Flush the Movement

Natalie Reed’s most recent post is must reading. Please do.

I’m writing this here because it’d be derailing if I wrote it in the comments there. So, yeah.

You may recall that I’ve previously expressed some of my problems with movements, and even with the very notion of a “movement” inasmuch as it implies directed motion toward some single common goal. There are multiple goals within atheism and skepticism, and there are also multiple myopic people trying to claim that some of those goals are illegitimate.

But then, I look at the arguments I’ve had with asshats on Twitter, I look at my own beefs with the “movement,” I look at the concerns about being “outed” that led to my switch to WordPress and my attempt to build some kind of retroactive anonymity, and I read Natalie’s post and feel like a giant fucking idiot. I feel like the things I’ve seen as problems, the worries that have kept me up nights and sent me scrambling to lock down my blog or watch what I say in different venues, as problems that people without my tremendous level of privilege dream of having.

Being “outed” to me means worrying about the integrity and stability of my job for a whopping couple of years until increased job security sets in. It means worrying about discomfort in a close-knit community that I already have very little contact with outside of idle chit-chat. It means worrying about awkward conversations with some family members about matters that, ultimately, don’t affect anyone’s lives because they’re centered around entities that don’t exist. It doesn’t mean being attacked for my appearance, it doesn’t mean losing my house or possessions, it doesn’t mean being ostracized for an integral part of my identity.

I’m lucky. I’m incredibly lucky. I’m playing the game of life on Easy with the Konami Code.

And that’s a hard lesson to learn, that by virtue of luck, you have an easier time than others. It’s far easier to buy into the just-world fallacy and believe that, if people have it rough, then it’s because they deserve it, or because they’ve brought it on themselves, or because it’s just the way things are. It’s hard to realize that you’ve benefited from a system that inhibits others. It’s hard to realize that the world is more complicated than “people get what they earn/deserve.”

But it also seems like it’d be a basic lesson learned by anyone applying skepticism to reality. A lesson I’ve learned, time and time again, is that reality is generally more complicated than you think. Reality is fractal. Zoom out or in, and there’s always some new level of detail, some new perspective, some new complication, that you haven’t accounted for. It’s part of why a scientific understanding of the universe is so full of wonder. Anti-science types will criticize science for its “reductionist” stance, “reducing” everything to mere aggregations of particles. But that’s not it at all, because those aggregations of particles are anything but “mere.” At every level of magnification there is something new and amazing to be fascinated by, something grand and beautiful to admire. Whether examining the patterns of cells in a tissue sample or the patterns of whorls in a fingerprint or the pattern of mineral deposits on a continent or the pattern of stars in a galaxy, there is fascination to be had and wonder to be felt and beauty to be seen. By closing yourself off to those other perspectives, your worldview lacks detail and nuance, lacks those sources of beauty and awe and interest.

But it appears that not all skeptics, not all atheists, not all science enthusiasts learn this lesson. I’ve long suspected that some people arrive at atheism or skepticism out of some kind of contrarianism. They see the silly shit that some people believe and reject it. They reject religion and Bigfoot and UFOs because those are the beliefs of “The Man,” of the majority, of the establishment. Man, they reject the establishment. They’ve seen the light, man. Take that far enough, and they reject the “establishment” account of what happened on 9/11 or “the man”‘s opinion that you have to pay taxes, and you get the Zeitgeist crowd. Take that in a different direction, without the tempering influence of science enthusiasm, and they might reject the “establishment” notions of medicine like the germ theory, and become like Bill Maher. Sprinkle in a bit of that black-and-white overly-simplistic worldview, and you get libertarians, who reject the idea that the system might be unfair, that life and civilization might be more complex than what’s portrayed in an Ayn Rand novel. And focus that rejection of “the man” and the “establishment” on the notion of “political correctness,” and suddenly you have MRAs and every other bunch of “I’m so persecuted” bigots that roam these here Internets (and elsewhere).

And friend, I’m not sure that there’s anything that’s easier to believe than that you’re a brave hero fighting against a grand conspiracy that is behind all of your problems, and that everyone who disagrees is either in on the conspiracy, or duped by it. It’s the DeAngelis-Novella Postulates, the underlying egotist worldview behind all conspiracy theories. I am the enlightened hero, my enemies are powerful and legion, and everyone else is a dupe who just hasn’t seen the light like I have.

That’s what I don’t understand about the people ranting over how they’ve been “silenced” by the “FTBullies,” or that “feminists” are sowing “misandry,” or that the “atheist scientists” are “expelling” Christians, or that “the Illuminati” are doing whatever nefarious things they like to do. The worldview is ultimately so simplistic that it falls apart on comparison with the complexities of reality. And as skeptics, isn’t that precisely the sort of thing we train ourselves and pride ourselves on debunking?

I guess that’s one more privilege afforded the majority: the ability to believe a comforting, simplistic, ego-stroking version of reality, to perceive the world through the tinted glasses of a persecuted minority while being neither, and to claim heroism while tilting at nonexistent windmills.

I realize this is all armchair psychology, which I’m doing from an office chair without a background in psychology. It’s almost certainly true that the real situation isn’t nearly as simple as what I’ve laid out, and that the MRAs and libertarians and Zeitgeistians and so forth that infest the atheist and skeptical “movements” are the result of far more diverse factors.

But I realize that, because I realize that the world is more complicated than “us” and “them,” than “good” and “evil,” than “baboons” and “slimepitters,” than “FTBullies” and “the silenced,” than “the Conspiracy” and “the Army of Light” and “the Sheeple.”

I just wish that were a more generally-understood lesson.

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37 different flavors

of irony. This is beautiful beyond words.

Here’s the follow-up, and Greg Laden’s got the list o’ links.

Some recent searches

I haven’t been keeping close track, but this bunch from the last couple of weeks seemed pretty postworthy.

  • Lots of people searching for variants on “rick warren colbert” and “atheist fundamentalist”. In short: Rick’s the doofus, and he keeps using that word, but I do not think it means what he thinks it means.
  • “Anything Involving harps” requests a reader from Finland. I prefer anything involving harp seals.
  • “how can human eye be redesigned to get rid of blind spot” Put the retina up front, don’t run vessels through it.
  • “fear of vacuum cleaners” Ah, Hooverphobia. Bane of dogs everywhere.
  • A Romanian reader wants “video fred zugibe”. Ask, and it is given:
  • An Iowa reader needs a “great bible verse for grandpa’s funeral”. The cynic in me wants to recommend something like Malachi 2:3, but hey, I know how hard it is listening to shitty eulogies for people you love. Stay away from Psalm 23, and if you’re going to use Ecclesiastes, do it sparingly, and don’t fall into the usual “a time to live, a time to die” stuff. There’s more to the book than the first ten verses of chapter 3, for instance:

    1:4-7 “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever
    The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
    The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
    All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.”
    8:15 “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.”
    9:11-12 “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
    For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.”

    There’s some decent stuff in Proberbs 13, and here:

    31:6-7 “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.
    Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

    And I’ve always liked this bit from the Sermon on the Mount. It’s terrible advice for the real world, but it’s a nice metaphor if you believe in a pleasant afterlife.

    Matthew 6:28-34 “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
    And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
    Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
    Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
    (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
    But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
    Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

    My condolences.

  • “sex education position movie” It will be a fantastic day when sex education includes instruction on positions.
  • I’ve gotten a few searches for variations on “a person is a person no matter how small t shirts” and even an “Augustana Right to Life” from my alma mater. To the former: Dr. Seuss was pro-abortion rights, and anti-abortion folks really ought to stop using his words to support a position he disagreed vehemently with. “Horton Hears a Who” was about the atomic bomb–you know, a threat to actual factual full-grown people, as opposed to your precious “potential humans.” To the person searching about ARTL: they’re a sad group of people with no debate skills and even less science knowledge. If you’re affiliated with them, I pity you.
  • “martin luther king go forth and multiply” Um, I’m afraid he can neither hear your request nor follow through with it.
  • “do not mourn for me” The first thing I thought of when I saw that was the Shakespeare Sonnet it’s loosely quoting. The second was this:
    http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=-7935763140816467759&hl=en

Also, much as I like Debbyo, I’m a little disappointed at the response to my meme post. Once the weekend’s over, I might be forced to start tagging people…