Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I am oppositional

I have more to say on this quote:
But the way we talk about intersectionality doesn’t quite work for atheists.  Just by saying I’m an atheist, I’m telling you that I think your theistic beliefs are wrong.  By telling you I’m a “new” atheist, I’m telling you that I think you’re wrong and you should stop being wrong.  To speak of intersectionality is to look for allies.  But we are not allies, we are opposed. [emphasis added]
Previously I discussed how I think that all beliefs are subject to morality.  So if I have a belief that is factually wrong, then it is also ethically wrong.  But here, I'm not just saying that we disagree therefore we each think the other is wrong.  I'm saying that in this case, it actually puts us in opposition, to the point that I don't want you to be my "ally".

Being oppositional makes sense for atheism.  There isn't really a possible state where we coexist and agree on everything.  This is unlike sexual orientation, where it's possible for us to have different orientations and coexist.

But I also think being oppositional makes sense for vegetarianism and veganism.  Vegans believe that consuming meat is wrong.  So vegans and omnivores can't really coexist and agree on everything.  And yet all the vegans and vegetarians I know (many of whom are active atheists) don't really push the point.  Why is that?  Why is atheism different?

The social context is different.

Animal rights activists have PETA, but most animal rights activists I know dislike PETA for its aggressive shock tactics.  I think my friends are reacting against PETA by being very nice and diplomatic.  But also, the food we eat literally comes up multiple times a day, and it seems neither useful nor comfortable to argue about it every time.  The subject of food comes up often enough without pushing the issue.  (If any of my readers are vegan or vegetarian, perhaps they have more insight into this.)

Atheists operate in a culture where most people don't want to talk about religion in any sort of argumentative or persuasive context.  It's too personal, and people will never agree.  But I think religious beliefs are important, and as such should be discussed out in the open.  The "let's all play nice" attitude enforces the status quo.  When you stand with the status quo, refusing to argue about religion is a way to win on non-rational grounds.

Fuck the status quo.  I'm pretty non-confrontational by nature, and I don't think it's worth arguing with people all the time.  But that's my official position: fuck the status quo.  Religion should be a normal topic of discussion.  Maybe we avoid it at the moment because we don't have that kind of relationship, or because people are jerks, or because there's something else important to talk about.  But don't avoid it just because it's religion.

Imagine if whenever we tried to talk about sexism, people declared that beliefs about gender are just too personally important to be discussed, and anyway nobody will ever be convinced, and we all just have different interpretations of the same truth about gender, and by the way why are you so angry?  I'm wasn't angry before, but now I'm convinced that I should be!

Another aspect of it is that people are afraid of even vaguely resembling evangelical Christian bogeymen.  This strikes me as akin to arguing that Obamacare is a Nazi policy.  What we hate about the Nazis was their healthcare system?  What we hate about evangelical Christians most is their desire to persuade people?  That's funny because what I hated about evangelical Christians most is the way that they obstruct progressive public policies, hinder public science education, and teach queer kids to hate themselves.  Specific recruitment tactics may be problematic, but persuasion is just an instrument, no worse than using pews, microphones, or weekly meetings.

"Allies" suggests having a "live and let live" attitude.  But that's exactly the sort of thing I oppose, the very thing that has been smothering discourse about religion.  Maybe in the future, culture will be different, and we can have a live and let live attitude without it secretly being a tool to enforce the status quo.  In the mean time, I will do without "allies".


miller said...

Well, speaking as a vegan...
As you say, I do not argue about it every time it comes up because

a) it would drain lots of energy

b) sometimes there are power imbalances - for example, once my boss at work talked about how delicious meat is, how she could never give up eating me, and kept on asking me questions about what I eat (she knew I was vegan) - I think you can understand why I would withhold my honest opinion in that situation.

c) in many situations people will not listen, and if they do not listen and change their ways there is no net benefit for animals. If anything, being too forceful might make them less receptive to the message.

That said, I think it is important to offer my honest opinion when people solicit it (unless there is a power imbalance, like the situation above). Sometimes I do choose to become confrontational about this, even when my opinion is not solicited. However, I try to pick my battles - i.e. situations where I think I might actually change people's minds and behavior.

miller said...

Thank you for your perspective. My sense from my vegan/vegetarian friends is that they get hit with questions all the time from my omnivore friends. If it were me, I'd get tired of the argument too.