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 The publicity was done for Silverman even before he arrived, since the invitation to American Atheists was revoked after outcry by religious conservatives, resulting in the “atheists unwelcome at CPAC” story he was no doubt expecting.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.

Perspective

Dear Muslimo

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you get stopped and harassed and interrogated and strip searched every time you try to travel . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you’re constantly judged based on superficial similarities to bad people, and you can’t live where you please without enduring rude questions and harassment from rubes who think you’re a terrorist or infiltrator, and the government is allowed to detain you indefinitely without trial if you behave suspiciously, and you’ll never be able to take a piloting class or run a marathon or buy fertilizer without ending up on a dozen watch lists. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor British brothers have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, he calls himself “Richard Dawkins,” and do you know what happened to him? A TSA security agent took away his jar of honey. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He took his jar of honey. Of course he protested, and of course he knew the preexisting security rules, but even so . . .

And you, Muslimo, think you have inconvenience, intrusion, and harassment to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Tom

(Relevant History)

The Moral High Ground

I promise, I’ll be done with Atheismpluscrap after this, but they’re just such a bottomless pit of ignorance and cognitive dissonance that it’s hard to resist the urge to document it for posterity.

Anyway, while I think most folks who sling around gendered slurs like they’re the height of discourse has already ceded the moral high ground, it’s not often that I get to see such a stunning display of blatant hypocrisy (or possibly incompetence; Atheismpluscrap is a bit like an ELIZA bot built to demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger Effect) in action. To whit:

@atheismplusdogma: @Doubting_Tom it's duplicitous to call this movement atheism+

(Screencap)

I disagreed, but the point is that Atheismplusdogma appears to recognize that duplicity is bad. Later, I said this, in a candid moment:

@Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap I'm not particularly interested in atheism anymore, I can't speak for the movement. I barely participate.

It’s true. I have an account on the Atheism+ forums, but I haven’t visited in quite some time, and got bored and disinterested pretty quickly after it started. I think it’s important to promote secular community and dismantle religious privilege, but “no gods exist” is one small, relatively insignificant, completely impractical thing I’ve learned about our vast universe. It has little more bearing on my life than the fact that unicorns and leprechauns don’t exist. I’ve grown far more concerned with the people and systems that do exist, and how we can make them better.

Not to mention I’m tired of dealing with the puffed-up pseudointellectual bigot dudebros who have rallied around the term “atheist” and think that adopting it confers magical reason-powers on everything they do or say. People who think “gods don’t exist” is somehow the pinnacle of human knowledge are people who I have no interest in or respect for.

Anyway, somehow that tweet got twisted by Atheismpluscrap into this:

(Screencap)

@atheismpluscrap: #AtheismPlus insider admits “they’re not interested in atheism”

Now, Atheismpluscrap has had some difficulty understanding symbols and words, so maybe they just didn’t know that when you use those double quotation marks, especially after saying “X says,” you’re supposed to be quoting what another person has said verbatim. Deviating from that means you’re falsifying the quotation, and omitting relevant context is quote-mining. You know, of the sort that religious creationists do.

It wasn’t the only time Atheismpluscrap used that tactic:

@Doubting_Tom: Yep, one tweet is really all you need. "Gods don't exist" – and that takes care of atheism. What next?

@atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom all human beings should be treated equally. What next?

@Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap Well, next we determine the source of inequalities, and how to correct them. What are the logical conclusions of atheism?

@atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom if you're not a deceptive liar, explain why A+ tweet about feminism, based on your "what next" logic. Tripped up.

@Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap A+ tweet about feminism to draw attention to ways in which people (in this case, women) aren't treated equally. See, "all people should be treated equally" is prescriptive & suggests action. "Gods don't exist" is a conclusion. And as we say all the time to theists, you can't get from "gods don't exist" to any other action without other premises.

Became…

(Screencap)

@atheismpluscrap: #AtheismPlus insider admits “it’s all about feminism, we tell theists there’s no god, end of”

It’s silly, because Atheismpluscrap is a thoroughly unpleasant twit, but it’s enlightening to see such stark proof of the uselessness of “atheism.” As I said a couple of posts ago, there’s nothing about atheism that requires its adherents to be reasonable or consistent people, and here we have proof: a Twitterer who assigns phrenological meanings to Tweet/follower/following ratios, shifts goalposts with all the skill of a creationist, and openly flouts his hypocrisy:

@Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap Yes, I'm the one ho [sic] should be embarrassed, because you make accusations of duplicity then make up quotations.

@atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom that's what #AtheismPlus cunts are doing every day. Your cults tactics. Do you want the last word? Is it di important.

There was a time when I thought being an atheist meant that someone had applied skepticism and good reasoning skills to the question of god’s existence. There was a time when I thought being an atheist meant rejecting the unreasonable, fallacious tactics of religion, and the reprehensible moral systems they promoted.

I know better now.

The Shocking Truth SHE Doesn’t Want You To Know About!!!1!

Yesterday, I introduced you to the kinds of laughable conspiracy theories that can result when, like Twitterer Atheismpluscrap, you choose comforting delusions over unpleasant realities.

But man, if you’re going to believe ridiculous things, you might as well go all-in, right? “Atheism plus is a covert religious group trying to discredit atheism by promoting fascist feminism” barely registers on the conspiracy theory wackyometer. Chart of conspiracy theories where craziness is on the x-axis going from less to more crazy as you go left to right, and where importance is on the y-axis, going from less to more important from bottom to top.It’s on the very bottom of this chart, and only slightly toward the right-hand side. So let’s help Atheismpluscrap out a bit by punching up their conspiracy.

It all starts in Atlantis, a perfect society built on MRA principles, where the social recognition of women as inferior emotional sperm-vampires led to the development of a technologically-advanced continent the likes of which have not been seen since. When men are not distracted by the needs of and endless competition for women, there is no need for war or hierarchy. There was no need for stifling government in Atlantis, for the perfect free market directed all things, unsullied by feminine influence.

This is not to say that women were mistreated in Atlantis; quite the contrary. They were well provided-for, never needing to work beyond mating. The lack of a system of marriage or paternity ensured that children would be raised by he community as a whole, without distracting men with the unnatural demands of monogamy and the so-called “nuclear family”–nuclear because it’s radioactive, causing a slow wasting-away death of both individual and society.

Of course this hyper-rational, enlightened culture was atheistic. The concept of gods never even occurred to a society without the feminine invention of “faith,” or knowledge derived from womanly “feelings” and “intuition.”

But then there were the Amazons, a warlike, man-hating, petty matriarchy living on the mainland. The influence of the Amazons on other cultures was what led to the development of most violence and disease in the Mediterranean and Middle East, and they pillaged technological advances from the men of those lands. They spread their philosophies of religion and feminism to indoctrinate women and enslave men to a system of faith-based “tradition,” installing an unachievable male ideal as the head of a system of gods which emphasized the notion that males and females could be equals.

Atlantis had the oceans and its technology to protect it from the toxic influence of fascist feminism, but eventually those barriers were breached, the Amazons wearing away at their defenses until they could no longer stand the assault. Once the women of Atlantis began to believe the comforting myths of the Amazons, they rose up and demanded male enslavement, or male extermination. Some enlightened men escaped, but the knowledge and technology of Atlantis was scattered to the winds, and the island itself was lost forever.

The Amazonian system of religion spread, changing here and there, but always holding men in an emasculating position subordinate to some greater man. This, along with the inventions of sex competition and marriage and paternity, created competition and hierarchy between men, and led to all wars and conflicts, all class stratification and government.

There have been men who stood up to this system, but the system endures, striking them down whenever possible. Abraham Lincoln was a strong red-pill man, who recognized that all men were equal, superior to women, and so the feminazi woman supremacists had him killed by an effeminate thespian. John F. Kennedy was a virile red-pill man, openly flaunting the oppression of marriage and selecting multiple mates as any alpha deserves, so the gynotalitarian femifascists had him killed by a simpering beta who bought into the feminine collectivist lie of Communism. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were fearless red-pill men who openly spoke about putting women in their rightful places, so with the help of manginas like George Harrison and Eric Clapton, they emasculated John with a forced feminazi marriage and killed and replaced Paul with a beta-male double. When John still wouldn’t cooperate, openly promoting the rational standards of world peace and atheism, compelling people to throw off the government shackles and make a new society, they had him killed by a beta who was infatuated with a book about a frustrated, emasculated mangina.

Whenever men have banded together to fight hysteroppresion, women have subverted their organizations. The Illuminati began as an enlightened male attempt to get back to the roots of rationalist male primacy, but was subverted from within by false doctrines about gender equality. Now, it’s another arm of the gynocracy, secretly manipulating subservient beta-males (e.g., Obama) into positions of world power, and opposing the alphas who make it there through sheer force of manliness (e.g., Putin, Clinton). Freemasonry was much the same, beginning as a masculine attempt to exalt manly physical labor and building things, but subverted by female-controlled betas into being obsessed with girly secrets and fashion accessories and hierarchies.

And now atheism has risen up to battle the evils of feminist religion, and it’s strengthened through alliances with Men’s Rights Advocates and libertarianism. Each of the three groups has a pillar of Atlantean social perfection, which is why feminists are so afraid of them. If they aren’t stopped, then Atlantis may rise again, and this time thanks to globalization and the Internet, the whole world would be part of the glorious Atlantean perfection.

With the control of the FemIlluminati, it’s easy to marginalize libertarians, because the few red-pill elected men like Ron Paul can’t get a foothold in the woman-defined system. With the power of Pussy Control over emasculated beta-men, it’s easy to marginalize MRAs as “misognynist” and “sexist” and creep shame them. But atheism isn’t so easy to marginalize, because it’s so obviously correct with its foundations in masculine science and reason. The enlightened red-pill men who reject feminine religion are too rational and intellectual to fall for the other lies of the hegematriachy. So feminists must resort to other methods to strangle the nascent Atlantean perfection before it leaves its crib.

And that method is Atheism Plus, atheism tainted with the lies of feminism and run by subservient lickspittle beta-males like P.Z. Mayers who are controlled by female supremacists and their fanatic religious adherence to feminist dogma. By insinuating themselves into atheism, they plan to subvert it just like 18th-century radfems subverted the Illuminati, by diverting its efforts and energy to hopeless, unrelated causes, and causing internecine strife by imposing a hysterical hierarchy and forcing inter-male competition for atheist female mates. If they succeed, the rational power of atheism will be scuttled, and the resources that remain will be redirected toward supporting the gynocratic rule of the shadow matriarchy, setting back the rebirth of the perfect Atlantean system, perhaps beyond reclamation.

This is why the alliance between atheists, MRAs, and libertarians is so vital, and why the feminarchist powers are so keen to silence liberated red-pill alpha-males like Michael Shermer and Richard Dawkins and Penn Jillette and The Amazing Atheist. Their natural male power and charisma can’t help but convince people, even semi-rational women, and drive them toward the natural state of humanity, which is the restoration of the Atlantean standard. We need only protect, amplify, and follow these voices, and we can defeat hysteriarchical gynofascist tittytalitarianism forever!

There we go. That’s a ludicrous conspiracy theory. If you’re going to be so unrealistic and unreasonable as to believe in a comforting conspiracy theory, that’s a respectable theory to buy into. Anything else just makes it look like you’re sacrificing reason and evidence and skepticism for nothing.

On Our Team

I knew someone calling themselves “atheismpluscrap” wasn’t likely to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but some of their stuff got retweeted into my timeline today, and it presented me with amusement, fodder for the “skeptics being profoundly unskeptical” tag, and an opportunity for a teachable moment. So, what the hell, here’s a blog post.

My involvement began when I saw these gems, in response to this tweet by Helenarth (hooray for clever puns!):
atheismpluscrap1
The relevant quotations:

@Helenarth: @atheismpluscrap How can someone be a “fake” atheist? / @ool0n

@atheismpluscrap: @Helenarth they join #AtheismPlus and say they’re atheists in order to discredit atheism. In actual fact they are religious @ool0n

@atheismpluscrap: @ool0n <- proven to be deceitful 40,000 followers for his bot almost overnight. Check how many twts about atheism. He's a theist @Helenarth

@Helenarth: @atheismpluscrap Wait, so not tweeting about atheism = theist? @ool0n

@atheismpluscrap: @Helenarth in a faction called Atheism+ but doesn't tweet about atheism. Has a block list of atheists. Argues with atheists, never theists

That’s where I came in. See, Atheismpluscrap seems to have a misunderstanding about the definition of “atheism,” which is the lack of belief in gods. You’ll notice that nowhere in that definition is there anything about block lists of atheists, arguing with atheists, or arguing with theists. The sole qualification for being an atheist is lacking belief in gods, just as the sole qualification for being a theist is believing in at least one god. This is particularly funny since, in my looking for those tweets to screencap, I found Atheismpluscrap chiding another Twitterer for “hav[ing] trouble with simple word definitions” ([link] [screencap]).

So anyway, I pointed out this little definition problem:

@Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap @helenarth And strangely, none of those traits are necessary to be a theist. In fact, only one trait is.

I’ll admit here that I hadn’t seen the conspiratorial second tweet up there; I was just amused by an atheist trying to prove that they could determine a person’s beliefs through a No True Scotsman argument. So I was a little surprised to see the conspiracy theory come raging forth:

@atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom if he's discrediting atheism by pretending to be an atheist he won't wear a cross, dumb ass

Not entirely sure how you discredit atheism, since it’s just a lack of belief in gods. I suppose you could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that gods exist, but that’s about it.

But what Atheismpluscrap is doing here is something we’ve seen quite a bit of in the atheoskeptisphere, with different variations. The “X isn’t a real atheist, but is a theist trying to make us look bad” argument gets pulled out from time to time. S.E. Cupp is a common target, but really any conservative or religion-friendly atheist is going to get it at some point, and probably some of the bigger assholes too. Basically any atheist that any other atheist might be embarrassed by.

Another common variant is “X is a secret atheist,” which got trotted out about Barack Obama a lot in the early years of his presidency, and got bandied about regarding Mother Teresa when letters about her crisis of faith surfaced. The historical spin on this is “If X were around today, they’d be an atheist,” which we see about most of the Founding Fathers at one point or another.

And in every case, it’s about wishful thinking. It’s all about seeing atheism/skepticism as a team, and wanting to have the right people on your team. We like to think that because we’ve adopted a label and started slinging around the word “community,” that it means we have more in common than just a lack of belief in gods. We like to think that we arrived at the right conclusion for the right reasons, and that the people who agree with us did as well. We like to think that being an atheist is a sign of being super-rational, and like to imagine that other atheists are similarly super-rational. And I suspect a lot of that is because the surge in atheism and the building of an atheist community, over the last several years, comes on the backs of books and campaigns by scientists and philosophers who came to their atheism from positions of scientific skepticism. There’s a lot of overlap between the atheist and skeptic communities, and that overlap creates a lot of impressions which aren’t necessarily true.

And chief among them is the notion that anyone who values reason, logic, science, or skepticism is necessarily an atheist, and vice versa. When we encounter unreasonable atheists, we feel like they’re giving us a bad name and want to make it clear that they don’t represent us, that they’re not on our team. And when we encounter reasonable people who don’t profess atheism, we like to imagine that they’re just keeping it a secret, but they actually are on our team. We like to believe this because it’s comforting and validating.

Unfortunately, like many comforting and validating beliefs, it’s also false.

There are many paths to rejecting the belief in gods, and skepticism is only one of them. Being skeptical about some things doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re skeptical about everything, or that you’re exercising skepticism properly and not dipping into denialism. Being a scientist or science enthusiast doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand things beyond your expertise, or that you’re applying skepticism. And none of those suggest that you’re a worthwhile person to be around.

And anyone who’s paid any attention should be able to rattle off a dozen examples off the top of their head. Bill Maher is an atheist who’s an alt-med proponent and science denialist. Penn & Teller are skeptical atheists who used their show to promote global warming denialism. Linus Pauling was a two-time Nobel laureate who blundered his way into promoting vitamin megadosing pseudoscience. And in terms of assholery, you’ve got the racism and Islamophobia of guys like Dawkins and Harris and Pat Condell, the disgusting misogyny of guys like the Amazing Atheist and Thunderf00t, and plenty of patronizing, smarmy douchebags.

It’s tempting to think that they’re not really atheists, but what reason do we have to doubt that? There’s nothing about being an atheist that keeps you from believing all manner of ridiculous things, just ask the Raelians. We have to come to grips that not everyone who agrees with us on one thing will agree on other things, and that not everyone comes to beliefs through reason and logic. The scary thing is that it suggests that maybe we’re not as reasonable as we think we are.

Rather than face that discomfort, however, folks like Atheismpluscrap follow the train of logic that results from it: if they’re not really atheists, they must be theists. If they’re actually theists, why do they call themselves atheists? It must be to make atheists look bad.

Because apparently that’s something that theists are worried about, despite the fact that many of them seem to think atheists are all just amoral hedonists. And the way they choose to make atheists look bad is by…setting up a block bot to serve a particular subset of atheists, and arguing with some atheists on Twitter. So no, that block bot can’t be for a subset of atheists. In fact, all of Atheism Plus must be some kind of religion trying to infiltrate atheism and bring it down from the inside. And they’ll do that by promoting feminism and social justice issues. Because…profit?

Like any conspiracy theory, it falls apart when you consider motivations and scope and Occam’s Razor. The most parsimonious explanation is that these are simply other people who lack belief in god but disagree with you on other points. I don’t deny that The Amazing Atheist probably is, in fact, an atheist. I think he’s also a giant frothing asshole and the only amazing thing about him is his bigotry and ego. There’s not really a contradiction there, much though one might wish there were.

I flippantly pointed this out to Atheismpluscrap:

@Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap @Helenarth "Discrediting atheism"? That's some conspiracy theory you've got there, chief. Ever hear of Occam's Razor?

Atheismpluscrap responded by asking “ru in a+ ?” as if it had any bearing on whether or not his conspiracy theory had any validity. They liked my next tweet, which lampooned the conversation:

@Doubting_Tom: So-called atheist throwing out No True Scotsman arguments is worried about fakers discrediting atheism. Almost ironic.

I wished in that moment that they’d had the word “skeptic” in their ‘nym, since it would have made the irony less Morissettian. But Atheismpluscrap apparently lacked the reading comprehension to get that I was making fun of them:
Atheismpluscrap4

@atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom I agree with you. I’m glad you too have rumbled A+. Welcome aboard

It’s the same cognitive error there: Atheismpluscrap agreed with what I said, so they assumed I must also be against Atheism Plus and on-board with their conspiracy ravings. I suspect at that point was when they bothered to have a look at my timeline, because their next tweet was this:
Atheismpluscrap5

@atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom 21721 tweets 399 followers. Mmmmm. Maybe social interaction isn’t for you? #Boring #incoherent #AtheismPlus

As arguments go, it’s a swing and a miss. How many tweets I’ve written and how many followers I have has no real bearing on whether or not Atheismpluscrap’s conspiracy theories are reasonable, nor does it have any bearing on the truth of any of my comments. It’s a bog-standard argument from popularity fallacy, and the sort of thing that, as a skeptic and atheist, I’m embarrassed to see from another atheist.

But I don’t doubt that Atheismpluscrap is an atheist–even though by their standards, I should. After all, Atheismpluscrap argues with atheists, tweets obsessively about atheism plus, and even compliments theists! By their own reasoning, we should assume that Atheismpluscrap is a mole out to make atheists look bad by slinging around words like “fascism” and “cunt” in order to make atheists look hateful and stupid.

But Atheismpluscrap is not good at reasoning, which is why we don’t come to that conclusion. Instead, we use the principle of parsimony to accept their word regarding religious belief, and recognize that there’s nothing preventing an atheist from being that kind of hateful twit. Atheismpluscrap is on Team Atheist, embarrassing though that may be, and that’s something everyone else on Team Atheist has to deal with.

Why, it’s almost enough for a group of team members to split off and form their own team.

Projection

I run a pretty small blog here, so I’m always excited to see the little counter dealie up on the WordPress toolbar showing big lines to represent how many hits I’m getting. It’s a nice change of pace from the vast flatness I usually see. So, being curious, I sometimes check out where my hits are coming from. One recent source of visits has been a thread on the JREF forums, linking specifically because of my spat with Tim Farley. Here’s the relevant post:
Poster "Humes fork" saying "Tim Farley in a kerfuffle [links to my "Unskeptical Complaints" post] about Block Bot. Not surprisingly, what makes them angry is disagreement with them."
I’m not going to engage with that tired bit of mythology. I’ve dealt with variations before, and it’s repeated there without basis or substance. It’s an empty phrase, and you can judge for yourself whether or not what made me angry was “disagreement.”

But I found myself thinking about this post today, because of a Facebook post by JREF president D.J. Grothe:

There is an impressive distemper these days on the internets.
Many smart, good people that I know personally seem to fear this “call-out culture” online that is going on right now in many communities online. Folks are immobilized by a moral scare or panic that they think they are watching unfold presently. As for me, I think it all seems increasingly like some surreal science fiction imagining of some bizarre future dystopia. And so, I say:
Consensual sex — between any mature adult male or female etc. — is a human good. It is something that should be prized and promoted (would there be world peace if people just had more and better sex, ha?).
But instead I think unduly-moralistic scolds end up actively diminishing human flourishing by their sex-negativity.
And I curse the unholy alliance of the quack far-left so-called feminists: a different kind of ardent feminist than I am — and the authoritarian anti-sex rightist religionists whom I used to run with decades ago. (How the heck is it that these two equal opposites agree on so very much these days, and the two last decades, too?).
I have a disturbing answer, but it doesn’t work for a social networking or FB comment..

More accurately, my thoughts were spurred by D.J.’s response to some critical comments on that Facebook post. First, feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte posted this:

“I love consensual sex! It’s awesome. I couldn’t agree more. That’s why it’s super critical that consent exists, because when consent isn’t there, sex—and sexual behavior ranging from flirting to intercourse—stops being great and even really “sex” and starts being harassment, assault, and rape. So yea, feminists! By making consent a front and center issue, we can make sex better, more pleasurable, and more frequent—after all, nothing makes people less willing to have sex than being afraid that their right to say no won’t be respected. One question, though: Can you name some of these “feminists” that you’re talking about that oppose consensual sex? I’m pretty well-versed in feminism and don’t know any of the ones you’re talking about.”

Look at that! Not a nasty word, not an intemperate statement. It’s positively cheerful, with a genuine question at the end, looking for that thing that skeptics love above all, evidence in support of some claim. It got a whole bunch of likes, apparently more than anything else on the thread!

D.J. deleted the comment.

In response, Lance Finney posted this:

DJ,
I’m curious what your commenting policy is on your wall. Earlier, I saw a comment from Amanda Marcotte that praised consent and asked you for examples of feminists that matched the description you gave in your first comment in this thread.
Did you delete her comment?
If so, why? As I recall it, there wasn’t anything abusive about her comment. If you have a policy of deleting contrary comments, what is the trigger?

Look at that, perfectly polite! A question of clarification! If there’s one thing skeptics love as much as evidence, it’s clarity and good questions!

D.J. deleted the comment and blocked Lance Finney.

So, um…who is it, again, who can’t handle disagreement? I eagerly await an answer from the JREF boards.

An unsupportable claim

I just got an e-mail from the James Randi Educational Foundation, promoting this year’s Amaz!ng Meeting. There was a time when I might have wanted to go to TAM, but that time is long past, especially since this year’s speaker lineup is a veritable who’s who of people I have no desire to hear from or be around.

The reason I wouldn’t have gone to TAM in the past is mostly because of the cost. I go to comic and geek conventions pretty frequently, and I realize that TAM is a different sort of beast–more like a professional conference–but the difference in cost has always been kind of staggering to me. Just to attend TAM for the four-day event is $475 this year, without any of the workshops, dinners, or extra bells and whistles. If I wanted to spend the same amount of time at Comic-Con International in San Diego, the “TAM” of the comic/geek culture world, I’d be spending $150. For a convention that’s closer to home (and likely closer to the attendance size of something like TAM) like the Chicago Comic-Con, I’d pay $90.

Comic conventions finance their tickets by having vendors pay to set up booths, and the goal is to have people come, see panels and presentations, and spend their money on the convention floor, and hopefully everyone makes a profit except the attendees, who leave with various goods that they didn’t have before. TAM, apparently, doesn’t work quite the same way. Certainly there’s a greater focus on panels and speeches, but one would think they could defray some of that $475 by having a few more vendor tables set up. Doesn’t everyone have a book to sell?

Again, I digress. It seems my perception of TAM’s cost as being excessive isn’t an uncommon one, hence at least one of the points in this e-mail, “Six Reasons Not to Miss TAM 2013.” To whit:

and…
6. TAM 2013 is actually cheaper than any other skeptic conference when hotel, travel, and meals are factored in. Hotel rates for similar conferences range from $150-200 per night, while our TAM group rates go as low as $45 a night! But the group rates end tomorrow, so book your hotel room right now with JREF’s group code AMA0707!

The thing that stuck out to me there is this claim: “TAM 2013 is actually cheaper than any other skeptic conference when hotel, travel, and meals are factored in.” I hope the JREF won’t mind when I say that I’m a bit skeptical about that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that such a claim is absolute, transparent, unsupportable bunk.

I immediately thought of Skepticon, a skeptic/atheist conference I actually do want to attend. Skepticon not only typically has speakers I want to hear and is within driving distance, but it’s also free to attend. The other costs to go would have to be pretty exorbitant to end up more than TAM’s $475+.

So I decided to do the skeptical thing: I crunched the numbers. All the information here is from quick searches of available websites, TAM’s information, and my situation. It’s going to be different for everyone, but they sent the claim to me, so it should be as true for me as for anyone else, right?

For TAM, I searched Hotwire.com for a round-trip flight from Chicago to Las Vegas. I figured I’d give TAM the benefit of not including the cost for me to drive into O’Hare (I’d prefer Midway, but the prices were considerably higher). The cheapest ticket I could find for the duration of TAM was $372. Changing the dates around a little–leaving a day later, arriving a day earlier, etc.–didn’t produce much difference. No telling if that’s before tax or after, or whatever.

I’ll take JREF’s word on hotels, that I could find one for $45 per night. Assuming I stay three nights (11th, 12th, 13th) and leave from the convention on the 14th, that’s $135.

We’ll ignore food and other incidentals. I’m sure both Vegas and Springfield have their share of cheap eateries. The price to beat is…$982.

For Skepticon, it’s within driving distance for me, though it’s a long drive. Going by a very low estimate of my admittedly fairly efficient car’s gas mileage (35 mpg–it’s usually more like 37), and assuming a fairly high average fuel price of $4.00 per gallon, it’d cost me $54.29 to make the trip there, so about $108.57 round trip.

There are lots of lodging options in Springfield. The hotel associated with Skepticon’s convention center would be $139/night, and I’m still assuming 3 nights. That would put me at $417 for lodging, but I could probably do better. If I didn’t mind going someplace a little less fancy, and I don’t, I could get a room within five miles of the Expo Center for $53/night at the Days Inn, according to Expedia. That would translate to $159 total. Let’s split the difference, and say I wanted to get a room at the DoubleTree right near the convention center. $109/night translates to $327 total.

TAM Total: $982
Skepticon Total: $436 (rounded up)

Unless food and transportation around Vegas is dirt cheap compared to Springfield, MO, the claim is refuted, and exposed for the ridiculous bit of hyperbole it is.

Of course, I know what the JREF supporters will say. “Skepticon isn’t a skeptical conference, it’s an atheist conference! There’s no comparison!” It’s a dumb distinction, and one not entirely based in fact, but one we’ve run into before. So I checked out the upcoming CSI conference, The Skeptical Toolbox, explicitly and obviously a skeptical conference put on by the organization that used to be CSICOP. Even the most wallbuildery of skeptical wall-builders can’t claim that’s some atheist-in-skeptical-clothing conference.

CSI Total: $492 round trip airplane ticket + $245 room and board + $199 registration = $936

Almost $50 less than TAM, and that includes meals! Look, I know it’s a small thing, but I kind of think that making unsupportable claims in the service of advertising for a skeptics’ conference is counterproductive. We wouldn’t accept this kind of blatant dishonesty from other services or organizations, we sure as hell shouldn’t accept it from the JREF. For shame.

A follow-up

You may recall almost two years ago I posted about the indictment of Brian Dunning, host of the Skeptoid podcast, on charges of wire fraud. I actually signed up for a PACER account to follow the case, since no one else in the skeptical community seemed all that interested, but (like so many things) I never followed through with it since life got in the way.

I especially meant to write a follow-up after Dunning posted a form reply on that original post four months later, linking to his official statement on the matter. The way it tried to redefine and justify cookie stuffing in ways that a glimpse at Wikipedia could refute, and elided the way that the practice actually harms people trying to do business online, rang false and stank of guilt, but I never got around to actually posting about it.

Well, now, Brian Dunning has pled guilty. And to read what some people (like the blogger at the Skeptical Abyss) its as though Skepticism has lost its first martyr.

In the end, though, it is about a public figure in the skeptical community, and not just any public figure. It is, in fact, about a luminary. A shining light. A beacon that has brought many of us out from the swamps of superstition into the light of rationality and reason. The man of whom I write is all of that (and I say this without so much of a whiff of irony), and much more.

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

Look, I enjoy Skeptoid as a podcast. I disagree with some of the stances Dunning’s taken over the years, but I respect that he can at least make a show of correcting his mistakes. I like the wide variety of topics, and at one point, I liked the podcast enough to donate to it.

But Dunning is no luminary, no shining light, and I hesitate to associate with any “skeptic” that would so try to elevate a human being. Especially a human being who, you know, pled guilty to fraud.

This is, without any doubt, a horrible tragedy for Brian and his family, and for the skeptical community at large. One of our leaders has shown that he is not the man that many of us hoped that he would be.

What makes Dunning a “leader”? He heads no organization, he holds no elected or appointed position so far as I know. He talks for fifteen minutes each week about a topic in skepticism. Maybe the problem here isn’t that “one of our leaders” fell short of being the “luminary” and “shining light” that some wanted him to be. Maybe it’s that we conflate “popular speaker” with “leader” and further expect either one to have as much expertise in moral and ethical realms as scientific and skeptical ones.

It’s an ad hominem (or pro hominem) mistake. Being a good skeptical podcaster doesn’t necessarily make one a good leader, or an ethical software designer. Each of those is a separate skill set. One would think that the Skeptical Abyss would be familiar with these basic cognitive biases.

Also, note here that it’s a “horrible tragedy for Brian and his family, and for the skeptical community at large.” I’m sure it is. You know who else it’s a tragedy for? The victims of fraud. Maybe, and I’m just throwing this out there, it wouldn’t have been such a tragic loss if, you know, no one had broken the law.

All leading invariably to where we are now, because once the United States Attorney indicts you, you are pretty much done. The US Attorney, unlike state prosecutors, gets to pick and choose their cases, and they only indict people that they are sure of convicting.

That’s a fascinating claim that I would love to see the evidence for.

When someone does a podcast like Skeptoid, and they speak into our earbuds once a week, we start to think of them as a friend, even though we do no know them.

This is true. And I would kind of hope that a skeptical site would recognize that this is also a mistake. Brian Dunning is not my friend, I do not know him, he does not know me, and I should not assume that because I have fifteen minutes of one-way contact with him each week, that I can thus draw any valid conclusions about his character, his ethics, or any of his activities outside of producing a podcast. The sense of familiarity we feel with celebrities is an illusion, and the gushing laudatory comments throughout this piece are the result of confusing that illusion for reality.

Many of us have looked up to him, and considered him a beacon of reason. And yet, here we are. A hero has fallen.

I said this on Twitter, but it’s worth repeating: how do you end up with such low standards of heroism that “guy who hosts a podcast I like” is worthy of the title? How, in the same week that saw marathon runners continuing past the finish line to donate blood at the hospital, do you arrive at “guy with a fun series of YouTube videos” as your standard for heroism? Do you consider “guy who can do that rubber pencil trick” the standard for a great magician? Is a Big Mac your go-to example of haute cuisine? Is “socks in the dryer” on your list of favorite movies?

This heroism nonsense ends up being a vicious cycle. The more we respond to talented people by placing them on pedestals, treating them like something higher and more-than normal people, the more shocked and disappointed we’re going to be when they fail to live up to the standards we unreasonably held them to. No one should have considered Brian Dunning anything more than a talented, bright guy with a good podcast in the first place, and responding to the revelation that, no, in fact, he’s really just a bright talented guy and also guilty of wire fraud with these fawning “hero” and “luminary” and “shining light” comments only perpetuates the problem. Because it’s likely to become “Brian Dunning is a hero who was persecuted by an unjust system” or “Brian Dunning wasn’t the shining beacon of pure reason that we thought he was, but all these other skeptical heroes surely are!”

Let’s learn from this mistake: having a good podcast does not make you a leader. It does not make you a good person. It does not make you a law-abiding citizen. It does not make you a hero or a shining beacon of reason or even correct.

It makes you a good podcaster.

Brian Dunning is a pretty good podcaster. He’s also someone who pled guilty to wire fraud. Anything else requires additional evidence.


Edit: There are lots of people in various comment sections saying we should be skeptical, that a guilty plea doesn’t necessarily mean that the person committed the crime, and so forth. I agree, but I also think it’s worthwhile to consider the evidence against that claim, too. Evidence like the statements he made to an FBI Special Agent. It’s damning, and further damning are the claims made in the suppression request that, were they the subject of one of the Skeptoid podcasts, would be among the things torn apart toward the middle.

You can be skeptical of Dunning’s guilt; you can believe his claims of feeling like he was under duress and disbelieve the counterclaims of the FBI agents, and that’s all well and good. But if you’re doing it out of loyalty or personal incredulity, you’re not really being skeptical.

Slow Clap

I started a post recently building off a myth that Ben Radford perpetuated in a recent hilariously terrible screed about (straw-)feminists, but it’s in need of some editing and revising and thinking whether it’s even a good idea before I actually post it.

But then he wrote this bit of inanity, complete with bad photoshop, elevating his rhetorical style to the level of “bad college newspaper satire.” And I scarcely know where to begin.

I think my favorite part is the dig at the fact that PZ Myers hasn’t published a book yet. There’s a relevant criticism in the digital age. Or any age, really, since “publishing a book” doesn’t say anything about…well, anything. Except one’s ability to convince a publisher that they’re worth taking a risk on, and in the digital age, even that’s a diminishing factor.

Comparing peer-reviewed publication citations provides greater hilarity. Especially since BA-in-psychology-cryptid-expert Radford makes digs at PZ’s “writing outside of his field [of biology]“, and being “once known for his work as a biologist.”

If you’re not inclined to read through Radford’s attempt at humor (hint: it’s worse than his poetry), here’s the tl;dr: PZ strawmanned me!

No, seriously, that’s it. Radford made nearly 800 words out of an accusation that PZ strawmanned him. It’s a shame that, in the whole effort, he never actually said what PZ was supposedly strawmanning.

Look, here’s a bit of Arguing 102 for the would-be skeptics and internet debaters out there: it’s awesome that you found a list of fallacies on some website someplace, and you’re so happy that you’re learning all the Latin names and everything. And you totally understand what a straw man argument is and why it’s a fallacy and now you’re seeing just how common they are. In fact, maybe someone crafted a straw man argument in a conversation with you and you noticed it and furiously went a-typing away at your keyboard.

Here’s the thing: there’s a productive way to go about responding to someone’s straw man version of your argument, and a very unproductive way. First, the unproductive way:

“You strawmanned me! That’s a strawman!”

Also, the very unproductive way: “You strawmanned me!” x 258.

The productive way is to go beyond the accusation. The easiest way to do this is to quote your opponent’s straw man argument and either restate your original argument, quote it, or link back to it. Better still is to do that and then explain how your opponent distorted your argument, or why their response failed to address your actual points. That follow-through is actually important; it’s what separates the people who legitimately recognize fallacious reasoning and can explain what’s wrong with it (and thus help make their own arguments look even better) from the people who just learned the term online and don’t really understand the argumentation process, and the people who are using the term as a way to dodge legitimate criticism. Such people–both groups–are fairly common online.

As for Ben Radford, maybe someday he’ll get the hang of this skeptical argumentation and writing stuff.

Flush the Movement

Natalie Reed’s most recent post is must reading. Please do.

I’m writing this here because it’d be derailing if I wrote it in the comments there. So, yeah.

You may recall that I’ve previously expressed some of my problems with movements, and even with the very notion of a “movement” inasmuch as it implies directed motion toward some single common goal. There are multiple goals within atheism and skepticism, and there are also multiple myopic people trying to claim that some of those goals are illegitimate.

But then, I look at the arguments I’ve had with asshats on Twitter, I look at my own beefs with the “movement,” I look at the concerns about being “outed” that led to my switch to WordPress and my attempt to build some kind of retroactive anonymity, and I read Natalie’s post and feel like a giant fucking idiot. I feel like the things I’ve seen as problems, the worries that have kept me up nights and sent me scrambling to lock down my blog or watch what I say in different venues, as problems that people without my tremendous level of privilege dream of having.

Being “outed” to me means worrying about the integrity and stability of my job for a whopping couple of years until increased job security sets in. It means worrying about discomfort in a close-knit community that I already have very little contact with outside of idle chit-chat. It means worrying about awkward conversations with some family members about matters that, ultimately, don’t affect anyone’s lives because they’re centered around entities that don’t exist. It doesn’t mean being attacked for my appearance, it doesn’t mean losing my house or possessions, it doesn’t mean being ostracized for an integral part of my identity.

I’m lucky. I’m incredibly lucky. I’m playing the game of life on Easy with the Konami Code.

And that’s a hard lesson to learn, that by virtue of luck, you have an easier time than others. It’s far easier to buy into the just-world fallacy and believe that, if people have it rough, then it’s because they deserve it, or because they’ve brought it on themselves, or because it’s just the way things are. It’s hard to realize that you’ve benefited from a system that inhibits others. It’s hard to realize that the world is more complicated than “people get what they earn/deserve.”

But it also seems like it’d be a basic lesson learned by anyone applying skepticism to reality. A lesson I’ve learned, time and time again, is that reality is generally more complicated than you think. Reality is fractal. Zoom out or in, and there’s always some new level of detail, some new perspective, some new complication, that you haven’t accounted for. It’s part of why a scientific understanding of the universe is so full of wonder. Anti-science types will criticize science for its “reductionist” stance, “reducing” everything to mere aggregations of particles. But that’s not it at all, because those aggregations of particles are anything but “mere.” At every level of magnification there is something new and amazing to be fascinated by, something grand and beautiful to admire. Whether examining the patterns of cells in a tissue sample or the patterns of whorls in a fingerprint or the pattern of mineral deposits on a continent or the pattern of stars in a galaxy, there is fascination to be had and wonder to be felt and beauty to be seen. By closing yourself off to those other perspectives, your worldview lacks detail and nuance, lacks those sources of beauty and awe and interest.

But it appears that not all skeptics, not all atheists, not all science enthusiasts learn this lesson. I’ve long suspected that some people arrive at atheism or skepticism out of some kind of contrarianism. They see the silly shit that some people believe and reject it. They reject religion and Bigfoot and UFOs because those are the beliefs of “The Man,” of the majority, of the establishment. Man, they reject the establishment. They’ve seen the light, man. Take that far enough, and they reject the “establishment” account of what happened on 9/11 or “the man”‘s opinion that you have to pay taxes, and you get the Zeitgeist crowd. Take that in a different direction, without the tempering influence of science enthusiasm, and they might reject the “establishment” notions of medicine like the germ theory, and become like Bill Maher. Sprinkle in a bit of that black-and-white overly-simplistic worldview, and you get libertarians, who reject the idea that the system might be unfair, that life and civilization might be more complex than what’s portrayed in an Ayn Rand novel. And focus that rejection of “the man” and the “establishment” on the notion of “political correctness,” and suddenly you have MRAs and every other bunch of “I’m so persecuted” bigots that roam these here Internets (and elsewhere).

And friend, I’m not sure that there’s anything that’s easier to believe than that you’re a brave hero fighting against a grand conspiracy that is behind all of your problems, and that everyone who disagrees is either in on the conspiracy, or duped by it. It’s the DeAngelis-Novella Postulates, the underlying egotist worldview behind all conspiracy theories. I am the enlightened hero, my enemies are powerful and legion, and everyone else is a dupe who just hasn’t seen the light like I have.

That’s what I don’t understand about the people ranting over how they’ve been “silenced” by the “FTBullies,” or that “feminists” are sowing “misandry,” or that the “atheist scientists” are “expelling” Christians, or that “the Illuminati” are doing whatever nefarious things they like to do. The worldview is ultimately so simplistic that it falls apart on comparison with the complexities of reality. And as skeptics, isn’t that precisely the sort of thing we train ourselves and pride ourselves on debunking?

I guess that’s one more privilege afforded the majority: the ability to believe a comforting, simplistic, ego-stroking version of reality, to perceive the world through the tinted glasses of a persecuted minority while being neither, and to claim heroism while tilting at nonexistent windmills.

I realize this is all armchair psychology, which I’m doing from an office chair without a background in psychology. It’s almost certainly true that the real situation isn’t nearly as simple as what I’ve laid out, and that the MRAs and libertarians and Zeitgeistians and so forth that infest the atheist and skeptical “movements” are the result of far more diverse factors.

But I realize that, because I realize that the world is more complicated than “us” and “them,” than “good” and “evil,” than “baboons” and “slimepitters,” than “FTBullies” and “the silenced,” than “the Conspiracy” and “the Army of Light” and “the Sheeple.”

I just wish that were a more generally-understood lesson.

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