Why it is Important to Discuss the Issues We Disagree About
This post is in response to Dave’s Dear Secular Community: Lest we forget, we’re on the same side.
Lately in the atheist blogosphere (I can not believe I am using that word non-ironically now; I think I just threw up a little) there has been much conversation about instituting harassment policies at conferences. That is actually only tangential to what I want to discuss in this post. What I actually want to discuss is the idea proposed in Dave’s blog post, including the tweet. The tweet (by Florida State Director of American Atheists, and Vice President of Outreach for Secular Woman, Bridgette Gaudette) read:
“Dear Secular Community: We agree on 95% of the same stuff, can we focus on that and not the 5% that we disagree on?!”
There are a few issues I have with this idea, as well as the suggestions that come of the application of this idea. Firstly, on the most basic level, let me grant the arbitrarily decided on percentages and even then most of that 95% that we agree on is going to be things like gravity, that humans require oxygen, that 2+2=4. There is nothing to discuss with these issues.
I am not setting up a straw-man argument. I realize that what was meant by the original comment were issue about church-state separation, science education, LGBTQ rights, etc. However, I think it is important to point out that that would not make up this full 95%. Most of what we agree on we have no need to discuss because everyone else agrees with it as well. Then there are the “movement issues” that most of us agree on within the movement, but that a large part of the rest of society does not. These get a lot of discussion, as we want to convince those that disagree of our viewpoint in an attempt to mold society into one that shares our values. This is precisely why these things need to be discussed in the movement. The only way to promote positive change in society is by discussing the issues with the rest of society. The only way to promote positive change within the movement is by discussing the issues with the rest of the movement.
I understand the sentiment behind the idea; the whole “let’s be friends” mentality. And I completely agree with it. However, I think we need to tread carefully lest we enable the silencing of complaints and discussion. We can, and should, discuss these ideas respectfully. There should not be long-standing feuds and resentment due to discussion of these issues and we should certainly not have different camps forming. For Thor’s sake people, we have escaped this herd mentality once, lets not jump into it again. So I certainly sympathize with the desire to get along, but I think that can still be done while discussing important issues that people within the movement disagree upon, and I do think it is necessary. The complaints about not wanting to read about it on the blogs anymore are not at all helpful. For one, you have the ability not to read them if you do not care about the issue being discussed. There are titles and tags that can help you with this endeavor if skimming the article first to too time consuming for you. Secondly, and more importantly, these comments seem to me to be showing quite a bit of privilege. ”This does not affect me personally, and I don’t want to feel like I am doing anything wrong, so I don’t want to read about it anymore.” This may all be true, but it does affect other people within the movement, and they just as much of a right as anyone else does to try to keep people safe and treated equally. If you disagree with arguments being made in favor of some of these issues, then engage in the discussion, but to say that we should all stop talking about it is edging towards censorship and is not at all productive.
Tony Lakey is the President of MU SASHA. He is currently interning with the Center for Inquiry On Campus in Amherst, NY. He will be starting his fourth year at the University of Missouri – Columbia in August 2012, majoring in Philosophy and Sociology.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
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