Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How to Fix Your Group

So, in the past few days there were two incidents of Islamic terrorism -- one in Sydney and one in Peshawar -- that I wanted to talk about. Here are some unnecessary disclaimers:

1) Just because one person of a group does something bad does not mean that everyone in that group is bad.
2) There is a difference between someone who is X doing something bad, and someone who does something bad for X.
3) No position, ideology or religion is allowed to be free from criticism, especially if that criticism is pointed at the ideas and not the persons.

Also, I am a straight, white guy, so I don't get a lot of prejudice from sight alone. I am an atheist though, and even if this experience is not quite as intense as experiencing prejudice being a Muslim or black in America, I will be relying on my experience in the atheist community for this blog post.

So, let's say I join the KKK, an unambiguously evil group.

1) Your first instinct should be to just leave and focus your efforts elsewhere. After I see the KKK doing and saying evil things, my first instinct should be to leave. If I am in the group by choice and can leave by choice, and that group is doing a lot of bad things, I should just disassociate myself with that group.

I kept wondering about this during the gamergate fiasco that just occurred. People would say and threaten evil things so much so that the title "gamergate" was pretty much stained. If you truly believe that the people in your group are giving you a bad name, and if you truly believe in whatever cause it is, you can disassociate yourself from that group, easy.

For example, the atheist community has a horrible misogyny problem. A lot of us don't take too kindly to this kind of nonsense, so one of the things that many of us did was disassociate ourselves from these people. This is kind of hard, because I can't suddenly believe in a god just because some atheists I know are assholes. That is not a good reason to believe, first of all, and secondly, not really possible for me. So instead I choose to identify more with two other groups, rather than the atheist community at large -- atheism plus and humanism. Both of these groups have a tendency to reject any type of prejudicial thinking and emphasize helping other people. If you think the KKK group you joined is no longer representing your interests, make a new group. "Colorblind Power" or something. Ku Klux Friendship.

Let's go back to my joining of the KKK. If I were in that group, and I told you that not every KKK member is evil (which is true) and not every KKK member has done something bad (which is true) and some KKK members are actually good people (which is true, probably) than you wouldn't believe a bit of that, would you? You would say, sure, you may be alright, but everyone else in that group is a racist asshole.

Now, remember my disclaimer up at the top. For sure, not every KKK member is an asshole, not every gamergater is a misogynist, and not every Muslim is a terrorist. But if you're that one lone good guy, there's no reason to offer your support to a bunch of bad guys.

2) What you should not do is claim that you and people like you have ownership over the "true" such-and-such. I feel very strongly about this for two reasons. The first is that we're not allowed to do this in the atheist community, so it's taught me not to pay attention when other people try to pull this shit. You can't say, "This guy isn't a true atheist," just because of the nature of atheism. (Atheism being more about a lack of belief than the presence of one.) The second reason is terrorism.

You would think that there would be some cognitive dissonance between religious terrorist groups and the killing of civilians. Every child in that school in Peshawar was a Muslim, yet they were killed by Muslims, for the sake of Islam. Shouldn't that cause some sort of fundamental disconnect in the minds of this killers? And yet when you read interviews with Al-Qaeda members or the press releases from ISIS, you see that they see no disconnect. That is because they believe that they are the "true" Muslims and the people they kill are wrong. Which leads me to my third point:

3) If someone in your group is being awful, you are the person most responsible for denouncing them, especially if you think that they are not representing your group in the "true" way. It doesn't do any good to say, "Oh, he's not really one of us, so it doesn't affect us." If this person is a member of the group (which they are, no matter how much you hate the fact that they are) and doing bad things in the name of your group, you need to let the world know how much you hate it.

Let's say an atheist bombs a church today. Overnight the reputation of atheists gets much, much worse, and now everyone is looking at every person with a copy of a Carl Sagan book like they're arsonists. It's not fair and it's not true, but it's bound to happen. However, I believe that bad reputations like these can be countered if you make enough noise in the opposite direction. If your group can overwhelmingly come out in opposition to church bombings, then perhaps your reputation will become being anti-violence. The alternative is that you stay silent about something and let everyone form a reputation around you. What if some atheists think, oh, that wasn't that bad. It was just a church that shouldn't have existed anyway, and besides, there were no people in it.

I hope that I apply this principle to atheism as best I can. I can't leave atheism, and I can't claim that some bad atheist isn't a "true" atheist, and so if you're in the same situation as me, the best you can do is hope that your positive noise cancels out the negative.

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