A Fracturing Movement
Over at Atheist Neighbor, Devitek Pond recently put up an article about factions within the skeptical movement, and the problem of cohesiveness. He suggests that these factions are a huge problem, and that while individuals may have differing opinions, as a group we must “share the same goals and purpose”, however he says that thus far he has yet to see an answer to how to become a unified group. I agree that many people within the skeptical movement have been acting like a bunch of highschoolers trying to form cliques, but I also believe we should examine the claim that unity is necessary, before we start to make claims about how to become unified.
To begin, Pond suggests that “If you don’t want to stand up for women’s rights, or for education, or for any of the issues that are important to the progress of humanity, that’s fine–you can keep your damn mouth shut, though, because despite whether you want to or not, you’re gonna eat your vegetables. You are going to help the group, and doing so when you don’t necessarily want to is called making a sacrifice.” While there are certain elements of this sentiment that seem spot on (you don’t have to agree with all the pet causes in a movement to be part of the movement), he seems rather militant about suppressing dissident voices. There may be room for those who see a problem with supporting women’s rights to speak up.
However the problem today seems to be less with the fact that there are factions who don’t care or don’t want to be involved with interests of other factions and more with the fact that certain factions (women and minorities) are being actively stamped out (such as the recent TAM debacle). So the problem here is not different voices speaking out with their opinions. That’s pretty much always a good thing. The problem is that no one is listening to the voices that are always suppressed. And that is a problem. We will continue to faction if each group says that they will only pay attention to their own interests. If old white men continue to only remain interested in the issues facing old white men, then the group will splinter, because young lesbian women will want to talk about their issues, and middle aged black men will want to talk about their issues and gender-queer ex Muslims will want to talk about their issues. The problem here is not that there are so many people with so many opinions in this movement, and the problem is certainly not that some people are expressing the wrong opinion and other people are expressing the right opinion, so the wrong people should shut up and sacrifice for the right. The problem is a lack of listening.
Listening seems to be at the root of many of these splinters. When women like Rebecca Watson have asked conferences to instate harassment policies and the conferences don’t listen, we get splintering. When the old guard tries to express their fears and hesitations and the young ones only see close mindedness, we get splintering. And this is where the hard work and the sacrifice comes from. It comes from putting aside your own interests and truly listening to what other people are saying before picking up your own thoughts again and trying to come to a good compromising decision. This means every single type of skeptic has to be willing to be skeptical about themselves.
And that’s where I believe our movement has power. We pride ourselves on thinking critically, on questioning dogma, on moving past false beliefs. If any movement could learn to truly listen to other experiences and question our own to come to a better synthesis of information, it is skeptics. We already have the same goals and purpose: to think rationally and question unfounded beliefs, generally for the betterment of humanity. So now we need to put those goals into practice in our own community by starting fresh with our opinions and asking: how can we best serve the needs of all members of our community? What dialogue will take us the furthest? We’re smart people. I bet we can find a good answer.