My last article on the growing irrationality of the atheist left and right covered a lot. But some things it addressed only too briefly, and need a little more attention. Not least being, everyone ignoring its message.
Not long after I wrote that article, the atheist left and anti-left did the same stupid shit all over again, abusing and damning two popular and important atheist leaders for no valid reason whatever, ironically for doing exactly the opposite things. Seth Andrews voiced pretty much the same sanity I did, that attending the same conference with an anti-feminist is not endorsing or agreeing with their anti-feminism, and then (initially) agreed to speak at the Mythicist Milwaukee conference to lend another feminist, social-justice voice to balance any perceived imbalance there may have been, and to make sure the views of that side of the ideological divide get a clear hearing. For which he was vilified and condemned and unfriended by prominent atheist leftists. Aron Ra did what I also had already written was an entirely acceptable thing to do, and bowed out of the conference in protest of the few anti-feminists empaneled at it. For which he was vilified and condemned and unfriended by prominent atheist anti-leftists.
These reactions to their respective decisions are irrational.
As I wrote on Facebook:
I support Seth Andrews [for attending and speaking in defense of humanist values]. Everything he says is correct. And I support Aron Ra, who decided instead not to go because he didn’t want to lend his name to some of the speakers and what they stand for. Everything he said is also correct. If you don’t comprehend how both can be true simultaneously, you need to switch the failure mode off on your critical thinking machine. And reread the article I wrote on just that point last week.
And that is what this is about: a failure of critical thinking. So let’s talk about that.
Critical Thinking 101
Ironically my online course on critical thinking is being offered again next month. It’s clear a lot of people need to register for it and learn some things. One of the things I teach in it is the tool of forced perspective: trying to see what you yourself are thinking or saying, from a different perspective, by switching out the subject you are ranting about with something analogous and seeing if it makes sense anymore; and if not, asking yourself why.
For example, if you are ranting about Islam, switch out “Islam” for “Christianity” but keep your exact words and thoughts in place. Does it suddenly sound scary, weird, paranoid, or inaccurate? Ask yourself why. And if it doesn’t, are you sure it’s not because you aren’t paying attention to all the evil shit Christians do and have done? Like, successfully lobby for the state murder of gay people in Uganda because they could only get a few hundred thousand votes for their kill-the-gays legislation-supporting candidates in the U.S. … a few … hundred … thousand … in the actual U.S. of A. Pause and think about that….how many Muslims aiming to kill gay people are there in the U.S.? Do you think it’s really all that much different? Or, for example, how Christian nationalism underlies an ongoing right-wing terrorism in the U.S. that has actually killed more or less the same number of people here as Islamic terrorism has. (You can research these things and find them out. It’s not hard.)
By the exact same reasoning, when you check the science and find that even in comparable one-to-one situations, on average women get paid about 6 cents less on the dollar than men, and then dismiss that as a trivial amount we shouldn’t care about. Switch out men for women in that sentence and see how quickly your blood boils—when because now you are suddenly concerned, you actually do the math and realize that’s equivalent to an annual tax of several thousand dollars…on being a woman. If there were a tax on men of several thousand dollars, you’d be raging about it too. So don’t get all in a huff when women, the ones actually suffering this hidden gender tax, are all in a huff about it. Even if you exclude the sexist treatment of mothers between the ages of 27-33, in which small slice of the demographic the wage gap is at its lowest, after controlling for all other factors, it’s still 98 cents on the dollar (single women to single men). An average “tax” of nearly a thousand dollars a year. I suspect the libertarians who rail against wage gap claims would flip their lid at a gendered tax of a thousand dollars a year. And that’s in the most privileged demographic. I don’t think complaining about a thousand dollars is silly. And I don’t think using possibiliter fallacies to deny this is rational.
Leftists fuck this up too. They often fail to see things from another point of view. Is terrorizing nonviolent people into silence or hiding, with threats and assaults, good? As soon as you are on the receiving end, you’ll think not. Is condemning someone as a racism and sexism enabler and vowing never to be their friend again, merely because they will stand or speak out against racism and sexism at an event where a sexist racist gets interviewed, good? As soon as it’s you, speaking in defense of, let’s say, trans rights at an event where another feminist will be interviewed about their reasons for being trans-exclusive, you’ll think not. Step back and rethink what you are doing and saying. Make an effort to be more reasonable. Take seriously our need to better understand what we oppose, so we can oppose it better. And take seriously the need to oppose the people you should actually be opposing. Not your allies. Criticize your allies all you need to. But don’t be damning and exiling them.
Right Against Ra / Left Against Andrews
Let’s start with the criticism Aron Ra received for bowing out of MythCon (general threads here and here). His reasoning was calm and sound: he wasn’t doing anything at the conference anyway; and didn’t want his name lent to promoting Sargon of Akkad. For which he was called “a piece of shit” and declared to be “no real loss” and now irrelevant to the atheist movement (which as anyone who knows Ra’s work and legacy can attest is the most ridiculous thing a critic could say).
Even so, most of the response was supportive. And there were mixed responses to his decision that were still reasonable, like one commentator who concluded, “I think a lot of people will be disappointed. But you have to do what you think is right for you. I know there are other[s] who will be really happy with your decision. Unfortunately those people are the ones who don’t want dialogue.” Like the people who advocate punching Nazis. Even though in another comment there Aron reveals he is also on my side of that one too: “I will not advocate violence—even against Nazis—except as a last resort of desperate defense.” Those other folks, like Dan Arel, who promote physical assault against Nazis, are also, BTW, calling Sargon a Nazi. 1+1 gets dangerously close to 2 there. And close enough indeed. As noted in that same thread by a sponsor of the con, someone has already been threatening to photograph and “out” anyone who attends the conference (and implying they’ll try to get them fired from their jobs). So now atheists are being threatened with being outed and fired. By the left. Thanks, Dan. That’s the kind of world you are creating.
Aron is the better man. He condemned both. And anyone who gets “angry” at him for simply not wanting to go to this conference needs to recheck their sense and rethink their emotions. Some even tried arguing elsewhere that his doing this was tantamount to attempting censorship or deplatforming of the speakers he didn’t like, which is literally absurd. I’m embarrassed for the human race that anyone would voice anything to him but support or sympathy, or at most mild disappointment that they wouldn’t get to see him there. But that’s the anti-left for you. Too often childish and reactionary. And just so emotional as to crash their entire ability to reason coherently.
Meanwhile, the left is acting just as stupidly. Steve Shives ridiculously renounced all friendship with Seth Andrews over the mere fact that he saw an opportunity to learn, disagree, maybe make progress with the conference’s overall lineup and plan (and then to actually balance the lineup even more by being a feminist speaker at the event). Did Andrews say he agreed with anything at all about Sargon? Nope. Yet somehow he’s now a Sargon supporter. Merely for attending a conference to hear how Sargon responds to being challenged by a feminist interviewer…live. And as I just noted, Dan Arel is all but saying someone should physically assault Sargon at the conference. And inspiring his own flying monkeys to spy on and “out” atheist attendees and try to fuck with their lives for going.
This is just not humanism anymore.
Check Your Emotion and Think for a Minute
Sargon of Akkad indeed is a shit person. But that’s precisely the issue. He is massively popular in the atheist movement. We need to explore that. We need to confirm if he’s a lost cause. And more people need to know about his crap and his influence. He needs to be challenged. From a platform he doesn’t control. That’s what Mythicist Milwaukee is doing. It’s absurd to say they are increasing his platform, when his own YouTube channel has nearly a million subscribers (not just viewers, subscribers; his viewers, consistently exceed a million). MM’s conference’s audience won’t much break even a thousand. Views of any video feed that’s produced from it won’t ever much exceed the low thousands. There is therefore absolutely no sense in which MM is increasing his visibility or reach or popularity. He is already massively popular. In the atheism movement.
You should be concerned about that.
Sargon is not some fringe person no one knows about and only a few dregs listen to and who’s signal is thus being boosted by a single interview at a one-day, one-hall conference in Milwaukee. He is someone we need to confront and study. And whose influence and reasoning and beliefs we need to understand. So we can better combat the stupidity and ignorance he is spreading to millions of viewers. Millions of fellow atheists.
You seriously need to care about that.
When Sargon argued feminism is responsible for Elliot Rodger’s murder spree (and he did), because feminism “disenfranchised” Rodger by somehow programming women to not like him or have sex with him (yep, that’s what he said), Sargon has literally become a murder apologist. That’s an actual fact. Not an opinion, BTW. It’s an objectively factual description of anyone who would ever do that. He’s defending murder, by blaming it on women not giving it up to a guy whom (we can now confidently say in hindsight) they obviously correctly read as a sociopath. And somehow (handwave handwave handwave) women doing that is wrong. And somehow (handwave handwave handwave) that has something to do with feminism. That’s fucked up a hundred times from Sunday. And that’s just one of a hundred horrifying things Sargon has said. He’s literally this guy. And he has an audience of millions. Follow the links I gave above about why he is a shit person. You’ll find countless examples, including rape apologetics, racism, misogynistic insults, mockery of the disabled, mockery of victims of abuse and harassment, and endless things suggestive of a scary heartless motherfucker.
And hundreds of thousands of atheists are his fans.
And that’s why you need to be more reasonable about what Mythicist Milwaukee is doing. And more consistent in the expression of your values. And listen more. And make an effort to actually find out facts before declaring opinions on them.
The entire theme of their conference is about dialogue between divides in the atheist community, divides that literally involve hundreds of thousands of people. As such this conference has representatives on all sides. And has itself publicly and explicitly taken a side: that of feminism and social justice. It isn’t giving Sargon a free platform or stating he’s right about anything, but challenging him on a platform he doesn’t control. It isn’t asking some confusedly anti-feminist podcasters to rant against feminism and social justice; but to discuss skepticism in social media (for example, the fake news epidemic); though they might bring up feminist and social justice issues, and might even say stupid things about them, that’s not what Mythicist Milwaukee asked them to do. The whole event meanwhile has a feminist headliner. It was going to have another, Seth Andrews, but he has taken Ra’s route now (and I support that same decision as I did Aron’s). In addition to the one challenging Sargon. So that’s two (and would have been three) prominent feminist speakers. As well as a Muslim and ex-Muslim debating how atheists should approach Islam. A special address by Ron Miscavige, father of the founder of Scientology and famed escapee thereof. And a movie about Jesus not existing that’s not about any social justice debate at all.
You might not agree with everyone on everything. But there is no sense in which this conference is some conspiratorial scheme to spread anti-social justice propaganda. Stop transferring your hatred of some of those speaking at it, into conspiracy theories and moral panic. Just calmly criticize what there actually is to criticize. Don’t like Sargon? Say so and why. Publicly and anywhere you’re allowed to. Think the podcasters have said some really stupid ignorant shit about feminism and social justice? Say so. Lay it out. Educate them and the public with relevantly correct facts. Use them to get the public’s attention to that very goal. (A couple of my favorites? This and this.) Because I guarantee you: they are already more popular than you. Go look. They also have hundreds of thousands of subscribers (combined, over a million). An alarming number of them atheists. And that’s the problem you should be addressing.
Censorship is calling the venue and trying to get their event pulled (as someone did), or threatening to protest the event so aggressively as to shut it down (as someone did), or threatening the livelihoods and privacy of anyone who attends (as someone did). All of those despicable acts. Done by liberals. Even if you are protesting this conference you should be condemning those things. You should not agree they were appropriate.
On the other hand, merely peacefully protesting (physically outside the venue, or on the internet, in any fashion whatever) is not censorship. It’s also not de-platforming or any other nonsense. If you are letting someone speak where they are permitted and have even been asked to speak, but merely protesting their speech, you are not de-platforming them, you are not censoring them. You are simply peacefully expressing your own right to free speech. If you bow out of an event because you don’t want your name used to promote someone, you are not de-platforming them, you are not censoring them. You are simply peacefully expressing your freedom of association and assembly. Even if you like this conference you should not be condemning those things either. People can voice their displeasure in different ways. Not going. Going and leaving the room when the people you oppose are on stage. Going and challenging those people. Going and writing afterward about what ridiculous things they said. Not going but reading and spreading the word about that critical write-up. Going and stating your opposing views. All of these are legitimate ways to behave. None are censurable.
So stop censuring them.
Why This Matters
The central point I made in my last article was that both sides are fucking this up.
The anti-left is fucking this up by attacking anyone who protests or criticizes any of the people at this convention. And I don’t mean “criticizing” when I say attacking. I mean actual attacking: deploying insults, social abuse, moral damnation, shunning and other forms of social punishment. Criticizing means a reasoned argument, like, “I think you shouldn’t do that, at least for those reasons, and this is why…” Not damning someone as a traitor to atheism for making a perfectly acceptable and harmless personal decision. And the anti-left is also fucking this up by once again never listening to their critics.
The left, meanwhile, is fucking this up by attacking anyone who doesn’t shun or damn the conference—even people who also criticize the very people they think are awful. And I don’t mean “criticizing” when I say attacking. I mean actual attacking: deploying insults, social abuse, moral damnation, shunning and other forms of social punishment. Criticizing means a reasoned argument, like, “I think you shouldn’t do that, at least for those reasons, and this is why…” Not damning someone as a traitor to feminism for making a perfectly acceptable and harmless personal decision. And the left is also fucking this up by once again never listening to their critics.
I said plenty enough last time on what the left is getting wrong in all this, because it’s the left that is now the most oblivious to its abuses and failings, and getting worse. The anti-left has been fucking this up for decades, so that’s not even news.
But the anti-left also needs to take their abuses and failings seriously. If they think the left is fucking things up, they need to turn their own critical minds on themselves until they see they are doing exactly all the same things.
You need to take seriously why people are concerned about you. You need to take seriously why social justice matters. And you need to start being more self-critical: exactly as self-critical as you expect feminists and social justice activists to be.
Consider an example.
Sargon mocked an attempt to discourage people from using abusive slurs that dehumanize the disabled, like “retard,” by calling the mentally disabled woman making that plea a retard. Repeatedly. He then entirely dismissed the merits of her appeal, by claiming (as if somehow he now believes in oppression Olympics when in fact hypocritically he usually mocks it) that there are “worse” abusive slurs against other abused minorities—most of which, in that same video, he actually dismisses as trivial or defends using and even uses on the very people asking him not to. And then he calls her all of those slurs as well, rattling off (literally shouting) a whole string of bigoted epithets. His argument is stupid as fuck (“there are worse words than x, therefore there is nothing wrong with saying x” is the kind of irrational bullshit he himself would tear to shreds had anyone attempted such a fallacy on him). You need to be able to start saying that. That you don’t, makes you look just as irrational and stupid. His approach is also devoid of empathy (seriously, you are shouting at a disabled woman politely and reasonably asking you to not use an abusive slur, by defiantly shouting that very slur back at her?). You need to be able to start saying that. That you don’t, makes you look devoid of empathy.
Sargon’s argument isn’t even clever. It’s devoid of logic. It’s anti-humanist. Why aren’t you embarrassed by that? That you aren’t, is what worries people. It means you readily embrace the illogical. And you don’t consider people’s feelings. You even mock and hold those feelings in disgust. It means you are committed to being a person who will make others uncomfortable around you—or even people who aren’t around you (by going out of your way to make sure they are made uncomfortable by you). Which is a person no one wants to be around. A person no one has any sound reason to like. So when people say you’re awful, in the plain sense of being a threat to other human beings’ happiness, they are actually stating an objective fact about you. Unless you aren’t that sort of person. But then you have to show it. People need to know you aren’t awful, that you care about the happiness and wellbeing of others, that you aren’t a continuing threat to both. But if you keep signalling you are an awful person, by acting like one or defending those who are, then that’s how people should treat you.
You’ll complain that what I’m talking about is virtue signalling. But that’s actually exactly what you should be doing. Virtue signalling can only be mocked when it’s insincere. Otherwise, it’s a fundamental requirement of a functional society. Otherwise, you will be signaling the lack of virtue, or leaving people in reasonable doubt of it. And when no one has anything else to go on, that’s what they’ll have to conclude. You’ll keep coming off as not a nice or good person, or at best highly suspect. As someone who doesn’t care about human happiness. Someone who wants to make people uncomfortable and to perpetuate bigotry and cruelty and injustice. And if you do that, you have no grounds to complain when you are treated as such a person.
Someone tried defending this video of Sargon’s, that mocked anyone asking slurs not be used at people, by citing George Carlin, whose famous rant about banned words on television was, I’m told, the same thing. Those seven words? Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Notably, not a single one of which is “retarded” or any of the other bigoted slurs Sargon keeps using, mocking, or defending. But that’s not the only reason this is a fallacy of false equivalence. Carlin was arguing against criminal penalties for saying the words he listed. Carlin was arguing against banning words on television regardless of context. Carling was arguing the seven words that were banned on television regardless of context and subject to criminal penalties were absurdly arbitrary because they aren’t inherently abusive and actually had no basis for even disliking them. Hence he never delivered this same rant about “nigger” or “faggot” or “retard.” He would have found Sargon’s entire video disgusting, for missing every damned relevant point Carlin was on about. You know what Carlin did say about abusive slurs? This. He explicitly argued context is what makes a word bad and that white people using the word nigger at a black person was probably indeed racist. (And BTW, Carlin’s use of slurs in that clip? That’s what an actual joke looks like. Sargon, isn’t even funny.)
Carlin—even Carlin—recognized words can and do cause harm. That how and when one chooses to use them can make you a dangerous and despicable person. That their misuse can make the world a worse place. He said so in many of his routines. He agreed, for example, it would make the world better if we steered away from gendered words like mankind and replaced them with inclusive words like humankind. He agreed it would make the world better if racial and other slurs were not used to express hatred or contempt, nor to hurt or belittle people. He agreed rape jokes were only acceptable if constructed in a way that didn’t belittle or mock rape victims or defend or justify rape. (He also agreed all of these notions could be taken too far, becoming excessively “P.C.,” like insisting manholes be called personholes and condemning anyone as a sexist who didn’t abide; hence Carlin anticipated my point by decades: criticizing the left’s going to extremes can and should exist simultaneously with agreeing the left is still mostly right about this stuff.)
What is alarming to the left—and they are entirely right to be alarmed—is the difference between the arguments made by the likes of Carlin, which are reasonable, nuanced, contextual, and respectful of the goal of human happiness, and the arguments made by the likes of Sargon, which are irrational, devoid of nuance or respect for the role of context, and contemptuous of the goal of human happiness. The one signals an acute social critic (and I’m not saying Carlin was always right or spot on; but no one can deny his routines were smart and thought-out and ripe with nuance). The other signals an awful, irrational person who is not safe to be around nor making the world a safer place to live in.
A lot of women are the victims of abuse, rape, and assault. A lot of black and disabled and gay people, likewise. And often not merely, but actually for being female, black, disabled, or gay. They don’t want to be around or listen to people who mock their experience and even actively try to use that past to make them feel less comfortable, less safe, and less happy. And they are quite right to condemn you for doing that. Unless you don’t. But if all you do is praise and defend people who do…you do not look like someone who doesn’t do those things. To the contrary. You are starting to look just like those who do. Frighteningly close to, anyway. Enough to warrant betting on the side of caution. If that’s what you give them, you have no warrant to be upset when they treat you like a threat.
The left is right about that.
The left then errs by taking that reasonable thought process, and leaping from that, to treating even the people who don’t praise and defend that behavior, people who actually actively condemn it, just like the people who praise and defend it.
Do you see the problem now?
I have enough privilege that it empowers me to do things that many others don’t have the emotional energy or time or other resources to do themselves. Like attend an event with people like Sargon who have despicable values and wholly disrespect the happiness and feelings of others and actively, even mockingly, make the world worse for women and minorities. To see how he accounts for himself, what can be learned to better reverse the damage he does, and what can be taught afterward by writing about it. But respecting boundaries is what it means to be a good human being. And respecting boundaries means respecting someone who doesn’t want to go to an event for any reason. It also means respecting anyone who does want to go—whether in an effort to make a difference, understand, and report on what happens, or anything else. As long as they aren’t praising and defending awful people who do and advocate awful things, they are not themselves people who do and advocate awful things. And you need to be making that distinction. A lot more than you have been.
So when it comes to this year’s Mythcon, you need to calm down. It’s okay if you don’t go in protest. It’s okay if you go to see if anything is learned or accomplished by it. It’s okay if you go so an opposing view is present and represented. It’s okay if you don’t go because you don’t have the emotional energy or don’t feel safe enough to do that. All of these things are okay and should not be condemned or punished with social shaming or exclusion or transposed hatred.
Closing Thought for the Day
We can be deeply critical of the ignorance and bigotry and stupidity and lack of empathy of people like Sargon, and of the divisive and destructive things people like him say and do, without becoming ignorant stupid bigots lacking in empathy and acting divisively and destructively ourselves. We need to be better than that. Otherwise we aren’t.
It is divisive and destructive to shun and condemn someone merely for arranging or attending an event that tries to understand and challenge views like Sargon’s, that treat him like a human being, yet one who is dangerously wrong about a lot of things. It is divisive and destructive to harass and threaten him or anyone who wants to talk to him or hear him, or to endorse harassing or threatening him or anyone who wants to talk to him or hear him. We can treat him like a person. And oppose and criticize him and call out the harm he causes in the world. Those are not incompatible behaviors. Being better than him is not being like him or endorsing him or supporting him. It is literally the opposite of that. Dear left, please learn that lesson.
Everyone needs to read the entirety of this rather serious and spot-on Cracked article by David Wong: 6 Reasons Good People Turn into Monsters. It aptly explains how and why both rightists and leftists are becoming monsters by doing exactly the same things psychologically in tribalizing themselves and ginning up moral panic. He describes one sequence that roughly matches what the Dan Arel’s and Steve Shives’ of our community are doing:
The natural evolution is toward tighter and tighter criteria for what behavior gets you shunned from the group. The end result is that the central cause…can be as pure as the driven snow, and yet the tone will get more and more toxic over time, the members becoming less and less charitable with each other. Here, for example, is what my Twitter timeline looks like:
“Nazis are bad and must be opposed.”
“People who enable or defend Nazis must also be opposed.”
“Unlawful violence is perfectly acceptable when opposing Nazis and their enablers.”
Wait, I’m not sure I’m on board with that …
“Anyone who opposes the use of unlawful violence against Nazis is also a Nazi enabler.”
What? No! I’m one of the good guys!
“Also, if you think about it, all American institutions and capitalism itself help support white supremacy, therefore all are Nazi enablers and eligible for violent retribution.”
Hey, I think you just declared war on literally everyone who isn’t currently in the room with you.
This is an irrational sequence of reasoning. We need to stop it.
It’s exactly the same thing that happens on the other side with the “anti-SJW” crowd. They engage in exactly the same irrational moral panic, exactly the same illogical conflation and leaps of judgment, and end up advocating equally stupid and wrong conclusions, that are equally divisive and destructive. They need to stop it.
The better world we all want, requires us all to stop it.
So stop it already.