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Re: [bostonatheists] who is interested in social justice? And why libertarians are not

From: William J S.
Sent on: Sunday, February 3, 2013 1:39 PM
David, let me try again.  I thought I was very clear about not seeking a final word, and openly invited more discussion.  I just did not think that Boston Atheists was the forum, but as that seems not to be the case, so be it.  I hope I am confining my comments to the agreeable standard set by Brother Paul and Zachary. 

Just because someone does not adhere to a progressive's vision of social justice, it does not of necessity mean a lack of empathy or even imply a lack of empathy.  I am not taking issue with the social science.  I am not taking issue with nor do I feel that traits are being unfairly subscribed to me because I self identify with a certain group.  I recognize that there are personality markers in evidence to a greater or lesser degree that can be clearly identified in organized groups.  Especially in groups where people self select their membership.

What I am taking issue with is the assertion, and even the implication, that the progressive view of social justice is some how rarefied enough such that adherence to its precepts bestows some sort of elevation to the adherent, while simultaneously its rejection is profane.  That sounds rather like an argument based on revelation to me.  I find it very interesting that the modern progressive concept of social justice finds its basis in Jesuit teachings, but hardly surprising.  I would much rather base such decision making, about whether to adhere or not adhere to a particular vision, upon the social consequences of such adherence.  

There is deep empathy evident in non-progressive visions of social programs if one can step outside of the liberal vision.  My statement was simply a recognition that it requires a certain level of sophistication to be able to step outside of the social conditioning.  So, sophistication is entirely relevant.  Especially in this case because some of the methods and policies that follow from non-progressive visions of "social justice" seem counter intuitive to the desired outcome when confined to liberalism.   Maybe we atheists should instead think in terms of "socially equitable", or "social equitability".  

Social justice is the the deity on the mount distributing the unending supply of fish.  It is a happy fairy tale, but one that when adhered to has far reaching and very negative social consequences.  It is better to teach a man to fish, yes?  I think that is the fundamental concept here.  My empathy for the hungry leads me to teach them how to fish, and that includes providing all the means necessary to do so.  Ironically enough, it is what I would have them do unto me.

Your creation of the defense attorney straw-man was interesting.  So let me assure you I am not in the least bit defensive.  I am only hoping to correct a misconception, that does not get more true (sic) no matter how often repeated.

William



From: David M <[address removed]>
To: [address removed]
Sent: Sunday, February 3,[masked]:23 AM
Subject: Re: [bostonatheists] who is interested in social justice? And why libertarians are not


William, it is best to not make such a loaded statement as a "final word" email.

I believe that sophistication is irrelevant. Our ideologies tend to boil down to certain core values that we hold for reasons that are quite arbitrary, and which we build fancy arguments on top of. The sophistication arises as we play the role of defense attorney for what we believe, not so much in how we come to what we value. This is why studying the correlation of personality traits and political stances (or even religious views) is so interesting. There are plenty of reasonable and well thought out positions being made by liberals, libertarians, and conservatives. That doesn't mean that there aren't personality traits that are strongly correlated with membership in one of those groups and that make such groups more appealing. 

One thing for sure, for every trait, there is a distribution of that trait among the people that hold any particular ideology. Some will have more, some will have less.

There are social scientists who study these things and they have findings that we might agree or disagree with. One thing we can say about these studies, whether we agree or disagree with them, is that the scientists doing these studies are trying to move beyond anecdote and personal experience to a scientific understanding of why people hold various ideologies. They find that certain traits are more or less common among people with certain ideologies. This says nothing about any one person in that group, since there is likely a regular distribution in the magnitude of any trait within a particular group, but comparing across groups show that the curves are in different locations. It is not a personal premise to refer to such studies. It is possible that such studies are flawed, but they are at least an attempt at quantifying human behavior. As lovers of science, we should appreciate such efforts.

For example, there is a correlation with atheism and Asperger Syndrome. This seems intuitively unsurprising to me, since it makes sense that systematizers are more likely to end up atheists. This does not mean we all fall on the spectrum.

This general model applies to most of what we talk about, whether we talk about the traits of the religious, of atheists, of libertarians, or of liberals. Most of us do not care to hear generalizations about groups we belong to because we see ourselves as individuals, because we see how heterogeneous our groups are, and because every group can rate high in traits we find undesirable, but the studies are there for use to read, understand, and critique.



From: William J Sweeney <[address removed]>
To: [address removed]
Sent: Saturday, February 2,[masked]:52 PM
Subject: Re: [bostonatheists] who is interested in social justice? And why libertarians are not

David, I reject your fundamental premise that a lack of interest in the pursuit of a progressive notion of social justice is evidence of a lack of empathy.  In fact, it is just the opposite if a more sophisticated expression of that same empathy you seem so unable to find.

I'd happily discuss it with you in email or even over a beer, but will stop discussing politics and political economy here where folks have gathered to discuss secularism and atheism.  

William


From: David M <[address removed]>
To: [address removed]
Sent: Saturday, February 2,[masked]:47 PM
Subject: Re: [bostonatheists] who is interested in social justice? And why libertarians are not

Are you endorsing a naturalistic fallacy? Since when is ethics and policy limited to what is? When we come to grips with the fact that people die of disease, should we then stop medical research and close the NIH?

Granting your comment, if all libertarians have done is come to a realization, than they are lagging behind. Most human beings have come to understand already that we can have an impact on the world and our actions can transform it. I suspect thoughtful libertarians would not find your account sufficient. They would accept that we can have an impact on the world, but that their number one virtue is autonomy and they do not endorse policies that curtail autonomy for the sake of increasing "fairness". 

I also think that it is unfair to libertarians to say that they accept unfairness. What seems more accurate is that they have a different focus when they talk about fairness. They focus on the unfairness of taking from those who sacrifice to improve their own lot in order to give to those who may be unwilling to sacrifice. This may be an uncompelling point when talking about people whose only success was having an inheritance, but it is far more compelling when talking about middle class members struggling to put kids through college. We liberals are more likely to frame fairness in terms of the lack of opportunity to succeed in our current society and how our society has rules in place to benefit the haves and to keep the have-nots from catching up. Both conceptions of fairness seem quite compelling to me and worth addressing.

The reality that there are particular characteristics of the minds of people with particular political ideologies is a reality that many dislike since they want to believe they have reasoned their way to their political views. Unfortunately, we humans are not so rational. We typically use our reason to defend our views, not to form them. The fact that libertarians statistically care less about others is what it is. This does not mean that they are defective. The amount that we care about others is a bit arbitrary in that there is not level of caring that should be considered proper.

Returning to my earlier point, libertarianism is not necessarily against social justice (if pursued through freely made personal choices), but libertarians tend to be against it (for pedants: statistically, not necessarily all libertarians) due to different levels of empathy, which are part of the reason that libertarianism is appealing to them. For those with higher levels of empathy, liberalism is typically more appealing.

While I have little patience for evolution deniers and climate change deniers who are all demonstrably wrong, I tend to view political ideology differences to be based on genuinely subjective feelings. Because of my personal bias against people with low levels of empathy (not that I view people that 2 dimensionally in practice), I tend to not care for the libertarian worldview, though I consider it valid and reasonable, just as I consider my liberalism to be such.



From: William J Sweeney <[address removed]>
To: [address removed]
Sent: Saturday, February 2,[masked]:30 PM
Subject: Re: [bostonatheists] who is interested in social justice? And why libertarians are not

Maybe it is just that Libertarians have come to grips with the fact that life isn't fair.  They same way they do not believe in ghosts.  And they are ok with both.




From: Catherine Caldwell-Harris <[address removed]>
To: [address removed]
Sent: Saturday, February 2,[masked]:12 PM
Subject: Re: [bostonatheists] who is interested in social justice? And why libertarians are not

Hi, I've enjoyed the discussion below, and can understand both pts of view that are being articulated:

Statistically, it is known that atheists are mostly liberal and progressive, as mentioned by prior writers in this thread (e.g., Michael R).  But some atheists are libertarians.  Are libertarians against social justice?  Not necessarily against it, since they are not against any choices that individuals make (as noted in prior post), and some individuals choose to pursue social justice.  But libertarians as a group aren't very interested in social justice because social justice is generally about other people, those who have-not.  A recent survey revealed that libertarians are less concerned about other people (even those in their own group) and less concerned about helping others than are typical liberals and even conservatives, see this blog post:

http://righteousmind.com/largest-study-of-libertarian-psych/
and this
http://www.civilpolitics.org/2010/08/why-do-we-study-the-psychology-of-libertarians


So:  both liberals and libertarians distance themselves from tradition (which can include religion).  So atheism includes both libertarians and liberals.    This is why I like to identify as a secular humanist or atheist humanist -- so that I am distanced from libertarianism.

I also like the point by David M. that many religious groups aren't interested in social justice.  Social scientists like David Sloan Wilson (Darwin's Cathedral) propose that a main function of religion was to support one's own group; religions historically promoted within-group altruism but out-group hostility.  That has changed somewhat in the last century along with modernization, which diminishes tribalism, and now many religious groups have social justice projects.

Catherine Caldwell-Harris

On Feb 2, 2013, at 11:58 AM, David M <[address removed]> wrote:

> I'm curious...
>
> Are libertarians against social justice? I know they are opposed to the government doing the social justice. But if individuals act to increase social justice, how does that contradict libertarianism. Don't they espouse individual choice and charities as the proper way to try to solve social injustice? I suppose some might just lack empathy, which might lead them to oppose all such measures, but no one would be taxed. Social justice is also broad. Would a libertarian be opposed to a group supporting a shelter for women fleeing from abusive relationships?
>
> Environmental protection is an area where many libertarians have come around now that it is clear that AGW is a reality. Climate change has also recently become closely tied with evolution due to bills in multiple states that attempt to undermine the teaching of both. This is why the NCSE has expanded their efforts to include not just evolution, but also climate change teaching in schools. Rejecting climate change will marginalize atheists in the atheist community because it is typically an example of indulging in ideology at the expense of empirical data, science and the future of humans.
>
> I agree that economic reform is not a good place to go in such groups since liberals and libertarians will have drastically different ideas for the direction that the reform should go.
>
> When talking about these issues in the context of atheism replacing religion, it is easy to forget that a lot of religious groups have no interest in social justice. Many just Bible thump. Some even just focus on trying to take all your money to use on nonsense like larger chapels or a larger mansion for the minister. Considering the variety within the Christian movement, why would we expect shared goals among the atheist movement? On the other hand, If the group is named "Boston Atheists", such a broad and general name, I tend to feel that the group should try to be a big umbrella, letting people express their atheism as they will as individuals. All types should be welcome, and all types should be able to initiate activities that may or may not have broad appeal. This means some should be able to do their social justice activities, and others should be able to do their sit around and talk-about-how-lazy-the-poor-are activities (sorry, but I am not fond of libertarianism and the thought process behind it once it extends past objections to taxes -- perhaps if my mirror neurons get damaged this would change).
>
> Dave
>
> On Jan 24, 2013, at 5:51 PM, Michael Ratner <[address removed]> wrote:
>
>>
>> Mike,
>>
>> It is my impression that there is already a very high degree of mutual agreement between organized atheists and "progressives" who support advances in religious and personal freedom, social justice, political and economic reform, and environmental protection.  I see a danger in atheistic organizations becoming too linked to these other issues, in that these organizations already have a poor record of enlisting atheists with a libertarian outlook.  While I am not libertarian myself, I have enjoyed being part of a predominantly libertarian discussion group in Cambridge, in which participants have helped each other understand a wider range of views.  I have no objection to progressive atheists being open about their own causes, and even recruiting for them, I think that both atheist and progressive causes are better served by having each organization avoid taking stands on issues outside of its stated purpose.  Such restraint helps to maintain a wide range of big tents under which we can grow our organizations and mobilize our supporters.
>>
>> --Michael R.
>>
>>
>> On Thursday, January 24, 2013, Mike Hanauer wrote:
>> Thanks Ann,
>>
>> So many organizations, including churches, give money or food to the poor but do little or nothing to relieve or eliminate poverty. Perhaps our biggest challenge today (in caring for the future) is environmental degradation. Again, so many churches will rally for insulation or solar panels or LEDs, but do little or nothing to get our society to embrace the basics of TRUE sustainability.
>>
>> I'm hoping the Humanist movement WILL do so.
>>
>> I have come to believe that one of the main problems that progressives have is that they don't stick up for each others causes. Rivers organizations don't worry about air pollution or the importance of science. Global warming groups ignore the other major and destructive problems not related to climate change -- and achieving true sustainability. And yes, humanists organizations often only see separation of church and state as important to helping the human condition.
>>
>> There are a few overarching issues -- issues that make all the other issues, at least to some extent, symptoms. Eternal growth is one of those. Special interests influence is another. Separation of Church and State is perhaps a third. Lack of knowledge of systems engineering may be a fourth. We, and those other groups, have an opportunity to stick together, to become allies, and only then to make a difference -- especially about those overarching issues that inhibit all of us from achieving our common dreams.
>>
>> If we progressives would just give each other even public lip service to those overarching issues, I believe we could turn our major problems around through our unity and resultant numbers. If we continue to ignore each others issues, we all lose the power of unity and go down together.
>>
>> If we can't support each other for the good of humanity, we have - I believe - lost the war for the future of humanity -- god or no god.
>> 
>>    ~Mike





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