Yes. I’m going there again, to that atheist/skeptic gender war thing. I promise that unless I receive any direct provocation after this I will resign to be but a bystander not offering any more commentary. Even now I’m going to try to step as far back as I can. There is a relatively popular blog that I really think skeptics should read, You Are Not So Smart. The author has an acerbic wit about him that makes Brian Dunning look cuddly in comparison.
Of particular note are articles on The Backfire Effect and Deindividualization. Honestly, The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight might even be relevant–it’s at least really interesting, at least I thought so. To boil it down to my own dry interpretation, I think it is really important for skeptics to understand how their brain works and what kinds of tricks it will play on us when we think we’re being completely reasonable. All the logical fallacy flashcards in the world will stop us from falling into one from time to time.
Importantly, being aware of something does not put us above it. If we acknowledge sexism as a problem, that does not mean we cannot be sexist. I proudly call myself a feminist, and if in company that doesn’t like to apply the word to men, I will with equal pride call my self a feminist ally. But you know what? I’m still going to say and do sexist things. Racist things, too. Just because I am aware of my white, male, cisgendered, class privilege does not mean I cannot or will not make mistakes.
When I do make mistakes, sometimes I catch myself, sometimes it passes unnoticed by me, and sometimes people call me out on it. Can you guess what the first thing I think when I get called out is? “Nuh uh!” Sometimes that’s my second, third, fourth thought, and so on. No matter how wrong we are, being corrected stings. Only one thing, so far as I am aware, can help us–being aware of the possibility that we can slip up.
Knowing about each of our own privileges and pitfalls doesn’t inoculate us against acting them out or falling into them. We have to be aware. To be the best person I can be I have to keep it in my head that I can be unfair. I have to remember that even though it feels like a slight when someone tells me how something I said or did upset them, I shouldn’t immediately bite back. Even though I think I can justify my transgression, the most important thing is making sure I treat the people around me the way they deserve to be treated–with kindness and respect.
It’s a lot to do. And we probably won’t do it perfectly or even gracefully every time. But the really beautiful thing is that if you try, people will understand in the end. Also, I don’t think this is limited to the way we should treat people inside our own movement. To be honest, I don’t think I ever would have personally gravitated toward skepticism or atheism were I not already on a trajectory heading that way. The language frequently used to discuss the direct objects of our skepticism will probably earn high fives from the skeptics, but not much good from the general public.