A Response to "The White Stuff"

Earlier this week, I posted a piece by Sikivu Hutchinson, “The White Stuff“, about the legacy of racism in science and to what extent issues of race affect the atheist movement. Today, I want to write a response to that piece and venture some of my own thoughts on the subject.

To begin, I want to echo one of the more common objections raised in the comments: this piece was long on criticisms, short on suggested solutions. Granted, it’s not the responsibility of every woman or member of a minority to educate white males on the explicit and implicit prejudices that still exist in our society (just as it’s not the responsibility of every atheist to educate believers on the privileges afforded to religion). But if you’re going to take the time to write about this at all, why not offer at least some suggestions as to what we can do about it?

However, that said, I still appreciate Hutchinson’s bringing up this topic. Even if we don’t know the solutions, this is something we should be talking about. As atheists, we should appreciate the value of consciousness-raising, of enlightening people to prejudices they may not even have realized they were holding. And as a political movement, we should recognize the value of including people of all types, including women and minorities – if for no other reason, then because it will make our criticisms more consistent and effective when we point out the examples of explicit racism that still exist in many religions – but more importantly, because I believe we have the most to offer to groups that have historically suffered the most from religious oppression.

For that reason, I strongly disagree with sentiments like this one from the comments:

I never thought I would see racial politics being brought into atheist discourse… It saddens me that, once again, skin colour and gender have taken center stage in an arena in which they do not belong.

I reject the suggestion that issues of race and gender “do not belong” in atheist discourse. Again, I agree with Hutchinson that not having to think about these issues is a privilege reserved almost exclusively for white males, whereas most women and minorities are confronted with them on a daily basis. That makes it all the more important that we do think about and discuss them, even those of us who don’t have to.

Refusal to consider the possibility of unconscious bias is a sure way to perpetuate such bias, and to perpetuate the hostility that – like it or not – some women and people of color have felt from our movement and that’s dissuaded them from joining us. Whether you think these criticisms are valid or not, the fact that they’re being made clearly proves that some people feel snubbed. As good skeptics, we should make every effort to find out why that is, and to bend over backwards looking for anything we might have done wrong rather than dismiss the possibility out of hand. After all, we’re asking religious people to reevaluate their entire worldview – the least we can do in the name of honesty is to subject our own to that same scrutiny.

I do want to take issue with a few of Hutchinson’s specific points. For instance:

Surveys that suggest that atheist affiliation actually reflects race/gender demographics similar to say a John Birch Society confab are dismissed as being just the way it is because white boys naturally dominate science and are better writers anyway.

I don’t agree that atheists’ race and gender demographics are as distorted relative to the general population as Hutchinson suggests here. Although it is true that our movement has a decided (though not overwhelming) imbalance of males, according to the 2008 ARIS results, our racial breakdown in terms of black, white and Hispanic is virtually identical to the general population. Granted, she might be calling attention to the lack of visible, well-known atheist spokespeople who are women or people of color; in that case I would be more inclined to agree, though again there are notable exceptions.

However, more importantly, I think the accusation leveled in this paragraph is false. I know of no prominent atheist who has suggested that white males “naturally” dominate science, or that we are better writers than members of other race and gender groups. (If any counterexamples are given, I’d be glad to join in condemning them.) I know that such sentiments have been expressed by certain people, but I’m not aware of any well-known atheists who’ve done so.

If there’s anything that does concern me, it’s the attitude I’ve observed in many atheists when this topic is brought up – the casual, automatic dismissiveness that claims this can’t possibly be a problem, that only whiners and malcontents say otherwise, and therefore there’s no need for us to engage in any self-examination or consider whether we’re inadvertently perpetuating any prejudice. We should know better than to say this because, as atheists, we ourselves have been on the receiving end of that patronizing message so often.

It’s not PC to suggest in the science-besotted circle jerk of atheist-supernaturalist smackdowns that Hottentot-obsessed traditions of scientific racism and fire and brimstone Judeo-Christian religiosity went gleefully hand in hand for much of the West’s enlightened history.

Again, I know no one who is expressing this sentiment. Most atheists do recognize that science has been used to serve awful ends, from Sarah Baartman to the Tuskegee experiments. Science is a tool for gaining knowledge about the world, and like any tool, it can be misused. But the actions of ignorant and hateful men do not impugn the tool itself. Nor do they prove that science is an intrinsically white, male, or “Western” enterprise, or that it does not produce objective truth about the world, and I unequivocally reject any suggestion to the contrary.

And it flies in the face of the myth of meritocracy to suggest that eminent white philosophers and scientists don’t “focus” on race and gender because their identities are based on not seeing it.

I also do not agree that prominent white male atheists have neglected issues of race and gender. For instance, in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins devotes an entire chapter (chapter 7) to these issues in the context of how our society’s moral attitudes have changed over the decades. He quotes prominent thinkers of the past, including Thomas Henry Huxley, Abraham Lincoln and H.G. Wells, to illustrate how even people who were progressive social reformers by the standards of their day held attitudes which we would describe as intolerable racism. Christopher Hitchens writes in God Is Not Great about Martin Luther King Jr. and the “filthy injustice” of racism. Daniel Dennett writes in Breaking the Spell about how racism is recognized as a great social evil and how this affects the legitimate scientific study of racial differences (for example, how people of different ethnicities may respond to certain drugs). One could argue that the New Atheists don’t pay enough attention to these issues or don’t treat them in sufficient depth, but to argue that they neglect them entirely is a charge that is simply not true.

Our movement is about atheism, not about racism or sexism, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We don’t have to give up our chosen cause altogether to address a different injustice. (Individuals, of course, can belong to more than one cause at once.) But, at the very least, these are issues we should be aware of – what they consist of, how they impact our movement (because they do), and how we can avoid obvious blunders. This is the right thing to do morally, will make the atheist movement more open and welcoming to people of all kinds, and will help us avoid repeating the mistakes that so many societies have made in the past.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Well said! I couldn’t agree more: these problems are still problems even though we are getting better, we need to be on the lookout for them, but that doesn’t mean that we’re all being part of the problem right the Hell now. I especially agree on the bit about dismissiveness – it’s really tempting to say, “Well, I’m better than those assholes, so I don’t think I need to improve at all.”

  • Sarah Braasch

    I fully concur. Excellent response. I would love to hear from Sikivu. I know that she took quite a beating in the comments, so she might not be interested, but I would love to hear her response.

    To be honest, I was surprised by the vitriol and the sweeping generalizations of this piece. (Not that I have never engaged in vitriolic sweeping generalizations. A good rant does sometimes have its place.) But, to direct it at the very community that you are attempting to engage struck me as an odd choice.

    It makes me wonder if something specific motivated her. A specific event or act by an atheist or within the atheist community.

    She may just have been intending to provoke a strong reaction and the subsequent discussion on race within the atheist community.

    If so, then she certainly accomplished that goal, but at what cost to her credibility I wonder.

  • PostOldGreek

    Just for the record, people expecting to hear from Sikivu may be disappointed. This piece was first “born” out of the comments from her original interview with Greta Christina. She brought up a few of these issue, the commenters there took issue (in a similar way to the people here have done) and Sikivu replied in the comments with some of the same exact phrases found in the above article.

    The same piece has also been posted at the New Humanist web site.

    The anger present in this piece was grown out of the comments replying to her much-more-subtle interview with Greta. I suggest reading that interview in whole before judging the emotions present.
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/06/sikivu-hutchinson-black-atheist.html

    That said I think intentionally being “inclusive” is the same as being intentionally seeking “diversity.”

    Intentionally seeking diversity is the same as reverse-racism. Either you hire, admire or otherwise “include” someone based solely on their merits, or you don’t. When you don’t, it’s racism/sexism/etc. It really is that simple to me.

    But I’m open to rebuttal.

  • Ric

    The reason that minorities embrace religion at a higher rate than they embrace atheism is primarily a historical one, and yes, it’s the legacy of racism. For example, African Americans turned to Christianity, blending it with aspects of their own religions, to help them weather slavery. But it wasn’t atheism that enslaved them or atheism that oppressed the other minorities. To then blame atheism for the idea that more minorities don’t embrace it is to ignore the reasons for the higher rate of religiosity among minorities. It is misplaced censure, and it’s logically perverse. It’s mistaking effect for cause.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    Atheists, the visible ones at any rate, are already doing the best thing they can do to battle racism, sexism and otherisms in general. They do it by promoting critical thought, evidence based opinion and belief and by criticising the biggest promoter of inequality, organised religion. Sexism and Racism are irrational bigotries. Neither stands up to scrutiny either on a scientific or moral basis and the more we spread that message, the quicker they will disappear.

  • Ric

    Steve @ 4: You said: “They do it by promoting critical thought, evidence based opinion and belief”

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I get the impression that Sikivu was suggesting touting the primacy of critical thought and evidence-based opinion is a result of white priviledge.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I get the impression that Sikivu was suggesting touting the primacy of critical thought and evidence-based opinion is a result of white priviledge.

    I am sure she was, it is another part of the post-modern rhetoric. But “evidence” points to the fact that there is more diversity within races than between them, evidence illustrates that homo-sexuality is not a “lifestyle choice”, evidence shows that women are at least as competent as men. I vote for evidence whatever its cultural ancestry.

  • ThatOtherGuy

    “To be honest, I was surprised by the vitriol and the sweeping generalizations of this piece. (Not that I have never engaged in vitriolic sweeping generalizations. A good rant does sometimes have its place.) But, to direct it at the very community that you are attempting to engage struck me as an odd choice.”

    That’s what put me off. The whole thing was tremendously negative and hostile TOWARDS THE READER, and that never strikes me as a good idea. When you’re trying to get people to examine how they treat others, it’s best not to bludgeon or berate them.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    I do know that Hitchins has some pretty sexist writings (off-hand I can recall him discussing how women are intrinsically less funny than men), and he does seem to have a special animosity for Arabs, but other than those nitpicks I agree.

    I missed the chance to respond in the thread, but the particular comment you quoted at the top made me think “well, I didn’t agree with large portions of this essay, and I was disappointed about the lack of evidence presented, but comments like this make me think the author is right!”

  • Alex, FCD

    Christopher Hitchens writes in God Is Not Great about Martin Luther King Jr. and the “filthy injustice” of racism.

    Does this strike anybody else as a bit rich? I think Mr. Hitchens is rather more a part of the problem than a part of the solution.

  • J

    *Does this strike anybody else as a bit rich? I think Mr. Hitchens is rather more a part of the problem than a part of the solution.*

    No. I think it’s pretty much spot-on and that you’re a moron, Alex.

  • keddaw

    There is nothing fundamental about atheism that means you couldn’t also be a racist, sexist moron. I think there should be people looking out for it and it most definitely shouldn’t be met with a ‘couldn’t happen to us, we’re too bright for that kind of thing’ response.

    Having said that, I haven’t read any racist comments or many sexist posts, so maybe we’re doing okay for now.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    There is nothing fundamental about atheism that means you couldn’t also be a racist, sexist moron

    I think this is true, there are a lot of WYDYD type atheists out there who are no more rationalists than your average fundie wingnut. But these are not usually the atheists who discuss it and I doubt many of us here would find much common ground with them. I do however think that those who identify with the “Bright” movement, humanists, and people who hang around the atheosphere generally are less likely to be racist/sexist/homophobic whatever than the general population.

  • Thumpalumapcus

    Honestly, what put me off of Sikuvu’s polemic was the implicit premise that, as a white man, I haven’t even given this issue any worthwhile thought. I was sorry to see this objection unraised in Adam’s reply.

  • Entomologista

    Intentionally seeking diversity is the same as reverse-racism. Either you hire, admire or otherwise “include” someone based solely on their merits, or you don’t. When you don’t, it’s racism/sexism/etc. It really is that simple to me.

    The reason this is wrong is because people have unconscious biases. Even the best-intentioned person can be guilty of assuming a woman will just quit to have babies, and therefore not hire a woman. One really good example is a study my sociologist friend did in which he found that employers were much less likely to call applicants in for an interview if the address put on the job application was from certain poor parts of the city. Intentionally seeking to increase diversity gets around the problem of “I just like this able-bodied, upper-class, straight, Christian, white male better. He just seems more qualified, I don’t know why!”

    Additionally, you can’t ignore history. White people own and have access to significantly more wealth than most other groups. This is because we didn’t routinely have our property stolen or trashed and we’ve had a lot more time to accumulate wealth and pass it down through the generations. So it makes a lot of sense to have things like specific scholarships for minorities because it makes up for the fact that their grandparents, unlike my grandparents, did not have the opportunity to create wealth.

    And then there’s the problem of people who are just out-and-out bigots and will only hire white males given the opportunity.

  • Jormungund

    The anger present in this piece was grown out of the comments replying to her much-more-subtle interview with Greta. I suggest reading that interview in whole before judging the emotions present.
    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/06/sikivu-hutchinson-black-atheist.html

    Reading more of Sikivu’s post-modern rhetoric is infuriating. I can’t stand post-modernism and I can’t stand those who phrase their speech and arguments in a post-modern manner. The fact that she has succummed to this intellectual disease and therefor denounces science as a being the racist realm of white men discredits her in my eyes.

    Dawkins may risk having his civil liberties compromised in some contexts if he speaks out on atheism but his identity as a white male, and his authority to do so, will not be called into question.

    No one questions Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Niel Degrasse Tyson’s authority to speak either. The white male privilege to challenge the status quo is imaginary. Non-whites and women can and do challenge the status quo and their authority to do so had not, to my knowledge, been called into question. I get the feeling that Sikivu is imagining a lot of this privilege and hierarchy.
    Racism exists and is a bad thing, but playing identity politics and beating the post-modernism drum won’t fix that or make anything better.

  • Sarah Braasch

    PostOldGreek,

    Thank you for explaining. Someone posted a link to the interview with Greta Christina in the other thread, but hadn’t explained the context.

    I actually enjoyed reading this interview. I thought Sikivu brought up some interesting points.

    I admit that I didn’t read the comments to that interview. Now I wish I had.

    Reading that interview, because it is so reasoned and intelligent, left me really confused about this piece.

    I’m going to go read the comments now.

    But, I wish, in response to those comments to the interview, Sikivu had written a piece that explained that context, a very personal piece, that explained her reaction to those comments.

    That would have been compelling and could have touched people in a way that this piece obviously didn’t.

    I know, I know — of course it was her prerogative to respond as she wished.

    But, that could have been a powerful piece.

  • Alex, FCD

    No. I think it’s pretty much spot-on and that you’re a moron, Alex.

    In light of this reasoned criticism, the poster is invited to bite me.

    Now that that’s out of the way: here’s PZ on Hitchens on race relations:

    “This was made even more clear in the Q&A;. He was asked to consider the possibility that bombing and killing was only going to accomplish an increase in the number of people opposing us. Hitchens accused the questioner of being incredibly stupid (the question was not well-phrased, I’ll agree, but it was clear what he meant), and said that it was obvious that every Moslem you kill means there is one less Moslem to fight you … which is only true if you assume that every Moslem already wants to kill Americans and is armed and willing to do so.
    “Basically, what Hitchens was proposing is genocide. Or, at least, wholesale execution of the population of the Moslem world until they are sufficiently cowed and frightened and depleted that they are unable to resist us in any way, ever again.”

    Reference.

    In addition Hitchens’ sexism has been amply documented elsewhere, including by theman086 above. He is not, repeat not a good example of a prominent atheist who is concerned with racial and sexual equality [1]. I don’t disagree with the quote posted, but he’s got a few beams to remove from his own eye.

    [1] Which is, of course, not to say that such people don’t exist. Adam mentioned Dawkins and Dennett, and I certainly have no quarrel with that. P.Z. Myers and Amanda Marcotte also write about feminist issues (to greater and lesser degrees), Henry Morgentaler is an atheist, Peter Singer spends most of his time advocating for increased aid to poorer countries…the list could go on.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Hmmm. Did I miss something? I just read all of the comments to Sikivu’s interview with Greta Christina. Yes, there were people who questioned Sikivu’s position, but Greta Christina defends Sikivu’s position vehemently and effectively and eloquently. Also, like Greta says in one of her comments — we’re having a conversation, not a fight.

    It was a conversation. No one got crazy. It was a great opportunity to address the atheist community on this issue, including the pro and the con.

    I’m not seeing whatever it was supposed to have been that inspired the vitriol in the piece here.

    Help?

  • Thumpalumapcus

    The only thing I could see, Sarah, was this:

    Does this post strike anyone else as stereotypical California-liberal style guilt-mongering? It’s somehow my fault there aren’t more prominent atheists from whatever group? Must we have this fight?

    Posted by: Patrick

    and a couple of similar, though less knee-jerk, responses. Even so, I share your confusion as to how they might’ve inspired the reply they apparently did.

  • jemand

    @Sarah and Thumpalumapcus, those comments were probably a trigger for remembering previous worse examples.

  • efrique

    I recall the original article over at Greta Christina’s blog.

    If someone suggests to me that a group I’m a member of is being sexist or racist or whatever (and maybe I am too), even if they don’t put it “nicely”, I do my damnedest to hear them out, and really see if there’s something to it.

    Often, there is.

    It’s not always obvious when you’re not the one subject to it, but if you listen and try to be aware of it, you can often notice that there are some examples that you may not have picked up on before.

    I note that many atheists are aware of the subtle and not so subtle religious prejudices that are all around them, and also aware that many people of religion seem utterly blind to their inbuilt privileges and their own (if often minor) prejudice.

    We need to try to understand that this is a human trait, and humans are still every bit as capable of doing it when they think they’re being all rational and such (and occasionally even more so).

    I am far from taking everything that Hutchinson said as gospel (heh), but it’s definitely something I want to be aware of the possibility of and look out for.

  • Maynard

    The problem is at home. It doesn’t matter whose home. It’s your home, and my home. It’s my parents home. It’s the little shack and the big mansion. It’s Sarah Braasch’s childhood of horrific mental & physical abuse and my childhood of none. What do you you teach your children? How do you react to your grandparents biases? What do you tell yourself?

    We can scream out our likes, dislikes and opinions for days on end. What we do in our very local environments will be the deciding factor. It’s going to be grassroots if it’s ever anything at all.

    Tell it through whatever language suits you best. Just pass the word of reason to whoever will consider it valid.

  • Charlie

    Here’s a good video from zjemptv about homophobia in the atheist community:

    Gay-hating atheists

    I think that privilege is a hard concept to swallow. Also I think it’s a continuum instead of binary (compared to people in the third world, anyone who gets to use the internet regularly is very privileged). That part tends to get lost in the shuffle of arguing “you have privilege!”/”No I don’t!” Finally, people who are lobbying the public at large to acknowledge and combat inequity can and do make mistakes/hold incorrect views/etc. But despite all that I think this it’s important to continue critically examining our core beliefs about ourselves and our society, particularly the implicit ones.

  • Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Daylight Atheism > A Response to “The White Stuff” [daylightatheism.org] on Topsy.com

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    Steve Bowen: there are a lot of WYDYD type atheists out there – This means “when you’re dead, you’re dead” right? Isn’t that practically all atheists?

  • Frank

    –Steve Bowen: there are a lot of WYDYD type atheists out there – This means “when you’re dead, you’re dead” right? Isn’t that practically all atheists?

    Many Buddhists are atheists (in the sense of not believing in God, not in the sense of asserting He doesn’t exist), but they also think we are trapped in a cycle of rebirths (“Samsara”) and that the best we can do with it is find a way to stop Samsara and really become extinct.

    It occurs to me that atheism removes one of the major arguments for human tolerance–the teaching that we are all children of a loving God. Of course most atheists de-emphasize the loving nature of the god of most religions, but doing so is a distortion. Religious myth can be used to promote bigotry, but far more powerful is the use of religious faith to promote human tolerance. Also, honesty forces me to mention that there have been some really awful atheists in human history too.

  • Alex, FCD

    It occurs to me that atheism removes one of the major arguments for human tolerance–the teaching that we are all children of a loving God.

    Unless you can show that the result of this is that atheists are actually less tolerant than religious people, I’d be forced to conclude that we don’t really need that argument. There are better ones, ones that don’t have false premises.

    Anyhow, I think you’ll find that this argument is a fairly recent one, probably concurrent with the development of secular ethical systems like utilitarianism and Kant’s categorical imperative. It didn’t seem to have occurred to the Israelites of the Old Testament, for example.

    Also, honesty forces me to mention that there have been some really awful atheists in human history too.

    There have been some really awful believers as well. Hitler probably believed in God, Cromwell springs to mind, some of the more rotten Popes… I’d venture to say that there have been more thoroughly evil believers than thoroughly evil atheists, simply because the former group is larger. Know what that means about religious belief?

    Nothing.

  • J

    *It occurs to me that atheism removes one of the major arguments for human tolerance–the teaching that we are all children of a loving God.*

    This teaching has never been applied in any serious way by the adherents of any religion, anywhere, ever.

    *(Of course most atheists de-emphasize the loving nature of the god of most religions, but doing so is a distortion.*

    No it isn’t. It’s completely historically accurate.

    *Religious myth can be used to promote bigotry, but far more powerful is the use of religious faith to promote human tolerance.*

    Religious myth has never been a force for human tolerance. Ever.

    *Also, honesty forces me to mention that there have been some really awful atheists in human history too.*

    So? There have been far more really awful Christians, Jews and Muslims.

  • J

    *Additionally, you can’t ignore history.*

    No, but I didn’t author history, so why am I responsible for remedying it? I never owned slaves. I never stole land from Mexicans or Native Americans. Why do I have to pay for their descendants to go to college (except insofar as I pay for ALL people of a certain level of need to go to college by paying taxes to support the Pell grant program and subsidization of student loans)?

    *So it makes a lot of sense to have things like specific scholarships for minorities because it makes up for the fact that their grandparents, unlike my grandparents, did not have the opportunity to create wealth.*

    My grandparents didn’t “have the opportunity to create wealth*. They fled from their own damn problems around 1900. Why do I have to get obligatorily lumped into the “thou shalt pay extra but not benefit from it” group just because of the color of my skin? Oh, wait, there’s a word for that: Racism.

  • Frank

    –This teaching has never been applied in any serious way by the adherents of any religion, anywhere, ever.

    Well, I strongly disagree, and am inclined to think you are speaking out of hate for religion, not rationality.

    –*(Of course most atheists de-emphasize the loving nature of the god of most religions, but doing so is a distortion.*

    –No it isn’t. It’s completely historically accurate.

    I guess some people are so ideologically convinced of the truth of atheism that they refuse to see any possibility of good in at least some elements of religion. This strikes me as just silly.

    –So? There have been far more really awful Christians, Jews and Muslims.

    Perhaps because there have been more Christians, Jews and Muslims in total. I don’t think it is correct to say that most are awful–only a few. The same with atheists.

  • J

    *…they refuse to see any possibility of good in at least some elements of religion. *

    I do not refuse to see anything: I looked and it is not there.

    Augustine, Aquinas, Torquemada, Beckett, Calvin, Cromwell: That’s 1400 years of major religious figures in just ONE religious tradition–3 of them saints–ALL of whom practiced torture on those who didn’t agree with them.

    And then there’s this.

    Religion never fails to make me throw up into my mouth a little each time I encounter it.

  • Frank

    –Anyhow, I think you’ll find that this argument is a fairly recent one, probably concurrent with the development of secular ethical systems like utilitarianism and Kant’s categorical imperative. It didn’t seem to have occurred to the Israelites of the Old Testament, for example.

    Without some sort of absolute base for one’s ethical system, one is forced to rely on utilitarian arguments. Therefore from a philosophical point of view, one can say that the religionists have the more desirable position (utilitarianism has all sorts of undesirable consequences).

    I think it is a truism that atheists do tend to be more law abiding (as any census of prison inmates will demonstrate), and perhaps more egalitarian as well. The reason for this probably lies in greater intelligence and education, for the most part.

    That however is not relevant. That religions have a positive effect on many more superstitious types should not be rejected. That religions do a great deal of preaching of love for mankind should not be denied. The main racial equality movements have always had a significant religious component.

    It does no good to try to persuade people of the evils of religion if one has to distort reality to make the point. People will see through that and reject the message entirely, and they will be correct to do so.

  • J

    *Without some sort of absolute base for one’s ethical system, one is forced to rely on utilitarian arguments.*

    No I don’t. I mostly just muddle through my life, do what seems good or easy, and then people periodically thank me for my hard work, generosity and creativity.

    *Therefore from a philosophical point of view, one can say that the religionists have the more desirable position (utilitarianism has all sorts of undesirable consequences).*

    Um, what?

    *I think it is a truism that atheists do tend to be more law abiding (as any census of prison inmates will demonstrate), and perhaps more egalitarian as well. The reason for this probably lies in greater intelligence and education, for the most part.*

    Huh?

    *That however is not relevant.*

    It isn’t?

    *That religions have a positive effect on many more superstitious types should not be rejected.*

    Ah. Of course. Because most people are hopelessly stupid and should be stroked and cuddled and spoon-fed lies about the wonderful world of fluffiness to come rather than treated as potentially educable adults with a brain inside their skulls and a brace of ears, eyes and hands to work with.

    *That religions do a great deal of preaching of love for mankind should not be denied.*

    ‘Cept, y’know, if it isn’t in the any precise sense TRUE.

    *The main racial equality movements have always had a significant religious component.*

    Au contraire.

  • J

    *The main racial equality movements have always had a significant religious component.*

    …As have the main movements AGAINST freedom of speech, freedom to read, equality of women, equality of gay and lesbian people, sexual liberties, the freedom to enjoy booze, et al.

  • Entomologista

    When I encounter people like J, I understand why Hutchinson writes rants. Of course you didn’t write history. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not benefiting from past atrocities. That doesn’t mean that history doesn’t inform our current attitudes and actions. It’s not racist or sexist to acknowledge that you have privilege.

    Let me give an example. There are relatively few women in the STEM fields in comparison to men. This is because society does not encourage women to be scientists. But a lot of people look at how few women are in math and science and conclude that it’s because women are naturally stupid and bad at science and really prefer to be secretaries anyway. So then people say “Why should we encourage women to go into a field they hate and are bad at?” which means that women aren’t encouraged to go into the sciences, which means there are few women, which means people think women are bad at science. Do you see the cycle? That cycle has to be actively broken by encouraging women to enter the sciences.

    Society doesn’t get better when you throw your hands up and say “It’s not my problem because I didn’t own slaves!” Society only gets better when you actively work to change it. Poisonous cultural norms don’t just magically go away, especially if they benefit the people in power.

  • J

    **Without some sort of absolute base for one’s ethical system, one is forced to rely on utilitarian arguments.*

    Y’know, what: I visited Vietnam recently and saw a ridiculous old exhibit put together by the Communist party–it’s so damn dusty it was probably put together just after the fall of Saigon and never touched since–showing “products of the glorious people’s industrial land” etc, etc.

    And it’s just display cases of complete commonplace items–thermos flasks, radios, bicycles, shoes, etc. The sort of thing that human beings can manufacture in an afternoon with a little know-how and a halfway decent tool shed. But here they are, being held up as miracles of communism.

    Religious morality is like that: People blathering about how if they didn’t have Jesus, they would “cheat on their wives” and have sex with “a hundred women right now” (it’s always treated as self-evident that a hundred women would *want* to have sex with the speaker were he free of religious restraint to do so).

    I mean I guess on some atavistic, hedonistic level I *wish* I lived the life that religious folk tell me they’re sure atheists like I must lead. Sounds like a blast. What with all the coke-snorttery and sex-havery and money-thievery, I have no doubt I’d go out in a blaze of glory.

    But no, here’s stupid old me, nose to the grindstone, working an 8-to-6 job, coming home to my wife of 7 years, calling my parents on weekends to see how they’re doing, turning in the wallet with $150 cash I found on the street in to the police, double-checking my tax return. It’s a wild life for a nonbeliever, let me tell you.

  • J

    *It’s not racist or sexist to acknowledge that you have privilege.*

    No, but it IS racist to have scholarships that only people of a particular race can ever receive.

  • Rowen

    Entomologista,

    “But a lot of people look at how few women are in math and science and conclude that it’s because women are naturally stupid and bad at science and really prefer to be secretaries anyway.”

    I’d like to know who you’re talking to who view things this way. Most people I know don’t think this, and this is a cross section of all races and social economic statis.

    This, to me, is what I feel the biggest problem that happens in ANY discussion I’ve seen about “white privilege.” There’s no scientific data, just a bunch of “this is how I feel about the subject,” which quickly turns into either accusing the reader (if they are white) of being a horrible racist person who can never atone for it, OR simple being self congratulating to those who agree with the author.

    Here, I would like to pause for a second. Disagreeing with what’s written does A) not make me automatically racists, B) does not make me unaware that there is a problem when it comes to race, and C) does not mean that I am sitting on my ass, doing nothing, and getting offended when someone points out my “white privilege.”

    I understand that there is a problem, but I’ve had enough of being made to feel guilty, simply because I happened to be born white. I DO realize that being both white and middle class give me advantages in life, but to conflate me only with my race, and the perceived qualities that these articles can and do judge me by, is just another form of racism, and one that we don’t need (class is also another topic. I know plenty of poor white folks who are just as disadvantaged and down trodden as the poor black people I know, and the same goes for the middle class black families I know. The fact that we are conflating socio-economic status SOLEY with race is the OTHER big problem I have with this line of thinking).

  • Dan L.

    It occurs to me that atheism removes one of the major arguments for human tolerance–the teaching that we are all children of a loving God.

    But evolutionary science tells us we’re all one family. That, I think, is a much better argument for human tolerance than anything religion’s pulled out of thin air: I identify first and foremost as a human being; American, atheist, and all that come out much lower, in part because I am an atheist.

    On the other hand, those who identify first and foremost as, e.g., Christian or Muslim have a good excuse to marginalize and dehumanize those who aren’t a member of their faiths. After all, wayward “children of a loving God” are ingrates who deserve to be punished, right?

    Of course most atheists de-emphasize the loving nature of the god of most religions, but doing so is a distortion.

    Wait, we’re talking about the guy who tricked Adam and Eve into sinning and then punished all of their descendants forever for falling for it (when he knew full well what would happen)? This is the guy who tortures people for eternity if they don’t slavishly worship him? Which religions have a loving God, and who exactly does He love? This notion of a loving god simply isn’t borne out upon examining the doctrines of any major religions.

    Religious myth can be used to promote bigotry, but far more powerful is the use of religious faith to promote human tolerance.

    Examples please. Religious myth was used as a justification for pogroms of Jewish villages in medieval times, for the Holocaust (yes it was, I’m not going to argue about it), for the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery (both to justify the initial practice and to justify opposition to the abolitionist movement), for the dehumanization and marginalization of homosexuals, for the repression of women in Islamic countries, for the slaughter of innocent civilians in Muslim countries, for prohibition of birth control and family planning in regions that severely need it, including regions threatened by AIDS.

    While there were oppressive atheist regimes, these regimes didn’t cite atheism as their justification for their misdeeds. Typically, their justifications were based on “party loyalty,” a phenomenon that looks to me a whole lot like religious faith.

    So please explain to me what outcomes favorable to tolerance have been fomented by religious faith, such that you can make the claim that religious faith has been a more powerful force for tolerance than for bigotry. Your list needs to blow mine out of the water for your point to stand.

  • Dan L.

    It’s also not true that utilitarianism is the only approach to morality or ethics open to atheists. That’s so off-base I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s try the golden rule for one. There’s plenty of scenarios in which treating others as you would like to be treated does not optimize utility, however you define it. Which is another important point; utilitarianism can take a lot of different forms depending on how you define utility. Some cultures that put more emphasis on group identity might come up with a more repressive definition of utility than cultures that place a great deal of emphasis on personal autonomy. But both systems would still be utilitarian.

    Contrast with religion’s view on morality: all the rules were written in this magic book thousands of years ago, and they apply forever. Theists make a lot of noise about how there’s no such thing as objective morality without God, but in truth, there’s no objective morality WITH God either. Taking words out of an ancient book and interpreting them as you see fit (which is what all three major monotheisms do) generates a completely arbitrary moral code. This is essentially utilitarianism, but utility is defined as “what the Pope says” or “what my pastor says” instead of something with a grounding in reality.

    My own position is that people don’t learn how to behave and treat other people by reading long lists of what to do and what not to do. People learn how to behave and treat other people by observing their family and as they get older, their peers. That is to say, analyses of morality can only be descriptive in my view, and not proscriptive (should be obvious, since Christians are told “thou shalt not kill” and many go on to kill anyway; merely having the proscription doesn’t prevent the behavior). And in this case, religious morality is useless; people really don’t behave such and such a way because they’re Christian or Muslim. In reality, they behave such and such a way, and then justify that behavior through selective reading and creative interpretation of scripture.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Theists make a lot of noise about how there’s no such thing as objective morality without God, but in truth, there’s no objective morality WITH God either.

    This is tacitly admitted by the idea that Christ replaces the commandments.

  • Entomologista

    As a grad student in the sciences, I’ve been told I should stay home and have babies. By one of my professors. But that isn’t indicative of society at large because shut up, that’s why. Anyway, that was just supposed to be an example of a stereotype. I’m more familiar with feminist issues, which is why I used it as an example. But I don’t want to make this thread about feminism.

    The field of sociology, which studies things like how class, race, and economic status interact, doesn’t actually exist, which is why there is no data on privilege.

    If you’re more concerned with being called a racist than examining your ideas and actions to determine if you’ve done something racist, you’re not actually interested in equality. Now go read about how not to be a douche.

  • MissCherryPi

    This, to me, is what I feel the biggest problem that happens in ANY discussion I’ve seen about white privilege. There’s no scientific data

    Yes there is.

    “After responding to 1,300 classified ads with dummy resumes, the authors found black-sounding names were 50 percent less likely to get a callback than white-sounding names with comparable resumes.”
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/09/29/national/main575685.shtml

    “When girls who are about to take a math test are reminded of their sex (basically they just check M or F on a line asking their gender), or when African-Americans about to take a standardized test such as the SAT are reminded of their race they do worse than otherwise.”
    http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/labnotes/archive/2009/01/23/an-obama-effect-on-blacks-test-scores.aspx

    [A simple solution to the latter problem would be to require any demographic information to be collected with a standardized test be done so after the test was completed.]

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I would also cite my prior post on the Implicit Association Test, which consistently finds that a majority of people take longer to link positive concepts with African-Americans than with Caucasians on word-association tests.

  • Entomologista

    MissCherryPi beat me to it, but here is the actual journal article with the study “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination”.

  • Chris

    Honestly, what put me off of Sikuvu’s polemic was the implicit premise that, as a white man, I haven’t even given this issue any worthwhile thought.

    It seemed to me that the implicit premise was even worse than that: as a white man, any thought you or I give it couldn’t possibly be worthwhile.

    This is, of course, outright bigotry. (What, we should wait for our betters to tell us what to think? That was bullshit when some of our ancestors forced it on other people at gunpoint and it’s still bullshit when rotated 180 degrees.) So it’s not surprising that it would provoke defensive and/or hostile responses (although I note that, unlike some Internet fora, definitely including many religious ones, no one has proposed violence — I am happy to be able to use “hostile” strictly metaphorically).

    Maybe her intention was precisely to be as dismissive towards white males as the worst bigots of the past, and their few present counterparts (almost all highly religious, which I don’t think is entirely a coincidence), were/are towards minorities or women? That would be an interesting rhetorical trick, but without disclosing it at the end it risks creating lasting resentment that doesn’t necessarily even teach anything (because the parallel won’t spontaneously occur to everybody, especially when their judgment is clouded by the sense that they are being treated unfairly — which they are, though in that case supposedly in service of a greater good). Too bad she’s not around to clarify.

    In any case, I think it’s misplaced when directed at a modern audience. Nobody was ever oppressed by the Platonic form of white males — they were oppressed by actual living, breathing white males, most of whom are no longer living and breathing. Expecting modern white males to be either indistinguishable from ancient white males, or somehow responsible for the actions of ancient white males, is, by definition, racist and sexist. (The extent to which those ancient actions have modern repercussions is another story, but if you want to make the point that we have to clean up that mess together, I think it helps not to appear to point fingers at present people for past misdeeds they had nothing to do with.)

    Ms. Hutchison’s unwillingness to stay and defend her views gives them the appearance of drive-by trolling, which undermines any legitimate points that might otherwise be found in her post. (A polemic or rantish tone only exacerbates this problem.) I think that’s unfortunate, because if there’s one thing (rationalist) atheists do agree on, it’s the importance of discovering the truth through reasoned discourse and examination of the facts. Rhetorical hit-and-runs don’t get any respect because they don’t earn any.

    ISTM that most, perhaps all, of the racism and sexism and many other forms of prejudice to be found in rationalist atheist communities (I’m not sufficiently familiar with the other kind) leaks in from the larger communities in which they are embedded. There’s nobody saying “The absence of God commands us to subjugate women and cast out gays” because it would be ridiculous. (The few atheists claiming to have reasons to be anti-gay only prove the point — it’s obvious to everyone but themselves that they have uncritically adopted a viewpoint originating from religion, and, having rejected the religion, are frantically casting about for something else to prop it up with rather than reconsidering it.) Rationalism is generally incompatible with bigotry, but humans have a great capacity for doublethink, so even a rational community has imperfect defenses against some members believing, and even in some ways practicing, bigotry that they learned at their mother’s knee/from their cranky old uncle/etc. (I think it’s important not to be misled by salience biases as to the actual frequency of this sort of thing. It doesn’t take a lot of skunks to make a lot of stink – especially in a small “room” like the community of open atheists.)

    Therefore, ISTM that it is useless for atheists to look *specifically* inside our ranks for the sources of bigotry — we can’t remove them from our midst until we remove them from society at large, which is something that quite a few atheists already *are* involved in doing, or at least attempting. (It is quite obvious that the many, though not necessarily all, religions *are* actively generating and propagating bigotry — and therefore weakening the influence of religion is, in itself, one way to weaken prejudice in society at large. But many, I would guess most, atheists also directly oppose other forms of bigotry in addition to opposing religious and anti-atheist bigotry.)

    P.S. I don’t think that TAM is explicitly an atheist event, although I would expect atheists to be overrepresented at it relative to the general population. In any case, since there’s no church of atheism, nobody’s actions speak for all atheists, including the TAM organizers.

  • Chris

    utilitarianism has all sorts of undesirable consequences

    This is the funniest sentence I have read in quite a while.

    On the other hand, deontology is contrary to immutable natural law, relativism works for some people but not for others, and there’s no good reason to believe in nihilism, so what are you going to do?

    (It’s just not as funny when you do it on purpose, is it? Darn.)

  • Lynet

    On the other hand, deontology is contrary to immutable natural law, relativism works for some people but not for others, and there’s no good reason to believe in nihilism, so what are you going to do?

    (It’s just not as funny when you do it on purpose, is it? Darn.)

    On the contrary, Chris, it’s hilarious when you do it on purpose. I didn’t think about it from that angle when I first saw the comment about utilitarianism having undesirable consequences, but you’ve got a point, there!

  • Frank

    Most people operate on the unnoticed assumption that they already know what is right and what is wrong, and that when they do something wrong it is in spite of their better natures.

    This assumption, however, is wrong. What we call our “conscience” is only the rules of our culture picked up during childhood and incorporated into our subconscious beliefs. For that reason people happily owned slaves for thousands of years and even the most moral among them hardly ever questioned it. For that reason most people in the West think of homosexuality as wrong.

    If we are to be true seekers for the good, then we need some rational base for our ethical choices beyond how we feel about it or how our conscience directs us.

    Of course we can nowadays abandon the entire idea and declare that ethical standards are all relative anyway, or maybe biological, or just for social convenience. I don’t know that this approach helps much–at any rate if one is going to take that approach then one has no rational basis for condemning the occasional Hitler or Jeffry Dahmler or whatever, since they acted on the basis of very similar considerations.

    Efforts at deriving a rational ethical system without an assumption that there is some absolute standard (although God-given standards don’t work either, as an earlier posting above pointed out) have been tried a few times but without any real success. Probably Kant’s approach that we are rational and that makes us ethical and able to derive absolute standards works the best–especially his premise that no rational being has the right to use another rational being–which, taken as axiomatic, permitted him to derive Christian ethics (for the most part) separate from Christian authority.

  • Rowen

    Ebon and MissCherry,

    Thank you for providing those links. The first ones provided in the MANY discussions I’ve had with people about this concept of white privilege. I’d also like to add that my dismissal of the concept doesn’t mean that I don’t think racism is a problem, or that in general, white people have an easier time in our society then everyone else. However, I don’t think ranting and raving at white people is the way to go about making any changes. And every piece of literature I’ve read that deals with white privilege (sure, they’ll throw in other races, and gender, and sexual orientation, but it’s almost always couched in terms of black folk against white folk), is a weird mish-mash of guilt tripping, stereotyping, and complete dismissal of the emotions of the intended audience.

    For example, Ento, your “how to not be a douche” starts out with a “the first step is denial,” disclaimer, which is gonna put ANYONE who might have ANY objection on the defensive. There’s then a hodge podge of claims that either contradict each other, or reinforce the whole guilt trip factor. “You aren’t bad, but you still have to do something about this, even though we don’t.” “We don’t hate you, we just hate how you act.” (I feel like I’ve been told something like this before. . something about sinners. . . I can’t really remember. . ) “Anytime you disagree, you’re actually dismissing us, which is bad.” “You can never really understand.” “It’s not about you. . . it’s about US.” “Accept any ranting that might be directed at you, because it’s not about you, it’s about your sin. . . I mean privilege.” “You have to earn our trust.” “We don’t owe you anything, not even an explination, but since you are defined as having privilege, because we say so, you have to listen to all of our ranting, and then do something. We won’t tell you what, but we will let you know when it’s wrong.” “If you feel you need to defend yourself against what we’re saying, then you’re definately part of the problem, but haven’t figured it out yet. Remember, denial is the first step.” Oh, and in the comments section, “You don’t agree with me? Well, you’re just a troll and I’m gonna ban you . . .”

    I’ve said this before, and other people have said this as well, this movement of thought either alienates it’s intended audience or works as nothing more then a pat on the back, which is a BAD thing. In my family, my mother is Irish, (yeah, in America, that means white, but if you know ANYTHING about American or English history, you’ll know that that means little) and my father is Comanche. I got her coloring and his metabolism, which means, yes, I have blonde hair and blue eyes. And I’m gay. Maybe I’m making these essays too personal, (a conclusion D and I came to in the other thread), but to ignore my personal history and to make the implication that I can never understand what it is to be marginalized in our society, AND to inform me that even though I had no say in it, that I am a part of the force that has marginalized others, and therefore I need to atone for it, is EXTREMELY off-putting. WHICH is usually followed with the idea that since I find this sentiment off-putting, that obviously means that the other person is right and I’m balking because I don’t want to recognize my priviliged status.

    If the gay community used these tactics, we’d still be hiding deep in the closets, praying that our little bar doesn’t get raided.

    Lemme try one last comparison. I know plenty of people who are very gay friendly. In that group, there are some more then others. I’m not about to chastise the ones who really are sympathetic, even if they aren’t going around asking why aren’t we hiring more gay people because our office lacks diversity, but they WILL fight for our rights and be there when we need them, either as a citizen or as a friend. There are other people who are fair weather friends to the gay community. They tell us how much they love going to brunch with us, and ever four years, they’ll vote for the democrat. But that’s about it. With those folks, sometimes we’ll sit down and chat with them, and explain what being an ally REALLY means, BUT we won’t do it in a way that alienates them off the bat, ignores everything they have to say, puts the entire onus on them to fix the problem and is completely deaf to any objections, points of clarification or just about anything they might have to say.

    That’s how I see this movement, and why I object to the way it treats me. Not because I don’t believe racism is a problem. Not because I don’t recognize that being born a white, middle class, male has given me an advantage over a lot of people. Not because I don’t value diversity. Not because I don’t work to improve myself, my thought, my social network and my work and living spaces to reflect the rainbow of human existence.

  • Jormungund

    Rowen,
    You are describing an attempt to make meaningful changes in the world around you. The author of “The White Stuff” and “How Not to be a Douche” just want to play identity politics. Your attempts at making meaningful changes run contrary to their attempts at promoting a victim status and attacking white men. If you don’t agree with everything they claim and you don’t follow identity politics 100%, then they will just denounce you as a dirty racist white man.
    I think that is the problem most people will encounter reading these kinds of feminist and racist rants. Most people are not devout followers of identity politics or post-modernism, so these articles fly right over our heads and we are unaffected by it. It comes off as whining and bitching and blaming me for things that I never supported. It is truly ineffective at convincing most people that they should change their actions.
    So the question is: why write articles like “The White Stuff” and “How Not to be a Douche” if they are just going to alienate most of their target audience? My only guess at the answer to that question is that the authors are ranting for ranting’s sake and don’t honestly care about changing attitudes or people’s actions. But that is assuming that they are writing in bad faith. I can’t imagine why someone would write an alienating attack like this in good faith.

  • Loke

    Why do you seem to assume that only white (males) are racist/sexist? I’m a fairly cosmopolitan person, and I refuse to have broad collectivist brushes painted on me. If I’m gonna share blame for the atrocities that Europeans have committed (as if Europeans are unique in that regard…), then I also want credits for all the inventions and scientific discoveries done by Europeans. It’s a two-way street…

    Further, research here in the Nordic countries has indicated that abuse within relationships happen both ways, and are as common in heterosexual relationships as in homosexual ones. Thus, females abuse their male partners to about the same extent that male partners abuse their female partners.

  • PostOldGreek

    Loke, I don’t think you’re lying, but could you link a source to your “Nordic” study? I’m curious and skeptical. Which is why I ended up on this blog.

  • J

    *If we are to be true seekers for the good, then we need some rational base for our ethical choices beyond how we feel about it or how our conscience directs us.*

    No we don’t; we never have. Humans have *never* sat down and thought about their ethics that way. And when they have tried, it’s been all neat and tidy and there was handshaking all around then they went out to try applying them and BAM; real-world consequences rather complicated them. Want to end slavery? Great. Fine. Good for you. It’ll require the bloodiest land war in human history in which hundreds of thousands of men will have to violate the Sixth Commandment (or else be themselves executed for cowardice, also in violation of the Sixth Commandment).

    Just Muddling Through and Making It Up As You Go Along: It’s all that’s ever actually worked.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    Most people operate on the unnoticed assumption that they already know what is right and what is wrong, and that when they do something wrong it is in spite of their better natures.

    This assumption, however, is wrong. What we call our “conscience” is only the rules of our culture picked up during childhood and incorporated into our subconscious beliefs.

    I’m not sure this is entirely true. There would seem to be elements of morality that have evolved as a direct consequence of being part of a social species. Essentially when you are in a non-zero sum game with members of your community there is selective advantage in behaving in a way that benefits all of you. This may well be the origin of the golden rule etc. as it seems to operate in non human social species as well.
    In terms of society deriving an absolute morality from religion it seems to me self evident that historically it happens the other way around. As society becomes more moral (and we have) religion eventually follows suit, though often reluctantly. Liberal elements of the xian religion for example are starting to shed their immoral censuring of homosexuals, due to the wider community moving in that direction. Once the vast majority of secular society outgrows homophobia the rest of religion will slowly follow suit (hopefully).

  • Frank

    Steven Bowen: There would seem to be elements of morality that have evolved as a direct consequence of being part of a social species.

    I think the main thing that distinguishes us from other animals is that, while we still have instincts, to a large extent they have been supplanted by childhood learning. What we inherit is a compulsory development of a conscience, not the details. The child is wide eyed and in learning mode, and this includes rules of physics and rules of language and rules of behavior.

    It is the plasticity of human ideas of right and wrong, as the anthropologists have taught us, that persuades me of this. Even the seemingly universal ethical ideas (such as a prohibition of in-group murder or of incest) are not absolutely universal and don’t seem to behave like instincts (there is often no physical revulsion, for example, to incest).

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    I think the main thing that distinguishes us from other animals is that, while we still have instincts, to a large extent they have been supplanted by childhood learning.

    But who decides what to teach? The evolved morality that still serves us well survives the generations by re-inforcement. It is the less useful memes we need to un-learn. To bring this back vaguely on topic: One aspect of human behaviour that can be attributed to evolution in close knit tribal communities is our propensity to “other” members of outgroups, which is the root of racism. This was probably a pragmatic behaviour in hunter gatherer societies, but does not serve us well in large multicultural ones. Sometimes we need to learn to transcend our tribal “instincts” by extending our innate morality to encompass the global village we occupy today.

  • Frank

    It’s not really learning in the traditional sense. Children pick up their rules of behavior automatically–they are programmed to do so–from their culture. (I think studies have shown that it is mostly from peers rather than parents, but no doubt parents are a large factor).

    These are notions that are very hard to change because they are subconscious–part of the furniture, as it were, taken for granted and assumed to be true without question. Most religious belief has a similar base. We are, further, provided with instincts–emotionally enforced–that try to reinforce these beliefs (so that we experience fear and guilt and shame when we doubt and great joy when we reject the doubts).

    I think you correctly identify the roots of racism in tribalism or local-ism. As we see it in the world today, however, it is a cultural phenomenon found only in a few areas, and with differences from place to place, depending on local history.

    That some people seem to be just natural bigots, regardless of educational efforts, while others are naturally tolerant, in spite of their background, is evidence that there is a biological component, but not the specific racism, but only the closed or open mindedness of the individual.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Rowen,
    I hardly think that using yourself as a living counterexample means that you’re making this too personal. In fact, I think it’s a great counterpoint, and you show how alienating “mere complaints” can be. Furthermore, if someone dismisses your point of view, they’re then doing the very same marginalizing that is being complained about, so it shows that the situation is a complex one and we’re all individual human beings at the end of the day.

    Your bit on “very gay friendly” as opposed to “fair weather friends” is a good one, especially the part where you sit down and patiently, kindly, explain what all is going on and how a person can do more to help. More than simply being nice to those you want to rally under your banner, you’re doing something more like “asking for help” rather than shrilly demanding satisfaction out of some idiotic sense of entitlement.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X