The Crazy [Atheist] Card

I have been reading comment sections about atheists, and I have noticed something both surprising and unsurprising. Male atheists are less likely to be called “crazy” than a variety of other derogatory adjectives. For instance, Richard Dawkins is much more likely to be “stupid” rather than “crazy.” On one secular blog, a writer contrasted a prominent male atheist with a female atheist to examine the differences between a new atheist and an apologist atheist. When I searched for the word “crazy,” it was used seven times in the 26 comments, not appearing once in the actual body of the article, and the word was used in reference only to the female atheist.

Crazy is a word commonly associated with emotion. Since women are stereotyped as being more emotional and emotion is considered irrational, the opposite of what atheists strive to be, and irrationality is lethargic, incorrect, crazy, this makes crazy a convenient word to keep handy in one’s rhetoric. For some women, crazy is one the worst things you can be, like bitchy, slutty, or my personal favorite—bossy.

We need to figure out how to argue against the crazy card, especially when it is used by theists but also when talking among fellow atheists.

mustbebecrazy

The crazy accusation is a form of gaslighting. Telling someone that their feelings or thoughts are incorrect, that they don’t have the right to feel or think a certain way, is a form of manipulation. Minimizing another person’s thoughts is an attempted method to control that person. If that person is no longer able to rely on their own mind, then that person must rely on someone else to determine how they are supposed to feel or think.

Calling someone crazy is a direct attempt to control that person—the way that person thinks or the way that person feels.

I suspect many people do not know what they are implying when calling a woman crazy. It’s an easy card to play. Reflexive, even. People also accept the crazy explanation as adequate without much question. Sometimes, calling a woman crazy is how a person communicates one of the following: “She felt a certain way, and I did not want her to think that way.” or “She was upset about something, and I did not want to deal with it.”

It’s more difficult to use introspection and specific language to communicate the issues at hand. Let’s look at some examples.

Instead of: “Person X is crazy!”
Try: “Person X is a born-again Christian who opposes gay marriage and the study of evolution in the public school system.”

Instead of: “Person Y is crazy!”
Try: “I cut off Person Y in traffic, and Person Y followed me home and shit on my porch.”

Instead of: “Person Z is crazy!”
Try: “I am not voting for Donald Trump.”

What communicates the issue better? What creates a more productive dialogue? The speaker loses nothing by thinking critically about the words used. Furthermore, the speaker’s friends, who might be mentally ill or bipolar or autistic, are less likely to be hurt by the use of specific language. As advocates of rational thinking and skepticism, should we not always attempt to create more productive dialogues?

Crazy is also a highly effective way to argue with a person, because it completely changes the topic at hand. The topic is no longer about what the person is saying. It’s about how the person is saying it. The crazy card redirects the conversation.

To bring this home,

If you want to call someone crazy, don’t. Use introspection and specific language instead.

If you hear another person call someone crazy, be skeptical, and ask them for specific language. Card denied.

If you are called crazy, recognize the speaker’s attempt to control you and redirect the conversation. Do not be persuaded.

I am jealous of these male atheists who are called so many creative derogatory names. I want something of my own. Call me godless. Call me shortsighted, wicked, a hell-bound harlot, Satan’s spokesperson, an arrogant cocksucking heathen, anything but crazy.

A Skeptic’s Guide To Writing Contests

Earlier this morning, I submitted a short story to a popular literary journal’s writing contest, and I feel worse for it. I have never submitted to this type of contest before. Despite knowing fiction writers and poets who have won story and poetry contests, I have even advised other people against this practice. Writing contests have often rubbed me the wrong way. We can chalk it up to my inner skeptic. We can call it bad math. Writing contests? I just don’t trust them. But here I am, short another $20 looking at my Submittable ticket receipt, and drinking coffee like any other regular day in the life.

Many of my friends have entered contests with a reader’s fee. (Say, $20.) A journal would announce its contest, promise the winner $500/publication, and the runner-up $100/publication. This amount varies depending on the contest, journal, allotted reader’s fee, etc. In exchange for the reader’s fee, writers will receive a subscription to the literary journal.AQR Writers begin submitting their stories and paying the journal’s fees. A journal hosting the contest might receive 1,000 manuscripts during their reading period. That’s a lot of reading fees. $20,000 of reading fees. For a long time, that sounded like bullshit to me.

Maybe I’ve become a bit more amiable over the years, because I’ve met the readers and judges of these contests and heard their horror stories. Or maybe I’ve gotten an insider look into literary journals that allows me to see how difficult funding can be. I am saddened by a recent article and movement that’s been floating through the literary scene entitled Save the Alaska Quarterly Review. This article illuminates some of the obstacles faced by journals, and the hashtag #saveaqr is a painful reminder of these problems.

I realize I could just be saying all this to make myself feel better about spending that $20.

Originally, I felt like contests were money-making ponzi schemes. Highly successful literary cons. A darker side of my skepticism thought the judges of said contests probably had a small pool of favorites anyway. I disregarded reading hierarchies and anonymous submission/reading guidelines with the understanding that people talk. Writers recognize each other. I concentrated on getting published the regular way, and that has seemed to work pretty well. I operated under the golden light that my stories might receive awards after they’ve been published. In some ways, I felt like I was taking the “smart” route, but now, I’m not so sure. I have started to see contests as a necessary evil in the literary world. A give and take affair.

Contests are a viable way for journals to stay afloat financially. Some journals that have contests use that extra generated money to pay writers for their accepted submissions throughout the year. Other journals just want to pay their fucking rent. However, it’s still best to remain pragmatic when submitting:

  • Submit to contests hosted by journals you love.
  • Only submit exceptional material.

There are a thousand other people out there submitting their work to a contest. If your submission doesn’t stand out from your own pool of writing on your laptop at home, it’s not going to stand out in an even greater pool.

But here I am thinking about the different ways a person could spend $20—new pants, a bike lock, gourmet cheese, tote bags— and wondering if any of my friends secretly submitted, too.