Elevatorgate – Part 2 – The Failure of Skepticism

[Originally published in Freethought Kampala]

Skepticism generally refers to:

…any questioning attitude of knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.

On one hand, I can see great value in people of a skeptical bent meeting, and exchanging ideas. I can see the benefit in skeptical people getting together to discuss ways in which they might get the wider public interested in applying skepticism in their daily lives. In a way, that’s kind of the reason Freethought Kampala came into existence in the first place. I am also interested in meeting and interacting with skeptics everywhere. There is a lot to learn about this world, and a lot of information to share. Meeting people with the same passion for knowledge is, without a doubt, a great thing.

But what happens when skepticism becomes more than a way of thinking, such as a movement in and of itself?

crowd 1Movements are essentially political entities – and thus a skeptical “movement” is very much prone to abandoning the very skepticism it claims to uphold in favour of what, at the time, may seem politically expedient or politically correct.

Skepticism advocates an approach to thinking – not conclusions. On the other hand, political ideas advanced by movements are premised on what are already conclusions. That is why Elevatorgate, for example, is the scandal that it has become. It is, at its core, a purely ideological problem.

(To see and understand what exactly happened, see my previous post: Elevatorgate)

You would think that being skeptics, whatever disagreements arising from how the events surrounding and following from Elevatorgate were to be interpreted would be done calmly, rationally, and above all, skeptically.

But this is not what happened at all.

My concern is not so much about whether someone takes one view or another with regards to Elevatorgate. Indeed, even among the members of Freethought Kampala, there are different opinions on various aspects of the matter. My concern is about how the matter has been handled, the poor quality of arguments that have been advanced, the astounding amounts of hypocrisy on display, and above all the intolerant attitude towards viewpoints that don’t tow the radical gender feminist line – all this, among people that call themselves skeptics.

In this post I’d like to go into detail about some of the things that I found mind-boggling with regards to this fiasco – the ways in which I think skeptics decidedly jettisoned their skepticism, to embrace dogma instead.

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Elevatorgate

[Originally published in Freethought Kampala] Rebecca_watson

Elevatorgate is the unprecedented INTERNET WAR that erupted after Rebecca Watson (above) posted a video in which she discussed an ordeal she experienced in an elevator while attending the World Atheist Convention which took place in Dublin, Ireland, from June 3rd to June 5th, 2011.

During the months of July and August 2011, the atheist-skeptic blogosphere was ablaze with accusations, counter-accusations, verbal fights, moral declarations and insults as hundreds of bloggers and millions thousands of their readers tried to determine whose assessment of the events narrated by Watson best represented the facts at hand.

What also came under much discussion, and perhaps the crux of Elevatorgate, was Watson’s conduct after posting the initial video, particularly her treatment of a female student called Stef McGraw – and the manner in which dissenting opinions were dismissed as being products of misogyny and sexism.

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Rational Ugandan – the blog

My name is James Onen, co-founding member of Freethought Kampala

I created this blog because I want to express certain views I have with regards to atheism, skepticism, freethought, rationality – not from an advocacy view point (as I do on the Freethought Kampala blog), but from the perspective a person observing what has come to be known as the online atheist-skeptic community.

Recent events have indicated to me that atheists do in fact have their fair share of dogmas. As Luke Muehlhauser of Common Sense Atheism duly observed in his article “Atheism and Dogmatism” on August 1, 2010:

Denying the gods does not allow one to escape rampant human bias. Theism is merely one symptom of our mostly non-rational and irrational primate brains – there are many other symptoms that atheists rarely escape. We, too, are often dogmatic. We, too, abandon reason and evidence to support opinions that just “feel right” to us.

he continued:

Attack an atheist’s dogma – especially about a complicated subject like morality and feminism – and count the number of respondents who show a serious interest in arguments and evidence over emotion and dogma-defending.

Freethought Kampala has a very specific focus, and I am not keen to saddle it with discussions of the internal politics of the online atheist community.

This blog will focus on discussions of what I think are some of the dogmas that plague the minds of many atheists.