The Baffler publishes a long article against “idiot” New Atheists. It’s interesting only in the context of so many similar articles, and an inability to imagine the opposite opinion showing up in an equally fashionable publication. New Atheism has lost its battle for the cultural high ground. r/atheism will shamble on as some sort of undead abomination, chanting “BRAAAAAAIIINSSSS…are what fundies don’t have” as the living run away shrieking. But everyone else has long since passed them by.
The New Atheists accomplished the seemingly impossible task of alienating a society that agreed with them about everything. The Baffler-journalists of the world don’t believe in God. They don’t disagree that religion contributes to homophobia, transphobia, and the election of some awful politicians – and these issues have only grown more visible in the decade or so since New Atheism’s apogee. And yet in the bubble where nobody believes in God and everyone worries full-time about sexual minorities and Trump, you get less grief for being a Catholic than a Dawkins fan. When Trump wins an election on the back of evangelicals, and the alt-right is shouting “DEUS VULT” and demanding “throne and altar conservativism”, the real scandal is rumors that some New Atheist might be reading /pol/. How did the New Atheists become so loathed so quickly?
The second article presents a theory:
It has something to do with a litany of grievances against the believoisie so rote that it might well (or ironically) be styled a catechism. These New Atheists and their many fellow travelers all share an unpleasant obsessive tic: they mouth some obvious banality—there is no God, the holy books were all written by human beings—and then act as if it is some kind of profound insight. This repetition-compulsion seems to be baked right into their dogma.
It compares New Atheists to Kierkegaard’s lunatic:
Soren Kierkegaard, the great enemy of all pedants, offers a story that might shed considerable light. In his Concluding Unscientific Postscript, he describes a psychiatric patient who escapes from the asylum, climbing out a window and running through the gardens to rejoin the world at large. But the madman worries: out in the world, if anyone discovers that he is insane, he will instantly be sent back. So he has to watch what he says, and make sure none of it betrays his inner imbalance—in short, as the not-altogether unmad Danish genius put it, to “convince everyone by the objective truth of what he says that all is in order as far as his sanity is concerned.” Finding a skittle-bowl on the ground and popping it in his pocket, he has an ingenious idea: who could possibly deny that the world is round? So he goes into town and starts endlessly repeating that fact, proffering it over and over again as he wanders about with his small furious paces, the skittle-bowl in his coat clanking, in strict conformity with Newton’s laws, against what Kierkegaard euphemistically refers to as his “a–.” Of course, the poor insistent soul is then sent right back to the asylum […]
Kierkegaard’s villagers saw someone maniacally repeating that the world is round and correctly sent him back to the asylum. We watched [Neil de Grasse] Tyson doing exactly the same thing, and instead of hiding him away from society where nobody would have to hear such pointless nonsense, thousands cheer him on for fighting for truth and objectivity against the forces of backwardness. We do the same when Richard Dawkins valiantly fights for the theory of evolution against the last hopeless stragglers of the creationist movement, with their dinky fiberglass dinosaurs munching leaves in a museum-piece Garden of Eden. We do it when Sam Harris prises deep into the human brain and announces that there’s no little vacuole there containing a soul.
So the problem with New Atheism was that its whole shtick was repeating obviously true things that everyone already knew? But about 80% of Americans identify as religious, 63% claim to be “absolutely certain” that there is a God, and 46% think the world was literally created in seven days. This is a surprising number of people disagreeing with a thing that everybody already knows.
I could be misreading the article. The article could be wrong. But I don’t think so. This is my intuitive feeling of what was wrong with New Atheism as well. It wasn’t that they were wrong. Just that they were right in a loud, boring, and pointless way.
A charitable reading: New Atheists weren’t reaching their intellectual opponents. They were coming into educated urban liberal spaces, saying things that educated urban liberals already believed, and demanding social credit for it. Even though 46% of America is creationist, zero percent of my hundred-or-so friends are. If New Atheists were preaching evolution in social circles like mine, they were wasting their time.
This seems like an accurate criticism of New Atheism, one that earns them all the condescension they have since received. But the New Atheist still ought to feel betrayed. Why isn’t this an equally correct criticism of everything else?
While the atheists were going around saying there was no God, the environmentalists were going around saying climate change was real. The feminists were going around saying sexism was bad. And the Democrats were going around saying Donald Trump was an awful person. All of these statements might be controversial somewhere, but meet basically zero resistance in educated urban liberal spaces. All get repeated day-in and day-out by groups of people who make entire careers out of repeating them. And all get said in the same condescending way, a sort of society-wide plague of Voxsplaining.
This is 90% of popular intellectual culture these days: progressives regurgitating progressivism to other progressives for nothing but the warm glow of being told “Yup, that was some good progressiving there”. Conservatives make fun of this incessantly, and they are right to do so. But for some reason, in the case of New Atheism and only in the case of New Atheism, Progressivism itself suddenly turned and said “Hey, you’re just repeating our own platitudes back to us!” And New Atheism, caught flat-footed, mouth open wide: “But…but..we thought we were supposed to…we thought…”.
Think of one of those corrupt kleptocracies where the dictator takes bribes, all his ministers take bribes, all their assistants take bribes, the anti-corruption task force takes bribes, etc. Then one day some shmuck manages to get on the dictator’s bad side and – bam – the secret police nab him for taking bribes. The look on his face the moment before the firing squad shoots – that’s how I imagine New Atheists feeling too.
So who’s the dictator in this analogy? And what did New Atheism do to get on their bad side?
Maybe New Atheism failed to make the case that it was socially important. All these movements have a mix of factual claims and social calls to action – climate change activism combines “we should accept the scientifically true fact that the climate is changing” with “we should worry about climate change causing famines, hurricanes, etc”, just as atheism combines “we should accept the scientifically true fact that God does not exist” with “we should worry about religion’s promotion of terrorism, homophobia, et cetera”. But the climate change people seem better at sounding like they care about the people involved, compared to atheists usually sounding more concerned with Truth For Its Own Sake and bringing in the other stuff as a justification.
Or maybe the New Atheists just didn’t know how to stay relevant. Trump resistance always has new tweets to keep its attention. Social justice always has a new sexist celebrity to be angry about. Sure, a few New Atheists tried to keep up with the latest secretly-gay televangelist, but most of them kept going about intricacies of the kalam argument that had been done to death by 1400 AD. This is just an example – maybe there are other asymmetries that are more important?
Maybe the New Atheists accidentally got on board just before a nascent Grey Tribe/Blue Tribe split and tried to get Blue Tribe credibility by sending Grey Tribe signals. At some point there was a cultural fissure between Acela Corridor thinkfluencers with humanities degrees and Silicon Valley bloggers with STEM degrees, and the former got a head start on hating the latter while the latter still thought everybody was on the same anti-Republican side.
And the cynic in me wonders whether New Atheism wasn’t pointless and obvious enough. There are more church-goers in educated liberal circles than Trump supporters, climate deniers, or self-identified racists. Maybe that made the “repeat platitudes to people who already believe them” game a little less fun, caused some friction – “You’re talking about my dear grandmother!”
I don’t know. The whole problem is so strange. For a brief second, modern culture looked at New Atheism, saw itself, and said “Huh, this is really stupid and annoying”. Then it cast New Atheism into the outer darkness while totally failing to generalize that experience to anything else. Why would it do that? Could it happen again? Please can it happen again? Pretty please?
Islam became relevant, is the long and short of it. Suddenly a different ox was being gored by strident atheism, and it was an ox progressivism was a lot less interested in goring.
Succinct, correct AND first.
Good point. Sam Harris was one of the biggest New Atheists back in the day, and with the success of his podcast he’s arguably bigger than ever. But over the last 5+ years he’s become better known as an Islam critic than an Atheist evangelist.
Actually if I’m not mistaken, Pat Condell is also a prominent atheist who mainly criticizes Islam these days.
So there’s something to be said for the idea that Atheists are getting kicked out of the coalition of the Left.
Sam Harris also recently talked to Charles Murray in a podcast and basically agreed with his views. And, yeah, the New Atheists have always been heavily critical of Islam.
Progressives like atheism and science only when it’s useful for gutting their adversaries. When those same atheistic scientists start gutting their cherished principles, they are quick to jettison them.
Maybe that’s an uncharitable interpretation. I mean, the New Atheists are not ideologically neutral either, they have their own values. But yeah, they are definitely more Gray than Blue, and mainstream progressives were never entirely comfortable with them.
That is pretty much exactly what happened. Atheism’s fortunes took a pretty hard turn in the year or two leading up to the atheism+ split, and it seems to be entirely due to atheists’ willingness to question Social Justice assumptions, and be openly frustrated with the lack of good answers.
‘Became relevant’ needs a lot of specification here, because I’m struggling to find a way to agree with this. Do you mean ‘relevant from a social justice perspective’? When would you say that happened?
I would say “became relevant” means “became fashionable among the Left for virtue-signalling.”
Relevant meaning you just can’t avoid hearing about it. Terrorism is the least of it. The liberal media is constantly pushing Islamophophilia. Last week The Independent had a feature on how Harvey Weinstein should have let Allah into his life.
I wouldn’t exactly say the Independent is representative of left-leaning media.
How about The Guardian? The New Statesman? The BBC? The Huffington Post? Slate?
Those all strike me as more representative, yeah — with HuffPo at the less respectable end and the BBC at the more. The Independent’s basically clickbait.
The Independent is weird, because the paper version is (or at least, was the last time I read it) respectable and not very partisan, but the online version is extremely clickbaity.
@rlms not sure if you’re aware, but the print version of the Independent doesn’t exist anymore. They moved to digital-only about a year and a half ago.
I didn’t know that! I think the i still exists in print though.
‘Became relevant’ as in ‘ABC-is-now-making-a-sitcom-about-Muslim-Superheroes’
How and when did Islam become relevant? I can definitely see the idea “Red Tribe oppose Islam, New Atheists oppose Islam, KILL”, but the Red Tribe was against Islam since at least 9/11, and when I think of NA I think 2004 onwards, in terms of the Horsemen(+1) and their books and so on.
(Epistemic status: completely tinfoil-hat speculation): some of this put me in mind of Scott’s last piece. New Atheists are exactly the kind of people who wouldn’t shut up about “minor” untruths and poor epistemology, even when politically inconvenient, and indeed would go out of their way to be confrontational about it. If a NA will risk the ire of a huge chunk of the population to point out that there’s no reasonable basis for belief in God, they might do the same to argue that a Blue Tribe tax plan would be counterproductive or that some development of the Culture Wars is on poor logical grounding. And, Heaven forbid, they might be right. So they have to go.
And so the New Atheist Horsemen and -woman rode into political battle on apocalyptic horses marked “academic but overly harsh and polemical debate” and got shot to ribbons by machine-guns marked “social condemnation”.
(Plus the social condemnation thing was easy because they sort of were possessed of an awful lot of awkward self-important confrontational teenagers and were a generally geeky ideology.)
I think it was the increases in the Muslim population of Europe over the past decade that really made the issue live. I feel like I started hearing the term “Islamophobia” coming up frequently around that timeframe. Some of it is probably also, as other posters have mentioned, a collapse in the power of Christianity in America, which made the Islam aspect more important by comparison.
Google’s word frequency tool shows a rapid increase in the use of “Islamophobia” since 1998.
Unfortunately, the tool only seem to go to 2007.
Note that your link is gives relative figures and only goes back to 2004, which makes it hard to parse what the levels of interests are in absolute terms. But it does seem that there is a strong recent increase.
PS. That link is the worldwide data, which means that non-Western nations are included. There is no option for Western countries, but this is the data for the US.
Don’t forget tons of money spent by Arab regimes on “promoting understanding” at US universities. It’s similar to the way China has been trying to use funding to get professors to shut up about pesky things like Tibet.
Well – exactly? New Atheists were okay when they were slamming churchgoing Republicans from the countryside (a.k.a. the deplorables), but when they turned against Islam, they were a) attacking victim groups – and blue tribe is to a large extent about empathy with the victim, and b) starting to sound too much like those Republicans we thought they were against. The New Atheist uncompromising and unapolegetic behavior probably reinforces this.
Also, as of 2017, “slamming churchgoing Republicans from the countryside” is increasingly itself a faux pas among the left, I think. It’s been a slow evolution ever since Obama’s “God and guns” comment from 2012 that has rapidly accelerated in the wake of last year’s election.
One quibble: “blue tribe is to a large extent about empathy with the victim”.
This isn’t accurate, as blue tribe is largely collectivist. They’re big on empathy with Officially Designated Victim Classes, but if you belong to an Officially Designated Oppressor Class then you get no empathy, regardless of your individual circumstances and merit. E.g., when Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of school girls there was a big outcry… but nobody cared about the fact that Boko Haram burned school boys alive.
In a similar vein, ISIS’ genocide of Yazidis received a huge amount of political and media attention compared to their previous genocide of Christians.
Nor, for that matter, did many people seem to think it worth mentioning that Boko Haram kidnapped those schoolgirls as part of their ongoing jihad against Nigeria’s Christians. Mostly it was portrayed as being the result of misogynistic rape culture.
Is THAT how the mainstreAm media portrayed the Boko Haram kidnappings? I’m surprised that they’d call Nigeria “a misogynistic rape culture”.
Progressive hand-wringing about a horror in the Third World has a disturbing tenancy to leave out causation, with unplanned consequences. The stereotype of Ethiopians as incompetent to feed themselves came from the Live Aid concerts where there was a lot of consciousness raising about the famine of Ethiopia with no mention of how it was yet another Communist famine (Emperor Haile Selassie had been overthrown by the Derg Marxists).
This. Selective empathy is an inseparable part of social justice. For each axis of intersectionality, one side deserves infinite empathy, and other side deserves zero.
So at one moment regressives can be concerned about microaggressions; and at another moment they are “drinking tears” of people who lost their jobs, encourage them to commit suicide, and post #killallXYZ hashtags. From their point of view, there is no contradiction in this. To grok this, you have to imagine that empathy is a zero-sum game. Giving empathy to wrong people means taking it away from the those who deserve it more.
They called Boko Haram misogynists, though not, AIR, Nigeria in general.
As Lenin (IIRC) said, “Who? Whom?”
That is uncharitable and incorrect.
The issue is not that they believe that it is right for harm to befall the ‘oppressors*’, but rather that their beliefs are that:
– it’s inherently in peoples nature to be selfish on a group level. A man will not just seek personal advantage when he can, at the expense of others, but also seek benefits for all men, at the expense of women.
– people very strongly identify with groups based on immutable traits. So men do not significantly ally with their wives merely for their wife being their wife, but due to her also being white, upperclass, heterosexual, etc.
– power is derived first and foremost from what institutions and social norms let people get away with, not personal abilities
– there is a strict hierarchy that is absolute. Men have power X and women have power Y. Since X > Y, men always get their interests catered to at the expense of women, in any domain.
– significant harm can only happen when a group or group member has more power than another group or group member.
# Ergo, a white heterosexual man with no other traits that reduce his institutional power cannot experience any significant harm.
This narrative is inconsistent with the facts, so you get cognitive dissonance resolution when significant harm happens to oppressor groups (and especially when committed by the oppressed group). For example:
– selective perception: ignoring and/or denying the inconvenient facts
– making assumptions that legitimize the harm, like framing the harm as self-defense by the oppressed against the oppressors
– framing the harm as actually being meant for the oppressed and accidentally happening to oppressors (like gay bashing actually being misogyny)
– minimizing the harm (like: men don’t really mind being raped by women or group X has so many privileges that this harm still makes them better off than group Y)
– framing the harm by using emotionally charged terminology. For example, using the word ‘privilege’ for basic human rights, so it doesn’t feel unjust when basic human rights are denied to oppressors.
So social justice people do believe that everyone deserves equal empathy, but they cannot recognize the harm that happens to people in a way that is inconsistent with their beliefs without a crisis of faith.
* Although ressentiment does of course exist among SJ people and in some ways is encouraged by the beliefs, but it’s not a value of the ideology.
I don’t claim to know which is more accurate, but I’m not sure how your explanation is more charitable than saying that social justice engages in massive selective empathy. For that matter, I’m not even sure what you’re saying is different, rather than just an extended explanation of how that selective empathy plays out in practice.
For instance, if people actually think that a “white heterosexual man with no other traits that reduce his institutional power cannot experience any significant harm,” then that sounds remarkably similar to me as saying that those white heterosexual men don’t deserve any sympathy when they claimed to have been harmed . . . since, you know, they can’t actually experience any significant harm.
Put another way, it seems little solace if a social justice advocate tells a white heterosexual male that he is entitled to “equal sympathy” whenever he suffers harms — he just doesn’t get any sympathy since he can’t suffer any actual harm because of his privilege. I think that might be worse than just being honest enough to recognize that even privileged people can suffer but you just don’t care about their “tears.”
Am I missing something here?
Apologies for the back-to-back posts; I fell a bit outside the edit window.
Thinking about it more, I think Aapje’s theory may be both less charitable and more accurate. My rationale is as follows:
In Viliam’s scenario, both parties are legitimately experiencing some degree of harm. Therefore, there is at least some potential for both sides to engage in bargaining that gives up something they care about but which harms the other side more in exchange for a symmetrical change, thus leaving both sides better off. Obviously we can raise numerous concerns about disproportionate structural power and moral qualms about privileged people engaging in hard bargaining regarding the allocation of harm between them and oppressed people, but at least there’s a bona fide reason the privileged people are asking for concessions.
In Aapje’s scenario, the oppressed people are experiencing genuine harm, but the oppressors are not. It’s hard to characterize demanding concessions in that scenario as anything better than gratuitous anti-social behavior, which can pretty easily be seen as justifying vitriolic condemnation.
I think the latter scenario — as much as I think it’s inaccurate — may better explain the behavior of hardline social justice advocates.
I think that the claim that a person or group has no empathy with those who they recognize are being harmed is essentially an accusation of them being sociopaths and is thus the greater insult, as it implies these people are inherently defective.
The claim that a group has an incorrect model of reality, defends it against challenges with rationalizations and causes harm while trying to be fair to everyone based on the model, is pretty normal. It’s criticism that applies to pretty much every ideology to some extent. The social justice movement does seem at the extreme end of the scale in how far they go in this, which is a major reason why I oppose them rather strongly.
I do think that the hardline SJ advocates cannot be bargained with and even worse, want those who disagree to be silenced. This is an even more important reason why I oppose them strongly. However, I also believe that a lot of the power of SJ derives from hangers-on who uncritically accept specific claims without having adopted the full model (in part because the SJ narratives are not really challenged by smart progressives in the media). So I think that there is room for bargaining with these people, who don’t have a large supply of rationalizations to make them immune to egalitarianism.
I think that the claim that a person or group has no empathy with those who they recognize are being harmed is essentially an accusation of them being sociopaths
Huh? It’s just a claim of selective empathy.
-A lot of the attacks New Atheists make against Muslims sound a lot like the attacks the Red Tribe makes against Muslims
-Specifically, a lot of it is very overgeneralized and stereotypical, treating Muslims as if they were all exactally the same and were all either Saudis or Al Qaeda, while seeming to not notice the fact that most global Muslims do not have much in common with either
-American Muslims specifically are much more tolerant, pro-democracy, and more in favor of things like equal rights for gay people then you would expect from listening to the New Atheist/ Red Tribe types that attack them. Just for one example, according to a recent Pew poll, 42% of American Muslims support gay marriage, while only 26% of American Evangelicals do and only 20% of American Mormons do. As a group, American Muslims are just not as fanatical or extremist as the broad statements make them seem like.
Overall, when you have the Red Tribe demanding extreme measures against all Muslims (Trump’s infamous “Muslim Ban” he threatened/ promised during the campaign, for example), people who have some personal knowledge of what American Muslims are actually like are going to get very angry at people who make broad, sweeping hostile statements towards Muslims as a whole. It doesn’t help that the New Atheists manage to be much more nuanced in their attacks on Christians, as a rule. And in general, a lot of people worry a great deal about the effect that kind of attack has on a small minority, because that has a much greater chance of creating oppression, violence, and mistreatment than if it was made on a large or majority group, like Christians.
I think it’s possible that the New Atheists were getting a lot of their news from Europe, where that is definitely NOT the case.
They’re a lot less guilty of conflating that with American Muslims than the Red Tribe is, though.
That’s certanly possible. Maybe I have an exaggerated idea of what the “new atheist” consensus towards Muslims is.
If I’m wrong about that, can you point me to a good source I can read/ watch/ listen to where a major New Atheist has a more nuanced view towards Islam?
@Yosarian2, can you point me to an example of this supposedly non-nuanced view of Islam?
@jasonbayz : I’ve seen Sam Harris say things that seemed pretty un-nuanced. He usually does leave himself a little wiggle room for denial, like when he proposes something really unethical like “reducing the number of Muslims in Europe” he usually does it from the point of view of some hypothetical third person, but then he spend a significant amount of time defending that “hypothetical” point of view in such a way that it seems pretty clear what his thoughts are on the subject. Sometimes it seems like he has a valid point, but then he often takes it farther then his facts or arguments should be able to take him. It also seems like he has an anti-Islamic bias in general, even on unrelated topics; the video he posted where he claimed that the Islamic Golden Age wasn’t really a big deal was IMHO pretty weak, from any rationalist perspective; it compared the rate of technological progress in the year 800 with the rate of technological progress in the modern world for one thing, which just seems silly. It’s hard to see stuff like that and not come away with the impression of a strong bias, to a degree that isn’t really supported by facts.
I’ve also seen Bill Maher has also said things that very much rubbed me the wrong way; I usually like him, but he does seem pretty irrational when he gets on the subject of Islam.
Again though, I haven’t read a lot of Sam Harris’s writings, if he or another major figure in the movement has said something that would change my mind I’d be happy to read or watch it. I mean, I would *like* to like the “new atheists”; I’m an atheist myself and think spreading the meme of atheism is worthwhile.
I meant a specific example, not a specific person. The only specific examples were the hypothetical example of reducing the Muslim population in Europe(hypothetical, enough said) and the Islamic Golden Age thing, seems pretty defensible in my view when you compare the technological advances of the Islamic golden age to those of China or Europe, even excluding the industrial period. What specific thing has Maher said that makes you think he’s “irrational?”
How exactly do you go about comparing the advances, technological and otherwise, of premodern Islam to premodern China or Europe? I’d be interested in your methodology and results.
Support for Israel is another stance that both Harris and Maher share that I’d certainly entertain as evidence of anti-Islamic bias.
Seemed obvious to me, but I found this list of most important inventions from the Atlantic, while I would quibble with some of the rankings, I agree that I can’t think of any advances from the Islamic golden age that could compare with the inventions that fit with the pre-modern period in Europe and China listed there:
“Support for Israel is another stance that both Harris and Maher share that I’d certainly entertain as evidence of anti-Islamic bias.”
That issue is tangential to the question, for every SJW who will call you anti-Islamic if you support Israel, there will be another who will call you anti-Semitic if you oppose it. If the supposed problem with the New Atheists from the SJW perspective is that their attitude toward Israel is the same as Hillary Clinton’s, then the “problem” is with the Left in general rather than New Atheists specifically.
I don’t think there’s a very significant population of Zionist SJWs out there, but I might be wrong. Hillary’s Zionism was definitely a problem for the more radical SJWs, but counterbalanced to a certain extent by the fact that she was the designated idpol candidate in the primary (and then against Trump in the general). Harris and Maher don’t have that sort of armor, and both are rhetorically to the right of Hillary on Israel anyway.
The overwhelming majority of the inventions on your list seem to be from the modern era, and I’m not sure it makes sense to compare “premodern Islam,” which starts in the 600s, with “premodern Europe and China,” which start several millennia BC, without normalizing for timeframe. Also not sure it makes sense to, say, count invention number 5 (optical lenses) as a European invention when they actually appear to be an Islamic invention (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbas_ibn_Firnas), and something tells me this isn’t the only such inaccuracy in the list.
And I stated that I was referring to the inventions invented in the pre-modern period, there were quite a few of them. The list should not have said “optical lenses”(they appear to date back to ancient times), but clearly meant eyeglasses, specified as “the invention of eyeglasses,” which were indeed a European invention.(“Reading stones” are not the same thing.) You haven’t provided any example of any invention that compares with those of contemptuous European or Chinese civilizations on the list and I conclude your objection to Harris is based on ideology rather than evidence.
That list has very few items from the period of the Islamic Golden Age, which is surely what you should be looking at if you want to compare like with like. From here and linked pages: Islamic Golden Age inventions include sulphuric acid, al-jabr and a lot of other maths, lots of optics, cryptography, the crankshaft, programmable instruments, the kerosene lamp, various medical advances, and a load of astronomy.
@jasonbayz wrote “can you point me to an example of this supposedly non-nuanced view of Islam?”
The problem of course, is that in order to avoid such a statement, every single criticism stated against Islam must be preceded and followed with a disclaimer like “this doesn’t include every Muslim or even most Muslims” or “This is about x percent of Muslims”.
Which Harris often does precisely because he and others who criticize Islam are continually called Islamophobes when they don’t do so Every Single Time. Hell, Harris gets accused of such even when he specifically states he is talking about some Muslims and not all Muslims. (See Harris and Ben Affleck on Real Time with Maher, or Cenk Uygur’s dishonest comments after his interview with Sam Harris)
In both interviews Harris repeatedly states ‘not all Muslims’ (paraphrasing). Affleck and guests immediately jump on Harris for saying “all Muslims”. Uygur waited until after the interview so Harris couldn’t defend himself.
Of course these same critics of Harris never say the same when Harris makes similar criticisms about Christianity, Mormonism, Scientologists or pick your Western religion. Only criticism of Islam MUST be preceded and followed by a disclaimer, lest you be branded a bigot, racist(?) and/or Islamophobe.
Rubin says he left TYT because of that:
This sounds right, unlike all the terrible ‘lol blue so identity politics and unfair sjw’ explanations flying around this thread.
Banning travel from war zones and avowed enemies of the country is now “an extreme measure against all muslims?” It’s precisely this sort of comment that drives me to condemn the opposition to trump. It’s not that he’s good, he isn’t, but his opponents have lost their minds.
Source: Press release from the Trump campaign, Dec. 7, 2015
Quit gaslighting people, cassander.
So, to your mind, talking about the things trump actually does, as opposed to things he tweeted about almost two years ago, is gaslighting?
I hate the word “gaslighting” so damn much. That said, the ancestor said this:
…and that certainly sounds like it includes early campaign press releases. (Though it might have been edited, in which case you’re off the hook. I don’t remember that phrasing the first time I read it.)
@Nornagest Nope, I did not edit it, and yes I was specifically talking about Trump talking about a “Muslim ban” during the campaign, in that press release and other campaign events (he repeated it several times at rallies as well.)
His actual executive order certainly falls short of that campaign promise; I suspect more for practical and legal reasons then ideological ones, but that’s a different discussion.
I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to think that by “muslim ban”, we were talking about the actions trump actually took as president that were so labeled, and not a reference to a an extremely vague statement made before Trump even got the nomination.
Dude, it says “during the campaign” right there.
You must forgive me for not noting down in exhaustive detail every vague promise trump ever tweeted, then comparing it word for word to the things he’s actually done, especially in circumstances, like this one, when he when he has been self contradictory
But please, feel free to explain how you and brad have divined the truth within his soul from reading the tea leaves between the the ban promise of two years ago, the “extreme vetting” he promised repeatedly after he got the nomination.
That, or you could just judge him on what he actually does, rather than analyzing the words of a politician, i.e. someone who is rewarded for telling people what he thinks they want to hear.
I don’t need to divine the truth within Trump’s soul, I just need to read the damn post. It has nothing to do with anything he’s actually done, and everything to do with a particular piece of well-documented campaign rhetoric.
You could argue that Brad and Yosarian2 are overinterpreting something that was never meant that seriously — and I’d agree with you! And there are plenty of other bones you could legitimately pick with the ancestor, but this issue is exceptionally clear-cut. Why are you picking this hill to die on?
I believe the intent of the original post was not to judge Trump per se, but to judge the Red Tribe by the fact that said rhetoric was apparently popular.
That belief would be well-rooted in a straightforward reading, yes. In fact, whether he actually did it would be quite aside from the point being made.
Which is Chad?
Honestly dude, pick your battles, or at least make your lies easier to obfuscate.
Here’s Rudy Giuliani on Fox:
Eh.. There are members of the NA group who argue that the very problem with Islam is that violence is endorsed in the texts, from which there is no “doctrinal escape hatch,” which could be used if it were just a few radical interpreters of the religion. As evidence, they cite self-proclaimed “moderate Muslims,” who they claim will lie outright about the degree to which the foundational texts endorse violence.
The foundational texts are ambiguous. “There is no compulsion in religion” vs a tradition of Mohammed saying that someone should be killed for abandoning Islam.
Dawkins lives in the U.K.
The European experience of large-scale Muslim immigration can’t be compared with the trickle of more highly-educated Muslims emigrating to the US, nor can the number of terrorist atrocities be compared: they have now become almost a monthly event in Europe.
Surveys over here also show zero tolerance of homosexuality among Muslims.
“Dawkins lives in the U.K.”
Do you? If not, what is the source of your knowledge about “the European [specifically, British] experience of large-scale Muslim immigration”?
Speakers To Animals is exaggerating, but British Muslims do get polled about their views and the support for gay rights is quite low:
Right. At a certain point relentlessness criticism and pedantic contrarianism undermines solidarity. And solidarity is a vital notion on the left.
The Left may pay lip service to solidarity but if that were even remotely true we wouldn’t have dozens of communist parties constantly denouncing each other.
Suntzuanime nailed it. For the Left, Islam became the enemy of their enemy, and that put people like Dawkins in an uncomfortable spot. Rage against little old ladies going to church all you want, but if you start saying that ISIS might maybe have something to do with Islam, well, that’s getting in the way of us saying it’s a religion of peace and Trump is a horrible bigot for his travel ban.
Also, progressives tried to turn New Atheism into a SJW front movement with their Atheist+ vanguard, but they were largely repelled, which caused many of them to turn against it.
But I agree with Scott that Baffler’s argument that the New Atheists were just repeating platitudes isn’t entirely without merit, because I also fits my intuition. I mean, I don’t hate the New Atheists, but I feel that they quite stopped being relevant around the time that Creationism/Intelligent Design lost its political clout. Once that call of action was exhausted, they failed to produce another compelling call to action.
Also, the Dawkins harassment case probably soured a lot of the SJWs on the movement.
Never heard of that. What are you referring to?
I think they might be talking about this
I’ve been wondering, is there a reason other than tribal allegiance why the statements “I don’t go to dinner 1-on-1 with a woman other than my wife” and “I’m offended that a man invited me to come have coffee in his hotel room” should elicit opposite reactions?
Not wanting to be 1-on-1 with another woman is (primarily) the speaker admitting that he is fallible and putting the onus on himself to remove temptation, while the elevator incident was making demands on the entire opposite sex to alter their behavior to (arguably) untenable standards.
@Ratte, an invitation is not a demand.
Also, are you aware of the circumstances behind the elevator incident? It was the poor guy’s first-ever attempt to ask a woman out in person. Nothing sinister, nothing “demanding”, just a socially awkward guy like 90% of the readers of this blog. And are you aware who that guy was?
vV_Vv: apollocarmb’s link is what I was referring to, yes. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at it, though – I thought Dawkins was the one who invited her back, not some random dude Dawkins stood up for.
Ratte: I’ve always taken the Pence rule as a protection against rumor, not a protection against temptation. (Whether that makes a difference…tbh, I’m not sure).
ksvanhorn, you’re misunderstanding Ratte. He’s saying that Watson’s reaction was to demand that all men alter their behavior to untenable standards. The man asking her out was not demanding the entire female sex go out with him.
@ksvanhorn, I meant ‘demands’ in the sense that Watson was essentially proscribing a wide range of behavior by the opposite sex, depending on how you interpret her statements regarding the incident.
Setting aside tribal issues, progressives are likely to react strongly to a powerful man essentially admitting that he can’t be trusted around women, while conservatives are just as likely to react to arbitrary or untenable changes to courtship behavior. Similarly, reactions are going to be different for Person A’s unusual beliefs informing their own behavior vs. Person B’s unusual beliefs being used as a basis for making demands on everyone else.
You might want to mention that it was four in the morning, that they were alone in an elevator, and it wasn’t “I’m offended”, it was
That isn’t a demand that “all men alter their behavior to untenable standards”. That’s just a request that men consider what things look like from the other side before doing so.
(The problem with “I don’t go to dinner 1-on-1 with women other that my wife” is that it makes being a woman a significant impediment in any career where you might be expected to have dinner meetings with adherents to that principle.)
Is there any evidence for any woman’s career being harmed by Pence refusing to go to dinner with her?
ETA: Also, if enough people adhered to the “no dinner meetings” rule for it to pose a problem, I’d expect the workplace culture to adapt, by, for example, accepting meetings at non-dinner-related settings instead.
Um, no, it’s admitting that in today’s political climate – any allegation of impropriety can be life-destroying, regardless of the lack of evidence. Women think that being alone with men is dangerous, which may be true, but it’s certainly also true that for high-status men, being alone with women is dangerous as well.
Pence is not worried he might rape some woman if he goes to dinner with her. He’s worried that some woman might accuse him of doing so if he doesn’t have multiple witnesses who can back him up.
I don’t see this implication in Pence’s rule. To me the obvious purpose of the rule is to prevent false accusations, misunderstanding (like the Elevatorgate incident, for instance) or third-party people spreading rumors.
If anything it indicates that Pence distrusts women, or people in general. In different times I would have said that he was a bit paranoid, but given the current climate I can’t blame him.
And in fact if applied society-wise this rule would also make it more difficult for actual sexual abusers to carry out their acts: like, Harvey Weinstein invites you to a 1-to-1 “work meeting” in his hotel room? Big Red Flag!
The problem is that men are still willing to have dinner meetings with each other, which in addition to being clearly sexist on its face, reduces the pressure to adapt as you suggest.
@The original Mr. X
All else being equal, you’re going to hire and promote the aide who can do all of the work over the one you’ve excluded from a big chunk of it. This isn’t rocket science.
Coming from a conservative Christian background which is where Pence coming from this rule doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. I would say it is almost definitely a way to show special respect for his wife and to avoid temptation with the added benefit of being protective.
For a Christian the thought, “I shouldn’t sleep with women other than my wife,” is almost universal. Most will make similar statements for kissing and holding hands. The line of thought extends from physical interactions to emotional interactions.
Some (including me) are very careful of the emotional attachments to women who are not my wife. I go to my wife about why my day was terrible or other junk. Because of this respect I have for my wife, I would be very hesitant to have a 1-on-1 dinner with a women. This isn’t a big part of my professional life so I don’t have to worry about it overly much. Being a politician I could see me making a blanket rule of no dinner meetings with one women.
Question, if all of society had a policy to disallow potential infidelity because it is really harmful to the marriage and often ends with men leaving their wives’ (which is bad for women). Would that policy be sexist?
But all else isn’t equal. Pence made the rule, he can take it into consideration when he promotes.
Also, given the personal risk Pence is at for accusations of impropriety, I do not think he should be expected to place the advancement of women in the field of political aids above his own interests. And if the norm spreads, it isn’t clear that that is a net harm for women, given it would make situations that facilitate harassment or rape much rarer, while still leaving the other twelve hours in the open to professional advancement.
I don’t think it is an unreasonable rule, but I think it would also be reasonable, at least for powerful married men, to supplement it with a rule to not do one on one meals with a man in a business setting. Just to keep the playing field level.
So if Mike Pence, while he was governor, had two mid level staffers in his office, one a man and one a woman. Sure, don’t go out to dinner with the woman staffer but don’t with the man staffer either. That way the man staffer isn’t getting a leg up by virtue of being able to go to dinner with the boss in a way that his colleague can’t.
Yes, this would reduce efficiency somewhat, but clearly efficiency isn’t the most important thing or neither rule would be in place.
As always, the controversy was a bit more involved than what you get from the summaries. The initial video by Watson passed without incident. As people point out, suggesting that guys “don’t do that” isn’t worthy of any outrage. Stef McGraw responded to Watson, disagreeing and saying what many thought, that chatting someone up and then asking them back to your room on the lift is perfectly acceptable. Following this, Watson was speaking at the CFI Student Leadership Conference and took the opportunity at the podium to call McGraw out for “parroting of misogynist thought.” Watson was strongly criticized for this. Others leapt to her defense.
The stage was set for hostilities before Dawkins ever made his infamous Dear Muslima comment, and anyone who was there but still tells you the fighting broke out over something like a meek request that people not be creepy to Watson is being disingenuous.
I would be in favor of this norm, if for nothing else for saner professional culture.
I expect a lot of married men would prefer it as well, if it led to a greater likelihood of taking meals at home rather than at the office, but maybe that’s typical mind fallacy.
The Molochians will demand they have the right to make sacrifices in the name of more money. See also: that insufferable Cadillac commercial.
What if false accusations of harassment or rape were a major path to advancement for women (they are)?
The point of the outrage against Pence is that it’s a solution to the “problem” of sexual harassment that actually removes a tool that women really love to use – implied offers of sex – which causes women to instinctively get angry for no reason they can articulate. Hence the anger and the incoherence and inconsistency in explaining the reason for the outrage.
Yeaaah, asking a woman to “come up to your room for coffee” in the late evening/early morning is a proposition for sex. It’s hard for me to get worked up about a woman (or women!) being skeeved out by this unless it’s accompanied by a movie and a nice dinner. And if it’s the first or second movie and nice dinner, to still be skeeved out by it.
I feel a bit for the guy who apparently did this inadvertently–I realize that there really are people this clueless–but normal people have psychological needs, too. We aren’t going to change social rules on interaction to bubble-wrap people who cannot pick up on subtle social signals. Sorry, man, but every freakin’ romantic comedy touches on “come up for coffee?” as a social cue.
Elevatorgate was fundamentally a conflict between those who do and do not believe that there is so much oppression of women in Western society that women are fairly often forced to accede to men who propose in public to women when they really don’t want to, because a substantial number of men punish women who don’t.
For people like Rebecca Watson and PZ Meyers, the guy on the elevator was profiting from a culture of fear in the same way that a movie producer who asks for sex from an actress profits from the perception that he may punish the actress by not giving her a role. Since the actress doesn’t know whether he will retaliate, she has to estimate the risk based on her perception of how often producers do this and can decide to have sex with him even if she prefers not to, because she really wants acting roles. So the producer who proposes to have sex benefits from this perception, regardless of whether he would himself punish the actress for refusing.
The issue is that while this logic is valid, it is true for any proposal that a person makes, as there are always people who punish those who reject the proposal. So if you always prioritize safety, no cooperation of any kind is possible. So there needs to be a cutoff.
In practice people have very different perceptions of the risks of certain proposals and what risk level is reasonable (gender differences making men more risk taking and value sex higher probably play a role here too).
Unfortunately, instead of discussing this openly, we see personal attacks in both directions.
I can get on board with your reasoning, but surely you have to admit that to this day one side of the schism wants to have a debate about how to resolve these differences in perception of risk while PZ Myers continues to insist this a matter of people who feel “entitled to rape women” and those who don’t.
Have you considered that:
1. Lots of women enjoy having casual sex
2. Propositioning someone in “code words” (i.e., come back to my place and have coffee) is probably the least crude/offensive/threatening possible way to make clear that you are offering casual sex
This is not harassment. This is making a simple offer of something that a large percentage of women actively enjoy having offered to them. The correct response is to say “no, thank you” and move on with your life, not to spend the next five years on the Internet vilifying someone for allegedly “harassing” you.
ETA: I want to be very clear on this. I believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with a man making clear to a woman that he’s interested in having sex with her. Full stop. This is only a problematic behavior if it is accompanied with actual threats of violence, intimidation, retaliation, or other negative consequences for declining. And “we were in a small space alone together and he’s a man so if I said no maybe he would have raped me even though he gave no indication at all he was even considering that” does not count. I am growing increasingly frustrated that we seem to be at a point where a large portion of society believes that the mere act of offering/expressing sexual interest is, itself, an act of harassment (or even assault).
Alsadius: I always took Pence’s statement to be virtue signaling. Maybe I’m cynical.
These debates seem to have a predictable pattern, where the sides have mutual miscommunication. One side thinks that it is obvious that men should have quite a bit of leeway to propose to women, where the main question is whether these men cause harm to women themselves. They usually don’t see the risks to women in the particular situation that is being discussed as significant. So they tell the other side to tone it down. Then the other side thinks that men have too much leeway anyway and sees the unwillingness to reduce this as an unwillingness to make a minor concession to prevent a large amount of female suffering, which they see as strong evidence of hatred of women.
The goal of my comment was not to blame one specific side, but to try to create mutual sympathy.
Well everyone has their assessment of the collective conversation. There’s room for disagreement there, but specifically PZ Myers really does summarize his opposition as people who feel entitled to rape women. Watson really did call a McGraw misogynistic (or was at least parroting people who hate women) for disagreeing that it’s unacceptable to proposition someone in an elevator.
Even outside those two particularly bad individuals I don’t think there’s a mutual miscommunication. I think there’s an impasse between people who want to proscribe social behaviors they dislike and those who recognize that this will go about as well as a planned economy.
I think that those beliefs can be fully explained by PZ Meyers and Watson not understanding the motives of the people who defend the men who do that and/or want to prevent the criminalization of that behavior.
Ultimately, this issue triggers people on both side of the debate, which makes people very resistant to giving credence to the arguments of the other side.
I’m sorry, but even if you didn’t have the rest of their history to indicate they are acting in bad faith there is no reasonable way to interpret “I think propositioning a woman in an elevator is okay” as “I think I’m entitled to rape women.” Anyone who does honestly arrive at that interpretation is in need of a psychiatrist, not sympathy from the party they just declared to be a criminal in waiting.
It seems to be your position that getting outraged over someone disagreeing what level of flirtation is acceptable is just as reasonable as getting outraged over being accused of planning to commit one of society’s most heinous crimes.
I’m not making the argument that their behavior is defensible. I think that they are both people who have a negative influence on society by not being able to understand concerns which don’t match their simplistic mental models & whose solutions are more damaging than helpful.
I just think that they do actually believe in their mental models and think that they are making society better.
dawkins’ pedophilia comments may have put people off also
It’s not a coincidence that Dawkins is the way he is, and is also one of the foremost New Atheists. The same character traits lead to both.
Thus I don’t think that anti-NA sentiment is driven by Dawkins’ (or others’) comments about other things. It’s that strident atheism is itself a social faux pas, and thus prominent strident atheists have a tendency to make other socially inconvenient statements. But the original sin was the strident atheism (rather than the socially acceptable quiet kind).
But Dawkins isn’t a strident atheist. He’s quite explicit that he’s agnostic. His comment was something like “I’m a ‘tooth fairy agnostic’, in that I can’t prove that there is not god, but ascribe the same likelihood to the existence of a god as I do to the existence of the tooth fairy, which I can’t disprove either”.
Now, in a spectrum between theist and atheist, that’s about as far toward the latter as one can get without actually being it. But he does make the distinction that he is not it.
This is likely due to his familiarity with probability, and the dangers of certainty. From wikipedia:
Dawkins argues that while there appear to be plenty of individuals that would place themselves as “1” due to the strictness of religious doctrine against doubt, most atheists do not consider themselves “7” because atheism arises from a lack of evidence and evidence can always change a thinking person’s mind. In print, Dawkins self-identified as a ‘6’, though when interviewed by Bill Maher and later by Anthony Kenny, he suggested ‘6.9’ to be more accurate.
Dawkins’ beliefs put him well within the set of people identified by the “strident atheist” label, even if he chooses not to apply that term to himself to make a point about probability.
There are (at least) two definitions of atheism. The strong version is a belief in the non-existence of God, the weak version a lack of belief in the existence of God.
Complicating factor is that many atheists strongly object to religions. A lot of people seem to see agnosticism as a claim that (their) religion may be true. Plenty of atheist seem to choose that label because while they feel that the non-existence of some type of God is unknowable, the claims by religions are wrong and they don’t want to be seen as agnostic with regard to religions.
That isn’t a demand that “all men alter their behavior to untenable standards”. That’s just a request that men consider what things look like from the other side before doing so.
I think the request itself is reasonable, and if she had said, “Folks, if you’re thinking about asking someone out, try not to do it in an enclosed space like an elevator, because it can be weird and uncomfortable for the other person” no one would have objected.
I think what people objected to was the fact that she targeted a specific group (men) and also that she couched the request within rhetoric about misogyny and patriarchy. If a white person said something like, “Black people, just a word of advice, if you’re walking down the street, try not to walk behind a white person, because they might get uncomfortable and think you’re about to mug them” and then followed that up with a bunch of statistics about black crime, implying that it was reasonable for the white person to feel uncomfortable, people would absolutely get angry about that request. And they would be right to.
That’s essentially why they were objecting to Watson’s statement. Not because they were outraged at the request itself, but because it was phrased in a way that promoted negative stereotypes about men as sexual predators. And when she characterized everyone who disagreed with her as a misogynist, that just poured fuel on the fire.
Some of us also found the progression from “this is what women prefer” to “this is what ought to be done” to be a bit on the automatic side.
Obviously I don’t speak for all men, but what bothered me the most about the elevator incident was that I think Watson was being dishonest about it. If the man in question had been tall and handsome, she would have either accepted the invitation, or rejected it but felt flattered and not complained about it.
This is not based on specific knowledge of Rebecca Watson, it’s based on my knowledge from observing many women over many years. If the man is physically attractive, all of these rules about male behavior go right out the window. She would be lauding him for having the courage to strike up a conversation on an elevator. On the other hand, if an unattractive man were to hit on her under other circumstances, there would almost always be some objection — “how dare he talk to me while I am wearing headphones and obviously don’t want to be disturbed?” or “Does he really need to break in while I am talking with my friends” or whatever.
Not only that, but these kinds of lies are destructive. For a lot of men, perhaps the majority, it’s psychologically difficult to hit on girls. A lot of men fall into a cycle where they don’t have much sexual experience, so they lack confidence to approach girls, so rejection is all the more devastating to them, so they don’t get the sexual experience they need to develop any confidence, and so on. When these men hear people like Rebecca Watson make pronouncements about elevators, and headphones, and bus stops, and whatever, it only undermines their confidence further.
My next objection is that Rebecca Watson is basically the female equivalent to Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein took advantage of high status position to get sexual favors from women who desperately wanted acting opportunities. Girls like Watson make use of their sex appeal to gain status and advancement among men who are eager (and often desperate) for female attention and approval. However our society is so gynocentric that while pretty much agrees that Weinstein is a sleazeball, few people are willing to call out Watson types as basically whores.
Next, I think there is something of a “let them eat cake” attitude about Watson and her ilk. She herself obviously has no problem getting sexual opportunities without having to approach anyone or take any risks such an approach might not be well received. But for a lot of men, perhaps the majority, that’s simply not the case. Unless a man is elite in terms of looks/money/status the only practical way for him to find a girlfriend or wife is by approaching women and some of those approaches may not be well received. It would be nice if Watson and her ilk would have some sympathy for such men, but that’s never the sense I get. My impression is that most girls wish such men would just disappear. A bit like the attitude of a hypothetical plantation owner who is happy to enjoy the fruits of slave labor but otherwise wants nothing to do with them.
Last, I agree with you that there is an undertone of misandry in these types of complaints.
“Rebecca Watson is basically the female equivalent to Harvey Weinstein”
“few people are willing to call out Watson types as basically whores.”
T h i s i s t h e k i n d o f c o n t e n t I w o u l d l i k e t o s e e l e s s o f o n S S C
It’s real, though. That personal sexual resentment is absolutely a major subtext in these stories.
Girls like Watson make use of their sex appeal to gain status and advancement among men who are eager (and often desperate) for female attention and approval.
Gosh, indeed, how dare that vixen trap that innocent and helpless young man into attending an atheist conference, staying in a group after the main events were over, drink and talk till the small hours, and then entice him into a lift alone with her (the trollop!) so she could work her wiles on him and tempt him into his gallant offer of some coffee, which she could then use to spurn and humiliate him? Ah, these wicked sirens and vile temptresses, using their physical allure on unworldly youths to lead them astray!
She over-reacted very badly in the aftermath, yes. On the other hand, even for the socially clueless, when it’s the end of a long day and it’s four in the freakin’ morning and everyone is heading home or up to their rooms to go to bed, this is not a good time to proffer what can be interpreted as an invitation for sex (and I was socially backwards enough it wasn’t until quite late into my twenties I found out that “so, want to come back for coffee?” was not considered an invitation to share a hot beverage but for something quite other) and at the very least an advance request to date. Putting myself into Rebecca Watson’s shoes: Mate, at that hour after a long day of talking and interacting with others then staying late in the bar to talk some more, I’m slightly drunk, I just want to get my bra off, wash my face, and fall into bed for a few hours shut-eye. I do not want to embark on the preliminaries to a romantic rendezvous because I am not in the mood and I’m not at my best, and you waiting till we’re both in the lift may be only you wanting to keep this private and strike while the iron is hot, but it makes me uncomfortable.
Putting myself into my own shoes: it makes me annoyed enough to tell you to go to hell and get a clue, what time do you call this, do you seriously think I’m in any way ready or able to go back to your room to have a witty conversation with the implication of romance, and besides which how stupid do you think I am, going back to a guy’s room when I’ve only just met the fella is liable to be construed as leading him on (and being the kind of tease described in the quote above) if I’m not willing to do more than “yeah gimme that coffee, I’m falling asleep on my feet” and believe me, nothing more is gonna happen the state I’m in even if you are tall dark and handsome, but I’m not Rebecca Watson.
No kidding. In the fight between “Captain Pointless Misogyny” and “Lord Misandry Is A Male Fantasy And All Male Suffering Is A Result Of Misogyny”, mostly I am left annoyed that these two Champions of Anti-Chivalry and Hyper-Chivalry think this is an appropriate place to tilt at each other.
“Vixen” is not such a bad word to use. Anyway, you can ridicule all you like but it won’t change the reality of the situation, which is that (1) women’s reactions to male behavior are informed heavily by the physical appearance of the man in question; and (2) women like Rebecca Watson make use of their sex appeal to get status and opportunities.
Perhaps, but you could make an argument like that about any time. Morning? She’s just waking up and is getting ready for a long day, give her some space. Lunchtime? She’s in the middle of eating with her associates, don’t interrupt. Evening? She’s tired after a long day, don’t bother her.
But of course the reality of the situation is that the time of day is not the real factor here, it’s the attractiveness of the suitor. Like I said before, if the man had been physically attractive, it’s very unlikely she would be complaining about the time of day.
I’m not on board with “basically whores” but people that flirt and use sex appeal to advance their careers are part of the problem. They ought not to do that.
I have no idea if Watson has or hasn’t.
Fortaleza didn’t say that Watson had tried to use her sex appeal on the young man, just that that’s the sort of thing women like Watson do. Now I don’t know whether Watson personally has ever done that sort of thing, but the phenomenon of women using their good looks to get things from men is a well-established one.
Yeah sure but that’s totally irrelevant to Elevatorgate. Unless whenever a woman criticizes a man we need to always bring up bad things that some women (not even necessarily the same one) do for some reason.
Thank you / More of this please.
I kinda disagree. Why did Rebecca Watson by the nickname “Skepchick”?
Why did she (apparently) post a picture of herself lying naked on a bed holding a book called “Bad Astronomy”? (You can find it by image searching “Skepchick”)
And how do you think she got so prominent in the Atheist movement anyway, to the point where enough people watch her videos to notice her bemoaning this elevator incident?
The fact is that she has taken full advantage of her sex appeal to gain status in her subculture and then used her prominence to complain that some peasant expressed sexual interest in her.
Just do a few Google searches on her. She goes by the nickname of “skepchick” and has apparently posted a gratuitous naked picture of herself on her blog.
The guy was certainly clueless and should have known better, but Watson was dishonest, because what bothered her was not that she felt threatened or “objectified”, but that she felt diminished and insulted that a dude far below her league dared to propose her for sex, no matter how politely.
It’s as if someone knew you had a college degree (a real one, not some X studies BS) and they offered you a crappy minimum-wage job. It’s ok to be bothered by such kind of offers, but the dishonesty was that Watson didn’t explicitly state that men below her league should not hit on her, instead she made up a BS excuse to shame a broad range of behaviors, which would have been consider acceptable if not for the attractiveness and status difference (although, to her credit, she didn’t name the guy).
You could argue that the rule is common sense and ElevatorGuy should have known it already, and he should have been able to measure his own attractiveness and status against Watson’s. True. But ElevatorGuy was evidently socially challenged, and Watson could have been more charitable in reacting to the incident, given that he didn’t insult her on purpose, and he was polite and took no for an answer, and that the broad shaming that she did does no good to men who suffer from social anxiety, who are common in atheist/skeptic/nerd circles (e.g.). But men don’t deserve any empathy, according to modern feminism.
In any case ElevatorGate wouldn’t have been a significant issue hadn’t Watson not decided to use her stage, a few days later, to publicly call out in most uncharitable terms the woman who had criticized her for her initial reaction. Then Dawkins weighted in with his “Dear Muslima” post, and all Hell broke loose.
How exactly do you know this?
People do not forfeit their right to advocate for certain boundaries by being publically attractive. You’re wrapped up in this hypothetical whereby a sufficiently attractive man would have had sex with her all night, and it’s based in nothing more than personal observations that are typically warped by loneliness and resentment (I say that because there have been times when this way of looking at the world made sense to me, and they were always during the periods where romantic success seemed most elusive). In the real world, there are many many women who would never take a man who they had just met back to their hotel room, no matter how hunky he was–and many of those same women are also aware that attractive men are often no better at handling rejection than unattractive ones. You should read everything on this blog, imo.
First: Being exhibitionist isn’t the same as using sex appeal to gain social power.
Second: The claim is that a more attractive man would not have gotten the negative reaction the individual in question got, not that he would have successfully slept with her. My response to this claim is “Depends on evidence not in evidence” (since as far as I know we have no idea who the guy in question is). Treating this claim as deriving from sexual frustration is dishonest; it is a fundamentally different claim, about how attractiveness impacts how people react to you. The steelmanned version of this claim is that she wouldn’t have found an advance from an attractive man, regardless of whether she took him up on it, as a threat.
I feel like something that everyone who makes this “it’s about the attractiveness/status/etc. of the asker, not the actual circumstances” argument misses is that it’s always about both and that that’s true of everything.
If a coworker I’m not close with asks me to look over a side project of theirs at lunch, I’ll probably be interested and happy to do it. If they call me at home at 2AM I’ll be pissed off and think they’re weird/desperate/an asshole. If Elon Musk asks me to look over one of his side projects, I’ll be flattered and accept no matter how shitty the circumstances.
No comments on the elevator thing specifically, because I didn’t follow it, but in general “but if someone of really high value had [done bad thing] you wouldn’t have been offended, therefore [bad thing] isn’t really bad and you are a hypocrite” isn’t a fair argument. Being more likely to forgive the objectionable behavior of people we find attractive/valuable is a human universal and doesn’t mean we don’t actually find the behavior objectionable.
Yes it sucks that men who are less attractive/wealthy/high status have less leeway asking women out, but it doesn’t make the women bad people.
the idea that people set up fake “rules” about where you are allowed to ask people out, with the goal of expanding them to everywhere, with the implicit exception of “but if I find you attractive in return it will all be okay,” and that these rules will destroy innocent people,
that idea, I don’t find crazy.
But when you type “My next objection is that Rebecca Watson is basically the female equivalent to Harvey Weinstein” that’s your clue you should have stopped ahead of this.
Even if you say “I only meant women like this, not Rebecca herself” it’s too late. You have lost the ability to argue about the meta-level because it’s pretty obvious that, even if Watson is exactly a calculating succubus, that’s nowhere near Weinstein levels.
When you are arguing for something controversial, be willing to stop at that first controversy.
I get that you feel angered and demeaned by the world working this way. That’s all the more reason to be careful in how you argue.
(You know how you hate it how some progressives keep on ratcheting the definition of “white supremacist” to include people advocating for free speech for republicans? Don’t do similar ratcheting yourself. Weinstein is horrible and I get, at an intellectual level, why you are trying to appeal to his revulsion by tying Watson to him, but it’s just as incorrect and self-defeating as those progressives trying to tie anyone who votes pro-life to white supremacy.)
Standing alone it doesn’t, but I think women are bad to the extent that they are dishonest about the situation. Also, I think there is a minimum leeway. What elevatorguy did was well within the leeway which should be accorded all men. Therefore it is bad to condemn his behavior.
I think the better-phrased version of the objection isn’t that attractive people get away with more, but that there are classes of behavior which are only regarded as negative when the person engaging in them isn’t attractive. Which is to say, if Elon Musk wakes you up at 3 in the morning, you are willing to overlook the behavior, whereas an attractive man asking a woman out in a less-than-ideal situation isn’t even something to overlook.
Imagine a nerd in high school asking a girl out, and her going “Ew, no, gross”, and you have something of the mental model of the people you are talking to.
I don’t think it is a particularly accurate mental model, but it is inaccurate in a very particular way, in that a lot of men think of their own sexual desire as creepy and unwanted (helped along to no small extent by social messaging that male desire is inherently rapey), so they interpret things like this as being, effectively, total blanket prohibitions on them expressing interest at all. (Note: Lesbians also complain about this. It isn’t just men.)
Those who develop a self-awareness of this tend to get angry at the social messaging behind it. This is an example of that kind of social messaging, reinforcing the narrative of male sexual interest as creepy and unwanted, so people got angry about it. Like almost all examples of this messaging, I think this was largely unintentional, which makes it perfect toxoplasma territory.
I find that far less interesting than the metadynamic; the trend by which men are expected to anticipate and take women’s feelings into account when interacting with them, but expecting the same of women is sexism (the asymmetry arising because men are expected to initiate interactions). So men with poor social skills are regarded as violating social protocol, but women with poor social skills shouldn’t be challenged.
Thanks for your concern, but I’d rather discuss the actual positions I have taken than the meta-question of whether it is advisable to combine those positions.
Again, thanks for your concern about my feelings, but I would prefer not to have the meta-discussion. Feel free to assume that I am angry, or happy, or feeling any emotion you want. It doesn’t affect the strength or weakness of my arguments.
Standing alone it doesn’t, but I think women are bad to the extent that they are dishonest about the situation.
Whoa, I take great galloping exception to “women are bad to the extent…”
I deny that a pretty girl rejecting sex with a guy she barely knows ever makes her a bad person. If she fornicates with a man who had the genetic luck to be handsomer than you, she’s not a bad person for not fornicating more!
Also, what about invincible ignorance of how our behavior makes you feel? Some of us have an Aspergers diagnosis*, you know.
*I was diagnosed when the DSM-IV was the Bible, so nyeh.
– It does affect your argument when you start calling women whores, and comparing them to sexual predators on incredibly tenuous grounds.
Because Bayesian Evidence: If you look like the sort of person who would make a bad argument, your argument is more likely to be bad, and thus less worthy of giving serious consideration to. There is no shortage of people ranting about the state of the world, no shortage of arguments to look at and consider.
Do you want some extra straw to go with your strawman?
Thank you again for your CONCERN. Let’s do this, I will restate my argument using a word other than “whore” and you will donate 1000 dollars to a charity of my choosing. That way, your criticism will have been effective and I will know that you are genuinely interested in helping me.
I don’t care about you, I don’t care to help you, I want you to stop making things harder for other people who are more interested in changing people’s minds than showing off how edgy they can be, for a version of edgy that was interesting twenty years ago when I started this hobby of arguing with people on the internet. You are a boring try-hard who surrounds semi-decent argument with semi-offensive nonsense because it distracts people away from the points you think you are making, and thus deflects criticism of them, making you the winner in a game nobody else cares to play with you.
Oh, and whatever points you might have gotten for your concern trolling joke, you lost by repeating it and emphasizing it. I hope that was a joke, at least. Otherwise, well, are you secretly a 90s feminist?
Do you want some extra straw to go with your strawman?
There has been some miscommunication over your argument “Women are bad to the extent that they’re dishonest about this.” It would be beneficial to clarify “this.” You have to expect “Women are bad to the extent…” to be inflammatory and require clarity of argument more than a really bland truth claim.
In that case, there’s no need to offer unsolicited advice. But thanks again for your CONCERN.
Not really, I think it’s pretty clear. There are a couple possibilities here:
First, you honestly believe that I stated or implied that a girl is a bad person simply for rejecting an offer of sex from a stranger. In that case, your comprehension skills are so poor that there is no point in engaging with you.
Second, you don’t actually believe that I stated or implied that a girl is a bad person simply for rejecting an offer of sex from a stranger. In that case, you are so mendacious that there is no point in engaging with you.
So no, I’m not going to clarify what I stated. If it was unclear, you could have requested clarification rather than put ridiculous words in my mouth.
+3 points for pithy reiteration, -2 points for that being your sole excuse for trying to put in the last word in an argument, -3 points for not noticing the extremely obvious “”Psychoanalyzing people on the Internet is so 00s” counterjoke – or even better, using it as the basis to psychoanalyze me, and using that as the basis of a truly devastating attack on how I must feel I have something to prove by playing petty status games, thus asserting a higher social status than me.
Of course, I am engaging in the same sort of petty status signaling behavior by grading your responses, suggesting I am in a position to grade them. Maybe you could use that in your next response? Well, not now that I have mentioned it, that would just be sad.
(And I do believe we have established I do not have concern for you, so while the thanks is politely appreciated, it is nonetheless inappropriate.)
Less of this type of exchange please.
Thanks 🙂 And of course, thanks for your concern. 🙂
Occasionally I am disappointed that there isn’t a moderator who can lock certain threads. Since this thread seems to result in little more than hostile exchanges, I suggest a voluntary end to this thread, which I shall try to initiate using an officially looking:
@Aapje: Yeah, this thread is garbage and my preference would be for Scott to get rid of fortaleza84 for calling women whores and insulting other SSCers. Thanks for proposing a kludge.
Also offensive to sex workers to use “whore” as an insult, while we’re at it.
If you want to suggest a better word for someone who uses their sex appeal to get ahead, I’m all ears.
I do not. Instead, I would prefer to suggest that it would be better to do without having a convenient single word than to use a word with such baggage. If you intended the baggage, I suggest you should be less offensive, and if you did not intend the baggage, I suggest you think more about the baggage of the words you use. If those were not the suggestions you were looking for, I suggest that many feel similarly about many of your suggestions.
Perhaps, but I would prefer that you use the principle of charity. My position is that a person who uses their sex appeal to gain opportunities is fundamentally no different (in terms of moral reprehensability) than a person (such as a Hollywood Movie Mogul) who uses their ability to offer opportunities to get sex.
By the way, in the case of Rebecca Watson, she evidently posted a naked picture of herself on her blog in order to enhance her prominence in the “skeptic” community. At dictionary.com, the third definition of “whore” is as follows:
I would say it applies, but I would prefer not to have a semantic debate.
I would prefer not to be lectured about charity by someone so obviously lacking in it. Evidently we can’t always get what we want.
Look, you can have whatever opinion you want of people who’ve advanced their careers or social lives through sex appeal. But as a practical matter, if you go throwing the word “whore” around, you’re going to derail the thread ten times out of ten. Do it often enough and eventually Scott’s going to ban you on grounds of disruption or creating an unwelcoming environment or inciting the wrath of Those Who Must Not Be Named or something. And I’m not sure he’d be wrong to.
So how about we all chill out, let this thread die the ignominious death it deserves, and go back to talking about more important stuff, like Vietnamese food?
You’re right that this is toxoplasma territory. I mostly felt the need to interject because I perceive this as a place where charity, truth, and outcomes count the most. Given your value (whatever that may mean) to another person characterizes all interactions, it seems uniquely uncharitable, false, and useless to characterize people who say “don’t ask women out under circumstance X” as hypocrites and gnash ones teeth about social structures that are difficult for men who have trouble reading social rules and might be considered unattractive. The charitable and (in my view) honest interpretation is that the statement typically means is “women are less likely to respond positively to being asked out under circumstance X than otherwise” and the useful reaction is to do ones best to learn how to read social cues and appear attractive to someone while advocating in a non-angry manner that social norms that paint male sexuality as creepy are bad (in my experience the “if they were attractive” line is usually delivered resentfully, and anger only works if you can mobilize a large and influential coalition).
As to the meta-level, it’s odd and I don’t like it that the onus for initiating romantic interactions is on men, but there’s consolation that in optimized pair-matching, the group that initiates has better outcomes: https://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/academic/class/15251-f10/Site/Materials/Lectures/Lecture21/lecture21.pdf
You had started making reasonable arguments, but then you derailed the discussion with inflamatory remarks such as “Rebecca Watson is basically the female equivalent to Harvey Weinstein”, “Watson types as basically whores”, and “women are bad to the extent that they are dishonest about the situation”.
It is difficult to have an intellectually honest and productive discussion about the relevant issues (e.g. the social norms pertaining dating, the dynamics of the skeptic movement, the role of modern feminism in it, etc.) once somebody starts throwing this kind of vitriolic comments.
Many things can be phrased in a way that triggers many people emotionally and thus blocks their ability to engage with you effectively or in a way that doesn’t and thus allows for debate. You were doing the former.
You are also wildly speculating about a person’s motives for a situation that calls for sticking to the known facts, rather than project things on a person.
This shit don’t work.
That’s only true for men who actually initiate often enough and/or don’t experience mental trauma due to a high rejection rate.
This seems like an unpersuasive argument in an environment where there are many men who fail at one or both of these.
PS. Strategy 2: derailing a shitty thread
I will readily concede that it is neither great, nor universal consolation.
Hey, skep sister,
Ain’t that Mr. Status
On the radio, stereo?
The way you blog ain’t fair you know
Hey, skep sister
Don’t you sex appeal
A single guy you see, toniiiiight
I’ll concede that the word “whore” is offensive to some people, but here’s the thing: There is a pattern in our society of people who use sex (or sex appeal) to get various goodies — money, status, etc. This pattern is sufficiently commonplace that it’s reasonable to have a word for it to facilitate observation and discussion. And in fact there is a word for it — we call these people “whores.” And yes, they are mostly women.
If it were just a matter of the word itself being offensive, then someone would have suggested a substitute which nobody really has yet. Which makes me think that the problem is not the word itself, but noticing and discussing the pattern.
One thing I’ve notice in the last couple years on internet discussions is that you can observe that certain negative personality traits are more common in men than in women, for example violent antisocial behavior or intellectual narcissism, and it’s not much of a problem. But if you observe that some negative personality traits are more common in women than men, people tend to get on your case. And I strongly suspect that’s the real problem with the word “whore.”
So yeah, it might derail the discussion in some sense, but that’s more the fault of the people who want to shut down discussion that puts women in a bad light.
My position is that a person who uses their sex appeal to gain opportunities is fundamentally no different (in terms of moral reprehensability) than a person (such as a Hollywood Movie Mogul) who uses their ability to offer opportunities to get sex.
I probably shouldn’t be continuing this exchange, but I think you misunderstand why people are mad at Harvey Weinstein. The issue is not that he used his success to get more sex, it’s that he assaulted/harassed people. Or at least that’s the allegation; whether it’s true I guess is yet to be determined. If he used his money and fame to get lots of sex but it was all consensual, then he’s not morally reprehensible. And if it wasn’t consensual, then that’s the problem–not his promiscuity.
People do sometimes slut-shame men who’ve have a lot of sexual partners, calling them misogynists or womanizers, and I don’t think that’s fair; I’m against slut-shaming regardless of which gender it’s directed at. But, again, that’s not what people’s problem is with Weinstein: the issue is that (if his accusers are telling the truth) he assaulted people. (And also apparently masturbated into a potted plant in front of someone, but I guess that falls more into the category of public indecency. Anyway.)
You haven’t really explained why you consider it so immoral for someone to use their attractiveness to advance their career. Both men and women do this. You think boy bands get popular for their singing talent? Possibly women do it more, but that’s probably just because men highly value female attractiveness, so there’s more opportunity. Are you against porn? That’s all about people (especially women) explicitly capitalizing on their attractiveness.
I can see how it could be viewed as shallow or manipulative (and hypocritical in Watson’s case, since she talks a lot about not wanting to be viewed as a sexual object), but in general, as long as there’s no deception or coercion involved I don’t see anything wrong with it. And if your issue with Watson is just her hypocrisy, well, I’d agree. I find her hypocritical and judgmental and generally kind of an unpleasant person. But I also think comparing her to a sexual predator just for being a hypocrite is a bit…over the top.
I don’t think that’s his claim. Unless I misunderstood it, it is that she would have been flattered by an attractive man making a pass at her, not that she would necessarily have gone along with it.
There is also the phenomenon of people who use their fame to get (unfair) advantages, but there is not a 1-word term for that kind of behavior. So you just have to use more words to describe that. That is also an option for people who trade sex for favors in a way that is not exactly like sex work (which is typically defined as trading sex with strangers for money). Ultimately it seems like you would have used far fewer words in total and have your words taken seriously by more people, if you’d done that from the start.
There are many things that you can’t explain well with one word. Then the solution is to use more words. Although now I think of it, you could also use the term ‘sex bribe’ which seems sufficiently neutral to work.
One solution is to spread around the blame. When people get unfair advantages, based on a quid-pro-quo exchange with authority, the authority is also to blame. More specifically, if it is mostly men who are willing to give unfair advantages, then this phenomenon is also caused by shitty male behaviors.
@Hyzenthlay (& fortaleza84)
If people trade sex for benefits from people in power, it’s immoral in the same way that it’s immoral for a rich kid to bribe a teacher to get better grades. The teacher is an agent for the school and since the school is acting as an agent for society, for society as a whole. The power is granted to the teacher to enable them to fulfill the mission of the school/educational system, not for them to trade that power for personal benefits. Ultimately, it is a defection from a societally beneficial norm and legitimizes other forms of defection.
It also harms egalitarianism, because there is no gender symmetry here. Quite obviously, women can do this more often than men, because of asymmetry in sexual dissatisfaction (and other factors) making men way more willing to ‘pay’ for sex. That this is true is also evident in the number of prostitutes that cater to men vs those that cater to women.
However, once you get further away from this kind of scenario, the issue becomes more of an unavoidable reflection of the unfairness of nature. People get happy from looking at pretty people. Not everyone is equally pretty. So if we increase people’s happiness by making pretty people more prominent in society, this means that less pretty people get fewer opportunity. So we get to get to choose how to deal with the hand that nature dealt us, which doesn’t allow for both perfect fairness and maximizing human happiness.
In so far that Watson seems to have used her sexuality, it is the latter kind where the morality is very muddy and the level of unfairness & harm is not that high; not the former kind, which is obviously wrong and harmful to society. Weinstein was a particularly bad example of the former kind, which makes it really silly to make the comparison between Watson and Weinstein. In fact, even just the claim that Watson is (significantly) more immoral than any other random person for making a semi-nudie calendar for which she posed herself is so trivial an accusation that it reflects way more badly on the person making the accusation than Watson.
Assault and harassment are two different things. And “harassment,” as that word is commonly used, definitely includes the situation where someone in a position of power makes use of his perceived power to get sex from people who want or need things from that someone. If Harvey Weinstein had not had a station which gave him influence over acting opportunities, the story never would have happened.
And even the assaults — if they actually took place — were a direct result of his perceived power. If you don’t believe me, you can do an experiment by inviting random hot girls to come back to your hotel room with you and hang out. You can even offer them free coffee to sweeten the deal. Of course you will find that none of them agree to your offer.
That’s true that I haven’t. Nobody has asked me. Anyway, I think it’s like bribing someone to get an advantage. It’s not fair to other more deserving people and it’s not fair to the institution whose agent is accepting the bribe. It demoralizes people who are trying to achieve things on their own merits and puts pressure on them to seek their own unfair advantages.
Actually, some people have argued that Harvey Weinstein did nothing wrong — that he simply gave actresses an option which they were free to accept or decline. If we accept that premise, it follows that the counterparties to the transaction were similarly blameless. that if a young woman wants to s*ck and f*ck her way to the top, there’s nothing wrong with it. You go girl!
No, and in fact I will concede that there are certain pursuits where it is completely normal and reasonable and acceptable for a person to use their sex appeal or even actual sex to get ahead. By the same token though, the counter-parties to such transactions are acting reasonably.
So for example, if I am a promoter who is trying to organize the next Spice Girls act, it’s reasonable for me to tell applicants that they must wear revealing clothes. In normal life if I were hiring a secretary or intern this would be totally unacceptable and in fact at my business, female workers often need to be reminded that my office is not a nightclub.
Yes of course, this is so obvious that it pretty much goes without saying, i.e. that there is a lot more opportunity for women to use sex and sex appeal to get ahead. That anyone feels the need to point it out supports my earlier point — people are just very sensitive to observations or arguments which can be read to put women in a negative light.
Yes I am in fact, mainly because of the superstimulus problem. But I have no problem conceding that in a world where porn is acceptable, it’s legitimate for people in the porn industry to use their sex appeal to get ahead.
“predator” is a bit of a loaded word, but I looked up the definition and found this:
Ruthless is defined as follows:
Exploit is defined as follows:
Do people like Rebecca Watson fall within these definitions? Arguably, yes. Still, I wouldn’t call her a sexual predator since that phrase connotes that the predator is receiving sex from people. Also, I will concede that her predation, so to speak, is more mild than that of Harvey Weinstein since she’s just using men for clicks, views, and other forms of attention whereas Weinstein was getting serviced in a much more intimate way.
Maybe I’m misremembering, but I thought the initial outrage was all over Weinstein’s use of the casting couch. Accusation of assault came a few days later, but there was already plenty of outrage direct at him before that.
If I understand what you are talking about, I think that’s pretty uncommon compared to situations involving sex. Can you give me a couple examples?
Sure, and in fact even people who are defending Harvey Weinstein don’t seem to have a problem referring to him as a “sleazeball.” But anyway, it’s true that one way to avoid offending the gynocracy is to be careful to cast aspersions on men whenever one is making a comment that puts women in a negative light.
I think that the situation of Watson is a good deal worse than a “pretty person” who gets more attention because people like to look at pretty people. It’s pretty clear that she actively and aggressively took advantage of her sex appeal as a young woman. That’s almost certainly why she calls her blog “skepchick” and why she posted a naked picture of herself on her blog.
P.S. If you are not at work, do an image search for “skepchick” “calendar.”
Eh, at this point I am reasonably certain our friend here is a troll, and I would guess from a message board somewhere aiming to troll us. Probably a low-status member trying to win internet points among his peers.
His responses to my own counter trolling (sorry about that, by the way) don’t fit. He cares about his performance enough to make a response to try to get me to continue making a fool of myself, but he doesn’t care what we think of him, as that is exactly all his responses accomplish.
His arguments are half-clever, in the manner of somebody writing a book report based on somebody’s cliff notes, and he is trickling in just enough inflammatory nonsense to keep people engaged.
So, ah, shall we stop feeding the troll?
Celebrities gets lots of free stuff
Celebrities obviously get to cut in line a lot as well and simply by standing out and people desiring to interact with them, people pay way more attention to their needs.
But you are also more accurate if you acknowledge this! The people who exclusively blame men are not wrong in the sense that men never do bad things, they are wrong for exaggerating the culpability of men and hypocritically ignoring or downplaying the transgressions by women.
Neither of those acts have only one possible motive. You are making assumptions about her motives. You also have no idea how much advantage (and disadvantage) she actually got from using that name and posting that picture. What you are doing is wildly speculating and not in good faith either.
You may be very offended by people who take advantage of their looks, but to people who don’t feel that way (which is most people), you come across as pattern matching way too aggressively and getting extremely angry over a very, very minor issue. That gets you classified as a crank at best and suspected of misogyny at worst. It doesn’t help your cause.
I would suggest you stick to the more easily defensible and to use extreme hyperbole less. It’s way more persuasive.
Pay attention to the progression of claims.
“She rejected him because he was ugly”
“She is a whore”
“She is like this male sexual predator”
“Women are sexual predators when they use their sex appeal to their advantage” (handsome men, I guess, are just lucky?)
“This male sexual predator didn’t really do anything wrong”
“Any criticism of women is frowned upon, therefore gynocracy”
Does any of this scream “This is a person it is useful to engage with”? Or is it more a slowly escalating series of semi-related nonsense?
I mean, the start of this was half of us trying to steelman his pointlessly angry commentary, at which point he started ratcheting up the invectives, because we weren’t responding the way he wanted.
You locked the thread earlier, that was the right move, stick to it.
Yeah, sorry. I should indeed stop.
Lol, nice cope Senor Rumplestiltskin.
I see. In my experience this phenomenon is far less common than people using sex and/or sex appeal to gain advantages. Presumably because there are very few celebrities in the world compared to the number of people who are sufficiently sexually attractive to take advantage.
Sure, and in fact I did. Re-read what I originally said, I clearly labeled Weinstein as a “sleazeball.” But that’s apparently not enough for the gynocracy.
Yes, it’s possible that it’s an amazing coincidence that Watson is in a profession where attention is all-important and she just happens to do one of the easiest legal things a woman can do to get attention.
Lol, thanks for your concern, but I’ll let you in on a secret: This stuff is not my cause. I’m a successful political activist but what I work on has absolutely nothing to do with gender relations, feminism, sexual harassment, or anything like that. Now and then a young woman bats her eyelashes at me and hints that she wants a job, or financial assistance, or to make use of my connections, or whatever, and I just laugh about it to myself.
I am posting solely because I enjoy calling out the depravity of modern Western culture, in pointing out that the emperor is indeed naked. But enough meta-discussion. You seem to be of the opinion that it’s very difficult to know another person’s motivation. Fine, then you don’t know mine. So please don’t make assumptions and don’t try to change the subject.
That’s true that I haven’t. Nobody has asked me. Anyway, I think it’s like bribing someone to get an advantage. It’s not fair to other more deserving people and it’s not fair to the institution whose agent is accepting the bribe. It demoralizes people who are trying to achieve things on their own merits and puts pressure on them to seek their own unfair advantages.
If it’s a situation where, say, a woman flirts with her male boss in order to get a promotion, then yes, I’d say that’s unfair to the other employees who may have actually earned that promotion, and she’s behaving unethically. But I’d also say that the boss is at least equally complicit in that, since he’s the one actually making the decision and enabling her.
And that’s also not really the situation with Watson. She’s not in an office environment and not a part of any institution AFAIK, she’s just a well-known Internet personality, and it’s pretty typical for Internet celebrities to be attractive people who use their attractiveness to get followers.
Troll feeding and all that.
Sure, I’ve been saying all along that when someone trades sex (or sex appeal) for opportunities there are two parties to the transaction who are potentially culpable. Sometimes one party is more culpable and sometimes it’s the other.
She did more than just be pretty. She posted a naked picture of herself on her “skeptic” blog. She apparently sold a pinup calendar of risque pictures of herself and other girls to earn money and promote her blog. And it’s not like hers was a fashion blog or a fitness blog or any thing like that.
In this case, the “other employees” are other bloggers who would have received some of the attention, status, and money Watson received if she hadn’t made use of her sexuality to get ahead.
The problem I see with speaking against “sex bribes” or “being a vixen” is that it covers such a broad range of behavior that rigorously defining it would end up adopting the Islamic concept of modesty.
In Western culture, a young woman posting a nude photo on her blog is videoing to get attention and money. In Amazonian tribes, women walk around naked 24/7. And if you’re a Muslim on the internet, women posting photos with their hair exposed are showing off their sex appeal.
I agree that the behavior I am criticizing is difficult to define rigorously, but why is that a problem? I am not proposing a law against Rebecca Watson’s shenanigans and in fact she almost certainly has a constitutional right to post naked photos of herself online.
Also, the same criticism could be made of many types of behavior, for example making sexual advances towards another person — when does it cross the line into immoral harassment? It’s very difficult to draw that line in a rigorous way and the way it would be drawn would probably be very different between the United States and Saudi Arabia; between the streets of Manhattan and the jungles of Brazil; or even just walking a few blocks from Williamsburg to Green Point or Bed-Stuy.
Unless I’m missing something, describing the image as a “naked picture” is a bit misleading. She is not, so far as I can tell, wearing any clothes, but most of her is covered from the camera by the book she is holding so that she isn’t actually exposing any parts of her normally covered in public.
Given that she appears to be naked, I think it’s reasonable to describe it as a “naked picture.” But if you like, you can call it a “risque picture” or a “salacious picture” or a “tasteful nude” or whatever you like. It won’t change the fact that the picture is obviously intended to be sexually provocative.
I call this ‘American naked.’ I’ve noticed in the past that American media often use the standard that if you can tell that the person is not wearing any clothes, then this counts as a ‘naked picture.’ This despite the person usually hiding their naughty bits behind an object. I don’t see the particular distinction between hiding one’s bits with clothing or a book, but then again, arousal often results from suggestive stimuli.
So this use of the word ‘naked’ may be an outcome-based classification (causes arousal -> naked), rather than a more objective use of the word.
Skald, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this guy before on this blog. Whether or not he’s a troll I can’t comment, but at the very least he’s not a newly come one. If he’s doing it for the amusement of some forum, he’s been doing it for a while.
Three threads where he’s commented.
Calling people “trolls” is such a counter-productive Ad-Hominem-type of argument and such a Bulverism. “Hmmm, I wonder what this person’s motivations are for having wrongthink? Is this person either just mistaken or a deliberate troll?” It’s like asking, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” It assumes the person’s guilt or error, which is exactly the point of contention that has yet to be demonstrated.
Arguments should be able to survive or fall based on their own merits, regardless of the qualities or intentions of their authors.
This has been a most intellectually stimulating thread, with good arguments from both sides, and it disappoints me to see, in this bastion of rationalism, calls for ostracizing fortaleza84’s arguments by calling on people to “lock the thread” or “not feed the troll.” That is a cop-out. I would not say that fortaleza84’s arguments have been a slam-dunk (there have been many holes appropriately poked in his/her ideas), but it is a sign of cowardice and inability to decisively debunk his/her ideas when the opposition gives up and simply calls on the rest of the thread to ostracize the “wrongthinker.”
A large part of me would very much like to believe that fortaleza84’s arguments are not true (I am a communist, after all), so it saddens me to see some posters give up on actually engaging with fortaleza84 and thereby, to the impartial lukers, appearing to cede the argument to fortaleza84.
After going through this thread, a collection of comments:
@:Le Maistre Chat
That was not his claim, or anything close to his claim. It was that complaining at length about being propositioned because the man who propositioned her wasn’t attractive made her a bad person.
And, later, on the same topic
As someone else pointed out, you are illegitimately insulting prostitutes by using the term “whore” to describe this behavior. A whore is not doing any of those things, she is simply trading sex for money.
Now you are being unfair to fortaleza. The advantage he attributes to handsome men is that their passes are either accepted or at least not treated as rude. He hasn’t objected to the fact that good looking women find it easier to get sex, he’s objected to their using their sexual attractiveness to get things he doesn’t think it entitles them to, such as promotions. There is no evidence that he doesn’t disapprove of the same behavior by men, and he clearly does disapprove of the version where men use their ability to hand out benefits that don’t really belong to them (parts in a movie) to get sex.
Is that what happened, though? The story I heard is that she mentioned it briefly as an example of what not to do, which seems perfectly reasonable. The fighting didn’t start until later.
I think you raise some important concerns, but I have others. First to note calling someone a troll is not necessarily an ad hominem or Bulverism so long as it comes at the end of a judgement about someone being wrong rather than at the beginning. Sometimes people >are< trolling, and this situation has several troll indicia: intentionally inflammatory language, the staking out of maximally outrageous positions followed the tiniest retreats necessary to continue the posting, and making itself the subject of discussion (irony). Thegnskald has pointed out troll indicia above–I do not see a conclusory ad hominem but rather a reasoned judgement with the troll label at its end. Not to say you can't disagree, but there is definitely a basis here on which one could reasonably conclude troll.
There are many reasons not to feed trolls and I think a few of them have manifested in this thread.
1. It can be a waste of time. Even if you can find nuggets of reason in the troll's posts, better to argue about them with someone else.
2. By deliberately angering people trolls cause wrongful harm.
3. They expand the window of debate, causing further future harms of type 1 and 2.
4. Based on your comment this might conflict with your epistemology, but in my view arguments are not so simple. They are a combination of rhetoric and persuasion and the creation of new vocabularies and metaphors for understanding the world. In considering and responding to a troll, we think the world through the troll's eyes, changing what we perceive. While there is a certain virtue in ignoring the edginess of an argument or its expression and evaluating it in its best light, I think this can also be fetishized. Taking pride in considering any argument “on its merits” no matter how apparently offensive is going to change the world and how you see it and one day you too will be a troll unable to converse with most people on the interwebs or be nice to women, and in threads like this one you too will receive the pity of strangers that you claim not to want.
5. Sometimes not responding to a dumb argument is more convincing to observers who will see (or feel) the wrongness of the argument, shrug or shudder, and move on. This raises questions about who might actually be moved one way or another by the troll and how to best reach the audience of lurkers in any given context.
As mentioned earlier, if you believe the word “whore” is a problem, feel free to suggest a substutute. For me actual sex workers are normallt referred to as “prostitutes”
Anyway, the phenonenom of people trading sex (or sex appeal ) for advantages is a sufficiently common pattern that it’s worth naming for purposes of analysis and discussion. I think that a lot of people would prefer to silence such discussion as frequently happens with any negative behavior which primarily engaged in by women. Is that the real problem? If not, the easy fix is to choose a substitute word.
Regarding the accusation of trolling, it’s false. I believe 100% in what I have stated. I don’t think it’s never appropriate to make such an accusation but I do think it’s wildly overused as a strategy to change the subject.
She did more than just be pretty. She posted a naked picture of herself on her “skeptic” blog…In this case, the “other employees” are other bloggers who would have received some of the attention, status, and money Watson received if she hadn’t made use of her sexuality to get ahead.
I think freelance writers and bloggers competing for the attention of the public are in a different position than employees working for the same boss.
Employees working for the same company are competing for the limited resources within that company. And an employer is in a position of authority over them and therefore has an obligation to be fair. It’s much more structured and much more of a zero sum game.
Bloggers are just providing all-purpose entertainment and content for anyone who wants it. It’s very much not a zero sum game; people can read as many blogs or follow as many YouTube channels as they want, so one blogger doing things to attract more attention is not necessarily taking attention away from others. In some cases they can signal-boost each other in a way that results in more traffic for everyone.
It’s irritating in Watson’s case because of the obvious contradiction in her values: “It’s so horrible how society turns women into sexual objects! Please buy my nude calendar in the link below.” But setting that aside, it’s her blog, her resources, her products. She can do whatever the hell she wants, and other bloggers can do whatever the hell they want.
I think you are confusing competition with corruption.
If a woman offers sexual favors to get her boss, himself an employee of the firm, to give her a promotion she does not deserve, that is corruption, just as it would be corruption if she offered to pay him money for the same purpose.
If someone gets viewers to look at her blog by taking advantage of the fact that she is a sexy woman, that’s competition. The viewers, unlike the boss, do not owe a duty of loyalty to anyone else. They are entitled to decide on whatever basis they wish which blog to read. It’s no more wrong than if she got them to read her blog by writing particularly entertaining prose.
Corruption is obviously a big problem when it comes to trades of sex for opportunities but I don’t think it’s the only problem.
Consider a Harvey Weinstein scenario where he offers movie roles in exchange for sex but his production company is well aware of what he is doing and accepts it (it seems this may have been the case) or alternatively he is the sole owner of the company so “it’s his company and he can do whatever he wants.”
In that case, I think most people would agree that it’s still pretty lousy of him to use his position of power to get sex. But if you don’t agree, fine. Because my bigger point is that both parties to the sex (or sex appeal) for opportunities trade are potentially worthy of condemnation.
I agree that the sex-for-opportunities exchange is a bigger moral problem in the context of the employer/employee relationship, but I disagree to the extent you are saying it’s a-ok with freelancers.
One can imagine a man who engages a freelance maid to clean his house and insists that she wear a revealing outfit while doing so. Or better yet, imagine the organizer of Skepticon invites Rebecca Watson to deliver a keynote speech, but the offer requires her to do a risque photo shoot and to wear a very short dress at the conference.
In both cases the exchange is purely a trade between freelancers and yet most people would agree that it is pretty lousy to use opportunities as a means to obtain sex or sexual gratification from a person. Even if the exchange is completely voluntary.
And if that’s the case, it follows that the counterparty to such a transaction is potentially culpable. Of course which party is more culpable depends on the circumstance, but ultimately, if Rebecca Watson uses naked pictures to get attention within the skeptic community, how is that less culpable than if some member of the community reverses the transaction and uses the offer of attention to get naked pictures of her?
The only argument I can think of is that most women desperately want or need money, professional opportunities, etc. And it’s the taking advantage of this desperation that’s a problem.
But by the same token, a lot of men desperately want female approval and female sexual gratification. And arguably it’s just as wrong to take advantage of this drive.
One can imagine a man who engages a freelance maid to clean his house and insists that she wear a revealing outfit while doing so.
If the service she’s offering is house-cleaning then it’s inappropriate to demand that she offer a separate service on top of that. It would be equally inappropriate and presumptuous if he said, “Oh, and while you’re here, cook me some dinner. And rake my leaves. And clean out my gutters. And give me a foot massage.”
On the other hand, if a maid service specifically advertises itself as being sexy maids who wear revealing outfits and who will give you a foot massage after they’re done cleaning your house, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, because the nature of the transaction is apparent up front. There are mild versions of this kind of thing with restaurants like Hooters, which I don’t feel are exploitative because the waitresses know exactly what’s going on and are choosing to work there.
how is that less culpable than if some member of the community reverses the transaction and uses the offer of attention to get naked pictures of her?
If some influential member of the community offered to get her more attention in exchange for naked pictures and she agreed, then yes, I’d say they’re both adults who made the choice to do that so they’re both culpable.
If someone is in a desperate financial situation I do think it’s predatory to deliberately use that desperation in order to pressure them to do something they’re uncomfortable with or that they might find degrading, but that applies to a wide range of situations, not just sexual.
I am not sure I understand your point. It seems you don’t dispute that the sort of immoral exploitation I am talking about can take place outside of the employer/employee relationship.
In fact, it seems you don’t dispute my basic point, which is that both parties to these sorts of transactions are potentially culpable.
You do seem to think that it would be ok for a conference organizer to demand a risque photo shoot in exchange for making Rebecca Watson a speaker. I disagree, but I think the more important point is that such a demand is morally equivalent to Watson volunteering such photos to promote herself.
I am not sure I understand your point. It seems you don’t dispute that the sort of immoral exploitation I am talking about can take place outside of the employer/employee relationship.
I dispute that any such exploitation is going on with Watson posting nudes of herself online. Who’s being exploited, exactly? Who’s the victim? You say “the other bloggers.” I’ve explained why I don’t find that a convincing answer–because it’s not a zero sum game and therefore she’s not taking anything away from them.
I didn’t comment on it before but I wouldn’t think it’s okay for a conference organizer to ask for nudes in exchange for a speaking role at a conference, or for her to provide them in that case, because that’s more similar to the employer/employee situation: there’s a power relationship and finite resources (in this case, speaking slots) that the organizer is expected to distribute fairly.
Do you feel the same way about someone who hires the services of a prostitute? What’s the difference between paying for sex with money and paying for sex with something else, such as a film role, if the something else is something you are entitled to give, as in your example? What does “power” here mean other than “ability to do something for someone (money or a film role) that the someone wants done”?
The only sense of wrong that occurs to me is that one reason men want to have sex with attractive women is because it makes them feel that they are sexually attractive, and in this case the man who feels that way is lying to himself. But I don’t think that is your point.
Pretty much everyone lies to themselves to protect their ego and it’s probably very healthy to do so to some extent. If you want to call that a problem, it’s really a problem with human nature, not the coping mechanisms that people use to satisfy their biologically determined needs as best they can.
Other bloggers are victims yes, but I wouldn’t say they are being exploited. The people being exploited are men who end up paying more attention to her than they otherwise would and in particular men in positions of power, e.g. conference organizers who book her due to the attention she receives.
I don’t think that’s quite the argument you made before; unless I got the wrong impression your earlier argument rested on the distinction between the employer/employee relationship and a freelancer relationship.
But anyway, I don’t think that the “zero-sum” argument holds water. One can imagine Harvey Weinstein pointing out that his industry is not a zero sum game. There is no fixed number of movies that needs to be made in a year, no fixed number of movie production companies, and no fixed number of professional actresses. The prospect of getting sex from actresses presumably incentivizes men, to some degree, to invest time and money creating films and film companies. And even within his own movie studio, he can and does spend money he otherwise would not have spent creating opportunities for the women he has sex with. So it’s not a zero sum game.
But again, it’s not a zero sum game. There could be a skeptical conference every month if there were enough interest, right? And having attractive female presenters in revealing clothes would increase the level of interest, agreed?
I would say it depends on the circumstances. So for example, if the prostitute is some financially desperate girl in the Third World and the customer is a Westerner who takes advantage of that financial desperation, then yeah, I think it’s a pretty lousy thing to do.
On the flip side, there are working girls who go through old-folks homes on the day social security checks come out.
In the middle, one can imagine a situation where a guy like Eliot Spitzer hires some fancy call girl, i.e. both parties have a lot of resources and options, neither is desperate for anything, and there is a good mutual understanding of what is to be exchanged. In this situation, my moral objections would be pretty minimal.
The difference is that the sleazy movie mogul is taking advantage of various girls’ desperate desire to succeed in the film industry. Actually I think that there is another factor in play, which is that the sleazy movie mogul is frustrating the reasonable expectation that film roles should be handed out on the basis of acting merit and not who has sex with whom. Admittedly, these sorts of reasonable expectations are a bit circular.
But either way, I think it doesn’t really matter to my bigger point. If it’s okay for the movie mogul to demand sex for roles, then it’s okay for the aspiring actress to seduce the movie mogul in order to land a role. If it’s okay for Rebecca Watson to post naked pictures of herself to get attention, speaking gigs, etc., then it’s okay for men to demand naked pictures of her in order to give her such advantages.
I take it your position is that if there is no agency issue, then everything is a-ok? So for example the landlord who solicits and accepts couch payments, the independent filmmaker with a casting couch, the hooker who goes around soaking up social security checks, the business owner who demands that his secretary give him a blowjob every morning, all these peoples’ behavior is okay?
a-ok is a little strong. There is something wrong with prostitution–successful barter sex, where both parties are doing it because they enjoy it, is a better way of producing the product. But people sometimes can’t manage to arrange that, due to the difficult double coincidence problem in barter, and prostitution may well be better than nothing. So I wouldn’t describe prostitution as either “a-ok” or wrong.
And the same is true for casual sex. The best way of using that set of desires is to create and maintain a long term partnership–marriage with or without the official label. To the extent that people who could do that end up with a series of short term relationships instead because they are too short sighted to make the investment of time and effort and accept the cost of less variety of partners, they are making a mistake, are worse off. But there may be people who are unable to manage a successful long term relation, perhaps because they cannot find a suitable match, and casual sex is probably better than celibacy. So casual sex is not “a-ok.” Neither is it wrong.
I want to get back to your “taking advantage of” “desperate desire” arguments, because I would like to understand the moral intuition behind them. Consider a situation where A very badly wants X which B can provide, and X belongs to B, morally as well as legally, meaning that he is entitled to do with it as he likes. That covers the entrepreneur/film producer who is working with his own money and choosing who to give roles to, or the land lord deciding whether to evict someone who doesn’t pay rent.
Which is better:
1. B does not provide X to A.
2. B provides X to A on condition of A sleeping with B.
Is B acting wrongly in either case (or both)?
Note that if your claim is that B is wicked in case 1, you have a problem, because you (and I, and pretty much everyone in the developed world not living at the literal minimal level of consumption) is B, where A is anyone in a very poor country who would be much better off with resources that you could provide.
I’m interested in your answer, but more in your explanation of it. My suspicion is that your implicit model is one in which B either gives A what she wants for free or insists on sex in exchange, not the much more plausible one in which he either doesn’t give it or insists on sex in exchange.
In my view, that would depend on the situation. If “X” is your hypothetical life-saving drug that will save the lives of 10 adorable babies who would have grown up to be Nobel-prize winning scientists, and would otherwise have been thrown in the trash, then yeah option (2) is better than (1).
On the other hand, if “X” is a few lines of cocaine, then I would go with option (1).
In the second case, B is acting wrongly. In the first case, I think it would depend on the situation in my view. There’s certainly no moral problem (in general) with evicting a person for non-payment of rent.
Anyway, I think I can anticipate where you are going with this. You are going to point out that following the moral principle I have set forth would lead to situations where parties refrain from mutually beneficial trades which both sides very much would like to engage in. And I will concede in advance that this is a problem.
So again, I will retreat to my larger point — that both parties to a sex-for-opportunities trade are potentially culpable. If it’s okay for the landlord to solicit and accept couch payments, then it’s okay for his sexy female tenant to visit his apartment in her shortest dress, sit down in his lap, and ask him if he’ll waive the rent for a month. Or neither is okay.
While that is true, my point was rather that treating someone else worse is, by your rules, better. Better that you let a poor woman starve to death than that you feed her in exchange for her sleeping with you. That strikes me as bizarre.
Neither is culpable if what the sex is buying is something the other party is entitled to sell–rent free occupancy of an apartment in a building he owns, a role in a movie he is producing with his own money. Both are forms of prostitution, and I don’t see why either the prostitute or her customer is culpable. I in particular do not see why they are especially culpable if she badly needs the money and so gets a large benefit from the transaction, which appears to be your position.
Not really, please re-read what I wrote:
Anyway, even if option (2) is “better,” it doesn’t change the fact that dangling life-saving medicine in front of someone as a means of extracting sexual services is a lousy thing to do. But let me ask you: If such conduct is not “a-ok” and not “wrong,” then what is it in your view?
Permissable but not admirable.
I still don’t think you have dealt with my point. Your view appears to be that the landlord who evicts the female tenant who can’t pay the rent is better than the landlord who accepts sex in payment. Hence the behavior towards the woman that is worse for her is, in your judgement, better.
I do not believe you ever answered the question of how you feel about the case where the landlord offers to accept some other service, such as mowing the lawn, instead of rent, or, if that’s different, why.
Similarly, if I correctly understand you, your view is that sleeping with a prostitute who has other alternatives almost as desirable for her as prostitution is all right, but sleeping with a prostitute who really needs the money and can’t get it in other ways is not. So increasing the benefit she gets from the transaction makes your engaging in the transaction worse, in your view.
I would say it depends on the specific facts of the situation. But I concede that situations can arise where people would have ended up better off had they been taken advantage of in the way I described.
Again it would depend on the specific facts of the situation, but I think that many types of services — such as mowing lawns — are much more comfortably commodified so that people are in a better position to make reasonable decisions about them and less susceptible to being taken advantage of. So that generally speaking, I would have much less of a moral objection.
There actually was an attorney disciplinary case a few years back where an attorney accepted some lap dances from a female client in lieu of cash payment. The twist was that the girl in question was a professional erotic dancer. Although the attorney was disciplined anyway, I think most people would agree that his behavior really wasn’t that bad due to his client’s profession. The key point here, I think, is that the girl had some professional sophistication and was used to selling her sexual services so she was in a good position to barter reasonably with the attorney and was much less susceptible to be taken advantage of.
If the individual is a prostitute, the analysis changes in my view. See above.
Your later comments indicate that your reference to ‘Dawkins harassment case’ wasn’t just clumsy phrasing, you actually believed he was responsible for harassment.
You should apologise and withdraw your comment.
The atheism plus thing was mostly people lambasting each other on Internet forums. I was in Austin at the time and nobody in ACA cared one way or the other about Dillahunty getting banned from the Atheist Plus forum which was a huge flashpoint online. The church-state separation activists (FFRF, NCSE, etc.) are all still plugging away. The progressives are still on FTB and skepchick. It’s just lost it’s cultural cachet in the same way the poker fad ended.
I think what you bring up is a little more on point than suntzuanime’s explanation. There was a real shitstorm surrounding Atheism+ and similar pushes that polarized New Atheists from the rest of liberal culture. One interesting question is why that occurred at all though—The Baffler’s first article pointed out much the same thing, but never explained why folks like Thunderf00t (The Amazing Atheist is another that comes to mind) were hostile to feminism before Atheism+ ever happened.
“never explained why folks like Thunderf00t… were hostile to feminism before Atheism+ ever happened”
That’s sort of obvious, isn’t it? Ordered, logical minds tend to become atheists. Such minds are also sensitive to blatant double standards.
It’s about as obvious as the million and one conflicting explanations for what happened to New Atheism in this very thread.
The funny thing is, many people would use that exact logic, literally word for word, to explain why they would expect atheists to generally be feminist. And, in fact, for a long time the feminist-atheist was a huge stereotype.
Yosarian, I think the point is that atheists don’t need a special atheist-specific reason to be hostile to feminism. Why “folks like Thunderf00t (The Amazing Atheist is another that comes to mind) were hostile to feminism before Atheism+ ever happened,” presumably for the same reason non-atheists become hostile to feminism.
@Yosarian2: Your comment makes sense for pre-1970 America, maybe pre-1980 America. Not so much for today’s America.
ksvanhorn: It’s very unclear to me if the main change between 1970’s and today are the feminists themselves, or how the feminists are perceived by people outside the movement. Today it seems like a lot of people are forming the opinion of what feminists are, not from feminist intellectuals or mainstream leaders of the feminist movement, but from “that crazy person I saw on Tumblr” or whatever.
I disagree. Feminists have a lot of access to the media and there is a pretty clear mainstream feminist agenda being pushed. Things like equal pay for equal work, rape culture, manspreading, safe spaces, etc.
Way more people hear those kind of messages from the media than from Tumbler. They also get turned into law and policy, so it impacts people too. It’s not just a crazy person with an opinion that gives feminism a bad name.
This strikes me as generally correct. I don’t claim to be particularly better at logic than anyone else, but at the least, my perception is that the same style of logical thinking that led me to becoming an atheist also led me to becoming a feminist. And, IME, being a feminist and being an atheist tend to be fairly well correlated.
But that’s different from the feminist movement and the atheist/New Atheist movement. While it’s fairly easy to be both a feminist and an atheist – and, in fact, the same causes can lead one to both – being a member of both movements seems to be a lot harder, because of the reasons ksvanhorn mentioned. New Atheists tend to be people who take atheism seriously – they didn’t land on it out of tribal convenience or coincidence, they chose it because it really matches their principles. Sometimes, those principles include things like lack of double standards, epistemic humility, empiricism. These things don’t conflict with feminism in the least, but they do conflict quite heavily with the current feminist movement, at least as represented by its loudest and most influential members. And this conflict exists even if those New Atheists are actually terrible at avoiding double standards or at being epistemically humble, or at avoiding faith-based thinking (as is often the case – though I’ve no reason to believe that it’s particularly more often than in the general population) – as long as they believe that they’re not terrible at those things, or as long as they believe that they aspire not to be terrible at those things.
It’s true that the ideology is not the movement, but many people are bad at recognizing that, and so that subset of New Atheists who value those above-mentioned principles end up identifying as anti-feminist, because they see feminists always conflicting with their principles. Even if their principles don’t conflict with feminism – heck, even if they are actively feminist.
I think the difference arises from a difference in philosophy.
You seem to be referring to a platonic ideal of feminism, versus feminism as actually practiced by most people.
For somebody who doesn’t think in terms of the platonic ideal of feminism, for whom feminism is only feminism as it is practiced, your differentiation makes no sense.
I agree with Thegnskald.
Egalitarianism is a fairly logical companion to atheism, IMO.
Whether feminism is a logical companion to egalitarianism is a more complex question.
It depends on what you mean by feminism. I doubt there are any atheists who believe women should be denied the rights that men also expect.
The arguments are about whether claims about pay gaps, rape statistics or the ‘non-existence’ of biological sex should be subject to the same skepticism we’d apply to any other truth claim.
Looking at what Thunderf00t’s earliest anti-feminism articles were, they don’t predate feminism’s attack on atheism, they’re specifically about it. He just called it a bit earlier than other people did. Watching his videos about the devastation after Atheism+ managed to destroy the movement, it looks like these aren’t feminists at all, they’re Shanley Kane-style trolls, and they succeeded in destroying New Atheism where they failed in similar attempts to destroy everything else because the New Atheists decided to try to placate and appease them at every level instead of drawing a line in the stand and telling them to go fuck themselves when they crossed it.
It’s not just Islam, there are other similar issues as well. Evolution is a big one, because it doesn’t fit in with the narrative on sexism, racism, etc. Just look at eg Jerry Coyne. He wrote a book called “Faith vs Fact” but a lot of the debates he gets into these days are defending evolution against the left.
I was kind of just half-reading (more scanning) this article waiting to get to the point where he mentions Islam and… it never came.
But I think that’s the answer and I think that answer is fairly obvious. In the post-Iraq, post-Abu Ghraib world, New Atheists persisted in their criticism of Islam – and in some cases, defense of Israel – long past the point where it became acceptable on the left. They also – especially in the case of Sam Harris – made their opposition to identity politics fairly well-known. This was a deadly combination.
It’s odd that he wasn’t able to recognize this, because it’s incredibly obvious and normally he notices things that are obvious in addition to things that, at least to me, are not obvious. Regardless, the new atheists weren’t kicked out of the blue tribe despite repeating totally banal shit everyone already new; they were kicked out because they challenged prevailing progressive orthodoxy. It’s pretty straightforward.
Sam Harris and Ben Afflek on Realtime
As a quick follow up, I really think this link pretty much provides all the data you need to clarify my point and answer the question posed by this article.
I hadn’t seen this before, but I’ve heard of it a lot and never bothered, and oh man it’s exactly what everyone promised.
It’s not so much that people like Sam Harris persisted in criticizing Islam — it’s that they became warmongers, getting in bed with the neoconservatives. Sam Harris even went so far as to say,
“Some beliefs are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them”
— The End of Faith, pp.52-53.
You are correct. The unique and militant tenor of the criticism is the real source of the divide. Of course, the position by the new atheists would be that this criticism is a mere response to the militant and violent nature of Islam as doctrine.
Yeah, the people who oppose progressives have this mental model wherein the objection to anti-Islam sentiment entirely boils down to “it’s bigoted and bigotry is bad.” There is no understanding of how much of it is about avoiding the next Iraq.
(for whatever that is worth, given that “the next Iraq” ended up being carried out by Obama, Hillary Clinton, and France, and went down so quickly that the anti-war left got caught totally flat-footed and to this day has largely failed to really internalize what happened and who did it)
I dunno man, that seems like a super pollyannaish reading of the progressive position on this front. I will say this: if the discomfort around criticisms of Islam on the left really does boil down to a pragmatic desire to avoid another bungled military adventure I would be really, really surprised and happy. I would also be mystified why they’re holding this so tight to the chest.
It’s certainly the case for myself and most of the people who I discuss politics with. I also don’t perceive it as being held too close to the chest.
Could be that I’m in a leftist bubble (the circles I run in are unabashedly anti-imperialist and love to talk about the damage done by the US, which is more problematic for more moderate Americans in a way that anti-bigotry isn’t). Could be a generational thing; I’m 32, so for me and everyone else in my age group 9/11 and Iraq are the foundational events. Could be you’re in your own bubble that de-emphasizes stronger leftist arguments in favor of ones that make it an SJWs thing. Could be (most likely is?) a combination of all the above.
You’re probably right that it’s a combination of several things. All the same, if the criticism were primarily an issue of pragmatics, i’d expect to see a much larger volume of responses to Sam Harris’s work hinge on its irresponsibility, recklessness, inability to see the larger picture, etc.
Now, I certainly have encountered those arguments and i’d agree that those are much stronger arguments. However, the criticism I encounter (by like a 15:1 ratio) almost purely revolves around his bigotry, racism, and – not kidding – blood lust.
Of course, all of this could fit into the “in a bubble” model you laid out.
Yeah, it’s one thing to criticize Islam, but another thing to put forward the dubious premise that the best way to reduce the influence of Islam in the world is to invade the Islamic world, take down secular dictators like Hussein or Assad that keep a lid on sectarian violence and extremism, and give Muslims 1,001 more reasons to get all worked up and hate on the infidels.
If change is going to happen in the Middle-East, it has to come from within. The one positive thing that the U.S. has done, in my opinion, is support the anarchist/communist YPG Kurdish militia (and its SDF umbrella group) in Syria. But this is obviously a temporary, opportunistic alignment that is bound to be abandoned as soon as ISIS is no longer a common enemy (especially since Turkey is staunchly against it), so I have no hopes or illusions that the U.S. will be consistent in this policy.
Does he expand on this position elsewhere?
No, he expands on it in the same location.
ksvanhorn, like virtually every other critic of Harris, lifted that apparently outrageous sentence out of its very reasonable context. Indeed, this happens so often there is a colloquial term for it.
Here is the paragraph in question, which resides in the 2nd chapter of The End of Faith, “The Nature of Belief”, in its entirety:
That last sentence is important. It illuminates the primary fracture between New Atheist critics of Islam and the progressive left. The former recognize that the root cause of Islamic violence is ideological; it rests on belief—specifically, a belief in what might be summarized “Islamic triumphalism.”
The latter thinks the root cause of Islamic violence is materialistic—poverty, political disenfranchisement, territorial disputes, etc. Or they anachronistically think it is a reaction to Western bombing campaigns, forgetting that throughout the 90s, when Al-Qaeda was hitting its stride, Western air power, in its interactions with Muslim populations, was largely protecting them—in Bosnia, halting the Serbian nationalists (admittedly too late) and in Iraq, enforcing the no-fly zone against Saddam’s gunships.
One of these views makes sense. The other does not. Too bad for New Atheists, the one that doesn’t is the morally fashionable one.
I don’t think that’s correct. I think a lot of people on the left agree that there are cultural problems in *some* Islamic societies, they just think that painting Islam as a whole with too broad of a brush just harms innocent people while making it harder for actual reformers.
If you look at recent events, it really looks like of those on the left strongly support people who are perceived as trying to reform Islam from the inside (Malala Yousafzai’s demands that girls in Pakistan get an education, the original Arab Spring protests who wanted a more secular democratic govnerment, women in Saudi Arabia who just successfully led a multi-year protest to get the right to drive, people protesting in Iran against unfair elections, ect.)
But there is a lot of concern that anything coming from the US that sounds like “America hates Muslims” inherently makes it much harder for those kind of reformers to succeed, especially since those reformers are generally Muslims themselves.
If you look at recent events, it really looks like of those on the left strongly support people who are perceived as trying to reform Islam from the inside
But apostasy from Islam makes you a right-wing monster (see Ayaan Hirsi Ali).
Oh, and the last time Muslims tried to reform Islam to be mellower and more distinct from politics got flushed down the memory hole. It’s us rightists who keep bringing up this while leftists want hijabs in the Olympics and burqinis on Western beaches.
LMC, that’s a terrible analogy. First off, people on the left love that Nasser speech too. ALLOWING people to wear what they want is also a good left-ish position. FORCING people to wear things is not okay by the left.
This is not a memory hole situation, and pretending it is is just demonization.
Here’s the problem: none of those people you mentioned are truly trying to reform Islam, a la the Protestant Reformation. Certainly, they’re trying to carve out spaces in their societies for more modern values, and they certainly deserve applause for doing so. But the thrust for real reform, the kind which will acknowledge the link between Islamic doctrine and jihadi violence, and then substantially dispute it—in other words, the kind which will involve theological criticism—is distinctly lacking.
This is, of course, probably in large part a pragmatic response to the very real threat of assassination anyone undertaking such a task faces in these societies. On the other hand, one has to wonder about the willingness of moderate Muslims to criticize their own faith so long as their refrain concerning jihadis is, “those aren’t real Muslims.” Because that’s not criticism; that’s obfuscation.
You mentioned in another comment that you doubt whether Harris is aware of the number of liberal Muslims and how important it is to help them. As it happens, this has always been the flip-side to his critique of the religion. He’s said numerous times that we need to “prop up” and help reformers. The problem is that they constitute a truly small minority in Muslim communities, including communities in the West. “Moderate” Muslims don’t like them any more than hardliners do, because the default “moderate” response to criticism is still, “Leave our Quran alone.”
And, from what I’ve noticed, most on the left wholeheartedly endorse this sentiment.
There are plenty of Islamic scholars out there who dispute the Jihadi analysis of Islamic texts.
In other words, the situation we want to get to is not one in which Saudi women can drive (though that is a nice bonus). It’s one in which someone can do with their Quran what Thomas Jefferson did with his Bible and not get murdered.
We are a long, long way from that ideal, and not enough people—not enough secular Westerners, not enough moderate Muslims—seem to really want to get there.
There are certainly those—like Tariq Ramadan—who consider jihadi violence counterproductive to the spread of Islam in the modern world. That is not the same as renouncing Islamic triumphalism though.
From what I’ve read of Ramadan, he envisions a very mild and democratic version of Islam, one which spreads by the popular vote. However, the endgame of this process is not all that different looking than the one dreamed of by jihadis: Muslims (and potentially non-Muslims) living by sharia (because it is, after all, the best set of rules by which to organize society).
If you can name me a popular scholar who explicitly gives this up, I’d be much reassured.
I disagree. I think that for the most part what helped carve out our modern idea of constitutional democracy in the West wasn’t theological reform, it was secular political reform, in a way that developed mostly independent of religion. I mean, the United States was in the middle of the Second Great Awakening in 1800 and was incredibly religious, and it was a pretty extreme strain of Christianity; and yet that didn’t derail the still weak and fragile democracy, because most people basically believed that you could have a secular political system and keep it in a “separate magisterium” from religion.
I think once you have a more secular govenrment, with more firmly establish principles of free speech and individual rights and basic education and all that, then you might start to see a slow increase in the number of atheists in the Muslim world. But it’s unlikely to happen in the other order, except possibly if you get a revolution against a very theocratic government.
The Protestant Reformation was principally about a replacing the institutional authority of the church with textual fundamentalism (“sola scriptura”). That “reformation” has already happened in Islam: replacing the institutional authority of the madhhabs with textual fundamentalism is what gave birth to al-Qaida and Isis (just as it gave birth to all sorts of bizarre Protestant extremist groups back in the day).
The Reformation isn’t what made the modern world, that was the Enlightenment. The Reformation may have been a necessary precondition of the Enlightenment, but there were a lot of steps in between.
“Liberal Muslims” aren’t the solution for fighting the jihadis, because they don’t know anything about the religion and therefore have no credibility. What you want are scholars trained in the madhhab tradition (who are almost invariably conservatives). They actually have a pretty good track record of de-radicalizing jihadi prisoners in the countries where that strategy has been tried, because the jihadis take their arguments seriously.
@LukeReeshus, the context you give does not, in my eyes, make Sam Harris look any better — if anything, it’s even more damning than the single sentence I quoted, verifying that, yes, you heard right, Sam Harris really is saying it’s OK to kill people for wrongthink. The last line — “We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas” — is especially chilling.
none of those people you mentioned are truly trying to reform Islam, a la the Protestant Reformation.
You seem to be using “reform” in two different sense here. I do not think you would appreciate living in a society that either Luther or Calvin created; the effects that you appreciate from the era are the accidental side-effects of their actions and the acts of others like them.
Of course, you’re right vis a vis the Reformation and the Enlightenment. I was considering whether to include an asterisk clearing that up, but figured I’d be safe with my simplistic rhetorical link between “reform” and “Reformation.” I should have known better in these comments 😉
I believe it was. And those “steps in between” are more what I had in mind in terms of the Reformation’s legacy (Edit: you called it, Mary). After all, I find little to admire about Luther. His standing up to the Church was indeed a pivotal moment though (or at least representative of a broader, pivotal sentiment).
I can’t disagree. However…
Here’s the problem: that “separate magisterium” concept simply does not exist within Islam. In fact, if one believes Ibn Warraq, there is not even a linguistic distinction in Arabic delineating “sacred” vs. “profane.”
This strikes me as quite consequential, as I keep coming back to this concept of “Islamic triumphalism” and how deeply ingrained it is within the religion. Certainly, Christianity too was triumphalist for most of its history. But it began as a humble cult within the Roman Empire (“Render unto Caesar…”), and it always had the option of returning to that humility. There is nothing humble about the origins of Islam.
Which makes the pessimist in me think Qays hit on the solution, in regards to madhhab scholars. There are, after all, two issues here: jihadi violence, and broader Islamic conservatism (I touched on the difference in my reply to Whitedeath above). Ideally, we could do away with both. But that may ultimately be impossible. If that’s the case, then making peace with the madhhabi, while they reign in the jihadis, is the only long-term solution to this ideological conflict.
On the other hand, it may be the case that Islamic conservatism is utterly doomed in the globalized 21st century—that that zeitgeist just is not possible to maintain while being inundated with modern—what Scott dubbed “universal” in a previous post—culture.
Only time will tell.
That’s not something necessarily unique to Islam. In most of the world, for most of history, cultures had very little notion of a discrete thing called “religion,” as something that you could then choose, reject, or petition for freedom of. The choice to constellate certain kinds of rituals, stories, propositions and epistemological modes into a single package called “religion” is a fairly recent, European, and Protestant phenomenon. Similarly, the idea that religiousness is separable from the rest of culture, in such a way that you can see it quantifiably motivating certain behaviors, would seem alien and weird to a lot of people, for whom Faith is not so easily distinguished from other strands of culture.
If you find Harris’s writing “chilling,” I suggest you not read anything written by jihadis.
You’ll probably freeze to death.
There are certainly words for “sacred” in Arabic (the triliterals q-d-s and ḥ-r-m being the most common). There are a variety of words that could be glossed for “profane” or “secular” as well, depending on context: “worldly,” “pertaining to governance,” “impure,” etc. That there’s no single word that encompasses the various meanings of the Latin-derived “profane” doesn’t mean that the concept didn’t exist and wasn’t mobilized in opposition to the “sacred.”
You’re right. Confucianism was (and still is, post-Communist-revolution) deeply embedded in Chinese culture. Hinduism is deeply embedded in Indian culture.
So the question is not necessarily how separate religion is from culture, but how accommodating that religion is in regards to liberal democracy. Need I point out that Islam does not look good in this formulation (as opposed to Hinduism? Or Catholicism as historically opposed to Protestantism *cough, fascism, cough*)? Hell, even one of Islam’s most sympathetic Western interpreters had real difficulty striking an optimistic note on this question.
P.S. It’s late, so I’ll have to check out those links tomorrow. Judging by their titles though, they don’t meet my criteria. Of course decent Muslims find it easy to condemn ISIS and the indiscriminate massacre of civilians. That’s not the crux of the issue though.
Going back to Sam Harris, and to one of his more pertinent questions: “What is ISIS doing that Muhammed didn’t do, or didn’t condone? Good luck finding it.” (I’m glad it’s late, because I feel like I’m beginning to repeat my initial point, to little avail.)
OK, so Warraq was exaggerating (I figured). Still though, there is a vanishingly weak basis for secularism in Islam, no?
Well I specifically mentioned Islamic scholars in the context of jihadi terrorism. Now you’re asking whether Islam is compatible with liberal democracy which is a completely different question. Also I wouldn’t call Bernard Lewis “one of Islam’s most sympathetic interpreters”, he was heavily involved with the neocons and the Iraq war as well as being a proponent of the much critiqued “clash of civilizations” theory.
As for Sam Harris’ question, he isn’t an Islamic scholar at all so I don’t know why his opinion bears any weight. I think this idea of Muslims just reading the Quran and then deciding to join ISIS or commit terrorist attacks is false and simplistic and ignores the multiple ways culture, material circumstances, and religion intertwine to motivate people.
Maybe not traditionally, but it looks to me that younger Muslims who are more internet-connected have in many places absorbed that idea from the outside world in terms of politics and now support it. There were a LOT of Arab Spring protesters who were marching around and chanting things like “We want free speech” and “We want a secular democracy”. Their main failing was that they were unable to really organize into a political party, but they did have a significant number of people who supported those ideas.
The overwhelming number of them were Muslims, and didn’t see any contradiction between their religion and the idea of a secular democracy.
There also seems to be broad public support for something like a greater degree of actual constitutional democracy and something like a separation of church and state within Iran, again especially from younger people.
So again, in the medium term, I think there’s a significant chance you’re going to see pressure for political reform towards more constitutional democracy and more individual freedom within at least some Muslim nations, and I think that’s a more plausible scenario then a major moderating purely religious reform happening first. I also think that Sam Harris’s belief that Islam is basically not comparable with democracy without a major reformation is likely to prove false (in some places, like Tunisia, I think it already is heading that way, although of course it’s still early).
Thanks for this paragraph. It’s a perfect distillation of everything wrong with the way nice, secular people think about this issue.
First, we hear the Occidentalist / credentialist ad hominem trope that only Muslims / certified Islamic scholars are fit to weigh in on the religion’s problems. In case you’re unaware, there is a remarkable double standard at play here; Islamists feel not the slightest hesitation in decrying the West’s faults. (In fact, they make some good points about us. So why shouldn’t we about them?)
Next, we hear an echo from the comments two posts ago: the postmodern insistence on “complexity”—the insistence that nothing is quite what it seems, and that if we try hard enough we can rationalize the most irrational behavior on the part of foreign, exotic peoples. Well, no one in this long and disputatious thread has disputed what I put forward as the root problem in this conflict: Islamic triumphalism. Indeed, no one even questioned it as a coherent concept—because, I think, its existence is so obvious it defies denial. Everyone knows what I’m talking about when I invoke it.
And the fact is, that concept is the only one which makes sense of the extraordinary violence we see emanating within and from the Muslim world in the 21st century. Latin Americans never acted like this under the imperial influence of the U.S. Nor Indians under the British. Why? Because they lacked the resentment that only the jihadi knows—the resentment at being usurped in world domination.
This all probably strikes you as absurdly grandiose. Well, it should. We are, after all, dealing with the grandiosity of Islamic fever dreams. And I, for one, am past the point of legitimizing them in pursuit of some anti-colonial narrative.
Except if you actually bothered to read the full thread, I was making that response to the claim that no Islamic scholar has disputed the jihadi analysis of the text.
I don’t know what’s “postmodern” about the fact that sometimes issues may be complex. Apparently not instantly attributing terrorism to your pet cause of “Islamic triumphalism” means I’m some kind of postmodernist, which you just threw in there as a boo word.
Your bad faith here is incredible. Instead of assuming that maybe I have arguments for my position, I must be pursuing some anti-colonial narrative. I know it seems incredibly obvious to you what the cause of Islamic terror is, so you assume that anyone denying this “obvious” fact, must be motivated by anti-colonialism” (another boo word). Please get out of your bubble and try to realize that other people may actually have reasons for what they hold.
Depends on what you mean by “secularism.” If you mean is there a basis for legislation by the state as opposed to the religious authorities, yes, there’s absolutely such a basis: it’s called siyāsa shar‘iyya, meaning something like “discretionary law” or “public interest regulation” (the word siyāsa now simply means “politics” in Arabic). The Ottomans in particular expanded the domain of siyāsa until it constituted the bulk of their legal system, with the domain of the jurists (“Islamic law” proper) basically consisting of family court matters like divorces and inheritance disputes.
The fact that Harris isn’t even on the verge of understanding these nuances is why the fact that he has no qualifications to discuss Islamic history is relevant. Brings to mind the famous quote about Dawkins and the Book of British Birds that you can find elsewhere in these comments.
You’re also gerrymandering the definition of “violence.” Latin American societies are hugely violent even when at peace (much more so than Middle Eastern societies), and numerous Latin American countries have had histories of terrorism and rebel insurgencies and the like.
Say what you will about Lewis, he’s certainly not one of Islam’s most sympathetic interpreters.
I don’t think that is entirely right. Islamic religious law is, in theory, independent of the state, deduced by scholars from religious sources, primarily Quran and Hadith. But there are also parts of the legal system, such as the Shurta, the police, that are under the ruler’s control and enforcing his rules. In the Ottoman Empire there was a whole second set of legal rules, the Kanun, based on rulings by the Sultan.
It’s true that, in theory, the ruler’s law was enforcing the religious law, or filling in gaps. But it was coming from the ruler, not the scholars.
Saudi Arabia is, with the possible exception of the Islamic State, the closest thing to the traditional system still going. If you kill someone, his heirs take action against you under Jiniyat, the part of the law that deals with killing or injuring. According to the religious law, if it was the equivalent of first degree murder they have the choice of retaliation of diya, money compensation, if something less they only get diya.
But you also get put in jail by the state, which is not in the religious law.
Calling it ‘wrongthink’ is the wrong way to think about it. I think you are losing meaning in interpreting what SH means by ‘beliefs’. Calling it ‘wrongthink’ makes it sounds like someone who is sitting alone thinking to themselves and inspiring no action will get arrested.
If I tell a group of followers “I believe X”, is this belief then a thought or an action? If you say it is an action, is it then no longer a belief?
For example, Charles Manson was convicted of murder for people he did not personally kill
An ironic defence of heretic- burning, which he does not seem to have noticed.
C’mon. It’s ridiculous to claim that the same people who were tweeting pictures of D-Day under the caption “Antifa confronting Nazis without a permit” actually object to violence, war, or American forces being sent overseas in themselves. They very obviously object instead to the targets Harris names, and not at all to his evaluation of what actions are permissible to use against valid targets.
And at that, it’s very obvious that the only reason they object to targeting gay-lynching women-oppressing adulterer-stoning religious fundamentalists is purely because of tribal affiliation. If the Red Tribe defended Islam, you’d see “DRONE MORE JIHADIS” T-shirts at Netroots Nation.
The objection to Sam Harris is entirely that he’s intellectually consistent, which means he isn’t tribal taboo adherent.
You understand that that is an absurd strawman, right?
No liberals defend any of those actions, or any of the individuals involved in any of those actions, ever. The Muslims that liberals do defend are defended on the grounds that they are a religious minority who haven’t done anything wrong and deserve to have freedom and the right to practice their own religion in a way that doesn’t harm anyone else.
That’s not a “tribal” sentiment, certanly not in the way you mean it. If someone proposed a “Mormon ban” to prevent all Mormons from ever coming to the US, I am 100% confident that liberals would oppose that pretty much without exception, and the fact that Mormons are generally conservative republicans wouldn’t have any bearing on that.
Liberals (at least, liberal intellectuals) have an intellectually consistent worldview as well.
This is just as ridiculous as SEE’s assertion – it implies that liberals have never defended Muslims outside the West (and Palestine). In the Middle East, Islam is the majority (modulo some sectarian intra-oppression).
There’s an interesting dual motte-and-bailey going on here: the “Islamophobic” camp’s motte is the actions of Muslims in the Middle East, with the bailey being how to treat Islam in the West. With the “Islamophilic” camp, it’s reversed: the actions of Muslims in the West are the motte, with the bailey being how to treat Islam in the Middle East. I’m disappointedly impressed that everyone’s found an Islam homogeneity bias even less helpful than glossing over the Sunni/Shia differences.
I don’t think progressives ‘defend’ things like FGM or restrictive dress on women (sure you can always find a few examples on twitter or some dumb college kids) but they are wary of publicly criticizing these things for fear it will be used by the right as a justification for the latest war or for restricting the civil liberties of Muslims. That being said I see plenty of Saudi-bashing in the progressive circles I run in.
Harris got on the “I was always against the Iraq war” bandwagon at about the same time the formerly pro-war Democrats got on it.
Dawkins opposed the war.
> it never came.
I think that’s implied by the reference to the Grey Tribe/Blue Tribe split. Follow the link and you’ll get all the references to Islam you need: in particular, Scott’s reference to his comment on Bin Laden’s death and how that was taken by the Blue Tribe.
If “Bin Laden is Blue Tribe ingroup” is the message you got from I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup, you need to read it again.
I’m not sure where you’re getting that. Here’s the quote which informs my understanding of the article wrt Islam:
I assumed that you were agreeing with yekim50 that the New Atheists died because they “challenged prevailing progressive orthodoxy”, i.e. they attacked the Blue Tribe ally of Muslims. But ICTAETO isn’t saying that the Blue Tribe didn’t celebrate Bin Laden’s death because he was an ally of theirs (part of their ingroup); rather it says that they just didn’t care enough (he was fargroup). The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.
You can (erroneously) signal out-group membership by simply adopting any position or attitude of the out-group–a positive reaction to Bin Laden’s death, patriotism, expressing hate for ISIS were examples from ICTAETO –without attacking allies explicitly. I would take it at least that far.
Islam yes, but not just Islam. Ethnic minorities in general tend to be more religious than average. This has created some awkwardness in the Democratic coalition (black voters got Obama elected, but got gay marriage (briefly) banned in California)
The smart progressive would avoid banging the “religion sucks” drum too loudly if they want to win elections, but that’s fundamentally not something New Atheists are capable of.
Of note: there are no open atheists in Congress
Oh, I think as far as we are discussing the unpopularity of New Atheists within the progressive wing of American politics we can pretty much trace it to Islam as the starting point. Of course there’s a lot wrapped up in the progressive discomfort with a criticism of Islam, but the criticism itself is still the main thing.
I think essentially you have a system that exists like this, as far as the American left goes:
1.) Criticism of minorities -> 100% intolerable
2.) Criticism of religion (broadly) -> tolerable
3.) Criticism of Christianity, specifically -> encouraged
4.) Criticism of Judaism/Israel -> encouraged
5.) Criticism of Islam nested deeply within an argument that is highly critical of all religions equally and belabors the “all religions equally” bit -> tolerable but you’re pushing your luck here, bucko.
6.) Criticism of Islam as a uniquely not-great religion -> 100% intolerable
Notice how 1 and 6 fold in on themselves. I think this is why the charge leveled at New Atheists or New Atheism is so frequently racism; and why a defense of Israel is tantamount to an open declaration of white-supremacy in certain leftist circles. Progressives have collapsed the distinction not just between Islam as a set of ideas and Muslims as a people, or between muslims and people of color, but between Islam as a set of ideas and people of color broadly. The implications for this are pretty enormous.
Part of this is because a large chunk of the progressive movement sincerely does not believe there is a substantive difference between criticizing a set of ideas that brown-skinned folks happen to hold and criticizing brown-skinned people as a function of their brown skin. The other part is that, although some do see a distinction, they don’t view it as a legitimate source of the criticism. It’s hand-waved as a bullshit, post-hoc explanation of bigotry.
Of course, there are also tons of downstream effects from this debate: immigration, multiculturalism, foreign policy, etc. But all of these issues really do hinge – it seems to me – on whether or not one believes (and to what extent one is confident in their belief) that Islam as a belief system is compatible with western, liberal democracy.
I think this post is quite accurate. I’d just accentuate the distinction between 5 and 6, though: the extent to which the New Atheists’ arguments about Islam have merit really do hinge on whether they think all religions are incompatible with western liberal democracy or if they really just think that Islam is incompatible with western liberal democracy. A sensible argument is that all religions can be interpreted in such a way as to be compatible or incompatible with western liberal democracy; an equally sensible argument is that all religions are incompatible with western liberal democracy and that the special characteristic of the west that has allowed liberal democracy to flourish is the effective destruction of Christianity as a force in public life; the argument that the New Atheists seem to make more frequently is that all religions can be interpreted in such a way as to be compatible or incompatible, but Islam alone is always incompatible. I can’t speak for leftists generally, and certainly not for SJWs, but that’s the sticking point for my intellectual circle of historians (who remember similar arguments being made in the past about all sorts of other religions) and Middle East specialists.
I’d also point out that defense of Israel is factually not all that far off from white supremacy. It’s a deeply racist society.
I think one of the big failings of people like Sam Harris is that he failed to realize just how high a percentage *of the Muslims who choose to come live in the United States* are very willing to live in a multicultural society with a secular govenrment, are generally more supporting of a wide variety of progressive things from the idea of democracy to gay rights and woman’s rights. That group may be a minority of Muslims *worldwide*, but it’s a lot higher in the US.
So people on the left, especially people who know Muslims personally (which a lot of people who live in urban centers do) hear Sam Harris talk as if all Muslims are basically the Saudi religious police, and find it a bad and insulting caricature of the actual human beings they know.
I’m fine with criticizing religion, but if you’re going to make any progress and avoid a nasty backlash, you have to do so while recognizing the fact that a lot of religious people are both good people and share nearly all of the values and goals and beliefs of non-religious people.
I don’t know if Sam Harris really, on a gut level, understands that there are a significant number of politically progressive Muslims who support liberal democracy. Not just in the US, either; they weren’t very well organized and in the many places lost to better organized Islamic groups, but if nothing else the Arab Spring demonstrated there is a significant degree of support at least from younger people for a politically progressive form of Islam that is compatible with democracy.
Are new atheists really saying that Islam alone is always incompatible with western liberal democracy? At least Sam Harris doesn’t seem to think so, as he’s a big proponent of Muslims reforming Islam from within. He does also seem to assert very strongly that the state of Islam right now is such that for the vast majority of Muslims in the world, the way they practice Islam today isn’t compatible with western liberal democracy, and that other religions with similar stature don’t seem to have this problem to the same extent. He also asserts strongly that the doctrines and history of Islam make it harder to make compatible with western liberal democracy than other religions. But none of that at all is in conflict with or takes away from his belief that it’s possible and desirable to reform Islam is compatible with western liberal democracy.
Harris is just one New Atheist, of course, but generally considered one of the most influential ones, and also one of the biggest critics of Islam – especially in proportion with how much he criticizes other religions – among them. I’m not so sure that New Atheists tend take a position on Islam which would be more extreme and more exclusionary than Harris does.
Asserting that the doctrines of Islam make it harder to be compatible with western liberal democracy than other religions is something I’d classify under yekim’s number 6. Not only is it a dumb and essentializing argument, Harris has absolutely no credentials or expertise to be making it.
You yourself claim that ‘doctrines of Islam’ exist and thus are essentializing Islam. So I don’t understand that objection.
It also seems obvious that some doctrines would be more compatible with secular society than others. For instance, the bible makes an explicit argument in favor of separating church and state: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”
I don’t think you really understand what a religious doctrine is. It’s not just a passage from scripture. It’s the entire interpretational infrastructure that supports the passage. The passage stays the same through the ages, but people interpret it in a wide variety of ways.
The Christians of Byzantium, for instance, would’ve been very interested to hear your arguments for a separation of church and state, since they clearly didn’t see things that way.
Yes and some passages are way easier to reinterpret than others. For example, Leviticus 20:13 is extremely clear that practicing gay men should get the death penalty.
Of course, Christians did somehow manage to retcon the death penalty bit. However, it’s still very hard for most of them to accept practicing gay men.
I think you’ll find the vast majority Christians believe Mark 12:28-31 supersede Leviticus on whether to execute practicing gay men
and you can find quite a lot that think it also means they should accept them too.
Romans is a lot more problematic around homosexuality and Christianity, but if you’re looking for a way to broadly characterize Christian belief or dogma it’s best to stick to the New Testament.
As a general rule, I assume anyone treating the Old Testament as anything other than context for the NT & Gospels is either a fundie weakman or tilting at fundie weakmen.
Yes, that’s an extremely poor rationalization, but it still works, because people want it to work.
Anyway, my actual point was that it seems logical that the more of these kinds of statements a religion has, the more difficult it is to rationalize it all away. So it seems the least logical to assume that all religions are equally easy to adapt to more Enlightened norms.
I can hardly think of a better rationalization than “the guy who your religion is named after and about told you to love everyone, and also told you that was more important than everything else, so you should probably not kill people for being gay even if the prior doctrine said so.” I guess maybe “that guy also told you that everyone is a sinner so you shouldn’t kill people for their sins, whatever you may believe them to be, even if that is what religious law tells you to do” is a little stronger.
“Extremely poor” seems somewhat unfair.
You might think that the more of a given type of statement a given religion has in its holy texts the harder it is to rationalize away the surface meaning of those statements, but you’d be wrong. The surface meaning of a passage in a holy book is almost endlessly malleable to sufficiently motivated exegetes, and there are always a lot of very motivated exegetes floating around.
For instance, the Quran is arguably stricter on male homosexuality than the Christian Bible is (since we’ve already established that the nasty parts are all in the Old Testament and therefore or lesser doctrinal value), but the reality is that up until about the 1800s Muslims were way, way laxer on male homosexuality than Christians. Recently the poles have reversed, and Christians are laxer than Muslims. It’s not because the holy books swapped places, it’s because the content of the holy books doesn’t matter all that much.
I’m not sure we can make these kinds of generalizations. I wouldn’t want to be a gay dude in Saudi Arabia, but on the other hand my friends who’ve served in Afghanistan tell me stories, though I get the impression that the rural Afghan norms around homosexual behavior don’t map that closely to “gay” as we know it. And on the Christian side, the Christian parts of sub-Saharan Africa are far from sexually progressive.
Yeah, for sure. I think in the aggregate it’s probably reasonable to say that Christians are more tolerant of homosexuality than Muslims today, but if you limit the discussion to like-like comparisons, for instance between Muslims and Christians in a given region or Muslims and Christians in developing countries or what have you, I think the situation is probably not so clear cut.
My main point is just that you can’t predict this stuff from the context of the respective religions’ holy books, because the interpretive field around a given passage in a holy book is so massive that it renders the literal words on the page not super relevant.
I agree that it’s far more important to look at the cultural state of exegesis if you want to see how enlightened a religion is.
I largely agree with this, except I don’t think you can get away with criticizing “Judaism.” The state of Israel, yes. But if you start criticizing the Jewish religion in general, or as practiced in America, you’re going to get called an anti-Semite nazi. The one and only religion you can (and should! loudly and frequently!) criticize is Christianity. But maaaayyyyybe tone down Catholic bashing a little because Pope Francis said nice things about gays.
From the POV of progressives, the atheist-right is also much uglier than the religious-right. You can’t shame them into anything.
Bernie has basically said that he’s a culturally Jewish atheist.
This is exactly correct. Very easy for progressives to bash white Christians. A little more uncomfortable when Sam Harris and others point out the barbarism of honor killings, FGM, and forcing women to live in cloth bags. Progressives and SJW’s: “nothing to see here . . . ” Then the hijab becomes a symbol of resistance and women’t liberation rather than repression . . .
A phobia is an unreasonable fear. There is real reason to fear Islam.
The problem with Harris’s arguments is that honor killings, FGM, and restrictive female dress codes are 1) not universal in Islam and 2) not unique to Islam. This raises the hackles of more than just SJWs.
Forgive the obvious and hamfisted examples, but: slavery was neither universal in nor unique to the Confederacy, antisemitism was neither universal in nor unique to Nazi Germany, etc.
I mean, you’re comparing a religion to two discrete states. Slavery was “universal” in the Confederacy in the sense that it was state policy, antisemitism was “universal” in Nazi Germany in the sense that it was state policy. Honor killings, FGM, and restrictive female dress codes are not universal in Islam in the sense that there is no consensus in Islamic law in favor of any of the three (Islamic law is in fact closer to reaching consensus against honor killing and FGM than the inverse, as well as against restrictive female dress codes if what we’re talking about are burqas/abayas instead of the simple hijab as the initial use of “cloth bag” would seem to indicate).
Slavery of the sort we’re discussing was basically unique to the Confederacy (and Brazil? maybe a handful of other countries?) at the time of the Civil War, and antisemitism of the sort we’re discussing was super unique to Nazi Germany. Cultural patterns of honor killing and FGM, by contrast, are basically indistinguishable between a given Islamic ethnic group and a given non-Islamic ethnic group in a given region.
Slavery of the sort we’re discussing was basically unique to the Confederacy
Please be more specific on this claim.
Just a nitpick, but Nazi-level antisemitism was not entirely unique to Germany.
From Scott’s review of Eichmann in Jerusalem:
“Last place goes to Romania, which had been anti-Semitic since the beginning of time and was genuinely excited to have Nazi orders as an excuse to carry out their own worse impulses:
“The Romanians started their own concentration camps to supplement the Nazis’, “more elaborate and atrocious affairs than anything we know of in Germany”, but they didn’t always need them – “deportation Rumanian style consisted in herding five thousand people into freight cars and letting them die there of suffocation while the train traveled through the countryside without plan or aim for days on end; a favorite followup to these killing operations was to expose the corpses in Jewish butcher shops.” Things became so bad that the local Nazi representative, German noble Manfred von Killinger, intervened and asked them to stop and defer to the Third Reich’s own efforts. I feel like when a Nazi named “Baron von Killinger” is horrified by your brutality, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate whether you may have crossed a line.”
Slavery where the status of slave is inherited from the parents and more or less synonymous with belonging to a particular race.
Despite what you see in bad movies and comic books, Naziism was a populist movement and not really all that friendly to the nobility. I’d expect that someone named Baron anything was more likely to be a reluctant supporter rather than someone steeped in Naziism.
This was far from unique to the South. For example, amongst the pre-Christian Norse, thralldom was hereditary. Or, to quote from the Wiki page on slavery in Canada:
You mean like how parts of the Arab world still refer to people of African ancestry in general as ʿabīd?
Slavery of the sort we’re discussing was basically unique to the Confederacy (and Brazil? maybe a handful of other countries?) at the time of the Civil War … Slavery where the status of slave is inherited from the parents and more or less synonymous with belonging to a particular race.
I’m a bit skeptical of the idea that the kind of slavery practiced in the Confederacy was all that unusual for its time, compared to e.g. Muslim North Africa, say, or the Pacific Northwest Salish. I could be wrong– if anyone [you?] happens to know more about the history (and have a truly global perspective), I would like to hear it.
Fun fact: the word “slave” is etymologically descended from the word “Slav”, as in the Eastern European ethnicity, because Slavs were common in the slave trade around the time and place that the modern Germanic and many Romance languages (“Sklave” in German, “esclave” in French) were evolving. In 1000 AD, if you lived anywhere west of the Oder and you wanted a slave, you’d go out and buy a Slav.
Which is not to say that the Slavs themselves were much better; serfdom was only abolished in Russia in the late 1800s, centuries after most of Europe. And the aristocracy was legendary for its brutality, even before that part of the world got paved over by an ideology with a massive grudge against aristocrats.
Can’t speak for the Salish, but the North African slave trade was a pretty normal Islamic slave trade: slave status was not associated with any particular race (since slaves came from both Europe and Africa), and slave status was only inherited in the relatively rare event of a child being born to two slaves (female slaves were usually the concubines of their masters and their children were therefore free).
As far as I’m aware, New World plantation slavery was quite historically unusual in that it resulted in a self-perpetuating supply of slaves distinguishable by their ethnic origin, and at the time of the Civil War the Confederacy and Brazil were the only two major countries where the practice wasn’t yet moribund.
slave status was not associated with any particular race (since slaves came from both Europe and Africa),
What is so horrifying about coming from one race instead of two that it should be singled out?
Nothing in particular, I’ve never argued that any one form of slavery is less horrible than any other. cmurdock’s original point was that slavery wasn’t unique to the Confederacy, but the sort of slavery people are usually talking about when they refer to slavery was indeed sort of unique to the Confederacy (and Brazil) in the mid-1800s.
In any event, the core of my beef with the New Atheists is that they tend to depict FGM etc as being somehow Islamic practices, when they’re really just (for instance) Sahelian cultural practices. If people are out there trying to depict slavery in general, as opposed to race-based slavery, as a uniquely Confederate cultural practice I disagree with them.
the sort of slavery people are usually talking about when they refer to slavery was indeed sort of unique to the Confederacy (and Brazil) in the mid-1800s.
Only in the sense that every single nation in the world had a unique sort of slavery, as in every single one no doubt had something about it that was different. That is, it’s trivially unique. Unless one race instead of two has some significance, it’s silly to bring it up, because it’s not significant.
On the other hand, Ibriham ibn al Mahdi was a son, brother, and uncle of caliphs, an unsuccessful pretender to the caliphate, and famous as a musician and gourmet. And black–the son of an afro-Iranian mother and the caliph. Ziryab (“blackbird”) was a major arbiter elegantarium in al-Andalus.
Part of the penalty for killing someone was the obligation to free a believing slave (or fast for two months).
It’s significant to how people tend to talk about slavery in the West, which was cmurdock’s original point.
But, as far as I can tell, Harris’s arguments don’t rely on or assert in any way that honor killings, FGM, and restrictive female dress codes, among other misogynistic practices, are universal in or unique to Islam. In fact, he’s quite a loud and unabashed fan of Muslims who practice Islam in such a way as not to do or condone such misogynistic practices and who seek to reform Islam such that the proportion of Muslims who engage in such misogynistic practices goes down.
I think it’s really sad that the post bringing up Islam frames it in this way. It’s a common framing, too, both on the right and in “rational” spaces, and it’s not entirely wrong–there certainly are some progressives who have opposition to Islamophobia as an important terminal value in the same way opposition to homophobia or anti-blackness is (also this approach might be more common in Europe, for obvious reasons).
But in the US, for a lot of us, that’s a sideshow. American Muslims are a tiny group, not particularly poor and lack any deep/intergenerational history of oppression. How Americans feel about or treat Muslims in their day to day lives isn’t a huge concern for me. What is a concern, a great concern, an overwhelming concern on which a huge part of my politics is based, is the fact that 14 years ago we invaded a country, killed 100s of 1000s, destabilized a region, spent a ~trillion dollars, poisoned our national discourse in a way I think we’re still suffering from, and the (real) reasons for it seemed to be a melange of not caring about the costs that fell on Muslim people, not understanding the extreme diversity within Muslim-majority nations, and a general sense that Muslims are the bad guys.
I don’t give a shit if New Atheists point out the stupid parts of Islamic doctrine, I just care if they give aid and comfort to the people who would love nothing more than to do that yet again (people who, incidentally, are effectively allied with Salafist terrorists, sharing a desire begin an explicit mass conflict between Islam and the West), and promote a worldview that when implemented as foreign policy resulted in the worst disaster of my lifetime.
I agree. Some New Atheists like Sam Harris are incredibly naive when it comes to foreign policy. It’s not enough grounds for a leftist like me to denounce him. He’s right to criticize Islam for being barbaric. But the cheerleading for U.S. intervention is just gross and wrong-headed.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the U.S. military can NEVER be a positive force in the world. Helping defeat Hitler was pretty grand. But the list of U.S. interventions with a positive outcome is pretty short, and I think the default assumption should be that the U.S. will inevitably make things worse unless there is strong evidence otherwise.
To accurately assess those outcomes, one must also take into account the things that didn’t happen, for fear that the US might intervene if it did, which, granted, is not exactly easy.
“I agree. Some New Atheists like Sam Harris are incredibly naive when it comes to foreign policy. It’s not enough grounds for a leftist like me to denounce him. He’s right to criticize Islam for being barbaric. But the cheerleading for U.S. intervention is just gross and wrong-headed.”
I don’t hear him cheerleading; I hear him avoiding the topic almost entirely in favor of an ideal-type scenario in which Islamic fundamentalists and classical liberals are sitting in a room hashing out political philosophy.
One thing Harris has done is take seriously the rhetoric of ISIS by looking at what they actually say (in their impeccably – yes, really – written magazine). That’s more than what most of the bay area progressives I’ve talked to have done. They already have a theory as to what animates radical Islam. In short, western imperialism and bigotry. They will even go so far as to say they aren’t really Muslims. This from a group that would otherwise be extremely sensitive to white westerners presuming to speak for brown foreigners.
Harris and his detractors are talking past one another by having an entirely different focus. For Harris, all the action is on the radical Islamic side, and the locus of blame found there. For many progressives, the locus of blame is to be found in western aggression. They couldn’t’ care less what ISIS has to say, just as Harris appears completely uninterested in Northrop Grumman and Boeing’s contract deals with the DoD.
I thought of this when I was reading the comments, but not sure if mentioned or not. The Iraq War turning into a complete debacle really discredited a lot of the New Atheist and adjacent types, because a decent chunk of them had really cheerled (cheerleaded?) for the Iraq War, to the point of talking about Saddam Hussein as an “Islamofascist” which made sense on negative one levels (zero sense since Hussein was a fairly secular dictator, minus one because the concept of “Islamofascism” doesn’t make sense if you are using “fascist” as more than a boo light; if you are, don’t do that).
The US involvement in the Middle East and North Africa post-9/11, which was to a large extent driven (at least for the first half of it) by a completely mistaken understanding of militant Islamism and the relationships between the various local dictators and militant Islamism, has been disastrous. And a bunch of New Atheists got caught up in that.
Yep! Not to imply the center-left learned these lessons at all, given that Obama and particularly HRC did almost exactly the same thing (if at a smaller scale and with less direct costs to the West) in Libya.
American foreign policy 2001-present has involved some truly baffling decisions regarding creating power vacuums, being ignorant of what might fill them, and failing to offer up anything else to fill them. There’s repeatedly been this assumption made that if a secular dictator is knocked over, people will gravitate towards free-market democracy. That it hasn’t worked once doesn’t seem to upset those calling for intervention.
I’d say that Libya might have had less direct cost to the US, but it’s caused major problems for Europe, because Libya descending into chaos has resulted in a lot more migrants both from North Africa and from further south, which has put a strain on Europe. That strain has given right-wing populism (and in some places authoritarianism) a big shot in the arm.
There are many ways you can criticize the iraq invasion, but creating a power vacuum isn’t really one of them. The US didn’t create a vacuum, it invaded and occupied Iraq. It did so poorly, at least for the occupying part, largely out of a desire to avoid admitting it was occupying the country, but that wasn’t creating a power vacuum, it was hoping that iraq could be a large scale version of grenada.
Creating a vacuum is doing what was done in Libya, obliterating the existing regime with essentially no idea what would replace it.
Wasn’t Libya intervention pushed by France at the time? I remember a defense (or maybe criticism) of Obama as basically allow France to lead him into war.
By trying to look like it wasn’t really occupying the place, and by attempting to do it on the cheap (I think the second factor was more important than the first) the US’ actions created a power vacuum. The US had a plan for what would fill that power vacuum, but it was an unrealistic plan, on multiple levels.
“Wasn’t Libya intervention pushed by France at the time? I remember a defense (or maybe criticism) of Obama as basically allow France to lead him into war.”
yep, which cranks the irony up even further. The first repeat of the Iraq War was led by a man who launched his national political career opposing the Iraq War when that actually meant something, and by the country which led (or, at least, was the main synecdoche for, cf freedom fries) the Coalition of the Unwilling
Really? I know you know better than that. The part where the initial plan for occupying Bagdad was “let the Shia go and kill the bad guys for us” wasn’t a power vacuum?
The short version is that France and a few others were pushing it, and the Obama administration wasn’t really in favor, then Hillary Clinton ran around a obama’s back a little and pushed him into it.
I don’t think trying to do it on the cheap was a driving motive. the US threw pretty much the entire deployable military into Iraq, they weren’t trying to cut corners. They were, however, told by basically everyone that a US occupation of Iraq was problematic. Everyone, in this case, means the military, the state department, and the ambassadors of numerous other countries, both Arab and other. Everyone was telling them that they needed to get in and get out as quickly as possible, so that’s what they planned to do.
Right, thanks. So, while I like Europe, well, let’s just say hopefully it can be a learning experience for us all.
What about the whole Shinseki thing?
Not just a knock on Iraq. Military plans that accurately estimate what will be needed are, historically, incredibly rare.
The Shinseki thing is generally misrepresented. You can see the Shinseki testimony, he wasn’t disagreeing with the policy, he was saying that the forces that were mobilized for the war were adequate for the aftermath.
Eisenhower put it best. “Plans are useless but planning is essential.”
The difference between Iraq and Libya is that Libya was already in a state of power vacuum when we intervened and Iraq was not.
Eh. IMHO we didn’t create a power vacuum in Libya; Libya was already in a civil war, with the president of the country sending his army to try to retake one of the largest cities from a group of rebels, and his son talking about “the streets running read with blood.”
The coalition forces (Europe and the US were about 50/50 in the war effort) helped decisively end the civil war for one side; if they hadn’t it’s likely it would have dragged on for much longer, perhaps ending up like Syria. I’m not sure that the way we handled it was optimal, but I tend to doubt that doing nothing would have had a better result.
I don’t remember hearing the phrase “Islamofascism” before (not old enough to have been politically aware while Saddam was in power), so I’m likely just missing the original connotations, but it doesn’t strike me as obviously nonsensical. Would you mind expanding a little? Is it that it glosses over the Sunni/Shia divide? Or is it that it doesn’t make sense to apply to Saddam’s Iraq?
Because if we can loosely define fascism as “militant, authoritarian nationalism”, I don’t see why one can’t swap “nationalism” out for some other broad unifying force. It wouldn’t be the same flavor of fascism – what would you call the superset of “militant authoritarianism fed by grassroots public support due to a common belief in the strength of [X trait the populace all* shares]”? Maybe I’m torturing the definition of fascism here, I’m just struggling to see what’s so special about nationalism that makes it’s brand of militant authoritarianism deserve its own term which is nonsensical to apply to other population-level forces.
Again, it makes about as much sense to apply to Islam as a whole as it would to talk about “Christo-whatever” in 1600s Europe, and I have no educated idea whether it applied to 1990s/2000s Iraq (my uneducated suspicion is that broad grassroots support for Saddam did not exist), but I think it’s a stretch to say the concept doesn’t make sense. Would you object to considering ISIS “Islamofascist”?
In the specific case of Iraq, it was nonsensical, because Saddam was a Ba’athist, and Ba’athism is by and large a secular ideology. It was one of many attempts to link Saddam to Al Qaeda, and little more. Calling a Ba’athist politician, party, state, etc “fascist” has more to it than describing it as “Islamofascist.”
With regard to your second part, yeah, I think it’s torturing the definition of fascism. Nationalism is integral to fascism, and while you could certainly have religious fascism, it would have to be a religion where nation and religion are tied together in a way that I don’t think you see with Islam (a global religion found among many different nationalities).
EDIT: Additionally, for the people pushing it at the time, I don’t think they seriously sat down and thought real hard about fascism in the 1930s and the Ba’ath party, or how one could compare fascism to militant Islamism. Even if you could use the phrase in good faith, they weren’t; they were seeking to justify a war by linking together Hussein and Bin Laden, falsely. Tossing “fascist” in there was more to say “and these guys are eeeevil just like those guys were” than anything else.
I think describing Saddam and other Ba’athists as “Islamofascists” (using “fascist” to refer to the bits of ideology that Hitler, Mussolini and Franco shared) is pretty accurate in a lot of ways. However, it is misleading in that Ba’athists are a lot less Islamist (and Islamic) than their opponents. Calling Islamists like ISIS Islamofascist only makes sense if “fascist” means “nasty authoritarian that isn’t communist”.
The underlying core of fascism is the idea of nation as one, striving together for greatness. There’s nothing inherently incompatible with using a religious, instead of ethnic, linguistic, or national, definition of nation. In fact, fascism was explicitly describes the state as a spiritual entity. The ummah idea is at least as robust as Christendom. I’ll grant you that most people who use the word islamofascist haven’t thought about it, but that’s true of how most people use most words. People who coined the term probably did think about it, though, as it is not a bad description of what entities like ISIS are trying to achieve.
Baathist, though, aren’t islamofascists. They’re just straight up normal fascists. Secular, modernizing, nationalist socialists.
However, fascism derives authority/sovereignty from the nation/the people, which will often clash with religious conceptions of authority/sovereignty – the major problem the fascists and Nazis had with the churches was that the churches acknowledged an authority that wasn’t the state and a source of authority that wasn’t the nation/people.
However, fascism derives authority/sovereignty from the nation/the people, which will often clash with religious conceptions of authority/sovereignty – the major problem the fascists and Nazis had with the churches was that the churches acknowledged an authority that wasn’t the state and a source of authority that wasn’t the nation/people.
That, at most, is a rhetorical shift. the will of the
peopleAllah. In Germany, a country with a long history of religious conflict and rivalry, religion represented an important source of identity that was outside of state control. Those conditions and historical factors do not exist in any muslim country, with the at best extremely partial exception of Iran.
“In Germany, a country with a long history of religious conflict and rivalry, religion represented an important source of identity that was outside of state control. Those conditions and historical factors do not exist in any muslim country, with the at best extremely partial exception of Iran.”
dndnrsn basically asserts that fascism was hostile to religion because religion represented a source of power and authority that existed outside the control of the state. And that’s absolutely true, in germany and italy. It’s not at all true in the muslim world, where except in Iran, there’s nothing like the institutional independence and longevity of the catholic church, which is the necessary condition for centuries of often mutually hostile, independent existence of church and state and the cultural legacy that flows from it.
There’s nothing like the institutional independence and cultural legacy of the Catholic church, sure. But religion has represented a source of power and authority outside the control of the state throughout the Islamic world basically since the death of Muhammad. The jurists are independent of the state (though often coöpted, as was the Catholic church), the Sufi brotherhoods are independent of the state, the heterodox Shiite tribesmen are independent of the state, the puritanical Sunni tribesmen are independent of the state. I can’t really think of a single Islamic polity that didn’t have to deal with mutual hostility between the state and at least one of the preceding groups.
This is true everywhere, but not all conflict is equal. The institutional separation of church and state in the christian world was orders of magnitudes greater than in the muslim world, and the scope for conflict greater in like quantity. There is nothing like the the emperor at canossa in Muslim history.
A comparable situation in medieval Islam would’ve simply been resolved by the hostile religious institution (often a Sufi brotherhood of some sort or another) deposing the ruler and forming a new dynasty of its own. So yes, the “institutional separation” of church and state was greater in (Catholic) Christendom, but this does not indicate that Islamic religious authority constituted any less significant a rival powerbase to any given Islamicate state than the authority of the Catholic church to any given Christian state, since the reason for the greater institutional separation of church and state in Christendom was that the church was comparatively weaker vis à vis the ruler than the religious institutions of Islam, which regularly usurped power from their rulers.
I can’t speak with much confidence to the situation in modern Muslim countries, but Islamic tradition has lots of pictures of the tension between the virtuous holy man and the corrupt ruler.
Again, I don’t deny that there was conflict between religious and secular authorities. that would be foolish. I’m saying that without the institutional structure of the catholic church, the conflicts were extremely different in character and cultural results they produced markedly different.
OK, sure, but what exactly do you mean by that? I’m still not quite picking up on the argument you’re gesturing towards when it comes to the development or validity of “Islamofascism.” How exactly do these differences in the character of the conflicts between religious and secular authorities in Islam compared to Christianity have any bearing on the utility of the term?
Unifying the entire umma under the divine law is a much, much older idea than fascism, in any event.
I absolutely agree. my point is that if you replace “nation” with “ummah”, islam as practiced by the early conquerors and as championed by some modern islamists, is largely indistinguishable from fascism as articulated by mussolini. Just because those islamic notions ideas are much, much older than fascism, and that fascism descends from completely different intellectual rules, doesn’t make them incompatible. They are basically parallel ideological evolution, they evolved separately but fit into parallel psychological niches, like fins on fish and aquatic mammals .
The two seem extremely distinguishable to me in a huge variety of ways. For instance: fascism worships the state or the folk or the leader, “Islamofascism” worships god and his law. If “[insert group] as one, striving towards greatness” is your definition of fascism then a lot of ideologies are “fascist.”
I disagree with your characterization of fascism. Fascism does not worship the leader or the folk. It upholds the triumph of the collective/ummah over enemies/infidels as the greatest good and celebrates the leader/prophet as an instrument of will. the difference in that will being theistic or not is, again, a rhetorical not practical difference. if you read the doctrine of fascism, you can add “as god wills it” to practically any passage and it will fit just fine.
Islam has not had a prophet for a very long time. Rulers are supposed to be subordinated to the law.
Ibn Battuta spent some time as the Maliki Qadi of Delhi, ruled by the fabulously wealthy Mohammed ibn Tugluq. At the end of the relevant part of his memoirs, he lists good things about the Sultan and bad things about the Sultan.
One of the good things was an incident where the Sultan struck a young man with no legitimate legal excuse. The young man sued. The Sultan made no attempt to interfere with the legal process.
The ruling was that the young man was entitled to his choice of compensation or retaliation. He chose retaliation–to strike the Sultan, knocking his turban off, observed by Ibn Battuta.
It is clear in the passage that that is how Ibn Battuta believes rulers are supposed to act, but also that he doesn’t expect that most rulers do act that way.
Think of it this way – make a four-square box, like a political compass. One axis is popular sovereignty/not popular sovereignty; the other is popular rule/not popular rule.
Fascism is, as it presents itself, popular sovereignty without popular rule – the fascist dictator presents himself (aside: maybe if fascism is coming back, this time we might get a female fascist dictator?) as ruling on behalf of the people, cutting through the red tape and horse-trading and giving them what they want better than a parliamentary democracy or whatever could. (Aside: communism ends up as not popular rule, but that’s not how it presents itself – the vanguard party says “once the situation is right for the people to rule, they will be given power” – but, conveniently for the party leadership, the situation somehow never becomes right). Fascism is nationalist dictatorship featuring popular sovereignty but not popular rule. (The question then becomes drawing the line between authoritarianism and totalitarianism).
A religiously-derived dictatorship, at least for one of the Abrahamic faiths, is in a different box. It doesn’t feature the same worship of the people/the nation. Rather, the source of legitimacy is religious; God is sovereign, or whatever. Note I say Abrahamic – we could look at Hindu nationalism in India, and come up with a different answer, but Hinduism is different from the Abrahamic faiths, British colonial era attempts to fit it into an Abrahamic box aside.
Regardless, “Islamofascism” as it was used circa 2003, is fundamentally a bad-faith charge. It’s wasn’t an attempt to seriously consider what fascism was, and then consider parallels between historical fascism and modern militant Islamism. It’s that “fascist!” is a stand in for “bad thing, maybe authoritarian or nationalist bad thing, if it’s a particularly rigorous day today.” See: left-wingers calling Bush “Chimpy McHitler” or whatever, right-wingers talking about “Hitlary”, left-wingers who can’t understand Trump’s right-wing populism as anything but national socialism 2: small hands boogaloo, right-wingers who say dumb garbage like “antifa are the real fascists” instead of just noting the hammers and sickles that some of them are waving and remembering that the left has its own authoritarian/totalitarian tradition or noting anarchist concepts of direct action and so forth, or all the talk about “vegan fascists” and “feminazis.” Islamofascism, circa 2003, is just “Islamobadthingism” – I gather that once upon a time, Napoleon filled the “terrifying monster” slot Hitler does today, at least for the English; if that was still the case, you’d have had Hitchens or whoever talking about “Islamonapoleonism.” It’s one step up from shouting that your parents are fascists because they want you to turn down that music.
I think this kind of thing comes about because the largely progressive aligned faction that gives us slurs has made “look, fascist!” much scary than “look, communist!*” See also “Democrats are the real racists” or “false accusations are bad because real victims aren’t believed” etc.
Agreed that it is hardly a rigorous application of the term fascist, but it may well have gone the way of literally at this point.
Someone please explain this to Linda Sarsour and also the entire Republican Party.
The republican party? Last I checked, republican party wants to keep them that way. It’s the democratic party that wants to increase their numbers and convince them that they’re oppressed.
“Would it not be easier in that case for the party to dissolve the people and elect another?” — Bertolt Brecht
There’s a bit of a semi-horseshoe theory here, since in the parts of the left I run in, the CW is to very straightforwardly regard Salafism as a psychotic fascist ideology supported by US imperialism for cynical reasons. Of course, this is very different from blanket condemnations of Islam or Muslims in general, the vast majority of whom are also fucking terrified of millenarian Sunni death squads.
I think really distinguishing between specific ideologies and political projects would make the discussion a lot saner than throwing everything under the term “Islam,” which kind of forces you to either go full hot take “condemning Al Qaeda is racist” or “#rapeugees are coming here to impose sharia law” if you really embrace its logic (which, to be fair, most people do not.) “Radical Islam” and “Islamism” sort of get at this, but in a way that implies that ISIS and Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood are basically the same thing (they aren’t) and that the Muslims we don’t like are Muslimer than the ones we do. “Salafism” isn’t a perfect label, since there are politically quiestist Salafists or whatever, but would still be a massive improvement over the current framing. Unfortunately mainstream American discourse isn’t going to improve on this, because our state really is addicted to undermining possible geopolitical rivals with “moderate” “rebels,” unconditionally supporting Saudi Arabia’s rivalry with Iran, &c.
The thing that kills me is that the U.S. right has this fetishistic demand that we properly “name the enemy,” but when anyone actually does so via the analysis you give here, it’s crickets at best
is the right being fetishistic about naming the enemy or the left being fetishistic in refusing to name it?
I think the concept is that the left doesn’t want to name anyone, and the right wants just one name, and is willing to be dangerously reductive in order to get that one name. (e.g. “axis of evil”)
One, the left happily names people all the time. Two, how is axis of evil or Islamic extremism less reductive than white supremacy or the patriarchy?
The former. Without understanding the context, it’s a fundementally weird demand. It’s not like there’s a legitimate question around who carried out 9/11 or what religion ISIS follows or where US troops have seen action.
But there is a close US ally that doesn’t want too much focus on precisely what ideology al Qaeda/ISIS follows and where it comes from, and a longtime U.S. enemy that happens to be included in the broad definition that the people who make that demand are thinking of but not the more precise one the likes of Matthias and I prefer, and in that context it all makes perfect sense.
>Two, how is axis of evil or Islamic extremism less reductive than white supremacy or the patriarchy?
White supremacists are a pretty specific group. You may argue about exactally who is or is not in that group, but it’s not a broad swath that goes after an entire religion or ethnic group.
“The patriarchy” isn’t an outgroup at all, it’s basically a theory about how our society is set up in a broad anthropological sense. You can agree, disagree, or partly agree with the theory, but in any case it’s not “reductive” in the sense we’re talking about.
There are those who believe that pretty much all white people are guilty of white supremacy, in which case it definitely is going after an ethnic group.
@herbert herberson says:
One, you’re acting like it was weird how FDR to continually call for the defeat of fascist tyranny, and would have been normal for him to refuse to say the word fascist, and when asked about it, explain that we were fighting tyranny in general, not a specific sort of tyranny, and that to call the people we were fighting fascists might alienate the many fascists who would otherwise realize that Hitler was worth opposing.
Two, if it really doesn’t matter, and you can make some people happy by saying it, then say it. The only reason to refuse is because you do think saying the words matter, for some reason, and don’t ant to say them.
the idea that obama wouldn’t say islamic terror (or whatever) out of excessive concern for saudi feelings is not credible, and it certainly isn’t how the decision was defended by his ideological allies.
This would be a valid analogy if fascism had two major sects that were bitterly opposed to one another, with members of the one being the majority of the victims of the other, and with at least 95% of the events that led people to think fascism is a particularly big problem being carried out only by members of one of the two sects, and when one of the primary opponents of the now-largely-defeated-but-previously-worst-fascist-state-yet was a member of the other sect, and with the overwhelming majority of members of even the more problematic sect being peaceful, and with the minority of the ones that are not almost universally belonging to an even more particular sub-sect that was invented in relatively recently in the history of fascism.
That’s not what I said.
Obama wouldn’t say “Islamic terror” because it lends credence to Salafist propaganda about their conflict with the West being an apocalyptic conflict between the Crusaders and the Umma, does the same thing to US rightist propaganda that wants the same thing, rhetorically ties in Iran (a country Obama wanted closer relations with), and is almost as idiotically broad as saying “Monotheistic terror.”
Where the Saudis matter is in the alternative. Not wanting to say “Islamic terror” for the above reasons, he could have just always said “Salafist and/or Wahhabist terrorism.” But little things like meeting political opponents halfway or accuracy aren’t nearly important enough to promote rhetoric that directly implicates a key ally.
If obama had said Salafist or sunni extremism instead of islamic extremism, no one who wasn’t Salafist or sunni would have had a problem with it. He didn’t.
So you didn’t say that Obama refused to say islamic terror to make nice with the saudis. What you meant was…..that Obama refused to say islamic terror to make nice with the saudis? I fail to see your point here.
I believe the point is that Obama didn’t want to say Islamic terror since it’s too broad (~95% of all Islamic terror is carried out by a specific subgroup of Sunni Islam) but also didn’t want to say Salafi/Wahabi terror since that would implicate Saudi Arabia’s ideology. (ISIS famously used a Saudi textbook for its classrooms). So instead he stayed silent. Republicans and war hawks in general like the phrase Islamic terror since it allows them to tie Iran to terrorism despite Iran being responsible for very little of the Islamic terrorism carried out.
Yes, exactly that.
With the addition that Saudi itself should be included in the last sentence. And Israel, for that matter… and how important and useful it is for the USA country to set up a geopolitical situation where the foreign policies of those two countries are seeking similar goals.
@Whitedeath and herbert herberson
Again, the notion that Obama refused to say Islamic terror out of deference to Saudi sensibilities is not credible. It’s not how his allies have chosen to defend his action, it’s not keeping with his personality, and it’s certainly not the original argument that Herbert Henderson offered.
The myth that the republican party is chomping at the bit to declare war with iran is just that, a myth.
You are confusing goals and rhetoric, something I assure you that the saudis are not doing.
Okay, I don’t understand what you’re not getting, but I will try it one more time.
Obama had three options.
One is to call it “Islamic terror.” He did not do this because liberals and leftists consider it inaccurate, because it is in accordance with the way his enemies (both GOP and ISIS/al Qaeda) frame the conflict, and because he wanted at least some rapprochement of Iran. This part does not directly involve Saudi at all.
Two is to call it “Salafist/Wahabbist terror.” This is my prefered option, partly because it more accurately lays the blame for 21st century terrorism at the hands of a relatively small group of extremely shitty guys from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf rather than a billion people who did nothing wrong, and partly because I favor much stronger relations with Iran. However, Saudi is opposed to these things, and they therefore preclude this option–not the first.
Three is to more or less try not to talk about it and to be vague when forced, so, with the first two options both off the table (for their own, separate reasons) he did that.
A lot of the dumber ones are. The smarter ones understand that actually invading would be like catching the car–but the hostility, the cold war, that is the keystone to the entire American project in the Middle East, the thing that keeps its clients from turning on one another.
Surely you don’t see the unrelenting hostility towards Iran in US media and think that’s organic? All the bleating about how it’s the “nuMbEr one spoNsoR of tErroRisM” while its beleaguered proxies are fighting Salafist monsters flush with Gulf cash on three fronts (four if you count the Saudis and Houthis)?
@herbert herberson says:
I might buy that Saudi-related concerns would have put off Wahabbist terror, but not salafist. But even if you want to accept that the saudis were able to dictate to an american president what to call terror, there were still more options. Jihadi terror,
If your point is just that dumb people are in favor of dumb things, I don’t think it needs making, and it certainly doesn’t need making in a partisan manner. If your point is that dumb republicans are unusually warlike, then all I can do is ask whether it was the smart or dumb members of the Democratic party that lept into wars in Syria and Libya in massively ineffectual but incredibly destructive ways?
I have no idea what you think your point is here.
I’ve not only previously condemned Libya elsewhere in this thread, but gone out of my way to bring it up. It was a lesser crime than Iraq only in that significantly fewer people live in Libya than Iraq, and it completely destroyed the Dem’s ability to claim the dove role in general terms. It was a disgusting episode that revealed the hypocrisy of many Iraq War critics both in the US and abroad. If we went to war by checking a politician’s warmonger stats and rolling a D-20, you’d have me in a checkmate.
But I’m not talking about the general tendency of Dems to murder foreigners and generally be pieces of shit, but about how the language used by American politicians is strongly influenced by their positions on Saudi and Iran, and surely you can’t deny that Obama pursued more normal relations with Iran, and was opposed by the right for doing so?
The point is that America is absolutely saturated with anti-Iranian propaganda in a way that can’t be explained without reference to the geopolitical subtext I’ve been talking about. Iran’s bad reputation amongst Americans is not propped up by anything real, but by Saudi cash, Israeli influence, and most of all the concensus of every US foreign policy thinker to the right of Hillary Clinton that it is better stick with the workable status quo where we center Iran as the common enemy of our various Middle Eastern allies than try out Obama’s cockamanie scheme to treat these countries with a modicum of fairness.
I’m gonna agree with herbert on the Iran thing. Iran is not a nice country, but the degree to which it is demonized by American right-wingers is grossly disproportionate to Iran’s behaviour.
Yeah, to be clear, I don’t approve generally of theocratic republics that execute gays and apostates. But I think Iran deserves at least a little more credit for its various fights against considerably more awful people and for the fact that they aren’t in any way associated with the murder of American/European civilians.
edit: Also, the right is not the only offender, the center is no better. I would have trusted Clinton to be a dove on Iran because the Iranian nuclear deal was a high-profile project by her Democratic predecessor and defending partisan wins is important to people like her, but that is the one and only reason–otherwise, her Iran policy would have been no different from that of a Romney or McCaine, and more-or-less the same as Trump’s.
Yeah that’s basically my attitude too. Iran has plenty of things to criticize as do all countries and the constant demonization of it as “the number one evil in the world” is completely ridiculous.
I object to the notion that it was a “lesser crime”. Iraq had a possibility of working out the way that the bush administration hoped, and when it didn’t, they did the work they had to to fix thing. In Libya, and syria, the obama administration threw gasoline on goals then blamed others for the fire that ensued. In Libya, where the plan was bomb them into democracy, there was absolutely no justification for believing that things would work out as hoped.
No, but you are talking about republicans tendency to do so, which is what I objected to.
I think Obama was criticized for giving Iran too much, not the basic idea of negotiating with them.
Sure, it definitely has nothing to do with the fact that the current Iranian state’s political existence the result of a revolution against a US backed regime, that it came into the world while taking 52 Americans hostage for 444 days in what was one of the biggest political events in the lives of current policy makers, then spent decades spewing explicitly anti-american propaganda.
The idea that Clinton isn’t on the extreme hawkish side of american foreign policy is not borne out by the facts. And, again, it’s a strange notion of fairness that argues there should be no difference in how the US treats countries that work with it and those that work against it.
I think we’ve hit bedrock. Have a good day.
Whenever anyone actually does anything via actual analysis, it’s crickets at best from the better part of the population and media. That’s just toxoplasma, not a uniquely rightist problem.
that’s because that analysis names the enemy as “us imperialism”
maybe it’s helpful to take that step, but it just comes off as a massive cop-out, mostly because it is
If it bothers you that much, ignore it. It is still in play through our support of Saudi and the Gulf countries despite knowing full well of their agendas, but we have long ago passed the era during which we directly supported Salafism so you don’t really need to include opposition to American imperialism to understand the simple fact that the Islamic world inhabited by multiple camps that hate each other more than anyone else, and the very differing ways those different camps have acted towards the West.
They aren’t from the Middle Eastern Muslims’ internal point of view, but for our purposes (ie: fuck theocracy), aren’t they rather similar?
Oh, sure, and fuck the Dalai Lama too – I mean that sincerely, not just to be blithe – but there are lots of levels of disagreement and dangerousness. Hezbollah is like a more homophobic IRA or Tamil Tigers – people who are trying to win a real estate dispute with a combination of terrorism, charity operations, &c.; and there are divisible goods on which they might, and do, compromise. The Muslim Brotherhood is a conservative religious party with an ambivalent attitude towards democracy of the sort that appears in almost all countries living operating around the middle of the Kuznets curve. ISIS more or less is at existential war with the rest of civilization in the way that some people like to project on Islam in general.
(I presume that anticommunists like neither the Italian Communist Party nor the Khmer Rouge, but are capable of distinguishing between the two!)
I guess I find the claim about Hizballah kinda funny, because really, the only party they’ve got any real-estate disputes left with is their sponsor, Syria. They can try to say they’re fighting for the Shebaa Farms area, but that’s basically 5 km^2 that the United Nations has verified “belongs” to Syria (when it’s not busy being “occupied” by Israel, which annexed it decades ago). Likewise, the UN verified that Israel actually left all Lebanese soil in 2000ish.
Sure, I don’t expect Hizballah to acknowledge that, but given what they do to Lebanon as a whole, I would have expected most Lebanese people to catch on at some point that they’re being taken for a ride.
How exactly are Hizbullah’s supporters being taken for a ride? Hizbullah looks out for the factional interests of Lebanese Shiites.
That’s 90% of it. 10% of it would be the Blue-tribe/Grey-tribe split, the fact that new atheism attracted an audience that was disproportionately White and male. The Oppressed Peoples got used to being able to use their status to lord it over the White males in feminism, black lives matter, ect, but a white male is just as much an atheist as any woman or non-White, and it was a rarely-mentioned factoid that, after Asians, White males are the demographic most favorable to atheism. Thus the attraction to many Leftist White males and the hostility from other parts of the Left.
But 90% of it is due to the Islam issue. Scott knows it. Yet, he makes only a cryptic reference to it: “we should worry about religion’s promotion of terrorism, homophobia, et cetera.” Only when its Christians bombing abortion clinics, otherwise the terrorism has nothing to do with the religion, according to the progressives. But that’s not a conflict he’s eager to acknowledge.
As to the second, distinct question, why new atheism has “failed,” I’d say it’s the same thing other fringe movements suffer from, a perception of low human capital and an inability to appeal to the “normies.” Alexander writes that:
“New Atheists weren’t reaching their intellectual opponents. They were coming into educated urban liberal spaces, saying things that educated urban liberals already believed, and demanding social credit for it. Even though 46% of America is creationist, zero percent of my hundred-or-so friends are. If New Atheists were preaching evolution in social circles like mine, they were wasting their time.”
His blue-state autistic bubble is showing again. The atheist strategy, like other movements, has been to divide society into themselves and their most extreme(and low-status) enemies, the young earth creationists. It has little to say to the moderate followers of religion, the education churchgoing couple* who want to impart some vague sense of “values” to their children without literally believing in it. In the eyes of these “normies” the New Atheists are a bunch of single male ‘spergs. It’s not the New Atheists were “preaching to the choir,” it’s that assumed that everyone who was “progressive” or “educated” was part of their choir, they weren’t and didn’t want to be.
Note I’m an atheist, Grey-triber(Though without the sucking up to the blue-tribe part) nerd, I’m just trying to see it through the eyes of the out-group.
*There is no correlation between churchgoing and education, not nearly the assumption you’d get from the New Atheist critique of “religion” which focuses on its most extremist branches.
I don’t think it was Islam that caused it. Although that’s relevant now I think New Atheism “failed” (I don’t think this is the correct term, but I see what Scott’s getting at) initially because of Elevatorgate, and then the whole split into Atheism+ and so on. Islam only became an issue later.
To go along with this, Liberals hate Conservatives more than anything else. They see conservatives hating on Muslims, so they want to protect Muslims. Then they see rationalists/New Atheists hating on Muslims and then Sam Harris/Peter Boghossian gets lumped in with “the other side” and gets called Nazis or Alt-Right or whatever.
I’m not so convinced that New Atheism has failed so much. The only evidence you cite for that is a few articles in the Baffler, which isn’t exactly a mainstream publication. Compare that with Sam Harris’s podcast, which is one of the most popular podcasts there is. Also most of the points brought up in Alex Nichols’ article went unaddressed.
I’m mostly using the Baffler articles as backup for my own intuitions, based on things like “if anybody still liked New Atheists, I would expect to find them around here, but in fact when I write posts about the Dark Ages explicitly denying New Atheist beliefs, people leap on me in the comments for not being quite anti-New-Atheist enough.”
I didn’t think the Alex Nichols article had points, any more than the Boston Review article posted here a few days ago had points. Both were “People are gross and racist”. That’s certainly a thing you can write; the question is how New Atheists ended up as popular targets.
Well I’d question the whole assumption behind this post. In what sense did New Atheism fail? Maybe you’re asking why do some progressives criticize the New Atheist movement and Nichols made his criticisms pretty clear: anti-feminism, and the adoption of science and logic as buzzwords to be thrown around to win an argument and not as tools by themselves.
I cofounded a new atheist student group about 12 years ago after reading The God Delusion. That group later became a LessWrong group and its former members now run an SSC meetup, so at least one group of your regular readers and one gateway to the rationality and EA communities can be traced back directly to the new atheists. I’m still a big fan of Dawkins and ended up studying under Dennett in grad school. I have mixed feelings about Harris but not because of his views on Islam. I have a generay positive view of the new atheists.
As someone involved with CFI, American Atheists , etc. I think the platitudes notion sounds on track, but the internal schisms between progressives and everyone else led to a lot of internal discord. I lost interest after elevatorgate. Lots of atheists turned on each other. PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, thunderf00t, etc. Every other week someone was on the chopping block for sexual harassment. The whole thing became an endless series of bickering and infighting.
As good as all the other comments are, I think you’ve pointed out an explanation which has not gotten as much credit as it should have. While other things may have dealt some kind of killing blow, the infighting was the initial wound.
Of course in part this is related to the Blue/Gray split Scott mentioned. My sense, and I’m not a huge follower of this space is that people like Dawkins ended up on the Gray side of things (but without really realizing it) and PZ Myers and company ended up on the Blue side of the split.
Tell me your story! SQUEEEEEE
Seems to me there are at least two major independent reasons for New Atheists falling out of favor.
One is that all allies of social justice are ultimately expendable, and they will be thrown under the bus when another group they have conflict with turns out to be more useful as an ally. Just like gays are gradually falling out of favor when they complain about mistreatment by anyone other than white Christians, so are atheists in general falling out of favor when they disrespect deities other than white Jesus. (Maybe one day even Islam will fall out of favor and get replaced by a more powerful enemy-of-my-enemy.)
But another reason is that atheists are not really good political allies, for the same reason as nerds aren’t ones. They think too much about principles, and that makes them politically inflexible. Social justice can complain on Monday how fashion oppresses women, and celebrate burka as a symbol of women’s empowerment on Tuesday. Atheists are unable to deny everything supernatural on Monday, and worship Allah (or Odin, or kami, or whatever) on Tuesday; not even when doing so would be politically convenient. That makes them less useful as allies, which makes them politically less powerful, which makes them low-status. (Or perhaps it could be said that atheists refused to sacrifice their atheism to Moloch, while social justice gladly threw gays in African and Islamic countries into the fire.)
Atheism+ was an attempt to convert the atheist community into a more politically savvy ally. It meant that the strong personalities who refuse to update and insist on doing atheism qua atheism would have to be removed, and replaced by loyal people; and most of the sheep would then follow the new leadership. Somehow, this plan didn’t work as expected. It would be nice to imagine that the atheist sheep were actually quite smart and most of them understood what was going on, but another plausible explanation could be that they were too nerdy to understand what was socially expected of them, and interpreted the power struggle as an opportunity to openly debate opinions… until the wannabe conquerors realized they were actually unable to herd this group of cats, and not being actually interested in atheism qua atheism they gradually left and found something else to do.
From a politically savvy person’s view, atheists are simply too stupid (i.e. politically illiterate) to be useful as allies; they are like unguided missiles. The safest option is to treat them as low status, so they remain harmless.
I’m curious why Sam Harris is so popular? My impression of him is of Ben Stiller playing an intellectual during his Zoolander phase.
He has an impressive if somewhat pedantic vocabulary and an affected professorial tone, but nothing he says makes particular sense to me? I often feel he is describing a world as he would logically imagine it to be rather than the one we live in?
But maybe he just rubs me the wrong way and is deep thinker in ways I haven’t been able to perceive?
hahaha this ended up in a random spot, I’m still learning how the posting here works. Thanks for y’alls patience
Maybe it’s because not everyone has seen Zoolander?
Also there are not many places where dissenting opinions can have civil, long form debates.
He seems to be pretty intellectually incompetent (see his writings on metaethics and free will, both of which manifestly fail to even understand the area he’s engaging with). But I think he’s one of very few public figures engaging in talking about certain areas and expressing certain views, so for want of anything better people are drawn to him en mass. I think the same thing is going on with Jordan Petersen who is an extremely bad fit for being the intellectual leader of a pro reason and objective debate crowd, since he’s a wildly confused, Jungian vaguely literary cultural critic, but is also the only game in town, as far as most people can see.
I agree with that impression of Harris,”manifestly fail to even understand the area he’s engaging with”
on the other hand
Jordan Petersen is suggesting something very different than pro reason. I feel he is all about seeing the beauty and success of the west and how we are comprising it.
But I guess I find much of the Reason thinkers very uninteresting because like most utopians I feel they heavily discount family creation, violence, pride and people’s stupidity
But I’m curious what you meant by “certain areas and expressing certain views” and which of those you think Harris and Petersen share?
Strange… he’s one of the most transparently understandable philosophers I’ve ever read. Which, by the way, is why I read him. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I certainly get what he’s saying. The only writer with consistently clearer, more lively prose I can think of is Steven Pinker.
In response to Roakh:
I’ve read most of Harris’s writings on ethics (e.g. The Moral Landscape and essays propounding its theme), and I’ve read quite a few critiques of them, along with exchanges between Harris and his detractors. Harris consistently comes out on top (at least on that topic).
I seriously have to wonder if you’ve read him at any length, and not just through critical, secondary sources. I mean, to disagree with him is one thing, but to claim he “manifestly fail[s]” to understand the topic at hand is remarkably arrogant. If nothing else, the man has done his homework, as his notes and quotations of other ethicists within his writing reveals.
So, seriously: how much of him have you actually read?
I haven’t read his books just started watching several of his talks haven’t gotten into them,
and I like what you say here,”consistently clearer, more lively prose I can think of is Steven Pinker”
Pinker and Harris are great communicators with fantastic language skills but with both of them I find their thinking very soft and pre determined
but I feel that the gap between function and design is much larger than most people perceive it to be so maybe I’m just unable to see their brilliance through their polish 🙂
And I still don’t know what he’s saying? Which I guess is part of my Harris critique he sounds really intelligent but he seems to be talking in circles about how smart he is and how he wishes everyone else was smart and relaxed and didn’t have to work. Which is sweet but not very applicable to the situations I usually deal with in life.
I think it has to do with being an inherently negative movement, which ties into your call to action point. It’s much easier to rally around doing something than it is to rally around not doing something. I don’t really feel like any inherently skeptical movement has taken off socially without it having some sort of strongly resonating replacement. “Don’t believe in religion, but we’re not going to advocate a specific replacement because it’s not our place!” doesn’t seem like it has much viral power.
And, as other commenters have pointed out, this ties nicely into Scott’s previous post: the same sorts of people who really rally around a negative movement are perhaps disproportionately likely to be negative about other things, which may well make them rather unwelcome at parties (social and political).
Yeah, perhaps atheism : religion :: non-stamp-collecting : hobby, but the non-stamp-collectors club isn’t exactly doing all that well.
I don’t know about that. Feminists want to “smash the patriarchy” but aren’t really keen on supplying a replacement orthodoxy, yet “feminism” is very popular. Same thing with smashing “white supremacy.”
Then again, I think the more militant forms of feminism and anti-racism are on their way out, so maybe in 5 years these will all be examples of “movements built around smashing of current systems without actionable replacements fail.”
I’d be very curious why you think that. They seem only to be getting stronger to me.
Lou Keep does it better than I. Consider the Social States series, particularly Social Laffer Curves that go for a thousand screaming years.
The tl;dr is purity spirals. The volume of the participants is increasing (which I think is what you’re perceiving as “increasing strength”), but the demands of the most fervent are so high and compliance so difficult that the moderates are just kind of sneaking out the side door.
I think it is not about negativity versus providing specific alternatives, but rather about having principles versus sacrificing them to Moloch.
Atheists are unpopular because they refuse all religions. If they would merely oppose one specific religion, and… let’s say, remain silent about any other religions… they still could have political allies. As long as they didn’t name any specific religion besides Christianity, they were quite popular on the left.
Similarly, feminists who insist on some of their principles (whether good or bad) will lose against the more flexible ones. For example, it would seem like “it is bad to genitally mutilate girls” is an uncontroversial opinion. (I mean, you can have a controversy about whether the same rule applies to boys, or about who specifically should be blamed; but when you talk about any specific girl being genitally mutilated, it should be uncontroversial that a bad thing is happening.) Yet, a feminist who would insist even on this single thing too much will sooner or later be accused of intolerance towards some group which practices female genital mutilation and happens to be considered on the “right side of history” at the moment, and that will make that feminist called out and kicked out of the social justice movement.
>Feminists want to “smash the patriarchy” but aren’t really keen on supplying a replacement orthodoxy…
I mean…I feel like they did, quite a while ago. Isn’t that where most of modern life, where men and women are treated as equal partners in marriage, where they both can work, where women can work in most fields, where the right to not consent to sex is considered important, where people have access to birth control, ect, basically came from?
“where men and women are treated as equal partners in marriage”
Yes, quite awhile ago. But I don’t think modern feminism is spending near as much time on women being able to work in fields or equal partnerships in marriage as they are on controlling male behavior in other social settings (manspreading, mansplaining), equality of outcome demands, intersectionality, etc.
Of course they have a replacement orthodoxy. There’s no holy book and no fuhrerprinzip, but they still love to condemn x or y as “problematic” or “smashing gender stereotypes,” ect.
I don’t think this phenomenon is as unique as you make it out to be. Similar examples are animal-rights activists, vegans, and feminists in the 70s and 80s.
Sure we all agree animals deserve rights and factory farming is bad. But forsake meat? Is that really necessary? How do you know if someone’s a vegan? They’ll tell you.
Sure women and men deserve equal rights. But what’s wrong with gendered pronouns? Political correctness is going too far!
Similarly, sure god doesn’t exist and religion bolsters homophobia and whatnot…
Extrapolating, I don’t think new atheism really failed. I think it’s in the stage where everyone in the tribe technically agrees with their stated beliefs when pressed, but laughs at the atheists because they’re annoying and it’s fashionable to laugh at them.
please get yourself into a factory farm pen for a while so as to learn empathy for other sentients kthx
…regardless of what suntzuanime (who never actually stated a position!) believes, it seems like a descriptive fact that not a huge percentage of people agree with (much less care about) this position.
The fact that you think they’re dumb and/or heartless and haven’t thought it out enough, evidenced by your condescending comment, doesn’t change that.
If they can’t into Meta-Universalizability from behind the Veil Of Ignorance then they’re too dumb/heartless to deserve non-condescension. They were here when that was posted, and it’s been long enough to fcking Get It already. Game Theory, do you grok it? Cooperate or gtfo.
You can feel free to condescend! Condescending is rude, but fine. And suppose I agree that you’re right, and animals matter, and they’re all dumb stupid idiots. That’s not relevant to the point I just made.
The point I made is very simple. It is just this: your beliefs are rare. Regardless of whether they’re wrong or right, need nuance or are properly worked-out, your beliefs are rare.
And when your claim wasn’t “animals deserve rights and factory farming is bad,” but rather
that’s bad for your claim.
I’m not sure how game theory applies here, since animals can’t meaningfully punish us for defection in any way.
‘nah brah’ is pretty dismissive itself for what it’s worth. especially since in exactly two words total it is being declared that maximally only a tiny sliver of the known sentience in the universe is worthy of rights whatsoever.
beleester- game theory would still apply. Example, a dog’s utility is entangled with his/her owner’s. your behavior vis a vis the dog is captured by the owner who can dole out meaningful punishment for defection. Second example, Rhino poachers and anti-poachers.
That reminds me, how’s the attempt of vegetarians to co-opt the EA movement going?
this guy seems like a much more aggressive and unpleasant version of John Sidles, i’d recommend just ignoring him
If the only game theoretic consideration for animals is their owner’s ability to defend them, then what you’re arguing is that animals raised for food are okay to eat, because their owners are willing to allow them to be eaten. I don’t think this is what you wanted to argue.
Maybe you should get bashed with a sledgehammer to learn some empathy for rocks?
Holding out for a hard problem of consciousness solution and fancy neurotechnology so I can hook my mind up to a (simulated?) rock directly.
Why should he? Rocks don’t actually feel anything.
@cactus head And similarly, it’s at least unclear that there’s any person inside a chicken to experience what happens to the chicken. No person, no applicability to (meta-)universalizability. Of course, if Chalmers’ panpsychism is right, then all that goes out the window, and empathy for rocks is not out of the question. Seems unlikely, but so far we don’t have an testable theory of mind…
Yeah, panpsychism seems like the best explanation of consciousness going. Which makes consciousness-based theories of moral worth look like absurd jokes.
@suntzuanime: Yeah, panpsychism seems like the best explanation of consciousness going.
Curious what arguments make you believe this.
It’s the best explanation if one is committed to strict materialism, but not willing to throw out the bare fact that one has experiences.
If you’re willing to give up the strict materialism, then you no longer need to invest every machine and submachine with a ghost.
Well, panpsychism is obviously a very parsimonious solution, right? Why is the sky blue? Because everything is blue, doesn’t get much simpler than that. You don’t have to come up with any weird handwavy bridging to the world of souls or emergent complexity or quantum gravity or anything. The only problem is that it’s also obviously absurd. But I think the reasons it’s facially absurd are not good ones. We tend to think that humans are conscious because we can discuss consciousness with them, and we can’t discuss consciousness with washing machines, so we assume washing machines aren’t conscious like humans are. But there are plenty of reasons why we wouldn’t expect to be able to carry on a conversation about consciousness with a washing machine whether or not it was conscious, so it’s hard to see the lack of such conversations as actual proper evidence.
Adding a new fundamental property to the world doesn’t seem very parsimonious to me.
It’s a new fundamental property of the world relative to strict eliminativist materialism, but for most people the fact of qualia-tative experience is something they’re extremely sure of. So someone could very reasonably favor panpsychism over strict physicalism on grounds of experiential evidence, and over dualism-but-only-humans-are-conscious for reasons of parsimony.
(This is not to say that someone could reasonably prefer eliminative materialism or traditional dualism for arguments of their own; when you dig down into it almost all consistent answers to these kinds of questions have some very strange consequences, and it’s largely a question of which poison you’re least reluctant to swallow.)
What Matthias said. I’m more skeptical of material particles than I am of having conscious experiences. So maybe it’s not reductive materialism that’s true, but reductive idealism. The wave functions of what you’re so sure are material particles=fundamental reality could be mathematical waves arranging themselves into forms at the will of a mind.
It’s still a new fundamental property; vitality may have been the proper explanation for life (before it wasn’t), but that still wouldn’t have been more parsimonious than some type of reductionist or eliminativist account.
Although I don’t find arguments about parsimony to be very important (radical pluralist that I am); still, it seems strange to call something that posits a new fundamental entity to explain a phenomenon parsimonious.
Same we as the atheists (despite 46% of America being creationist), and the feminists (not sure of unfeminism rates).
The set of archetypical Bluish-Grey Tribe people if you have to put a name for it, I guess.
And even then, most of them eat meat.
About 80% of Americans are non-feminist, while over 80% favor social, political, and economic equality.
Poultry’s evolutionary strategy of being tasty to the global apex predator has made it one of the most successful species on the planet. Do you get upset about the millions of insects that die in suicidal mating flights?
Our capacity for empathy is a wonderful feature of our brains, but I’ve come to think that the tendency to attempt to universalize it indiscriminately is as much of an evolutionary trap as moths flying into lightbulbs or beetles mating with beer bottles. You’re being captured by a superstimulus.
If a species increases its success by increasing its suffering, is that good or bad for the species?
If an individual can increase their fitness by suffering through working out, why not?
(But I don’t necessarily agree that most such species’ individuals are actually people, who can experience suffering).
The obvious and fatal hole in this analogy is that working out _isn’t_ a fitness/suffering tradeoff. The person working out gets (or expects to get) higher utility (ie less suffering) on average. In fact, it’s quite clear that we as humans (given the chance) are happy to prioritize personal happiness over maximizing reproduction in many (but not all) situations.
This doesn’t really address the GP question, of whether simply existing overwhelms the suffering that farmed chickens exist.
The use of the words strategy and successful seems to constitute an abuse of language to me.
Nestorr – do you think lower levels of empathy in humanity as a whole would be adaptive then?
It’s just metaphorical, Sapolsky uses that kind of language in his lectures all the time, he clarifies in the very first one of his Behavioural evolution series that of course no one is planning or strategizing, it’s just language. So I count that as my “permission” from authority.
I don’t know if empathy is an unquestionable advantage. I myself am the kind of person who’ll carefully save insects from drowning and I will not have children because I know I cannot protect them from potential extraordinary harm. So in my case, it’s clearly maladaptive.
Once vatgrown meat becomes mainstream (Be it 10 or 100 years from now) breeds of industrially optimized poultry will become virtually extinct, I consider this a positive development, but mainly because of the human suffering in the form of overextended empathy the meat industry causes.
I see this as the only viable path for change, and publicizing the unsavoury aspects of the industry only serves to create human suffering. One kid being traumatized into an eating disorder weighs a lot more than the suffering of a billion chickens in my book. Because I’ve come to think that my empathy being calibrated to conspecifics and nearness is not a flaw but a feature.
The meaning was plain to me, and the word choice deliciously clever.
Beaten to the punch on the obvious “Islam” point. But I think there’s more to it.
There are many people who identify with a religion, but don’t at all live up to it in practice–gay Catholics, for example, or the entire Episcopalian denomination. It is probably more tactful for progressivism to say that it “embraces all religions”–while in reality, of course, this means that it “embraces all people who call themselves religious, but are willing to accept progressive orthodoxy.” Lapsed believers who can’t bring themselves to change how they identify, comfortable sinners who don’t mind shirking the commands of their faith, and the vast spiritualist hordes will flock to them. New/militant atheism alienates all those people, and there are many of them.
I would also suspect that this is a far more effective way to undermine religion. Let people call themselves believers, but gradually erode the traditional meaning of what it is to believe, until there’s nothing problematic left. It’s probably what the New Atheists should have done, would have done if they were more devious and organized.
This is my sense as well. Establishment progressivism is too invested in hollowing out Mainline Christianity and wearing it as a skin suit. Atheism is still a majority white thing, so liberal politicians still have to pretend to be religious (by campaigning at historically black churches, for instance) to keep the minorities interested.
This is an issue for a lot of movements… do we try to promote and force change, or do we let society gradually accept it over a 50 year timescale?
You’re assuming New Atheism perceived religion as merely having problematic parts, but the whole point was a genuine preference for rationalism over supernaturalism, as the endgame in itself.
That just makes supernaturalism one of the “problematic parts”, and one that can be chiseled away like any other.
I agree with you and I don’t think New Atheists realize how bad they can come off when speaking to these groups of people. I originally grew up in an area that was heavily populated by these types of apathetic believers. If you measure how religious an area is by things like frequency of mass attendance or familiarity with holy texts, it was one of the least religious places in the United States. However, if you simply measured how many people identify as atheists or agnostics the percentage was very low. Nearly everyone associated with a specific denomination but openly rejected many of the churches teachings. It would have been difficult to find religious people in the area who rejected evolution, were anti-gay, etc. Later I moved elsewhere in the country and was shocked by how fundamentalist and extreme the congregations at the local churches were. However, I also met far more people who were fervently atheist.
Regardless, liberals from both of these communities (apathetic theists, fervent atheists) end up in the same liberal bubble but their past experiences cause a complete disconnect in any sort of discourse. Many (not all) atheists I interact with start any discussion with the assumption that there is no god. They view things like corruption within churches, hypocrisy, backwards thinking, and bad political and social outcomes as an extension of a false belief in god. That the two are cause and effect. However, they also think that this conclusion is self-evident so they rarely actually explain it. Instead, they become obsessed with documenting the various missteps of religion and think others will find it to be a convincing argument against god. This comes across as insane to the apathetic believer. They view the beliefs and actions of religious institutions/religious people as almost completely independent of their own beliefs and unrelated to the question of the existence of god. It is sort of like discussing the pro’s and con’s of unions and someone just keeps bringing up organized crime. So the issue isn’t that atheists keeping repeating banal truths to the point of absurdity, it is that they keep repeating banal truths that seems unrelated to the discussion at hand.
My point is not to point out some flaw that one side has nor is it to generalize anyone. There are plenty of examples of people from both sides who are able to articulately explain their views in a disciplined way, but in my experiences much of the negative feedback towards Atheists has derived from these types of miscommunication.
The Church of England is way ahead of you.
This only makes sense if you have a very narrow definition of other people’s religion. I really don’t think dismissing an entire denomination as “not living up to it” is helpful – I assume because they now allow gay marriage given the pairing with gay Catholics? They’re not lapsed, as individuals they’re often still very active in the church, as denominations they’re still doing what they do. I hope that my denomination will also approve gay marriage in the forseeable future (we have quite a long process for changing things like that) – that isn’t going to change what we do in the slightest with regards to being christian. I certainly don’t see it as undermining the religion – for me and many others, these things are a long way from the core beliefs.
To be fair given that 46% of America is apparently creationist (!) I can see why Americans associate christianity with creationism and anti gay marriage. It isn’t the case though, and it’s especially unlikely to be the case in the sort of liberal circles these New Atheists were apparently preaching too. It’s not just the “I believe but don’t go to church/do anything with that belief” crowd they were offending, but also the very much devout/churchgoers for whom their belief is an important part of who they are, and mostly don’t believe the things that are at odds with the progressive ideology anyway.
Atheist here. This sentence is very confusing to me. You consider yourself Christian, but you don’t believe humans were created by God? Do you believe any of the other truth claims in the Bible about the nature of reality? If not, what does Christianity mean to you? Is it just a social club for people with an unusually strong commitment to being nice?
To be a creationist requires several other beliefs beside that human beings are created by God.
Such as? (The definition given by Wikipedia seems pretty broad.)
My understanding is that creationism is the belief that all species are created fully by God and that there is no change in species.
In contrast, intelligent design is the belief that God is nudging the evolutionary process, so it is not ‘survival of the fittest’ that steers evolution, but an intelligent designer aka God.
So in both scenarios, humans are created by God, but in the first case, it’s creation in the sense of a painter who creates a static painting. In the second case, it’s like a programmer who creates a program that keeps producing paintings for him and who keeps changing the computer program to create different/better paintings.
My understanding is that Intelligent Design is a specific sort of Creationism, developed in the hopes of persuading the courts that it wasn’t religious, honest, and could therefore be taught in schools. But it isn’t as if I was paying all that much attention.
If I’m interpreting the Wikipedia article correctly, the original form of ID denied that evolution occurred at all. There isn’t a clear description of current beliefs, there seem to be a number of different variants.
(At any rate, I’d expect ID supporters to fall under the “46% creationist” category in the original post.)
I think the commonest form of intelligent design I run into is folks who think evolution cannot account for life in general because of arguments about the complexity of certain biological features like the eye, or of the implausibility of their evolving. I don’t think ID advocates discount microevolution (whatever the plausibility of that distinction, which I obviously find dubious) or of an old earth; they certainly could, but I think it would probably be largely independent of their ID advocacy. But this may well be the better end of ID and not the median or average or whatever of ID.
An ID believer may well think of himself as a creationist or not; in America that’s generally equated with YEC, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.
I think that the reason for not wanting to believe in evolution is generally that people cannot accept that there is no reason behind the existence of humans/the world. So I think that it depends on how much reason these people need. If they just want humans to be special, they can just believe that God intervened to make humans what they are. The more need they have for everything to be there for a reason, the bigger of a role they need to give to God to feel good.
That’s one reason. I can think of at least three others.
1. Evolution undercuts the watchmaker argument for the existence of God. So if you believe in God and want to think there are good reasons to do so, you would prefer to believe that evolution isn’t true, that there is something wrong with either the theory or the evidence.
2. Evolution suggests that humans are less special, closer to animals, than one might otherwise think. There are a variety of reasons not to want to believe that.
3. Evolution has implications inconsistent with your political ideology. The obvious case here is people on the left who want to believe that there are good reasons to think men and women, blacks and whites, are the same in the distribution of characteristics relevant to employment, hence that differing outcomes are due to discrimination. None of them that I have observed say they don’t believe in evolution, since that’s a right wing signal, but they speak and act as if they don’t.
Apologies, I was being a bit sloppy with language there – I was responding to the bit in Scott’s post about 46% being on board with literal 7 day creation. That baffles me in particular given that there is more than 1 creation story in the bible alone…
As for what Christianity means to me… I’m away from home now until Sunday so I’ll just give a starter. Try the hymn “And can it be” by Wesley, or “I cannot tell how he whom angels worship” , I can’t recall the author but it goes very well to the tune of Danny boy. Another good hymn often sung to the same tune is “Let love be real”. All should be easy enough to find words for online 🙂
Progressivism decided* to align with Islam against conservatism because there are a LOT more Muslims and they have the advantage of being a discriminated against minority immigrant population which is a REALLY useful bludgeon. Atheism not only has very little electoral/demographic weight behind it, but is fundamentally aligned AGAINST Islam, and so obviously it had to go. Coalition politics is a human universal and looking at principled reasons why a coalition might drop a member is less useful than looking at power-related reasons, I think.
Atheism as a cause also has the problem of building nothing constructive and not gaining you any power. Like libertarianism but moreso, it tends to be a negative movement about removing power structures and is famously fractious.
*Of course in this context a decision is not a decision of the group as a hivemind but dozens to thousands of individual decisions about how to gain power, but the end result seems pretty much the same to me.
don’t we know that “aligning with someone who’s wrong because we have the same opponents” is stupidly wrong?
“the enemy of my enemy” – might be my enemy too if they’re both enemies of The Truth.
I hate to break it to you, but progressivism sometimes prioritizes other concerns over a total commitment to The Truth.
then fuck progressivism as a movement
Hey, you’re just repeating our own platitudes back to us!
as a movement, not as an ideology
that’s my platitude personally, not sure about anyone else
In the case of modern progressivism, the ideology is the movement. There’s no progressive bible they aren’t living up to. It means whatever the progressive leaders at the moment say it means. Same thing with modern conservatism. Perhaps not for libertarianism, with its rigid “non-aggression principle.”
“As a movement, not as an ideology”
Ideologies need to be implementable; if they aren’t, the better they look the worse they actually are.
I’m really glad you’re back.
I’m not sure I agree with this. I’d argue you could say the same thing about the anti-racist movement– that it’s not building anything constructive, famously fractious, and fundamentally negative, and it’s managed to basically take over progressive discourse.
For what it may be worth, a lot of people make a very good living fighting racism.
Antiracism is in an unholy alliance with the government and schools, and therefore has an almost unlimited number of jobs for wannabe commisars and racially motivated public speakers. The way that antiracists want to achieve their goals tends to be by forcing everyone on earth to behave differently, and that requires enforcers and snitches and leaders. The way that atheists try to achieve their goal is (with some notable exceptions) usually by persuasion, which doesn’t pay.
There are a lot more Muslims? Globally, yes. But there are only about six million Muslims in the US and a lot of those are Nation of Islam types, who admittedly have some weird-ass beliefs but the average New Atheist probably doesn’t even know what they are. (It’s not as weird relative to Islam as Scientology is to Christianity, but it is weirder than Mormonism.) And if he does, they probably scare the dickens out of him. They’re not holding an ideology that the likes of Sam Harris will ever attack.
Anyway, let’s let Nation of Islam go as a gimme and just say that 6 million works out to about 2%. There probably aren’t that many New Atheists in the US, but I’m pretty sure there are more small-A atheists. And I’ll wager their growth prospects are better. We aren’t letting that many Muslims in as immigrants.
There has been a shift on the Right from thinking locally to thinking globally. An American can be aware that their country is less than 2% Muslim but think opposing it is an urgent matter because of the situation in, say, Fair France. DEUS VULT!
On that note, before Pope Benedict XVI created an ordinariate for Anglicans, one of the solutions Episcopalian congregations attempted to escape the majority decision to make the church an adjunct of SJ was to find African bishops to put themselves under the authority of.
Given that SJ comes out of the churches, doesn’t this get the causality wrong?
The phrase “social justice” comes out of Catholicism, but I’m not convinced that the ideology of Social Justice does.
The term social justice comes out of the Catholic Church, yes.
It’s not clear when the meaning changed from “wealth transfers to the poor” to feminism + LGBT + Islamophilia etc. (insert joke about raising Cardinal Bergoglio to the Papacy here) The pressure to make churches conform to that social justice has been coming from outside the Church, an attempt to make Christians “catch up” to what progressive atheists have believed since 1968.
The story of the Anglican Communion’s 1998 Lambeth Conference is emblematic. Philip Jenkins has written extensively about how the schism between white leftists and conservatives of color has played out in multiple Protestant communions.
Though Mencius Moldbug would say the latter kind of SJ came out of the Quaker and Unitarian churches.
No need to beat around the bush about it. The 6 million Muslims are mostly non-White, the atheists mostly White.
That’s an interesting idea. There exist ideologies which incorporate the idea that society should hand wealth, status, and/or power to some preferred group. Feminism, global warming alarmism, and anti-racism come to mind. Atheism is not such an ideology.
Do people choose their activism based on job opportunities? To me, such an idea is both surprising and common sense.
The US is 0.9% Muslim. In comparison, it is 3.1% atheist, 4% agnostic, and 15.8% “nothing in particular” (source).
Nice, so all we need to do for the US is keep demographics capped at 1 Muslim for every 2 Jews. 😀
Wait Stefan Molyneux is a New Atheist? What is the history of this Baffler site, I have never seen this but it’s linked with a donotlink?
A view I sometimes hold, which I freely admit is not entirely charitable: this happened because feminism, environmentalism, and the like pattern match to religion and they know (on some level) that atheism taken seriously will lead to denying those causes too.
It’s fairly easy to see this if you squint the right way: many of the progressive core causes have articles of faith, catechisms that demonstrate your faith in #HashtagGoesHere, and often engage in reasoning motivated by saying that A must be true, because otherwise core tenet B would be falsified.
As I said, I don’t always believe this–and formalized atheism has its own similar issues occasionally. But in principle the precept behind atheism is that we should question facts like these…and maybe on some level environmentalists and democrats and feminists know or suspect they’re vulnerable? I don’t like how strong and negative this a claim this is against people I know are outgroup to me–it’s an area I am likely to make mistakes–but I find it hard to refute.
“My Opponent Believes Something, Which Is Kinda Like Believing It On Faith, Which Is Kinda Like Them Being A Religion.”
The pattern-match isn’t just based on people believing things. There is a common thread between Puritan-ish, Quaker-ish Christianity and progressivism generally. The issue isn’t whether they are all a ‘religion’ but that they are all the same sort of thing created and espoused by the same sort of person. And opposed and despised by the same sort of people. Relevant: https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/27/book-review-albions-seed/
“This thing has religious cultural precedents” is distinct from “this thing is especially religious,” since everything has religious cultural precedents (because all culture until recently was religious.)
This is anyway distinct from what Andrew said:
…whose truth and/or interestingness would be the same regardless of etiology. “If you squint the right way” any belief can be characterized as “an article of faith,” any expression of such “catechisms that demonstrate your faith,” and any modus tollens “motivated reasoning by saying that A must be true, because otherwise core tenet B would be falsified.” (And, per half the comments in this thread, any disagreement or criticism is an “accusation of heresy,” and so on.)
(Now, I actually do think there are useful analogies to be drawn between religion and everything else, but if so you kind of have to bite the bullet and define everything as a religious ritual, which turns out to be a more useful paradigm than I personally would have expected.)
While I don’t agree with his interpretation of progressivism, I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of the points he’s making. This is 100% my tribe and I think the religious comparisons are uncanny sometimes, and specifically in the ways that we criticize normal religions for (like denying science because of its implications). You’re being disingenuous by implying that “believing something” is equivalent to things like “A can’t be true because it would falsify B and only heretics/Republicans believe B”.
“My Opponent Believes Something, Which Is Kinda Like Believing It On Faith”
There’s the leap in logic. Frequently they are asking you to believe it on faith, not “kinda,” with feminists asserting that X or Y is caused by “discrimination” without evidence, environmentalists asserting that disaster X or Y is caused by global warming without evidence, ect.
This isn’t strange at all.
Well, it is, but not for the reasons you’re laying out.
The reason why New Atheism is uniquely singled out for progressive friendly fire is because of Atheism+
There was a schism, in 2011, when some poor soul made the mistake of asking Rebecca Watson out. This snowballed into a gigantic clusterfuck where, essentially, there was a schism between the SJW atheists and the non-SJW atheists. The former called themselves Atheism+, while the latter retained the title New Atheist.
Immediately after this happened, and the battle lines were drawn, Atheism+ started attacking the old guys. I remember, they all flipped pretty much on a dime regarding whether or not Dawkins was a terrible horrible evil person.
But then a funny thing happened. Atheism+ died because nobody likes the fun police, and they had a few too many sociopaths and assholes leading their community.
So we no longer have the SJW version of atheism floating around, but what we do still have is the other half of the atheist movement, which, despite agreeing with the other side on literally everything except for the ethics of asking Rebecca Watson out on a date, has been permanently marked as anti-SJW.
As a result, Atheism+ sympathetic SJWs(*) continue to hold as a cached belief “Atheists (note lack of +) are evil” and then whenever they want to take a cheap shot at an outgroup, they come back to this.
(* in many cases, the Atheism+ sympathetic SJWs are actually the SJWs who were Atheism+ back when that existed. The specific individuals are still saying the same thing, but they no longer formally, publicly identify as atheists)
Seems like too low a level of explanation. How come atheism lost by alienating SJWs, and not SJWism by alienating atheists?
I think the opposite happened. SJW atheists lost, which allowed them to disassociate from the atheist identity and link up with the non-atheist SJWs. Regular atheism, otoh, had no allies to assimilate into.
Ironic result is that while SJW-Atheism lost as a movement, the individuals who comprised that movement won by leveraging non-atheism allies.
IDK. This is actually making less sense as I reason through it
Social Justice as a movement is bigger and much more entrenched in positions of power in the government, academia, media and big companies.
There are probably more atheists (in the sense of non-believers) than SJWs, but fewer New Atheists who are willing to stand their ground than SJWs.
People hate on “SJWs” all the time. I think you’re vastly overestimating the degree of hate that basically any identifiable group (vegans and feminists mentioned above, gingers, white people, trans people, furries, Jews, people who exercise and have an active social life, SBNRs, SWPLs, TERFs, KQRZs, &c.) gets, partially because of polarization and echo chambers but primarily due to the sheer volumes of #content and #discourse that means that there’s a quotably large paper trail of just any attitude or aesthetic imaginable.
I think SJWism also lost, for exactly that reason. Here’s Richard Carrier, one of the architects of Atheism Plus, coming right out and saying it.
(“You need to understand why you are losing these people. Because it’s why you are losing. Period.”)
Good article, but holy kek does he have a bee on his bonnet about Sargon of Akkad
I mean, I don’t mind, but I think he may have succeeded at seeming impartial a bit more if he had dialed it back a bit.
I personally do mind; I don’t find his characterization fair at all. But judging from his politics, that’s about to be expected.
Oh man, the Richard Carrier? All I know of him is at second-hand via the entertaining feud between him and Tim O’Neill, but nothing particularly induces me to favour him.
If he was involved with Atheism + from the get-go, no wonder it foundered!
ISTR Atheism+ attacking Carrier as well, but it was for something dumb like flirting badly.
Flirting at the afterparty of an event which had a “no flirting allowed” policy, IIRC, and with a third party rather than the supposed victim filing the complaint, which is ambiguous enough that casting him into the outer darkness on that basis gets a big eyeroll from me.
But I also recall him unilaterally deciding after 10+ years that his marriage was going to be polyamorous, leading to his not being married after all, so he’s definitely not a sympathetic character in my book.
His fight with Ehrman is amazing, giving us this wonderful rebuttal by Ehrman:
I am glad that this scandal is finally being addressed.
That was interesting to read.
And frustrating. Yes, there is toxic behavior. A lot of the ideas percolating around are also quite toxic, however, and he doesn’t quite seem to acknowledge that.
Maybe that is better, though; it provides an escape hatch. Hm.
Well, I’m sure a few atheists voted Trump 🙂
Not sure how you define “lost,” if you are thinking demographically, they haven’t, the Obama years witnessed an increase in secularization, more Americans than ever identify as religiously unaffiliated. I interpreted the post as “why the New Atheists lost favor among the Respectable People.” But another question would be why they didn’t gain ground among the newly secularized people. Maybe they did, I’d be interested in seeing membership statistics for the atheist groups, but my impression is they haven’t. I think it’s the tribe thing and the ‘sperg thing. The tribe thing because “agreeing with the other side(i.e., the Left) on literally everything except for the ethics of asking Rebecca Watson out on a date” is not something that would appeal to a lot of atheists.(Such as, to pick a non-random example, myself) The association is still too clearly with the Left.
That whole elevatorgate thing would make a great Light Novel title:
“My Ill-fated Elevator Love Confession Somehow Destabilized the New Atheist Movement and it’s Still Hard to Find a Date.”
This is all explained in Nichols’ article which Scott didn’t actually reference besides for linking it upfront.
Meta-comment on strategy:
Based on observation of such examples as Atheism+, Occupy Wall Street, and “thick libertarianism,” it seems to be a losing strategy to try to overspecify your philosophy, especially with respect to issues most won’t see as obviously relating directly to whatever the core impetus was.
The hard part of avoiding this is that people with any sort of vaguely related axe to grind will tend to glom on to any movement that seems to have momentum and public interest. One doesn’t want to kick them out for the very good reason that insisting on ideological purity is a good way to prevent your movement from growing, but one also can’t let them hijack the movement and start making it about their pet cause, which inevitably alienates many of the original joiners and muddles the message so far as the public is concerned.
Not sure about how to avoid that particular phenomenon, but a general rule of thumb is that it’s probably not good for the health of e.g. libertarianism to start taking really firm stands like “no one who supports [open/closed] borders can call himself a real libertarian.” That doesn’t mean one can’t take a firm stand on anything, but rather that one shouldn’t alienate people who basically agree with your core premises just because they use them to arrive at a few different object-level conclusions than yourself.
Past the edit window, but additional, related thought: we all know tribalism can cause the problem of “chunking” logically unrelated issues together, such that if I know your stance on gun control I can guess your stance on global warming, but a maybe slightly less obvious negative consequence of that might be that, if you start to think your “chunk” is natural and logical when it’s actually contingent and tribal, you may shoot yourself in the foot (…unintentional) by insisting e.g. that no one who doesn’t believe in global warming can join your gun control movement.
This is very much a minor objection (LCPW, and all that) but this is probably the first time I’ve seen OWS criticized for being philosophically overspecific. The usual criticism I see is that it never articulated anything other than a vague dislike of banks and political elites, which made it a cipher that nearly anyone (left-liberals, socialists of every stripe, Nazis, goldbugs, anti-lizard activists, whatever) could glom onto, and that its aesthetic/procedural commitment to centerlessness prevented it from coalescing into anything more specific.
Well, it started out overvague which was why it attracted everyone from gold bugs to anti-lizard activists, with the result that nobody knew what the movement was about.
And by overspecified, I meant “too much detail.”
Like, there’s the position “Wall Street and big banks are ruining America,” which is underspecified, therefore leading everyone to fill in the blanks with too much specificity, by which I mean not “too much clarity,” but too many details.
Of course, looking back on it now, I realize that Fox News attempts to publicize “official” demands of a non-centralized movement like OWS were probably bad faith attempts to make the movement look even more loony and incoherent than it was.
But even this one person’s list of relatively non-pie-in-the-sky demands is way too detailed.
Which is not to say I know exactly what OWS could have done to be more successful, but rather that I do have an idea of how atheism as a movement might have been:
Once you get to the point where everyone you’re talking to already accepts your core belief (that there’s no god), then the next logical step is to either try harder to reach the people you weren’t previously reaching and/or try to further root out the effects of e.g. religious thinking in life. The next logical step isn’t to insist that feminism is a logical conclusion of atheism, even if most of the atheists you know are feminists.
This can be a pernicious thing when e.g. such movements don’t know when to declare victory, but, sadly, those movements that don’t know how to declare victory on their one issue but instead keep seeking out “deeper” and “deeper” examples of their bugaboo to slay have more longevity, if nothing else.
There was a schism, in 2011, when some poor soul made the mistake of asking Rebecca Watson out.
Ah come on, it was a bit more than that. I have no sympathy for the New Atheists and I thought she over-reacted, but it wasn’t merely “a guy tried to ask her out”, it was “late after the main convention, in the small hours of the morning, after a group had continuing talking and drinking in the hotel bar, she and a guy got into a lift to go up to their rooms, and he hit on her/tried asking her out/tried asking her for sex” (the details are a bit fuzzy in memory and I’m not going to Google to look it up; there definitely was an aura of “so you’re a liberated atheist woman who has no hang-ups about casual sex, wanna come back to mine?” about the whole approach).
I don’t know if you’ve ever had “drunk(ish) guy hitting on you in confined space” but it’s not particularly great (I’ve had that experience back when I was a lot younger and not being able to get the fuck out of grabbing distance is unpleasant, to say the least). As I said, I think she over-reacted but to be fair, she was tired and emotional herself at the time. The split seems to have hit its worst when Dawkins (it’s that man again!) came along and behaved like an old white entitled and clueless guy, and whatever your opinion on the merits of the matter, it really did show how majority male the movement was, and showcased the “but why don’t women want to join, surely there are smart women who are also atheists out there?” problem. Watson handled it badly but your presentation of it as “poor harmless guy just wanted to ask her out and she set out to crucify him” is precisely what the blow-up was all about.
“It was a bit more than that: it was exactly and literally that thing, but with a bunch of negative-affect words attached! Don’t you know men are inherently threatening and women are inherently threatened?”
I love how people here are so in love with the hard truths when it comes to race or religion or even gender if it is in the employment context, but get mad when women act like sexual assault statistics are real.
Less of this, please. It’s better to talk about ideas than people, and commenters here are the worst choice for people to discuss. CW ideas and politics are likewise the worst choice for ideas to discuss.
Women’s paralytic fear of men is a thing that should be worshipped and exalted and justified and fed at every opportunity.
But white people’s paralytic fear of black men, even though it is exactly, specifically, and literally the same thing in every possible capacity, is something that marks someone as wicked and depraved and must never even be acknowledged.
At least from the account I saw, there was no suggestion of sexual assault. It sounded as though he was propositioning her, although it’s possible that he was clueless enough so that “come up to my room for some coffee” actually meant what it said.
I am not worshiping it. I am acknowledging it exists, and making my assumptions as to where it comes from. My assumption that it is not a product of an intricate 400 year old system of propaganda powerful enough to convince people it is morally acceptable to own and/or categorically deny civil rights to other people.
Maybe you believe there is some system of misandry that is comparable to white supremacy and leads women’s’ instincts to be so inaccurate that it is unreasonable for one to politely ask to not be prepositioned in certain times and places on the grounds that it makes her uncomfortable? If so, I’m sure I won’t convince you otherwise and hope you have a nice day.
Oh! I thought you were implying that she might have thought the guy was black and hence was in significant danger since the sexual assault statistics show that black men are 8 times more likely to commit sexual assault. Thank you for clarifying.
That’s the point of my snarky post, though. You can say both that white fears of black crime and female fears of male crime are, while based in some truth, are wildly out of proportion with actual risk in most situations and should therefore be disregarded or minimized. Or, you can say black people are disproportionately criminal, men are disproportionately rapey, and that the fears whites/women feel towards them are rational enough to be worthy of some respect in both cases. Or, you can do what I did, and suggest that the history of white supremacy means that white fears of black crime are apt to be overblown, but that the lack of an equivalent history of female supremacy means women’s’ fears are more trustworthy and accurate.
But what makes no sense at all to me is to talk up the Bell Curve and crime stats out of one side of your mouth while, out of the other, dismissing a woman’s lack of desire to see how a man she doesn’t know handles the word “no” at 3am.
If we believe, as we’ve so often been told, that rape is about power not sex, you’d think that a proposition would– by making the situation more about sex– make it feel less rapey rather than more.
What you did was idiotic, and only not a “lie” by virtue of the fact you aren’t capable of knowing or caring what the truth is. I also like how you dismissed what I was saying, based on something I did not say, but that you imagined for the purpose of dismissing me.
The equivalent history is sexism. It is sexism. All of sexism. Sexism. That. That’s the thing I’m talking about. “Men are inherently threatening, women are inherently threatened, women’s fear of men is to be worshipped and exalted and justified and fed” is sexism. It’s not new sexism. It’s not reverse sexism. It’s sexism. It is that thing. Feminism has absolute continuity with sexism, because it is sexism and isn’t not sexism and every part of it is sexism.
And you repeat sexism, you chant the chant of sexism, and you smugly posture at me because SEXISM can’t be as old and powerful as RACISM, so irrational fear of men must be wonderful and praiseworthy but irrational fear of black men must be evil and wicked and can’t possibly be the same thing.
You know what lynching was, right? You know why black MEN kept getting lynched, the MEN, the MEN WHO WERE FUCKING MEN AND TARGETED FOR BEING MEN, because men were considered by sexism to be inherently sexually threatening and women inherently threatened! You just filed the serial numbers off that, and use black men as props to politically posture, while still promoting the same exact paralytic terror because the love of sexism is your core value.
You should probably tone that down.
Assuming we are still talking about the Watson case, that lack of desire would be a good reason for her not to take up his offer. It isn’t a reason for her to be offended at his making it.
“sexual assault statistics are real”
Which statistics are you referring to? Probably not real ones!
A lack of desire to see how he responds to being told “no” is a good reason to tell him no?
It’s a good reason to tell him “no” in a context much safer than his hotel room.
I believe the context in question was the elevator, though I may have misinterpreted Herbert’s comment.
Okay. I knew that this was a possibility when we started. I consider it laughably, almost psychotically, absurd, but if I accept it for the sake of argument, it does did you out of the illogical edgelord inconsistency that was all I really wanted to talk about. Accordingly, I hope you have a nice day.
Nope, you’ve got it right.
I think Deiseach was trying to explain to you why what the guy did was a problem, and you evidently didn’t see anything except the negative-affect words. Let me try again. (Caveat: my only knowledge of this incident is what is on Wikipedia, I hadn’t heard of it before.)
The problem was, “followed her into an elevator”. It isn’t a problem that people ask you for something you don’t want to give them, or suggest doing something you don’t want to do. You say no, or no thank you, depending, and let it go at that. It is a problem when they back you into a corner you can’t get out of with no one else around and then do the asking. This is especially a problem if they are bigger than you are. If the worst Watson said was “guys, don’t do this” (and I don’t know that it was, but that is what Wikipedia quotes her as saying), I will echo her: guys, don’t do this.
You stand a better chance of getting the guys to see why this behavior is seen as threatening, if you can do it without using language that presupposes a deliberate threat.
As quoted below, Watson actually says that the guy “got on the elevator with me”, not that he followed her. It might have just been that the two happened by coincidence to be getting on the lift at the same time. (Indeed, since Watson’s point would be strengthened if he had deliberately followed her, I’m inclined to think that it probably was a coincidence.)
In what way did she handle it badly? Wasn’t her response of the form “hey guys, friendly word of advice, 4am in a confined space is not the time or place?”
She didn’t run around screaming “RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPPPPEEEEE!”
Sheesh, did you seriously just write a comment saying “I’m not going to look it up but I am going to confidently make shit up about it”?
Here’s her exact quote:
“we were at the hotel bar, four a.m. I said I’ve had enough guys, I’m exhausted, going to bed, so I walked to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me and said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more, would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” ”
> As I said, I think she over-reacted but to be fair, she was tired and emotional herself at the time.
Also bullshit: there was no overreaction of hers at the time; the aforequoted passage is from a vlog she made at a later date. Fwiw, i think that the worst you can say about her is that she mildly overreacted, and this could have been a nonstory if anyone at any point was willing to extend a little bit of charity instead of blowing it up further every step of the way (the initial guy committed a probably unwitting faux pas, Watson tried to nicely explain it maybe a tad more caustically than necessary, Dawkins’ reaction to her was pretty unempathetic, and so on and so forth. At every step, what mistakes were made were relatively understandable and forgivable, but people get so high on outrage that it just escalated. All of this is only exacerbated by the exact thing you’re doing here.
I wouldn’t describe Dawkins’ response as “understandable”. It was aggressively dickish!
And this is basically why I, as a guy who grew up in a sufficiently religious milieu that I read books on refuting creationism to better debate my classmates in high school, and felt a great deal of relief when Dawkins and others first showed up to provide an assertive public voice of non-belief, have no interest now in identifying with the new atheists. I’m an atheist, but I don’t want to put forward a bunch of dicks as the leaders of what I am.
(I also think that most of us move in relatively age-bracketed internet environs in a way that isn’t entirely visible to us, and the trajectory of how atheism shows up to me on the internet has a lot to do with the fact that a lot of people in my thirtysomething cohort were living in religious suburban communities in the early 2000s and now live in functionally atheistic communities of people like us, and don’t feel the same need for support for that set of beliefs.)
climate change activism combines “we should accept the scientifically true fact that the climate is changing” with “we should worry about climate change causing famines, hurricanes, etc”, just as atheism combines “we should accept the scientifically true fact that God does not exist” with “we should worry about religion’s promotion of terrorism, homophobia, et cetera”
I think this is a good point – that part of the appeal of a movement often rests on its ability to go OH NOES, something must be done, this is something! WE MUST DO THIS But it’s also fair to point out that the least effective climate alarmists are those who say that climate change is not only responsible for monster hurricanes (mumbletwelvepauseinAtlanticcyclemumble) but also for earthquakes.
Likewise, atheism seems to want to hold religion responsible for things that, well, let’s just say there are tectonic plate-sized forces at work in humanity, and while God is larger than that, imo, the average tepid helping of religiosity isn’t.
The problem with using terrorism, etc as a falling sky is that for the most part, religion already is a bulwark against that. “People doing harm to each other” is a long standing problem for which atheism has not proven a cure, and actually acts against the most common human response, which is more religion.
But the climate change people seem better at sounding like they care about the people involved, compared to atheists usually sounding more concerned with Truth For Its Own Sake and bringing in the other stuff as a justification.
…have you *met* any atheists? The sort I run into are not into denying God for the sake of a fundamental truth of the universe, but because they’ve taken some massive damage, somewhere along the line, and *personally* blame God and/or a/the Church for it. (In the case of different congregations, some of the blame is quite justified.)
Its not that there aren’t people who firmly, calmly, and without drama feel that there is no There there. There are many, and they seem to be over represented at SSC. But those sorts are also the type to believe in the lack of evidence in a non-evangelizing, non-proselytizing sort of way – willing to confess their belief, and comfortable defending it, but taking a ‘go thy own way’ approach to the average theist.
Neither assholes nor obsessive crazy people, in other words. Which, like the quiet people of any group, are the ones you don’t hear about.
I also think that you, Scott, are wanting too much, too fast. Particularly among the liberal caucasian sort, secularism appears to be a done deal. So long as Islam never really gets a foothold among the Western upper class, Jews continue to shed their faith and Buddhism remains the non-demanding fringe platitude that it is in Hollywood, atheism is going to stay the defacto value of the Blue Tribe. Give it time, and we may yet get Roddenberry’s future.
(edited a hair)
Are there actually people who think climate change causes earthquakes?
And I’m not complaining because I think atheism’s failed as a belief system – I agree with you that in practice everyone’s atheist. I’m just confused that even though it’s the victorious belief system it’s managed to fail as a social movement.
Well, I would shirk to quote the gaurdian, but I think this publication gets read by more climate alarmists – and atheists – than The Baffler.
There was also a bit of the standard “ohnoes” a couple months back when we had three hurricanes, massive wildfires, and an earthquake in Mexico all at the same time. But frankly, that’s *exactly* the sort of situation where, traditionally, people turn to the religious/supernatural explanations of their choice.
I agree with you that in practice everyone’s atheist.
Nah, man. Everyone’s religious. Just in your house, the favored belief is “not believing.” (Come on, you don’t think that the Blue Tribe is secular because of evidence, do you?)
Although you started out by using global warming -> earthquakes as an example of something obviously wrong, it seems like you have just linked to a Nature paper that makes a pretty convincing case for global warming -> tropical storms -> more frequent but smaller earthquakes in affected regions.
That good old climate change! Prime mover of the universe! Is there *anything* it doesn’t cause?
you present as unaware that evidence exists. is this an act in an attempt to emotionally manipulate people who have religious feelings about “evidence”? that usually mostly just hurts people; i recommend providing them evidence instead
One way I could interpret this is that you (Scott) think that there is no one who lives as a committed theist? Is that what you mean or is there something else that I am missing?
I’m pretty sure Scott is following this bit from the conclusion of keranih’s post:
In other words, in practice a certain subset is atheist; the ‘everyone’ makes sense in context.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! Atheism is not “the victorious belief system.” There are lots of people who are not traditional theists but most of them believe one or both of the following:
1) “Everything happens for a reason.” There is something in the universe, some force or sort-of consciousness, that is looking out for things.
2) We all have three aspects: physical, mental, and spiritual.
Strict atheism denies both of them. At this moment in time, it is fated to be less popular than “I’m not religious but I’m spiritual.”
there is moloch in the universe, some force or sort-of consciousness, that is looking out for granite cocks
we all have three aspects: body, mind, and cybernetics; they are implemented on meat and silicon
(some people like to deny these things and call themselves atheists, but that doesn’t mean anything about atheism strict or otherwise)
“I agree with you that in practice everyone’s atheist”
What does this mean?
theism is weaker than it used to be because it’s much more legible that theities aren’t real
does this model include description of why the blue church isn’t currently imploding?
I’m not quite sure what blue church you mean…
With the decline of political social conservatism, New Atheists stopped being a weird ally of progressivism and became too much of an enemy of more central members of the coalition. Other commenters have mentioned Muslims, but African-Americans are also prominently religious. And progressives don’t see religious people within the coalition as opponents – a friend may be nominally Catholic, but they still support same-sex marriage/the welfare state/etc. To them, New Atheists are stirring up unnecessary trouble.
New Atheists are a victim of their incomplete success – they got their political victories, but not their desired cultural change.
The decline of political social conservativism? Is that a thing that happened? Trump sure doesn’t seem like he won on a tide of small-government free-market economic conservativism.
Trump won because of populism, not conservatism.
Also, yes social conservativism is on the decline in the USA. At a minimum, it’s shifting so that sexual morality is now enforced by the rules of liberals, not conservatives. Likewise racial favoritism and, as noted, favored religious groups.
I thought populism was sometimes defined as “social conservativism plus economic liberalism”. Certainly some social conservative positions (immigration, religion, NFL players kneeling for the national anthem) seem involved.
Lots of things are sometimes defined in dumb ways, let’s not get bogged down in definitions. You know that Trump wasn’t elected by fundamentalist Christianity, you know that NFL players kneeling for the national anthem has nothing to do with the positions of the New Atheists, you’re not actually confused about anything, you’re just bickering over word choice.
I was confused, but have figured it out now. Thanks for explaining it, however confrontationally.
There are two kinds of populism (though they often co-occur): appeals to “the people” against the corrupt government and “out-of-touch elites”, and the combination of authoritarianism and economic restrictions popularly portrayed as helping “the common man” (typically involving trade barriers and sometimes some redistribution, but unlike in leftism, there’s also a focus on preventing the “undeserving” from having it easy). Social conservatism is one of several forms of authoritarianism.
Your mention of “economic liberalism” is confusing because that term means opposite things in the U.S. versus the rest of the world. Outside of the U.S., “liberal” in this context means “laissez faire” or “free market”.
I think defining populism as social conservatism plus economic liberalism is going to lead you some strange places. Bernie is a populist; so is Trump. What they have in common isn’t social conservatism plus economic liberalism, it’s a strong narrative saying you, regular Americans, are being exploited; here’s how you can get your power back. The villains of the two stories and the morals at the end couldn’t be any more different, but their structure is very similar.
There is a progressive meme floating around that Trump represents some kind of resurgence of evangelical power, and it confuses me. The Religious Right is part of the ruling coalition right now, so in the short term it’ll probably get some of what it wants, but in isolation it hasn’t been this weak since, like, the Carter administration. And it has no particular growth prospects, since all the talking points right now focus on some very un-religious things.
He sure as hell didn’t win on a platform of opposing gay marriage and abortion. The New Atheists have nothing to say about trade, and even give aid and comfort to Trumpist concerns about Muslim immigration.
I hate to dispute this point with you, since in general I think your first response (“Islam, duh”) is the actual answer to what is going on.
Abortion was very big in this last election, and remains, going forward, the single biggest deal of the republican party. Trump won white women after his access hollywood tape came out, and that is down to abortion.
Are most white women pro-life, or am I misreading you?
Most white women are pro-choice, as the term is normally understood.
I can’t find good recent data on white women specifically, but the data I can find strongly suggests that the opinion of white women is about that of the nation as a whole.
57% of people think abortion should be legal in most cases.
59% of women think abortion should be legal in most cases.
58% of non-Hispanic whites think abortion should be legal in most cases.
Abortion as an issue is kind of baked into the Democrat vs. Republican divide, but Trump was much less hardline on it than the average Republican candidate was, either in the primary or in previous elections. He came out and said in the primary debates that Planned Parenthood does good things, and still won the nomination.
Trump was definitely “pro-life” (scare quotes because I don’t think he personally really believes, but is happy to be for the purpose of getting elected as a Republican) and it was probably pretty key to helping him keep parts of the Republican Christian base that might otherwise have not turned out. I think they, correctly, view his “pro-life” stance as purely transactional, but if that gets them conservative judges (and it does) then thats all they could reasonably expect anyways. So they are reasonably happy with it. Also, a lot of pro-life voters correlate with anti-SJW vote generally – and while I don’t think Trump delivers much on this in policy, he delivers a lot in symbolism. Like I don’t think Trump’s tweet fight with NFL kneelers will get that to stop, but its psychic comfort to people offended by it that the President of the United Status is being vocally offended with them.
Also my intuition is that while the majority of voters, including white women specifically, believe that abortion should be legal – they also believe it is in some sense morally wrong. And while they want it to remain legal, they also want to express their judgment of its wrongness. Voting GOP on that issue, so long as they never actually succeed in getting Roe repealed (which I don’t think they are likely to do) is a way to do that.
“Are most white women pro-life, or am I misreading you?”
Sorry, other way round. Most pro lifers are women.
“Social conservatism” is a combination of a few things.
Consider this 4-way socia breakdown from Andrew Gelman:
My impression is that New Atheism was anti-“religious conservative”, but otherwise didn’t really decide among the other three groups.
Trump marketed himself as caring about immigration and trade, rather than same-sex marriage, abortion, school prayer, etc. In the Bush years, nationalism was in the big tent of social conservatism, but since then the two have grown apart.
Trump did this during his campaign. Peter Thiel spoke in his support at the Republican convention while proclaiming himself proud to be gay.
Could you imagine Bush, or one of his main backers, doing anything like that? The religious right has lost the culture war. Their last remnants may support Trump because they have no alternative, not because he’s their candidate.
Social conservatives (particularly evangelical Christians) had a better candidate on the Republican side: Ted Cruz, or maybe Ben Carson. Trump winning the nomination seems to imply that, while social conservatives ultimately chose him over Hillary, social conservatism was not the driving force behind his election.
I think this is a big part of it, black people and latinos are a big part of the democratic electoral coalition (and their key to a “permanent demographic advantage”, which seems like it’s not happening after all, but whatever), and they’re far more religious, on average, than white people.
Another thing is that a lot of the people who are part of the New Atheist movement are traditionally low status, nerdy guys with poor social skills and no fashion sense. Of course the question is if their low status made them fail, or their failure made the higher status people leave.
I don’t think it has much to do with Blacks and Hispanics being Christians. Neither group has shown that they care much about White people’s beliefs or behavior, so long as they are appropriately pro-Black or pro-Hispanic politically. It’s Islam and (to a lesser extent) feminism that is the issue.
So uh this is unrelated but while I’m not sure whether having to log in to view comments now is deliberate I’m pretty sure this less readable new appearance of said comments is not?
Edit: And it’s fixed, nevermind
Whenever I hear people argue that some group of people never change their opinions based on solid reason, I think of this poster. If the New Atheism has met a negative response in liberal circles, perhaps that’s because the arguments put forward are themselves unconvincing. And since a large faction of liberals do not identify as atheist (even if they’re not the Bible-thumping sort), the New Atheists tried to be part of an ingroup they’ve had to engage with to change their minds by persuasion. If you’re lamenting their rejection as part of the liberal ingroup, you have to assess whether their arguments are persuasive to the typical liberal theist – not crazy 7-day creationists.
Speaking as a theist, I’m always amazed at the pointlessness of the ‘debates’ between New Atheists and Fundamentalist Christians. Sure the Fundamentalists sound crazy, but then they always did. I didn’t need New Atheists to point that out to me. Meanwhile, the New Atheist arguments sound like this, “Now I’ve conclusively proved that the Earth could not be created in 7 days and that a literal interpretation of the Bible is a really dumb idea – therefore you must reject Christianity outright!” Except I already thought the literal/inerrant Biblical guys were dumb and that what they’ve introduced is a completely anachronistic way to read the text anyway. And I know New Atheists don’t just debate Fundamentalists, and maybe it’s just my selection bias, but I don’t really hear them engaging with more sane theist ideas in their quest to stamp out Belief by dint of pure logic. So the outsize focus on Fundamentalists feels more like a straw man with which to beat on not-crazy Theists, and it makes New Atheism a tired old party trick that’s easy to ignore. Except when the trickster comes up to you at a party and tries to run the trick on you, at which point you just say, “Yeah I’m familiar with this one and I know how it works. Go bug someone more gullible like you usually do.”
I know Atheists hate this line of thinking. “Look, I don’t believe in any type of God, so why should I have to learn any of the details that would disprove YOUR particular belief system?” And if we’re talking about ME convincing YOU, your point is entirely valid. However, if YOU aim to convince ME you’ve got to do a little better than convince me of the error of dogma I don’t actually believe.
Yes! I’ve had the exact same impression. Thanks for helping clarify this.
Again, I’m not claiming new atheism doesn’t do this. I’m claiming everyone else does too.
Agreed, but I’m saying the difference with New Atheism is that, sitting on the bench with the Blue Team, they don’t have as sympathetic an audience as those other viewpoints. It’s easy enough to make fun of the outgroup from your ingroup when you know your ingroup is mostly pure. In this case, though, New Atheists often come across as saying (in mixed company, as it were) something like, “Yeah, all those theists are pretty dumb, huh? They ALL believe in crackpot anti-science garbage. Let’s all agree to dismiss them out of hand.” *wink* And I suppose when you’re trash talking from inside the ingroup that kind of intellectual shorthand is acceptable. My point is that New Atheists AREN’T in their ingroup when they talk in liberal circles. So if they use shorthand like that they’ll get sidelong looks and a general cold shoulder. That’s not the case with someone who makes negative comments about things most liberals naturally agree with. They have a home in their ingroup, but New Atheists don’t have an unmixed home in the Blue Team ingroup.
A corollary would be Southern Baptists making 7-day young-Earth claims. If they give a dismissive, “of course this evolution stuff is nonsense” while in the Bible Belt they’re among friends and will meet a warm reception. If they try that garbage in New England Republican circles their audience is likely to dismiss them out of hand. “Sure, I’m glad they vote with us, but I wish they would stay out of the limelight. They give the rest of us a bad name.”
The issue is the approach, which for New Atheists is kind of a unique problem. Not because they’re uniquely exuberant in the way they express their views, but because neither major political party is a solid ingroup for them.
Wait, are you saying most liberals are sophisticated theologists? I’d guess it’s closer to 20% hard atheist, 40% agnostic, 30% church religious, 10% sophisticated theologist.
Yeah, that’s probably about right. But how many of those church religious are young-Earth creationists versus not? And how many of those agnostics are taking a principled agnostic stance, versus those who say, “yeah, I probably should be more religious and all but I just don’t have the time; sometimes I’ll go to church on Christmas or Easter, but it’s not like a tradition for me or anything. Maybe for my parents it was a bigger deal, but I just don’t want to claim I’m all holy when I’m not.”
And you have New Atheists coming at them trying to bear down in hard reason and maybe for some that approach works okay, but for others who just don’t have the time for all that God stuff you’re not going to reach them by asking them to take the time to sit down and argue about imaginary teapots, or what God said in a part of the Bible they don’t really read.
Meanwhile, you have various sects of Catholics and Protestants asking if maybe they’d like to come to the potluck this weekend, or maybe bingo, etc. There are tailored approaches to persuasion, and New Atheists don’t come across as anything like a tailored approach.
I think some of the focus on Fundamentalists is that the New Atheists feel they have the most negative impact on policy. General theists with no sacred text to follow are likely to cause less harm. However I do think there is some selection bias. I’ve seen lots of debate about non-specific theism as well as specific religions. You can’t debate all beliefs at once.
This seems correct to me. Even within liberal circles, it isn’t exactly rare to find religiosity or deism in some form (see the 80% figure cited by Scott). The problem for New Atheists is that, within those circles, the belief doesn’t take the form against which they are [pedantically and pompously] arguing.
If, for example, someone is a liberal believer who characterizes God as the ground of all being, whose presence is realized through the community of the Church, etc., they are not really susceptible to a New Atheist proof that evolution is real. That isn’t the point. And the believer will be understandably antagonistic to the New Atheist if the New Atheist then uses his irrelevant proof to belittle all religious belief, including the believer’s.
Agreed. I think what the New Atheists are targeting isn’t a weak man, in terms of the national prominence of specific beliefs among religious people, but seems a lot like it within vaguely upmarket liberal circles.
Hmmm. I stopped identifying as Christian and started identifying as atheist as a direct result of someone asking me why I called myself a Christian if I didn’t believe that the Bible was infallible. (My opinions didn’t change all that much, so far as I can recall, just the way I labelled myself.)
I was probably not the typical liberal theist, and especially not a typical American liberal theist, but I can understand why this sort of argument might seem sufficient to some people.
I think the friction between new atheists and progressives makes a lot of sense if you entertain Haidt’s perspective on progressivism– namely that it’s committed to the idea of compassion and the care/harm axis to the exclusion of all others. Their guiding principle, boiled down, is “I’m opposed to things that hurt people”.
My impression of New Atheism is that it never really argued on that axis. For them, the primary goal was to demonstrate that religion was not a legitimate authority (and that the scientific tradition was), which meant it was never quite relevant to the progressive’s conception of what was good. Even when they called out the harm that religion did, it was usually in service this broader argument that “this is why religion isn’t a just authority”. From the perspective of most progressives, it made the new atheists seem preoccupied with things that fundamentally weren’t relevant to them.
@Mengsk: “Their guiding principle, boiled down, is “I’m opposed to things that hurt people”.”
Not really. Progressives are collectivists, so it only matters if members of Officially Designated Victim Classes get hurt. And it only matters if they are hurt by something on the list of Officially Designated Progressive Issues. If a black man is shot and killed by police just because he picked up a toy gun in Kmart, progressives don’t don’t make a stink about that, because it could be seen as an argument against over-zealous gun-control hysteria.
I made a stink about that, and know a lot of people who did. It was insane. Also, less charitably to myself, it was an opportunity to accuse the pro-gun lobby of the exact same type of ulteriorly-motivated selective outrage you accuse progressive of here (see, also, Philando Castile).
Plus, Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun and he is at least the third most famous victim in the BLM-is-Right-osphere.
There is a distinction that I should have made, but did not. My criticisms are, I think, most apropos when applied to progressive journalists and progressives in the entertainment industry — people who seem to feel their job is molding public opinion. The everyday progressives I’ve met are generally much more reasonable.
You know, now that I think of it some more, WalMart guy did get oddly little coverage. Not at first–I remember it being all over my mostly progressive facebook/twitter when it happened. But then it just sort of died out, to the point where I had no idea what the guy’s name was until I just now googled it (John Crawford) or what happened with the shooter (grand jury non-indictment).
I don’t agree with your point, because I think Castile and Rice disprove it, but you’re definitely not crazy to think it was weird.
The pro-gun activists I know did make a stink about Philando Castile, and they’re also fond of pointing out that modern gun control grew out of efforts to disarm the Black Panthers in the Seventies. But they may not be typical.
That the NRA didn’t is largely seen as justifiable shorthand for the pro-gun movement as a whole (which doesn’t seem to have any other organized center) not doing so. The idea of there being a silent majority of pro-gun activists falls apart since you can’t be a silent anything and still be an activist.
I’m not claiming a majority — I’m well aware that the people I know are not representative of anything. But while the NRA is the 800-pound gorilla of gun rights, it’s not the only thing going. The people I’m talking about tend to have mixed feelings about it, though less because of fundamental ideological objections and more because it’s seen as ignoring or capitalizing on local issues.
Not the most charitable description of progressives, but even if we accept it, the difference between collectivism and individualism is sort of orthogonal to the distinction I’m describing. I’m drawing on Haidt’s work on moral foundations, where he argues…
I’m just pointing out that a lot of the New Atheists’ arguments weren’t really designed to appeal to people who see moral questions through this lens.
“this is why religion isn’t a just authority”
Interesting. Arnold Kling might say that they’re actually speaking the language of conservatism, even though their interests seem to be superficially aligned with progressivism.
I think the problem is that the New Atheists criticized people for being religious, which is something you’re not really supposed to do. It’s outside the bounds of tolerant behavior in this society. You’re not supposed to criticize people for being Catholic or Jewish; at most you can take issue with particular policies of the Catholic church or Jewish traditional practice. Saying there is something wrong with being Baptist, say, is as bad as saying there is something wrong with being Irish, and that’s considered pretty darn bad. And the New Atheists went beyond that to saying all of these religious folks were just plain deluded, which was rude enough to alienate a lot of people. They said something that is ok to believe, and possibly to say in the gentlest of terms, but not to say brashly, and were treated harshly for it.
But there are plenty of groups which are rude and intolerant and alienating and remain in good standing in elite circles/among Scott’s commie tumblr friends. So there’s still a puzzle. Your point about “saying there is something wrong with being Baptist, say, is as bad as saying there is something wrong with being Irish” doesn’t actually work, because the racial equivalent of the New Atheists don’t actually see the same treatment.
“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
Connecting atheism simpliciter to any particular ethical or political cause — except perhaps opposing creationism and civic religious symbols, and generally supporting for science — requires at least a few steps’ worth of controversial and non-obvious of reasoning.
“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
It’s not obvious that the second sentence follows from the first. Self-report survey data, fwiw, shows that religious people are happier. And the atheist stereotype isn’t the guy getting the most enjoyment out of life.
The New Atheist movement is just a banal example of the maxim that most people are ignorant, and if you successfully convince a large number people to believe something to be true, most will believe it to be true for the wrong reasons. Essentially you’re trading people believing in something false for ignorant reasons, to believing something true for ignorant reasons. And ignorant people are obnoxious. In this case, the ignorance is in philosophy, which is related to the fact that the New Atheist movement is aligned with a naively scientistic STEMlord attitude that eschews expert consensus in one field (philosophy) while simultaneously lamenting that expert consensus in other fields (climate science, for example) are not given enough credence.
Expert consensus in philosophy is atheist.
Expert consensus in the specific sub-field of Philosophy of Religion is not, however. Although there’s obvious selection bias going on, ‘Expert consensus in philosophy is atheist’ is misleading. Whether or not ‘eschewing expert consensus’ is a good way to describe it, there was a genuine phenomenon of New Atheist STEMmers claiming philosophical competence they did not possess, and belittling philosophy when they met resistance.
Philosophy of religion selects for theists; there’s not much for atheist philosophers to do in current philosophy of religion. “There’s not enough evidence to believe in God, ok, guess that’s all the philosophy of religion for today”.
Yeah. Since there’s atheist and theist philosophers of religion, I’d say the expert consensus in that field is “neither side is much impressed with the other.” (Of course, I’m sure that’s the case with most divisions of this sort.) I don’t see any way out of this other than to determine what the strongest arguments are on both sides and actually engage with them to the best of one’s ability. I’m not convinced that New Atheists were generally doing this, but I think few really realized that; it’s not all that common to find someone who admits for instance that yes, they aren’t engaging the strongest arguments, who cares about that when millions of people still believe in a literal 7-day creation.
Yes, there’s selection bias going on, and I’m inclined to think that’s the main factor. Philosophy of religion doesn’t exist in a vacuum; as the philosophers of religion will themselves tell you, their views on religion are linked to views they hold in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and so forth. And philosophers who are experts in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind (fields that are considered “core” philosophy; there are many specialists, and almost all philosophers have extensive backgrounds in those areas) reject the views on those subjects held by most of those who are believers among the philosophers of religion. So I am inclined to think that the overall consensus among philosophers is more relevant than the narrow consensus among philosophers of religion.
Urstoff: there is something for the atheist to do in contemporary philosophy of religion, namely, engage with the theists there. It’s just that that once you’re convinced religion is wrong, it usually doesn’t seem that worthwhile to spend a lot of intellectual effort getting that marginal bit clearer on why religion is wrong, as opposed to, say, getting that marginal bit clearer on causation, or whatever.
I agree with Nick.
Protagoras: I guess there’s a cluster of typical analytic theist positions, the most obvious of which is mind-body dualism (though it also extends as far as political conservatism), but I think this is as much a weird contingent tribal thing as anything else. Many religious intellectuals who are not analytic philosophers of religion are also suspicious of the dualism, not to mention political conservatism, among analytic philosophers of religion.
My bottom line is that the experts in a given field are those actually working in that field. In this case, the field is the philosophy of religion, and there is no consensus for atheism among experts there. I think your initial comment should have been, basically, ‘what expert consensus in philosophy are you talking about?’, then discussing selection bias and the atheist majority in philosophy generally if Orin cited some statistics for the philosophy of religion.
I seems like it would be of interest to be any bit clearer on why religion is, though.
Sure, but that’s not a philosophical question. That’s an empirical one for psychologists/sociologists/anthropologists.
I feel like at that point the territory of philosophy is vanishingly thin. The question of “What is good?” or “What is beauty?” is going to be informed by psychology, neurobiology, etc. also; is it out of the realm of philosophy? I can’t imagine anyone represented by a greek statue agreeing with diminishing the discipline so much.
“What is good?” is going to be informed by neurobiology? Surely you jest.
What is good depends to an extent on what is good for humans which depends to an extent on what makes humans happy, happy being a term for a specific relative ordering of various chemicals inside brains.
What is good for humans is a subset of good. Good is in no way dependent on one of its subsets.
Define how what is good for us “depends to an extent on what makes humans happy.” It’s quite vague as it stands. Would rescuing a baby from a diseased rat be good for a human if they’re sentenced to a terrible punishment for unlawful entry and property damage when the baby’s guardian falsely accuses them of attempting to assault the baby?
Science may be able to prove that pleasure is just brain chemicals, but that will do nothing to strengthen the argument that pleasure is the only good.
Shrug. I was trying to be as reductive as it seemed Urstaff was being. That said, I don’t think your criticism is valid.
“Good is in no way dependent on one of its subsets.”
Hmmm…. you’re going to need to support this some more. It’s possible, I suppose, for something to be good despite being bad to neutral for every single human… but this seems non-obvious. At the least it would need to justify it’s goodness in light of the suffering it causes.
You can sub in another emotional state, unless you want to assert that there is no mental or emotional state that has relevance to morality? I could readily construct a variety of hypotheticals where many moral systems praise or condemn an act depending on how it effects others’ happiness.
I don’t see how I was being reductive. Why religion exists seems like an empirical question to me that is best answered by those fields of empirical inquiry, not philosophy. Whether I should believe in a particular religion, in contrast, is a philosophical question.
I do think there is a possible case here with ethics; those who reject moral realism but still have an interest in the subject are turning to moral psychology, which is hybrid of philosophy and psychology that asks why we have the moral beliefs we do regardless of whether we should have them.