“Believe that narrative, brah”

So, regarding the most recent development in the Stollznow/Radford harassment situation, Adam Lee noted how Hemant Mehta hadn’t contacted him (or, near as I can tell, any of the bloggers he mentions) before writing a post about the most recent developments in said situation, wherein he says those bloggers have an obligation to correct the record, make apologies, and blahdey blah.

I’ve been keeping up with the case on and off in my spare time, downloading court documents from PACER and mostly not having time to read through anything, but even a brief refresher on the matter showed that Mehta had gotten several things wrong in his post, not least of which was making insinuations and bloviating about journalistic responsibility when not actually bothering to talk to any of the people involved, though nearly all of them have publicly-available e-mail addresses, before insinuating that they’re being dishonest and have an agenda. Once again, we see that standards like “apply the principle of charity” and “pick up the phone” only go one way. So I said this:

@DaylightAtheism It’s okay, he didn’t bother to read Radford’s signed statement or look into the actual history of the matter either.

To which one of the atheoskeptic movement’s gaggle of assholes responded, a day later:

@Doubting_Tom Believe that narrative, brah. Believe until it becomes true.

So the SIWOTI syndrome hit, and now I’m writing this post instead of doing work. Thankfully, I’ve already hit most of the salient points in comments at various places. So, I’m pulling it all together here.

First, Hemant said:

Stollznow now says the allegations weren’t true.

We’ll leave aside the issue of believing wholeheartedly a statement released by one party in a case, especially when that party previously released a similar statement last year, falsely claiming it was signed and agreed upon by both parties. That event from last year is important, because despite linking to it in his post, Mehta seems to be unaware of what it said, and the key difference that makes that quote above such an egregious misrepresentation. To wit:

Karen Stollznow does not say the allegations weren’t true. An accurate description of what has happened is that Ben Radford released a statement that Karen Stollznow allegedly signed, and does not deny signing.

That statement does not say the allegations weren’t true. This is where it’s important to read things carefully, and especially important to consider what’s come before. The statement says “it would be wrong for anyone to believe” the allegations. This is weaselly wording, likely there as a result of a legal compromise. It would be much clearer, and would take far fewer words, to simply flat-out state that the allegations were untrue and are now retracted, which the statement from 2014 actually does:

These accusations and complaints against Benjamin Radford were false and Karen Stollznow retracts them. Radford was disciplined by the Center for Inquiry on the basis of them. One of Stollznow’s minor complaints (that Radford briefly stood in front of her during an argument when she wanted to walk past him) was the result of miscommunication during their relationship, but the accusations of sexual harassment, stalking, sexual assault, unwanted emails and the like were and are categorically false.

Emphasis mine. That’s a key difference between the statement that Stollznow did not sign and openly disavowed, and the new statement. It seems like a pretty relevant difference, too. There is no recanting, there is no retraction, there is no admission of dishonesty (or really, of anything, other than an acrimonious breakup and various unspecified misunderstandings) in the current signed statement. Mehta’s summary is a mischaracterization of what the statement says, especially in light of what has happened previously.

Mehta goes on to say this:

Radford has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

And this is false in nearly every possible way.

First, Radford hasn’t actually been cleared of any wrongdoing; CFI found sufficient cause to punish him for wrongdoing when the complaint was first made privately, and hasn’t (to my knowledge) since recanted or apologized or said they were wrong to do so.

Second, the court did not clear Radford of any wrongdoing, because the case was dismissed by consent of both parties. The court makes no statement regarding Radford’s wrongdoing, because the matter was settled out of court.

Third, no matter what the outcome of this case was, it couldn’t possibly clear Radford of any wrongdoing, because he was the plaintiff. The one accused of wrongdoing in this case was Karen Stollznow. At best, you could say that Karen Stollznow has been cleared of libel, assault, and slander1, but even that would be an overstatement since, again, they settled out of court.

So yes, I will continue to believe this narrative, brah, because it actually is true that Mehta has misrepresented various aspects of this case, whether through ignorance, incompetence, bias, or some combination of the three. The question remains, though: if you characterize a situation in a way that turns out to be false, don’t you have an obligation to correct it?

1. I took that phrasing of the parameters of the complaint from an earlier version, I think from the dismissed New Mexico case. Having looked through the more current documents, a more accurate version would be “defamation, fraud, and interference with beneficial contractual relations.” Either way, the point and outcome are the same. No matter what the actual complaint was, it was made against Stollznow and dismissed.


[CW: bigotry]

Stumbled onto Dan Fincke’s lengthy defense of Charlie Hebdo in my feed reader, so I decided to see how it addressed my own point. It didn’t, really, just making the tired “it’s okay because they’re liberal” argument that holds water about as well as most sieves. Fincke specifically brings up South Park’s hilarious use of antisemitism used to skewer antisemites and Colbert’s anti-rightwing schtick, conveniently ignoring1 all the times both those shows have, despite liberal (or left libertarian in South Park’s case) intentions, crossed well into racist, misogynist, transphobic, or otherwise bigoted territory, without making the bigots the butt of the joke. Read some trans people’s writing on the number of jokes at their expense on primetime TV someday. It rather takes a lot of wind out of the sails of those arguments.

But Fincke brought up one point in the process that’s worth tackling specifically.

And, to the point of stereotypical depictions, Ashley Miller has made the important point that the medium of political cartoon inherently plays in caricature. It plays on over-exaggerated imagery. It’s a stylistic element of the medium. Everyone usually looks awful or stereotyped in a political cartoon. That’s usually the point.

Yeah, no. It’s true, caricature is an art of exaggeration, whether it’s racist or not. The problem is when caricaturists rely on racist imagery, rather than their actual subjects, to make their caricatures. Take, for instance, most right-wing political cartoons featuring Barack Obama2. You’ll find a litany of bulbous noses and big lips, which (as this cartoon by Shmorky points out) are not features that Obama possesses. Rather than caricaturing a person, Barack Obama, who has a very caricaturable face, they fall back on caricature shorthand for black people that dates back to Al fucking Jolson.

The same is true for the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that have made the rounds lately. So many Muslim men with turbans, thobes, bushy beards, and big hook noses; so many Muslim women in burqas. Why is that? Muslim women wear a wide variety of different garb, depending on their particular denomination, from simple scarves and hijabs to the more restrictive niqabs and burqas. Muslim men have more clothing diversity, and both genders have far greater diversity than the cartoons would suggest. If Islam isn’t a race, why is every Muslim drawn as an Arab caricature3? Even if it weren’t racist, it’s lazy.

But then, lazy caricature often trades in racism, because racism is the laziest form of caricature. No need to consider anything about the people, what they look like, how they behave, just reduce them to a set of signifiers determined by their skin color.

Fincke links positively to Understanding Charlie Hebdo, a website that helpfully seeks to explain the cartoons for a non-French-speaking audience. That site compares Charlie Hebdo to Mad Magazine, which seems apt. Mad Magazine is also a humor publication that skewers current events with a left-leaning bias, and Mad also trades heavily in cartoonish caricatures of their targets. Mad also has a long history of bigoted cartoons that aren’t covered by the blanket immunity of “they’re liberal!” or “no, no, the bigots are the punchline!” because the bigots, very clearly, are not the punchline. And lest you think that cherry-picking the most easily-found images from the ’70s demonstrates that it’s no longer a problem, here’s one that drew some understandable heat in 2013.

Being liberal, making fun of bigots, and using caricature are all well and good. They are not, however, things that prevent your work from serving bigotry of one sort or another. That requires more thought, more consideration, and more awareness of context. Folks like Fincke want us to consider these French cartoons in the larger context of the magazine’s politics and French culture, but to ignore the larger context of a long, worldwide history of racist and homophobic imagery, and the splash damage caused by using that imagery, the way it undermines any intended message of anti-racism. Wouldn’t this cartoon be more effective at lampooning racists if it didn’t feature a black caricature who could have been traced from a 1940s Spirit comic? Wouldn’t this cartoon have been more effective if it didn’t think replicating racist imagery were the same thing as lampooning it?

In science and skepticism, we often talk about the Galileo Gambit, where cranks will compare themselves to Galileo because his ideas were rejected too. I’m starting to think we need an Onion Gambit: “It is not enough to wear the mantle of satire; you must also be good at it.”

1. Fincke acknowledges some of South Park’s issues with transphobia later in the post, but doesn’t seem to see the actual distinction. From Fincke’s perspective, apparently, all targets are fair game for whatever caricature the satirists decide to use. The problem is only when the content of the satire is actually false. I think the problem is when the satire feeds into or relies on stereotypes that have, traditionally, been used to demean and oppress the underprivileged. It’s especially egregious when the target of the satire is not the stereotype itself (South Park’s transphobia, the Asian caricature that led to #CancelColbert), but even material which tries to make bigots the butt of the joke often falls flat. Fred Clark wrote a piece awhile back that often comes to mind when this topic comes up. Making fun of bigots by exaggerating actual bigotry is a difficult tightrope walk for even very talented comedians and satirists, and we shouldn’t be surprised when they occasionally stumble. But saying that those stumbles aren’t problematic because the satirist usually has good intentions ignores the difference between intent and outcome, and robs us of a conversation that often needs to be had. Why is the joke/caricature/etc. problematic? Where does it come from? Why was it thought to be funny? Dissecting those issues often gets us to the messy world of how we all absorb and sometimes repeat bigoted stereotypes without thinking. These missteps should be opportunities for us to talk about how bigotry works, how to be more aware of splash damage, more compassionate. Getting defensive and saying “nuh-uh because liberal” only perpetuates the problem.

2. The special case is Ted Rall. Rall is a leftist cartoonist who drew fire in 2013 for cartoons that depicted Barack Obama in a decidedly apelike fashion. Those defending Rall pointed out that he depicted everyone in a decidedly apelike fashion. He and his defenders thought this equal treatment meant that the cartoons weren’t actually racist. I think it’s a prime example of the problem with “equal opportunity offense.” Things that aren’t really problematic when done to privileged groups aren’t so benign when they feed into or draw from a context of bigotry and oppression. It’s one thing to draw George W. Bush like a chimp. Dude looks like a chimp. But drawing Obama to look like a chimp, when he doesn’t, and when there’s a huge history of cartoons and propaganda and pseudoscience about how apelike black people are, when “monkey” is a slur, it means you may have to rethink your stock caricature.

It also shows what a lazy, shitty artist Ted Rall is.

3. To be entirely fair to Charlie Hebdo, many of these caricatures are of Muhammad, who was Arabian. The fact that Muhammad is basically indistinguishable from any other male Muslim in their cartoons, however, is a problem.

Bigotry, Satire, and the Left

[CW: Racism]

I used to be a big fan of “Family Guy.” I owned the first several seasons, and watched them repeatedly. I rejoiced when the show came back from its cancellation, even if the interim productions (A “live from Vegas” album and the direct-to-DVD Stewie movie) weren’t spectacular. I listened to the commentaries, which were often just as entertaining as the show itself. I loved how the show skewered right-wing religious fundamentalism, how frequently it crossed into the boundaries of bad taste for a laugh. Like, there was the bit where a JFK Pez dispenser got shot, or where Osama Bin Laden was trying to get past airport security by singing showtunes, and the whole “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein” episode. The latter of those never made it to air; the former segments were even cut from the DVD sets. Family Guy was edgy.

Seth MacFarlane, the creator and significant part of the voice cast of the show, is decidedly liberal, and his politics have certainly informed the series. More and more as the show went on, we saw bits lampooning creationists and religion, promoting pot legalization and gay marriage and positive immigration reform.

Unfortunately, as the show went on, we saw more and more of the stuff that eventually soured me on the series. That same “edginess,” that same intentionally-offensive philosophy of “we make fun of everyone,” meant more characters who were stereotype caricatures. Brian’s flamboyantly gay relative, the Asian reporter (voiced by a white woman) who occasionally slips into a “me ruv you rong time” accent for a laugh, the creepy old pedophile. And of course Quagmire, whose ’50s-throwback ladies-man character is eventually just a vehicle for relentless rape jokes.

Seth MacFarlane would probably tell you that he’s not a racist or a misogynist or a homophobe. He would probably tell you that he’s very liberal, that the show constantly makes fun of right-wing ideologies and satirizes even his erstwhile employers at Fox. In satirical parlance, he’d probably argue that his show is “punching up.”

The problem is that, while doing all that punching, he’s not giving any thought to the splash damage toward people who might not be his actual targets. What about satirizing right-wingers necessitates rape jokes and racial stereotypes? Would his satire be as effective without those elements? Might it be better? I don’t think Seth MacFarlane cares much. They get laughs, and when it comes down to it, laughs matter more to guys like Seth MacFarlane than the targets of those laughs.

There are lots of people in similar boats, willing to throw anyone under the bus for a cheap laugh, then defend themselves by saying that they’re being satirical, that because they’re politically liberal, or because they satirize the powerful in addition to the powerless, that they can’t be bigots. They’re just equal-opportunity offenders, treating everyone the same, and you don’t see their powerful targets complaining.

Which, of course, misses the point. It misses the point like a white person saying “well how come it’s okay to say ‘honky’ or ‘cracker’ but not the n-word?” It misses the point like a man saying “female comedians are always telling jokes about men, how come it’s only sexist when I tell jokes about chicks or rape?” It misses the point that when not all people are equal in society, mocking them equally does unequal harm. Author Saladin Ahmed put it best when he said “In an unequal world, satire that mocks everyone serves the powerful. It is worth asking what pre-existing injuries we add our insults to.

It’s an important thing to remember when you’re a satirist. Who is your target? Who do you want to hurt, and who might get hurt in the crossfire? Is it necessary to your point for your target to have sex with an offensive transphobic caricature? Is it necessary to your point to dredge up stereotypical slurs against one minority to lampoon bigotry against another? Is it necessary in making fun of racists and homophobes to replicate racist and homophobic imagery?

“Satire” is not a shield that protects its creators from crticism. “Liberalism” is not an inoculation that prevents its bearers from committing bigoted acts. Punching down is a problem. Splash damage is a problem. Not all slights are covered by “but look at the larger context,” not when your “larger context” conveniently omits the context of centuries of caricatures with hook noses or big lips or fishnet stockings.

And, it should go without saying, “criticism” doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun.


I know that Facebook is a wretched hive of unwanted commentary by people you barely remember from high school and college, but I’ve been pretty lucky not to see anything egregious, largely by staying away on days that I knew would just infuriate me.

So I was a bit nonplussed to find a friend of mine sharing this anti-protest diatribe today, in the wake of all the terrible shit that’s been going down in the last several weeks. I ended up responding briefly there, but I can feel the SIWOTI burning, so it’s time for an old-fashioned fisking. I don’t know (or much care) who the original author is.

Imagine yourself, 13 years old, Christmas day. Your dad was executed 5 days earlier, assassinated, shot in the head at point blank range without a fighting chance. For what? For doing his job. For dawning the uniform.

Donning. And yes, it’s rough working in a line of work where your life is always at risk. We could talk about the things police officers do (and the unnecessary things they’re required to do) that increase that risk, but let’s not pretend that policing is usually regarded as a very safe pursuit. The reason that we hold up police and firefighters and soldiers as heroes is because we recognize that they put their lives on the line to protect and serve the rest of us. The chance of being gunned down on the street is a chance they willingly take every day. It is a terrible, but not unexpected, part of being a police officer.

It shouldn’t, however, be an expected part of playing at the park or shopping at Walmart or cosplaying or getting in a car accident.

For wearing the badge. For keeping chaos, unrest, and animosity at bay every single day. For serving an ungrateful and violent public.

Unfortunately, this description of how the cops are supposed to act is at odds with how they often do. Firing on peaceful protests with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets does not keep “chaos, unrest, and animosity at bay.” Disproportionately targeting communities of color does not keep “chaos, unrest, and animosity at bay.” Shooting first and lying about it later does not keep “chaos, unrest, and animosity at bay.” Defending unfit officers does not keep “chaos, unrest, and animosity at bay.” Engaging in unethical prosecutory conduct up to and including the subornation of perjury in order to prevent police officers from facing consequences for their own violent animosity does not keep “chaos, unrest, and animosity at bay.”

Physician, heal thyself, and all that.

Imagine yourself looking underneath the Christmas tree at a gift with a tag on it saying, “From Dad”, only knowing his funeral is next week.

Eric Garner had six, and three grandchildren. John Crawford had three children. Tamir Rice was 12 years old, the kind of kid who’d be opening those presents.

This December 25th, for 24 hours, at least one cable station will be playing “A Christmas Story,” a schmaltzy nostalgic movie about a young (white) boy who wants a BB gun for Christmas, no matter what any of the adults say is sensible. The movie is beloved by many, widely seen as wholesome and funny and charming.

Now imagine that your son was fatally shot for playing with just such a gun in a neighborhood park, by police who lied about it afterward, who handcuffed your 14-year-old daughter who watched it all happen and threatened you with arrest, and were not even charged with a crime.

The people killed by police had families too. Despite what many in the media would have you believe, despite what some of the police officers themselves would appear to believe, they are not universally violent inhuman demons. It’s not “ungrateful” to be upset that police are failing in their duty to protect and serve. It’s not “ungrateful” to hold police to their own stated standards.

Imagine your Dad being blatantly murdered at the hands of a crazed and radical individual, driven by media and political-instilled hate all because he wears a Police Officer’s uniform.

Imagine your dad, brother, son, daughter, sister, mother being blatantly harassed, injured, mangled, murdered at the hands of unstable, immature, angry, fearful individuals driven by media and political-instilled hate all because they have brown skin.

Now, imagine yourself, a newly wed, ready to get your life on track with the love of your life. 2 months of marriage under your belt and you and your husband are planning your first Christmas together as a married couple. While out Christmas shopping for him, you get a phone call saying your husband has been shot and is in the hospital fighting for his life, only to find out he’d died in his patrol car for no reason.

Now imagine yourself, shopping for a cookout with your boyfriend, when the police pick you up and take you to an interrogation room. They berate you for hours, threaten you with arrest, ask where your boyfriend got a gun, accuse him of wanting to murder his ex-girlfriend, and reduce you to tears and swearing on the lives of your family that he didn’t have a gun when he entered the store, only to be told ninety minutes into the interrogaton that your boyfriend was shot to death, only to learn later that he had been carrying a toy gun that he picked up in an aisle of the store, in a state where he would have been legally allowed to wave around an AR-15 to his heart’s content. And neither officer was indicted as a result, despite there being video evidence contradicting their statements.

People are killed by police for no reason too.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a reality we of the law enforcement community live with day by day. Every Police Officer’s goal at the end of the day isn’t to fuck you over for a speeding ticket or to pick on you because you’re black, red, purple, white, a dog, or anything.

Their goal at the end of the day is to come home safe to the loving, embracing arms of their families at home. That is it.

Surprisingly, this is also a goal of the people of color who are disproportionately stopped, harassed, and arrested by police.

But you make a mistake in that first paragraph. It’s true, not every officer’s goal is to fuck with people, but it’s not true to say that every officer’s goal is not fucking with people. Go watch that Eric Garner video, if you can stomach it. Watch him talk about how often they fuck with him. If only the officers were so zealous about tax evasion with people walking down Wall Street instead of just Bay Street. Read up on Stop and Frisk. Police Officers are human beings too, and just like any humans, are all too prone to human biases, human bigotries, and human abuses of power. Campaigning for reform, for systems that actually punish officers for abusing the badge, isn’t a self-serving ploy by criminals. It’s a way of protecting everyone from those few bad apples. As it stands, police culture protects the unfit officers, and the effect is to further endanger all officers by making them complicit, by making them accessories, and by making it clear that they are above the law.

So while you sit there, sympathizing with the criminals and becoming part of the problem by saying, “Hands up, don’t shoot” or “I can’t breathe”

First off, fuck you. This is exactly the problem: you can’t divide the world cleanly into unsympathetic criminals and sympathetic police officers. Not every cop is a hero, and not every person killed by a cop is a villain. Thinking that cops are incapable of doing wrong is why we have police departments and prosecutors’ offices who rally around bad cops to defend them from any legal consequences. Thinking that certain kinds of people–usually poor people, brown people, mentally ill people–are “criminals” is why we have cops pulling their guns without making any attempt to assess or defuse situations, why we have overpoliced communities and military tactics resulting in the continual harassment and injury of innocent people.

The problem is that we have police officers who are engaging in criminal conduct. Harassment is a crime. Assault is a crime. Battery is a crime. Murder is a crime. They do not stop being crimes when someone puts on a badge. Police should certainly be held to different standards, standards that befit their role as protectors of the peace. Those standards should not be lower than the standards that are used to judge civilians. All too often, they are. At least when unarmed teen Trayvon Martin was shot to death, his killer stood trial. At least when Jordan Davis was shot in his car for no reason, his killer was sent to jail. The cops who killed Michael Brown, John Crawford, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice haven’t even been indicted. That’s just the murders, just the high-profile cases, not the countless other instances of police brutality that occur day after day.

It’s not ungrateful or inconsistent to say that if you kill someone, particularly an unarmed someone, you should stand trial for that act. Whether or not they wear a badge, the question of whether or not the shooting was justified is one for a trial, not one for a grand jury or a blue wall of silence. This isn’t a perfect solution–the courts are hampered by the same biases as any other human institution–but it’s a better solution than this circling of paddy wagons.

and preaching an ignorant and biased agenda against an individual who would willingly die for you in an instant, no matter if you like them or not;

I’ll leave aside the irony of this diatribe calling out ignorance and bias with its Pollyannaish view of police and Manichean approach to law enforcement. The problem isn’t that police will willingly die for us, the problem is how willing they seem to be to kill for us. Whether or not we like it, whether or not it’s warranted, whether or not it does us any good.

while you sit there with hate and distaste over the fact that they are “all racist”

Citation please.

That said, if you’re complicit in a racist system, then it’s hard to wash off the stink. Study after study shows that law enforcement, from stops and searches on up to convictions and sentences, work differently based on the skin color of the defendant. That is a problem, it’s a race issue, and denying it helps no one.

and they can hide behind the badge and without mercy, murder anyone they please-while you sit there and bask in all the hatred that has been ignited this past year, understand that they will ALWAYS be there to help you.

Yes, they’ll always be here to help me, because I am a straight cisgendered white middle-class man.

But talk to rape victims, to homeless people, to people of color, to transgender people, to people with mental illnesses, to poor people, and you’ll find plenty of examples of how the police aren’t always there to help everyone.

I’d be curious who was helped by putting Eric Garner in a chokehold, by filling Tamir Rice and John Crawford full of bullets, by threatening and harassing their families, by gassing and assaulting protestors and journalists, by putting unstable cops back on the street with freshly-slapped wrists.

Certainly not the police. If the deaths of Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos have taught us anything, it’s that the perception of police as violent racists who can kill with impunity endangers cops as much as anyone else. They should be leading the campaign to force trigger-happy cops to stand trial, to halt excessive force and police brutality, and to ensure that cops who are unfit for duty aren’t then sent on duty. Because even if it’s just a few bad apples spoiling the bunch, what we’ve seen so far is a movement among cops to retain and protect those bad apples, heedless of the effect on the rest of the bushel. That solidarity, the “snitches get stitches” of the law enforcement world, results in distrust and animosity between the police and the people they’re supposed to protect. That’s not making the job safer for the Lius and Ramoses of the future, nor is it making life safer for the future Garners and Rices.

How could anyone have the audacity to hate the protectors? The unseen heroes of every day life?

How could anyone have the audacity to call this kind of conduct protection or heroic?

Matthew 5:9-
“Blessed are the peacekeepers, for they shall be called children of God.”

You might want to check that quote again.
And if you call this peace-making

…I’d hate to see what you think of as war.

God bless NYPD Officer Liu-EOW 12/20/2014
God bless NYPD Officer Ramos-EOW 12/20/2014
Godspeed gentlemen, your deaths will not be in vain.

No, sadly, they will. Just like the deaths of children in Sandy Hook and moviegoers in Aurora, and students in Isla Vista and countless other victims of gun violence perpetrated by unstable individuals, the deaths of these two officers are unlikely to result in any meaningful reforms in mental healthcare or gun control policies. They’re also unlikely to result in any change to police culture, because assholes and racists and bad apples of all sorts are too intent to blame these deaths on peaceful protestors and victims of police overreach, rather than on a rotten culture that excuses and defends those who would abuse their power.

-Signed, the grateful son of an oath keeping Peace Officer.

If only all officers kept both their oaths and the peace, you wouldn’t have protestors to blame this on.

Michael Nugent, Vice Principal of Atheism

You may remember Michael Nugent from such hits as the time he rolled up his sleeves and dredged the Slyme Pit to no real effect (except ultimately to fill his comment threads with Pitter apologia) and that time he tried to mediate a dialogue between harassed and harasser, until he lost interest.

In that latter incident, Nugent demonstrated a pattern of behavior that he has since escalated: butt in to an issue that doesn’t involve you, adopt the pretense of mature authority, treat the issue as an academic subject to be studied or hashed out in formal debate, and then move on to some other issue once it gets too real.

This time, he’s decided that he’s very disappointed in PZ Myers. That’s his takeaway from this mostly good article about the Michael Shermer rape allegations and a couple of weeks where prominent atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have taken to Twitter and other avenues to make (and double-down on) sexist, essentialist comments about women, ignorantly pontificate about rape (and implicitly defend accused rapists), and whine to their millions of followers about being persecuted by PC thought-police bullies: PZ Myers is a meanie.

It’s certainly not the only point of that article; there’s a rambling bit where he talks about the good work done by atheist organizations, and tries to paint these issues of sexism and misogyny and rape apology as strictly American ones, despite the fact that Richard Dawkins is most decidedly from a different country with “United” in the name.

But PZ is the real problem. His rhetoric has escalated the “deep rifts.” Because while Penn Jillette is alternately defending and denying his use of gendered slurs, and while Richard Dawkins is defending his friend from rape accusations, they’re doing it without resulting to four-letter words. Accusing someone of rape? Rude. Actually raping someone? Not even worth comment.

He tried talking to PZ “privately” about the matter first, considering PZ a friend, and apparently seeing the need for an intervention about his destructive behavior. I can sympathize, somewhat. After all, I am all for people calling out their friends when their friends are hurting others. For that matter, I think that’s a situation where a private conversation may indeed be warranted before taking the issue public, a tactic often problematically proposed as a cure-all for disagreements. It’s not, and when it’s two people who don’t actually know each other very well, the insistence on private conversation first is mostly just a way of avoiding transparency and sweeping criticism under the carpet. But if it’s someone you’re close to? Sending them a personal note to say “hey, I think [specific thing you do] is hurting the people you care about, and I’m worried about you” would absolutely be a reasonable step in resolving the issue.

That’s not what Nugent did. Instead, he CC’d Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson on the e-mail. Again, I think Nugent thought he was trying to organize an intervention, but that’s really not how you go about it. An intervention means a bunch of people who care about you plan on their own to get together and confront you about your actions. It’s not sending “a letter to a person who I considered to be a friend who I thought was behaving badly” and also sending that same letter to two people who are, at best, tangentially involved, one of whom is the target of some of that perceived bad behavior. That’s not staging an intervention. That is, as I said in comments at Stephanie Zvan’s place, holding a parent-teacher conference. “I’m concerned about your behavior, so I’m sending this to your parents as well.”

Similarly, if I had a friend who was saying hurtful things, I probably wouldn’t say:

I am now asking you to take a long hard look at what you are doing, consider apologising to people who you have unjustly hurt and defamed, and start focusing on actually promoting compassion and empathy and social justice if those ideas are important to you.

That’s not how friends and peers talk to each other. That’s how you scold a child. “Now go and think about what you did, and don’t come back down until you’ve said you’re sorry.” Nugent was accused, rightly so, of behaving paternalistically with the dialogue a year ago, and this turns that up to 11. He has appointed himself disciplinarian of atheism, and what actions merit his attention?

In the last year or so, he has publicly accused Richard Dawkins of seeming to have developed a callous indifference to the sexual abuse of children, Michael Shermer of multiple unreported serious crimes, and Russell Blackford of being a lying fuckhead. He has joked about Rebecca Watson shanking Phil Mason in the kidneys, and about himself stabbing Christians and throwing people off a pier.

Last month he described Robin Williams’ suicide as the death of a wealthy white man dragging us away from news about brown people, said that a white lady who made racist comments looks like the kind of person who would have laughed at nanu-nanu, then added that he should have been more rude, because asking him to have been nicer about the dead famous guy is missing the point.

Let’s address those in order:

he has publicly accused Richard Dawkins of seeming to have developed a callous indifference to the sexual abuse of children

PZ was hardly the only one. In fact, lots of the people who levied that accusation were people who were sexually abused as children and found Dawkins’ repeated comments about sexual abuse trivializing and insensitive at best. Dawkins was attempting to generalize his own experience with “mild” sexual abuse to all or most sexual abuse victims, as a tool to attack what he saw as the greater abuse, religious indoctrination. This was inappropriate, and Dawkins later apologized for it, though I doubt that he still quite gets what was wrong. He seems fixated these last few years with ranking tragedies and atrocities, for no discernible practical purpose.

But Michael Nugent apparently sees no problem with Dawkins devising scales of rape and sexual abuse so as to compare people’s traumatic experiences. We have not, after all, seen him post letters telling Dawkins to think about the harm he’s caused or apologize to those he’s hurt with his words.

Michael Shermer of multiple unreported serious crimes,

Accusations that have been validated by multiple sources. Nugent has said that he was not trying to tell PZ to keep sexual harassment accusations secret, but it’s hard to read this (and the letter, which is worded in nearly identical language) as anything but that. On Twitter, Nugent expanded, essentially saying that he thought this matter would have been better served by the police than hashed out online. We’ll ignore the continued ignorant paternalism in Nugent thinking he knows better how to handle rape than the victim, we’ll even ignore the numerous clear reasons why rape survivors don’t go to the police. Nugent’s living in a fantasy world of privilege-enabled ignorance where police officers are never racist or misogynist or themselves rapists, and where every rape kit gets tested and victims are never pressured into recanting or (even with clear evidence that rape occurred) treated like criminals themselves. But look at what we know, especially in light of the Buzzfeed piece: Shermer’s behavior and the accusations were known to atheist and skeptic leaders. DJ Grothe knew about them. James fucking Randi knew about them, tanking the remaining respect I had for that guy. What was their response? To continue inviting him to events, to take out extra insurance to protect themselves from his actions, and to give him a stern warning that if he does it too many more times, he might face some consequences of some sort, while punishing the people who speak out. The same thing played out with Ben Radford. Leaders in the community excuse and coddle accused rapists and harassers, and punish victims. Why should Shermer’s victim have expected anything different to happen if the police were the authorities involved rather than the event organizers?

But Michael Nugent apparently sees no problem with Shermer treating conferences as date rape meat markets, or of engaging in unwanted sexual banter and actions with nonconsenting people. He apparently sees no problem with event organizers continuing to invite people to be prominent speakers at events, even after having credible evidence that they are sexual harassers or worse. He apparently sees no problem with blacklisting Pamela Gay or Karen Stollznow for daring to speak out about their experiences. We have not, after all, seen him post letters telling Michael Shermer or DJ Grothe or Ben Radford to think about the harm they’ve caused or apologize to those hurt by their actions.

Russell Blackford of being a lying fuckhead

So what? For context, here are the two tweets in question, where PZ is talking about Blackford’s repeated use of the dishonest “witch hunt” accusation, which is used by FtB opponents to justify harassment despite having no actual basis in reality. It is a lie. Someone who says it is lying. Incidentally, in searching, it’s clear which of the FtB opponents Nugent is receiving (dishonest) talking points from.

So what is so unconscionably rude about calling someone “lying” when they are, in fact, lying? Is it the “fuckhead” part? Does Nugent truly look at someone who is spreading misinformation that they know emboldens and encourages and justifies harassment–harassment that Nugent has acknowledged is a problem and has worked, however incompetently, to stop–and someone who uses a naughty insult, and sees the latter as the greater sin?

But Michael Nugent apparently sees no problem with lying and harassment anymore. There hasn’t been a post on the “dialogue” in over a year, and he hasn’t posted any recent letters to Blackford or others to encourage them to stop spreading damaging misinformation and making hyperbolic accusations of “witch hunts” and lynch mobs and inquisitions and thought policing and feeding frenzies and rage blogging and drumming up outrage for money. In fact, publishing these letters when he has, given who he’s defending within them, it seems that Nugent has endorsed precisely that behavior. Hyperbolic dishonesty is okay, giving support to harassers is okay, it’s naughty language that escalates and exacerbates rifts between people.

He has joked about Rebecca Watson shanking Phil Mason in the kidneys, and about himself stabbing Christians and throwing people off a pier.

Nugent does not deign to give context for these things, so I will. On Watson and kidney-shanking:

Coming off of SomeGreyBloke’s brutal savaging of Thunderf00t’s logic, now Rebecca Watson shanks him in the kidneys and mocks him cruelly. Trigger warning for sad ex-paragon of anti-creationism being publicly exposed as a moral cretin.

It’s a metaphor using violent language. I’m afraid I can’t get myself too worked up about it, any more than I could if he’d used a more clichéd variation, like “now Rebecca Watson rakes him across the coals” or “now Rebecca Watson holds his feet to the fire” or “now Rebecca Watson puts the last nail in his coffin.” I wonder how long it would take me to look through Nugent’s writing for similar use of metaphorical phrases that come out of war and torture and violence. Perhaps next time I need an insomnia cure, I’ll go looking.

On stabbing Christians:

He [Kevin Sorbo’s character in “God’s Not Dead”] is crossing a street when he’s hit by a car and killed.

Not right away, though. He’s hit right in front of a car containing two missionaries, who get out and run to his ‘assistance’. Somehow, they are sufficiently knowledgeable about medicine to be able to tell that he’s going to die, and only has a few minutes left to live. So, with smiles on their faces, they tell him he’s going to be facing God in heaven in a few minutes, and that he must accept Jesus into his heart. It was my nightmare, that the last, brief, passing moment of life is spent with smug stupid assholes quoting Bible verses and pressuring the dying to affirm their superstitions, which is obviously the most important thing he could do.

See, projection. I just wish whoever made this film could imagine lying on their deathbed, when an atheist barges in and starts yelling that they are about to cease to exist, and there will be nothing forever, and slaps them a few times ordering them to reject God right now. That’s not going to happen, but of course all they can do is project their authoritarian proselytizing impulse on other. And of course, since this is the Christian straw universe, our atheist professor accepts Jesus with his dying breath.

After which, the two smiling missionaries tell each other that they have “cause to celebrate”. A man just died. They want to celebrate. They’re going to Disneyland!

Fuck me. All I felt was hatred. That was despicable.

I’ve got to start carrying a knife now. Just so all you Christians know, if I’m in a fatal accident, and I’m lying in the street dying, and you’re not running over to stop the bleeding or otherwise physically help me, and you try to pull that prayer-and-conversion shit on me, I’m going to stab you. I’ll have nothing to lose, and you sure as hell don’t deserve to continue living. I don’t like violence, but I will make an exception for this one possible circumstance.

Now I know a lot of Christians aren’t like that, and that there are many who are also appalled at this wretched excuse for a movie. You can have another reason for disliking it: it has hardened the heart of an atheist even further against your religion.

Christianity is barbarism, evil, and gibbering insanity. Thanks, God’s Not Dead. When your religion is extinct, then I’ll have cause to celebrate.

Not exactly a joke, I don’t think. A statement of outrage, at seeing a vile, stereotypical portrayal of atheists straight out of a Chick tract in a movie that was more popular than it had any right to be, but not a joke. Again, I have a hard time getting worked up over this, just as I’d have a hard time getting worked up over a Jewish person expressing similar disgust at seeing the end of “The Merchant of Venice”–with Shylock’s forced conversion to Christianity–played straight and comedically. Just as I’d have a hard time getting worked up over an African-American person expressing similar disgust over the video games and comments and Reddit boards that have popped up in the wakes of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown’s deaths. When we see people cheer on negative stereotypes of ourselves, when we see ourselves, however distorted, made into caricatures and used as punchlines and cautionary tales, it rightfully stirs anger in us. Perhaps, and I’m going out on a limb here, perhaps the problem is casual bigotry and not the language people use to shock people into realizing how damaging and demoralizing and disgusting that bigotry is.

But Michael Nugent apparently sees no problem with popular movies that present bigoted caricatures of atheists. We don’t see him writing letters to Kevin Sorbo or the producers of “God’s Not Dead” to say that their film was counterproductive to the promotion of “compassion, empathy, fairness, justice, equality and respect for people.” No, Nugent believes atheists should be “tackling sexism, racism, homophobia and other discriminatory biases in society,” he just doesn’t think they should do it too loudly or angrily, lest they upset someone. Violent rhetoric in response to bigotry? Rude. Promoting “discriminatory biases” by acting out a violent fantasy against a bigoted caricature in a mass-market motion picture? Doesn’t even merit a comment.

Finally, the Robin Williams thing. I thought PZ was wrong to be so callous about the death of a celebrity, and I think Williams’ death gave many people the impetus to start important conversations about depression, suicide, mental health, and the like. But I also understood where PZ was coming from. The media often seems to need to be forced to cover issues of injustice against marginalized groups, and we saw the news out of Ferguson develop on Twitter long before any news station picked it up. And where are we today? There are still ongoing protests in Ferguson, and there’s increasing evidence of corruption, cronyism, and cover-up among the people who are supposed to be upholding justice in the case. You wouldn’t know it to look at the news. There’s not one mention of Ferguson or Mike Brown on the front pages of MSNBC or CNN right now. You have to scroll halfway down the page before you see mention of it even on the local St. Louis Post-Dispatch page. PZ has rightly identified one of the most negative defining features of modern media: that they have no attention span, especially on stories about race or gender or injustice. We were lucky, in this case, that the story was big enough–unignorable enough–that the media had to return to it after spending a day or two on Robin Williams retrospectives. But PZ rightly identified a trend in media, that they move from hot story to hot story without any thought to depth or continuing coverage.

Did he phrase it callously? Was he rude to people who were influenced by Williams and enjoyed his work on deep, personal levels? Did his dismiss and diminish their experiences and assume that his own mild interest in Williams was, perhaps, more universal than it actually was? Probably.

But I have a hard time getting as worked up about that as I do over Richard Dawkins doing something similar to victims of sexual abuse and rape.

Michael Nugent doesn’t. Say some rude things about the media, and about the way people respond to the death of a beloved celebrity, and Nugent will be very disappointed and say so repeatedly to whomever will listen. Say some rude things about how victims of rape and sexual abuse should feel about and respond to and react to and report their experiences? Not even worth mentioning.

Michael Nugent, no one has elected you Atheist Disciplinarian. Ireland and the UK are not above or beyond sexism and misogyny and rape culture. You may dislike PZ Myers’ methods, but to single him out while defending and minimizing rape, harassment, sexism, and the like, is far, far more counterproductive to atheism than occasionally calling people “fuckhead.” There’s no well-researched news article about how using naughty words is likely to bring down the atheist movement.

Perhaps, sir, you need to go to your room and think about what you’ve said–and more specifically, what you’ve chosen not to say, and what statement is made by your silence.

Oh, Uncle Richard

Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson made a joint statement denouncing and decrying the harassment and other bad behavior in the atheist movement.

This is a good thing. It’s good because after “Dear Muslima,” after all the asinine things Dawkins has said on Twitter and elsewhere, the dedicated antifeminist harassers have taken his comments as a sign of his tacit approval of misogyny and harassment. For him to join forces with one of the prime targets of antifeminist, anti-“FTBullies” abuse, sends an important, necessary message. All the kudos to Ophelia Benson for pursuing this, and kudos to Dawkins for recognizing that this is an important issue that required his comment and clarification.


But “Dear Muslima” was three years ago, three years of non-stop abuse directed at atheist feminists, in many cases by Dawkins fanboys, in many cases by people who believed Dawkins was unambiguously on their side. It’s impossible to see this statement and not wonder why it didn’t come a lot earlier.

But Ophelia Benson had to reach out to Dawkins and apparently hold his feet to the fire a bit1 in order to get the statement made at all. This statement would hold a much greater amount of power if Dawkins had initiated it. As it is, it’s far to easy for the naysayers and harassers to say that Dawkins was bullied into this, that he’s doing it reluctantly.

But Ophelia Benson is the person who made the statement with Dawkins, and while she’s certainly been on the receiving end of tons of abuse, imagine how much more impact this would have had if Dawkins had made a joint statement with Rebecca Watson. Imagine if he had apologized for that, had expressed horror specifically at how his ill-conceived and fallacious attack had painted a target on Watson’s back. Imagine if he had finally put to rest the claims of blackballing2 and unambiguously supported Watson’s presence in the community. You’ll have to imagine, because obviously that didn’t happen.

But the statement, while clear, is still open to the same reinterpretation and spin that we saw back in the “don’t be a dick” debacle, that we see any time harassment policies arise. People who are motivated to be assholes will use motivated reasoning to justify continued assholery. Some already are dismissing this statement as Dawkins being duped, others undoubtedly will argue that what they’re doing isn’t bullying or harassment, but criticism and satire; that the FTBullies use terms that could be called “vulgar epithets” and they’re bullies (it’s right there in the name!) so it’s okay, or so Dawkins was really, slyly, calling out the FTBullies themselves and Benson was just too dumb to see it. We can reasonably guess this will happen because it’s what they’ve been saying for years now. Tu quoque and false equivalence are the air and water of the pro-harassment crowd.

But, and perhaps this is the most significant but, it doesn’t seem like Dawkins has actually learned anything. There is no admission of error in the joint statement, no acknowledgement of the seriously problematic things Dawkins has said about race or Islam or rape or molestation or abortion. And then, the very same week, he goes back to the “Dear Muslima” well, the “mild paedophilia” well, of trying to rank horrible tragedies as if their harmfulness could be measured with an SI unit, as if any positive purpose could be served by doing so, as if drawing a distinction between extremes weren’t a common tactic used to dismiss things like “mild paedophilia” and date rape. This blunder makes it unfortunately clear that Dawkins hasn’t internalized any of this, hasn’t realized that the reason people see him as an ally in their racism and misogyny and anti-Arab bigotry isn’t just because of one bonehead comment to Rebecca Watson three years ago, but because of a larger pattern of statements and behavior.

So it’s hard to see this statement as anything but a symbolic gesture. It’s a good symbolic gesture, a necessary symbolic gesture, but it’s hard not to wish it hadn’t come sooner, with a different motivation, with a clearer message, and with an indication that it represented real reflection and substantive change. Hopefully it’s a first step, and not a destination.

1. Ophelia Benson noted in the comments below that Dawkins needed convincing, not pressure, so I have corrected the account.

2. This is not to suggest that the claims of blackballing are incorrect, merely that I haven’t seen Dawkins confirm or deny them, and whether or not they have been true, denying them now would be valuable.

On Secular Arguments and Conservative Atheists

As you may have heard, David Silverman, President of American Atheists, made a splash by attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this past week. The publicity was done for Silverman even before he arrived, since the invitation to American Atheists was revoked after outcry by religious conservatives, resulting in the “atheists unwelcome at CPAC” story he was no doubt expecting. Done and done, right?

Not so much, since Silverman apparently went to CPAC anyway, and gave interviews. He seems to think that there’s a hidden enclave of closet atheists in the halls of conservatism, and he’s just the man to draw them out (and also, presumably, to make them dues-paying members of American Atheists).

On one hand, this shouldn’t be a surprise. American Atheists’ outreach under Silverman has been focused not on convincing people of the atheist position, but on convincing people who are atheist-but-closeted to come out and be public with their disbelief. It’s a laudable goal.

Silverman’s also been vocal about making atheism a big tent, and less willing, on that front, to explicitly exclude some of the more hostile wings of the atheist movement. To Dave, as long as we’re all agreed that religion is generally wrong and bad, we’re all working together (or at least, we’re all willing to donate to American Atheists so they can accomplish tasks that we generally agree are important).
Silverman identifies himself as a conservative:

He describes himself as a “fiscally conservative” voter who “owns several guns. I’m a strong supporter of the military. I think fiscal responsibility is very important. I see that as pretty conservative. And I have my serious suspicions about Obama. I don’t like that he’s spying on us. I don’t like we’ve got drones killing people…” In the final analysis, “the Democrats are too liberal for me,” he says.

And he’s got some particular ideas about what conservatism is and means, and how conservatism and atheism can be compatible:

“I came with the message that Christianity and conservatism are not inextricably linked,” he told me, “and that social conservatives are holding down the real conservatives — social conservatism isn’t real conservatism, it’s actually big government, it’s theocracy. I’m talking about gay rights, right to die, abortion rights –”
“I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,” said Silverman. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”

And looking at all that really makes me want to donate to American Atheists, so that maybe they’ll have enough money to buy Dave a clue.

Let’s start with the “secular argument[s] against abortion.” When I first saw that quote, my response was incredulity. What are these secular arguments for abortion? The ones I could remember hearing were really just the usual religious pro-lifers’ arguments, but with “human DNA” or some other such nonsense copy-pasted where a Catholic might say “soul.” They were as “secular” as Intelligent Design.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that most of the arguments I’ve heard from anti-abortion activists have been secular in nature. I was conflating “secular argument against abortion” with “argument against abortion from a secularist.” Sure, there are all the appeals to Mother Teresa and the Pope and that bit of the Bible where God says he knew you before he formed you in the womb, but once you get past that, it’s mostly nonreligious reasons. Those big signs of misleadingly dismembered fetuses aren’t making any kind of religious argument; that “Abortion stops a beating heart” bumper sticker isn’t making a religious argument, “If she wanted to have sex she should accept the consequences” isn’t a religious argument; “just because the father was a rapist is no reason to punish the child” is not only not a religious argument, but it flies in the face of the whole “sins of the father” notion that’s central (in one form or another) to most Christian denominations. Most of the arguments fall into one of those categories: “ewww, icky,” “it’s murder,” “sluts need to learn a lesson,” or “it’s a person!”

The problems there, then, are twofold: one, those arguments are crap, and two, the vast majority of atheists would agree about their crappiness. Now, recruiting some folks from CPAC into American Atheists might skew those numbers a bit, but the movement as it stands now isn’t exactly welcoming to the notion that abortion is some terrible wrong (and for good reason). Saying “there are secular argument[s] against abortion” and then suggesting that those arguments are better than the secular arguments opposing school prayer or supporting right-to-die and gay marriage1, is at best profoundly misleading.

It is, as I argued elsewhere, exactly the same kind of disingenuous misleading that accommodationist skeptics and the NCSE have engaged in with respect to science and religion. They’ll say “skepticism and religion are compatible,” or “you can be a Christian and still believe in evolution,” but both of those statements are misleading to the point of being insulting. The kinds of religion that are compatible with skepticism are either the ones that are so abstracted into deism or pantheism that they hardly resemble “religions” in any sensible use of the term, or the ones that are almost completely compartmentalized from skeptical criticism. The kinds of Christianity that are compatible with evolution are the ones that are so withdrawn into metaphor that they can square a loving and merciful god with a system of biology where progress is primarily driven by death, and that can accept a savior dying to remove a sin committed by people who never existed.

Similarly, the kinds of conservatism that are compatible with atheism are the ones which reject the social conservative platforms (except ones they can support through bad secular arguments), reject the religious right, and are mostly concerned with fiscal responsibility and personal freedoms (except the freedom of women to control their own bodies, because chicks amirite?). In other words, libertarians. Atheism and libertarianism are compatible? Color me shocked.

The thing is, if Dave Silverman wanted to find those fiscally-conservative-but-socially-liberal(ish) conservative atheists, it seems like CPAC isn’t the place to do it. Sure, they’ll put Rand Paul up on stage, but the rest of the time? This year’s program featured presentations like “Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet,” “Inventing Freedom: How English-Speaking Peoples Made the World Modern,” “More Guns, Less Crime,” and “Healthcare After Obamacare: A Practical Guide for Living When No One Has Insurance and America Runs Out of Doctors”2. Speakers included religious ideologues like pro-school prayer Jim DeMint, anti-gay Ben Carson, and creationist-if-the-money-is-right Ann Coulter. And Michele Bachmann and Ted Cruz, of course. This isn’t a libertarian convention full of Eisenhower Republicans outlining reasonable positions to maximize personal freedom and minimize government spending. It’s a convention of rich ideologues who want to be richer, even and especially if it means gutting programs that help the poor. And also, let’s go to war with anyone and everyone3.

Dave Silverman thinks that there are lots of closet conservative atheists, but he’s engaging in a bit of equivocation there. Dave Silverman’s definition of “conservative”–fiscal conservatism, gun rights, personal freedom, supporting military–is not the definition being employed by the first “C” in “CPAC.” CPAC skews more toward the social conservative theocracy that Silverman No-True-Scotsman’d as not real conservatism.

Which kind of brings us to that particular brand of Silverman cluelessness: where has he been for the last thirty years? How does he square his belief in “economic conservatism” with a party that started two off-the-books wars, wants to start more with Iran and Russia, and has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare, countless anti-abortion bills, and fighting gay marriage? Where is the economic conservatism there? Where is the military support in opposing bills to prosecute rapists in the ranks, or fighting against benefits for veterans? How much personal freedom does a person have when they’re working two jobs and still living below the povery line? When their food stamps benefits get cut over and over because the social safety net, and not corporate welfare, is a drain on the country’s resources? When their right to vote is eroded by classist, racist regulations designed to keep Republicans in office?

We either have to believe that Silverman is so blinkered in his politics that he’s bought into a series of mostly meaningless, mostly traditional buzzwords that the GOP likes to throw around as their platform because they sound better than “consistently trying to screw over 99% of the country,” or we have to believe that he’s a savvy, selfish asshole who thinks his right to own as many guns as he wants and his distaste for taxes trumps other people’s right to a living wage and personal security.

The more I try to think he’s one or the other, the more unconvinced I am by either option. The latter suggests that maybe he’s decided that going after rich donors in the bush is worth alienating the women and minorities already in the hands of American Atheists, but if that’s the case, then surely he recognizes that those donors aren’t both going to take the PR hit of associating with atheists and relinquish the control mechanism provided by fundamentalist religion. But if he really believes that “real conservatives” would support atheist causes, why make the appeal to anti-abortion arguments, which is a socially conservative issue?

The fact that it came as news to Silverman that there are anti-gay atheists makes me think he’s probably just profoundly out of touch. He doesn’t have clue one about most political issues that don’t directly affect him, and he doesn’t understand that by actively courting a group that promotes racist, misogynist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, and xenophobic policies, he’s going to alienate a lot of people who otherwise agree with him. Unless those racist misogynist homophobes are bringing tons of money to the anti-religion organization, then he’d probably be better served by trying to make the movement more welcoming to the people who are actually in it. Pandering to assholes while ignoring the complaints of members makes it look like your priorities are less in fostering community among atheists and more in gaining donations for your organization.

The organization should serve the members, not the other way around.

1. They’re really not, by the way. There are lots of people who argue that government shouldn’t be in the marriage business anyway, and that government shouldn’t be expanding, but reducing, its participation in private relationships. You could argue for school prayer on free speech grounds, or point to the fact that there’s no sharp line between “prayer” and other moment-of-silence type activities, or that there’s not always a clear distinction between student-led and staff-led activities, and that school prayer should be subject to the same equal-time principle as religious displays on public land, or interfaith ceremonial prayers at the beginning of public meetings. Frankly, I don’t see how you can assert bodily rights to make a pro-right-to-die argument and reject them when it comes to abortion. Are these arguments good? No, but they’re no worse than the secular arguments against abortion–and in the right-to-die case, they’re essentially the same. Except, you know, men get terminal illnesses too.

2. In case it’s not clear, let me outline briefly the problems that the generally science- and fact-friendly atheist community might have with these presentations. 1) Not according to all climate science; 2) Historians are likely to disagree, and even if true, it happened on the back of slavery and genocide; 3) Not according to all the evidence from the rest of the world; 4) How will an insurance mandate result in fewer people having insurance, and where are doctors going to go to find a more conservative healthcare system?

3. The one exception to all this seems to be that the attendance at CPAC leans more personal-freedom-libertarian than the leadership and speakership, based on the polling results that CPAC has on their main page. But given the stark contrast between what those people cite as priorities (drug decriminalization, isolationism) and what the party’s actual priorities are (attacking abortion, starting wars wherever possible), they look an awful lot like useful idiots, prized by party establishment for their votes and their unwillingness to take said votes to any particular third party, despite not being served by this one. But then, getting people to vote against their own interests has been the GOP platform for decades.


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