If this post sounds familiar to you, that’s because, like all the talk of “dividing” the atheist and skeptic movements, none of this is new. None of what we’re seeing these days is even responsive to prior critique. But if other people can repeat themselves on this, so can I. Maybe this time, I’ll even get some answers.
For context, a friend posted recently about finding out someone they’d looked up to had been accused of unethical behavior. The post was more a cri de coeur than anything else, along the lines of “Will everyone in this movement disappoint me?” Given that my first guess regarding which person they were talking about was wrong, I can’t really argue with the sentiment.
Someone else did, though. An atheist media personality responded to suggest the question was unfair and unhelpful. In the back and forth over whether that was appropriate in this situation, the media personality commented:
I didn’t tell anyone to ease up (smoothly or otherwise). I asked for perspective, because, despite what the Outrage Brigade declares, there are many wonderful people in this movement…people who aren’t racist/sexist/predator/hypocrite.
My shows deal with Harris, Dawkins, etc in ways which admit that they’re occasionally wrong, but that their life and work don’t immediately get tossed in the shit-can anytime someone cries “Bigot.”
I challenged Peter Boghossian directly and publicly on a recent tweet about third-wave feminists manifesting weak physical properties, asking how such a statement/question could further productive discussion (it doesn’t), and I followed up with an elaboration in Pete’s private email.
Peter remains a friend, despite our disagreements. Richard Dawkins remains someone whose meritorious work changed my life, despite our disagreements. Sam Harris remains someone whose writings I’ve narrated on the show, despite our disagreements. Etc.
One of the reasons there’s division in the movement is we disagree, and another of the reasons is that many sit ready to spring into a frothing rage anytime someone else operates outside of their particular zone of agreement.
There’s a time for the harder edged discussions, but there’s also a ton of missed opportunity for connection and unity.
I’m not going to single this media personality out by name, partly because they weren’t posting for public consumption and partly because who they are doesn’t matter. Their position matters. Their audience and associated ability to control the discussion in the movement matter, but who they are personally doesn’t.
It matters because this personality has declared a group of people in this movement a problem. They’ve defined an “Outrage Brigade” and declared their concerns and issues “particular”, with the implication that they’re unusual and unreasonable. When challenged on lumping people who object to sexism and racism into this group, they said they only meant those who were “gleeful” about it. Also that they were complaining about a lack of nuance.
Until that happens, we know we’re part of The Outrage Brigade(TM) because we’re treated like it. So I asked a few questions from that perspective. My friend ended up not being up for hosting that kind of argument, which is understandable, but my questions remain. Here they are, with several additions for completeness.
- Whose friend do I have to be, or whose life do I have to affect, to not have my work in this movement and my identity erased in making me part of this disposable group?
- What level of celebrity do I have to achieve to have someone argue that I should be spoken of with nuance?
- Does posting an emotional status like this one qualify someone to be part of the Outrage Brigade?
- How many years of continued problems qualify as “immediately” shit-canning someone?
- Are we always wrong to apply the label of “bigot” or only to apply it to people you feature in your media?
- What does Peter Boghossian (or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris) have to do, who does he have to denigrate to become part of the Outrage Brigade?
- What qualifies you to judge us as “frothing” or “gleeful” when it’s ridiculous for us to call one of your media partners a “bigot”?
- What does it take for you to think someone is a bad choice for a leader or role model aside from from anger, or at least anger at anyone who hasn’t been sorted into the Outrage Brigade?
- What makes those issues or limits more valid than mine?
- Does bigotry not make you angry, or is your position on what constitutes bigotry informed by a particular expertise I lack?
- Do you have some kind of expertise in making our movement welcoming to a diverse group of atheists, particularly those disproportionately affected by bigotry?
- If you don’t, what do those people whose expertise you recognize have to say about all this?
- Have you asked them?
- How much does that group of experts overlap with the Outrage Brigade, either in people or in message?
- If I (or other more-frequent critics) aren’t part of the group you’re labeling the Outrage Brigade, do you find major differences between my critiques and theirs?
- If our messages are the same, why are you pointing to this Outrage Brigade instead of dealing with the critiques from those people you consider valid critics?
It’s not a terribly long list of questions. I think it’s an important one, though. I want to see them answered by anyone going on about Those People Who Complain About Every Little Thing, whatever name they use to refer to them/us. I’ve been waiting for years. Will it happen now?