Sunday, February 17, 2013

Follow-up on secular poverty cures

I'm writing to make some corrections and clarifications on several details from last week's article about realistic ways secular and skeptical groups can go about fighting poverty, which included heavy criticism of a David Hoelscher piece that sought to corrupt those movements with Marxist doublespeak.

In a private message Debbie Goddard suggested that "demand" was too strong of a word to describe her attempts to include an education focus in secular activism when I wrote "I've previously criticized demands for skeptics, atheists and secular people to [fight other causes]." Fair enough. I had other people in mind when I wrote that sentence, as some people are demanding that third-wave feminism should become a central aspect those movements. I did not intend to imply Goddard was part of that group.

I stand by when I wrote that Goddard and Walker Bristol endorsed Hoelscher's piece. Goddard said she did not endorse it, but did agree with some of its points about Atheism+ falling short on its promise to fight for social justice. She referred to it as "...A provocative and substantive (i.e., worthwhile and quite long) article." I consider that an endorsement, but either way she did not specifically support the anti-capitalist sections.

Bristol wrote to clarify that my introduction mischaracterized his stance for working with churches to fight inequality. His stance is not to work like the churches do to fight poverty because it would increase prestige and win converts in the black community, but to work with the churches to fight inequality because they are effective.

In a blog comment to my piece, Hoelscher informed me that I got his stance on a Noam Chomsky quotation backwards. Rereading that area, the previous paragraph tells us that classism shows up in unexpected places so the Chomsky quotation was intended to be criticized. That was my mistake.

Of course, this didn't have anything to do with the focus of the piece. The Chomsky error was one of several examples intended to demonstrate Hoelscher's insistence that secular and skeptical activists need to fight capitalism. Two hours after he wrote his comment he posted this image on his Facebook page.


Of course, his intention with the Chomsky quotation would have been a lot clearer if he had included any actual criticism of the remark. As it stands, this is what he he would have us believe is an obvious case of classism:

Take for instance Noam Chomsky. The New Atheist message, he once told an interviewer, “is old hat, and irrelevant, at least for those whose religious affiliations are a way of finding some sort of community and mutual support in an atomized society lacking social bonds.” If “it is to be even minimally serious” he continued, “the ‘new atheism’ should focus its concerns on the virulent secular religions of state worship” such as capitalism, imperialism and militarism.

I have no idea what Hoelscher's issue is with Chomsky and he didn't try to explain it.

Hoelscher's essay is a perfect illustration of "Modern English" as described by George Orwell in Politics and the English language. The writing is snaggletoothed, meandering and pretentious and fails to convey ideas without hiding behind vagueness and impenetrable run-on sentences.

Of course, I would expect him to say his writing is clear as an icicle during a spring thaw and I lack the ability to understand him. I say the Emperor has no clothes. It's up to the reader to determine which is true.

Hoelscher also called me out for tossing a few rude words in to describe his views on economics. He right, of course, but I offer no apology. Anti-capitalism is an adolescent disease and I can give Bristol a pass because he's young but Hoelscher is a tenured professor and needs to be held to a higher standard. As I've said time and time again, there is no excuse to be a Marxist in the 21st century. These are dead-end ideas and the lessons of history are both fresh and clear. Honesty requires harshness in criticism of that position.

If he wants to be rude back, then I have no right to complain. Fair is fair.

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