Deep Rifts: A Fairy Tale
A pale, wrinkled face approaches. Its owner clears his throat and proceeds to tell what he calls a true tale of absolute horror:
Once upon a time, in a place very like this one (but not quite — plate tectonics and all), there was a community of people dedicated to reality-based thinking. All they talked about was how Bigfoot doesn’t exist, psychics are frauds, and homeopathy doesn’t work. There were no disagreements within the group. They never made statements about anything but taking down claims of the paranormal and debunking pseudoscience. All of these people just happened to be white and male, but they never actually said people who weren’t white and male couldn’t join.
Then, one bleak day, some people who weren’t white and male came along and ruined the whole thing by complaining about stuff that had nothing to do with the True Meaning of the movement. They wouldn’t stop. Some of the white males even joined up with these fight-picking types. The True Meaning of their movement became sullied and the Actual Goals diluted. Never before had people not wanted to join for any reason, but now, people disgusted by all the squabbling left or decided not to join. The True Heroes who bravely proposed that nothing but Bigfoot et. al. ought to be discussed were silenced, and darkness overtook the land.
This tale about the early days of skepticism and/or atheism (but especially skepticism) serves as the foundational myth in the minds of not only explicitly anti-feminist skeptics, but has also taken root in the minds of those who claim disdain for “both sides”/”all that unnecessary fighting” as well as those who long for what they see as a past where skepticism was “real” skepticism, without any hint of feminism, anti-racism, and LGBT advocacy. Some in the latter group might even be sympathetic to the plight of marginalized groups but feel that skepticism should be kept free and clear of those issues.
To them, I present an alternative creation story.
Someone approaches. You might be curious as to what they look like, but it appears that their face is glued to their palm.
The palm pivots to one side a bit to reveal a mouth, which begins to recount a curious tale:
In a time not so long ago, I was treated unfairly because of something about me that set me apart from the rest of the overall population. I heard whispers of a community of people who defined themselves by their dedication to reality-based thinking. I was heartened to hear of such a group — where no claim went unexamined — and was sure that I’d be able to find a place with them. When I finally made my visit, I immediately saw that all of these people were white and male. Although I felt some suspicion and wondered why it was so, I reminded myself that they never actually said people who weren’t white and male couldn’t join, so I joined anyway.
I soon discovered why. Their constant “jokes” about what made me other to them, their comments and remarks, their insistence that I act and think exactly the way that they did, their refusal to apply skeptical principles to what they held dear, their general inability to see beyond their own perspective, and, worst of all, their silence towards those who blatantly insulted me — all that wore me down. I thought about quitting, but realized that I had as much of a right to the principles they claimed to uphold as they did.
Still, I didn’t want to make too big of a deal out of it. Then, I started talking about it, quietly at first. I found out that there were people like me who left or didn’t join in the first place because of the treatment they received. This outraged me. The principles in which I believed so dearly were becoming associated with prejudice and oppression and rejected based on that by people like me. I decided that I would fight to end this sullying of the reputation of my community by working to improve it. I applied the very principles we all claimed to hold dear to their own prejudices and….
Just as “New Atheism” is sometimes viewed as more combative, confrontational, and aggressive merely because its members do not stand by as their rights are violated, the new faces of skepticism are seen by some as unnecessarily divisive. In reality, those divisions have existed for a long time and were invisible to those who were not directly affected by them. Closeting these issues forced those hoping to change them to feel alone and unable to gain allies in their fight.
A separation between social justice issues and rest of the concerns of skepticism is the luxury of those who do not belong to a group that has been — and indeed, some that still very much are — marginalized by skepticism. The struggles have been obvious and painful to many of us long before they became readily apparent to everyone else. While I (and everyone else, likely) wish the changes could have happened with less vitriol, they’ve still made skepticism a better place for more and more people by, among other things, thoroughly dispelling any false notion that skepticism (and atheism) are the exclusive province of white men.
Since when was more of what we all claim to hold dear a bad thing?