Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why atheism and asexuality taste great together

This is the conclusion to my "Fantastic Primer" series, in which I imagine explaining asexuality to an atheist audience and atheism to an asexual audience, as a tool to explore intersectionality. Please read the introductory post, which explains the premise.

In an earlier post in this series, I explained why I don't trust you atheists to get asexuality right.  But apart from what some atheists say and believe, asexuality and atheism taste great together. These are two identities that have nothing to do with each other, and yet they mesh in a way that gives me philosophical warm fuzzies.

Here are a few connections between atheism and asexuality that I personally enjoy pondering.

Naturalistic asexuality

Humans weren't specially created, and certainly not intended to fulfill any particular purpose.  Humans aren't an essential category of beings with souls.  We're all a bunch of soulless objects which happen to share many similar properties.  So why couldn't there be some humans which simply don't share one of those properties?  Nothing is impossible or wrong about it.  It's practically expected.

Humans appeared by the process of evolution.  In evolution, variation is the rule, and a key element of the evolutionary mechanism.  On a superficial glance you might not expect asexuality to persist, since individuals that don't reproduce are selected out in evolution.  But there are any number of possible resolutions, including genetic drift, biological correlates, developmental factors, and the fact that most human sex is not procreative.  It's not really a problem unless you think homosexuality is also a problem.

You might say that evolution, metaphorically, wants us to have lots of procreative sex.  But I say that evolution, metaphorically, is a jerk, so who cares what it metaphorically wants?  Unlike a personal creator, evolution doesn't literally have feelings so screw evolution's hurt feelings.

The power to reject what I don't want

One of the common responses to asexuality is, "I like sex so much, I don't understand how you can not like what I like."  I've heard this often enough that I've realized how ridiculous it is, and I've become inoculated against it.  And now I realize how often people say the same thing about other things I don't like, and I feel more empowered to reject it every time.

Like geeks, who are always telling me I should like such and such TV show or movie.  Or when people tell me I should enjoy traveling or dancing more.  Or when stories tells me I should be more "adventurous".  Or when society tells me that "classic" works of fiction and art are superior to more modern works.  I'm willing to try stuff when people suggest it, but it makes me happier to know that I don't need to take that crap.  People enjoy different things, and anyone who acts otherwise probably isn't worth taking advice from.

Oh yeah, religion and religious practices are in this category too!  I really don't like religious ceremonies, "spirituality", or religious music.  I've been unhappy with those things since I was a little Catholic kid, and I had trouble making sense of a benevolent god which would torture us with church, prayer, and boring music.  But now the explanation is simple.  Other people like those things, and therefore incorporate it into their religion.  Some atheists like it too, and find secular practices to fulfill their desires.  But if I'm not the sort of person who likes it, I don't have to like it, and that's that.

Skeptical social justice

One idea I'm enthusiastic about is combining ideas from skepticism and social justice (which overlap with the atheist and asexual communities respectively).  I feel like if you just have skepticism or just have social justice, you only have half the picture.  In skepticism, we talk a lot about the difference between things that can and can't be studied by science.  Unfortunately, this leads to some errors, like assuming that something which would be difficult to study scientifically must not be real.  Or thinking that operational definitions of gender define what gender "really" is.

On the other side, social justice advocates are used to talking about social constructs, and when there are problems with our social constructs.  This is a great addition to our intellectual tool set, but its overuse leads to errors, like declaring certain scientific results "problematic" and therefore incorrect.  I often think social justice needs to be tempered with a better sense of pragmatism and reality.

For this reason, I tend to gravitate towards the social justice parts of the atheist movement, and the part of the asexual movement which is enthusiastic about research.

Having ideas from both skepticism and social justice helped me understand my doubts better. When I wondered whether what I experience counts as "sexual attraction" I realized that this is not a scientific question, because the definition of sexual attraction is socially constructed.  When I wondered whether I would eventually feel different about my orientation, I realized that this is a scientific question, albeit one that hasn't been studied yet.  Two different doubts, two different understandings, two different responses.


I hope this was a positive ending to my series on atheism/asexuality intersections.  Nobody has questioned the relevance of this series, but I'd like to take this moment to justify it anyway.  When we talk about intersectionality, we're so used to the big ones like race, gender, orientation, and socioeconomic class.  But are those always the most important identities to every single individual?  Being ace and half-Chinese is an intersection alright, and so is being ace and male.  But to me, none of those have had as large an impact as being ace and atheist, even though they seemingly have little to do with each other.  That's why I talk about it all the time, and this series won't be the last of it.

1. Introduction
2. Why I don't trust you
3. Yes, I'm one of those atheists
4. A skeptically-oriented Asexuality 101 
5. Atheism as minority, atheism as political cause  
7. Why atheism and asexuality taste great together