Generalizations and the Honest Conversation

generalizing-web

The other day, something came across my newsfeed. This something came from someone who was a pretty known atheist, skeptic, and feminist. I won’t spotlight the person, but the conversation was disturbing. It really illustrates so many problems in the rational community and the long road we have to walk before an honest conversation can be had.

I feel like I spend half my entire existence yelling “GAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH WHY ARE ATHEISTS SUUUUUUUUUUCH ASSHOLES?”

This, in and of itself, is not terrible. It’s a rant. My reply was as follows.

Atheists, like any group of people, run the spectrum of good and bad. I think the larger concern is why so many people in general are such assholes.

This is when it happened. Rational discourse was made impossible.

And the atheist community is a community full of shitlords. That’s just the way it is.

When I can’t even remember which of our leaders are actual rapists and which are just harassers and the community celebrates that a con with a harassment policy had a dude whip out a loaded weapon on someone and websites dedicated to hating other activists within the community, yeah, I want to hear about how THE REST OF THE WORLD IS JUST AS BAD!

It’s a shit movement. And I expect better from people who base their behaviors on what’s rational.

It’s not really settling to hear “You’d get rape threats from ANY group of people. Lay off the atheists. Stop being IRRATIONAL, LADY!”

Now….what?

The problem is that in any community, you have a lot of people who agree about only one or a handful of things. People are people otherwise. If you spend a lot of time in one community, you may experience more people in that community that are unpleasant. That doesn’t mean that specific community is any better or worse than any other.

When you make gross generalizations about any group, you not only insult the majority who aren’t remotely the caricature you just made of their community, but you alienate potential allies to your cause of addressing the problems and people that exist in that community.

The other problem is that people often characterize the internet troll portion of a community as being representative of that community. It simply isn’t true. Someone on the thread suggested just not frequenting the groups that consist of those types of trollish people. The response was another horrible strawman of what was said.

Oh, you mean OFF OF THE INTERNET? Where I am voiceless completely? Good plan.

Again….what?

Now, while this may seem like an absurdly overblown example of the problems with generalization and discarding rational discourse, it’s a conversation that actually happened with someone who otherwise is well respect for rational thought. This type of generalization and sensationalism does nothing but hinder any progress in addressing the real problems in the community.

Consider this parallel.

Years ago, when I first became active in the Feminist community, I went to a Women Take Back the Night rally. I had brought a group of friends to help out, and we all volunteered. Two of us in the group were male. We had a fantastic time working with everyone, and doing what we could to help out. One person, however, who was working the event, informed us that men are the enemy and we weren’t needed or wanted there.

Would it have been fair of me to say that all Feminists are assholes, and begin demonizing the community? Of course not. That’s the ignorant type of irrational thinking that permeates groups like the Men’s Rights Activists. It’s not productive and not accurate or fair.

So, if you want to have a larger, honest conversation about problems within ANY community, then have that conversation. Don’t discard the entire community, and absolutely don’t attack those who may be on your side, but refuse to generalize as you are. It’ll do nothing but hurt your cause and hinder any progress towards fixing the problems.

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.

See his full bio!

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