Thursday, September 06, 2012

Atheist Tribes

I told you so.

What did I tell you?

I told you that atheists are human beings.

They are not a group of hyper-rational super humans. We have not discovered how to transcend those elements of our psychology that still plagues those who *scoff* believe in a god.

We are humans, subject to human foibles unless we take pains to correct them. Unfortunately, we cannot take pains to correct them as long as we believe that we are some super-human entity that have overcome the failings of mere mortals. It is a classic case of admitting that a problem exists before we can take steps to effectively fight it.

I am writing this post in the shadow of the debate over Atheism+ - a debate that has beaten its originator, Blag Hag, into surrender.

I have told you that religions were invented by humans, not by god. To an atheist, the reaction one would expect to such a comment is, "Well, duh!". However, many of those who know this to be true ignore one of its most obvious implications. They treat religion as if it corrupts human beings - and argue that if we can simply eliminate this corruption then we can have better humans. However, the fact of the matter is that it was not religion that corrupted humans. It was humans that corrupted religion. Humans created religion to embody their core values. Those values went into deciding which inventions people were going to embrace and which they were going to ignore.

With or without religion, those corruptions remain within us. And those corruptions have the same power to infect non-religious systems of belief as they have to corrupt religious systems of belief.

This is blatantly obvious to those who look. We see it in Marxism and Ayn Rand objectivism. We see all of the markings of a religion - with their prophets and their holy writings which cannot be questioned and the twisted logic that its followers use in order avoid objections. We see it in their inability to handle dissent and in their tendency to form factions around charismatic leaders, each of whom claim that they have the official teachings correct while those other factions are heretics as much worthy of condemnation as any non-believer.

I told you that an atheist community would not be a utiopia. People will still divide themselves into factions that will fight each other - adopting positions, not because reason dictates those positions, but because human nature drives us to certain states. An atheist community would form factions - parties - that would battle each other. An atheist community is at risk of forming the secular equivalent of religious wars - with the Rational Rebels sect wiping out whole villages of the Defenders of Reason sect because they have not adopted the one, true set of values dictated, not by God, but by "reason".

Christopher Hitchens would challenge those who claimed that religion motivated people to do good to name any good motivated by religion that an atheist cannot do for other reasons. Against this, I challenge those who have claimed that atheism creates some sort of superior human uncorrupted by religion to name an evil done in the name of god that an atheist cannot do for some other reason. Remember, the corruptions we see in religion are corruptions that humans, the inventors of religion. We put them there.

If religions are mysongenist it is because humans tend towards mysogeny and, given this trait, humans put these values into their religion. If religions are tribal it is because humans are tribal and we put those values into religion. The same corruptions that humans can write into their religion they can write into their non-religious belief systems as well.

Some are in the process of writing the same attitudes towards women found in religion into their own social systems.

I told you that in a society that is 85% atheist, most people will adopt atheism in that community for exactly the same reasons that people become religious today. They will not be reasoned into it. They will absorb it from their culture without thought or reflection. That is our nature. We do not have the ability to hold all of our beliefs up to the light of reason, so we take short-cuts. We use "rules of thumb" that are less accurate than pure reason but much more efficient. We get our beliefs mostly right in a way that allows us to function. Those systems give us what we need to survive.

What we see now is the formation of different atheist tribes. Leaders draw others into a community for a variety of different reasons ranging from natural charisma to having the ability to hand out favors and recognition to having a shared sense of values. They do not adopt these attitudes because reason demands it. They adopt these attitudes because humans are psychologically disposed to adopt the attitudes of the tribe. They feel comfortable with these attitudes.

They claim that their attitudes are dictated by reason. However, the logic that we see in this dispute would embarrass the faithful.

"We must condemn all of those who condemn others. It is evil to call things evil. We must purge the movement of all who would embrace purges."

And as I write this I can imagine the people in each faction nodding in violent agreement, "That is exactly what I have been telling the people in that other faction all along."

People cannot see - in fact, they must remain willfully blind to - the things done within their own tribe. They think that they hold their beliefs up to the light of reason. However, "My tribe is the morally superior tribe" is one of this unquestionable assumptions that they compare other beliefs to when they think they are applying reason. What they convince themselves they are doing is one thing. However, what they are doing in fact is going with the belief that feels the most comfortable to them, and that is the belief that buys them acceptance within their tribe.

"We are followers of reason," they tell me. Sure they are. On both sides, people lift quotes out of context to score rhetorical points, make every attempt to misinterpret what others say, assign sinister motives without evidence, and bludgeon people with insults and threats. This is what they call 'reason'?

Note that, with desirism, a moral statement is both an emotive statement meant to alter desires through praise and condemnation and, at the same time a truth-bearing statement that can be demonstrated true or false by reason. So, one cannot argue from the fact that desirism endorses praise and condemnation that moral claims are not subject to defense by reason. These are not mutually exclusive options.

Other tribal dynamics then come into play. A tribe picks a leader and adopts a banner or flag to rally around. They will recognize other members of the tribe by displaying the tribal colors. Threaten a tribe and they will close ranks. Their attitudes will tend to become more extreme. These values provide the glue for holding the tribe together, so they become more valuable as the tribe faces greater threats. They will go on witch hunts within the community for dissenters and throw them outside of the tribal walls - banishing and purging them - leaving behind only those who will not dissent.

I read the writings of people who assert, "We are not subject to tribal psychology. These accusations that we are behaving in a tribal manner are malicious libel and we will not stand for it."

To which I ask, "Are you not human?"

If the answer is "Of course I am human," my next question is, "Given that tribalism is an inherent part of human psychology, have you taken steps to actively fight the inherent draw of tribalism? Have you trained yourself and others to recognize tribalism or to adopt certain practices that would counter tribal tendancies?"

I have seen very little evidence of this.

I told you so.

I told you that atheists are human beings.


Anonymous said...

I began a boycott of FTB before the A+ thing because of their tribal behavior and as a nod to fairness before I posted I went and read a couple posts. They really don't get it. They are throwing tribal flags all over the place and rationalizing their superiority over descent.
They are in a life and death battle with their comment sections. It is kinda funny if it weren't so destructive.

Anonymous said...

Here is a blog post that elaborates on the problem at a new blog. The tribal problem cut both ways.

Doug S. said...

Off-topic: Is desirism equivalent to "motive utilitarianism"?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

No. Motive utilitarianism says that a good desire is a desire that maximizes happiness, or pleasure, or some other measure of utility.

Desirism holds that a good desire is one that tends to fulfill other desires. It holds that there is no thing in nature that can be identified with "utility" to be maximized.

In this sense, it also differs from preference utilitarianism - which holds that the right act is the act that maximizes preference satisfaction. Desirism holds that the right act is the act that a person with good desires would perform - and would aim, not at preference satisfaction, but at whatever it is the person with good desires wants.

Chris Jacobs said...

You've ignored why Atheists abhor religion.

Yes, people are people, jerks are gonna be jerks. This point is pretty clear.

The primary problem with religion is that is slows down progress in science, humanity, morals. Religion has been behind society-at-large's moral progress - some times by centuries.

It's a huge, unnecessary drag.

There are other things that hold back our progress towards a more equitable, less unnecessarily cruel world - customs (they change easy - 1 or 2 generations), laws (how many countries are being rewritten right now?), etc.

We humans are quite capable of fantastic good and bad, and religion not only doesn't help towards improving our lot, it acts as the largest weight.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Chris! And boy aren't FTB's, Skepchick, and the Slymepit making tons of progress over the past 2 years! Good thing religion isn't holding them back!
Meanwhile, there's a new pope because the former pope humbly stepped down rather than dig his heels in. I'm sure PZ Myers and Thunderfoot are just about to patch things up any day now.