Amy usually takes the Afternoon Inquisition on Tuesdays, but I’ve grabbed it today because she’s busy sculpting a life-size tribute to PZ Myers out of mashed potatoes and squid parts. So here’s what I’d like to see you all discuss today:
Recently, someone I respect very much suggested I edit my post on Richard Dawkins to make it clear that I wasn’t calling for an organized boycott of his work due to his dismissal of sexism in our community. She was concerned that a boycott would weaken our community, and that we should strive to support one another in the areas in which we agree, even if we disagree in other areas. She wants people to read Dawkins’ books on atheism since that advances our goals as non-believers, even though her own disagreement with him and other prominent atheists may color her own buying decisions.
She makes a good point, and for the record, I did edit the post to clarify that I’m not declaring a boycott. I am making a personal decision to not support Dawkins because he does not support me . . . an organized boycott would most likely also include me asking others to do so and perhaps even shaming those who continue to support him, something that I have never done.
My friend’s suggestion, though, has led me to seriously consider if I would ever support an organized boycott against someone in our community with whom I fundamentally disagreed. And I think the answer is a qualified “yes.”
While I think there’s something to be said for putting aside minor quibbles in favor of the greater goal, there are times when I disagree with what qualifies as “minor.” Sexual equality is, to me, a crucial aspect of humanism and a very important goal that we as secularists and skeptics should strive for. There are those in our community who don’t actively campaign for sexual equality, which is fine, but then there are those whose words and actions damage our ability to reach that equality. I would prefer that we not make famous non-believers who will speak for us and say things that are contrary to humanistic values, and when our movement’s leaders do say things that are contrary to our values I think that it’s helpful for us to demonstrate to the public at large that we as a community don’t condone those words. A boycott is one tool available to activists who want to make their dissatisfaction known, and time has shown it to be an effective tool at that.
Dawkins isn’t the only one I’m thinking of while pondering this stuff. Bill Maher has occasionally said clever and interesting things from an atheistic and secular perspective, but he’s also said plenty of nasty stuff about women and about how vaccinations are poisoning our children. So, I will personally never buy one of his books, attend his talks, or upvote the endless stream of atheist Maher quotes that pop up on Reddit, because I don’t want someone to think that he speaks for me when it comes to issues that frankly I find much more important than whether or not there’s a god. And if some group of skeptics wanted to launch a boycott of his work, I don’t see anything wrong with that at all. It tells the world that we don’t have infallible Popes of skepticism, and that we’re not going to make Faustian deals to advance our message.
So, considering all that, and considering that I’m always yelling at the other Skepchick writers to keep the Afternoon Inquisitions short and to the point:
What do you think of public inter-movement criticism? How much should skeptics, atheists, and secularists be willing to sacrifice in order to further the cause?
Let’s keep the comments productive! I’ll be moderating away any trolls, non-clever insults, and blatant stupidity.