Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Power at a point - it's not always about force of numbers

Much has been made over the last couple of days about the actions of a bloke called Andy in the USA, who owns and runs a gelato store.  The story is explained and linked here:


Hemant - the friendly atheist - seems inclined to give Andy the benefit of the doubt and accept his apology; PZ Myers has been vociferous in his refusal to do so, both on Twitter and his Pharyngula blog.

Personally I'm undecided about the apology; I'm not sure there hasn't been a bit of a false dichotomy set up here, forcing people to choose between thinking he's sincerely sorry for causing offense and thinking he doesn't mean a word of it and is just worried about the beating his business has taken (can't it be both?). But the story's drawn attention to the power of the geek - the poster was apparently only in place for a few minutes before Andy calmed down and removed it, but that was long enough for his admittedly fairly vicious act of illegal discrimination to make it online and go viral. Within twenty-four hours Gelato Mio's ratings on Google etc. had plummeted, and he was answering incensed emails from all over the world.  We know that atheists are typically younger, more educated and more tech-savvy than the population average, and this is just the latest example of of the way in which atheists all over the world are using these advantages to communicate and coordinate action against discrimination like this; for another example, look at the backlash Bastrop High School received after a teacher publicly trashed student Damon Fowler for privately objecting to the unconstitutional inclusion of a christian prayer in his graduation ceremony.

The wish to exclude non-believers seems distressingly prevalent in the USA, from Bush Sr.'s now infamous (and as yet unretracted) comment "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God" to endless polls showing atheists to be the most untrusted minority in the country through to Andy, the owner of Gelato Mio, deciding in the heat of the moment that he will not serve atheists in his store.

But what would happen if the more conservative US christians got their way, the ones who would see atheists banished from the Land of the Free? Polls have shown that around 93% of members of the National Academy of Science are atheist, and extrapolating from general trends we can guess that many medical doctors, teachers, authors and other educated professionals would be lost. Meanwhile, other studies suggest that almost none of the prison population would go, and similarly much of the migrant population these same conservatives seem to spend their time complaining about would remain. Fortunately someone who is better at internetting than I am has already put this together in a rather nice youtube video, which I have linked below for your enjoyment.

By excluding a superficially insignificant minority group from his store, Andy of Gelato Mio suffered a potentially devastating blow to his public image; he also lost a lot of money on the night, and might well continue to lose it as word spreads about his actions. This might be seen as a microcosm of what will happen to the USA if the fundies get their way and atheists are marginalised even more than they are at present.

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