Thursday, November 22, 2012

Atheism & Humanism as Bourgeois Ideology (3)

Those who follow the atheist / humanist / skeptics blogosphere are probably aware of controversies that have erupted over the past few years, mostly in connection with accusations of sexism and the role of women within the movement, but also to some extent the priorities of black atheists in relation to established national organizations. I have no intention of questioning the validity of such concerns, but I do question the ideological basis from which many of the dissidents operate.

In my podcast Atheism & Humanism as Bourgeois Ideology I vaguely alluded to the mechanical combination of ideological labels coming from progressive movements and the atheist/etc. movement. Atheism Plus is a particularly noxious ahistorical, intellectually dishonest, demagogic, and ultimately vacuous attempt to brand a new division of the movement, or a new movement altogether. The insipidity of such gestures mirrors the insipidity of the mainstream from which the dissidents purport to distance themselves.

Such liberal or left-liberal developments are symptoms of the lack of a vigorous mass movement in the USA, more centrally, the lack of class politics. The sins of the hard left stem from the same condition. When you have a subculture of professional middle class people who are essentially spectator-tourists in the world of human suffering, bad politics and superficial accusations of self and others become the political watchwords.  Thirdworldism is one such manifestation of bad politics, which, however bankrupt, would have at least made sense in the context of the global anti-colonial anti-imperialist thrust of the '60s & '70s, but is worse than worthless now.  But just as disgusting is the politics of "privilege", perpetrated of course by the privileged, with no constituency or substantive program, against whomever is deemed more privileged, the white male being at the top of the heap, of course. But 'white male' (or female) is not a class category.  This is what left bourgeois politics gets you, and in the smattering of cases in which one finds alleged radicals participating in the organized atheist/etc. movement, this is what you get.

Naturally, given the historical and structural conditions of American society (and several others), white males are going to be at the top of the heap, and prevailing perspectives and priorities at that class level are likely to prevail, accompanied by dollops of tokenism as a gesture of balancing things out. But focusing on the obvious obscures the essentially bourgeois nature of the movement, and thus the slim chances of any anti-bourgeois perspective--wherever it might come from--of gaining the prominence, leadership role, or influence that it might merit.

While the next logical step would be to name names, I'll let you use your imagination. Instead, I want to probe the blogosphere of the hard left and see what they have to say. Left--and specifically Marxist--takes on atheism and religion vary tremendously, and thus cannot be summed up as one generality. What is wrong with various Marxist takes on religion needs to be covered in separate posts. But now I'm searching the blogs for "bourgeois atheism", and here are a few finds.

Boobquake Revisited by EDB, The Fivefold Path, 24 August 2012

While the blogger is certainly justified in adverse reactions to the atheist movement, though feeling at least in part a part of it, he is too uncritical of the demagogic propaganda stemming from certain dissidents.

Much worse is a Maoist blog. I met my first Maoist in high school at the end of the '60s. My first impulse was to punch him in the mouth--I didn't, but he would have deserved it--and my regard for Maoists has not altered since.

"Atheism and Theism" is not a Class Contradiction, M-L-M Mayhem!, 30 August 2012

Aside from the sectarian bankruptcy of the entire politics of this group, and of its take on religion, there are unqualified and unrestricted generalizations such as this:

" . . . it is a club primarily for privileged pro-imperialist petty bourgeois males who imagine that they're subversive for rejecting God while, at the same time, accepting everything capitalist-imperialist society has socialized them into believing is holy."

This characterization certainly fits a number of petty-bourgeois white men . . . also white women, black people, South Asians, and others in the movement, but as a blanket characterization, and by implication a blanket exoneration of others, it is dishonest and demagogic.  But of course such voices exist within the atheist/etc. movement as well.

Various debates are no better. Here are a couple of examples:

Bourgeois Atheism, Revleft, 8 June 2010

A Proletarian critique of 'New' Atheists,, 2 July 2012

We have here utter incoherence. The leftists are as confused as the "mainstream" atheists.

I'm not saying no insightful perspective can be found, but those who rise above the prevailing superficiality are going to find that whatever they choose to call themselves, they won't have as many people on their wavelength as labels might suggest.

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