Reshared post from Jennifer Ouellette

Left the comment below in Jennifer's original thread. Comments in either thread are welcome.

I agree with the main thrust of the thesis, but I have a quibble. It is minor, but I think it is worth stating.

Look, identity politics matter, not just in the practical "that's the way it is, get over it" sense, but in the deeper sense of "that's how our brains work." Specifically, we tend to think about the world and our place in it in terms of how we identify (label, name) ourselves, and a lot of our ability to socialize comes from our ability to identify (label, name) others. Yeah, some of that results in stereotype and caricature, but frankly it is amazing that our brains can do it at all, and worrying about "identity" is how the brain does it. We know we can overcome the unfortunate shortcomings of the algorithm, but it takes a lot of training and practice. It's not as easy as saying "we should stop worrying about our identities", because this is the result of literally hundreds of thousands of years of evolution as a eusocial primate. It's not the kind of thing that changes with stern finger wagging.

To the topic at hand, identifying as a skeptic is something that is very important to a lot of people, and we shouldn't downplay that importance. I was the faculty adviser to my university's first secular student club. The club spent a lot of time talking about science and skepticism, but one thing that struck me was how many students used the club as a support group of sorts, in ways that felt closer to a LGBTQ meeting or an AA meeting than other kinds of affinity groups. It was very typical to hear students discuss their "coming out" experiences, and club sessions often involved personal confessions from students describing harsh or unfair treatment from their peers, their employers, and their families because of their skeptical views. Students talked a lot about how glad they were to find a club like this on campus, and to find a network of peers with similar beliefs with which they could associate, and where they didn't have to feel ashamed of their views.

This university is in the heart of the Midwest, not the most religiously conservative place in the country but also not the most urban and progressive; coming out for these students in this environment really was a Big Deal, and having a support group of similar self-identifying skeptics really did add meaningfully to that experience.

I'm not saying that identity politics is all good, or that we should engage in it uncritically. But I think that especially in the current political climate, dismissing identity politics entirely is a mistake. If secularism is to continue to develop, and I hope it does, it will definitely involve a lot of people thinking clearly about how they identify themselves and others. There's nothing gained by admonishing them for working through those issues as best as their brains will allow.

Jennifer Ouellette originally shared this post:

"skepticism isn't something you are. It's something you do."

Why I Don't Call Myself a Skeptic

Oh my goodness, blogger has changed since I last time I posted, and I'm totally freaked out by it, so I hope this blog looks okay format-wise. Anyway, I was just having a discussion with Greg Lade…

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