Home > Uncategorized > More things to work on. And by work on, I mean knock the fuck off.

More things to work on. And by work on, I mean knock the fuck off.

I don’t usually criticize the atheist community a lot. Oh, I call stuff out from time to time, but I don’t like doing it. I have enough trouble with my friends on the left who think atheists are all white privileged dudely types. Which is itself a problematic attitude, but it’s true those people currently dominate the community.

Now, there’s been some positive work done on feminism in atheist circles, and there are plenty of female atheist writers. There’s obviously issues with this, as Elevatorgate and various things I’ve complained about indicate, but I think it’s better than outside the community, still. We’re lagging a bit on race, partly because the English-speaking atheist community doesn’t have a lot of contact with the atheist-humanist-skeptical communities in non-English countries, especially outside of Europe, and partly because of the preponderance of white people starting out. There’s also some interaction with problems of non-religious space for people of colour in their own communities, but I’ll leave people like Sikivu Hutchinson to explain that to the rest of us.

Apparently, though, we’re still mired in the fucking dark ages when it comes to ableism. For the example that has me so mad, see this post on the normally good Pharyngula site. EDIT: Have been reminded PZ has a history of using “crazy” and “deluded” to describe opponents, so a certain degree of ableism’s shown up in the past. Must have been thinking normally good on gender and race.

It’s part of the “Why I am an Atheist” series. Most of them have been alright. I don’t really like testimonials, so I haven’t paid them much attention, but the few I’ve skimmed have been alright, if unpolished. Unpolished is fine – I certainly can’t throw any stones there.

But the sheer condescending dickery on the post above isn’t a lack of polish. It’s indicative of one of the worst tendencies of the atheist community – to be smugly superior. Think Dennett’s attempt to create a “Bright’s” movement. It thankfully never took off, but there is a tendency in certain quarters to assume being an atheist automatically makes you cleverer than anyone else. I can see where this might crop up, especially in the States, if the only religious people you ever encounter are Tea Party-esque evangelicals, or Bill Donohue of the Catholic League. But for the most part, atheists are not smarter than anyone else, just (in my view) right about a single thing.

I would critique the post line-by-line, but I’m not sure I can make myself go back through it in any kind of detail. Suffice to say, it represents the worst sort of “inspired by disability” attitudes, as well as a “it’s almost like mentally disabled people are real people” mind-set that makes me want to reach through the tubes and smack people.

I’m most disappointed with the comments. So many people don’t even see a problem here, and it’s mind-boggling. Apparently you shouldn’t be condescending, or use insults as endearments, to women or black people or GLBTA people, but if they have a mental disability, why, it’s perfectly alright. After all, it just shows off their child-like wonder with the world, right?

  1. Classical Cipher
    28/10/2011 at 5:27 pm

    FWIW, I thought that was horrendously obnoxious too. (I’m a PWD who still grapples with an abundance of privilege because I’m not intellectually disabled, visibly disabled, or verbally delayed.) I don’t totally agree with the interpretation that this is a reflection of the smug-skeptic-superiority that I agree is rampant in the atheist community; it looks like pure dark-ages ableism to me. Anyway, great post. Thanks.

  2. 28/10/2011 at 5:33 pm

    Hey, thanks. You’re right that I’m probably reading too much into it as a particularly atheist thing, since atheists can be racists, sexists, ableists, without any help from their atheism.

    But I do think we (not necessarily including you, since I don’t know your beliefs) have a certain tendency to dismiss accusations of those things because we’re obviously “past that” as atheists.

    Too, given the focus on intellectualism in the atheist community, I think we can often be dismissive of people on that basis without consideration for people with actual problems in those areas.

  3. Classical Cipher
    28/10/2011 at 5:54 pm

    About the second paragraph, yeah, that’s very true (elevatorgate… gah). What I was trying and failing to say was that I narrowly associate the “smug-skeptical-superiority” attitude with the belief that one is simply smarter than all the religionists, who are just a bunch of dumb sheep. This often accompanies an insistence on looking down one’s nose at other people’s experiences because one is busy pretending to be a Vulcan. (You see a lot of this last bit in sexism threads: you all are just being emotional, your personal experiences with sexism are just meaningless anecdotes, you wouldn’t accept personal experience as an argument for deities, etc.) Looking closely at the comments, though, I am starting to see what you mean. And I’m scrolling down, reading, and it’s just getting worse and worse.
    Regarding your last paragraph, yeah. Good to bring up. I personally sometimes get deeply frustrated with people who seem to be refusing willfully to understand things, and I *always* resort to insults that are problematic given the fact that there are people who struggle with genuine intellectual disability. I’ve been trying to correct myself to “willfully ignorant” over “dumb as a rock” (for instance) but it’s uphill.

  4. 28/10/2011 at 5:58 pm

    Ah, thanks for elaborating. And ditto on that last. It’s not easy for me to remember to watch how I use “stupid,” though I think I’ve become uncomfortable with using “idiot” and “dumb”.

    Thanks for commenting. There was a while in that thread where I was just boggled that no one besides me and a friend seemed to have an issue with the post outside of finding it a touch condescending. More people have piled in since, but it’s nice to know there’s other people who see a problem. Helps me calm down and look at it a bit.

  5. 28/10/2011 at 7:39 pm

    Great post. I haven’t been reading that series, so I’m glad to have this stuff brought to my attention. I’ve posted a reply of sorts (more accurately a rant on the whole ‘smug atheist’ thing) here: http://quodinanevocamus.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/better-than-the-others/

  6. 28/10/2011 at 8:09 pm

    Yes, that essay was gross.

    That said, as a certified crazy person, I have no fucking patience with the “anti-ableism” griefers who throw a shitfit every time someone uses the word “crazy” or the word “stupid” on the internet. Or, worse, takes the “Ableist Word Profile” literally and decides that it’s “oppressive” to use terms like “blind” metaphorically, or to use the word “scab” in a labor context. They can take their language policing and their fellative worship of the social model (sorry, depression sucks no matter how much the stigma goes away) and shove them where the sun doesn’t shine.

  7. 28/10/2011 at 8:18 pm

    Hi! Yeah, true, just because someone’s called out doesn’t necessarily mean it’s legit. And I know the privilege-educated left can turn into a circular firing squad at times. I’m usually pretty susceptible to being called out, since I have so many “privileged” boxes ticked, and so sometimes I have trouble telling when it’s legit and when it’s not. After all, the denials I’d give would often sound a lot like the denials in that comment thread.

    I normally wouldn’t have said anything, since I tend to let “crazy” or “stupid”, or even “idiot” or “dumb” slide, especially in a harmless context, slide. (Not “retard” – I’ve always hated people using that word). But that post was just so egregiously bad that I couldn’t just watch everyone pat themselves on the back over it.

  1. 28/10/2011 at 7:34 pm

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