A Conversation for Ask h2g2

Is it inevitable that "movements" become inward-looking and self-destructive

Post 1

Hoovooloo


By "movements" I mean groups of like-minded people who campaign and/or agitate for action on a particular issue or set of issues of interest to them, be it environmentalism, animal rights, religiosity, atheism, whatever.

Such things tend to start out well, with good intentions, like-minded people agreeing over the central issues and the fact that something should be done. Leaders emerge, directions are agreed, and the movement starts to make itself felt. Those in the in-group join together to oppose those in the out-group, and make some degree of progress.

And then... fragmentation. Members of the group become dissatisfied. They begin to insist that, in additional to the original point of the movement, new things must be added. And that everyone must sign up to these new things, or become anathema. They lose their original focus - the opposition to the out-group - and instead focus much of their energy on more closely defining the in-group in such a way as to exclude many of what was their own group. New leaders emerge, and those new leaders define themselves by their separation and ideological difference from the previous generation of leadership, gradually increasing their separation until they no longer merely disagree with but actively attack those who were previously their allies.

Meanwhile, those not in the new in-group find themselves spending less and less of their time in activities focussed on the original 'mission' of the movement, less and less time opposing those who are diametrically opposed to them, and more and more time defending themselves from the actions of those they until recently counted as allies, people whose opinions are, in most respects, so close to their own as to be indistinguishable to an outsider.

Is there any way to forestall or prevent this, or at least minimise its effects when it inevitably happens? Or is human nature such that these things cannot be stopped?

smiley - popcorn

Prominent atheist blogger and professional scientist PZ Myers has, on his blog "Pharyngula", accused prominent atheist author and professional scientist Michael Shermer of rape. Shermer has responded, via lawyers, with a "cease and desist" letter, a letter the stipulations of which Myers has ignored.

Leaving aside (if possible) the merits or otherwise of the case, which have been and are being debated in extremely abusive terms by both sides elsewhere, is this kind of thing inevitable? Is ANY movement, even one supposedly dedicated to rationality, inevitably going to suffer schisms and excommunications of this kind?

I had, naively, hoped atheists were better than this.


Is it inevitable that "movements" become inward-looking and self-destructive

Post 2

Icy North

Missions change too.


Is it inevitable that

Post 3

U14993989

>> Missions change too. <<

Mission creep?


Is it inevitable that

Post 4

Icy North

Who are you calling a creep?


Is it inevitable that

Post 5

Hoovooloo


"Missions change too"

Yes, missions change. And when missions change, they fail.

Look at any successful project, and one of the common factors you will see again and again is a focus, from start to finish, on the goal, and an unwillingness to be distracted from it onto possibly-related, possibly-desirable, maybe-interesting side efforts.

Look at any failed project, and one of the common factors you will see, again and again, is a lack of direction, fragmentation of the project team, moving goalposts, conflicting objectives.

It *is* possible to remain focused. It is possible to keep a movement more or less on track. Depressingly, many of the relatively few organisations that seem capable of it are churches...


Is it inevitable that

Post 6

U14993989

I hadn't realised atheism was a movement with a mission statement and objectives.


Is it inevitable that

Post 7

Icy North

We aim to be the afterlife benefits provider of choice.


Is it inevitable that

Post 8

U14993989

ps I find that many that claim to be atheist are in fact anti-religious. Often the source of the anti-religion can be traced to certain teenage conflicts / rebellions. As such their motives tend to be more emotional rooted rather than rational. Hence when certain self-declared atheist appear to be reacting emotionally (and possibly irrationally) it doesn't necessarily come as a surprise (you mentioned PZ Myers).


Is it inevitable that

Post 9

U14993989

>> We aim to be the afterlife benefits provider of choice. <<

Bleeding 'ell another life insurance salesman. ... but I do agree there is a need for a non-denominational service provider for rites of passage ceremonies (including funerals etc), without the hassle of religion / anti-religion literature.


Is it inevitable that

Post 10

Superfrenchie

It is my understanding that atheists are people too.

And people can be mean/stupid/whatever.

So I think we can safely conclude that atheists can be mean/stupid/whatever.

Not sure if I should put a smiley - shrug, a smiley - smiley or a smiley - sadface, so I'll go for a smiley - tea instead. Nice and harmless.


Is it inevitable that

Post 11

Hoovooloo


Atheism isn't a movement with a mission statement and objectives.

It's also not inherently anti-religious. It's also not typically rooted in rebellion or conflict, and in my experience most atheists either come to it late, which is to say in their twenties or later, or more commonly were basically atheist for as long as they can remember. I fall into the latter camp, never having for moment believed any of the nonsense preached at me in three Church schools. In this I find I am far from unusual - many, many atheists I know called bullshit on the Bible well before they hit their teens. I might add that several people I know who go to church admit privately that they don't really believe the stuff, but they like the singing and the sense of belonging. Sad but true.

There are atheist movements with mission statements and objectives, though, and it's those I'm talking about. (And they may choose to be outspokenly anti-religious).


Is it inevitable that

Post 12

U14993989

I am all for education, so orthodox traditional Abrahamic religious views of the literal verity of the bible including the creation need to be challenged. But for me this is an educational issue and needs to dealt with at an educational level. Orthodox traditional Abrahamic religions tend also to be patriarchal and homophobic and I believe it is far to challenge them on those aspects too. Maybe with "atheist movements" it's difficult to specify exactly what they want to achieve (the end of all religion across the world? but how can that be achieved and what should you give to the people to replace it with ... rampant consumerism & hedonism?)

I read somewhere that Ronald Reagan believed in astrology and had his presidential itineraries checked by his astrologer and changed accordingly (now that is scary!). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Quigley


Is it inevitable that

Post 13

U14993989

ps the other issue with religion is that it tends to contain deep rooted cultural factors ... so many see an "attack" on "their" religion as a personal attack on their culture and identity (educational issues left to one side).


Is it inevitable that

Post 14

paulh, not fond of Lord Mudpants

People who share a given theological belief tend to like getting together with each other, so they can worship in the particular way that their view prescribes. Usually there is a god [or gods] as the focus of their joint efforts. There is no god as the focus of atheist beliefs. They can disbelieve in the existence of god [or gods] by themselves or with other like-minded people. Focusing on the nonexistence of something sounds hard to me. Is it just me? Perhaps it comes to seem easier or more fruitful to go around among religious people, torpedoing the bases of their beliefs. It sounds to me as though that explains why some atheists become actively anti-religious. They feel as if they ought to be doing *something* in community [after all, churches are often to be found doing community work], so they go around educating people about fallacies in the Bible or other sacred texts.


Is it inevitable that

Post 15

U14993989

>> they go around educating people about fallacies in the Bible or other sacred texts <<

The problem is that many active atheist don't understand the sacred texts as a "believer" understands them. That is the active atheist reads it at a literal level when in fact nowadays it is read at a figurative level (in reality the literal verity has long been recognised by most as untenable). In addition people gain a social-cultural "service" from their religion as well ... which is something else the active atheist tends to ignore.

With regard to inevitability of movements breaking up / down ... yes there exists such a tendency. I think Alexis de Tocqueville wrote some useful words on the subject when discussing voluntary associations in nineteenth century USA. Unfortunately I can't find the relevant sections to reference (probably taken from his Democracy in America)


Is it inevitable that

Post 16

U14993989

ps we need some hootoo experts in social theory, psychology and possibly political theory & management to comment on the OP .


Is it inevitable that

Post 17

fluffykerfuffle

smiley - space
theists and atheists are one classification
religion is a different thing

i know many theists who have no religion
religion, to me, is just a fan club and the star is a god

smiley - towel


Is it inevitable that "movements" become inward-looking and self-destructive

Post 18

Sho - unemployed layabout

Yes. (In reply to the OP)

I've recently, reluctantly, left a group because while its mission statement (appeared to me) was its name, it became all encompassing and has (IMO) lost its way.

So what started as what I felt was a pretty good, high-impact and highly visible group with a clear mission it has now become so inclusive that it is impossible to make any statement without first checking every single last privelige that you have and then couching everything in completely inclusive terms (not that either of those are necessarily bad things) that the impact of any statement gets lost in a whole load of discussion which often consists of "that statement offends me because..."

Sometimes you have to take things one bite at a time and have a mission that lots of people can get behind. Atheism is a good example, as is feminism and no doubt lots of other isms.

But what can people do about it? not much I fear. Especially if there is an original aim or mission that requires (needs) wide membership/audience to get its point across, but that wide membership dilutes or changes the mission so much that it can't succeed.

If any of that makes any sense?


Is it inevitable that

Post 19

Icy North

{ we need some hootoo experts in social theory, psychology and possibly political theory & management}

Aka "mumbo jumbo" smiley - winkeye


Is it inevitable that

Post 20

Chris Morris

In reply to Stone Aart post 15 that atheists argue from a literalist view of the Bible; I think you will find that (certainly in the case of Dawkins) they are actually arguing against people who take a the Bible to be literally true. They have no need to argue against people (ie the majority of Christians) who read the it as allegory because they tend not to be the ones demanding that creationism be taught in schools as science and so on.


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Is it inevitable that "movements" become inward-looking and self-destructive

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