Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Open Letter to Rebecca Watson

Because far be it for Q (that's me) to be able to say something in 1000 characters or less (seriously! That's what the contact page on SkepChick allows!), I return to the InterWaves for a brief missive. I wrote it to both praise Ms. Watson's piece, and to make (of course) a marginally related point of my own. I hope she'll forgive the indulgence (in the unlikely event she even reads this):

To Ms. Rebecca Watson,

I just read your piece on Slate. Bravo! I think it was an excellent piece, and I'm nothing but confused by those who say "Well, maybe she has a point, EXCEPT HER EXAMPLE DOESN'T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH SEXISM" (excuse the yelling all caps re-enactment). It is clear, to me, that the "Elevator Incident" is a) only an example, not your entire "case", and b) a *legitimate* example. (I refrain from making the requisite Todd Akin joke here--it would seem inappropriate all things considered!)

Anyway, I'm sure you have a million of these to read--hopefully more in support than detracting, but I wanted to add a quick point:
One of the female commenters on Slate echoed your analysis, and said that this was why she became more open to progressive religious groups; she was still an atheist, but appreciated the respect and feminist work some of them conduct. This represents, to me, an essentially problematic element of many parts of the skeptic community, emblematized by Prof. Dick Dawkins's argument against civility. (His responses to you mixed privilege with this problematic element for a potent combo.) For one thing, human biology implies that feeling insulted or attacked engages our "fight or flight" and makes it more difficult for us to reason. One could argue that it's the individual's responsibility to reason, even if they feel attacked. But why not, on the part of the skeptic, reason that it's better to be polite and even overly civil, and get your message listened to by a larger audience, than to be blunt and unconcerned with others' feelings, narrowing your audience and message to those with above-average self-control and self-reflection?

Anyway, I could go on and on (and already have), but this is a point I have some interest in. I have had little interest in the formal Skeptic community because of the common attitude I sense. To rampantly stereotype, it's the "Being dedicated to rationality means it's my right and obligation to be condescending to those who are less rational" vibe. Whereas I highly value civility. I don't see being kind and patient and listening to other people's perspectives (even if I think they're poorly reasoned) as mollycoddling or being somehow oppositional to disagreement and rational argumentation. Polite disagreement has won me far more converts than searing wit and incisive reason. Psychology and sociology imply you convince people, build movements, and change policies through inclusive rhetoric and gradual convincing, not brinksman-like logical put-downs.

And like the woman who commented on your blog, I would rather side with a feminist, progressive religious group than with an oblivious, "sex- and color-blind" (and therefore "privilege-blind") skeptic group.

Argh, ok, all that's neither here nor there--in the end, I wanted to say "Good on you", good luck, and keep up the fight(s)!