In the discussion of my post suggesting D.J. Grothe has a bad habit of walking into arguments and taking a side without fulling understanding the implications (which he assures me he doesn’t), he signed off with the following:
This will be my last post on this topic. I’ll go back to believing what I have believed for a while now about some of these atheist blogs, now yours included: that fomenting movement controversy often seems to be prized over honest and sincere argument, that some folks are too quick to vilify and engage in destructive in-group/out-group thinking, that these online communities are exclusive rather than inclusive, and that unfortunately as a whole, the feminist and atheist blogospheres often operate quite separately from and counter the growing skeptical movement working to combat unreason and harmful pseudoscience in society.
Now, there are a few things to be noted about this statement. I’ve made this same honest and sincere argument before, because, as I hope we’ve all learned in the last few months, nothing blows up a movement like a leader making ill-considered arguments. Suggesting that pointing them out instead of letting them slide constitutes fomenting controversy is ignoring the responsibilities of the leaders who made them.
Aside from noting that someone who calls Greta’s posting of a #mencallmethings moment “bullying” may not be the best person to talk about being quick to vilify, I’ll also note briefly that no community is going to be inclusionary to everyone. The insistence that all groups be open to some people will lead to all groups being closed to some people. The topic probably warrants its own post, however.
But now, the feminist and atheist blogospheres: I hate to break it to D.J., but we are the movement. We’re not all of the movement, of course, but neither are the more established groups. We do very similar but not completely overlapping tasks: organize events, promote events, speak at events, raise money, issue action alerts, write position papers, write articles in mainstream publications, write books, write blog posts, organize smaller-scale social events, give people with common interests in science and rationality a place to socialize online.
As for differences: we mostly don’t lobby politicians directly; they mostly reach people who are already particularly interested in skepticism. We are also composed of people with a broader range of expertise, simply because we are selected for criteria other than an interest in the traditional topics of skepticism. That is both a strength and a weakness for us. We can cover more topics and react to more of the day’s events, but there isn’t always a strong voice nearby to tell us when we’ve messed something up. There isn’t always someone there to counteract our authority.
Authority, by the way, is the biggest reason I think having bloggers working separately from the institutions of movement skepticism is a good thing. There is nothing about being a high-profile skeptic that makes one immune from spouting off on topics where one is not an expert. If you run in those circles, you probably just thought of two examples. And now a third. Having the independence to comfortably (sometimes more than others) criticize the big names when that happens and they get things badly wrong is a very good thing.
Nor is it working against the movement to criticize each other. In fact, limiting our ability to be critical is antithetical to skepticism itself. It’s not impossible for such a thing to impede the mission of a group, but a much better case would need to be made for that happening than, “You laid out my behavior in a blog post,” or, “You criticized my focus.” The movement that can’t withstand that is very weak indeed.
Skepticism isn’t that movement. So, rather than focusing on the negative in the comments here (if you must be negative, go post in response to the comment instead), I’d like to highlight how the feminist and atheist blogospheres strengthen the skeptical movement. I’ll do that by mentioning the contributions of two bloggers.
The first is Dr. Kate Clancy of Context and Variation. Her focus is on what she calls “ladybusiness,” that bit of human biology that is specific to females and the behavior that surrounds it. She frequently takes all those things you thought you knew on the topic and, being an anthropologist, puts them in the context of other cultures, other species, and human history. One great example of her applied skepticism is “Do Women Bleed Together? On Menstrual Synchrony.” She also recently posted her list of the best ladybusiness anthropology blogging of 2011 (full disclosure: I’m on the list for a piece on the age of consent). Much of it is applied skepticism at its finest. Just ask the women on that list if they consider themselves part of the feminist blogosphere.
Over in the atheistosphere, we have Greg Laden. Up until not that long ago, Greg didn’t even know there was a skeptical movement. He certainly hasn’t gotten himself organized into any of its institutions. What he has done, however, is adapt a minor specialty of critiquing skeptics for adopting new rubrics and fetishes in the place of those they have discarded. It’s kind of a pain in the ass being kept honest that way, but it’s still a valuable service that improves skepticism.
So, I’ll put it to the rest of you: Who are feminist and atheist bloggers who add value to the skeptical movement and how?