So for the past…wow, it’s been almost two years now, the skeptical/atheist community (there are a lot of different names, but considering that there is active debate over whether atheism should be downplayed with regards to ‘skepticism’, I think it’s most accurate to label the community this way until the debate resolves, which means that the accommodationists shut up and stop putting religion into a No Criticism Allowed zone) has been embroiled in a massive debate over whether the skeptical community should consider social justice even at such basic levels as having anti-harassment policies at conventions. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, go read those links and then go poke around Freethought Blogs a bit to get a sense of what it’s like now.
Done? Okay. Because I want to talk about something here. You see, shortly after the harassment debacle, TAM made an absolute mockery of harassment policy. (Link. Read.) The libertarian Cato Institute lists TAM’s keynotes, skeptic celebrities Penn and Teller, as fellows; Penn openly adheres to the Randian ideology of unfettered ‘free market’ capitalism*. There are other very prominent libertarian skeptics; Micheal Shermer comes to mind, and Randian ‘Objectivists’ (including Rand herself) generally identify as atheists.
This brings me to the apparent — and highly unreasonable — anti-social justice movement within the skeptical/atheist community arguing that skepticism should for whatever reason not turn its eye to the social sciences and consider the implications of institutionalized and intersectional oppression. See, Shermer recently published a very horrible article about a so-called “liberal war on science”, and he interestingly opened by going after straw-critics of evolutionary psychology. Except, PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson criticise evolutionary psychology as poorly founded and largely little more than efforts to justify oppression with “science”, and do so with much better arguments than the one Shermer decided to go after. This feels like a passive-aggressive shot; an attempt to take all critics of evolutionary psychology, paint them as anti-science, and oh yeah identify them with the evil left and all its totally unnecessary (because kyriarchy was solved by the Civil Rights Act OH WAIT LIBERTARIANS WANT TO GET RID OF THAT TOO) regulatory forces.
Regulatory forces that counteract institutionalized power. Like harassment policies, which counteract the institutionalized social mores that allow men to treat women as objects of their sexual desire rather than people with actual thoughts and feelings, or labour laws which counteract the greed that allows business owners to treat workers as objects of generating further wealth. Such regulatory forces are to be unilaterally opposed as they impede the freedom of the market to operate…or, in the case of harassment policies, the freedom of people to be able to have casual sex, apparently. Are you seeing the common thought pattern yet? If not, here: dogmatic opposition to regulations counteracting institutionalized oppression on the basis that they impede some sort of freedom.
I think the skeptical/atheist community needs to take a good, hard look at itself. Specifically, the very loud and indeed very prominent contingent that dogmatically opposes anti-oppression measures of seemingly any sort. Why do we tolerate libertarians, or their debate-club tactics meant to ‘win’ at all costs by scoring ‘points’ rather than come to conclusions on a rational basis? If we pressured the libertarians enough and forced them out, how much of the anti-social justice crowd would go with them? And how much of the skeptical/atheist community is just those libertarians taking comfort in religion as an impediment to their precious freedom and woo as ‘stupid hippy crap’?
* - I will not be discussing libertarianism or capitalism in this post. If you want my thoughts on capitalism I can point you to my previous post, cite the research done by The Equality Trust and then drop Naked Capitalism and The Shock Doctrine on top. If you’re still not convinced, I will ask you why you think that people who lack money do not deserve to survive and wait for you to come up with an answer that doesn’t make you sound like either a complete asshole or someone who has never been to a supermarket.