I've Moved!

Atheist Morality is now West Coast Atheist at Wordpress. Stop on by and feel free to comment over there!

30 March, 2013

AAI Update

Vjack at Atheist Revolution is a model of grace and open, civil discussion. He provides an update to the AAI apology and a clarification on his original post, showing exactly where the detractors went wrong in saying he was trivializing harassment. I can only hope someday to grow up and be as level-headed as he is. I'm still waiting for the rest of the blogosphere to want to do the same.

29 March, 2013

More about "Recovery."

There's been a lot of chatter on some of my favorite blogs lately about Alcoholics Anonymous and how the organization is dealing with a growing number of groups that don't believe in God (mostly de-listing them from their registries, unfortunately). The problem is that AA groups are heavily laden with religious speech and ritual. Most meetings are closed with the Lord's Prayer. There's a chapter in their "Big Book" titled, "We Agnostics," but it simply describes people who don't believe in God getting drunk until they do and has some very flimsy apologetics-like arguments for the existence and reliance on a "Higher Power," including a description about how electricity turns the lights on despite the average man not understanding how it works. (Told you it was flimsy).

As an ex-AA, I can say that you can stay sober if you don't believe in God. I haven't gone to meetings since I was  six years sober and I celebrated ten in February with a 5k run and the Super Bowl (even though my team lost). I've talked to a friend who counsels addicted people with coocurring disorders and she had some interesting things to say about the twelve-step recovery model. Basically, it doesn't work. An addict or alcoholic is forced to throw away any work they did toward their recovery if they relapse even though it's starting to look like relapse is a natural part of the recovery process. I've talked to others who have found the reliance on God to be a crutch, the repeated phrases to be cult-like and the lack of clear leadership to cause some serious harm in people when groups start telling newcomers to throw away their psych meds and just rely on the Big Book. Families of addicts have long complained that the addicted person has replaced drugs and alcohol with meetings, going to three or four a day at times.

I've been there. It took me four months to get a job after I got sober. I went to meetings all the time to avoid the boredom and temptation to drink. I built my life around doing the steps, going to meetings and doing service work. It kept me sober, but at eighteen months I nearly killed myself and had to take prozac and go to counseling for nine months. I should have been doing that all along. I made it through without drinking, but when I finally stopped believing in God I realized that none of it had to do with a Higher Power. It was a sponsor who helped me through the steps and was there to answer my questions about life, coping with sobriety and learning to grow up. It was the groups that kept me from falling into an even deeper depression. Helping other young people get sober (none of them stayed sober) gave me a purpose. There are some things AA's do that could be very useful to people wanting to get sober, but the success rate is less than five percent and I think it's because it won't change it's outlook on addiction and relapse, their causes and treatment.

The Twelve Traditions of AA are a list of principles that are to guide groups in how they operate. While the fifth Tradition states that "each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers," and the third states that "the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking," atheist and agnostic groups are being forced out of the umbrella organization, AA World Services, Inc, for adopting a different form of the steps that call for reliance on a "Higher Power." In meetings, people often say this power doesn't have to be God, but AA's actions prove otherwise. The message is clear: Get God or Get Out.

How can atheists improve their chances of recovery? I would suggest we go about it as we would the God question or any other skeptical claim. Research and ask questions. Ask an addiction specialist. Find a counselor outside of the Twelve Step model recovery homes and start from there. There are a number of secular groups as well, though they are few and far between. Start your own. Grab a Big Book and adjust the steps if you want. You won't get support from AA Inc, but you might be on the forefront of a new approach to recovery, one that marries the best of AA with the best of science and throws out the nonsense. Whatever you do, find someone to talk to if you feel like using again.

28 March, 2013

DAFT is having a Blasphemy Brunch

The Davis Area FreeThinkers group Crépe meetup is such a success that we're going to have a Blasphemy Brunch next month about halfway from the next meetuo. The dinner is very informal and no matter how many times I suggest topics in the Facebook group, it always ends up being an open discussion with people just hanging out and getting to know each other. I'm expecting the brunch to be the same.

A couple people have shown interest in doing some community work for a bit of exposure in our area. I don't have any problem with that as I've always been active in various ways in my communities. I don't agree with the latest claims by some atheists that charitable activism naturally follows from an atheist position, but I don't see the harm in combining my social activism (which I've done since before I was an atheist) with my non-belief, especially if it works to show people that atheists aren't scary, baby-eating hooligans.

I've met some really neat people I probably wouldn't otherwise know and I've had a great time. I'm so glad I met up with the SacFAN folks at Freethought Day and connected with them. I wouldn't have been able to get this off the ground without their support. They're great! I'm really excited for what's to come.

27 March, 2013

AAI Trivializing Harassment.

Yesterday, Atheist Alliance International tweeted to Vjack's awesome Atheist Revolution article, "Understanding Harassment."

They were automatically met with divisive and misleading tweets by Rebecca Watson  and Ophelia Benson that implied the blog post was trivializing harassment. AAI immediately put out this pathetic apology and are refusing to answer how giving a legaldefinition of harassment and pointing out that some people are using the term wrong is trivializing harassment of women.

Well, that about settles it for me. AAI is a useless organization and has lost my respect as a woman and as a former victim of harassment and years of bullying. When people like Watson and Benson label all offensive speech as harassment and spend their days chasing bogeymen instead of addressing real-life bullying, they are trivializing my experiences.

26 March, 2013

Notung Discusses Shermer's Claim About Science and Morality

Notung, who writes at SkepticInk has a new post up about science and morality. He is weighing in on Michael Shermer's claim that "science can somehow weigh in on issues of morality."

He begins with a thought experiment that will come into play after he begins addressing Shermer's arguments.
You are late for a very important interview for a very well-paid job. If you miss it, you’ll certainly not get the job. You are driving to the interview and come to a fork in the road. As you are about to take the right turning, you witness a pedestrian being hit by a car in the other direction. The car flees the scene, and there are no other people or cars around. The hit pedestrian looks to have life-threatening injuries.

Notung points out Shermer's statement that we can "bring to [the question of morality] studies and data and experiments and research to see what works and what doesn’t." Notung rightly points out that "what works and what doesn't" isn't always clear and illustrates this point with the thought experiment.

Morality is about intention as much as result and Notung points out that whichever course of action one chooses, the result would "work" for whatever the person intended. If they leave the scene, their choice "works" to get them to the interview on time. If they stay and help, their choice "works" to give the man a better chance at survival. This was the same issue I had with Chatterton's piece about morality. Notung is describing very well the "is/ought" question in moral philosophy.

I don't have an answer, and I would like to take Chatterton and Shermer's viewpoint that we can rationalize a better morality, but there are holes that need to be filled before we can claim with certainty that this is true. However, Notung's piece is titled, "Science Has Nothing To Say About Morality,"  and I don't know if that is quite right either. Can the harm an action brings or reduces be quantitatively measured objectively? I've always leaned toward the same utilitarianism that Chatterton and Shermer describe, but now I'm not so sure.

24 March, 2013

What Happened to You, Feminism?

For the record, I appreciate everything feminism has done for women: voting and reproduction rights, a fight for equal treatment under the law, the breaking of barriers in the workplace, etc. But nowadays when I see this kind of fluff juxtaposed with things like women protesters being assaulted in Egypt or women barred from driving in Saudi Arabia, I just have to shake my head.

What happened to you, feminism? You used to say a woman had choice, could make her own way in the world. Now you are trying to guilt us for our nutrition choices. And you're doing it with bad science and bad ideas. It's sad and sickening that while the US has more women graduating from college than men you are still stuck on ways to "defeat the patriarchy" which include shaming women for their career and life choices, treating women as fragile beings who can't handle off-color jokes and borderline paranoia about meat.

Just a few things, feminists: stay away from my steak, I took my husband's name because I damn well wanted to, and damnit, I like Seth McFarland. If you can't respect these choices I've made, you aren't really a feminist at all.

18 March, 2013

Chatterton on Morality.

957 Chatterton has a post up titled, "What is Morality?" Well, that's an excellent question and since here at Atheist Morality, I haven't touched on that subject for quite some time, I suppose I'll feature this post.

In the post, he describes what he believes a moral system is made of: "sympathy, empathy, and reciprocal altruism; that it is reasoned and argued for the purpose of figuring out how best to maximize happiness and minimize suffering."

I agree, but I think that it is too broad a statement. Maximize who's happiness? Minimize who's suffering? This will inevitably lead to thought experiments such as "Should you kill the fat man?" It gets a bit fuzzy when you start balancing the happiness of the greatest number of people with whether or not it is moral to use a person for a purpose without their consent. In general, though, I think it's a pretty good guideline for a moral system.

Chatterton adds support to his assertion by describing morality as a social science. Now that is interesting! He writes, "It’s the very fact that we can make determinations of what causes the most happiness and least suffering that renders morality a subject for social science." Can we, though? Are the examples he listed, such as ending slavery and freeing women of oppression objectively and measurably "causing the most happiness and least suffering?" What if the population of women was only 13% and the rest were men and all of those men had long tradition oppressing women. Wouldn't a law forbidding such a practice actually cause suffering in a larger amount of people than the status quo? Just something to think about.

He goes on to assert that this kind of moral system makes revenge and retribution invalid forms of justice. He calls for rehabilitation and restitution as forms of justice. I mostly agree with this. There are some people who will never rehabilitate or carry out restitution, but I do believe that with practice, our societies can move away from our sordid prison systems into one that turns criminals into justice-seekers. I heard an excellent talk about Restorative Justice on MLK Jr Day in Davis this year. The concept is that victim and perpetrator can come together to reach an agreement over what the criminal should do to make up for their crime. Hearing a story of how a mother sat down with her daughter's murderer and told him he'd have to do twice the good in the world because of the good her daughter would have done was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Even this latest Stubenville rape has got me thinking that if our society could turn those boys into activists for the protection of young people and awareness about consent, we could maybe gain something positive from it.

Chatterton backs up his definition by saying that no other definition of morality holds any real purpose for us, and that may be true, but I think that it still makes that a belief rather than a quantifiable fact. I'm not saying that he's not on the right track, I'm just not convinced it's specific enough to cover all of human behavior. Still, it's a damn good start and a lot better than trying to gleam a moral code from a stone-age religion.

13 March, 2013

California and Private Online Universities

My state is trying to require public universities to accept credit from online colleges. This is pretty much a huge mistake as written. The standards of private online universities are all over the place, even ones with regional accredidation. The price for these universities is higher than brick and mortar public universities and yet the graduation rate is lower and those that do graduate have lower-than-average salaries in their fields than employees who have equivalent degrees.

Even the work they do is different. I'll use an anonymous example of someone I know doing their graduate degree at one of these regionally accredited schools. He still has textbooks assigned to his classes. He's doing no independent research of his own in his field. He doesn't TA and he pays his own tuition. My husband is at UC Davis in a graduate program. He gets paid to TA, his tuition is covered, he does his own research. He is not only able to access academic journals, but often he has access to the professors who write peer-reviewed papers and books in his chosen field.

The state shouldn't be bringing good schools down to the level of these mediocre degree-mill type schools, they should be raising the standards of online education. There are definitely enough problems in higher education without having to lower the bar even more to accomodate these lazy degree mills. What do you think?

12 March, 2013

Sxsw Reddit Panel.

I know a load of people have already weighed in on this "controversy" and why having a one-sided panel of people who hate reddit trying to describe reddit's impact on the web is a problem, but I'm going to go ahead and add my two cents.

So I know reddit gets a lot of flack because there are stories of some commenters went on a post last year and asked for the OP to prove she was really raped, but the other day the top link with over 1500 karma was a woman's imgur album of her face after her boyfriend beat her up when she broke up with him and almost all of the comments were positive and supportive. And yes, there are sexist jokes on reddit at times, as well, but most of them are making fun of sexism and the ones that are genuinely bad taste get voted down. Sometimes shitty ones get through, but if you spend enough time in /r/new, you'd see that the rate is actually pretty low. Also, this isn't anything new to the internet. 4chan's /b/ is much older than reddit, more anonymous, content isn't subject to a voting system that weeds the bad from the good and has some of the worst content I've ever seen.

I don't see how "reddit" is the problem like the panel at sxsw made it out to be when it's really just assholes on the internet in our larger society that is the problem. Rebecca Watson of Skepchick claimed that "Reddit’s shared values of “freedom of speech” and anonymity combine with the “karma” voting system to create an ideal environment for the proliferation and normalization of bigotry and hate."

So what's she's saying is that everything that makes reddit reddit is the problem. There's really nothing reddit could change about the user-directed content, anonymity or karma system that would keep reddit intact as it is. Note she's also not blaming twitter, facebook or any other site for the bad behavior of asshole people. It's like saying the sidewalk is the problem when someone is a jerk to you in public.

I hate how arguments like this take away from real issues our societies face. You don't fight sexism in society by singling out one website and making it your personal vendetta to drag it down. I have observed that Watson is particularly terrible at this sort of thing as she has a knack for taking organizations or groups to task for the larger ills of society, especially when she does so without evidence that said organization or group has a larger frequency of those problems than the wider population. For calling herself a "Skepchick," She's actually not very skeptical at all of her own ideas and claims.

For now, if you need me, I'll be on reddit.

04 March, 2013

Life of Pi: Major Spoilers

I'm going to talk about both the book and the movie, Life of Pi. I'm going to be talking mostly about the ending. If you haven't seen the movie or read the book and want to, I suggest you skip this post.

First, is Life of Pi religious? Well, sort of. There are definitely religious themes. The character, Pi, tells the writer he's relaying his story to, "I will tell you a story that will make you believe in God.

The first part of the book centers around the main character's religious discoveries in India. He ended up practicing Hinduism, Christianity and Islam at the same time. It wasn't shown in the movie, but there is a part in the book where his three spiritual leaders meet him on the street and start arguing, trying to claim him as their own and he tells them something to the effect of "I'm just trying to know God," and they all shuffle off embarrassed that they let their dogma get in the way.

The second part centers around his adventures at sea, which I'm sure you know involves a life boat and a tiger, and in the last part of the book the writer does some investigating on his own and hears the tape of Pi's account to the Japanese men. Contrary to the movie, Pi doesn't tell the writer the story he told the Japanese men involving the cook, the sailor and the zebra, the writer learns about it from the tapes. In the movie, Pi tells the author the story and then asks him which he prefers. I think this difference leaves a slightly different impression on the theme of the movie, making it seem more pro-religious than it really is.

In the book, the adult Pi is living his life and telling his story as if it really happened with a tiger, a zebra and a hyena. He's chosen what he wants to believe about what happened because of how painful the event was. He claims to have a story that will make a person believe in God, but that's not what it does. The author and the Japanese men don't believe the story with the tiger over the more likely story involving humans, but they choose to tell others that the former is true. It's less a push for God than an admittance that we humans will interpret the events in our lives in a way that we are comfortable with and that are in line with our past experiences. It's more about the human condition than the question of god.

The movie, trying to end on a more uplifting note than the book (not that the ending of the book was particularly dark), slightly gears it toward the "you can choose to believe in God" thing. I don't think that was the author's intention and I think that Pi's simultaneously believing in three completely contradictory religions at the same time early on in the book lays the foundation for the theme of introspection and perspective on one's own life. I don't remember the skepticism of the father being as prevalent in the book as it was in the movie, either (granted, it's been awhile since I read the book, so I could be wrong, but I think the father is supposed to replace the three religious leaders that argue in the street over Pi's faith).

What I took from the book was that you can pick how you're going to perceive the events in your life, not that one should pick one perception over another. I, personally, would have (and do) believe the story revealed at the end and see the fantastic story about the tiger as a salve for the terrible events that occurred. Which would you pick?

Goals for a Movement.

I read something that touched me and I'd like to share it. Maria Maltseva's recent post. She writes over at the Skeptic Ink Network and many of her views mirror my own, but she's much more graceful and eloquent at expressing them.

First, I'd like to express my hope that her mother get better soon and that she find some comfort in her situation.

I'd also like to emphasize what she wrote about what atheism has to offer. She writes, "The only thing atheism (or agnosticism or ignosticism) should be offering people is a respite from the harms of religion."

Sometimes the atheist community forgets that. There are hundreds and maybe thousands out there, scared to question, to doubt, to stand up and say, "prove it," to the claims made by the large majority of theists in our country. If there is any goal that a united and active group of atheists should have it should be to reach out a hand to those people.