.  My prediction is that what remnants of the Ron Paul revolution that want to stray from corporate interests will die out completely, having been over-taken by the interests of those who have the money to make more noise.  And while I don’t support Ron Paul, I appreciate the attempt by some of his supporters  to remain unaffected by corporate interests.

I just don’t believe that changing (or restoring, as they call it) our government will make the corruption disappear.  I’m too much of a cynic, I suppose.

So, yes, Tea Party leaders, some of us do want to change America.  The fact that you don’t see anything worth changing is one of the many reasons I cannot get behind your cause.