Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How well do you really think accommadationism works?

Today is the 55th anniversary of Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama - a pivotal event in the civil rights movement that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. So, whilst I was sitting in traffic listening to NPR on the subject I started to think about the blogging topic that's been on my mind lately - accommadationism and the whole "You're doing it wrong, don't be a dick" crowd.

And it occurred to me: where would most successful social reform movements be if they had listened to their own versions of the "Be nice, not pushy. Don't be rude. Couldn't you just talk to the more moderate of our opponents." people?

I can just imagine people saying to the leaders of the civil rights movement. "Look, don't you think calling them racist is a bit, well, rude? And calling people rude names is a bit, dickish, after all. Couldn't we tone it down a little bit so that the less racist ones (the moderates)  might be able to help us with some tiny aspect of the whole picture? We're scaring off potential allies by being so strident. Do you really have to be so, militant?"

Can you imagine the civil rights movement toning it down a bit, not causing such a fuss, not making a scene? Was the literature of the civil rights movement less strident than the books of Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens? Certainly not, in fact in many cases it was far more extreme. Worthy of the description "militant" far more than "God is not Great" certainly.

Can you imagine the civil rights movement if they'd listened to the "Don't be so confrontational" crowd?

No. I don't imagine that would have been that successful either.

And if you think that the struggle against religion is not a civil rights issue, then you haven't been paying attention and you have no business being involved.

The truth of all successful reform movements is that they need the militants, the pushy, the dicks, in order to shake things up. To make people pay attention. To give them a metaphorical slap in the face. Just putting your case politely, eloquently and forcefully - yes, even passionately - is not enough, and has never been enough in any reform movement.

Why do people expect it to be different this time? What good would it have done if the civil rights movement had failed but participants could at least say "Hey, at least we didn't call anyone names or upset anybody. I would have hated to have to make a scene. But we gave it a good shot."

I don't think so. You can keep polite and safe. In fact, you can stick it up your arse. Sideways.


  1. This is an excellent point JB. Bombast and snarky humor are what actually made me pay attention to the logic behind critically examining my own silly beliefs.

  2. Thanks Ryan. I know it flies in the face of the recieved wisdom that dickishness can't make you rethink your position, but it was the targetted dickery of James Randi in the old style JREF weekly missives, Bob Carroll at the Skeptics Dictionary and the not so targetted dickery on the now long defunct 'Portent' forums that caused me to abandon a great deal of the silly shit that I believed.

  3. Dude, reading Robert Todd Carroll's responses to Tru Bleevers was what led me to atheism, critical thinking, James Randi, Pharyngula, Skeptico and The Two Percent Co. A list of perceived dicks, for sure.

    The Skeptic's Dictionary is one of the best things about the internet.