If you’ve not had the details about the recent… well, let’s call it a “discussion” for the moment… between Rebecca Watson and Richard Dawkins, there’s an unfortunately public article about it on the Atlantic website. That should get you up to speed pretty quickly, and it has links to all the gory details.
This post is going to do something a bit different, in that I’m not going to go overmuch into who’s right and wrong. There’s quite enough talk about that already, and you’re wearing big boy pants, you can form your own opinion based on the threads. I’m just going to say it’s bad all around, wish things like this didn’t happen, and move on to the point of this post.
The skeptic community is pretty active online. We tend to be not averse to computers and technology, we like to network, and can be thought of as social creatures. And we’ve recognized that “skeptic” as a word tends to have some connotations with the rest of our culture that may not be accurate, or at least how we see it. We get mixed up with “cynics” all the time, and our engagement with life seems to be anything but cynical — we love life, art, our families, just like others who may not be as skeptical. Seems like we should be happy, moving in the same direction, friendly with each other people.
Unfortunately, this recent fight has become exactly that, a fight. Normally, I wouldn’t really care. People have disagreements, and yes they even fight, that’s going to happen. And when the people involved both have good points, however they may be poorly communicating those points or disagreeing about their importance, they stick to their guns and won’t budge. Maybe they shouldn’t. I’m not an accommodationist, and neither are Rebecca or Richard.
The problem is that this fight has become quite divisive in the community, one that’s already very fractured by differences of opinion on religious matters. Some are quite aggressively opposed to any kind of engagement with or even tolerance of religious views, others are more accepting. And here we have another deep fracture growing by the minute.
What I would love to see — and likely will not — is the recognition from the leadership of this movement (and that’s far more than Rebecca and Richard) that how they interact can help or hinder skepticism. Well, perhaps there is recognition of that, but not much action or words to that effect. I don’t see a great deal of teaming or (dare to dream) friendliness on the part of our leaders. I see bickering, antagonism, and no interest in anyone stepping up and saying, “Hey, I’m sorry. We have different opinions here, and clearly have different backgrounds that may be contributing to that difference. But that difference doesn’t mean I don’t respect you, or admire other things about you.” What I see is single-issue (or single attitude) decision making about the totality of a person and their life, on all sides of this situation.
Yep, it’s trite, but really, can’t we all get along?
Either way, TAM should be interesting next week. And we shouldn’t have to feel like it’s going to be an iron cage match, or a test to see if this national level movement is worth spending time on. Right now, I’m not so sure. The JREF can’t seem to get away from hateful barbs against people with — oh no! — spiritual practices in the past year or so, no matter how secular and naturalistic they are. DJ and Randi deny that trajectory (very quickly when my renewal of membership wasn’t forthcoming), but even their recent co-email about TAM each had antagonistic threads in them.
So, sadly, this is yet another test. Is TAM going to be filled with hateful words and derision, or meaningful investigation of assertions and the evidence (or lack thereof)? We’ve seen Phil’s DBAD, and that’s either gone ignored or simply elicited a change of tactics. Is there going to be a growing rift because of this recent fight? *sigh*
Done with it, if that’s the case. My local group may have disagreements with one another, but at the end of the day, I’m going to do my damndest to let them know I’m still on their side.