Friday, January 11, 2013

Infighting in the Fish Bowl (with a bonus feminist rant)

This blog entry is written specifically to atheists, and even more specifically to those atheists who dwell in the blogosphere for whom names like Rebecca Watson, Ray Comfort, PZ Myers, and Thunderf00t are household names. I have friends who are atheists, and they know nothing about these people, and they know nothing about Elevatorgate or Atheism+ or The (so-called) Amazing Atheist or the infamous VenomFangX debacle of Internet gone by. I envy these friends of mine when it comes to such things, but I was also a bit disappointed when I ran into Matt Dillahunty at a rest area in Illinois on Christmas day and had no one in my phone's contact list whom I could tell who'd appreciate that random gem.

Do we even realize just how small of a subgroup we are? You know, those of us who read blogs and get into online debates and care about the bickering and infighting that occurs in the virtual world of Internet atheism? I don't think so. I think we've come to believe that we represent atheism en total plenitud, and when we get on our soapboxes about, say, which atheists aren't being good feminists, or how Thunderf00t let his miniscule amount of noteriety get to his head and has become mostly irrelevant (which he has, but whatever), we think we're addressing a subject matter that most atheists do (or should) care about. And that's simply not the case.

Don't get me wrong, I've had my share of things to say - both positive and negative - about such giant fish in the tiny fish bowl, like Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, Thunderf00t, John Loftus, and the Amazing Atheist. I'm not saying we should never address concerns among members of this online community, but I wonder whether we've gone too far. "Delusions of grandeur" is the phrase that comes to mind. I have an ego, but I'd never try to, say, start a boycott of Richard Dawkins or start a new wave of atheism*. Why? Because I know my place. Intentions may be noble, but I question whether we've drifted from the goals we've set and the virtues we've sought to uphold and subsequently turned our community into a drawn-out episode of MTV's The Real World.

I was prompted to write this after reading this article written by Bridget Gaudette on emilyhasbooks:

So You Value Feminism and Diversity? Prove It.

I recommend reading her article. I would like to also recommend ignoring Thunderf00t, but I won't be so presumptuous. All I will say is that my life as an online atheist improved dramatically when I stopped watching/reading folks like Thunderf00t and PZ Myers. Who you watch/read is up to you. The important point isn't drawing battle lines with other folks in our little fish bowl. I agree with Bridgette here: "Can it not be about that please? Can it be about us valuing feminism and diversity?" I made my choice of who to watch/read based on my desire to focus on the issues that matter most, not the personalities we love and love to hate. Bridgette was referring specifically to feminism and diversity, but this also applies to the other atheist-related issues as well.

But let's talk about feminism for a moment, since the subject was raised. Feminism has certainly been a hot-button topic for those of us in the online atheist fish bowl. I read another blog entry recently by Evid3nc3, who happens to be a YouTuber who has made some rather exceptional videos about atheism and religion. He wrote this article on his blog: Why I am not a Feminist. Evid3nc3 is not saying he's anti-woman or anti-equality. Quite the opposite, in fact. He's just opposed to the feminist label.

I call myself a feminist because that's just easier for me when it comes to explaining what I think about equality and fairness. I know people who stand for everything I stand for yet don't use the label "feminist." Fine. I'm not saying everyone should use it. What I am saying is that we've spent way too much time arguing over labels instead of addressing the concerns that led to the creation of those labels in the first place. We spend way too much time debating words when we should be discussing meanings. Evid3nc3 wrote that "having a Gender Equity movement called 'Feminism' doesn’t make sense if your goal is to keep a vigilant watch on the rights of all genders." My retort is simply that one's use of the word "feminist" does not in any way imply that one is concerned only for the rights and equality of women. It's a word, and like any word, it has a meaning, and that meaning is often contingent upon the meaning one gives it. If it's a word you don't care for, then don't use it. What matters is whether you agree with what the word stands for.

This doesn't just apply to those of us in the online atheist fish bowl, although we are certainly guilty of fighting over which words and labels we use, which is why our fish bowl is currently divided even further by such things as whether or not a plus sign is found on the end of one's "atheism" label. What I mean to say is, the world is bigger than our little fish bowl, and the issues are bigger than any of our fish bowl's online celebrities, and bigger than any label we use to approach those issues. We should employ labels loosely and define them carefully.


* Well, I guess I actually did start a new wave of atheism, but I did so ironically.

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