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4th wave Skepticism – a prequel

Posted by Don McLenaghen on August 22, 2012

There has been growing talk recently about attempting to evolve the skeptical movement to something like fourth wave skepticism (number not important here). First, I should point out that, in my humble opinion, it’s not (or should not be) 4th wave atheism or Atheism+. I will explain why in a future post, for the moment; grant me your indulgence.

I think 4th wave skepticism is a great idea but, are we ready for it?

The premise behind 4th wave skepticism is to move beyond the past incarnation of the movement and to achieve a new plateau of customs/standards/norms and new goals/objectives/ideals. Of course this does not mean we forget the struggles of the past, nor imply that the fourth wave is ‘better’ or ‘more important’ than the other wave, merely that it is the natural evolution of a movement.

That said, are we ready?

I think it’s never too early to start to discuss such quaesitus-utopia but to ‘move on’ implies that we have achieved the goals of 3rd wave skepticism…that the issues with the 3rd wave have been addressed.

Now, I do not say this dismissively…nor do I mean to imply that once ‘addressed’ such issues should be forgotten, ignored or side-lined; often on the road to utopia (a valuable journey even if the ultimate destination is ever-changing) we must carry the baggage of past battles. And for what I say next, I do not mean to be dismissive nor condescending; to move to the 4th wave we must ‘put behind us’ the controversies of racism, sexism and the other ‘isms’ that have so plagued the 3rd wave.

WAIT! I am not saying that we ignore, dismiss nor diminish the importance of these struggles. They are integral to the long-term health and existence of the movements…they help define the movement. That in the 4th wave, the movement must be able to say that we have learned to deal with those who are sexist…we have eliminated the taint of racism…we have created mechanism to police the inequalities that has so beleaguered great movements in the past.

To claim that our movement is ready for the 4th wave, whatever that may be, we are saying we have moved beyond paternalism/feminism… white/coloured… gay/straight… rich/poor… entitles/disenfranchised; that the movement is no longer at war with itself on these fundamental issues. I am not sure we have reached this point.

Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that we must be a unified ideological singularity. There will be a whole new set of issues to be dealt with by the 4th wave. What I am implying is that the next set of issues the movement needs to address can only truly be debate once we have moved past the internally destructive…the ad hominem de-humanizing abusive dissention that has come to the forefront of our movement.

Before we can address these external issues we must be internally united on equality and value of those who are members of the movement regardless of their background or view point. A feminist cannot talk effectively to a misogynist…a white supremacist cannot see as equal a black panther. And NO I am not saying these ‘dichotomies’ are equivalent. I think most feminist are rational, while most misogynist are dogmatic (although both may exist in each camp).

If we are to really move to the 4th wave…if our movement is to evolve, we must first address these issues that have proven to be so divisive.

Sadly, I do not think we have yet finished with the 3rd wave. To use the analysis of Jen McCreight, I think we still have great issues of internal inequality…that is regardless of our opinions of the future of the movement; many in our movement do not even accept the idea that opinions of members of the movement should be heard as equals.

Let me be a little rude and more blunt…I think any talk about moving the skeptic community to a next stage is premature in the light that some people believe if they show up at a skeptical convention they will be raped while others think if they DO show up ‘a little rape’ might set them right. I accept the fears/concerns of women in the movement (sometimes stated but genuinely believed) while also accepting that there are men who would see the worst of these ‘fears’ as normal/traditional behaviour or ‘corrective’ (the classic and horrific – ‘they were asking for it’).

I think it is true that there are extremist on both sides…that the ‘general’ population is ‘generally’ rational…however; it is also true that an ‘extremist’ feminist may create an ‘up-roar’ in the community while an ‘extremist’ misogamist (to use a polite term) could (realistically) result in rape or worse. It is a traditional case of two but unequal sides to an ‘argument’. I, as a man from an older generation, do not think I can trust my ‘gut’ to make judgments on this issue. Until equality is achieved; I think that those who in the disadvantaged position get the ‘commanding heights’ of the argument.

I plan to continue this article on the idea of 4th wave skepticism because I think planning for the next stage of our movement’s evolution is important. That said; I also think it is too early to make any claims that we are ready to make such a transition. Ironically enough; this segment is intended as a rebuttal (vis-à-vis timing) to Blog Hag’s call to ‘move on’ (in a positive way) while I acknowledge that she (and those she represents) and those who are subjected by the bigotry/inequality/injustice by the current skeptic community, are the ones who are to tell me when we are ready to ‘move on’ to the 4th wave.


(Update – I noted the Jen has  commented more on the whole A+ that is not reflected here, but it should come up in the next instalment)


6 Responses to “4th wave Skepticism – a prequel”

  1. Ian said

    This post was rather hard to follow, I’m not entirely sure what your point is, but I’ll respond to what I think was said.

    I don’t think anyone advocating A+ has stated that the previous incarnations of the atheist movement have fulfilled their goals. It’s not like calling for the next movie to be made because the story of this part is done but we want to see our favourite characters move on.

    I think we can, and need to (as I argued on the show), expand skepticism/atheism to cover more than religious and traditional skeptical topics. What Jen called for was a movement that would take on social justice issues, fight discrimination, and work for a better world.

    I think in the end that what is being called for is a new, younger humanism that is explicitly atheistic (something that gets befuddled in some groups, including by humanists such as myself) and active. A worthy goal, which will likely be facilitated by continued calls for a broader range of topics and potentially a new umbrella/support group (which is in the works).

    I do look forward to the rest of this series though.

  2. gerry parker said

    I could not follow the post at all. Ian commented he thinks he might know what you meant, me I have no idea what you mean. Sorry. I do not know what 3rd wave is or was. What was the 2nd wave?

  3. Ethan Clow said

    Maybe Don could clarify his position a bit as there appears to be some confusion.

  4. My problem is in labeling it a “new movement”; you divide the community in ways that can have unexpected and negative consequences.

    I think Jen and by extension A+ is attempting to re-brand the movement and somehow that will solve our problems. What I fear is happening is a schism; that instead of dealing with issues, we excommunicate those who are not pure enough…creating an orthodox and reconstructionist wings of atheism.

    Why can’t we continue to advocate for these actions without the re-branding? Our community will continue to evolve but without more confusing and divisive labels.

    I have on the show and in person advocated for equality of all. That it is a pre-condition for the movement to evolve.


    How are we, as a movement, to advocate for health care or environmental action when internally we cannot even accept that our members have equality of voice? I disagree with how Jen has portrayed the internal dissention of the skeptical community but acknowledge we have problems and the movement is now mature enough to deal with these issues.

    It is not an all or nothing claim; but having just planted a strong foot on the public stage the skeptic community must now ‘get our ducks in a row’ before moving further or we may stumble and fall from grace. Imagine if a “Skeptics of the USA” candidate was asked if he agreed that women were at greater risk of violence at a skeptic conference than on the streets of LA?
    I just see Jen and the A+ movement as marketing…oddly an exclusionary one in spite of the equalitarian rhetoric.

    As alluded to in my earlier post I offer the following clarification.

    I don’t like using the term atheist because, forgive the Scotsman in me a true atheist not only denies gods but does so because of the application of their skeptical tool kit. That, skepticism as a methodology for approaching ‘truth’ is one of the achievements of the 2nd wave of atheism.
    I think it can sound confusing because first ‘waves’ are just arbitrary temporal labels and second (in my analysis) 2nd wave atheism is also 1st wave skepticism.

    The original atheist rejected ‘gods’ not on reason but on faith. If you think of our understanding of how the world worked 2000 years ago; gods were not an irrational theory. It was the development of the logic AND the scientific method than provided the ‘proof’ that theism was wrong. This is also why I see atheism as a subset of skepticism…that once you are a skeptic, you ‘should be’ by definition a non-theist.

    Sorry for the delay to reply and my planned series will also be delayed due to other writing projects; but it should be out later next week.

  5. […] 4th wave Skepticism – a prequel […]

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