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Amanda Marcotte Discussion Thread

Posted on : Apr-27-2010 | By : Joshua | In : Blog Post

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So we mostly use this site for announcements, but as an experiment I’d like to try getting a discussion going about last night’s Amanda Marcotte event. Hopefully, it’s something that people like and that we can do for future events as well.

Some topics to kick off the discussion:

  • Amanda argued that science has become a partisan issue, whether scientists and skeptics like it or not. Agree or disagree?
  • Which aspects of the Democratic/liberal platform do you think could most benefit from the active input of skeptics and scientists? Which will be problematic?
  • How do you think Amanda’s assertion that “fighting not to lose” is counterproductive applies to some of the internal debates in the skeptical community?
  • Amanda had a unique response to #boobquake, basically pointing out that making fun of Islam in a predominantly Christian society doesn’t accomplish much, since most people in the West are already skeptical of Islamic religious claims. How would we redesign that event or other similar events (e.g., “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day“) to be less Othering toward Muslims and more targeted toward the flavour of religious fundamentalists who have prominence in this country?

Feel free to discuss anything else about last night’s event, as well. Also, here’s a related question that’s more for my personal curiosity than a discussion topic. Do any of you already participate in political activist groups locally? I mean that to include local branches of national organisations or entirely locally-oriented organisations or just informal gathering events like Drinking Liberally. I’d like to know how many of us are already participating in these things.

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Comments (9)

As far as activist political groups – I am new to Boston, but hung with a number of them in DC. Its what contributed to me being a more out and active skeptic instead of “well, you got your thing…”. These were generally less formal types. The lack of skeptical thinking and planning was disheartening and shocking. From the ideas of individuals, often of the earth-goddess bent, mistaken ideas of what respecting diversity means (any trained feminists in the house?), and as a group – the most appalling lack of reflection on methodology. To beat the horse, imagine a homeopath screaming “shake it harder!” at you whilst you try to concoct. If you want blank stares, as any activist, before an event, how they will know if the event is a success or not.
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I think the PZ stunt with the host thing is a good example of a boobquaking. (Did I just type that?) I’ve often fancied protesting at churches the way abortion clinics are protested at – accuse the folks of damaging their children and beg them to come to the side of reason. Possibly a lower-common-denominator, but what fun. There was also the fellow that asked people to help stone his lying son. Hmr. Its difficult for me to separate my atheism out here.
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I’ve thoughts on Amanda’s ideas, but don’t wanna hog comments just yet. ;)

Please continue to share!

I think you actually raise an interesting point about asking how to tell whether an event is a success. With us, it’s pretty easy, because our goal for pretty much every event is for people to learn something and have fun, hopefully in equal amounts. I can’t be sure anyone is learning, but I assume they’re at least having fun, or else they wouldn’t keep coming back. ;)

I agree with you on PZ’s “crackergate” stunt. I thought it was successful for a couple of reasons.

* First of all, it got a lot of attention, which is nice because it doesn’t make a difference how brilliant you are if nobody notices.
* Second, there was a point to the specific act that he performed. His post explained it quite well — the whole idea of the communion wafer being sacred was created as part of a systematic program of oppressing the Jews, and he desecrated his wafer in a way identical to that of anti-Semitic propaganda pieces used by the Church.
* Third, and importantly in the context of Amanda’s point, it was standing up to a powerful organisation that has considerable political influence right here in America (see also: Bart Stupak, Proposition 8). That’s why so many people were upset and offended. If you shit on a minority, outsider group, not a lot of people are going to give you grief for it (outside of the target group and few non-targets who overcome their privilege). This is why right-wing commentators can routinely say the foulest, most racist, offensive, hateful shit and never suffer more than a slap on the wrist, and even then only in extremely rare instances.

Anyway, yeah, I think those provide a few good criteria for whether any given action is something worth undertaking. Gaining attention, conveying a specific message, and targeting a group that actually deserves it. Fight the power, etc.!

Glenn Greenwald actually just wrote an article that’s somewhat germane to the point I brought up above. Here’s a key sentence:

Can one even conceive of having a Muslim NYT columnist who routinely disparages and rails against Christians and Jews this way? To ask the question is to answer it, and by itself gives the lie to Douthat’s typically right-wing need to portray his own majoritarian group as the profoundly oppressed victim at the hands of the small, marginalized, persecuted group which actually has no power (it’s so unfair how Muslims always get their way in the U.S.).

I’ll track you down to talk more about success @ the next pub event. I assure you I’ll have learned something and be having fun.

I have mixed feelings about the “fighting to lose” mentality. In some ways, the internal debate is a good sign – a movement of any size will eventually have to have some sort of rift – just because of the number of people. Its a good test of us to see how we handle and move forward. For myself, and I am on the fight to win. I think its too difficult to tell when to stop compromising. Also, social power is never ceded willingly. That said, I’ve hear a compelling argument for this proving a sort of stutter-step to success. The militants freak everyone out, and the the less “scary” move in, and seem way more reasonable, and have some wins. I’d like to see some data though.

I think most areas of a political platform could benefit from the skeptics and scientists. The greatest impact and probably most difficult is in matters of public health and welfare. To my understanding, most of our programs reflect conjecture that relates to ideology, rather than any research. I think it’s a harder sell, because it a very emotive issue, and is another that gets to core civic identity and the like. If evidence shows particular kind of thing works, but it runs counter to how we like to view the world… I am very interested in hearing others on this – I think it could help provide consideration for a way forward that is providing a service, rather than trying to catch up.

Ace summary of PZs crackergate. I’d addend the right-wing with a bit more from Amanda. It brings back the idea of messaging, even highlighted by the 99% question (which I’d also LOVE to talk to folks about), that there is a difference of approach. On the right/woo you have a broad emotional appeal and on the left/science you have a very rational appeal. The trouble seems to be, emotional appeals work much more effectively than rational. If she didn’t make the point, I know it was close, that we need to find a way to present skeptical ideas in a way that can be more readily digested.

Will Marcotte’s presentation be online soon? I’m loath to comment until I’ve seen it, but the comments so far aren’t exactly assuaging my worry that this was going to be a tone deaf “Conservatives are all a bunch of snake-handling loons, so let’s be jerks about it” thing.

@Tom, that’s not the vibe I got. And it was really quite melodic. I think she left it up to the individual to decide if they want to be a jerk.

What sort of skeptical tie-ins to politics would you like to see? Perhaps something was covered that Joshua and I have as yet neglected to mention? (Which is likely, I presume.)

@Corkscrew, I’m glad to hear that and I hope I’m the one who’s getting the wrong impression here. Again, I wasn’t able to attend the last meeting, so anything I say about it is made in ignorance (hence, my avoiding speaking about it).

Josh’s comments about Crackergate — coupled with your kudos to him — do concern me. I’m hard pressed to imagine a more foolishly counterproductive stunt than it. Put yourself in the shoes of the average Catholic, who didn’t hear about initial incident and who doesn’t particularly care about issues that interest Skeptics. There you were, minding your business, when you hear about some atheist professor purposefully desecrating something you hold — however irrationally — to be sacred that he took under false pretenses. Are you more likely to A) Make certain to follow the issue closely, reading all of said professor’s explanations for his rationale for the desecration and their historical/intellectual context*, or to B) shout “What an asshole!” and stop thinking?

As for skeptical tie-ins to politics, I’d prefer we focus on issues where we can engage rather than provoke. Taking a step further back, I think it’d behoove the club to that conservatives aren’t necessarily hostile to everything we do and a few of them may even count themselves as members of the club. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

@Josh, though Greenwald’s counterexamples do punch something of a whole in Douthat’s argument, isn’t it also true that — in 14 years as America’s professional provocateurs — Trey and Parker have only had their work censored by Comedy Central only when it comes to portrayals of Mohammad.

* As someone who was a practicing Catholic from the cradle til the age of 22, I assure you that the average post-Vatican II Catholic connects the Eucharist with Antisemitism in the same way the average American connects his country’s name with that of an otherwise obscure Italian sailor: not at all without being prodded and, even then, it has no intellectual or emotional significance.

Sadly, we didn’t set up to record Amanda’s talk. I think Maggie got a few brief clips, but I’m not sure if those even had audio.

And for the record, Amanda didn’t bring up Crackergate at all in the talk, that was purely my own contribution.

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