Mission Creep: #FtBCon liveblogging by @odgreen26

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9:00PM-10:00PM – Kai

Mission Creep: Jason Thibeault discusses his life’s path through various social justice awakenings, and how social justice movements – atheism and skepticism included – all inevitably convergently evolve toward intersectionality.

9:00 PM Hey kids. Just hanging out on standby, waiting for this hour’s presentation to get started…

Jason Thibeault provides an anecdote by Carrie Poppy regarding Mission Creep. Mission creep is basically the derailing of a mission by factions within atheism, each with their own idea for purposes of assignments on lines of morality, politics or “degrees” of skepticism.

Online atheists v Online skeptics: Online atheists are those who are assured in their non-belief in god(s). Online skeptics are those who combat ideas on scientific matters i.e. the existence of Big Foot, the inaccuracies of homeopathy, etc.

9:10 Thibeault relays stories of who he came to terms with his skepticism from a family unit modeled on the 1950’s style nuclear family, complete with superstitions and views on gender roles, until cracks started to form around the time of his confirmation. He didn’t understand the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic church. He phoned in the ceremony as a 13 year old, preferring to spend his time with video games as any young boy would. He became curious as to why adults stuck so heavily to something he didn’t understand and began his research by reading the bible, however reluctantly. When he got to the end, he felt that he’d missed something as the stories didn’t resonate with him. The stories didn’t follow, the morals didn’t make sense, they read as disjointed fables. He decided that his community was wrong about the existence of god, and that everything should be questioned. He played at being a Christian by wearing the plain silver crucifix, hoping that he could pass as one without too much questioning. The crucifix was more a video game icon than anything to him. He had yet to discover the term for what he was: an atheist. He determined that God was as much mythology as Odin.

He was approached by his parents about the age of 15, and asked if the Catholic neighbor had ever tried to touch him. The answer, of course, was no, but the reason he was asked this question was that they’d discovered the neighbor to be gay (not a pedophile).

In his research to find out why the Catholic community in which he grew up, shunned homosexuality, he was pointed to the book of Leviticus. In this part of the old testament, he also discovered cautions against shellfish. In his fish-mongering Canadian town, he’d decided that no one had actually read this book.

9:20 He discovered that he his idea of diversity (that being a few dark-skinned people in his neighborhood) even less than the tip of the iceberg of what could be. A Social Deviance course taught that social conventions were not the only way to function as a society. When he applied skeptical thought to existing prejudices taught by social indoctrination, most of these prejudices fell apart. Women’s studies course taught him about feminism. Religious texts and world histories had discounted the impact of women on history.

The war we fight is a war on ideas, where the wars we fight have a demonstrable effect on the way we treat others. Religion is a purveyor if mentalities that oppress peoples, however unwarranted.

9:25 Some factions of atheism are irrationally anti-feminist. All prejudicial -isms are systems of though that need to be fought, and atheism does not automatically erase prejudices on other grounds.

9:30 Thibeault is proud to adopt the philosophies of Atheism+, as a tool to unify atheists. A disbelief in god(s) is not enough to further the movement. He feels he is obligated by his privilege to use said privilege to level the playing fields. “Without growing our scope, we cannot continue to grow our base.”

This concludes Thibeault’s reading and the floor is open to questions…. of which there are none.

EDIT: When Jason’s presentation ended, so did my connection to the feed for technical difficulty reasons. Jason continued to discuss the importance of FtBCon’s accessibility, and his upcoming panels on video games and religion. His Q&A session is transcribed below. You can check out Thibeault’s presentation video here

Question 1: Has Thibeault ever read ‘Defense of Divisiveness’ or does he have any comments/thoughts on divisiveness? “I don’t recall ever reading it, I love Anya (sp) as a person, I did not read her blog prior to the first time I met her, so I could very well have missed it. My thoughts on divisiveness in general are more along the lines of… if you are not excluding some people, you are de facto excluding others. If you don’t cut out the people who are intentionally trying to attack certain ideas, you are making the environment toxic for other people. If you don’t cut out the anti-feminists, women generally, not just feminists, but women are going to be put off by the entire experience because their issues, their ideas are being derided in front of them. That’s part of the problem with the skeptical and secular communities. There kind of isn’t enough divisiveness. Every time a new great rift is formed, it’s always around something that is actually consequential and not something that only amounts to a 1% difference between our philosophies. While I know that at one point we had done that whole ‘we are the 99%’ identical with regard to ‘yes, we don’t believe in gods, yes we like skeptical, rational thought, we like evidence over made up make-believe.’ But the problems that we keep having are not to do with any of those, they’re to do with other epistemic problems like whether or not privilege exists or is some sort of ‘post-modernist way of thinking’ thing even though it’s actually no more controversial to sociologists than evolution is to evolutionary biologists. I’m more than happy to create rifts… I don’t know if I want to create rifts, I want to allow the rifts that naturally come into being to play out because that’s the only way that we can actually discover whose side on a particular idea really confirms with reality the most.”

Question 2: What should we do about the fact that racism is so prevalent when we look at anything measurable, but in any given situation, we deny that racism is occurring? “That sounds like the idea of micro-aggression. You can’t really identify any one specific thing as racist, but if it forms one thread in the tapestry that is your life, and it all looks racist, everything you encounter is racist to some little degree, yeah you’re going to be able to hear those dog whistles. Being called ‘articulate’ if you’re a black man, obviously, that’s a huge dog whistle. If you call a white man articulate, it doesn’t have the same meaning, especially if it’s done over and over and over again in order to suggest that all black folks are not articulate, for instance. And you’re absolutely right, it happens in just about every social justice cause. How often have you heard that atheists don’t believe in God because they want to sin or because they want to be evil or go out and murder people without consequences? If those straw men, if those incorrect statements about us were more prevalent than they already are, they would form a tapestry where if someone even remotely approaches that idea, we would get defensive because we’re being damaged by chipping damage. It’s another straw, and it happens to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. You can’t look at a single straw and say ‘well it’s just a straw; I can carry that just fine.’ You don’t know how many others are on that person’s back. You don’t know how long that person has been under the water torture device; don’t know how any particular drip with affect them.”

Stephanie Zvan: So is there anything we can do about this? You talked a little about education. I think just being personally aware of the background… Yes, I hate to say it but that’s most of what we can do at the moment, is to make sure everyone is aware. Well, there’s something else we can do. We can make sure that every time somebody does one of these things that creates a new thread for the fabric of someone else’s tapestry of racism or sexism or homophobia, we make sure that there are social consequences; that we fight back against every instance. We don’t just let the trolls be. If you don’t fight the trolls, then you are tacitly allowing them to do damage to other people.

Question 3: What would you like to see happen in the near future in terms of accessibility in the community? “I’m a technological person, so I really think this is something we can deal with technologically so that we don’t have to keep spending so many man hours, hours of considered work doing transcripts when voice recognition can theoretically be dialed in and made better than it is. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen voice recognition on YouTube, but transcripts are often ridiculous. So far they’re not great, they can be improved and that can make a huge difference to the deaf community. Being able to do online conferencing helps shut-ins of all stripes, people who are affected by class concerns, who otherwise might have difficulty getting around crowded conventions because they’re in wheelchairs or they are blind and have seeing-eye dogs. I recall there was an incident at Women in Secularism where apparently there was a person with a seeing-eye dog who suggested to some of the Con-goers that they were not to pet the dog, but those instructions were ignored. Educating people who are going to these conferences that everyone is responsible for helping those who are disadvantaged so that ableism does not become something that you forget about. It’s everyone’s responsibility to prevent the -isms. If all of us are aware and trying to fix those problems, they get fixed. So… strength in numbers.”

Question 4: What do you think about the principle of charity (which was being discussed on the Critical Thinking Panel) and it’s relationship to social justice? I didn’t get to watch most of it. The principle of charity in regard to making sure you are presenting the best form an opponent’s argument, I assume? I’m very pro-that. In my experience, most of the time when people are arguing against my ideas, they’re arguing against straw-person versions of my ideas. They’re not arguing against the substance of them, but at the same time, I noticed that there are some people who do rather lazy jobs of denying the arguments presented by the other side who don’t argue against the best presented form of the idea. We would all benefit from empathizing with where the other person is coming from even when they are saying things that are absolutely odious. I’m not saying don’t get angry, be civil to each other. I’m saying make sure that when you’re tearing the person a new one over the fact that they are treating you like a lesser human being, that you are doing it aimed at the best form of their argument so that you are going to under-cut any further use of that same argument.

Stephanie: How about the part of the principle of charity that talks about not diving into somebody’s motivations? How do we handle that and the fact that sexism, racism, classism, etc are prevalent at the same time? That is difficult. We do have to take care not to try to ascribe motivations to people that pattern recognition kicks in quicker for some people than for others. If you see the same argument over and over again, from a person who intentionally ignores the previous times that that same argument has been rebutted and doesn’t try to improve the argument, you might  start to suspect that the person is actually trolling to see if they can do damage to you. And in a lot of cases, they are. I can’t say that you absolutely need to assume the best intentions from every actor because I’m not naive. I recognize that most people entering a conversation have skin in the game whether it’s one way or the other. And so, they are motivated in some way or another. You can’t really read into that motivation until you’ve gotten enough data to build an idea of what the actual motivations are. I don’t buy into the idea that you have to treat every incident as an isolated one and have to start the conversation from scratch every time the other person tries to reset it.

Question 5: How do you answer those who say social justice topics are anti-Libertarian, and thus we are driving away Libertarian atheists or trying to take the movement over from them? It’s interesting that they have the idea that the movement belongs to them to begin with. I will not deny that they were among the first to found this movement. But in a lot of cases, the libertarian mindset when you come to economic libertarianism, it’s not worn out by reality. Every time that libertarianism has been tried, it’s made a dog’s breakfast of what economy was there. I don’t know if you’ve heard the story of the CEO who bought Sears and then basically ran it into the ground. I was just reading this recently, I don’t have all the facts on it. It was essentially a plan to allow libertarianism to create wealth for him at the expense of everything else about it. He didn’t hire any experts at retail; he hired on numbers people to run the numbers and see if he could make things profitable because any manager worth their salt could just sweep in and be a good manager. It was predicated on math alone. It didn’t work, obviously. Sears is toxic now. It still exists, but it’s not what it used to be. So, while I get that there are people who are libertarians who come from an intellectual civil libertarian background, who might feel that the movement is entirely theirs, I think that a lot of libertarianism is wrapped up in a lot of wishful thinking and it’s among those political ideologies I identified as wishful thinking that are based on cognitive biases that we all have. Anybody who believes in an invisible hand that is actually going to move the marketplace in a positive direction in all cases, assumes that every actor inside of that economy is a rational actor that has the best interests of the entirety at heart, but they aren’t. That’s entirely wishful thinking. It’s entirely predicated on nonsense and if we don’t fight that kind of nonsense, that’s a hole for all sorts of other nonsense. I’m surprised that as many libertarians are as anti-theists as they are when they’ve basically got the wrong faith.

Do you think that atheism+ is in a better position to build a forward, more complete community as religious communities traditionally have? I think it’s a better position than the “just atheists” who are people who refuse to accept any other, or who would just rather have common cause that there is no god. We are certainly in a better position to more fully find the problems that are in our community and deal with them internally if we accept that there are actually some people and some ideologies that under-cut cohesiveness as a society. Because of that, I do feel that atheism+ is definitely better positioned to help individuals within it. It’s already helping individuals within it. There are atheism+ forums for instance, that allow people who need support groups essentially for their particular issues that they can find voice where they don’t necessarily have to worry about people intentionally trolling them or challenging them on aspects of their life that frankly are not controversial and don’t require extraordinary evidence. There are people who are volunteering to do transcriptions and to make sure certain conventions are more accessible and less able-ist. I do feel that any group that identifies primarily both as atheist and as having a strong sense of empathy, they are better going to be able to have that empathy for other people in their own community, even outside, say the humanist volunteers where there were tornadoes or Grief Beyond Belief, that we’re doing a panel for. I could probably rattle off about a dozen more examples if I had more time to think.

Stephanie: Would you say it’s any one group’s responsibility within atheism to create a community that welcomes everybody? For one thing, it’s impossible to welcome everybody. As I was saying, you have to cut out some people who are actually intentionally trying to damage others. You can’t welcome the KKK and Black Freethinkers of America in the same building. It won’t work. One is going to be put out by the other or there are going to be violent clashes. You need to pick which side on these axes you actually want to throw in with and that’s probably why there’s a lot of push back on libertarianism because the ideas behind libertarianism that involve personal responsibility and governmental non-interference also suggest that there should be absolutely no controls over who gets to be part of a movement and who doesn’t. So, any attempt to kick out irrational actors who are intentionally acting against the best interests of large swells of our community, they see that as overreach, they see that as fascism, so really it’s impossible to be accepting to everyone. So it’s not really any one group’s responsibility to be accepting of everybody because if you try to do that ‘big tent atheism,’ that’s what got us into this mess in the first place. That’s where the people who are feminists and the people who are anti-feminists are inter-clashing and that’s where the people who are okay with skepticism except with regard to religion and the people who are anti-religious to the point of hating on some very amazing people in the skeptical community who also happen to believe in some loose-goose, pie in the sky god who controls the universe but doesn’t, that the universe is god or pantheism or something like that… I’m not sure where I was going with that.

Stephanie: Well, we are out of questions. I don’t know if you have anything else to say before we go ahead and end the godcast. I hope that everyone enjoyed this conference. I hope that everyone gets something out of it. I’m sure even the haters will get something out of it. There are lots of sound bites in this for you to rip apart. Have fun, guys!

Blogger’s note: I’m happy I had to go and revisit this. We did enjoy this, Jason. We did.

Fin.

About the Author:

Kai is an OKC transplant from DC as of December 2012, but was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii. She does nothing whatsoever with the Architecture degree she earned from UVA, instead preferring to busy herself with foodie matters, education activism and adopting art projects. Her professional background includes service in the Air Force, structural security advising at MCB Quantico and a long history of graphic and web design. She is the Social Media and Events Coordinator for FreeOK, and contributing planner to the Beyond Belief Network and a contributing writer for The Red Dirt Report.

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