• On Labels

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    You may have noted I haven’t updated this site as of late. To be honest, I thought long and hard about skepticism, doubt, and the skeptic community before I decided to jump into the fray again.

    Thing is, I find much of what’s going on in the larger skeptic world to be discouraging. That said, what I’m about to write doesn’t reflect in any way, shape, or form, my experience at Skeptic Ink. I’ve worked closely with a number of writers on this network and they’ve been nothing but delightful.

    But there’s a small, but very vocal element within the broader skeptic community who can be quite relentless in their castigations against anyone who disagrees with them… even when the person “disagreeing” isn’t even aware they’re doing so.

    I began thinking about this issue when Skeptic Ink’s own Ed Clint brought an opinion piece to my attention entitled The Pecking Disorder: Social Justice Warriors Gone Wild.

    It’s an interesting read and reflects many of my thoughts on this subject.

    When I officially became a (very tiny) voice in the skeptic community, I was horrified at what I encountered. Having freelanced since ’95, owned a website/zine since ’01 and having made my living as a freelance writer, where competition can be quite fierce, I’d never encountered anything remotely resembling this world of skepticism.

    In my world, the writer with polished writing skills, a competent publisher, and sharp marketing/PR skills generally fares well.

    In the skeptic world, I’ve observed doxing, attempted career annihilation, sock puppet accounts trashing Amazon book ranking, petty nitpicking, vicious games of “king of the hill,” infighting that rivals any crazy battles I’ve witnessed in a religious setting, and incredibly childish high school drama-queen performances by middle aged keyboard warriors.

    I think this paragraphs sums up the situation well:

    The practical effects of such “social justice” ideology can be seen in the communities where it flourishes (mainly on college campuses and online). It is a reverse caste system in which a person’s status and worth depends entirely on their perceived oppression and disadvantage. The nuances of rank can be as rigid as in the most oppressively hierarchical traditional society. A white woman upset by an insulting comment from a white man qualifies for sympathy and support; a white woman distraught at being ripped to shreds by a “woman of color” for an apparent racial faux pas can be ridiculed for “white girl tears.” However, if she turns out to be a rape victim, the mockery probably crosses a line. On the other hand, a straight white male trashed by an online mob for some vague offenses deemed misogynist and racist can invite more vitriol by revealing that he is a sexual abuse survivor suffering from post-traumatic stress.

    This whole scenario is rather confusing to someone who lives in a quiet Minnesota town, enjoys her writing job, on an average day doesn’t give rape or misogyny a second thought, focuses on deadlines, and generally keeps busy.

    That’s not to say my world is perfect.

    In my world, mega churches preaching the prosperity gospel are growing at an exponential rate. I can count at least five beautiful women who have died terrible cancer deaths because they decided to eschew traditional treatment and follow a quack’s advice. While science is taking us past Pluto, over here we have hidden cameras recording explosive (and misrepresented) private conversations concerning the use of aborted fetuses (more on this in an upcoming post).

    The earth is warming. Far too many Minnesota lakes are now unusable due to copious manure spills. My neighbor can’t afford her meds so she relies on faith to manage her diabetes.

    I’m frustrated.

    So… moving onto labels. Today I’m coming out. I’m a skeptic. To remain an active member of this online community, I feel the need to make a distinction. This means I’m:

    a person who questions or doubts something (such as a claim or statement) : a person who often questions or doubts things

    Simple, eh? Unless you have proof supporting your claim, I’ll feel free to doubt.

    I can’t see how any writer worth their salt could be anything but a skeptic. After all, I’ve trained for decades to understand both sides of any given story. For example, when I’m a reporter, I attempt to spot blatant marketing in a press release. When I’m working PR for a client, I craft the press release to be as news worthy as possible in order to get coverage. Compelling proof makes all the difference in supporting any claim.

    That said, today I’m publicly rejecting another label: I am not an atheist.

    It’s been my experience that the online atheist community doesn’t reflect my long-standing attitudes of cooperation, listening, human dignity, fairness, love of life, laughter, personal responsibility, humbleness, helpfulness, and gratitude.

    I’ve never built my readership at the expense of another person. I don’t plan on starting now. I’ve never endorsed anger, sanctimoniousness, stirring frustration, and dog piling anywhere, at any time. (That said, my readers tend to be quite awesome so this generally isn’t an issue.)

    I love how this article concludes:

    Working to correct inequities is a noble goal—which explains the appeal of the “social justice” movement to many fair-minded people. But the movement in its current form is not about that. It elevates an extreme and polarizing version of identity politics in which individuals are little more than the sum of their labels. It encourages wallowing in anger and guilt. It promotes intolerance and the politicization of everything. It must be stopped—not only for the sake of freedom, but for the sake of a kinder, fairer society.

    So, after my little hiatus, I’m back. I aced all my two year cancerversary tests, I’ve given my participation in the skeptic community a long, hard thought and decided that while my voice is small, my input worth little, I can at least add my voice to a hopefully growing, sane choir.

    Onward and upward.

    — Beth 🙂

    Category: My Opinion


    Article by: Beth Erickson

    I'm Beth Ann Erickson, a freelance writer, publisher, and skeptic. I live in Central Minnesota with my husband, son, and two rescue pups. Life is flippin' good. :)