SELF-RECOMMENDING!

New Atheism: The Godlessness That Failed

Thucydides predicted that future generations would underestimate the power of Sparta. It built no great temples, left no magnificent ruins. Absent any tangible signs of the sway it once held, memories of its past importance would sound like ridiculous exaggerations.

This is how I feel about New Atheism.

If I were to describe the power of New Atheism over online discourse to a teenager, they would never believe me. Why should they? Other intellectual movements have left indelible marks in the culture; the heyday of hippiedom may be long gone, but time travelers visiting 1969 would not be surprised by the extent of Woodstock. But I imagine the same travelers visiting 2005, logging on to the Internet, and holy @#$! that’s a lot of atheism-related discourse what is going on here?

My first forays onto the Internet were online bulletin boards about computer games. They would have a lot of little forums about various aspects of the games, plus two off-topic forums. One for discussion of atheism vs. religion. And the other for everything else. This was a common structure for websites in those days. You had to do it, or the atheism vs. religion discussions would take over everything. At the time, this seemed perfectly normal.

In 2005, a college student made a webpage called The Church Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was a joke based on the idea that there was no more scientific evidence for God or creationism than for belief in a flying spaghetti monster. The monster’s website received tens of millions of visitors, 60,000 emails (“about 95 percent” supportive), and was covered in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Daily Telegraph. Six publishing companies entered a bidding war for the rights to the spaghetti monster’s “gospel”, with the winner, Random House, offering an $80,000 advance. The book was published to massive fanfare, sold over 100,000 copies, and was translated into multiple languages. Putin’s thugs broke up a pro-Flying-Spaghetti-Monster demonstration in Russia. At the time, this seemed perfectly normal.

People compiled endless lists of arguments and counterarguments for or against atheism. The Talk.Origins newsgroup created a Dewey-Decimal-system-esque index of almost a thousand creationist arguments, from CA211.1 (“Karl Popper said that Darwinism is not testable”), to CD011.1 (“Variable C-14/C-12 ratio invalidates carbon dating”), through CH508 (“Chinese treasure ships show Noah’s Ark was feasible”) – and painstakingly debunked all of them; in case that wasn’t enough they linked 133 other sites doing similar work. Their arch-enemies, creationist site True.Origin, then went through and debunked all of their debunkings. Another atheist group created the Skeptics’ Annotated Bible, a version of the Bible highlighting everything bad or wrong in it. For example, if for some reason you need a hit job on the second chapter of the Book of Malachi in particular, you can look up its SAB page and find that Malachi 2:11 castigates Judah for “marrying the daughter of a strange god” (which is intolerant), Malachi 2:17 accuses the Israelites of “wearying the Lord with your words”, (which is absurd since God cannot be wearied), and Malachi 2:3 says that God will spread dung upon the faces of unbelievers (which is gross). This last entry includes a link to a 2007 YouTube video “God Wants To Smear Dung On Your Face” with 21,947 views. And the video links to a store selling Malachi-2:3-says-God-wants to-put-dung-on-your-face-related t-shirts, bumper stickers, keychains, and coffee mugs. At the time, this seemed perfectly normal.

Whatever media you liked, there were atheism-themed versions of it. Obviously if you liked webcomics you would never be able to finish all the different atheist options from Russell’s Teapot through Jesus & Mo through The Sheeples. If you liked TV, there were atheist TV shows like John Safran vs. God or The Atheist Experience. If you liked pithy quotes, you could read the top 10,000 atheist quotations in order of popularity. If you just liked discussion, you could go to the now-infamous r/atheism subreddit, which at the time was one of Reddit’s highest-ranked, beating topics like “news”, “humor”, and – somehow – “sex”. At the time, this seemed perfectly normal.

But these still don’t quite make my point, because the defining feature of this period wasn’t just that there were a lot of atheism-focused things. It was how the religious-vs-atheist conflict subtly bled into everything. Read enough old articles and blogs from this period and you’ll spot it. Some travel writer going on about how the boring small town he ended up in is probably full of fundies who hate gays and think the Earth is six thousand years old. Some logician giving an example of circular arguments: “I know the Bible is true because it says so in the Bible.” Some political writer saying a stupid policy is only to be expected in a country where X% of people still get their ethics from Bronze Age superstitions. At the time, this seemed perfectly normal.

It seemed perfectly normal because religion vs. atheism was the most important issue, maybe the only issue. How could you run a 21st century democracy with half the population believing in science and compassion, and the other half believing whatever they read in a 3000 year old book about a magic sky father? To truly understand the spirit of the time, you can’t just think of religion as evil. You have to think of it as the ur-evil, without which no other evil would exist. Homophobia? Only there because the Bible says to stone gay people. War? It’s all holy war of one sort or another, whether it’s Arabs vs. Israelis, Sunnis vs. Shias, or the Christian/Muslim “clash of civilizations”. Environmental devastation? Only there because religious people believe God elevated Adam over the animals and told him to exploit them for his own purposes. Poverty? Only because religious people believe in the prosperity gospel that says people get what they deserve.

Christopher Hitchens, 2008:

Now, I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion and organized religion. Absolutely convinced of that. And I think it should be—religion—treated with ridicule, hatred, and contempt. And I claim that right. So when I say—as the subtitle of my book—that I think religion poisons everything, I’m not just doing what publishers like and coming up with a provocative subtitle. I mean to say it infects us in our most basic integrity. It says we can’t be moral without ‘Big Brother,’ without a totalitarian permission, means we can’t be good to one another without this, we must be afraid, we must also be forced to love someone whom we fear—the essence of sadomasochism, the essence of abjection, the essence of the master-slave relationship and that knows that death is coming and can’t wait to bring it on. I say that is evil, and though I do, some nights, stay home, I enjoy more the nights when I go out and fight against this ultimate wickedness and ultimate stupidity.

Where did this come from? And where did it go?

At the time, the question of where it came from seemed to have an obvious answer. As a civilization becomes advanced enough that some people throw off the yoke of religion, they will naturally come into conflict with people who have not thrown off that yoke. This will dominate discussion since atheism vs. religion is obviously the most important issue and maybe the only issue, and last until the civilization advances enough that religion disappears.

But the past decade or so has shown that advanced civilizations are perfectly capable of containing atheists and religious people in close proximity without either side caring that much about it. So what made the turn of the millennium such an acrimonious period?

As for where it went, I asked that question last year and got various responses. The most popular was that 9/11 made religion-bashing segue into Islam-bashing, which started to look pretty racist. But 9/11 happened in 2001, The God Delusion wasn’t published until 2006, and New Atheism didn’t peak until the early 2010s. Why?

In order to answer these questions, I’ll start by presenting some data confirming the picture I paint above and trying to pinpoint exactly when the peak and the beginning of the end happened. I’ll move on to some of the intellectual subtrends in New Atheism that might explain the picture a little better. And finally, I’ll present my theory explaining the mysteries above: New Atheism was a failed hamartiology.

II.

Here is a graph of US religiosity over time:

Between the first stirrings of internet atheism in 2000 and the beginning of the end in 2015, the percent of Americans identifying as Christian dropped about 10%; the percent identifying as no religion increased about the same amount. There are many different ways of looking at the data: self-reported affiliation, church attendance, even polls on whether religion can answer all of today’s problems, but they all show the same story of slow, steady decline.

By the numbers, the decline is slight: from 80% Christian / 15% atheist in 2000 to 70% Christian / 25% atheist in 2018. This could hide wider social changes. The number of gay people has barely changed since 2000, but society’s attitude toward them has totally transformed. Likewise, although religion has barely declined, and nonbelief barely risen, Christianity no longer seems to command quite the same level of political power, nor does atheism provoke quite as much revulsion.

But the sudden fall of New Atheism didn’t feel like a process of gradual social change and eventual acceptance. It felt like a movement certain of its own victory burning out spectacularly over the course of a few short years, followed by mysterious yet near-total contempt from the very people it thought it had convinced.

Here are some graphs of atheism-related search terms on Google Trends since 2004:

And here are the traffic numbers for some atheism-related websites (source: http://rank2traffic.com/):

And it may not be Internet atheism per se, but here’s word frequency in the New York Times (source: New York Times Media Analytics):

I can’t figure out how to average the traffic numbers or the NYT frequencies, but here’s an average of all the atheism-related search terms:

I think these graphs mostly tell the same story. Unlike the continuous trend in religiosity, the atheist movement appears to be going strong throughout the 2000s, peak in 2012, and start declining shortly afterward.

But this hides a division into two different patterns. Two keywords (“creationism” and “Biblical contradictions”) and two websites (Talk Origins and Internet Infidels) are declining throughout the time period measured. Three keywords (“atheist”, “agnostic”, “freethinker”), two websites (Freethought Blogs and Atheist Revolution), and the New York Times frequencies are increasing through most of the period, peak around 2012, stay strong for a few years after that, and decline around 2016.

To get an intuitive feel for the first category, look at the two sites involved. Talk Origins is almost perfectly preserved, a time capsule from an era when people really wanted to debate creationism. Internet Infidels has decayed a bit more, but even its ruins are impressive: a database of forty videotaped atheist-vs-theist debates, an online library of uploaded works by about two hundred atheist authors, and the obligatory list of several hundred Biblical contradictions. Who does that these days?

This exercise is gradually bringing back memories of just how intellectual the Internet was around the turn of the millennium. You would go to bulletin boards, have long and acrimonious debates over whether or not the Gospels were based on pagan myths. Then someone would check Vast Apologetics Library tektonics.org and repost every one of their twenty-eight different articles about all the pagan myths the Gospels weren’t based on, from Adonis (“yet another unprofitable proposition for the copycat theorist”) to Zalmoxis (“there is no comparison, other than by illicit collapsing of terminology and by unsubstantiated speculation”). Both sides had these vast pre-built armories full of facts and arguments to go to.

At some point, in a way unrelated to the fall of New Atheism, the Internet stopped being like this. The topics that interest people today don’t get debated in the same way. People dunk on each other on Twitter, occasionally even have back-and-forth exchanges, but the average person doesn’t post long screeds and get equally long responses fisking each of their points. There’s less need for giant databases containing every fact you might need to win a particular argument, organized Dewey-Decimal-style by which argument you are trying to win. People just stopped caring.

I’m not sure why this happened. Maybe it took about ten years from the founding of the Internet for people to really internalize that online arguments didn’t change minds. The first Internet pioneers, starting their dial-up modems and running headfirst into people outside their filter bubbles, must have been so excited. For the first time in human history, people interested in debating a subject could do so 24-7 out in a joint salon-panopticon with all of the information of the human race at their fingertips. Bible Belt churchgoers for whom atheists had been an almost-fictional bogeyman, and New York atheists who thought of the religious as unsophisticated yokels, came together for the first time thinking “Convincing these people is going to be so easy”. The decade or so before they figured out that it wasn’t was a magical time, of which the great argument-arsenals of the past are almost the only remaining monument.

Or maybe it was something else. Maybe it was that getting online was actually pretty hard in those days, you needed to be technically inclined or attending a college or both, and so netizens were just more educated. Maybe the sort of people who interrupt any attempt at intellectual discussion with words like “rationalbro” or “mansplaining” or “well acktually” were still stuck in their caves, fruitlessly banging AOL CDs against rocks trying to create fire. Maybe it was something as simple as Wikipedia not existing yet, leaving the intellectual world in a sort of state of nature with every man for himself. Maybe it was just that the bulletin board format was more conducive to this than the later social media style fora.

Whatever it was, the decline of this culture started no later than 2000, and is reflected in the fate of argument-related search terms like “biblical contradictions” and “creationism”, and in the fading of the great argument-armories like Talk Origins and Infidels.

But the “atheism” search term keeps rising for another decade. What happened?

The intellectuals were succeeded by the activists. Early Internet Argument Culture disappeared and was replaced by something more familiar.

The atheists of Early Internet Argument Culture were not New Atheists. The term “New Atheism” didn’t really catch on until about 2006 when Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion; Early Internet Argument Culture was just a prelude to the main event. Post-2006 atheists were brasher and more political. They were less interested in arguing with religious people about the minutiae of carbon-dating; they were more interested in posting about how stupid carbon-dating denalists were, on their own social media feeds, read entirely by other atheists. The concept of the Internet as magical place where you could change other people’s minds had given way to the Internet as magical place where you could complain to like-minded friends about how ignorant other people were.

EIAC had been timeless, examining the medieval kalam argument and the Scopes Monkey Trial with equal detachment. New Atheism was ephemeral, obsessed with the issue of the day. This was in the mid-Bush administration, after the post-9/11 spirit of national unity had disappeared. Democrats had not yet invented the hashtag #Resistance, but they had invented the spirit. George W. Bush was portrayed as a religious fanatic, basing his every decision on what he considered to be the will of God. His supporters were evangelicals, willing to follow him into any war or disaster out of blind faith. A lot of the debate centered on faith-based charities, Bush’s push to give government funding to religiously-affiliated groups like the Salvation Army. It was assumed that they would preferentially serve Christians, leaving Jews, Muslims, and atheists without aid. Once Bush had shifted all welfare into these programs, non-Christians would die in the cold, and the government would laugh evilly. Every day brought new perspectives on this and a host of similar anti-religious activist causes.

New Atheism was also more centralized. EIAC was every man for himself; you would march forth alone into your chosen bulletin board and engage, neither seeking or receiving any help beyond precooked arguments from your local armory-site. New Atheism, for the first time, started to have celebrities. Richard Dawkins, of course, and the Four Horsemen, but also random bloggers like PZ Myers and Stephanie Zvan. These were the days when bloggers filled auditoria and travelled in high-altitude balloons. Every day they would tell you the latest reason to be outraged about religion, and every day you would discuss it on social media and comment sections and get appropriately angry.

This corresponds to the peak of Freethought Blogs on the traffic graph above, and ended around 2016. What happened to it?

I think it seamlessly merged into the modern social justice movement.

This probably comes as a surprise, seeing as how everyone else talks about how atheists are heavily affiliated with the modern anti-social justice movement. I think that’s the wrong takeaway. Sure, a lot of people who identify as atheists now are pretty critical of social justice. That’s because the only people remaining in the atheist movement are the people who didn’t participate in the mass transformation into social justice. It is no contradiction to say both “Most of the pagans you see around these days are really opposed to Christianity” and “What ever happened to all the pagans there used to be? They all became Christian.”

Somebody should make this case more exhaustively, but the highlight will no doubt be all the discussion around Atheism Plus, the brand name for a combination of “atheism plus social justice” which in a few years became entirely social justice. According to the original manifesto:

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism…

Religion is responsible for generating and sustaining most of the racism, sexism, anti-(insert minority human subgroup here)-isms… it gave a voice to the bigotry, established the privilege, and fed these things from the pulpit for thousands upon thousands of years. What sense does it make to throw out the garbage bag of religion yet keep all the garbage that it contained? I can’t help but see social justice as a logical consequence of atheism. I’m for getting rid of all the garbage.

Within a week, it got glowing articles in the mainstream press, from New Statesman to Salon to The Guardian (consider how weird it sounds today for a post by a mid-tier atheist blog post to result in a bunch of mainstream press articles) and support from top atheist blogging celebrities . A review a week later wrote:

Last week, Jen McCreight announced that she was fed up with sexism in the atheist movement and called for a new wave of atheist activism, one explicitly concerned with social justice, which quickly acquired the name “atheism+”.

These posts landed like a cannon shell, generating a huge wave of excitement and feedback – the vast majority of which, to my surprise, was positive and enthusiastic. Clearly, they’ve tapped into a powerful vein of pro-equality sentiment in the atheist movement, crystallizing the frustrations that those of us who care about this have been feeling for the last year or two. This is an idea whose time has come, and all it needed were some excellent posts like Jen’s to kickstart it.

Famous atheist blogger PZ Myers embraced the new label and said that “atheism ought to be a progressive social movement in addition to being a scientific and philosophical position” and that:

If you don’t agree with any of that — and this is the only ‘divisive’ part — then you’re an asshole. I suggest you form your own label, “Asshole Atheists” and own it, proudly. I promise not to resent it or cry about joining it.

Richard Carrier, an academic and another of the most famous New Atheists, told atheists who objected to the rebranding that:

Atheism+ is our movement. We will not consider you a part of it, we will not work with you, we will not befriend you. We will heretofore denounce you as the irrational or immoral scum you are (if such you are). If you reject these values, then you are no longer one of us. And we will now say so, publicly and repeatedly. You are hereby disowned.

I don’t want to dwell on this too much. I don’t have a great sense of how this era went, since it was around the time I unfollowed every atheist blog and forum for the sake of my own sanity, but my impression is that some of the Atheism Plussers later admitted they came on a little too strong and dropped that particular branding. But the cleavage the incident highlighted (not created, but highlighted) stuck around. As far as I can tell, it eventually ended with the anti-social-justice atheists stomping off to YouTube or somewhere horrible like that, while most of the important celebrity members of the public-facing movement very gradually turned into social justice bloggers.

For example, I look at Pharyngula, which during its heyday was the biggest atheist blog on the Internet. On the day I am writing this, its front page contains posts like “Are They All Racists On The Right Side Of The Aisle?” (recommended answer: yes), a discussion of how opposing the Gilette commercial represents “classic toxic masculinity”, and an attack on Milo Yiannopoulos. Its sidebar includes links to “Discussion: Racism In America”, “Discussion: Through A Feminist Lens”, and “Social Justice Links Roundup”. There’s still a little bit of anti-religious content, but mostly in the context of Catholics being racist and misogynist.

Aside from Pharyngula, a lot of the old atheist blogs have ended up at atheism-blogging-mega-nexus-site The Orbit. When I read its About page, it doesn’t even describe itself as an atheist blogging site at all. It says:

The Orbit is a diverse collective of atheist and nonreligious bloggers committed to social justice, within and outside the secular community. We provide a platform for writing, discussion, activism, collaboration, and community.

It’s not “blogs on atheism” anymore. It’s “blogs by atheists about social justice”. The whole atheist movement is like this.

One post I distinctly remember, but which I can no longer find, was a rousing call for atheists to switch to social justice blogging. It said something like “Instead of rehearsing the same old tired arguments for or against the existence of God, it’s time to become part of the struggle for progress and equality.”

I wish I could find this, because the sentiment it expresses is so bizarre that I worry you won’t believe me when I say it exists. Like, yes, the arguments for and against the existence of God are old and tired. Just like, for example, the arguments for and against restrictions on abortion. But if one day all of the top pro-choice activists agreed among themselves that what the pro-choice movement was really about was stopping Brexit – and they all posted supportive messages like “We’re tired of being known as those boring busybodies who go on about fetus this and right-to-your-own-body that when millions of people could be harmed by Britain’s ill-advised and bungled exit from the European Union” – and if from that day forward NARAL and Planned Parenthood were 100% Brexit-related organizations – surely we would find it strange? Surely we would think something deeper had to be going on?

I think of this as the second part of the mystery around New Atheism’s decline: why did a successful social movement so quietly and complacently agree to turn into a totally different social movement?

III.

My solution to both these questions is: New Atheism was a failed hamartiology.

“Hamartiology” is a subfield of theology dealing with the study of sin, in particular, how sin enters the universe. Orthodox Christian hamartiology says we all have original sin because Adam and Eve ate the apple. Gnostic hamartiologies say we sin because we are ignorant of our true nature as celestial beings. Some heretical hamartiologies say that all of this is irrelevant, and we sin because we choose to.

The rise of the Internet broadened our intellectual horizons. We got access to a whole new world of people with totally different standards, norms, and ideologies opposed to our own. When the Internet was small and confined to an optimistic group of technophile intellectuals, this spawned Early Internet Argument Culture, where we tried to iron out our differences through Reason. We hoped that the new world the Web revealed to us could be managed in the same friendly way we managed differences with our crazy uncle or the next-door neighbor.

As friendly debate started feeling more and more inadequate, and as newer and less nerdy people started taking over the Internet, this dream receded. In its place, we were left with an intolerable truth: a lot of people seem really horrible, and refuse to stop being horrible even when we ask them nicely. They seem to believe awful things. They seem to act in awful ways. When we tell them the obviously correct reasons they should be more like us, they refuse to listen to them, and instead spout insane moon gibberish about how they are right and we are wrong.

I can only describe this experience from my own side of the aisle, which was the progressive side. We watched the US population elect George W Bush and act like this was a remotely reasonable thing to do. We saw people destroying the environment, leaving the poor to starve, and denying gay people their right to live as normal members of society. We saw people endorsing weird ideas and conspiracy theories, from homeopathy and creationism to the Clintons murdering their enemies. We were always vaguely aware from reading the newspapers that some of these people existed. But now we were seeing and conversing with them every day.

Not only were we noticing the trend for the first time, but the trend itself was strengthening. I could use any of a hundred images to make this case, but for today I’ll use these:

And so we asked ourselves: what the hell is wrong with these people?

And New Atheism had an answer: religion.

That was it. It was beautiful, it was simple, it was perfect. We were the “reality-based community”. They were ignoring Reason and basing all of their opinions on three thousand year old fairy-tales because people told them they would burn in Hell forever if they didn’t. There was nothing confusing or unsettling at all about the situation, and we did not need to question any of our own beliefs. It was just that some people had been brainwashed by their church/mosque/synagogue to believe transparently wrong things, so they did. Sin began with the apple tree in Eden; conservatism began with the Bible in Jerusalem. Language separates us from the apes; not being blinded by religion separates us from the Republicans.

This was a socially momentous proposal. The Democratic Party is centuries old, but the Blue Tribe – the Democratic Party as a social phenomenon with strong demographic and ideological implications – can be said to have started in 2004.

As it took its first baby steps, the Blue Tribe started asking itself “Who am I? What defines me?”, trying to figure out how it conceived of itself. New Atheism had an answer – “You are the people who aren’t blinded by fundamentalism” – and for a while the tribe toyed with accepting it. During the Bush administration, with all its struggles over Radical Islam and Intelligent Design and Faith-Based Charity, this seemed like it might be a reasonable answer. The atheist movement and the network of journalists/academics/pundits/operatives who made up the tribe’s core started drifting closer together.

Gradually the Blue Tribe got a little bit more self-awareness and realized this was not a great idea. Their coalition contained too many Catholic Latinos, too many Muslim Arabs, too many Baptist African-Americans. Remember that in 2008, “what if all the Hispanic people end up going Republican?” was considered a major and plausible concern. It became somewhat less amenable to New Atheism’s answer to its identity question – but absent a better one, the New Atheists continued to wield some social power.

Betweem 2008 and 2016, two things happened. First, Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush as president. Second, Ferguson. The Blue Tribe kept posing its same identity question: “Who am I? What defines me?”, and now Black Lives Matter gave them an answer they liked better “You are the people who aren’t blinded by sexism and racism.”

Again, it was beautiful, simple, and perfect. We were “the reality-based community”. They were ignoring Reason and basing all of their opinions on blind hatred and prejudice. There was nothing confusing or unsettling at all about the situation, and we did not need to question any of our own beliefs. It was just that some people had been brainwashed by white supremacy and an all-consuming desire to protect their own privilege, and so they did. Sin began with the apple tree in Eden; conservativism began with the cotton plant in Jamestown. Language separates us from the apes; not being blinded by bigotry separates us from the Republicans.

Since I started writing this essay, I’ve noticed a surprising number of people just saying this outright. If you go to any thread on r/politics about Trump (aka any thread on r/politics), you’ll see people saying things like this:

[Trump voters] know they are being lied to, well most of them do, but look at the increase of hatred in America. THAT is what they are voting on. Hatred. Ironically, the Republicans are a large reason why their lives are so shitty and full of hatred, but hatred nonetheless. I guarantee you, you debate any of these people long enough. You back them into a corner. They say the same thing. “We are winning. We won the election. Racism is good. Hatred is good. Cheating on elections is good as long as it’s my side.” Because that is what happens when one side is the Republicans and the other side is baby murdering, child raping and trafficking and harvesting drugs from their brain, brown and black people loving devil worshippers. Go on you know what sub. Read their posts. They will say, “I was driving by a school bus stop, none of them were white.” This makes them so angry. To them, Russia [is better than] Democrats. At least Russia is white.

Google Trends shows traffic for atheism-related terms starting to decline around 2012, and really plummeting around 2015. How were other terms doing around that time?

Not enough for you? We can go deeper:

Most movement atheists weren’t in it for the religion. They were in it for the hamartiology. Once they got the message that the culture-at-large had settled on a different, better hamartiology, there was no psychological impediment to switching over. We woke up one morning and the atheist bloggers had all quietly became social justice bloggers. Nothing else had changed because nothing else had to; the underlying itch being scratched was the same. They just had to CTRL+F and replace a couple of keywords.

Eventually, things came full circle. I started this essay with a memory of noticing that my favorite early-2000s-era website had two off-topic forums: one for religion vs. atheism, and one for everything else. Earlier this year, SSC’s subreddit split in two: one for “culture war” discussions mostly about race and gender, the other for everything else.

Where do we go from here? I’m not sure. The socialist wing of the Democratic Party seems to be working off a model kind of like this, but hoping to change the hamartiology from race/gender to class. Maybe they’ll succeed, and one day talking too much about racism will seem as out-of-touch as talking too much about atheism does now; maybe the rise of terms like “woke capitalism” is already part of this process.

I’ve lost the exact quote, but a famous historian once said that we learn history to keep us from taking the present too seriously. This isn’t to say the problems of the present aren’t serious. Just that history helps us avoid getting too dazzled by current trends, or too swept away by any particular narrative.

If this is true, we might do well to study the history of New Atheism a little more seriously.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

830 Responses to New Atheism: The Godlessness That Failed

  1. Mark F says:

    I am late to this party, but I think the decline of anti-creationist activity and of New Atheism both stem from a decline in salience of the things they oppose. Pseudoscience is faddish. I have the sense that less energy has been going into promulgating creationism since the start of the Obama administration, and therefore less energy has gone into fighting it.

    Also until the Obama administration, the religious right seemed like the strongest unifying force for opposition to modernity. So opponents of religion were motivated. But during the most recent two administrations, race has come to the fore as a motivator on the right. So opposition to racism has gotten more attention than opposition to religion.

    As an aside, if your exposure to the internet during the early 2000s was mainly Slate and Language Log, you could go through that period without any sense that atheism was a dominant part of the internet conversation.

  2. jackofhearts says:

    Late reply, but I’m very surprised that the post and (many many) comments entirely omit* the structural factors underlying this shift.

    The atheism-vs-religion argument in the 2000s played out on public fora, where every visitor to the site saw the same content and was confronted with the actual views of their antagonists.

    The late 2000s and 2010s saw a dramatic shift to individualized content, in which internet users now engage almost entirely with feeds of only those that agree with them. People prefer echo chambers, and have voted with their feet**.

    The shift in liberal harmatiology that you discuss is _entirely_ dependent on this structural shift. The new social-justice harmatiology is fundamentally a straw man: while the religious agree that they are religious, vanishingly few conservatives identify as racists, and nobody*** is actually showing up in defense of racism. The view that conservative views are inherently racist is sustained now because people see feeds of people who agree with them, and are structurally not required — nay, prevented — from engaging directly their antagonists.

    Moreover, in an Internet of individualized feeds where the epithet for the opposition is not required to be tethered to reality, it is only natural that liberals would move from calling conservatives the worst objective label we could come up with to the worst label we could come up with, full stop.

    In other words, as the playing field changed structurally, New Atheists simply weren’t clickbait-y enough to survive.

    I personally feel that omitting this from your post is as misdirected to trying to explain the decline of socialist ideas in the 1950s US without mentioning the Cold War. Ideas simply don’t happen in a vacuum!

    * Except one post by Garrett, which starts with “Silly question, but…”
    ** As far as I’m aware, the remaining fora (such as this one) are also intellectually homogenous. There may be fora of diverse opinions that I just don’t know about? but they certainly don’t play a driving role in public discourse.
    *** Obviously some people show up on the internet to defend racism, but they constitute a tiny and broadly condemned minority.

    • chridd says:

      Late reply to your reply, but, while I agree that structural shift likely has an effect, I suspect the problem isn’t that people aren’t required to hear their antagonists, but rather the opposite: it’s easier, at least on Twitter, for some random person who you don’t know to respond disagreeing with you, than it is on forums (and it’s easier on forums than it was pre-internet). The problem is that if it’s someone you don’t know, then you don’t have the context that you would have otherwise about what they believe, context that would help you interpret what they’re saying and clarify that they don’t believe the worst things you think people like them believe.

      Like, if you’re a feminist, and if you’ve been around someone a lot and you’ve seen that they’re not particularly sexist and maybe they’ve said some pro-feminist things, but then they say something disagreeing with some pro-feminist comment, then you might conclude that they’re overall pro-feminist but disagree with that one thing. If you haven’t seen all the other stuff they’ve said, then they *might* be a pro-feminist person who disagrees with one thing, *or* they *might* just be a horrible sexist jerk who disagrees with anything that seems remotely pro-feminism and doesn’t care about how their action affect women (and maybe says they’re pro-feminist anyway but is lying, or something), or anything in between, and I think people often assume the worst. (And if it’s easier for people to disagree with people, then people are going to encounter people who are actually horrible sexist people more often.)

  3. DanMc says:

    I agree with many commenters about details (like coraharmonica about the coincidence with the rise of the smartphone and chridd about the core of the movement possibly being people fleeing religion–which might explain some of the tone as the much noted zeal of the convert, and so many more interesting comments on top of another wonderful post by Scott).

    Another possible factor is roughly-decade generational shift. It sounds prosaic, but I think each generation distinguishes itself when the previous generation tries to load its values on them and they collectively shrug those values off. Simplifying grossly, the Morning in America consumerism-tinged optimism of 80s slipped off in the 90s generation when we (my generation) tried to give an ironic or dark or sarcastic edge to everything. (This Simpson’s quote pretty much summed us up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udJw-CzX7sA). We tried to dump that on the Millennials, who dropped the irony and, it seems to me, gravitated to more universalizing goals–authenticity and transparency and a greater focus on societal-level issues like income inequality (and I’d put religion and New Atheism in here). Then the next generation, the 2010s-2020 adults, shrugged at what was maybe a too universalizing vision and instead are focusing more on specific subcultures and subculture ties. Maybe Gen Z is the Identitarian Generation or even the Minority-Majoritarian Generation (referring not just to race but a move by subgroups for various identity topics (race, gender, religion, etc.) to unite in resisting what they consider majority-group pressure).

    All the way along it seems like some oscillating between universalism and particular vision, but overall more progress than regress throughout. But because of this intergenerational change, I think commenters who were trying to identify what the next generation’s hot subgroup will be are missing the point. The next generation will shrug at the Identitarians just as every generation shrugs at the previous one’s obsessions. My wild guess would be that if Trump is out in 2020 and that massive political fight is over, the next generation with be a Particularite generation, the flag-bearers of which will have so many precise and contradictory minority identity qualities that they can’t be jammed into the Identitarian categories we are familiar with. Then new commonality will emerge and we’ll trend toward universalism.

    • name99 says:

      I think this is exactly it. The only question is the timescale (a generation? a decade? growing shorter?)
      As a testable prediction, I’d look for when teenagers start making fun of the most taboo aspects of the current SJ movement, something like joking about rape. Of course (OF COURSE) the first round of such kids will be told how terrible they are, sent to re-education camp, made to sit through struggle sessions and to write confessions of their wrong-think. But eventually there’ll be enough of them that this is no longer feasible.

      Maybe that’s how the timing works? 10 years for the new teenagers to arrive, 30 yrs for them to form a critical mass that can’t be squelched?

    • LesHapablap says:

      I think this is the right idea. Just like bell bottoms being popular in the 70s, the 90s, and just starting to see a few of them around now (shudder). Things get trendy for a while when their time is due, and the more trendy something gets, the bigger the backlash when it gets old. Just ask Dane Cook.

      I would disagree about millennials rejecting irony though. We never did anything earnestly.

  4. Jakub Łopuszański says:

    Some of described features of phenomenon resemble https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_September
    Perhaps something similar (technology change bringing people used to different discourse patterns) has happened? Smartphones?

  5. name99 says:

    OK, what’s next, the new fault lines?

    One obvious one is animals; a critical mass moving eating meat (and other animal issues) from being a personal choice to an affront against them cosmos. Many have already predicted this.

    My second choice would be medical related — people who think it’s OK to improve the human body vs those who insist we stick with what god gave us. We’ve already seen intimations of this (complaints about genetic tests for fetuses; “handicapable” and complaints against cochlear implants) but it will really take off when CRISPR and friends allow for serious mods.

    My third choice would be likewise medical related — a pushback against a variety of received wisdom (in the US) about death.Euthanasia, heroic (expensive!) intervention to preserve an extra week of life, saving preemies at the cost of permanent damaged brains, …
    Right now this is all minor league stuff, but once we get Medicare for All (and we will at some point, more or less) there will be people raising these issues. And I suspect we’ll find there has been a lot more preference falsification in the public record than most people expected.

    • chridd says:

      Socialism and class issues (also mentioned by some other comments) seem to already be becoming a big issue.

      Animal rights seems like something I’ve heard less about recently than 10ish years ago, similar to atheism (though I don’t know if that’s because people stopped talking about it or because of what social circles I’m in). I think eventually we’ll get to a point where everyone’s eating fake meat and sees real meat as bad, but my suspicion is that it’s not soon.

      Trying to think of some possible issues…
      • social media (as in, one side is pro-social media and the other anti-, all the problems with things like social media addiction and algorithm bias and such will be blamed for a bunch of stuff by one side)
      • something about intelligence (if research claiming racial differences in intelligence ends up being accepted by both sides, the question of whether it should be acceptable to discriminate based on intelligence might become an issue, which also ties into neurodiversity/disability rights)
      • neurodiversity in general
      • we could always end up in another war that ends up polarizing everyone about whether we should be fighting (…will pacifism ever get enough acceptance to be a big issue?)
      • copyright (eventually generations who grew up with more relaxed internet norms about copyright will become a majority, and then maybe we’ll actually have a chance to increase fair use, shorten copyright terms, put restrictions on or disallow DRM, etc.… with a lot of pushback from publishers and media companies, of course)
      • or generational conflict in general (people have been hating on millennials for a while, and just recently I’ve seen people talking about using ‘boomer’ as a slur)

  6. LPM says:

    The decline in New Atheism also roughly coincides with Christopher Hitchens’ death. I wonder how much the movement became open to change once Hitchens’ eloquent hostility towards religion was snuffed out.

    The transition from New Atheism to Social Justice addresses a criticism levelled at New Atheism: it’s defined only by what it discards. Sam Harris, seeking rational bases for charity and meditation to keep religious practices within the New Atheist (or ‘reason worship’) worldview, was already taking this step towards Social Justice.

    On the other hand, Hitchens was the debauched Antichrist.

  7. OldShoeWhine says:

    Traditionally, Western Europe was defined by Church and State, in symbiosis and sometimes in conflict.

    Those that want to eliminate the Church as a rival to the State are by definition atheists, denying the Church any legitimacy. Some of those atheists were interested in chucking the Church in order to establish totalitarian political systems, like the Soviets and Nazi’s. Further, totalitarian thought invariably contains the “pie-in-the-sky” Kingdom of Heaven on Earth quest for social justice.

    Understanding atheism is something like Bolshies moving to atheism as Bolshevism became a joke after 1989, then moving on to social justice in its “woke” Maoist corporatist splendor. You could say atheism served as a mask for former and not-so-former Trots to hide behind. Not all atheists, of course, but I’m sure many were Trotskyites, then atheists, then SJW’s. [Atheism is also irrelevant, because Christianity is dead as a cultural influence, and if you going around trashing Islam like they used to trash Christianity, you end up with a lot of holes in your body.]

  8. JoeCool says:

    New Atheism, and especially the God delusion also seems to have made a rhetorical error in trying to reach out to its republican opponents by applying its precepts to Islam in a very matter of fact way.

    It didn’t get many Christian sympathies and it pissed off people who would be open the message but were not quite atheists, but read it as punching down onto historically discriminated people (within the U.S context).

    Who knows, maybe that giant blackbox algorithm that is google and youtube hurt the movement as well with a change that was unfavorable to it.

    • lvlln says:

      New Atheism, and especially the God delusion also seems to have made a rhetorical error in trying to reach out to its republican opponents by applying its precepts to Islam in a very matter of fact way.

      I don’t think it was an attempt to reach out to Republican opponents, but rather just intellectual honesty and consistency. From within the New Atheism movement, it never once seemed to me that we had anything but complete disdain toward Republicans. We saw them as opponents to be crushed, not allies to be gained.

      • Aapje says:

        It may be the opposite, where increased anti-Muslim sentiment on the right suddenly made it ‘Republican’ to be anti-Muslim, so the very same critics who were before seen as ‘on of us,’ suddenly were pattern matched to ‘the other.’

  9. maxmaria says:

    The New Atheist movement was ALWAYS ideological, ALWAYS bigoted and bullying, ALWAYS pseudoscientific, and ALWAYS was oriented to suppor the Secular Social Justice movement. Those of us who joined were used, then, the planned launch of “Atheism +” was to purge out all of us who were atheist but did not want to go with the rest of the SocJus agenda. They were and are always funded by various deep pockets, particularly Prometheus Publishing and Lucis Trust.

    Links that may be useful, which have been intentionally obscured in search results and ignored for something like a decade:

    http://www.skepticalaboutskeptics.org/

    https://septicskeptics.com/2016/12/09/prometheus-books-and-the-pseudoskeptical-perversions-another-insane-and-frightening-possible-consequences-of-metaphysical-naturalism-and-materialis/

    https://septicskeptics.com/2016/12/09/prometheus-books-and-the-pseudoskeptical-perversions-another-insane-and-frightening-possible-consequences-of-metaphysical-naturalism-and-materialis/

    Suppressed, hard to find but still-available books worth reading include “The New Atheist Denial of History” by History Professor and retired Trinity College president Borden W. Painter, Daniel Peris’s book “Storming the Heavens: the The SOviet League of the Militant Godless,” and “The New Atheist Threat.”

    Atheism has ceased to be about “lack of belief.” It has ALWAYS been an agenda, an agenda of bullying hatred and utter dishonesty–not to mention silencing all critics.

    Look at any of the Four Horsemen–all are pseudoscientists and frauds. Yes, that includes Dawkins and Dennett and DEFINITELY Harris.

    IT is and always was an ideological Identitarian Cult. It is no different from any other Identitarian religious movement this way–except that it’s even less tolerant than the Fundamentalist versions of Christianity, Judaism, OR Islam. (Less violent too, demonstrably.)

  10. Icedcoffee says:

    I’m interested in the role of social media platforms in this discussion. I remember New Atheism being mostly on YouTube, (I didn’t engage with early 00s blogs), whereas my sense is that Social Justice activism is mostly on Twitter. At least in the case of YouTube, I know that “the algorithm” is a constant source of frustration for content creators, and that changes to how YouTube promotes (and monetizes) videos can have a substantial impact on their cultural salience. I have to wonder how much of an impact the platform has on these large-scale cultural debates.

    • JoeCool says:

      I am as well.

      Those blackbox algorithms seem to not be talked about enough.

      I mean youtube seemed to used to get way more views period. Then they suddenly stop, view counts across the board wildly decrease, and the ad apocalypse makes de monetization of anything controversial much more likely.

      If you allow me to put on my tin foil hat, if there is any modern day equivalent of the Hollywood blacklist or really, MK ultra or the CIA trying to influence american public opinion, if I were them I’d make changes in the google/YouTube algorithm.

      I’d also expect New Atheism to be a movement the CIA would undermine, assuming they still do that sort of thing, which seems likely to me because we seem to have less oversight, if anything, over the CIA, not more.

      If you believe the U.S government would never ever do such a thing, just insert your least favorite intelligence agency in place of the U.S.

  11. gawells says:

    Interesting piece, I think it’s largely true. One aspect I think you missed though: some of New Atheism also moved to the ex-Muslim community. Much of what we got used to in the mid-2000s seems to exist there now. Maybe because the issue is more urgent for them than for former Christians in the US and similar countries. I’ve also seen Armin Navabi claim that Atheist Republic is now the largest atheist website (although recent traffic seems to be similar to talkorigins and infidels.org). I think some of this can be attributed to a kind of “Oppression of the Gaps”. As serious problems get dealt with, neglected or less important social justice problems get elevated to keep the outrage juices going.

  12. Spot says:

    Something I’ve been thinking a bit on: it might be helpful to partition out some different aspects of the New Atheist movement.

    There’s New Atheism as a broad cultural phenomenon, which (I think) may have peaked around the mid-late aughties, roughly from the release of The God Delusion to early 2009 or thereabouts. (That is, when Bush left office.) I don’t have concrete data to back up this hunch, but this was the period in which Dawkins and Hitchens were frequent talking heads on cable news, Fox was constantly pushing stuff like the “War on Christmas,” and liberals saw the religious right as ascendant and therefore tended to frame Bush’s follies in terms of his religiosity. This was the point at which New Atheism had the most notoriety in the mind of your average American citizen.

    Then there’s New Atheism as a discourse, which modeled a new form of political engagement that ultimately replaced what Scott calls “Early Internet Argument Culture.” This wing of the movement, which was somewhat disconnected from the rest, peaked in the early ’10s (as evidenced by some of the data Scott brings to bear in the article), was mostly an Internet phenomenon, and lacked the immediate cultural relevance of the celebrity Horsemen, their bestselling books, and the atheist/skeptic conference circuit.

    However, it turned out that this wing of the movement was both prescient and more important than it initially appeared, because it modeled (and hence, in part, gave birth to) the Internet-centric social justice movement, which is very consequential and does have a great deal of mainstream attention.

  13. maxmaria says:

    As a 53 year old nerd who was on the Internet going back to the 1980s, I was part of the trendy atheism and even enjoyed the New Atheism fad as it had begun in the early 2000s and even called myself a “Bright” for a while. Eventually I noticed that this Internet Atheism and New Atheism did NOTHING but make most people caught up in it simply horrible a******s to be around. Many abusive. Often running in flocks to abuse people, which still happens now dailiy on Twitter. They’re vile, they’re hateful, they’re obnoxious. Even in daily life, many of my friends still in IT privately tell me they CANNOT STAND how hateful and stupid and outright bigoted, ignorant, and stupid young Nerds are on the topic of religion. No thanks to foul shows like “Big Bang Theory” either.

    As a former atheist who first noticed what a HATEFUL SMUG MIND-CONTROLLING CULT most of Internet Atheism was, and how HATEFULLY they would trade in stereotypes of religion and false history of religion, and how ROUTINELY they would simply be ABUSIVE to religious people, condescend to them, speak down to them, speak of them as if they were vermin and some sort of problem–I noticed how ugly that was and finally declared “I refuse to identify with this label of ‘atheism’ any more. Call me not-religious, call me agnostic, I will NOT associate with such hateful people as exemplified by the Four Horsemen and the typical Fedora-tipper on the Internet rocking his Spaghetti Monster gear or his Star Trek circle-A cult logo badge.

    UGH, you guys doing that shit are FOUL. You literally poison EVERY conversation and EVERY interaction, and most of you are ROCK STUPID on the topic of religion. Foully so. I could see that WHILE I WAS AN ATHEIST becuase I knew people of countless religions who were NOTHING like that.

    The Atheist Victim Complex got old too, how every Atheist is SOOOOOO oppressed by religious thought near him. It’s gag-inducing and it’s elitist and it’s ugly. Even for the Internet Sperg brigade (of which I am an OG example).

    Then finally I had to admit THERE IS EVIDENCE FOR GOD, and furthermore, AMPLE EVIDENCE SHOWS RELIGION IS MORE GOOD THAN BAD. And ample evidence shows that condescending and bigoted atheism is actually a dangerous ideological force of its own. Which range from minor bullying on the Internet, to actual terrorism, harassment, and genocide.

    None of it’s funny. None of it’s cute. None of it “makes the world a better place.” None of it makes science better either.

    Atheists, grow the fuck up. Go read some SMART Theists. Wrestle with Blackwell’s Natural Theology or Ed Feser’s Five Proofs (which have NEVER been successfully “debunked” by the way, all the efforts you’ll try to quick-Google up are lame beyond belief).

    Plus all the shit we have now in NDE research and QM, which “The Skeptics” try very dishonestly and mostly-vainly to wave or explain away–often, it can be shown, outright misrepresenting the science or misrepresenting or smearing dissenters.

    Seriously: New Atheism, and Internet Atheism: nothing but an Identitarian Cult movement. A really nasty foul one that never did ANYTHING to make the world a better place. In fact, they demonstrably made it worse.

    Suggest that if you simply MUST be an atheist, you at least learn how to treat people who disagree with your atheism with the same respect you want to be treated with. Most of you seem to think you get to judge us but no one gets to say anything about you and your beliefs. That’s foul too. (And please do not make us all laugh and claim you merely “Lack belief.” There is ample and abundant evidence here for a concept understood by most people; you either think there’s some merit to it or not, and if you think there’s No Merit to the evidence, that’s JUST your opinion, and nothing more).

    • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

      Something that caught my attention – how “Big Bang Theory” is related to any of that? Surely it had some cheap shots at religious people in the portrayal of Sheldon’s mother (who nevertheless has been pictured as loving mother, and a competent parent successfully guiding a piece of work Sheldon obviously is and was to become a functioning adult) but it’s a comedy show, it’s supposed to show exaggerated caricatures for fun. I haven’t watched it for a couple of years lately because frankly it became boring to me, but I haven’t noticed anything deserving to be called “foul”. I am curious what caused you to single it out specifically?

  14. qn1 says:

    This is a great piece.

    I wonder what the “previous” hamartiology was (among the set of the people that were/would be New Atheists and/or SJ) before New Atheism.

    I feel like one source of sin might be conformity/consumerism/advertising/over-conditioning, that sort of thing. Whatever the movie Fight Club endorses — a lot of what George Carlin seemed to talk about in the few clips I’ve seen of him. That seemed to be big. But I’m not really old enough to remember these times well.

    Not sure what the associated community is for this source of sin (“punk” might have some overlap?)

    Of course Christianity itself is a hamartiology, but it likely didn’t hold sway among whoever the predecessors of New Atheists were.

    • chridd says:

      For me, personally, conformism probably at least partly filled/still fills that role. Religion/atheism can be seen as a conformism issue (religions expect people to conform to a particular set of beliefs and morality and way of life and whatnot; we should be able to have beliefs that don’t conform, including but not limited to atheism and agnosticism), as can gender issues (society expects people of a particular gender to conform to specific gender roles and stereotypes) and sexual orientation (people expect people to conform to a particular type of relationship). And the school I went to for high school was both very liberal (i.e., most of the students and teachers there tended to support the Democrats’ position on issues more than the Republicans’) and pro-weirdness, so I’m not the only one to make this connection. (This was during the 2000’s decade.)

      …which makes social justice culture (and probably also New Atheists), seem weird and kind of contradictory to me, because they expect a lot of conformance yet are against a lot of the problems I saw as being due to/instances of conformism.

      I know anti-consumerism was also a thing, but I didn’t really have much of a personal connection with it. And also peer pressure (≈ conformity?) was being blamed for a lot of issues with teenagers those days, like drug use and underage drinking and such, which seems like it’s on the opposite side politically?

  15. MostlyCredibleHulk says:

    If you don’t agree with any of that — and this is the only ‘divisive’ part — then you’re an asshole

    It is fascinating how normal and routine it has become to replace discussions of early days – sometimes long, sometimes heated, sometimes full of ad hominems and insults, but still trying to provide argument and refute opposing arguments – with blanket attempt to label the opponent as something not worthy of attention and terminate the discussion as soon as possible, declaring victory by opponent being an asshole, as since it can’t be that an asshole would ever say anything worth listening to, anything you say is automatically true.

    I mean I am not surprised people try that. I am surprised how much people succeed at that – instead of being pointed at and laughed as somebody committing basic schoolyard logical fallacy, and recommended come next week and try better, this kind of behavior is embraced as brave and bold, and lauded.

  16. dark orchid says:

    While reading this article, I was reminded of records of the time when they were getting the Athanasius vs. Arius thing sorted and it was said that you couldn’t buy a loaf of bread in Constantinople without the baker sharing his opinion on the divinity of the Son.

  17. Fakjbf says:

    “Where did it come from? Where did it go?”

    I was really hoping for a Cotton Eye Joe joke here

  18. Alsadius says:

    There’s an old joke about the Irish Troubles, which I’ll quote from memory:

    Guy A: Are you Catholic or Protestant?
    Guy B: I’m an atheist.
    A: What’s that?
    B: I don’t believe in god.
    A: Ah, okay. So is it the Catholic god you don’t believe in, or the Protestant one?

    I feel like there was a similar split among New Atheists in some ways, between the ones who disbelieved the Christian god, and those who disbelieved the Muslim god. The non-Christianity-believers went full SJW, and that makes a lot of sense to me. And that was always the core of the movement, especially in the US context, so your argument gets a big thumbs-up from me.

    That said, the non-Islam-believers seem to have gone MAGA(and especially, the young Pepe-branded internet troll breed) instead. I can’t exactly imagine Christopher Hitchens as a Beto fanboy.

    • dark orchid says:

      I’ve only heard that joke with a Jew so far (“so are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?”) but it works equally well with an atheist, I suppose.

      • Anthony says:

        Alsadius’ joke is a variation on the Bertrand Russell joke I’ve heard, which may not be original with him.

        The other one I’ve heard, that refers to Jews, is:

        A guy was walking down a street in Ireland when a man approached him from behind and stuck a knife to his throat. “Be you protestant or catholic”, the assailant asked. The guy thought “If I say I’m catholic and he’s protestant, I’m a dead man. If I say I’m protestant and he’s catholic, I’m a dead man.” After a little thought, the guy said, “I’m Jewish, I’M JEWISH”.

        “Aha,” the assailant said, “I have to be the luckiest Arab in Ireland!”

  19. Prussian says:

    Scott, with respect, there is a much more important reason why New Atheism failed. I write about it at length here, and I fear it is the one area where your otherwise admirable epistemological virtue seems to let you down.

    Here’s a hint. It start with an “I”.

    But here’s the Tl;dr version: New Atheism just couldn’t get the talent. New Atheism recruited from the Western left. And unfortunately, the Western left sees one sin that trumps all others: being right-wing. This is that “outgroup” thing you talk about.

    Because 9/11 happened under Bush, any criticism of Islam was associated with being “right wing”, and therefore completely unacceptable. Adios the Atheist movement – because all those Big Brave Iconoclasts Standing Up To Religion (TM)! turned and ran when it came to the knuckle.

    You mentioned P.Z. Myers. Great example – he happily burned bibles, descrated hosts, and when the Muhammad cartoon pogroms went across the globe, he ran for cover and started attacking the victims.

    Myers has always been a bully and a coward, and it has become more and more apparent. So were the ones that were drawn in his wake.

    By the point that stress test happened, it was too late. The flow of poison had gone on too long – New Atheism recruited from a western left that is mainly SJWs who wreck everything. So, when it came to something that mattered, such as opposing the murder for blasphemy, or being against honour killings, or FGM, they ran. I’ll quote myself here:

    I was completely wasting my time piling up fact on fact, study on study. It doesn’t matter than a majority of British Muslims want homosexuality criminalised, or that a quarter are fine with murdering people for blasphemy. My interlocutors and I were talking past each other – I was arguing that Islamic theory and practice is barbaric, and they were arguing that criticism of Islam is right wing. And if it’s right wing, it’s unacceptable, all facts be damned.

    (I also have to say that your line that being anti-Islam “looks pretty racist” is cheap and unworthy of you.)

    In this piece you even seem to confirm this:

    We watched the US population elect George W Bush and act like this was a remotely reasonable thing to do. We saw people destroying the environment, leaving the poor to starve, and denying gay people their right to live as normal members of society.

    I remember a saying from those days “George Bush thinks the main threat is Al Qaeda, and the Democrats think the main threat is George Bush”. And, sorry to get a little heated here, but here’s what I saw from that time:

    I saw half of the U.S. Democratic party flock to a film-maker who defended the tyranny of Saddam Hussain and hail as heroes those forces we knew then as Al Qaeda in Iraq and now as the Islamic State. I saw every excuse imaginable being made for jihadists killers – “Oh, it’s just because Root Causes” – while every critic of the killers was smeared as a racist and a bigot. I saw a western and American left so anti-Bush and anti-Neocon that they made sure that nothing was done about Darfur – and four hundred thousand souls were abandoned to genocide, and many more enslaved, and I never saw one ‘anti-war’ protester hang his head in shame over that.

    You talk about gay rights? Well, I saw the rise of murderous homophobia throughout Europe, and every single gay who spoke up, not about a denial of gay marriage but about the actual promise to criminalize and kill gays, as a racist by the boundlessly tolerant and decent left. I saw how apostates were treated. I saw how brave women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Phyllis Chesler were treated, and still are. Oh, yes, and one last thing: I saw how under the Sainted Obama we saw the return of the slave market and everyone was just fine with that.

    I have to say this is probably one of the most valuable, and most depressing, post you have ever written. It completely confirms what I was saying – that the western left, and especially the American left, was never interested in opposing religion; that it cannot see anything beyond bashing the right.

    Now, let me just say this in closing: some of us really do think that religion is a curse on this world. We really, really are against unreason. We’re against things like slavery. We’re against the murder of apostates and blasphemers. We’re against the genocide of religious minorities. We’re against all of this, and this may be the hardest thing to get, we are against these things regardless of who is in the white house.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I agree with most of the post you linked. However, I am obliged to submit a correction.

      You link to this image and caption it by saying:

      This asbestos literally reads “certified as safe by the 45th President of the United states”

      The label stamped on the pictured asbestos package is in Russian—my native language. Your translation is incorrect. It actually says:

      “Approved by Donald Trump — 45th president of the USA.”

      This is a critical difference from your mistaken translation, which you use to support the point that…

      [Trump’s] pettiness and narcissism has lead to a direct sanction of the asbestos trade, with the result that many more workers – and their families – in the poorest parts of the world will be poisoned by this stuff. And so on.

      However, the actual photograph, and the words on the stamp, do not support this point. There is no connotation of any safety certification in the label. The word used is a direct translation of ‘approve’, with no additional meaning.

      This mistake does not at all invalidate the point you are making. However, it does invalidate an item of evidence/illustration, so I would ask that you correct it—especially as it is a misrepresentation of something that most of your readers cannot easily verify. (And scrupulously avoiding such errors is a strong signal of your general trustworthiness, which is particularly important to attend to, given the seriousness of the post’s subject matter and message.)

      • Prussian says:

        Many thanks1 I’ll happily amend that; I took the translation from a presentation by an anti-Asbestos charity. Maybe I just wrote down the translation wrong, maybe the presenter did, either way you’re quite right to bring it up and I’ll correct it.

    • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

      I must say, when you compare behavior of some religious sect that has its beliefs, however weird they seem to the outsider – say, Mormons are a popular target (to me, a non-Christian, it’s weird to think how people can believe in all that) – when you compare that with the behavior of the atheist and to the large extent SJ movement you’ve just outlined – the docility and cowardice towards militant Islam, the refusal to support human rights movement in non-Western countries, a complete prostration of rationalist doctrine before SJW mobs… In comparison, a little bunch of irrational beliefs seems to come off much better, IMHO, than a whole lot of cowardly and opportunist behavior from supposed rationalists who were going to fix the world.

      It’s easier to attack mostly harmless domestic Christians and present it as highminded rationality choice than to engage some really hard and dangerous targets, where solutions are not as simple as “Christian man bad”. And I think atheist/rationalist movement, in general, seems to have utterly failed this challenge, and if that is true, it fully deserved the decline in popularity.

  20. amolitor says:

    I think there is at least one other relevant trend. The rise & fall of Atheism as a Topic On The Internet arose pretty much in sync with, it happens, the rise of digital photography as a Thing on the Internet, which arose pretty much with The Internet. These two things are not related, but that two unrelated topics rose and fell together suggests a confounding factor.

    Things have gotten bigger, more universal, more mundane. Interest in a lot of things rose abruptly, and dissipated on much the same schedule. Look at the google trends on lockpicking, frisbee golf, and jewelry making, just to pull some random crap that modestly well-off white people are likely to be in to. Lots of other things, of course, have not dissipated on the same schedule.

    Perhaps, rather than looking internally at “atheism” the answer is to look for confounding factors.

    It does not help that so many of the prominent atheist, um, “thinkers” let us politely call them, were and are transparently angling to become or maintain status as a Public Intellectual. They rather visualize themselves on stages trading barbs glib and pithy with equally well paid Public Intellectuals from the the other side, each side imagining himself to the smart one on stage, each equally wrong.

    None of these people are the intellectual powerhouses they imagine themselves to be. They are, as a rule, boring, and they are deeply ignorant outside of a fairly narrow silo in which they imagine all the good answers to be.

    With nothing to hold anyone’s interest, the movement dissipates, and what is left is subsumed into the much larger social-justice battles being fought for everyone’s entertainment across the internets.

    • Prussian says:

      There’s something to that, but what this is missing is that most of the atheist movement quit the field when things actually got serious.

      • amolitor says:

        I have to admit that I have never cared about any “atheist movement” but having been vaguely keeping track of PZ Meyrs in the last few years, I have been somewhat startled to learn what remarkably low-wattage individuals are in play here, and apparently taken fairly seriously.

        PZ is willfully ignorant of Christianity. I am neither a Christian nor a theologian, but I clearly know 1000x as much as he does. He cannot even be bothered to seriously read the new testament, a relatively short and fairly readable book, to work out what it is that he wants to dedicate his life to attacking.

        His atheism is performative, not intellectual. “Reason” has no part here, except as a stick to hit people with.

  21. coraharmonica says:

    I’m surprised nobody has pointed out that these changes in internet culture coincide with the introduction of the smartphone: the first iPhone came out in late June 2007. The fact that with a smartphone you could now surf the Internet at any time, in any place, solidified the shift from long-form to short-form media. Twitter was created in 2006 but only began to acquire popularity in 2008, after everyone had a smartphone. Who wants to write a treatise on anything from an iPhone? Maybe some people, but there’s definitely a larger barrier to entry on a smartphone, which goes in the opposite direction for laptops and PCs (who wants to write a mere 140-character post when you could write a detailed screed capable of highlighting all your enemy’s foibles?). With smartphones, the demographics of the internet changed—it not only became democratized, but also prompted a different level of engagement where clickbait headlines and listicles became more salient “news”, allowing for higher-energy content with a shorter period of digestion (in short, the media equivalent of junk food). I wouldn’t underestimate the power of these changes to contribute to the switch from reasonposting to radicalization.

  22. Spot says:

    isn’t there a famous quote about somebody not knowing anybody who voted for Nixon?

    I think you’re referring to the Pauline Kael quote: “everyone I know voted for George McGovern,” or something like that. Like a lot of these famous quotes, it seems uncertain whether or not she actually said it, but it does demonstrate that polarization is not native to the twenty-first century.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      The quote’s been bastardized such that it’s usually presented as Kael being ignorant, but the actual quote was her being aware of her bubble:

      “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”

  23. Ant says:

    By the numbers, the decline is slight: from 80% Christian / 15% atheist in 2000 to 70% Christian / 25% atheist in 2018.

    How is this a slight progression ? The proportion of atheist number has almost doubled in 20 years, and there are expected to be the dominant religion around 2035. I can’t think of a single example where a population has adopted a belief system so quickly without massive forced conversion or deportation.
    This is a trend among developped country( in fact, the USA is really lagging behind), and it also affect muslim countries (8% in 2013, 13% in 2019).
    On the decline in power, 3 out of 5 leader on the security council were openly Christian (USA, France, Great Britain) in 2000. Today, that number is 1, and that’s counting Trump.

    From my personnal experience, the decline in religion has been extraordinary quick:
    _ In the 60, you could find older people who go to services every days. They were considered hardcore christian.
    _ When I did my communion, in the 1995/2005, I would say that going to the service every week was limited to roughly 1% of the population of the village: if you weren’t a child in the process of receiving your first communion, you could be considered hardcore.
    _ Today, the service are every two week and there are less people who attends simply because old people are dying and they are not being replaced. Child who do their catholic sacrament are mostly doing them for the traditionnal gift that come with them (I wonder if it will reach a christmas level, but I doubt it since the ceremony require a priest). Going to the service every week mark you as weird, and even among those weird people, a member of parliament was considered stupid for using the bible as justification for her position.

    I can also talk about how the priest’s house used to be the second richest in the village after the noble familly mansion, whereas today a lot of them subsist on less than minimum wa

  24. chridd says:

    > Bible Belt churchgoers for whom atheists had been an almost-fictional bogeyman, and New York atheists who thought of the religious as unsophisticated yokels, came together for the first time thinking “Convincing these people is going to be so easy”.

    Question that occurred to me while thinking about this: How many New Atheists were people who came from a secular background and were now encountering conservative religious people (like the people the quote is talking about) vs. people who came from a conservative religious background and deconverted? And was it different among old-internet pre-activism-era atheists (which is what the quoted part is actually talking about)?

    My impression, coming onto the internet in the New Atheist era, was that most online atheists were in the latter group (at least, I heard a lot of people talk about religious upbringing, and not as many about encountering religious people for the first time), and this seems like a plausible explanation for why I didn’t feel like I fit in with online atheists despite being an atheist myself (religion was their outgroup, but my fargroup… although also the places where I spent time online had way more atheists talking about the problems of religion than religious people talking about their religion, which also could factor into that).

    And since secular background and conservative background are potentially two distinct groups, could this have anything to do with either the shift towards activism or the split in pro– vs. anti–social justice somehow? And/or possibly with the disagreement in the comments about what the “blue tribe” is?

    • nicktachy says:

      Yeah, I think this is a great point, and my hypothesis would be that the New Atheist movement was more populated with those of religious background, while the Social Justice movement is more populated with those of secular background.

      It always seemed to me that the most strident, vocal atheists were raised in or around a religious environment that they clashed with either intellectually or socially. Anecdotally, I knew several people growing up in the Midwest US who would fall into that category. When I went to college in the Northeast, however, very few people were religious, but it was more of a non-factor than an argument they wanted to have. They were happy to make fun of conservative Christians, and they’d certainly vote against them, but they mostly just didn’t care to discuss the issues.

      For those who were raised secular, conservative religion was always “other” to them and they never knew anything else. If you grew up in, say, a liberal college town in the Northeast, you may have gone your entire life, through college and potentially beyond, without meeting a serious, committed Christian. I know people who have told me exactly this. Someone like George W. Bush or Mike Pence would be completely alien to them. On the other hand, if you grew up clashing with Christians, you might have the motivation and ability to actually engage, if only because you had to defend your own views.

      • chridd says:

        > my hypothesis would be that the New Atheist movement was more populated with those of religious background, while the Social Justice movement is more populated with those of secular background.

        My guess was the opposite, that New Atheists who were raised religious would be more likely to also be into Social Justice, mainly because I’ve seen stories of LGBT people having conflicts with their conservative Christian parents similar to those of atheists. It could be that many people deconverted in part because of their religion’s views on race, gender, and sexuality, hence the focus on Social Justice. I don’t know for sure, though; it could easily be the other way around.

        Also, in addition to outgroup vs. fargroup, being formerly religious might influence one’s way of thinking. E.g., some other comments here have compared SJ to the religious idea that everyone must constantly examine themselves to not sin; but the possibility that formerly-religious people have kept that attitude and changed the specifics, and the possibility that formerly-religious people reject that attitude harder than those who were never religious, both seem plausible to me. (It’s also possible that SJ works better with an everyone-sins assumption but many SJ people don’t have that assumption…)

        Most of what I’m saying is speculation. This distinction seems like it should be important and I don’t remember seeing it mentioned in the main article, but I don’t know how it’s important (or if it’s relevant to the pro/anti-SJ split or important in some other way).

        Sample size of 1: I have a secular background, have always been atheist but wasn’t into New Atheism, consider SJ sort of to be “my side” but am uncomfortable with some aspects of it (including callout culture), generally haven’t been particularly vocal on politics or religion, and am not inclined towards an everyone-sins view of morality.

  25. ajfirecracker says:

    I like this post, but I think attributing the “Blue Tribe” ideology to the 2000s is missing a lot of ideological history. I think the extreme bubble effect isn’t a new thing – isn’t there a famous quote about somebody not knowing anybody who voted for Nixon? I think the ideologically divide in American politics/culture goes back at least a century, to the old religious divides of the late 1800s. The American left are an extreme form of Quakers (for elaboration consult Moldbug). I think a lot of the “White People are evil” articles written by white people are self-flagellating (rather than taking swipes at the “Red Tribe”). It’s not painful to criticize yourself if you have a sense not merely that this is a good thing to do, but that it makes you righteous.

  26. nonethewiser says:

    As someone who was very caught up in that movement, this is so fascinating. I find it very humbling to read analyses like this on social trends. It really shakes my perception of myself as an autonomous individual making my own choices in opposition to the herd. I’d be very interested to read other ex-atheists personal accounts of how this shift was experienced by them. I’ll give a synopsis of mine for anyone curious.

    In 2011, I was co-admin of a fairly popular Philosophy and Theology debate group on Facebook. I was unaware of how dogmatic and closeminded I had become. A Creationist pastor I debated a lot with, now a good friend, asked me what it would take, excluding divine intervention, for me to change my mind. I was stumped. I spent days thinking about it. It bothered me that I couldn’t produce an answer, it went against my values of intellectual honesty and critical thinking. This was the first crack in the dam. I became aware of how closed-minded I had become. I started listening to my family and friends’ criticisms of my stridency and militantism. I was supposed to be open-minded. I used to be fascinated by the panoply of Earth’s cultures and ways of being human. What happened to my curiosity? My wonderment? That was my true identity. How had I become possessed by this thing that was not me, yet that I came to regard as my total identity?

    I realized that I needed to associate more with the people I found contemptible. I found a local New Age group and started going. It felt pretty silly having my aura read and all that, but I kept going and got to know the people and became curious again. Maybe my high school level of science education hadn’t actually given me a complete understanding of the Universe. Doubt and the thrill of inquiry came flooding back in.

    I became fascinated at this time with studying comparitive mythology and the psychology of religion; Jung, Frazer, Campbell, Eliade, etc. It became a profound mystery to me, what is this aspect of our universal humanness that I had so long felt excluded from? I started deep diving into the great mystical texts. A long time recreational drug user/abuser, I came to an understanding of the profound potential of psychedelics as an introspective tool and for mystical experiences. I began seeing synchronicities everywhere; it felt as though the Universe was attempting to communicate with me in subtle ways. God was some Cosmic Moriarty, and I, Sherlock Holmes. But I went too far in the opposite direction of my atheistic nihilism. Everything became meaningful. I was consumed by a hypergraphic compulsion to write a synthesis of my insights into the fundemental structure of religiosity that I called “metatheism”. But I was too psychologically unstable, had a series of psychotic episodes. Looking back, I recognize how essential it is for the seeker to have a spiritual discipline in the context and support of a community.

    Long story short, I ended up at a Buddhist monastery near the end of 2012. Unplugged from the internet and the world for a few years and put the fragments of my mind back together. So I completely missed the shift in the culture wars and the rise of Wokeness. When I came back into the world in 2016, it was shockingly different in this regard. I found myself in an underground ayahuasca scene, something I had been terribly curious about for years. My first session absolutely changed my life. It was unmistakably of the realm of experience that I had read so much about, yet never felt that I had access to. It was a sort of benevolent possession by a distinctly seperate intelligence. I asked her if she was God, and she told me she was but a servent. All of my shame and guilt and self hatred from so many years were purged from me and every dark and twisted part of my soul was embraced in complete love and forgiveness. I was told that I needed to return to my Christian roots, to further understand and heal, and that I would soon find a teacher who would help me. The next morning, I could not stop weeping. I just kept saying over and over, “I can’t believe it is real. I can’t believe that I found it.” I could no longer hate myself. Soon thereafter, just months before his explosion into public awareness, I stumbled onto the work of Jordan Peterson, his “Tragedy vs Evil” lecture. And I swear, his words were healing to this rift between mind and soul that had so long plagued me.

    I’m not sure where I am now. Sort of a spiritual vagabond again. I have a fear of putting myself in a box again, yet feel a pressing need to declare to myself what my values are and how I will live them out.

    • What happened to my curiosity? My wonderment? That was my true identity. How had I become possessed by this thing that was not me, yet that I came to regard as my total identity?

      Thank you for sharing your in-depth story. A lot of it rings true (particularly having the support of a wise community). Jung’s info can be powerful; it sounds like you lived a meaningful life.

  27. nicktachy says:

    I don’t know to what extent you’re just talking about online discourse versus IRL discourse, but in so far as it is the latter, there are two major facts that I don’t think the hypothesis deals with very well:

    1) Pharyngula aside, many (most?) major New Atheist figures did not move to social justice. Take the so-called “Four Horsemen.” Sam Harris is part of the explicitly anti-SJ “Intellectual Dark Web.” Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, though less prominent today, have made anti-SJ sounds when anyone cared to ask them. And Christopher Hitchens, God rest his soul, would surely have been stridently anti-SJ. The core of the movement, or at least a large chunk of it, was always in this “Skeptics Society” framework, not just the remnant that currently exists.

    2) Liberal Protestantism is deeply intertwined with social justice movements. Just go to any mainline liberal Protestant denomination’s website (e.g. UCC, TEC) and you’ll find it peppered with SJ terminology. Attend a service at a liberal Protestant church and the sermon will almost certainly feature anti-racism, feminism, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, etc. You’ll see more rainbow flags than crosses adorning the sanctuary. And this isn’t a particularly post-2016 phenomenon. The Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay, same-sex-married bishop all the way back in 2003, which caused all kinds of schisms at the time. All of the liberal Protestant denominations have been ordaining women since the 1970s, for SJ reasons. You could say much the same about liberal non-Christian religions, like say, Reform Judaism or UU. Social justice is the moral language of the religious left and has been for decades.

    Yet these churches obviously weren’t promoting atheism a decade earlier, just as the Four Horsemen aren’t promoting social justice now. So, I think, at least IRL, there are some pretty big chunks (probably majorities) of these movements that don’t overlap in any significant way.

    • JonathanD says:

      Attend a service at a liberal Protestant church and the sermon will almost certainly feature anti-racism, feminism, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, etc. You’ll see more rainbow flags than crosses adorning the sanctuary.

      For whatever it’s worth, neither of these statements is true.

  28. Glacian says:

    I was there from the very beginning of new atheism, on the battleground in the early internet debate forum days, founding and running a student atheist group, going to all the Four Horsemen talks. This:

    I think it seamlessly merged into the modern social justice movement

    … is exactly what happened. I’m delighted to see you make the case for this. It’s about damn time.

  29. pepper2000 says:

    Thanks for the article. I was just thinking the other day about some of these debates from the mid-2000s, like whether to teach creationism in schools, and wondering what happened to them.

    It would be interesting to analyze the transformation from the other side. The Republican Party / conservative movement does not seem to emphasize religion anywhere near the extent to which it did 15 years ago. What I recall as evidence of a major turning point was the 2008 election, when Pat Robertson endorsed pro-choice Rudy Giuliani over pro-life John McCain because Giuliani was supposedly going to be harsher in foreign policy. It apparently had no influence on the course of the race, making it clear how impotent the Christian Right had become compared to just four years earlier. Maybe it took a few more years for the New Atheist movement to realize they were fighting yesterday’s war.

    • ajfirecracker says:

      Giuliani more of a hawk than McCain? That’s hard to imagine. “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb bomb Iran…”

    • Steve Sailer says:

      The Bush Era GOP tended to run up big majorities in Bible Belt states and Mormon states, but lose narrowly in Great Lakes states, which almost cost them the Electoral College in 2004 and did cost Romney in 2012. Trump squeaked through by doing less well in Texas and Utah but barely winning in more Catholic northern states.

  30. Anonymous Bosch says:

    I’m putting this in a separate reply because my editing window ran out and also it’s a separate issue.

    Since I started writing this essay, I’ve noticed a surprising number of people just saying this outright. If you go to any thread on r/politics about Trump (aka any thread on r/politics), you’ll see people saying things like this:

    This is a reddit comment from 9 months ago. It has 190 karma in a thread where the top-rated comment has 5,500. How did you “notice” this comment since you started writing this essay?

    The simplest explanation I can think of (not necessarily the correct one of course) is that your information diet includes a sort of stupidpol/realpeerreview style Bad Take Syndication service to keep you informed of all the Chinese people robbing banks (and, one presumes, being acquitted for reasons of structural white supremacy). Should I really have to belabor why this seems like an extremely bad idea for anyone? Especially to you?

  31. Anonymous Bosch says:

    “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?” – Keynes

    I can only describe this experience from my own side of the aisle, which was the progressive side. We watched the US population elect George W Bush and act like this was a remotely reasonable thing to do. We saw people destroying the environment, leaving the poor to starve, and denying gay people their right to live as normal members of society. We saw people endorsing weird ideas and conspiracy theories, from homeopathy and creationism to the Clintons murdering their enemies. We were always vaguely aware from reading the newspapers that some of these people existed. But now we were seeing and conversing with them every day.

    And so we asked ourselves: what the hell is wrong with these people?

    And New Atheism had an answer: religion.

    The obvious conclusion given these facts are that New Atheism died because it was wrong. All the things you list with the exception of active hostility to gay people are still true today, and have if anything gotten worse, and the targeted homophobia has been replaced by a far more general xenophobia combined with other things progressives similarly don’t like (e.g., Trump doesn’t even gesture at things like boosting education spending which Bush would sometimes go along with).

    But instead of “New Atheists realized they were wrong about the ultimate motivation for these terrible beliefs,” we get … this:

    Gradually the Blue Tribe got a little bit more self-awareness and realized this was not a great idea. Their coalition contained too many Catholic Latinos, too many Muslim Arabs, too many Baptist African-Americans. Remember that in 2008, “what if all the Hispanic people end up going Republican?” was considered a major and plausible concern. It became somewhat less amenable to New Atheism’s answer to its identity question – but absent a better one, the New Atheists continued to wield some social power.

    This is bad. It takes the realization that religion is neither necessary nor sufficient for malevolent politics, which I thought to be more or less a part of growing up and maturing in a pluralist society, and spins it into some Saul Alinsky shit where the progressives don’t really care about the underlying truth of the answer to their question (which has now shifted from “why do conservatives believe dumb shit” to “who am I, what defines me?”) and are just choosing to go for whatever answer gives them power.

    A more charitable take, or at least a take you might want to gesture at addressing, would be to credit this shift not to Black Lives Matter, but to the diverging trajectories of conservative religiosity and conservatives believing dumb shit logically necessitating a better explanation from progressives than the one New Atheism provided.

  32. HeelBearCub says:

    This is your semi-annual note that the commentariat here prefers to refer to social justice with the slur “SJW” and makes no distinction between the two terms.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      First time I saw SJW was in the twitter bio of an SJW.

      • Zorgon says:

        I did believe for a while that “SJW” originally came from the SJ world, but that short early period of attempted reclamation of the term apparently came after its first uses as a slur.

      • Plumber says:

        @HeelBearCub says:

        “This is your semi-annual note that the commentariat here prefers to refer to social justice with the slur “SJW” and makes no distinction between the two terms”

        @jermo sapiens says:

        “First time I saw SJW was in the twitter bio of an SJW”

        The first time that I saw “social justice” was as way to laud people in newspaper eulogies, as in “worked for social justice”, the first time that was saw “SJW” was in a post on a Dungeons & Dragons Forum in 2016 or ’17, where it was used as a slur without mention of exactly what it meant.

        I still have lingering annoyance both towards those who use the slur (but I’m trying to be charitable) and also towards some of those so slurred (but not all).

        I think another commenter said that I had a ‘Get of my social justice lawn you kids!” attitude’ on how the terms are used online (I’ve never heard them spoken out loud)

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think another commenter said that I had a ‘Get of my social justice lawn you kids!” attitude’ on how the terms are used online (I’ve never heard them spoken out loud)

          I think that commenter might have been me.

          I can’t remember if we talked about this, but I think I remember an older, self-applied label was “Warrior for Social Justice”. I don’t have any specific memories about that, it’s just that the first time I saw Social Justice Warrior written (probably on reddit) I thought it was a reference to that (and not the derisive term it is now).

    • Aapje says:

      This is your semi-annual note that HeelBearCub makes no distinction between different commentators, slurring them all with the charge that they use slurs.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        “Commentariat” != any individual commenter (something of which you should be aware).

        I am simply bring back up a point that was vigorously argued a couple of years ago. SJW is easily used here as a stand in for social justice, and the assumption is that anyone interested in social justice can be categorized as an SJW. When the term is used, it isn’t assumed to reference some subset of those interested in social justice, but almost everyone.

        That fact colors the discussion.

        • Aapje says:

          If I say: “the men here prefer to rape women,” would you argue that individual men ought not to feel offended?

          I don’t particularly care to redo the debate. Your perception seems quite biased and no more charitable than the less charitable people you criticize, which makes for pot and kettle situation, IMO.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “I don’t care to redo the debate”, he says, while making points of debate.

            In any case, the phrase “the men of” is doing work in your example, and it isn’t particularly analogous.

            However, let’s posit that if each time the subject came up, a subset of commenters frequently said “I prefer to rape woman” and this statement was considered unremarkable at the time, and indeed echoed by other and more commenters approvingly as time went on. Furthermore, very few commenters, if any at all, said “I don’t prefer rape and think that view is bad”.

            What then would we say about the general position on the preference for rape?

            Your argument is bad, Aapje.

    • Zorgon says:

      This is your response that the public face of social justice has been indistinguishable from SJW rhetoric for at least 8 years now, so this confusion is entirely understandable if perhaps not ideally charitable.

    • etaphy says:

      This actually sounds suspiciously like the semi-annual dog whistle calling out the ‘commentariat’ here for the crime of appearing to be “conservatism’s fellow travelers” or whatnot due to not voicing immediate agreement with the latest strain of some topical activism.

  33. Zorgon says:

    I just wish someone would decide who is supposed to be wearing the fedora.

    Is it Euphoric Reddit Atheists? Hat-Tipping Respectful-Nodding Beta Males? Manchild Incel Neckbeards? Hell, I’ve even seen people make reference to Political Lesbian TERF fedoras!

    Fedoras, fedoras everywhere! My trilby is wrinkling with anxiety.

  34. Phil H says:

    No time to read all 494 comments, but I searched through and there were only a smattering of references to “gay”, which I think means that no-one has quite hit the nail on the head. I think this is a case of… well, I’d like to call it sex>internet, i.e. it’s not about the internet, it’s about sex. In reality its social issues>internet. Changing attitudes and the law towards gay people was *the* issue of the first few years of the 21st century, and the negative attitudes were almost all religious. Therefore the internet was a place of strife over religion. That battle was won and lost, and today, the battle is more around race and gender, hence the internet strifes about them.
    If you start by asking, why is the internet like this? then you’re starting at the wrong end.
    And speaking of arguments won and lost, another way of looking at it is: Religion was one of the great pits of wrongness that even people who are interested in being right used to get stuck in. Because religion was in many places very present and socially active, and atheism was confined to dusty books, there was still a big chunk of the population (10% if Scott’s figures are right) who were interested enough to give up religion, but were still religious, presumeably because the atheists weren’t there to talk to them at the right moments. The internet stopped that.

  35. TDB says:

    Why is “social justice” not a more contentious term? We can argue over theories of justice. Why are all the debates involving social justice between social justice and something else, and not about what social justice really means? Or is there constant internal debate going on, but I remain ignorant?

    The best I can do: ordinary justice compares individual behavior to a standard of justice. By analogy, social justice might compare societies to a standard of justice.

  36. sustrik says:

    This reminds me of have I had read lately about some climate activists meeting and deciding that fighting climate change is not enough, that it must be paired with the fight for social justice.

    The interesting part being that bundling climate agenda with any other agenda would necessarily lower the support for the case. Those that are for climate action but against social justice would be repelled from the case.

    I guess the answer is that once there is a certain source of power (e.g. public support for climate action, economic equality, gender equality, you name it) then everyone tries to tap that power by bundling their pet agenda with the popular case.

    • Bugmaster says:

      The cool thing about the fight for Social Justice is that you can fight it by not really doing much of anything. Calling out people on Twitter for being insufficiently woke is a lot easier than pushing through actual legislation capping carbon emissions. And it’s a fight that can never be truly won, since oppression is fractal, so there’s an endless supply of easy satisfaction, if that is what you crave.

  37. Timothy says:

    I think it’s probably best in these times to split out “without god” and “without religion” considering the way the Woke faith works – it’s syncretic, so from the Woke side, you can be a Woke Christian, a Woke Jew, or a Woke atheist, whatever, as long as it’s basically Woke with different superficial traditions. (From the other side some religions don’t necessarily agree, i.e. Woke requires support for abortion and Catholicism condemns it.)

  38. liskantope says:

    I have so many thoughts on the topic of this post, but unfortunately much less internet time than I used to have. Maybe just a couple of quick thoughts in direct response to points made in the post.

    Re George W. Bush’s presidency: for me (an anti-Bush budding atheist adolescent at the time), at least, it was about something deeper than Bush’s overt conservative religiosity and appearance of basing policy on his personal religious beliefs. It was about a general pro-dogmatism, simple-black-and-white-morality thread running through all of the pro-Bush rhetoric on practically any topic. Questioning the Iraq War was “sending mixed messages to our troops”, a strong leader was one who exemplified decisiveness over considering nuance, and if you weren’t with us you were against us, for instance. I came to realize that I was profoundly frustrated by these things in precisely the same way that I was profoundly frustrated by the underpinnings of religion.

    Another thought, which probably should be expanded on but for now I’ll keep it brief: I never saw the decline of New Atheism as “it was so sure it was winning and suddenly it was losing” so much as “New Atheism essentially did win, but then a large subset of it wanted to continue pounding on fundamentalists while a somewhat smaller but more vocal subset of it had decided to move on to other causes and looked down upon the first subset as immature for continuing to carry on a battle already won.” This might be more or less the same interpretation as given in the post. But in framing it this way, I noticed something interesting: choosing to immediately move on from a victory to other causes and looking down upon those who continue to fight is sort of the opposite of the long-term mentality in a lot of activism: the long-term activist strategy more often seems to be never to acknowledge that a battle has been won (at least not for more than a few seconds) because the war is never over. Interestingly, it would appear that the part of New Atheism that split off to join Social Justice was the part that went against this norm.

  39. Humbert McHumbert says:

    One big difference between SJ and atheism is that SJ lends itself much more to arguments about whether some particular person in the community has offended against the core tenets of the group with their actions. Mansplaining or sexual harassment are not violations of the tenets of atheism in the way they violated the tenets of Atheism+. Arguments about this sort of thing attract large amounts of attention and energy, due to the person’s friends rallying to their defense, those who dislike them rallying to their attack, and other bystanders being fascinated by the train wreck aspect of the arguments. It’s just much less exciting to argue over abstract issues than it is to argue over whether the person on the other side of the debate is a terrible human being.

    This is probably related to the post (can’t recall the title) in which Scott points out why the Michael Brown case attracted more clicks than Eric Garner.

  40. Max Rockatansky says:

    In my opinion, New Atheism failed when it became a religion. There are so many parallels to orthodox (insert religion here), there isn’t time nor room to go over here. Just poke an axiom!

  41. liskantope says:

    One post I distinctly remember, but which I can no longer find, was a rousing call for atheists to switch to social justice blogging. It said something like “Instead of rehearsing the same old tired arguments for or against the existence of God, it’s time to become part of the struggle for progress and equality.”

    Scott, could you be talking about this article on Freethought Blogs by Natalie Reed? I remember reading it back when it came out and then a year or two ago having a very hard time finding it when I wanted to quote it in a blogpost. (Apologies if someone else already suggested this one in the comments.)

  42. Rand says:

    I’d like to see Scott write a post properly unpacking Red Tribe and Blue Tribe and what is meant by them. (And exploring the notion of a third “Grey” tribe and how it relates to the other two.) “I can tolerate anything except the outgroup” really doesn’t do the job. In particular, Scott often seems to be switching between “Blue Tribe” as code for Democratic or urban American and as code for “the Oberlin College gender studies department”. And depending on what interpretation you choose, these posts can either sound sort of reasonable or completely ludicrous:

    ‘As it took its first baby steps, the Blue Tribe started asking itself “Who am I? What defines me?”, trying to figure out how it conceived of itself. New Atheism had an answer – “You are the people who aren’t blinded by fundamentalism” – and for a while the tribe toyed with accepting it.’

    Did Oberlin professors flirt with being defined by Atheism? It’s plausible sounding at least. (Admittedly, it sounds a bit funnier if you stick the “gender studies” back in.)

    Did Democratic America toy with defining itself by Atheism??? Better question: Has the Democratic Party ever elected a professed Atheist as President, Governor or Senator? Answer: Yes, Culbert Olson and Thomas Gore in the 1930s. Since then I’ve got nothing (that is, the Wikipedia page [which counts Rep. Barney Frank as an Atheist against his objections] has nothing, let me now if you find something). By contrast, the Reform candidate Jesse Ventura became Governor of Minnesota in 1999.

    The social justice movement hasn’t done that much better, but at least they maybe have Gillibrand?

    • Spot says:

      I’m pretty firmly of the opinion that the “Grey” concept is mostly a function of overfamiliarity with one’s own community. Which is to say that I think we can simply consider the “Greys” a Blue subtribe that tends to dissent from the orthodoxy on a select few issues. There are lots of subtribes (and internecine conflicts) in the Red Tribe as well, but most people in this community just aren’t familiar with internal Red politics.

      [Edit] To be clear – this doesn’t mean that the “Grey Tribe” doesn’t refer to a real phenomenon. I actually think that mainline Blue has begun to both identify and mobilize against what we might call “Grey” as an increasingly problematic heretical faction – with the implicit goal of either a) expelling them, or b) getting them back into line. New Atheism itself is now thoroughly associated with Greyness, as are many of the IDW types like Harris, along with (more recently) elements of Silicon Valley and Big Tech, especially Facebook.

    • TheRadicalModerate says:

      How much have the consequences changed for saying “I like my tribe but I’m rational enough not to accept the subset of their ideas that are stupid”? I’d argue that anyone with a high profile (or even having wrong 15 minutes of fame) that deviates even slightly from the identity’s orthodoxy is expelled these days. That’s because the orthodoxy is so easy to enforce at the speed the information flows around.

      I think there’s a distinction between identity politics and interest politics, as well. With interest politics, you can actually support the things that you want, and attempt to persuade the group that is most likely to give them to you to do so. But identity politics is about power, and you can’t say or do anything that would diminish the power of your group. It’s the difference between “vote for us and we’ll give you what you want” and “vote with us and we’ll give you a seat at the table, after we’ve displaced the enemy from those seats”.

      There is no grey group. If you try to stay outside the big non-intersecting blobs on the Venn diagram, you’re probably immensely frustrated right now. I know I am.

    • Nornagest says:

      Yeah, before this post I thought I had a pretty good handle on the Blue Tribe thing, but Scott describing it as “the Democratic Party as a social phenomenon with strong demographic and ideological implications … [which] can be said to have started in 2004” threw me for a loop.

      By an uncharitable reading it’s simply wrong; the Dems have a pretty broad base, and the Oberlin College types are a minority in it, though not, as others have incorrectly suggested in these comments, a small one. By a more charitable one there might be something here; the Democratic Party’s internal messaging sure shifted in Oberlin’s direction between 2008 and 2016, which points to a perception among DNC types that their base, the center of gravity of the population they represent, might now lie somewhere in that direction even as it’s not a particularly good description of most of their constituents. Scott’s graphs would support this.

      Either way, though, I’d like a more focused treatment. …Anything But The Outgroup was basically just throwing stereotypes at the wall, and some of them stuck pretty well, but I’m not sure anymore that the picture Scott wanted to paint with them was much like what the commentariat settled on for the term.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        The Democratic Party is a coalition of the margins of American society: blacks, immigrants, gays, billionaires, Jews, single women, felons, renters, etc etc.

        The obvious problem is how to keep a coalition of the diverse united. The obvious solution is to constantly gin up hatred of people more from the core of the historic American people. Thus all the hate hoaxes and the like in recent years.

        • Nornagest says:

          Not only is that a spectacularly uncharitable take, it doesn’t even work as a response to my post. Do you have anything to say about the Blue Tribe, or could you just not pass up a chance to dunk on your political enemies?

      • nicktachy says:

        I think you can historically trace the Blue Tribe all the way back to the 1600s. You might call it the “New England diaspora.” Or maybe “post-Puritanism.” In the mid-1600s, they were Puritans. In the early 1700s, Congregationalists. In the late 1700s, Unitarians. In the mid-1800s, abolitionists. In the 1900s, progressives (and eugenicists.) In the 1920s, prohibitionists. In the 1970s, feminists. In the 2000s, anti-war. Today, they’re associated with social justice.

        This is a simplistic history and I’m obviously leaving out a lot, but in every era there’s a utopian movement seeking to immanentize the eschaton and create a morally perfect society. Amidst the shifting coalitions, these movements always include, at their core, the white liberal Protestants and post-Protestants of New England and its diaspora in places like the Upper Midwest and California. That’s what I’d call “core Blue Tribe.” And then there’s a “Blue Coalition” that gets built on top of that and is constantly shifting depending on the nature of the project.

        The Red Tribe has to be defined differently because they don’t have utopian, world-changing projects. They’re mostly trying to avoid and stymie the utopian projects of the Blue Tribe. So you might define it as “whoever the Blue Tribe sees as the biggest obstacle to their current project.” However, I suspect that if you looked back at the most divisive debates and elections in American history, you’d always see the white conservative Protestants of the Deep South opposed to the designs of the white liberal Protestants (and post-Protestants) of New England. So I’ll call them “core Red Tribe.”

        The rest of the country shifts between these poles depending on the issue of the moment. “Grey Tribe,” if you want, is a sort of ephermeral formation that arises when the Red/Blue coalitions are shifting but have not yet settled on a new long-term pattern. It’s people who care about politics but are not yet satisfied with the new alignment.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          But the big change during the Great Awokening of 2013 onward has been the shift from an ideological to an identity basis for deciding who are the Good People and who are the Bad People. Straight white male Blue Tribers are now suspect no matter the purity of their ideology.

          Intersectionality is explicitly a theory that the individuals with the most Diversity Pokemon Points deserve to get the money and prizes. The surviving four horsemen of Atheism are increasingly seen as innately deplorable due to their straight white maleness.

  43. Rand says:

    The question that led to this article is actually a number of questions which are worth addressing individually:

    Q1: What happened to the New Atheists?

    They died. Well, Hitch died. Dawkins became less shiny. This happens a dozen times a day.

    Q2: What happened to the atheist vs. theist debates of the early internet forums?

    A2: They died with the forums. They rereleased Final Fantasy VIII recently and it was totally uncontroversial.

    Q3: What happened to all the atheist blogs?

    A3: They died with the other blogs. Facebook and Twitter probably played the biggest roles, followed by media organizations that were better at adapting to Google/Facebook’s internet.

    And there’s a fourth question about the decline of atheism as a topic of interest. That’s more interesting than the other questions (and they might contribute in a small way to that decline) but all conversations ebb and flow, and Atheism as a topic was never that broadly interesting.

  44. TheRadicalModerate says:

    This is a cogent argument, but that it’s cogent is much weirder than the fact that the discourse shifted so radically.

    New Atheism was fundamentally an intellectual movement. The discourse centered around the idea that there was a flaw in the conventional wisdom, and pointing out that flaw and arguing against it would eventually, naturally, lead to its eradication.

    Social justice, at least in its modern intersectional form, is fundamentally an identity movement. To the extent that there is discourse, it’s centered around the dynamic where the in-group has identified an intractable enemy, and seeks to gain power to suppress that enemy and eradicate its influence.

    Comparing the two things is a category error. And yet it seems perfectly natural. Why?

    This has a lot less to do with philosophy, theology, or sociology, and a lot more to do with graph theory. Social media is generating emergent behaviors that we flatly don’t understand. Any attempt to describe what’s happening in the absence of social media dynamics will fail, because those dynamics are well upstream of any form of rational discourse.

    • Nornagest says:

      In the real world, movements don’t end up being exclusive to any one category. New Atheism was an intellectual statement (“there’s probably no God”), and an attempt to consolidate a common identity (the “reality-based community”) standing against traditional Christianity, and a political reaction against the Religious Right on one hand and radical Islamic terrorism on the other. It can be all these things because, once a movement had consolidated around one of them, ordinary social dynamics — halo effects, outgroup homogeneity, narrative bias, all that good stuff — conspired to produce all the others, and the people attracted to it after that happened weren’t necessarily attracted by the original topic of interest.

      • TheRadicalModerate says:

        I’ll respond to that by asserting that things are qualitatively different this time. Yes, all of those social dynamics are in play, but they’re all on steroids because the information that drives them consolidates so quickly.

        Back in the early-to-mid-uh-ohs, the ideas drove the identity. Now, I’m pretty sure it’s the other way around. I can’t think of another explanation for both sides so ardently believing such profound nonsense.

  45. HeelBearCub says:

    Posit: Anti-SJW is its own hamartiology.

    • broblawsky says:

      Sounds about right, yeah. Can we judge whether a philosophy is a hamartiology by the amount of media produced about it?

    • The Nybbler says:

      “I know you are but what am I” isn’t a very substantive argument.

    • Nick says:

      I think the Intellectual Dark Web plausibly is (“lack of free expression is how sin entered the world,” maybe), but there are other reasons to be anti-SJW.

      • Nornagest says:

        Even that doesn’t really fly. Why would they imagine others seek to restrict free expression? Whatever the answer is, that’s the real root of all evil in that worldview — from what I’ve seen of the IDW I imagine it’d boil down to “pure Orwellian exercise of power” in most cases, but you still can’t get “anti-SJW” from that without buying a bunch of other assumptions.

        • Enkidum says:

          Read TheRadicalModerate’s comment directly below this one, where he makes exactly this claim about SJ and adds in several of those other assumptions. Note other comments on this very article saying that considerations of race and gender will literally destroy the world.

          • Nornagest says:

            I, uh, did? TRM says:

            To the extent that there is discourse, it’s centered around the dynamic where the in-group has identified an intractable enemy, and seeks to gain power to suppress that enemy and eradicate its influence.

            This isn’t a particularly charitable description of SJ, but even taking it at face value, it doesn’t describe an Orwellian exercise of power for its own sake. It describes a tribal mindset, and TRM doesn’t claim or even imply that it — or tribalism itself — is the root of all evil. An evil, sure. But calling something evil, even calling it very evil, doesn’t make a hamartiology.

          • Enkidum says:

            Huh, fair. You’re right about TRM.

            BTW I wasn’t meaning to be implying that you were missing something or anything like that, I just meant to provide the two as examples, but as you say the first one doesn’t really work.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            There are nearly the same dynamics working on the Right; I just ran with Scott’s post in choosing the NA/SJ morphing as an example. Whatever you thought of conservatism, it at least had a set of intellectual underpinnings back in the 90’s and early uh-oh’s. However, just like NA, it got subsumed by what can be described as white identity politics, and its fully tribalized form is at least as intellectually tortured as what happened on the Left.

            In an effort to avoid the inevitable “who’s worse” argument here: The Right is worse right now. There have been times in the past where that wasn’t the case, and I fully expect that the Left will be worse at some time in the not-too-distant future.

            My point is that the dynamics are the same on both sides, and those dynamics are fundamentally new, because the speed at which information now flows have created a new super-tribalism that’s perfect to hijack the old tribalism which suited humans so well when they were hunter-gatherer clans of 150 of so. We have no defense against this. We need one, very badly. Until we develop one, arguing about which of the two poles is worse is like bandaging a paper cut on one finger while the patient is bleeding out from a traumatic amputation of the other arm.

          • Enkidum says:

            And apologies for mischaracterizing you.

          • Nick says:

            @Enkidum
            Just wanted to say, you’re a good guy. You’re raising the level of discourse every time you publicly acknowledge good arguments and apologize for mistakes.

          • Enkidum says:

            Thanks! I was going to make some snarky joke about how I’m just doing it to score points or whatever but nah, I try to do it for my own sake (I think) and I appreciate that it’s recognized.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Whatever you thought of conservatism, it at least had a set of intellectual underpinnings back in the 90’s and early uh-oh’s. However, just like NA, it got subsumed by what can be described as white identity politics, and its fully tribalized form is at least as intellectually tortured as what happened on the Left.

            Are you sure this isn’t just outgroup homogeneity bias talking? Even from America, I come across plenty of conservative writers who clearly aren’t into white identity politics, and mainstream conservatism in the rest of the Anglosphere is even less into white identity stuff than its American counterpart. If it seems like conservatism has been subsumed into white identity politics, I think that’s ninety percent media panic and only ten percent (if that) actual increase of white identity politics.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            @The original Mr. X:

            Even from America, I come across plenty of conservative writers who clearly aren’t into white identity politics, and mainstream conservatism in the rest of the Anglosphere is even less into white identity stuff than its American counterpart.

            It’s a fair criticism, and one about which I’ve wrung my hands for a while. Here’s my (longish) thinking:

            The problem is that the dynamics are pushing the Red Tribe closer and closer to the “white identity” position. There are two things working here:

            1) The social network effect that refuses to tolerate any form of heterodoxy.

            2) Modern political tactics.

            I’m going to use the US as an example here, but my guess is that it’ll translate to most of the European populist movements pretty well.

            In the pre-Trump era, even though there was an undercurrent of the anti-immigrant, vaguely racist ideas that have erupted to the surface since Trump, the ideas that animated the Red Tribe were pretty traditional conservative ones: low taxes, smaller government, religiosity and/or family values, free trade, muscular foreign policy, etc. But there was one other thing that moderated the relationship between the Tribe and the Republican Party: the party was intensely pro-business. And a pro-business party operates on interest politics, not identity politics.

            Interest politics are largely transactional: Various coalitions want various things, and they’ll make common cause with other groups that want different things that aren’t antagonistic to what they want. If they get their people into power based on these coalitions, they mostly get what they want, and they’re happy.

            But interest politics simply aren’t as politically powerful as identity politics. The Democrats tumbled to this first and were well on their way to achieving a serious political advantage. They understood what they had (cf. the 8 jillion stories on building a sustainable advantage on US demography favoring a non-white Democratic coalition), and promptly went about building their party apparatus around intersectional identity. It was smart, and it was working.

            The GOP didn’t have an answer for this, because its interests didn’t line up with its identity–in effect, it didn’t have an identity. But Trump’s big idea (yes, he had exactly one) was that all you had to do to turn the GOP into an identity-based party was jettison the business interests–or at least dumb them down to the low-tax, low-regulation lowest common denominator–and you were good to go.

            The question is, though: what was the identity?

            Conservatism has, until recently, been literally about conserving culture. American culture was, until recently, a white construct. That’s not to say that it was intolerant of other cultures, and it was extremely good at appropriating stuff from non-white or sorta-white-but-not-the-right-kind-of-white groups and using it to create a consensus culture. But the US wasn’t a multi-cultural society; it was instead a society that assimilated other cultures.

            Identity politics does not assimilate other cultures well. Indeed, it gets its strength from exaggerating cultural differences, and then forming coalitions of the identities. This is what multiculturalism is all about.

            But multiculturalism is exactly what Trump needed for his little “let’s use identity politics to get me elected” project. There are loads of working- and middle-class white people who feel like their cultural underpinnings are threatened by multiculturalism and demographic changes, at a time when they’re suffering a large amount of economic anxiety as automation and and globalization make them feel increasingly insecure. In short, they feel put-upon in a way that’s close enough to feeling oppressed, which is a key element needed to run the identity political playbook.

            But in order for the playbook to work all the way, they need to feel oppressed because they’re white.

            And this is where the politics turn into network effects. Because there’s no doubt that Trump has created a fundamental shift in the GOP, and he did it by making it OK to talk about stuff that was only whispered before and, more importantly, not OK to push back against it. If you’re part of the Red Tribe, it’s now heterodox to actively condemn the existence of a white identity: doing so will get you tossed out of the tribe. Meanwhile, there’s no denying that the idea of a white identity is distinctly powerful.

            Social networks are ultimately winner-take-all systems. If condemnation of a white identity is a weak idea and the white identity itself is a strong one, then the tribe with the white identity will ultimately become the tribe where its identity is the most important thing.

            And that’s the problem. Because ultimately, I think that “white identity politics”, “white nationalism”, and even “white supremacy” are all synonyms. It’s still early days, but I’m very afraid that that’s the way we’re headed.

            I hope that the more moderate parts of the Red Tribe find this all so loathsome that they’re happy to be expelled and go off to form their own Purple Tribe with the more moderate parts of the Blue Tribe that find the most extreme ideas of their tribe almost as loathsome. However, while you could wind up with a tri-polar system in the US in theory, it’s never been stable in the past. As a moderate conservative, I’m expecting that I’m going to have to hold my nose and be Blue-adjacent from now on, which is going to make me very, very unhappy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If it seems like conservatism has been subsumed into white identity politics, I think that’s ninety percent media panic and only ten percent (if that) actual increase of white identity politics.

            What you are missing about this when you look at Europe is that “white identity” has almost no meaning in Europe. What the same trend in Europe looks like is nativist nationalism, and this absolutely on the rise, and having serious electoral consequences across the continent, in the UK, France, Germany, Greece, etc.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            @Enkidum
            Just wanted to say, you’re a good guy. You’re raising the level of discourse every time you publicly acknowledge good arguments and apologize for mistakes.

            I wish to second this, because one can never have enough praise.

            I disagree with much of what you say, but my respect level for you has risen immensely throughout this thread – which in turn has led to me giving your arguments more consideration. Not very rationalist of me, I admit, but I’m only human. I just want to note that not only do I respect it but I also think it’s just good argumentative practice.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah, in retrospect you’re right.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        The question being answered would be more – “What is the chief danger to our society today and the cause of its ills?”

    • onyomi says:

      The reaction is not symmetrical to the action. SJWs don’t generally argue that the struggle against SJW and its antecedents is the defining issue animating American history since 1776 (or 1619, 1492, etc.).

      • Enkidum says:

        Why should that matter? Anti-SJW (or at least many of its representatives) does argue that it is the defining issue at present.

        • onyomi says:

          There’s a big difference between “this is the biggest problem in US society right now” and “this struggle has defined American history since 1492.”

          As I suggest below, I think you’d need to look to the French Revolution to find a comparably grand and overarching conservative narrative. And indeed it took me very little googling to find an editorial comparing today’s “speech police” to Robespierre.

          • Enkidum says:

            I don’t think the claim is that all of conservatism is motivated by this hamartiology, simply that there is a very prominent strain which views SJ as the Uber-evil.

            But I may be over-selling the analogy here.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This “struggle” has existed since 1492, has effected everything since 1492.

            But that is not the same as claiming it is the source of evil.

            I can say that CO2 emissions have been an issue since the advent of fossil fuels without thinking that CO2 emissions are the source of racism.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Disagree. I have never seen them come close to Hitchens calling religion the main source of hatred in the world. Social justice is just too young and too small to take credit for everything wrong with the world, you’d look ridiculous trying to make that claim.

      Anti-SJ is about seeing social justice as a threat, not the root of all problems which currently exist. Not everything people dislike has to be a hamartiology.

      • Enkidum says:

        Again, there are literally people on this page saying that considering race and gender will destroy the world, and there are several people who comment here regularly for whom it seems to be the defining issue of our times. Not to mention, e.g., the Proud Boys and the like.

        Yes, I agree that this is ridiculous. But so is any hamartology.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          and there are several people who comment here regularly for whom it seems to be the defining issue of our times.

          Yes, this is consistent with “threat, not root of all problems”. Consider for instance the anti-Islam crusade of Sam Harris: it’s entirely possible to view something as a serious existential threat while still recognizing that most problems have nothing to do with your bugbear.

          Just as not everything is a religion, not everything people dislike is a hamartiology and using words that way is just a boo light.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Consider for instance the anti-Islam crusade of Sam Harris: it’s entirely possible to view something as a serious existential threat while still recognizing that most problems have nothing to do with your bugbear.

            Huh?

            He’s an anti-SJW atheist.

            You can say that what animates his hamartiology is atheism, but then you then are left with the idea that “religion” must be the source of SJ. Which leads you right back to the same place.

        • theredsheep says:

          I’m going to concur with Ninety-Three. I know a lot of people who are very paranoid about the Woke Left, but also recognize that, e.g., the Saudi war on Yemen has absolutely nothing to do with that in spite of being an unquestionably terrible thing. New Atheists would find some damn way to make it religion’s fault, which was possible because religion is ubiquitous. The SJ types are more common than I like, but they’re mostly found in urban areas in the US, and in related online epicenters. For now.

        • Enkidum says:

          Ah… fair. I retract my enthusiasm for anti-SJ as a hamartiology. I still think it’s silly, but your points are taken.

    • onyomi says:

      Post-edit window addition:

      If I were to try to pick a hamartiology explicitly or implicitly embraced by the largest numbers of SJ opponents it would probably be something about values of the French vs. American Revolutions.

    • lvlln says:

      I don’t think this really works, because anti-SJW isn’t really its own ideology or ideology cluster like SJW or New Atheism. Anti-SJW is a coalition comprised of members of a wide variety of sometimes-intersecting, sometimes-incompatible ideologies, such as Marxism, liberalism, Nazism, conservatism, and many things in between. I’m not sure if any of those are hamartiologies, but to whatever extent they are, the “sin” they purport to study or fight against isn’t SJW, it’s different for each individual ideology. It’s just that each ideology happens to agree with each other in this one issue, that SJW are wrong and cause harm. The reasons might differ depending on the ideology, too – a Marxist might see SJW as wrong for distracting away from class issues with race/gender/sexuality/etc. issues, while a Nazi might see SJW as wrong for trying to help the lives of what they consider subhumans, and a liberal might see SJW as wrong for being authoritarian and totalitarian in their attempted control of people’s thoughts and speech.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        1) All Protestants are Christian. Not all Christians are Protestant. We don’t need everyone singing from the same hymnal to say that the hymnal exists.

        2) What you are saying about anti-SJW broadly applies to social justice. Lots of competing groups, each with their own primary concerns.

        • lvlln says:

          1) All Protestants are Christian. Not all Christians are Protestant. We don’t need everyone singing from the same hymnal to say that the hymnal exists.

          I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean in the context of what I wrote.

          2) What you are saying about anti-SJW broadly applies to social justice. Lots of competing groups, each with their own primary concerns.

          Broadly, perhaps. But if the difference is one of quantity, then the difference in quantity seems clearly so high that it has a quality of its own. The neo-Nazis and Marxists are “competing groups” with differences in primary concerns that seem far greater than different “competing groups” among the SJW crowd.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean in the context of what I wrote.

            You contended that the existence of those who aren’t primarily concerned with “SJW” as a source of ill meant that the existence of those who are can be dismissed. This is a fallacy.

            The neo-Nazis and Marxists are “competing groups” with differences in primary concerns that seem far greater than different “competing groups” among the SJW crowd.

            There are Marxists who are also concerned with social justice. Do you see the issue with your argument?

          • lvlln says:

            You contended that the existence of those who aren’t primarily concerned with “SJW” as a source of ill meant that the existence of those who are can be dismissed. This is a fallacy.

            That’s not what I contended, though.

            The neo-Nazis and Marxists are “competing groups” with differences in primary concerns that seem far greater than different “competing groups” among the SJW crowd.

            There are Marxists who are also concerned with social justice. Do you see the issue with your argument?

            No, I don’t. Marxists who are concerned with social justice aren’t part of the SJW tribe/cluster/team/whatever. They’re Marxists who are concerned with social justice, much like how I’m a progressive liberal who is concerned with social justice who isn’t part of the SJW tribe/cluster/team/whatever (and side with anti-SJW). The SJW tribe/cluster/team/whatever are people who follow SJ ideology that posits a certain way of looking at the social/physical/political world, which is why I think it makes sense to call it a “hamartiology” (I may be wrong on this; I was introduced to this word in this very post, and I’m just following my intuition based on this post and some light research). There are various subgroups of SJW with subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the specifics of their worldview, but they broadly follow the same general ideological worldview – otherwise they wouldn’t be subgroups of SJW.

            This is in contrast to anti-SJW, which, again, is a coalition of people from many ideologies, some with very similar, some with vastly different worldviews. There’s no central doctrine or cluster of doctrines they follow that leads them to conclude that SJW is a harmful force in this world; they come to that conclusion through various means, depending greatly on which specific ideology they follow and how those conflict with SJW ideology. This is in contrast with SJW which, again, all follow to various extents the same general ideology of things like critical theory and postmodernism.

            Likewise, I can see New Atheism as a hamartiology, because New Atheists also all follow the same general ideology of things like materialism and empiricism.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m a progressive liberal who is concerned with social justice

            I think you are making my point for me.

            Unless, perhaps, you left off a “not”.

            But in any case, “I’m a progressive liberal who is concerned with social justice” is much more the standard view than the other way around.

            The idea that the desire for, say, universal healthcare is somehow primarily motivated by identitarian concerns is, frankly, laughable.

          • lvlln says:

            I’m a progressive liberal who is concerned with social justice

            I think you are making my point for me.

            Unless, perhaps, you left off a “not”.

            I didn’t leave off a “not,” and I’m pretty sure I didn’t make your point for you.

            The idea that the desire for, say, universal healthcare is somehow primarily motivated by identitarian concerns is, frankly, laughable.

            Yes, that would be laughable. That’s why I didn’t make such a point.

            Again, I don’t follow your argument, largely because you don’t seem to be making any argument, just vaguely hinting at some point you want to make without actually making it. Could you please try to make your point more clearly?

            Again, I see the big difference between SJW and anti-SJW as that SJW is, by definition, based on some central ideology – there are different variants and extents to which SJWs follow this ideology, but someone who cares deeply about SJ issues but doesn’t follow the ideology isn’t a SJW or pro-SJW. In contrast, one doesn’t need to follow any specific ideology to any extent to be anti-SJW – one simply needs to dislike SJW and want to fight against it for whatever reason to be anti-SJW.

            This difference, the existence (in SJW) vs. nonexistence (in non-SJW) of a core ideology that are in common between all the individuals within the groups is what makes me think the former can be considered a hamartiology but the latter can’t.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Yes, exactly. Lumping anti-SJW people together because they happen to oppose SJW-ism is about as useful as lumping Richard Dawkins, Celsus and Osama bin Laden together because they all happen/ed to oppose Christianity.

    • Evelyn Q. Greene says:

      Posit: Anti-SJW is its own hamartiology.

      I’m anti-SJW and and I think I might agree with that, With the with the caveat that it is multiple competing hamartiologys(to lesser extent the is true of social justice itself, but I think that anti-SJW is inherently more diverse than SJ itself, see also: anti-communism, anti-fascism, anti-Christianity). And of course I mean the steelmaned/watered down version of a hamartiology where it only that the majority of evil comes from one human impulse, but I figure everybody says that about hamartiologys they like.

      • Evelyn Q. Greene says:

        like I totally agree with the sentiment that Enkidum mocks upthread, that racism and sexism could literally destroy the world, or at least civilization. As far as I’m concerned social justice is an attempt to recreate Italian fascism, and connecting the impulses that created fascism with all or most human evil isn’t particularly hard.

    • etaphy says:

      It bears a mention that the lack of a harmatiology doesn’t mean having a replacement for one. Same as atheism shouldn’t be called a religion but rather a lack of thereof. Nor is being bald really a haircut.

      Being specifically convinced of invalidity of a specific harmatiology doesn’t mean you have a replacement idea – it’s only the current suggested course of action that may look disastrous to you. The reason for the vocality of anti-SJWs isn’t that once absolute free speech is attained, all other issues will be rendered irrelevant, it’s rather that losing free speech is too costly and so is any idea that holds putting restrictions on individual expression on it at its core.

      Not even all new atheists were ‘harmatiologic’ in the sense of seeing religion as being the sole cause of social strife – they might see it as just a very wrong idea, and if we can’t clear this one small hurdle – calling things their names, what hope is there to fix anything more significant? Do you expect planes to fly in a world where people still believe Earth is flat? Same goes for anti-SJW ideas, it’s not that once SJW activism is gone everything will be perfect, but if people have trouble calling out its often comical excesses, in that scenario there’s no hope for a cultural or a political fix for the rest of what ails us either.

      And that feeds into a loop: speech restrictions change nothing but create demand for more restrictions on ‘problematic speech’ to shut down criticism of their ineffectiveness at anything other than lowering the standards of discussion and debate.

  46. The original Mr. X says:

    I think, to a large degree, New Atheism’s splitting into competing, mutually-hostile camps was just an inevitable result of its ideology. New Atheism’s main selling point was “We’re the dauntless truth-tellers, we don’t waste time with insincere politeness, we tell it how it is no matter how much it offends you, facts don’t care about your feelings,” etc. Whilst this no doubt attracted dauntless truth-tellers, it also inevitably attracted a load of jerks who just liked the opportunity to say offensive things. Things went OK at first, when they were all saying offensive things about the outgroup, but as soon as you started to get major disagreements within the ranks of New Atheism itself, all these offensive jerks started acting in an offensively jerkish way towards the opposing side. This, of course, makes it very difficult for people to have a reasoned discussion and work through their differences in a way that’s broadly acceptable. Hence, the schism.

  47. Axiomlotl says:

    As someone who spent his 1990s reading Usenet and the early web, I can confirm that even if Google wasn’t there to document the trend, there was a lot of atheism and evolution-related discussion online in 1995.

  48. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    As for where it went, I asked that question last year and got various responses. The most popular was that 9/11 made religion-bashing segue into Islam-bashing, which started to look pretty racist. But 9/11 happened in 2001, The God Delusion wasn’t published until 2006, and New Atheism didn’t peak until the early 2010s. Why?

    Islam becoming relevant isn’t just about 9/11 and the subsequent Afghanistan/Iraq wars. The refugee crisis didn’t start until Gaddafi’s death in 2011. That suddenly brought a lot of black and Arab Muslims into close contact with westerners. As always happens, diversity + proximity = war, and now you had to take sides.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      That suddenly brought a lot of black and Arab Muslims into close contact with westerners.

      Citation needed.

    • Reasoner says:

      diversity + proximity = war

      Most of those links argue for decreased social cohesion, not war. It’s not obvious what relationship social cohesion has to war. For example, if European countries weren’t so nationalist and cohesive, perhaps WWI would not have happened.

  49. armot says:

    Love this article. I lived through the 2000’s internet as a teenager and I agree with you and almost everything. But…

    I think you are overestimating the amount of new atheists who became social justice warriors. There are lots of youtubers (the amazing atheists, for instance) with lots of fans, whose channels were all about atheism vs creationism, which then became a fierce anti-SJW.

    Lots of new atheists hated the first social justice warriors because these later group usually condoned sexist aspects of Muslim countries, was against the Enlightenment (and grew even more against it now), against nuclear energy and against looking for ways to sustainable have an economy and an environment simultaneusly.

    So, I believe many new atheists became alt-right trolls or fans of “intellectual” dark web youtubers as Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin, and Jordan Peterson, mainly out of spite of the Blue Tribe unholy alliance to islam.

    • liskantope says:

      Agreed: the SJ sect that broke off of New Atheism might have had louder voices, and it so happens that those voices became part of the real-life subculture I was immersed in (I was a math graduate student at the time), but my impression is that the core part of New Atheism including the majority of its members (especially those who were heavily online) stayed intact but became more isolated with less voice in the broader societal discourse. Let’s not forget that Atheism+ turned out to be a failure and wound up dying (with its members effectively being absorbed into SJ activism) within a few years.

    • Prussian says:

      So, I believe many new atheists became alt-right trolls or fans of “intellectual” dark web youtubers as Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin, and Jordan Peterson, mainly out of spite of the Blue Tribe unholy alliance to islam.

      That was certainly my evolution, yes.

  50. sovietKaleEatYou says:

    I’m late to this but curious: Scott is not the first intelligent person I know who participated in atheism debates online. What I don’t understand is why. It seems obvious to me that religious people are almost always either normal intelligent people who are comfortable separating empirical knowledge from a purely abstract faith or else flat-earth-esque fundies. Neither seem like a particularly exciting group to debate (the former won’t deny any objectivist claims, the latter won’t have any remote commitment to objectivity). Who was being debated? (Again, my understanding is the fundies.) Why was it fun? Do rational people nowadays go out and have long detailed conversations with flat-earthers and those chemtrails people? It all seems like an exercise in futility.

    The one non-futile thing I can imagine being accomplished is if an atheist grew up surrounded by religious people, these battles could help iron out an independent philosophy and help cement bonds in a tribe of like-minded atheists. I tend to interpret most of “actively seeking out members of the other tribe to bash” as a similar to the secretly queer homophobe trope: insecure or newly converted people hashing out their identity and their tribe membership (not necessarily in a bad or dishonest way). Is this the experience of young atheists? Is it more of a “someone is wrong on the internet!” type quest? This has always puzzled me.

    • arbitraryvalue says:

      The arguments I participated in were less about “is evolution real?” and more about, for example, whether objective morality was a meaningful concept even if everything in the Bible were literally true. There were plenty of interesting things religious people could say on that topic, even if I didn’t agree with them.

      • sovietKaleEatYou says:

        So to you part of the fun was performing some kind of anthropological research of a tribe with different epistemological values?

        • Glen Raphael says:

          @ sovietKaleEatYou:

          So to you part of the fun was performing some kind of anthropological research of a tribe with different epistemological values?

          That was certainly the case for me – in college I became intensely interested in the question how could people believe all these obviously-crazy things? That was my main motivation for arguing with god-believers, which I did (mostly on talk.origins, but occasionally in-person) until diminishing returns set in. Eventually I figured I’d learned as much as I was likely to learn from these obviously-crazy people. God-believers have things that sound to them like answers, the answers didn’t really make any sense to me, and I’m okay with that. I can’t see that it’s doing all that much harm to believe in imaginary things when those imaginary things are definitionally impossible to observe or interact with in any tangible way, so now I just put god-believers in the same category as UFO- or bigfoot-believers – live and let live.

          The most interesting answer I did find came from looking into Christian Science: In Mary Baker Eddy’s time the practice of keeping clean, bathing regularly and avoiding doctors or hospitals if at all possible was an excellent life strategy which likely made her followers healthier and wealthier than most…it might arguably still be good advice today!

    • armot says:

      Atheists don’t usually know many atheists in real life, we are a minority almost everywhere in the world. It was cool to get together, recommend books and authors, and so on.

      It was the drill of become a mob and feel popular for the first time rather than being, at best, pointed with the finger as the weirdo who does not believe god exists.

    • Plumber says:

      @sovietKaleEatYou >

      “…puzzled me”

      It baffles me as well, while those who are religious but rarely attend church are less happy on average than atheists, frequent church-goers are happier on average than both, why be a buzz kill?

      If it’s a partisan thing convince the believer to attend a Spanish Mass Catholic church, a Reform or Conservative Jewish temple, ‘mainline’ Protestant, or a ‘historically black Protestant” church, then they have a community and still vote your way.

      Trying to knock someone’s faith away if they’re blessed/lucky enough to have it seems like a jerk move to me.

      • Atlas says:

        frequent church-goers are happier on average than both

        It’s worth noting that the link states:

        Religious people are more satisfied with their lives than nonbelievers, but a new study finds it’s not a relationship with God that makes the devout happy. Instead, the satisfaction boost may come from closer ties to earthly neighbors. [My emphasis.]

        According to a study published today (Dec. 7) in the journal American Sociological Review, religious people gain life satisfaction thanks to social networks they build by attending religious services. The results apply to Catholics and mainline and evangelical Protestants. The number of Jews, Mormons, Muslims and people of other religions interviewed was too small to draw conclusions about those populations, according to study researcher Chaeyoon Lim, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

        “We show that [life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect of religion,” Lim told LiveScience. “We found that people are more satisfied with their lives when they go to church, because they build a social network within their congregation.”

        Trying to knock someone’s faith away if they’re blessed/lucky enough to have it seems like a jerk move to me.

        I agree. However, it seems to false to me to suggest/imply that atheists are the ones who are most interested in denying, mocking or taking away other people’s faith. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Pharisees, Decius, St. Ambrose, St. Cyril, Innocent III, Tamerlane, Torquemada, John Calvin, Catherine de’ Medici and the late al-Baghdadi, among many others, all enthusiastically attempted to take away other people’s faiths, not because they believed in no religion, but because they believed one in particular to be true rather than any of the others.

        • LesHapablap says:

          But does faith help the social cohesion?

          • maxmaria says:

            If you accept the ludicrous notion that “faith” means “accepting without evidence” (which is simply NOT what most people believe) then you’ll always be lost. Faith is a rational conviction based on evidence–and that’s all it is. Everything, including science, requires this.

            And while you guys can tailchase all day, the fact is we have always had plenty of rational evidence of a God and an afterlife, and those of you who deny it are simply indoctrinated with the cult religion of Internet Atheism/New Atheism, and your Marxist-influence professors, to believe a bunch of ludicrously stupid garbage about religion, and, worse, to believe the stupid notion that “there is no evidence.”

            Those of us who finally worked out for ourselves that there has to be a God (because there does) and that atheism is stupid and logically unsupportable, who actually engaged the evidence, usually wind up concluding there’s at least something.

            It is ridiculous to watch all the people in this thread continue with their clueless materialist-naturalist beliefs, which are entirely religious, and behave as if nobody rational or sane could be Not-Atheist. [eyeroll]

            Atheism is a ridiculous worldview–and anyone claiming it’s not a worldview, not ideological, not a belief, should just be laughed at.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      It seems obvious to me that religious people are almost always either normal intelligent people who are comfortable separating empirical knowledge from a purely abstract faith or else flat-earth-esque fundies.

      This strikes me as both quite demeaning and empirically wrong. There are plenty of intelligent people willing to argue for the existence not just of God, but an intercessionary one.

      It also fundamentally misconstrues what prompted the passion of atheists, which was the effect religion has on culture and policy.

      • sovietKaleEatYou says:

        Yeah I noticed after writing that this is not a fully accurate statement — sorry for calling it obvious. Nevertheless I think it gestures at a hard-to-articulate truth, roughly that the most defensive Christians or those with the biggest drive to defend their beliefs against others are the more fundamentalist ones, and fundamentalist on a personal level (rather than members of fundamentalist religions).

        I have had one experience of trying to convince an anti-evolution biologist (biochemist, of all things) of evolution and it was a bit like arguing with a wall, despite said person’s religion and priest being relatively moderate and having no official stance on evolution.

        My understanding is that a lot of arguments on the atheist forums were fighting over topics where mental gymnastics are necessary to have an (examined) belief in a certain direction (like evolution, literal historicity of certain biblical events, etc.) People who believe them are, if not fundies, certainly lost causes for the purpose of said topic.

  51. Plumber says:

    @Scott Alexander <

    “…Gradually the Blue Tribe got a little bit more self-awareness and realized this was not a great idea. Their coalition contained too many Catholic Latinos, too many Muslim Arabs, too many Baptist African-Americans…

    I wasn’t “on-line” much in 2005 (with dialup webpages took five to 40 minutes to appear), and the internet I mostly just used to renew library books, from my birth in 1968 till 2015 I think I did no more than four posts ever at a web forum, so I just don’t have a deep experience with “on-line” culture then, but from 2003 to 2010 I did “precinct walks” for pro-union candidates and involvement with the Democratic Party was integral to that, so I do have some experience of electoral politics in those years, plus most of my childhood was within a baseball throw of the “historically black protestant church’ on the corner of my block, so I grew up with religious Democrats as neighbors and the ridiculousness of the idea that a left-liberal agenda could ever succeed in the U.S.A. without enough religious voters is so blindingly obvious that I seriously question the wisdom and sanity of anyone who held such a view as an adult.

    “…Language separates us from the apes; not being blinded by religion separates us from the Republicans…”

    What an absurd notion! 

    While more atheists are Democrats than are Republicans, and more voters are Democrats than are Republicans (but even more are non-voters), atheists are still a minority of Democrats as well as Republicans (and atheists are less well liked by their fellow Americans than are members of most religious sects, in order of most liked to less liked: Jews, Catholics, and Protestants are the most well liked, though Buddhists are very popular among ‘millenials’, with atheists only being slightly more liked than Muslims at the bottom of the list).

    With religious voters a Party may win statehouses and (never permanently) the Federal government, with just atheists a Party maybe wins the Palo Alto city council. 

    Both black protestants and white evangelicals are their parties most loyal voters and the more frequently they attend church they more loyal they are (on average), but black Democrats aren’t the most Left (on average) voters, the most Left (on average) are Democrats who earn between $80,000 and $200,000 a year (so the urban professional class, A.K.A. your “the Blue-Tribe”), and white working-class evangelicals (A.K.A. your “the Red-Tribe”) aren’t the most libertarian (on average) of Republicans, but without the members of those two sibling religious traditions that are divided by race and Party neither Democrats or Republicans achieve a majority (nor do the Democrats when without immigrant and second generation Catholics, or the Republicans win without third generation and up Catholics for that matter).

    A lot of hay has been made about how church attendance is less now then it was in 1960 – which is true, but church attendance is about the same now as it was in 1950, and attendance was even slightly less in 1940 than now, this ain’t Europe and there are limits to the influence an atheist ‘vanguard’ may have.

    “…Google Trends shows traffic for atheism-related terms starting to decline around 2012, and really plummeting around 2015. How were other terms doing around that time?….”

    2015 was the year of a mass shooting at The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, and there was a wave of church burnings that year, both of chuches with majority black and churchrs with majority white congregations, so there was a stark demonstration of what anti-religion looks like in practice that year, and I’ll add that we had a reminder of that last year with the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Philadelphia, in case anyone forgot.

    Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I grew up in Berkeley and Oakland, California, work in San Francisco (so “blue bubble”), I have known folks from many different faiths, have known anarchists, Stalinists, and Republicans as well as Democrats, but if I ever met a “New Atheist” face-to-face they didn’t tell me they were one.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      What an absurd notion!

      While more atheists are Democrats than are Republicans, and more voters are Democrats than are Republicans (but even more are non-voters), atheists are still a minority of Democrats as well as Republicans (and atheists are less well liked by their fellow Americans than are members of most religious sects, in order of most liked to less liked: Jews, Catholics, and Protestants are the most well liked, though Buddhists are very popular among ‘millenials’, with atheists only being slightly more liked than Muslims at the bottom of the list).

      Yeah, Scott’s inherent understanding of the wide-world can be extremely blinkered. It’s only five years ago that he says he didn’t even known anyone who would say they are a creationist.

      Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean all of his post falls, it just means it doesn’t apply to the Democratic Party. It applies to some sub-section of the US that primarily identifies as Democratic, but represents only a small minority of the party’s voters.

    • quanta413 says:

      and there was a wave of church burnings that year, both of chuches with majority black and churchrs with majority white congregations, so there was a stark demonstration of what anti-religion looks like in practice that year,

      The mass shootings at religious places are very real and very bad, but reading that article and digging around, it’s not clear there was any wave of church burnings that year. Lots of articles state that, but none of the ones I found give meaningful evidence that there has been a significant deviation from the baseline rate for many years. I think that article is a great example of stirring up unnecessary fear to get more readers.

      The article says the NFPA estimates there are ~280 cases per year. That’s ~5 per week. That 6 or more incidents occurred in two weeks is within the trend. If there had been more than usual, the article should have said so instead of giving a normal number consisting partly of examples that don’t make the point. (Some of the examples are explicitly believed to have been electrical fires).

      There are a lot of little churches in the South and Midwest. Growing up in coastal California, I didn’t realize how dense churches could be in other places. That there are so many churches in existence that someone disgruntled burning one or an electrical fire starting is enough to get the numbers up to a few per week is sad, but not a sign of some broader trend.

  52. PlatoReject says:

    I like this post, but it almost feels TOO causal. New Atheism declined, the Social Justice movement took its place, I agree about your reasons why it was particularly poised to do so, but it doesn’t mean that New Atheism might not have been supplanted by any other movement of sufficient emotional valence that came along without recourse to people’s internal notions of Hamartiology.

    I guess I’m asking, why do we suspect intellectual trends to work differently from musical trends or fashion trends, in that they just seem to have built-in shelf-lives? Rock & Roll gives way to hip-hop, which is a broad transformation with a lot of intermediary steps; you could write whole books about how every moment in that transformation was a reaction to what came before or how this or that artist better and more truly understood the zeitgeist, but isn’t all of it “just-so?” MAYBE we can track the major drivers of the change, but if its anything like economics, the actual drivers could be so big, and simultaneously so boring (like the effect of population growth on GDP), that its hard to see the actual wave that’s carrying you along.

    If I were to chart my own feelings about religion (coming from a religious family), they would match your trend almost exactly, but I would summarize it less as “I got hooked off New Atheism and fell hard on the bandwagon of being an SJW” to “I was really angry at my religious parents as a teenager, and religion was the obvious thing to blame, and eventually I got old enough to forgive them for being overly-religious, so now my feelings about religion in general are a lot more mild.” That’s one datapoint, but it makes me wonder how you can ever separate those kind of generational cycles everyone is a part of from the kind of specific story you were laying out here. I guess the flipside of that is that the online landscape can be subject to its own incentives that don’t actually have anything to do with normal human rhythms, so it could have switched from one marketing hook to the next in exactly the way you describe, without anyone actually personally feeling quite as strongly about the shift as the shift itself suggests.

    TLDR: I agree with you about WHAT probably happened, but I’m not sure we can ever know why, and this explanation might be over-fitted.

  53. Roebuck says:

    From the perspective of someone born in Poland (one of the most Catholic countries) in mid-90s and then attending high school and university in the first half of this decade (and leaving Poland for the UK in 2016), I see the same change having happened in Poland – from the main anger-generator being the atheism vs religion thing towards social justice and populism (more the latter).

    We have very few non-white people in the country. Polish feminism and cancel culture are much weaker. But surely I can see the trend where around 2014 people started shying away from discussing atheism. There was no “Elevatorgate” in Poland. When I real the comments above, I have no idea who “Ferguson” is. But I feel like the smartest young people in Poland, who were the first to be absorbed by the online atheist culture, slowly started to believe that there is no purpose in discussing the topic. Then, slightly less exceptional people followed. It might have been because, although not a big chunk of the population have become convinced of atheism, it has become apparent that everybody worth discussing was already either an atheist or was a still a believer, but a shy one who just wants to not be confronted (i.e. doesn’t feel confident and wants to be left alone). If that’s a good recollection, it would validate the simple hypothesis that atheism won – not among the general population, but among the people who liked to discuss abstract topics. It was a big taboo to be atheist in Poland around 2010. Around 5 years later, as an atheist, I felt like people don’t want to challenge me and in return they expect me to leave them alone.

    I can see a different possibility here, which is that from anonymous forums we moved towards social media, where people felt more compelled to engage in cosmopolitan class-signalling and pro-minority virtue signalling and, in return, rightists started panicking about things moving too fast. That doesn’t sound like a very strong hypothesis though.

    • Nornagest says:

      I have no idea who “Ferguson” is.

      Not who, where. It’s a small city in Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, which was the site of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent riots.

    • Hoopdawg says:

      It was a big taboo to be atheist in Poland around 2010.

      That’s surprising to read, having been openly agnostic since at least the early 1990s and basically never encountering even the slightest inconvenience because of it.
      I mean, I was never combative (e.g. never confronted the priests during pastoral visits to my family home or anything like that), so perhaps I never came off as threatening – but I stopped attending church, refused my Confirmation, chose “Ethics” when we were forced to attend religious classes at school, and so on – and nobody ever batted an eye. Hell, a few of my high school friends were satanists, and they were hardly outcasts.

      It may depend on local differences within Poland – I suppose I would have had it less easier if I lived in Subcarpathia. It may also be that late 2000s were a harder time for irreligious kids due to growing right-wing and church influence that was, by the 1990s, still tamed by the memory of earlier secular regime (as an adult, I still found no problem whatsoever).

      Anecdotally – my vegetarianism always tended to be (and still is, to an extent, though people don’t react with consternation anymore, at most they get slightly inconvenienced by the need to feed me a non-standard meal) a much bigger deal than my non-belief.

  54. Viliam says:

    Politics is about coalitions. You can’t make 50% of people genuinely care about something, so you need allies. The allies will join you because you seem like an enemy of their enemy. They are also likely to abandon you when someone else seems like a better enemy of their enemy.

    This can happen even if you are not aware of it. One day you mysteriously become popular and have tons of supporters (because you happened to attack something they hate). The next day the popular support disappears, and some of your former supporters turn against you (because you happened to attack something they like). You may have problems understanding what happened, because your opinions remained consistent, from your perspective.

    Some people cared about atheism qua atheism. Those who argued that there are no supernatural things, and that you should teach evolution because it’s science.

    And then there were people who simply disliked… whatever religion represented for them (white conservatives? Republicans?)… without necessarily having a strong opinion on supernatural things or scientific methodology. Atheism became just a convenient weapon.

    After some time, the differences between these two groups became a source of tension, when it turned out that the “anti-religious atheists” oppose all religions, including religions of non-white non-conservatives, while the “anti-conservative atheists” support everything anti-conservative, even if it requires a lot of listening and believing.

    I strongly suspect that the Elevatorgate was not a cause of the schism, but rather the moment when the pre-existing schism became an open conflict.

  55. eigenmoon says:

    1.
    It is implicitly assumed that the religion that New Atheism was against was mainly Christianity, but the rest could be argued against just as well if needed. But this is an oversimplification.

    In US of that time (as far as I understand it – I’m not from there) being a Christian, a Hindu, a Mormon, a Jew, a Sikh etc. was quite socially acceptable. Atheism was the only option widely frowned upon. But why? I want to make sure you’re properly surprised by this. For example, Mormonism and the rest of Christianity operate under completely different definitions of “God”; so different, in fact, that a Mormon and an Evangelical are atheists from each other’s viewpoint. What sense does it make then to put both a Mormon and an Evangelical into the same basket labeled “theist”?

    It seems there was some sort of alliance – not unlike “intersectionality” – that (at least in the social sense) focused all worship toward different gods onto a single target. And I think it’s not hard to find out that this target is really Uncle Sam.

    2.
    The Soviets went full Dawkins until 1943. Their hamartiology included not just religion, but also racism and of course capitalism. Here, for example, a Black victim hangs from the Statue of Liberty seemingly approved by Jesus and a capitalist; this one calls: “Let us save our Black worker brothers from the treacherous and murderous hands of the “most Christian” and “most enlightened” American bourgeoisie!” (the entire collection).

    The reason the Soviets stopped doing that was simple: they won. They have almost destroyed the Church and enslaved what was left. Now the Church was more useful as an ally (as in “God wants you to fight Nazis”).

    More importantly, the Soviets succeeded in establishing their own religion. If Lenin’s mummy in a ziggurat does not convince you that this was indeed a religion, here’s an anecdote. Once a priest came to vote and sprinkled the voting booth with holy water. The enraged officials shouted: “You have defiled everything here!” (source).

    One can’t really destroy a religion without somehow creating a new one. The French revolutionaries knew that and explicitly created the cult of Reason although the Supreme Being made a swift comeback.

    So I think what has happened in US is simply that the SJ religion has won. Now SJ is the religion that all presidential candidates must show public devotion to. Now SJ is the religion that gets to insert its bullshit into school curriculum. SJ is the religion that gets to make parades and festivals.

    • Hyperfocus says:

      I can’t speak for any of the other religions, but I was raised Mormon (now happily atheist), and it wasn’t quite as idyllic as you suggest.

      – First of all, the divide between (some) mainstream Christians–at least the ones I encountered–and Mormons isn’t that they consider each other atheists, but that Christians insist that Mormons don’t worship “the same God” or “the same Jesus” that they do, and as such are not really Christians, while Mormons insist that they do worship the same God, the same Jesus, and that as such they are really Christians. Further, Mormons insist that they worship the same God as Jews and Muslims. The whole Mormon schtick with regards to other religions (including non-Abrahamic) is something to the tune of “all have some truth, but only we have the whole truth”, which is why Mormons don’t believe other religions will go to hell, they just won’t go to as nice of a Heaven. (Incidentally, the Heaven available to atheists is supposed to be so nice that if any of us saw it, we would immediately commit suicide to get there (and barring mass-murder-level badness, would get in!).)

      – Second of all, having grown up Mormon in a quite Blue city, while there was not a whole lot of love from the Blues with regard to being Mormon (I would regularly get asked why I hated gays. Not whether or not I hated gays, it was just assumed that I did. In reality, I was a confused teenager who felt duty-bound to oppose gay marriage, but didn’t really think about it–or gay people in general–outside of class debates. After about the 50th time I had to have that conversation, I just started telling people what they expected to hear so they’d leave me alone about it. I just had to say the magic words, “I’m afraid of them,” and they’d go away, confident they understood my point of view, and I didn’t have to talk to them anymore.), there was not a whole lot of love from many non-Mormon Reds, either. For example, a very common thing for Mormon high schoolers is to have an A/B release period in which to attend Seminary, which is typically within walking distance of the school. When I attended high school, there had been a kerfuffle of some kind with a few local religious leaders about the “unfairness” of awarding academic letters to anyone who had a release period, so no Mormons at my high school ever received an academic letter (sure, who cares now, but it was a Big Deal to me then, since I didn’t qualify for any other kind of letter). Study hall was for some reason fine, but leaving campus was apparently completely beyond the pale. It was very clearly targeted at the Mormon students. All in all, despite Blues looking down on (devout) Mormons*, anyone who was actually out to ruin your day would be a fellow Red.

      *Mormons willing to be apostates that (for instance) protested for women to enter the priesthood**, or for gay marriage, were accepted easily.

      **Even looking back as an atheist, women getting angry at not being allowed to hold the priesthood was similar to getting angry at not being allowed to keep angry scorpions in your pockets, but then when you finally win the right you find out, “haha, just kidding! You’re not just allowed to, you’re now required to do so at all times”. By this I mean, priesthood in Mormonism is not a voluntary thing; if you qualify (i.e. are male and 12+ years old) it’s 100% expected of you, and there’s something wrong with you if you don’t uphold your duties. Unless you’re one of a few hundred (out of a church of 10 million) General Authorities, there’s no upside to it. Even if you are…eh. Not worth what it takes to get there, and if you aren’t from an influential Salt Lake family, you aren’t going to get there.

  56. Chad_Nine says:

    I’m reminded of this video from 2002, at which time I was a hardened atheist internet warrior, wondering what the hell just happened.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUPxRYWpglQ

  57. viVI_IViv says:

    Good historical analysis, but you missed two key events:

    The “Elevatorgate” controversy, starting in June 2011 when a man in an elevator at an atheist convention invited speaker Rebecca Watson for a coffee in his hotel room. She refused the invitation and then made an offhand reference to the incident in a vlog, complaining about having being “sexualized”. This sparked a series of increasingly incendiary and personally hostile comments on the Atheist blogosphere between people who argued that the man did essentially nothing wrong, and people who argued that the behavior was inappropriate and called those who disagreed sexists. Eventually, major Atheist celebrities weighted in on one side or the other, leading to the first major split between pro-SJ atheists (with PZ Myers and those others would later organize as Atheism+) and the non-SJ, anti-Islam atheists (with Richard Dawkins).

    In August 2013 PZ Myers accused skeptic writer Michael Shermer of sexually assaulting an unnamed woman while she was drunk at an unspecified skeptic conference (more than one year later that woman revealed her name and the event where the incident allegedly took place). This ante litteram #MeToo flareup also led to a big split in the already fractious community between the pro-SJ #BelieveWomen side and those calling for skepticism and due process (“wait, I thought that not believing claims at face value, especially non-falsifiable claims, was our entire shtick. Why are we now supposed to throw a man under the bus based on unverifiable hearsay?”)

    After that the New Atheist/Skeptic movement was pretty much done for. The pro-SJ side dropped the Atheism+ brand and went full SJW, becoming more tolerant of religion (in particular Islam) to fit into the big tent progressive coalition, the pro-classical liberalism side resurfaced as anti-SJW when #Ga**rGate exploded one year later, founding the IDW/populist-right coalition with “unconventional” Judeo-Christians like Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson.

    Then, as Leave won the Brexit referendum and Trump ran for president, the culture war broke out of its original grounds of blogs, subreddits and occasional think pieces and became the main axis of division in First World politics.

    • Enkidum says:

      Nothing you say about either event is inaccurate, but there’s an awful lot you’re not saying. I don’t want to get into the details because I’m very certain Scott does not wish this discussion to go that way, but suffice it to say that there’s a lot of us who in good faith believe that in both cases, the Myers/Watson/et al sides were essentially in the right. I think it’s important to acknowledge that, though as I said I really don’t feel the need to debate this. Let’s just say we have very different priors.

      But your timeline is exactly right, and covers both the origin and development of the schism. I think the only major thing that is missing is the argument over instituting codes of conduct at atheist conventions, which essentially boiled down to the proto-SJ side wanting there to be explicit statements about harrassment, sexual assault, etc, and a surprisingly large number of the proto-anti-SJ side being violently opposed to this. The biggest part of this was Thunderf00t’s expulsion from FreethoughtBlogs, and a few months later he became one of the bigger voices in the movement that eventually became GG.

      • Aapje says:

        suffice it to say that there’s a lot of us who in good faith believe that in both cases, the Myers/Watson/et al sides were essentially in the right.

        I don’t see where viVI_IViv is saying anything different. You seem to reading things in his comment that I don’t.

        You seem less charitable when you ignore that the objection to these CoCs is often a claim that they become a political weapon against certain groups (men, white people, people who reject SJ ideology, certain religious beliefs, etc, etc), rather than a neutral set of rules that truly aim to stop abusive behavior.

        • Enkidum says:

          I think you’re right. Not for the first time, I was reading hostility in fairly neutral descriptions.

          In a similar vein, if I remove the word “surprisingly” do you have any objections to what I said? I was trying to be as neutral as possible.

          • Aapje says:

            That would still privilege the SJ view of what they are/were doing. The SJ and anti-SJ side typically don’t share the same definitions of harassment, sexual assault, racism, sexism, etc. If you (implicitly) present the CoC’s as effectively reducing harassment, sexual assault, etc without harming important freedoms, you have implicitly said that the opponents of those CoCs are in favor of harassment, sexual assault, etc.

            Let me give an example of a similar uncharitable statement: “Stalin worked hard to implement policies that produced equality and prosperity for all, with anti-communists being violently opposed to this.”

            This makes it seem like anti-communists opposed equality and prosperity, even though I doubt that you could find any anti-communists that would describe their motivations that way.

          • Enkidum says:

            But I didn’t say that the CoCs were good, or that they didn’t harm important freedoms. The fact is there was a dispute where one side was pro-CoC and one side wasn’t. I’m simply adding that as a fourth important moment in the timeline.

            As you correctly surmise, as a matter of fact I do think that CoCs are usually a good idea, and in this case I think the specific ones that were suggested were good, and I don’t think they harmed important freedoms. And yes, I think the vocal opponents in this particular case are legitimately Bad People. But they think the same of me, and that’s not the argument I’m trying to make here. Similarly, I read @viVI_IViv as implicitly arguing the other side, but (a) as you correctly pointed out, I was reading far more into their comment than is actually there, and (b) this is a distraction from what they were really trying to do, which is just identify the salient moments of rupture in the New Atheist community.

            TLDR: I think the CoC controversy should be thought of as a third moment of rupture in New Atheism, and while I do take a side, that’s not what I’m trying to do here.

          • Aapje says:

            But I didn’t say that the CoCs were good, or that they didn’t harm important freedoms.

            Not explicitly, but when you give the arguments that one side uses in favor of them, but don’t give the arguments against, you are presenting a one sided view on the debate, favored to one side.

            You asked me whether you were being neutral with “surprisingly” removed and I explained why I don’t think that is sufficient to achieve neutrality.

          • Enkidum says:

            Not explicitly, but when you give the arguments that one side uses in favor of them, but don’t give the arguments against

            Wasn’t aware that I gave any arguments at all, on either side. Looking back, I still don’t see it.

          • Aapje says:

            It’s called framing, where the way the debate is framed favors a side. Take these statements:

            – There was a death penalty debate where one side wanted to see justice done, while the other side was opposed to this.
            – There was a death penalty debate where one side wanted to protect human rights, while the other side was opposed to this.

            The implication of the first statement is that the anti-death penalty side opposes justice, while the implication of the first statement is that the pro-death penalty side opposes human rights.

            Both statements also offer up one specific view. Many people may not be autonomously be able to come up with different views, typically causing less invested observers to interpret the conflict with a bias to the side whose views are presented in the best light.

    • Roebuck says:

      We had populism in many European countries a year or two before Trump and Brexit. In Germany and France, AfD and the National Front started creeping up behind the main parties around 2013/2014. In Poland, Italy and Spain, you could see (leftist and rightist) populists shaking the system in 2014/2015. Britain and US followed in 2016. Canada was fine.

      I don’t have an accurate narrative off the top of my head, I just recall some of these things and looked up a few numbers right now, but I recommend digging up election results in non-English-speaking Western countries around 2014 and 2015. They undermine the narrative that Brexit and Trump were the two phenomena that single-handedly changed the tone in the First World politics, I’m quite sure about that.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        They undermine the narrative that Brexit and Trump were the two phenomena that single-handedly changed the tone in the First World politics, I’m quite sure about that.

        I didn’t mean to imply that Brexit and Trump single-handedly changed First World politics, but they changed the general perception of First World politics (and in doing so they accelerated the change of politics itself). The initial populist successes in local elections around 2013/2014 and national elections around 2014/2015 were either dismissed or explained away as local anomalies. With Brexit and Trump it was crystal clear that there was a widespread, defiant nationalist/populist/anti-SJ/anti-establishment movement spanning the Western world on both sides of the Ocean, and a globalist/elitist/pro-SJ/pro-establishment coallition that coalesced to try to stop them.

    • Enkidum says:

      Sorry for reading you as one-sided when you were doing a good job at describing things from as neutral a perspective as possible.

  58. Praxismakesperfect says:

    The socialist wing of the Democratic Party seems to be working off a model kind of like this, but hoping to change the hamartiology from race/gender to class. Maybe they’ll succeed, and one day talking too much about racism will seem as out-of-touch as talking too much about atheism does now; maybe the rise of terms like “woke capitalism” is already part of this process.

    If Scott has to be right about one thing, even if it means he’s mostly wrong about other things, please please oh please let it be this one. A little class consciousness right now could save the world; race/gender-related distractions will destroy it.

    Please.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      I agree with your sentiment.

      Who is the socialist wing of the Democratic Party? In reality, it’s Bernie, but he doesnt have the courage to stand up against intersectionalists.

      Is it the AOC wing or the DSA? I dont know enough to say how these people feel about Bernie, but my understanding is that for them being a white male is a really big stumbling block.

  59. calebw says:

    Another interpretation could be that they needed a religion, and they found one in “Wokeness”.

  60. Garrett says:

    Silly question, but might this have anything to do with where/how the arguments are taking place? Could more of people’s overall conversation have moved from dedicated fora/blogs to things like Facebook? In that context, there are different incentives. Given that you’re dealing with a lot of people you know, sharing or re-tweeting a major news article about how eg. an innocent black man was killed by the police is generally okay, but talking about how all religion is false is simply going to end up with an uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner with grandma.

  61. ovid75 says:

    Wouldn’t a parsimonious, but cynical explanation be that the social divide represented by ‘atheists versus the religious’ morphed into ‘social justice versus racist deplorables’ quite easily. In that it is the same social divide described differently: mobile, college educated urban professionals (the atheists then the SJWs) versus less mobile, less urban, non college educated (religious then, racist homophobes now).

    I mean this as cynical because in each case the unconscious motivation is not about the intellectual defense of atheism or social justice but about class snobbery, with the underlying cause being economic changes leading to cultural differentiation, and a good dose of intra-elite virtue signaling because the best jobs in the ‘fluid, mobile, urban’ parts of the economy are so desirable and so hard to get.

    If you want to see this shift (from atheist to social justice) in action just go back and read a decade or so of Onion – AV club comments. Circa 2008 – dominated by new atheist type comments, sometimes a little non PC (there was a whole ‘cancer-AIDS’ meme for example) then about 2/3 years ago the shift to social justice oriented comments was complete – I remember Lynch’s Twin Peaks the Return getting it in the neck for ‘representation’ issues that the 2008 commentators wouldn’t have cared about. My point is it’s the same social group in both cases – perhaps just a slightly younger generation of them. Perhaps the same people. Same kinds of jobs. And in both cases it’s just ‘the internet as cultural masturbation’ basically – a forum for the projection of class narcissism that takes subtly different forms over time.

    • Enkidum says:

      Parsimonious, but inaccurate. Dawkins/Harris/etc are hardly uneducated (though Harris calls himself a neuroscience but, to my knowledge, has never actually done much in the way of actual neuroscience and his thesis was almost entirely philosophy).

      • Enkidum says:

        *neuroscientist, obviously.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        ovid75 is saying the opposite.

        • Enkidum says:

          I don’t think so? Isn’t the claim that the current anti-SJW side are the uneducated/lower class, and before they would have been the religious side? Both false, although the former is more false than the latter.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            mobile, college educated urban professionals (the atheists then the SJWs) versus less mobile, less urban, non college educated (religious then, racist homophobes now)

            The claim is atheists became SJWs, fundies became racist homophobes. IDW-style (i.e. post-Nu Atheist) anti-SJWs aren’t considered. That seems fairly reasonable to me; even though they’re a big deal in the SSC-sphere I think they’re essentially a rounding error in “real world” politics.

            I would assume that the “atheists became SJWs” part is a combination of some people changing ideology, and the loud voices in the media changing people.

          • Aapje says:

            @thisheavenlyconjugation

            even though they’re a big deal in the SSC-sphere I think they’re essentially a rounding error in “real world” politics.

            Oh, you mean an overlooked and victimized minority 😛

          • Enkidum says:

            The claim is atheists became SJWs, fundies became racist homophobes. IDW-style (i.e. post-Nu Atheist) anti-SJWs aren’t considered.

            Ah ok then I misread.

      • Aapje says:

        @Endikum

        ‘Leaders’ of movements are typically outliers, more monomaniacal and more purist than their followers. I would expect the leaders to be more intrinsically motivated (truly caring about the issue), while the followers tend to be more extrinsically motivated (caring about fitting in to their social group/class).

        So when the winds turn in a particular social group, it’s not strange for the former leaders to become heretics, as they play the old tune, while the social group class find new pied pipers to follow, who are monomaniacal and purist about the new fashion.

        • Enkidum says:

          But the followers split just as much as the leaders did. I’d say it’s roughly 50/50 went down one of the two paths, perhaps more like 40/40 with 20% not committing themselves either way. (I suppose I’d be one of those 20% but heavily leaning in the SJ direction.)

  62. jermo sapiens says:

    Chesterton called it:

    “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

    ― G.K. Chesterton

    • Viliam says:

      Seems like he was right about some, and wrong about some.

      Some people are genuine atheists, and some are merely dissatisfied with the existing religions.

    • Akhorahil says:

      Interestingly, the opposite seems to in fact be true – the more nonsense you believe in, the more likely you are to believe in other nonsense as well.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        The point Chesterton was making is that if you decide that there is no God, there will be a void in your psyche that will need to be filled by a God-like thing. And social justice is that God-like thing for many, to the detriment of everyone else. Better to believe in a God shaped by 1000s of years of tradition than to believe in a God shaped by some social science prof 10 years ago.

        • Viliam says:

          The God-shaped-hole in psyche is less universal than Chesterton seems to believe. Although it is very frequent, I admit.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            It’s not universal. But it’s a real phenomenon and it explains SJWs to a large extent.

          • Ant says:

            For the love of non existent god, stop thinking you know how people you know almost nothing about think. It reveals more about you than them, and what it shows isn’t something to be proud of.

  63. PeteTheFleet says:

    I don’t know if the fate of the skeptic community was all that singular; to me it seems (mostly with the benefit of hindsight, since it was a relatively early case) like just another chunk of culture disassembled by the wokeness maximizer nanobots and converted to raw wokutronium.

  64. arabaga says:

    One post I distinctly remember, but which I can no longer find, was a rousing call for atheists to switch to social justice blogging. It said something like “Instead of rehearsing the same old tired arguments for or against the existence of God, it’s time to become part of the struggle for progress and equality.”

    It looks like it’s probably this article: It’s time for atheists to stop debating God’s existence and decide what to do about it

    It’s time for atheists to move past theoretical questions about the existence of God and onto more practical pursuits – like how to fight for justice.

  65. gkai says:

    I followed a lot of those blogs, I think the pivotal point was when atheist blogs started focussing on creationist blogs as main opponents, probably following Dawkins. It was also really easy to destroy them using both “experimental” (paleontology) and “theoretical” (genetics) sciences, making them fun to have as opponents!

    At this point high-traffic Atheist blogs became tighly knot with evolution, and naturally started to get very interested in genetics.

    That was the start of the (rapid) fall, because as soon as you apply genetics (especially in an evolution context) on human populations you get HBioD, and that is very very toxic to the left of political spectrum.

    It didn’t matter for people interested in atheism in itself, or as an anti-religious position. Those stayed I guess (at least I stayed…and also became quite allergic to the new left).
    But for people using atheism as a marker for a progressive left political position, it was time to change ship as fast as possible. Climate change is much safer, and while it allows the same patronizing from a scientific high horse, it is paradoxically also very close to many religions having guilt and repentance as central features, one more reason to put atheism under the rug….
    Climate change will probably not follow the same arc: from a science point of view it can be challenged (and it is), but it does not have the same hidden bomb as genetics was for atheism

    • chridd says:

      What’s HBioD? Google just seems to be giving results about airplanes, and I assume that’s not what you’re talking about.

      • gkai says:

        human bio-divers-ity. I think it trigger some filter here, my post was not accepted before I change that (used the classic 3 letter shorthand), and my explanation got also filtered….The fact that it is a ban-trigger says a lot 😉

      • The Nybbler says:

        The belief that human subpopulations vary grossly in phenotypic traits, including mental/behavioral traits and specifically intelligence. It’s usually referred to only by the three capitalized letters, but that acronym is banned.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          It’s like Bo Dog Diversity, except for humans.
          (Seriously, 4chan racists try to use the prudence/legality of pit bull bans as a camel’s nose to argue that human populations come in behaviorally good and bad versions. “Mods are asleep, post racism.”)

    • gkai says:

      10000y explosion was published in 2009, westhunther and h bdchick blogs emerged in 2010-2011, this is coherent with the transition of “evolution is as nice science that allow you to make fun of creationist rednecks” to “evolution+genetics is a nasty pseudoscience promoted by racists” occuring around 2010. However, Pinker’s “blank slate” was published in 2002, too early to fit with a 2010 shift except if you allow a 5+year incubation period, or think that it’s really group genetics and not anti-blankslatism (individual genetics) that count. Maybe that group genetics was indeed more of a problem to the future SJ cummunity, given how “the bell curve” was divisive. By 2010 it was pretty much accepted among the relevant scientific communities (but still as culturally divisive as it was in 1994).

  66. William75 says:

    Very interesting theory, probably at least partially correct. One observation I’ve had (not that this explains everything) about the skeptical movement, which partially overlaps with the atheist movement, is that it is made up of some combination of progressives and libertarians, but my sense is that the movement’s leaders and majority of active members are progressive. Sometimes the distinction isn’t important (both groups are equally comfortable making fun of Bigfoot or debunking homeopathy) but sometimes causes friction (e.g., global warming denialism).

    That is probably true of the atheist movement as well, with perhaps the difference that New Atheists were more political in the first place. So it may have been inevitable that progressive New Atheists became more political, and in some cases denounced the more libertarian-leaning members who weren’t interested in becoming a progressive political movement.

  67. eqdw says:

    [Trump voters] know they are being lied to, well most of them do, but look at the increase of hatred in America. THAT is what they are voting on. Hatred. Ironically, the Republicans are a large reason why their lives are so shitty and full of hatred, but hatred nonetheless. I guarantee you, you debate any of these people long enough. You back them into a corner. They say the same thing. “We are winning. We won the election. Racism is good. Hatred is good. Cheating on elections is good as long as it’s my side.” Because that is what happens when one side is the Republicans and the other side is baby murdering, child raping and trafficking and harvesting drugs from their brain, brown and black people loving devil worshippers. Go on you know what sub. Read their posts. They will say, “I was driving by a school bus stop, none of them were white.” This makes them so angry. To them, Russia [is better than] Democrats. At least Russia is white.

    This is such a straw man. Russians aren’t white. They’re slavs! Slavs aren’t white, that’s, like, Hitler 101

  68. algekalipso says:

    An interesting side-effect of the New Atheist polarization was that along with atheist metaphysics, philosophy of mind positions also became cannon among the educated Blue Tribers. Functionalism and eliminativism about consciousness, with their stamp of approval from Daniel Dennett, became the “smart position to take” on consciousness, and any kind of acknowledgement of the deep scientific and philosophical problems posed by (1) the existence of consciousness, (2) the myriad values of qualia, (3) the binding problem, and (4) the causal power of unitary moments of experience became *intrinsically associated* with woo and religious takes.

    So in the present moment we find ourselves in a situation where religious people won’t make any progress on consciousness (how could they?) all the while the people who are intellectually equipped to actually make progress (philosophers, mathematicians, physicists, rational psychoanuts, etc.) simply won’t take the problem seriously enough to make any tangible progress (other than as a kind of intelligence signaling enterprise).

    Alas, this is slowly changing. I’ve seen a clear change in people’s attitudes about psychedelic epistemology in the last few years. A few years ago my work on Qualia Computing was mocked as strictly irrational by most people in the rationalist movement without much thought (simple binary classification between ‘woo or real science’ if you will). Now… people are opening up. Even Friston is finally following our footsteps (at least in some crucial respects). There is still a long way to go, though…

    • Bugmaster says:

      Well, FWIW, I was convinced that qualia were a philosohphical dead end before it was cool. *shrug* But then again, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that philosophy in general has very little of value to offer, so perhaps I’m biased.

    • DM says:

      ‘…the people who are intellectually equipped to actually make progress (philosophers, mathematicians, physicists, rational psychoanuts, etc.) simply won’t take the problem seriously enough to make any tangible progress (other than as a kind of intelligence signaling enterprise).’

      As someone who has a PhD in philosophy that they wrote on consciousness, I think this is at least partly wrong. *Eliminativism* about consciousness is a small minority position, at least among philosophers, but presumably also amongst the many scientists who are happy to say that what they’re doing is studying consciousness. Some form of functionalism is the majority-view yes, but enough people are doing work from other perspectives that functionalism being wrong would be far from a permanent bar to progress. After all, the most famous philosopher of consciousness after/alongside Dennett is David Chalmers. Admittedly, he’s spent more time doing work arguing against functionalism than on building a positive alternative theory, but he certainly *has* worked on the latter, and so have people inspired by him.

      In any case, I think that the whole timeline is wrong with thinking that the popularity of functionalism has anything to do with what the average educated Democrat decided was commonsense during the New Atheism period. It goes back to the 1970s at the latest. I’m not going to claim that philosophers aren’t influenced by outside factors to a degree, but on a narrow technical question like this, I think that discipline-internal factors and actual arguments do have a fairly big effect.

  69. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve watched a few atheist videos, and they’re partly intellectual and partly about emotional trauma that religion has caused the speaker.

    Anyone have a broader view of what’s happening with atheism online these days?

    • Anthony says:

      There’s a joke that when Bertrand Russel visited a friend in Ireland and asked him to explain The Troubles, he got a lot of “Catholics this, Protestants that”, and he asked “Aren’t there any atheists in Ireland?” His friend replied “Sure there are. We have Catholic atheists and Protestant atheists.”.

      America does, too. Catholic atheists are the intellectuals, and Protestant atheists are the emotional trauma cases.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        America does, too. Catholic atheists are the intellectuals, and Protestant atheists are the emotional trauma cases.

        The internet used to have a genre of atheist writing where people would talk about the emotional trauma of being raised to believe in the Rapture.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Oh, shit, I wonder how the Left Behind book series (and movies? TV show? I feel like it was a multimedia thing) fits into all this. Things like the Da Vinci Code and the Passion of the Christ, too.

          Religion was big in popular culture.

  70. Fallibilist says:

    First time posting, long time lurker and fan of the blog.

    Great post, I think the point about ideologically using one central sin as the cause and (thus solution) for all problems is spot on and clearly applies to these two movements. The historical replacement of “sins” seems tough to deny.

    However, I find that most Atheists/non-religious people really underestimate the “Atheism as victim of own success” aspect since they haven’t been noticing the changes going on in the way religious people talk and think these days.

    Growing up religiously in the 90s and 00s it was obvious that religious people don’t believe in things like evolution and the big bang.
    I was constantly arguing with authorities and teachers (Rabbis in this case) about these things.

    Since then I’ve witnessed a dramatic change in theological discourse. All of my religious friends and family take it for granted that we evolved from apes and that the universe is billions of years old.
    There’s a lot more debate these days about bible criticism and how literately to interpret the bible.

    Basically, the God of the Gaps has shrunk into a much smaller gap than he used to be. Mainly residing in places like Consciousness and Free Choice.

    To me, it seems that this happened largely because everyone had access to all the data and debates on the internet and “Science” mostly won.

    However, readers of this site will know the strength and staying power of tribes and personal identity so most people were never going to suddenly throw out their whole community, belief system and identification that easily.
    Instead there’s a growing trend of working to ensure religion and science not be mutually exclusive (“intelligent design”, “look the bible totally talks about the big bang and dinosaurs”.

    So when you see stats of 70% Christian today I think its possible modern Christians are completely different from the 80% they were before.

    As someone who used to obsess over those “Atheist debates believer” debates on Youtube I think its telling to see how much more boring they are these days.
    It used to be all about people saying crazy stuff about Noa’s Ark. Now its all about wishy washy concepts like divine morality and Purpose.

    To a New Athiest, it might have felt like they weren’t convincing anyone. But inside the religious world, I saw capitulation after capitulation. Dawkins wasn’t wrong because Science wasn’t on his side (it was), he was wrong because “he isn’t a philosopher and only they get to decide if god exists or not”.

    To summarize, the common enemy that was religion adapted into a far less dogmatic and toothless version of itself, so New Atheism fell apart as the arguments became more abstract and boring.

    I feel bad that my first post here is so data-sparse and anecdotal and I could be totally wrong, but this is definitely my experience and view on the narrative.

    • Guy in TN says:

      I think you are quite on point, for what it’s worth. I was contemplating making a very similar post along these lines.

      Growing up as a teenager in the 00’s, I remember many of my friends were only allowed to listen to Christian music, some girls were only allowed to wear dresses (no pants), and we were taught by everyone we trusted that the earth was literally 6000 years old. We visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky non-ironically. This is what it meant when someone said Christianity was “very important to their life” back then.

      I don’t know where a lot of these people are now. But for the few I do, Christianity being “very important to their life” means something like: act conscientiously, show kindness, be truthful, ect. A lot more has changed than the 80%-70% data would indicate.

  71. benf says:

    The “internet people got bored and moved onto other shit” is a priori highly plausible. You left out the hilarious part of the story where Atheism Plus started canceling a lot of the major Atheism figures and casting them into the fire, including Michael Shermer, Richard Carrier, and now to a surprising extent even Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

    I can’t help but wonder what Christopher Hitchens would have made of all of this fragmentation and recrimination and splintering of some of his acolytes into some truly heinous ideological groupings, but you might just as well suspect that his death cut the tether that had until then held some very disparate demographics on the same side. For example, he is, as far as I can tell, the only person who has ever earnestly argued for the Iraq War using only facts and well-established and widely accepted moral principles.

    • Spot says:

      I’d also be extremely interested in Hitchens’ take on the evolution/disintegration of New Atheism. (And a lot of other things, but I’ll stick with New Atheism for now.)

      In terms of broad outlook and public demeanor, I’ve always thought of Harris as a kind of cut-price Hitchens. (Probably some people disagree with me on that.) If I had to guess, I think Hitch might have ended up somewhere in that vicinity, though maybe not to the point that he’d be considered IDW. He was certainly hostile to identity politics.

  72. MorningGaul says:

    A counterargument to the conclusion with which you start III:

    My solution to both these questions is: New Atheism was a failed hamartiology.

    New Atheism changed because it “won” (or is in a winning streak), and, as victors of a culture war, have the culture spoils to fight, bicker and split over. Religious influence on society seems lower than ever. I only have partial information on the US, but here in Europe, Atheism/Agnositicism/”Non-or-barely-practicing believer undistinguishable from a non-fanatic atheist” is the norm, and christianity has been curbstomped to the point a (currently) minority religion like Islam is often deemed a larger threat to secularism, despite having only a fraction of the cultural importance and believer base.

    Atheists activists moved to social justice because at this point, they would be dead-horse-activists if they sticked to pure atheism.

    I’d like to also point that Thucydides was wrong. If anything, we have an larger-than-life image of Spartans, because all we have about them is tale of how STRONG and MIGHTY their warriors (even before the 300 movie and the like), how unforgiving their society and unique was their child care were. Monuments crumble faster than a good story is forgotten.

  73. fion says:

    Typo: Betweem -> Between

  74. Jack V says:

    As a couple of other people have said, I feel like New Atheism is a movement which largely succeeded, and the people remaining identified as “New Atheism” ended up as the movement leaders who couldn’t let go.

    It started off being quite, as it were, progressive for its time. A big theme was “we can’t just impose these arbitrary rules on people like ‘don’t be gay’ because that actively harms people'”

    There’d always been high profile atheists, but there was still a lot of suspicion.

    Then, it became widely known. Like, even people who disapprove have probably HEARD that atheists are about, not just meeting someone and being like “you don’t believe in WHAT?”

    And then it turned out it didn’t have that much more to offer. A lot of the supposedly intellectual leaders turned out that their other ideas were kind of up themselves. Struggling to be heard against a dominant background of pervasive christianity became punching down at Christian denominations or other religions in a minority in the country. It turned out that being progressive was harder than just “don’t be a conservative bigot” and many of the big voices turned away from that. They went off on a lot of misguided rants.

    And everyone sort of drifted away from it.

    I don’t think atheism+ influenced anything. I’ve never heard it mentioned again, really, it didn’t seem to “take”. Despite being essentially how I’d like to identify myself. But I think it represented what a lot of people were doing anyway: trying to take the good bits of what had happened, and leave behind the crappy bits.

    So I think your description of who became who is about right, but I’m not sure if they sprang from the same trend or were just two popular trends.

  75. Akhorahil says:

    “Thucydides predicted that future generations would underestimate the power of Sparta.”

    That seems to have been a remarkably poor prediction – most everyone overestimates Sparta, not just these post-300 days but for the last several hundreds of years.

  76. Ketil says:

    It’s not surprising that atheism would be merged into social justice. Central progressive causes (especially back then) were women’s rights (i.e. abortion) and gay rights – causes where the conservatives would often cite religion as their reason for opposition. Instead of arguing about interpretations of the Book, and meeting conservatives on their home turf, simply abandoning religion entirely let progressives reject these arguments and eliminate much of the foundation of their opposition.

    In addition, conservatives would try to force creationism into schools, which gave the progressives an easy target, demonstrating that conservatives were scientifically illiterate, therefore dumb, therefore not worth listening to.

    Perhaps there are two kinds of revolutionaries, the ones who work towards a specific cause, and the ones who work towards revolution itself. I think they gay movement is (mostly) the first kind, they campaigned and got the rights and recognition they wanted, and then basically left the scene¹. Their march of protests turned into parades of fun and colors.

    Other movements keep moving the goal posts after each victory. The atheism plus example is just an example where the goal was moved too far (and calling critics ‘scum’ or ‘assholes’ probably doesn’t help). Moderate subversion tends to work much better.

    ¹ Yes, I know this is probably oversimplifying things a lot, but e.g. looking at the primaries, I don’t see Buttigieg being pushed for gay rights to the extent Hillary was for women or Obama as blacks.

  77. szopeno says:

    The interesting thing is that it seems from those trends as initially Republicans in USA were actually being convinced by the arguments and shifted towards the left opinion, and then, suddenly, they said to themselves “f* it” and went into the other direction. It really jibes with my experiences as a rightist here in Poland: for years I was open for the leftist ideas, but at one point I saw that everything goes only for one direction; so it was absolutely terrible to impose restrictions on the freedom of demonstrations, except when it was rightwingers who demonstrated. And attacks on press were signs of authoritarianism, except when it was rightwing journal which was raided by special forces… and so on, and so on. So right now my position is exactly “f* it”. No reason to listen to the other side if they never listened to me. No reason to care about them if they never cared about me.

    • eigenmoon says:

      I have a lot of questions about Poland but I’ll just ask this:

      “The percentage of people attending church in Poland rose in 2015 from 39.1 per cent to 39.8 per cent, bucking a trend of decline across the rest of Europe.” (source)
      “The number of church service attendees is falling in Poland at the fastest rate in the world” (source)

      What’s going on?

      • szopeno says:

        I’d love to help you, but I’m not so sure myself. It seems that we have secularization trend just as in the rest of the Europe. You can see the CBOS poll for 2017 (the largest, government polling institution) here:

        http://www.cbos.pl/SPISKOM.POL/2017/K_084_17.PDF

        Look at the pictures described as “Rys.1” (declaration of faith), page 2. Blue is “believing”, green is “deeply believing”, red is “not believing”. The next page you have declaration of religious practices (“Rys 2” with blue being “regularly”, yellow “irregularly” and red “not at all). later Rys 3 is “declaration if faith and religious practices, going from top: “regularly practising believerS”, “irregularly practising believers”, “believers not practising”, “not believers, practising” and “not believers, not practising” where “practising” is “attending masses” and “participating in religious ceremonies”.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Maybe there’s a greater number of Christmas-and-Easter attendees but a lower number of regular churchgoers? That might explain the paradox.

  78. awalrus says:

    the average person doesn’t post long screeds and get equally long responses fisking each of their points.

    Isn’t the “average person” in 2019 typing on a touchscreen? Around 2013 was when over 50% of the US population got an internet machine in their pocket they can use to fire off hot takes while standing in line or taking a bathroom break.

    Not claiming this explains all of it, but my default prediction would be that any change on the internet between early 2010s and now would be because of smartphones. They completely changed who spends a lot of time online and how they spend it.

    • Protagoras says:

      The use of smartphones for everything makes me wonder if any younger people know how to type. I’ve seen studies indicating that practiced smartphone users are almost as fast on the phones as they are typing, but looking at the numbers this seems to be because they type extremely slowly; as someone who knows how to type, I find entering text on a smartphone incredibly aggravatingly slow.

      • acymetric says:

        Typing on a smartphone comes pretty easily to me (though nowhere near as easily as typing). Typing on a larger tablet is terrible and I absolutely hate it.

        I do kind of miss typing on my old flip phone using abc/T9Word.

      • Nick says:

        I abhor typing on my phone. Probably especially because I am an exceptionally fast typist on my computer.

    • Aapje says:

      See the rise of Twitter.

    • hls2003 says:

      +1. I don’t know if it explains everything, but it certainly helps explain the rise of shorter, more succinct media.

  79. zluria says:

    As someone who used to visit a lot if feminist blogs, I can report that many of them collapsed as well – see feministe.us, for example. Maybe there is a larger social trend at work that affected both movements?

    • eightieshair says:

      I also read a lot of the feminist blogasphere back in the 00s. Feminitse, Feministing, Pandagon, Punkassblog & etc.

      A proto-version of what eventually became “cancel” culture was certainly already there, but for years it was not dominant and was (at least IMHO) more than balanced out by a lot of positive aspects. I put the change at around 2008. Somewhere around that time the negative aspects definitively “won” and from then on set the tone for those sites, which subsequently either closed down or faded into shadows of their former selves.

      The advent of social media was definitely a major factor, but I think the end of the Bush II administration also played a role. For liberals, the Bush II years were a nightmare, but it was also possible to believe that they were an aberration, and that if we could just get rid of dubya things would return to normal. Then in the early Obama years it became clear that “normal” was gone and not coming back. I think that realization was part of what allowed the terminal bitterness that characterizes SJW-dom to triumph.

  80. ajakaja says:

    This is the kind of post that gets so many comments that no one can read them all, but I guess I’ll throw in few thoughts.

    First, arguments from “these google trends line up” are incredibly unconvincing. The internet changed a lot in a few years, lots of things changed with it.

    Second, I think you are roughly near correct, in that I agree that a lot of the ‘New Atheist’ people became social justice people, but the whole story doesn’t ring true to me. Some miscellaneous observations:
    – the people involved in 2000s-era internet atheism were a different generation than the 2010s-era social justice movement. They were nerdier, whiter, more male, and the types of people to be on the internet in the 2000s before, say, AIM became a thing and got everyone else caught up. Their commonality isn’t that they were the same people, it’s that internet movements take the same form in different generations. That said, by Atheism+ era, yes, there was a schism going on where the progressive internet seeds were forming.

    – there was a distinct feeling in the 2000s that religion was a) very prominent and b) causing a lot of bad things. I think this was primarily because a lot of the aforementioned nerdy white guys were growing up in religious communities, but also it had a lot to do with the news and Bush and the fact that the mainstream at the time seemed to be to support our troops and attack the middle east. This feeling definitely dissipated more-or-less by the time Obama was elected, but I’d say he was elected because it had already dissipated.

    – major cultural events that need to be included for this timeline to make sense:
    * everyone getting online in ~2006-8, thanks to AIM, Myspace, Facebook, and Youtube.
    * the internet consolidating into a few larger websites instead of a bunch of scattered forums (although they still exist), mostly facebook and later youtube and reddit
    * the Tea Party, by which time religion was no longer cool or threatening, but also the time at which progressivism seemed to be becoming much more of a mainstream war, which drove a lot of people to choose sides.
    * Occupy wall street, in which I think the anti-corporate movement actually I think lost and became less cool — I vaguely feel that social justice really took off after this petered out

    My guess at a realistic narrative is, as waaaay more people went online and began to run into each other on these bigger sites, cultural lines started to form, and both social justice and trumpism fell out of that. The ideas were already on each side but they had far less of an opportunity to run into each other. Mostly they became more extreme in their respective echo chambers, but it’s the skirmishes (online and irl) that gave fodder for both sides to get more outraged at the other. But I really doubt that it was the actual same people. I… can’t imagine I have ever met a person who was in both movements.

  81. BBA says:

    Stopping back in for just a minute, doods.

    Out in the “real” world I did notice a remarkable drop in the political salience of religion during Obama’s first term. Maybe it was because Bush was so overtly religious and he left office so thoroughly discredited. Even as a coastal elite atheist Jew, I’d long had the sense that evangelical Christianity was this massive hegemonic force that ruled all of America outside my little bubble, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t anymore.

    I could never get 100% behind New Atheism, despite agreeing with its principles, because it was too rigid and combative, and besides I knew it could never win. And now I can’t get 100% behind Social Justice, despite agreeing with its principles, because it is too rigid and combative, and besides I know it will inevitably win.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Not picking on you in particular, but it’s fascinating that on this predominantly young male nerdy extremely-online rationalist liberaltarian science-and-politics blog with thousands of commenters, nobody was a full-on hook-line-and-sinker New Atheist back in the 00’s. Did I just somehow end up with none of these people, or is there some recall bias going on here?

      • Psycicle says:

        I got deconverted by one of the detailed arguments, went “welp, now what”, became an avid reader of the blogs back in the glory days, binge-read talk.origins, and it just sorta fizzled out because it went from new and shiny to extremely obviously true and I realized there were bigger fish to fry in the world.

        • a definitive maybe says:

          Same here. I was strongly into the movement as a teenager in the aughts. I had deconverted from being a strong believer and still had to interact with religion a lot irl, so I found a lot of support in the community and in the massive number of arguments I could read through. Eventually I got away from the religious people in my life and atheism went from being an Important Belief to just an obvious fact, and I just drifted away from the community. I’m not sure when exactly that was, but it was before 2010.

      • Spot says:

        I’m just guessing here, but this community self-selects for people who value nuance and are are generally highly sensitive to ideological dogmatism. Possibly many of the commenters were just applying those principles to New Atheism back when it was a significant component of the Blue platform.

        Also (to throw out a less-complimentary hypothesis), back in the mid-late aughties I think there was at least a small element of contrarian self-aggrandizement to some anti-atheist rhetoric. I was pretty young during the movement’s early years, but I sort of recall a period back in something like the mid-late aughts (shortly after Dawkins’ book came out) when bashing New Atheism – in certain limited contexts – was a way for young educated liberals to set themselves apart and/or establish their intellectual and freethinking bona fides.

        It’s weird to say – because back then the religious right still had very significant power in a broader sense – but in certain Blue spaces, attacking New Atheism felt kind of contrarian in much the same way that anti-social justice rhetoric feels contrarian today.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        I was one of the guys arguing against the New Atheists back then. Hell, given the Wayback Machine, I could probably link to some of those old discussions in the back pages of places like Advance Wars Bunker and the Nationstates forums.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I’m not really clear exactly what constitutes a “New Atheist”, but I was reading Pharyngula and Dispatches from the Culture Wars routinely on ScienceBlogs back in the day…

        • Enkidum says:

          Same, and kept up with both of them and the rest of FreethoughtBlogs for quite a few years.

          • Spot says:

            Hell, I still read Pharyngula occasionally, and I kind of like PZ Myers despite myself. He just strikes me as a sincere guy, and that’s an unfortunately rare quantity, especially in the age of social media. I’ll overlook a lot from someone who (I feel) is genuinely writing from the heart.

            I understand why he rubs a lot of people the wrong way, though, and I do think the quality of his output has deteriorated over the past five-odd years.

      • oldman says:

        I guess I might’ve been a New Atheist in the 00s? I certainly remember thinking that the topic was a lot more important than I do know. I bought and read the God Delusion. I wasn’t an New Atheist online, simply as I didn’t post much of anything online.

        I am British, I think Christianity didn’t feel like a high level political force (politicians rarely did and rarely do invoke the bible) But did feel like it had a lot of local power (it was and is very common for all the good schools in an area to be Christian) I don’t know what share of commenters are American, and maybe that’s why there are fewer New Atheists than you expected

      • Ketil says:

        I’m just guessing here, but this community self-selects for people who value nuance and are are generally highly sensitive to ideological dogmatism.

        What is interesting to me here, is the exchange of viewpoints and arguments between people with very different backgrounds. This is the only place I know where Trump supporters, Catholics, Marxists, and so on engage in (mostly) civil discussion.

        I used to get in arguments with Christians when I was a teenager, but when New Atheism came around, it was never all that interesting to me beyond entertainment value and perhaps as an exercise in free speech. Religion just didn’t have enough power over or around me for attacking it to be worthwhile, and NA figureheads listing up historical evil deeds done in the name of religion or scientific misconceptions was bashing in open doors as far as I was concerned.

      • cactus head says:

        I was one. I used to watch Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! religiously (lol) and would get into arguments with my sister about reiki healing. I also knew a kid in high school, in the early 10s who was 10x the New Atheist I ever was.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        I wasn’t an activist type back then (and still am not), but I did read the usual books by Dennet, Harris etc with approval, read a couple of atheist blogs, and had a general guideline of “when you’re in serious disagreement with Dawkins, you’re most likely wrong”. (Which has held up fairly well.)
        And I did follow the A+ fallout, and it caused me an irrational amount of pain and cognitive dissonance (“how can people who seemed so rational and obviously right on one topic be so irrational, obviously wrong, and complete douchebags about it?”). I’d like to believe I learned some lessons from it, though.

      • John Lynch says:

        Read Hitchens a lot, but I was a Catholic. Really liked his book about Orwell.

        I think a lot of your conservative readership is attracted to your support of freedom of speech, just as they were attracted to Hitchens’ advocacy of freedom of conscience. It is possible to appreciate a writer even if you don’t agree with them 100% about everything, even if it’s important to the writer.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Perhaps the hook-line-and-sinker New Atheists were the most likely to move on to full Social Justice, which explains why they aren’t here.

      • Corey says:

        I was. Commentariat vs. readership issue, probably.

      • John Schilling says:

        I’m pretty sure I was in the “these people are smart, factually correct about most things, and too obnoxious for me to want to stand next to” camp at that time. Possibly SSC selects for people who don’t want to stand next to obnoxiousness.

      • Nornagest says:

        I IDed as atheist around that time, and read some of the sources you mentioned up top, and got involved in a few of those debates — mostly about evolution, if I remember right. I was obnoxious about that for sure. But the more metaphysical, ideological side of the movement, the part concerned with finding absurdities in the Bible or disproving God per se, I just didn’t care about. I think this is mainly thanks to my background: the most strident New Atheists around that time seemed to be people who’d gone through very strict evangelical upbringings and come out of them with massive chips on their shoulders, whereas my dad is a Catholic who’d lapsed all the way into secularism before I was born and didn’t really bother addressing the existence-of-God question one way or the other. Probably at some level I assumed this was the norm.

      • lvlln says:

        I was a full-on hook-line-and-sinker New Atheist back in the 00’s and most of the 10’s too. I’d say it’s only in the last 3 years or so that I’ve started feeling that I would have been a better person if I hadn’t been full-on hook-line-and-sinker New Atheist.

      • arbitraryvalue says:

        I read everything Dawkins wrote and argued a lot about religion on the internet. (On the Snopes forums, mostly. Good times…) I wasn’t as vehement as some since I had never been religious but I was definitely interested in the movement and its success.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        I hadn’t heard of the term at the time, but looking back on it it’s pretty obvious that I was part of the New Atheist zeitgeist back in my Advance Wars Bunker days. Reading The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, listening to Bad Religion songs like “God’s Love”, debating religious members in the forum’s General Discussion board (there was this particularly stubborn dude called JonWood007), hanging out with other atheists in MSN Messenger (and falling in love with an atheist girl), etc.

        Good times.

        But I was never going to become a social justice warrior. My father and sister raised me to know the score on IQ (real, unchangeable, predictive, etc.) since I was a little kid, so as soon as I saw this graph, Muggle Realism clicked. It only got worse after I took the red pill by studying PUA (at the time, I was looking for a way to get back the aforementioned girl after she crushed my heart; poor, naive, stupid teenage me!). So I rejected Atheism+, and I rejected social justice, and these days I find myself on the side of trad Christians against the intersectional left. Oh, how things change.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          I just want to remind you, Jaime, that I was one of your opponents on the aforementioned General Discussion board. 16 years later, I’m glad we still hang out in the same spaces of the vast old Internet.

          I hated having JonWood007 on my side. I felt he undercut every position I tried to take, and most of the atheist brigade (as I internally dubbed them) would go after him and ignore me.

          Amusingly, he’s since gone full-blown atheist-SJW.

      • Hoopdawg says:

        I’m a non-believer who used to troll atheists by preaching the superiority of agnosticism. (Which, though I sure hope I don’t actually need to explain it, is emphatically not the middle-ground position between theism and atheism that ignorant militant atheists believe(d) it was.)

        I would assume that opposition to binary thinking correlates rather well with being a fan of this blog.

        (Since I’m already posting this, I may as well just say that I believe that irreligion is going to win going forward, while what people call “Social Justice” nowadays is bound to fail, because one is the natural state of mind, bound to spread as science proves its superiority in explaining and understanding the world (though religion is probably going to prove necessary at least until we overcome death), while the other is an increasingly removed from reality, paranoid delusion of decadent cultural elites of a bankrupt system on its last legs. The only real question is what comes next (bad end: nativist right; good end: libertarian left; regular end: whatever China proves to be).)

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Which, though I sure hope I don’t actually need to explain it, is emphatically not the middle-ground position between theism and atheism that ignorant militant atheists believe(d) it was.

          This doesn’t strike me as a correct characterization, although I suppose the word “militant” could be doing a lot of work. I always saw it characterized as gnostic and agnostic atheism. Do you believe God doesn’t exist, or do you simply not believe that God exists?

          The agnostic atheist position, that there isn’t good reason to believe God exists, seems more prominent. Although, to be sure, there are motte and bailey style arguments going on around this.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            The original “New Atheist” (or “Dawkins’ fanboy”, as I mentally classified them back then) categorization was one axis coming from belief to disbelief, following this famous formulation by Dawkins himself. This, of course, is counterfactual and simply offensive, so the two-axis model allowing for agnosticism as a distinct position arose, assumedly because my kind of criticism was common and arguments get honed with time.

            The goal was the same in both cases, mainly, pushing people towards concentrating on theism-atheism axis, and towards the atheism pole on it. My response would, likewise, be mostly the same – sure, I may be atheist in that formulation, but that’s still not how I would explain my worldview to strangers, because it’s based on rational skepticism, not on my position towards the concept of god. In fact, not basing my identity around god makes be a better non-believer than self-described atheists are.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You seem to be simply a a six on the scale. You live your life assuming God isn’t there. If you ever see any evidence that is strong enough, you’ll reassess.

            I have no idea why you think the scale in particular is offensive (although Dawkins is plenty offensive in myriad ways).

            As to the idea of identity, that seems like a wholly separate issue. You prefer the term “agnostic” because you aren’t lumped in with “those people”. The fact that you don’t want to be lumped in with those people doesn’t change anything about whether or not you have a belief in a god or gods. You believe in them about as as much as you believe in the UFOs that were going to transport the members of the Heaven’s Gate cult.

            I do think there is something to be said about a difference between those who were raised in a culture of belief versus those who weren’t. If you weren’t, then the question of belief isn’t something you have been required to marshal argument to reject. You can reject it in the same way you reject a contention that Rusell’s Teapot is floating in orbit. No one is contending it’s actually true. It’s mere philosophy.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            Eh, the Wikipedia article is pretty mild indeed, I remember agnostics being put on 4, followed by a takedown of “what, you think probability of god is 50%?”. But even apart from that, the very idea that one can estimate the probability of what’s, almost by definition, entirely unknown is pure sophistry and offensive to me on a really basic level.

            I am not living my life “assuming that god isn’t there”. I am living my life assuming god has nothing to do with it at this point. I’m not a 6, I reject the scale. Also, I prefer the term “agnostic” because it’s the closest description of my worldview, which is similar to and influenced by people who coined and popularized the term. Certainly not because I don’t want to be “lumped up” with atheists, in fact I fully expect to be, by virtue of rejecting locally dominant judeo-christian religion rites (kind of like I accept being lumped up with Marxists here on libertarian central). Any assumption to the contrary really reminds me of the “either with us or against us” mentality of Dawkins and his followers of yore.

            I understand that some people needed to fight religious beliefs imposed on them much harder than I did, which makes my stance seem non committal and a luxury. All I can say them that: (i) it’s seriously more correct, (ii) they probably shouldn’t force themselves on potential allies and appear like a mirror image of the religious zealots they fight.

          • Viliam says:

            @Hoopdawg

            I’m not a 6, I reject the scale.

            Yep. It’s like, if someone makes a scale for believing in Santa Claus, I don’t want to be put somewhere near the middle just because I didn’t spend a lot of my time developing a complex philosophical proof against the existence of Santa Claus.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Hoopdawg:

            Prompted by your comment about the original definition of agnostic, I went looking at the Wikipedia article. I’m struck that what is referred to as the strong version is akin to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, where the (non) existence of god or gods would need to be axiomatic. That’s certainly a respectable position.

            I think the most commonly used meaning of agnostic is what the article describes as the weak form, hence my confusion.

            Practically speaking, I don’t think it amounts to anything different other than rejecting all religious claims as infinitely unlikely to be true, as we have no way of assessing any religious claim and there exist an infinite number of possible religious claims which are logically indistinguishable. It’s not even a skeptical position, as one is rejecting even the possibility of evidence.

            @Villiam:
            I don’t think you are claiming in any way that you are agnostic about belief in Santa Claus, so I’m not sure how your comment really applies.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        I was! In my defence, it was only a brief phase when I was 11.

      • I was a New Atheist then, and I still am now for any reasonably permissive definition. (I mean, I am an atheist, and I think it is better for people to be atheist than theist, although I do think there are many problems the world is facing that are a lot more pressing than the continued existence of theists.)

      • L says:

        New Atheism was basically my special interest at the time. I had a feminist awakening in 2011-13 that really helped me personally as a girl who had actual pressure of the type this could help me resist and all. Getting permission after Confirmation to stop attending church also miraculously cured my tendency to argue theology with anyone who would listen.

      • Phil H says:

        I’ll cop to it, I was a full-on new atheist, and kinda still am. I live in an atheist country, fortunately, so I literally never have to have the arguments. It’s… wonderful!

      • onyomi says:

        As I said elsewhere I may not have been a “hook-line-and-sinker” new atheist because I had a different hamartiology in blaming everything on the government, but I think it also had to do with my upbringing, which seemed to be sort of where the Republican party is now, except already there in the 80s–thinking Christianity is nice as a kind of cultural touchstone but also not actually taking it that seriously as an eschatology.

        We celebrated Easter and Christmas (not just Santa–we went to church and had a creche with baby Jesus etc.), went to Christian private schools, but my parents just were sort of “meh” about questions like “does God exist” and “is there an afterlife.” They kind of paid these ideas lip service when we were kids but as we got older it was apparent they didn’t really believe them in any sort of serious, metaphysical way; they were just cultural artifacts.

        So having already grown up in an environment where questions about religion’s literal truth or falsehood seemed paradoxically kind of low-stakes, it never made a lot of sense to me to debate the question with a lot of intensity. I could get angry when e.g. Bush banned stem cell research or whatever insofar as I believed that was due to e.g. Evangelicals who took their religion too seriously, but not about debating the basic questions because we’d already reached a point where religion was primarily a cultural practice rather than a belief system.

        On a certain level I wonder if this isn’t a return to a world historical norm and/or forager value (religions as a set of practices and bearers of culture but not demanding strong belief in a particular metaphysical view).

      • nicktachy says:

        They were a bit after my time. I was a Ayn-Rand-ian Objectivist Rush-listening atheist back in high school and by the time the New Atheists came along I was in college and distracted by other things and just not interested in the argument anymore. Now I’m an Orthodox Christian. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’d long had the sense that evangelical Christianity was this massive hegemonic force that ruled all of America outside my little bubble, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t anymore.

      It never was, though. It was bigger than it is now and it had puffed itself up to look pretty big, but in terms of rule it was fairly small.

      And now I can’t get 100% behind Social Justice, despite agreeing with its principles, because it is too rigid and combative, and besides I know it will inevitably win.

      If it’s all about seeing everything through the lens of racial conflict as AllAmericanBreakfast claims, it can’t “win”, except through genocide. It can only result in endless warfare.

      • moridinamael says:

        I think one key thing that I haven’t seen mentioned is that, between 2005 and now, the Internet gradually grew until it actually took over the role of Social Reality Consensus Building from the news networks.

        If the news networks frame the core struggle of American politics as being about religion, I have no way of knowing whether or not that’s actually true. And then in a sense it becomes true, because I know that my neighbor is watching the same news as I am.

        If I know that you know that I know that you know that religion is the main important thing to argue about, then I’m going to be really anxious about religion, and probably want to yell at people about it online.

        Now I can go on Twitter and see everybody’s naked, flailing Id. I can just see, for myself, that nobody is really talking about religion. Doesn’t seem to be a big deal. Now I know that you know that I know that you know that nobody cares about religion all that much. But people are spending a lot of energy yelling about this social justice thing. They really do seem to care about it. My local threat detection and avoidance circuits now know how to orient more accurately.

        That’s not to say that “everything is about social justice” is even more “true” than “everything is about religion”. It’s more like, one level of signaling obfuscation has been removed. Everyone can converge on a single narrative and still be totally wrong. It’s interesting to consider what it would take for the narrative to shift again. I actually suspect that, with the way the modern web works, such shifts might be faster, and more iterative. SJ-2017 doesn’t look quite like SJ-2018 or SJ-2019. By 2025 it might look very different to our eyes and still be broadly thought of as the same thing.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          SJ-2017 doesn’t look quite like SJ-2018 or SJ-2019. By 2025 it might look very different to our eyes and still be broadly thought of as the same thing.

          Almost assuredly. The thing with SJ and movements like it is that they need to be pushing radical policies for oxygen. They are incapable of accepting the status quo.

          Currently, they are pushing various issues surrounding trans people, and it’s not going as smoothly as previous battles (from my POV anyway). If society accepts all their demands, and everybody introduces themselves with pronouns, women’s sports comprises a significant proportion of M2Fs, and so on, they will need a new cause to push. I’m not sure who is next in line.

          If society refuses those demands, I have no idea what will happen.

          • onyomi says:

            The thing with SJ and movements like it is that they need to be pushing radical policies for oxygen. They are incapable of accepting the status quo.

            I recently read Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and found the author a little more sympathetic and reasonable than I expected him to be, but where he struck me as least self-aware was when he was describing the “yin and yang” of the “Sisyphean” battle activists must fight (yes, he describes it as Sisyphean only with the perk that Sisyphus is pushing rocks up ever bigger hills with ever more beautiful vistas coming into view from each new peak).

            To show that activism is like I described above he cites a bunch of examples like the left wing push for public housing, which later resulted in housing projects with a reputation for being dens of crime and violence. But oh well! That’s just the yin and the yang of life! As opposed to: activists push for policies that sound good and by the time the negative consequences of their victories come home to roost they’ve already moved on to something else.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            To show that activism is like I described above he cites a bunch of examples like the left wing push for public housing, which later resulted in housing projects with a reputation for being dens of crime and violence.

            Yeah there are 100s of examples like that. The ultimate outcome of their policies is not their concern. The outcome is not what they care about. They care about the process of pushing disruptive policies.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Now I can go on Twitter and see everybody’s naked, flailing Id. I can just see, for myself, that nobody is really talking about religion. Doesn’t seem to be a big deal. Now I know that you know that I know that you know that nobody cares about religion all that much. But people are spending a lot of energy yelling about this social justice thing. They really do seem to care about it.

          +1 to this, as a someone who mostly doesn´t care, I find that quite disconcerting.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I can just see, for myself, that nobody is really talking about religion.

          You and I have very different Twitter feeds. Prayer requests, discussions of faith and “religious Twitter” are very common things.

    • Baeraad says:

      And now I can’t get 100% behind Social Justice, despite agreeing with its principles, because it is too rigid and combative, and besides I know it will inevitably win.

      Hmm. Define “win”?

      I certainly agree that I can’t picture SJ ever losing. It’s too obvious that the status quo is terrible. Every day, Donald Trump sticks his smirking face on national television and provides vivid confirmation that yes, men are precisely as terrible as feminists claim they are, and that if there is any decency or justice in the world something ought to be done about that.

      But I also can’t imagine SJ winning in the sense of ever actually managing to change said status quo. Men are always going to be taking every advantage and pulling every cheap shot, because that’s what their hormones tell them to do. And women are always going to throw away every chance to have some power and independence, because that’s what their hormones tell them to do. And apparently none of us are capable of ignoring what our hormones tell us to do.

      So if by SJ winning, you mean that eventually everyone is going to acknowledge that men are disgusting pigs, then yes, I think that will happen. I mean, the evidence is just too overwhelming to deny forever. But the disgusting pigs are still going to be in charge, because there actually is no decency or justice in the world.

      • Aapje says:

        1. Trump is not “men”

        2. People who ignore their hormones are the losers, including in the new world order which ostensibly opposes this, but not really

        3. You are being very sexist by only focusing on the bad things of masculinity and ignoring the good things (and vice versa for femininity). Arguably, you are thereby demonstrating very well how the SJ mindset is winning.

        • Baeraad says:

          1. Trump is not “men”

          No? He certainly provides a vivid image of what unrestrained manliness looks like.

          2. People who ignore their hormones are the losers,

          Depends on what you’re trying to win. We could try to win the chance to be actually human, but it’s true that no one seems to be very interested in that.

          the new world order which ostensibly opposes this, but not really

          Sadly true.

          3. You are being very sexist by only focusing on the bad things of masculinity and ignoring the good things (and vice versa for femininity). Arguably, you are thereby demonstrating very well how the SJ mindset is winning.

          I fully admit to and make no apologies for thinking that masculinity and femininity are both horrible. But since, as you yourself noted, SJ is all about whining incessantly about the inevitable results of letting both run rampant while also refusing to try to do anything concrete about them, I don’t think what I have can be described as a SJ mindset.

          ETA: I mean, I suppose you could argue that I’m the single solitary real SJW in all the world, the one who acknowledges that as long as we keep following the same dumb impulses we always have, we’re going to get the same dumb results we’ve always gotten, no matter how many angry tweets we make about it. But I’m pretty sure that’s not how group identities work.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            He [Trump] certainly provides a vivid image of what unrestrained manliness looks like.

            He seems more like a caricature of masculinity to me. But I suppose this depends on your cultural background.

          • theredsheep says:

            I generally think of a strong man as being confident and self-sufficient, not petulant, vain, and insecure.

            EDIT: Consider Trump’s infamous “grab ’em by the pussy.” He characterized this as “locker room talk,” which is weird because I’ve never known a man to talk like that, even to other men. Men will brag about what women did to them, how much the women enjoyed it, how often they did it, how long, how quickly they sealed the deal, etc., but Trump’s boasting contained a plain admission that the women weren’t actually into him and only tolerated it because of his status.

            That is a really bizarre thing to brag about! The closest I could picture any other man coming to it would be something repulsive like “she said no, but she was smiling and I could tell she really wanted it.” Bragging about grudging tolerance for your unwanted advances is really pathetic even by fratboy value standards.

          • Aapje says:

            @Baeraad

            No? He certainly provides a vivid image of what unrestrained manliness looks like.

            In the same way that a conniving, gossiping, controlling woman is ‘the woman?’

            Trump is no more unrestrained masculinity, and arguably far less, than the firefighter that runs into a burning building.

            We could try to win the chance to be actually human, but it’s true that no one seems to be very interested in that.

            Humanity includes hormone-driven behavior. You seem to be confusing humanity with morality, which is a common mistake, but ironically, very dehumanizing.

            I don’t think what I have can be described as a SJ mindset.

            What made me say that is that you seem to ignore the evidence that makes reality a lot more complicated than: man oppressors/in power/etc, women oppressed/servile/etc. Men typically “throw away” the chance at great power and independence and women typically seek some level of power and independence. That this often manifests itself differently allows people to only recognize some forms of power/powerlessness and independence/dependence, feeding an unfair narrative.

        • John Schilling says:

          No? He certainly provides a vivid image of what unrestrained manliness looks like.

          Trump is a weak man’s idea of what a strong man looks like, a poor man’s idea of what a rich man looks like, and a stupid man’s idea of what a smart man looks like. So, yeah, he has his admirers.

          But if you think he is what men in general secretly are, or would be if “unrestrained”, or aspire to be, then you completely fail to understand the half of humanity that you have chosen to make your enemy. And so you should live in despair, of the utter defeat you can not see a path to avoiding.

          Or, maybe, learn better and understand that you don’t need to make half the human race your enemy after all.

          • lvlln says:

            No? He certainly provides a vivid image of what unrestrained manliness looks like.

            Trump is a weak man’s idea of what a strong man looks like, a poor man’s idea of what a rich man looks like, and a stupid man’s idea of what a smart man looks like. So, yeah, he has his admirers.

            As a feminist, I think it wouldn’t be completely off-base to say that Trump is a some subset of feminists’ idea of what unrestrained manliness looks like.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            then you completely fail to understand the half of humanity that you have chosen to make your enemy.

            Hold on a second, what half is this? Men?

            Men are people. There are about a million ways to be a man. If that’s what you mean, then yes.

            But there is a certain arechetypal image of manliness that Trump does fit. We see it most easily illustrated in various anti-hero types.

          • John Schilling says:

            Hold on a second, what half is this? Men?

            Correct. When Baeraad says things like, “eventually everyone is going to acknowledge that men are disgusting pigs … but the disgusting pigs are still going to be in charge, because there actually is no decency or justice in the world”, then I am inclined to believe he is defining “men” as a class to be his enemy. Not one particular archetype of manliness, not one out of a million ways to be a man, but all men.

      • Enkidum says:

        Gay marriage was inconceivable in the 70’s. Ditto trans rights. Cf. racial progress. Social justice movements have done very well, all things considered.

      • eigenmoon says:

        eventually everyone is going to acknowledge that men are disgusting pigs, then yes, I think that will happen.

        That won’t happen because the total fertility rate of women who publicly claim that men are disgusting pigs should be about 0 (in reality probably greater, but no less than 1). SJ has a lot of converts now due to an unprecedented media barrage, but this can’t be sustained for longer than 1 generation.

  82. Atlas says:

    If I were to describe the power of New Atheism over online discourse to a teenager, they would never believe me. Why should they? Other intellectual movements have left indelible marks in the culture; the heyday of hippiedom may be long gone, but time travelers visiting 1969 would not be surprised by the extent of Woodstock. But I imagine the same travelers visiting 2005, logging on to the Internet, and holy @#$! that’s a lot of atheism-related discourse what is going on here?

    This definitely fits with my experience of the internet as a Zoomer. (And provides a good excuse for a rant I wanted to make anyway that I hope isn’t too inflammatory. If it is, I will be happy to take it down and hang my head in appropriate shame and embarrassment. I apologize in advance for the no doubt many errors, instances of lack of charity, etc. Civilly inform me of my sins and I will try my best to repent. I know a lot of this is conflict theory, and I think that mistake theory is the enlightened path, and will try to transmute or abandon my beliefs accordingly when I’m feeling more sober-minded.)

    I grew up in a casually secular household. I vaguely understood as a kid that “atheism” was a movement, but never had any particular interest in it—I figured that it was correct but boring/obvious. I started reading about politics on the internet in the early-mid 2010s, and atheism seemed largely orthogonal to the debates that were going on. The closest I ever got to it was sometimes reading hilarious take-downs of Christopher Hitchens’ and Sam Harris’ views on foreign policy, but this was usually from people on the left who were probably themselves atheists. Everything was pretty good.

    (I really like citing evidence and being specific about claims in general, but I’m afraid that if I mention the actual object-level things I’m thinking about the thread will explode and I might catch a ban. I also really try to avoid “those who” assertions without providing evidence. So I’m going to be more euphemistic than I’d like, which I realize makes it seem more possible that I’m just making this up without solid factual grounds.)

    But something really changed in (especially my perception of) the culture circa 2015. I’ve written before that it felt like a rupture in the timeline to me. Gradually, extreme reactionaries, conspiracy theorists, comments sections, YouTube video guys and people with ideologies that I’d always been instructed were completely baseless and pure evil and so on started winning the Internet. I hated to admit it, but it seemed like they were generally pretty smart, winning lots of arguments and getting proven right about stuff a lot. And the weird thing was, and indeed is: it seemed like no one else who didn’t agree with them realized that this was going on. They just asserted without adducing evidence or arguments that they were wrong, called them names heavily loaded with negative affect, tried to censor them and just ignored them outright. Most of all, they focused to a remarkable degree on attacking from the left the mainstream conservatives that these guys were already so devastatingly attacking from the right. There’s this weird phenomenon where people on the left think that you can win the argument by proving that someone believes something, without ever having to explain why believing that thing is wrong. When this strategy failed to work, people, like Andrew Marantz in his recent book, were amazed: Are you really going to tell me that responding to people’s arguments with name calling, assertion from authority and censorship doesn’t convince them that those arguments are wrong?

    So I’ve read a lot more far-right material over the past few years than I would have previously expected. And I’ve noticed a change happening on the Internet more generally, but on the right-wing parts of it in particular:

    First, everyone agreed that, if you considered things logically, the New Atheists were probably right, but were really rude and obnoxious. (The sort of thing Scott talked about in his previous post on this subject.)

    Then, people started saying that, while the New Atheists’ arguments about philosophy, biology, etc. were correct, they were wrong to argue that religion was a major source of social/political ills. (E.g. The Irrational Atheist. Which I know technically merely elided the former arguments, but to me that’s as good as conceding them.)

    Next, they started saying that religion historically, and Christianity in particular, had been unfairly maligned. Edward Gibbon’s main anti-Christian thesis has been completely debunked by modern scholars, the Inquisition didn’t actually kill all that many heretics, the atheistic French revolutionary and 20th century communistic governments committed far worse crimes than any religious extremists, there’s little reason to believe that there’s a conflict in practice between science and religion, etc. (E.g. the author of What Hath God Wrought?, a very good book IMHO, often incidentally expressed this perspective, though it wasn’t a huge part of that book’s thesis.)

    After that, they started saying that, even though their religious beliefs were, technically speaking, probably incorrect, you just had to admit that G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Aquinas, etc. were men of amazing wit, learning, honesty, generosity, nobility and every other virtue that they could think of. Unlike those wretched New Atheist spokespeople, who you just have to admit are not very virtuous.

    A little while later, they started saying that, even though they personally aren’t religious, society is going to Hell in a hand-basket because people aren’t following the time-tested wisdom of religion, which provided an objective basis for morality. Religion provided community, tradition, guidance, etc. The atheists destroyed religion, but they didn’t leave anything better to guide society in its place. (A view e.g. propounded in strong form by Stefan Molyneux and Andrew Anglin, in a much less emphatic form by J. BP. )

    The next step was to say that religion is adaptive/genetically ingrained, and it’s advantageous to believe in it, whether or not it’s true. It lets you have a community, meet a qt chaste woman who wants to have lots of kids, be part of a glorious tradition, etc. (The former thing Nicholas Wade wrote about in The Faith Instinct, Eric Kaufmann wrote about in Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, and Razib Khan talks about occasionally on his blog. The latter thing is sort of what Houellebecq was saying in Submission.)

    When you’d digested that, the epic YouTube guys squad started “If x, how come y? Checkmate atheists”-ing. You just had to admit that Aquinas, Leibniz, Descartes, Augustine, Plantinga, Belloc, some Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox clergymen you’ve never heard of, etc. were all extremely smart, right? So they must have had some good reasons for believing. I mean, didn’t you just admit a few steps ago that GK Chesterton and CS Lewis are extremely epic? If you think they’re so epic, why do think that they were wrong about the most important thing that they believed? And besides, what about all these gaping holes in Darwinism that new evidence has exposed, and the great documentary evidence we have for the Gospels, and… [etc. etc.]? (Thinking here of guys like Owen Benjamin, E. Michael Jones, Jay Dyer, Vox Day, etc.)

    And when you’ve broken down and reached the final step, Dr. Jones is happy to tell you who the real enemies of the Church are, you know, just who today carries on the legacy of the Pharisees who killed Christ and rejected his Logos. I mean, it says it right there in the scripture that they are enemies of all mankind, and of their father, the devil! What, are you some edgy Internet atheist with unfashionable taste in headgear who’s questioning the veracity of scripture and rudely attacking people’s religious beliefs?

    When Jones—described by the Myth of the 20th Century podcast as the “modern-day GK Chesterton”— said that in a YouTube video that was popular on what I call the Leading-Indicator Right, something inside me snapped. Scott’s talked about this experience before of unwittingly watching an epistemic superweapon being built before your eyes and not realizing what was going on until it was finished and pointed at you.

    At each stage of this superweapon’s construction, I didn’t see anything threatening, and I didn’t see anyone arguing intelligently against it. (I think Bill Maher and Sam Harris were busy patting themselves on the back for cleverly pointing out for the 1000th time that feminists are hypocrites for not criticizing Islam and that the WBC sucks.) I was complacently nodding along that, yeah, GK Chesterton is extremely awesome, and Edward Gibbon was an ignoramus who didn’t know anything about Roman history, and, when you think about it, Galileo was actually treated pretty well for a guy who had the utter temerity to criticize the pope, and the sense of community and tradition that religion provides sure is the bee’s knees, and [Zizek voice, snort] so on and so forth.

    But now, I am totally ready to start studying all those atheist arguments that were allegedly so trite and faux-edgy and gauche that it feels like no one intelligent has bothered to seriously make them since 2013 or so when I started reading the Internet. I really, really don’t want to yield a single inch of ground on this beyond what is tactically necessary, because it seems like so much has been slowly, subtly, but surely, given up already. If we could push things back in a full intellectual reconquista to step one, that would be great, but if we can only get people to have to admit (as per e.g. Enlightenment Now) that society has not in fact demonstrably gotten worse as religion has declined, I’d take it.

    It was extremely refreshing to read some stuff from Luke Muelhauser’s old blog, linked on the sidebar of SSC, because it felt like the first time I’d ever seen someone smart make reasonably analytical, knowledgeable and fair-minded arguments against religion. (As opposed to e.g. low-IQ and not even funny juvenile taunts about pasta monsters.) I’m hoping that there’s more good stuff like that in Early Atheist Internet Culture, especially with regards to history.

    • Psycicle says:

      The parent blog has gone downhill, as all atheist blogs have, but there was an old site called Ebon Musings with a bunch of essays from the before time. Said essays are reprinted here. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/ . Specifically, “A Ghost in the Machine” was what deconverted me, although looking back at it I can’t see why it felt like such a big deal. A lot of it is worth reading, and it’s also a fabulous time capsule to the age when the “fundies” were the main thing argued against. At the time I had backslid to a vague mix of omniloving christianity and woo so a lot of atheist arguments did nothing due to being targeted at that particular strain of believer. I just went “yup, creationism is dumb, bible isn’t infallible, what’s the big deal”, and “A Ghost in the Machine” was notable for directly hitting one of the few weak points left in the belief structure, the existence of the soul.

    • James Banks says:

      The account of a progression is interesting. To me, it sounds almost like a non-sequitur to get to the anti-Semitic step from all the others. Why is it that so many Christians aren’t anti-Semitic, and why did these atheists attracted to Christianity step into anti-Semitism instead of a different kind of Christianity? I think there’s both a “genetic” and “epigenetic” parallel in religion (“scriptural” and “episcriptural”), which might explain. Texts are read by individuals, but most are members of some kind of community which conditions their reading, and most are reading them for a purpose. So much so that in a practical sense, the Bible that the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible pillories is not the same as that of a mature Christian using it for the purposes of “loving God and people”, which are supposedly its guiding principles — even if they are the same translation. Similarly it’s a different text, in effect, than an alt-right person reading it for anti-liberal or racist purposes.

      I’ve thought (as a non-atheist), that atheist humanists might be more pragmatic about their use of energy and not worry so much about religion per se, but more about the specific versions of religions that exist. No need to be anti-Christian or anti-theist, just make sure that theists live up to the humanistic principles in their own books, and “switch off the gene expression” for whatever is not humanistic. Perhaps even going so far as to become apologists for belief in God and Christ and the Bible in the right episcriptural context.

      • Atlas says:

        I’ve thought (as a non-atheist), that atheist humanists might be more pragmatic about their use of energy and not worry so much about religion per se, but more about the specific versions of religions that exist. No need to be anti-Christian or anti-theist, just make sure that theists live up to the humanistic principles in their own books, and “switch off the gene expression” for whatever is not humanistic. Perhaps even going so far as to become apologists for belief in God and Christ and the Bible in the right episcriptural context.

        Indeed, I think there’s wisdom in this. Given what we know (Haidt/Tetlock/Kahneman/Taleb etc.) about how hard and painful it is to change our minds, I think it’s probably wise to offer people you disagree with a face-saving middle-ground that they can withdraw to with their dignity still mostly intact.

    • Randy M says:

      Interesting post Atlas. I guess the trouble with movements is, they keep moving.

    • Nick says:

      This is really interesting.

      It’s funny that you entered the Internet in the 2010s; I entered in the late Bush era, 2006-2008, and everything was pervasively religion vs. atheism just as Scott describes. At the places I was frequenting (won’t mention them by name), the pro-Chesterton, anti-Gibbon, anti-Galileo, etc. stuff was not around yet, and it was pretty lonely to be the guy defending Catholicism; I had at the time the sense that the “enemy” always had pages and pages of arguments they could link to, and I didn’t, and if only I could build something up I could stop wasting my time rehearsing the same arguments over and over. (Apparently, per Scott, this stuff existed for the Young Earth Creationist folks, but I was not one of them!)

      It was only around my junior year of high school, 2011-2012 or so, that that began to develop, or at least that I began to find it. I learned about the Catholic blogosphere, I started finding a lot of smart and eloquent people making my arguments a lot better than I was, and I was learning a lot. And that stuff wasn’t coming out of Enn Arr Ex or all-trite folks—they didn’t exist yet! Some of these folks might have ended up in those movements later (I can think of a handful of examples), but the intellectual groundwork really predated that. Long predated people like Jones or even Peterson.

      And for what it’s worth, @Atlas, I am still happy to keep having those debates, without anti-Semitism or whatever other gifts Jones brings to the table. As you can see last thread, where I was discussing the Unmoved Mover. (Not with great alacrity, I’m afraid; I feel like I kind of let @thevoiceofthevoid down there by not responding in full. But it illustrates my point all the same.) Because I am frankly sick to death of the post-God elements of the new right and would like to keep having a better form of the arguments I was having back in 2006, with smarter, more charitable opponents, who have already absorbed some of the points I’m prepared to make.

      • matthewravery says:

        I entered in the late Bush era, 2006-2008, and everything was pervasively religion vs. atheism just as Scott describes

        I’m sure you didn’t literally mean everything, but it’s still better to avoid such sweeping statements. I feel like I was a pretty heavily-engaged internet user since well before 2006, and I find that I missed this whole discussion. Or at least, I found it to be something that some people cared about a lot but I didn’t really, and so at most it was background noise. Like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or something like that. I think I heard/saw people discuss this more IRL/on TV/in print than on the internet, TBH.

        So what I’m saying is, even back in 2006, the internet was a big place, and it was certainly big enough for an issue like NA to be central to one person’s experience and entirely absent from another’s.

      • Atlas says:

        It’s funny that you entered the Internet in the 2010s; I entered in the late Bush era, 2006-2008, and everything was pervasively religion vs. atheism just as Scott describes. At the places I was frequenting (won’t mention them by name), the pro-Chesterton, anti-Gibbon, anti-Galileo, etc. stuff was not around yet, and it was pretty lonely to be the guy defending Catholicism; I had at the time the sense that the “enemy” always had pages and pages of arguments they could link to, and I didn’t, and if only I could build something up I could stop wasting my time rehearsing the same arguments over and over. (Apparently, per Scott, this stuff existed for the Young Earth Creationist folks, but I was not one of them!)

        It was only around my junior year of high school, 2011-2012 or so, that that began to develop, or at least that I began to find it. I learned about the Catholic blogosphere, I started finding a lot of smart and eloquent people making my arguments a lot better than I was, and I was learning a lot. And that stuff wasn’t coming out of Enn Arr Ex or all-trite folks—they didn’t exist yet! Some of these folks might have ended up in those movements later (I can think of a handful of examples), but the intellectual groundwork really predated that. Long predated people like Jones or even Peterson.

        I definitely empathize with the experience you describe of finding it demoralizing to be a lone voice staking out a position on “enemy” territory with no clear home ground to retreat to. And what you said about finding arguments that you hadn’t known before existed is, I think, very important: as Nassim Taleb writes in The Black Swan, we don’t know what we don’t know. As Scott has written about before, it seemed like communism had the best arguments on its side for a while…until it was put into practice and crashed and burned and became largely discredited.

        It seems like there’s been a pretty big shift in Internet culture (at least in the perception of readers of this blog) over the past 10-12 years. This reminds me of a thought I’ve had about the left-wing podcast Chapo Trap House, which I generally quite like. They market themselves as hip, Internet-savvy youngsters, but it seems to me that their formative experience of the Internet (and politics more broadly) was mid Bush-late Obama era. Their perception of the right is based on neoconservatism, Protestant evangelical Christianity, Boomers, emphatic support for capitalism, pro-Zionism, reverence for the Constitution, centrist prestige press opinion columnists, message board posters, the Tea Party, supporting the Republicans vs. the Democrats, and using awkward euphemistic language around race.

        By contrast, my perception of the right is based on paleoconservatism, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, Zoomers, relative indifference to capitalism vs. socialism, anti-Zionism, indifference or contempt for the Constitution, YouTube channels, 4chan’s politics board, hating politicians generally and using extremely clear and emphatic language about their feelings about other races and religions.

        So I really have to roll my eyes whenever Chapo pats itself on the back for destroying David French or Jerry Falwell, jr. or Bill Kristol or whoever its typical target of the week is. Maybe that’s where the center of conservatism was when they were first introduced to Internet political culture, but it’s changed drastically since then, as e.g. the recent spate of Charlie Kirk campus Q & As suggests.

        And for what it’s worth, @Atlas, I am still happy to keep having those debates, without anti-Semitism or whatever other gifts Jones brings to the table. As you can see last thread, where I was discussing the Unmoved Mover. (Not with great alacrity, I’m afraid; I feel like I kind of let @thevoiceofthevoid down there by not responding in full. But it illustrates my point all the same.) Because I am frankly sick to death of the post-God elements of the new right and would like to keep having a better form of the arguments I was having back in 2006, with smarter, more charitable opponents, who have already absorbed some of the points I’m prepared to make.

        Cool, and I greatly appreciate the civil and informative debates/discussions about subjects like religion that go on here. (And actually I recently had a thought about sin and alleged free will that I was eager to write up for an OT.) I’ve certainly learned something from the insightful contributions of many Christian SSC commenters like yourself.

        • Nick says:

          This reminds me of a thought I’ve had about the left-wing podcast Chapo Trap House, which I generally quite like. They market themselves as hip, Internet-savvy youngsters, but it seems to me that their formative experience of the Internet (and politics more broadly) was mid Bush-late Obama era. Their perception of the right is based on neoconservatism, Protestant evangelical Christianity, Boomers, emphatic support for capitalism, pro-Zionism, reverence for the Constitution, centrist prestige press opinion columnists, message board posters, the Tea Party, supporting the Republicans vs. the Democrats, and using awkward euphemistic language around race.

          Okay, I feel like I have to ask this now, since the question has been on my mind since the last time you mentioned Chapo. So my impression from others’ general descriptions was basically what you describe, and I’ve only watched exactly one of their episodes (it was the interview with Matthew Walther, if you’re curious). This general description is that they’re trying to be the new dirtbag left, heaping scorn on the neocons and Clintonite wing of the Democrats alike. That sort of pose I can certainly understand, and everyone seems to consistently describe Chapo this way.

          But then when I encounter discussion of particular content from them, they’re not doing this. Instead they’re making fun of Rod Dreher, or Ross Douthat, who are both apparently common targets. And, like, do Chapo realize how out of the mainstream a Reformocon conservative Catholic pundit like Ross is? Or paleo Crunchy Con turned BenOp Orthodox Rod? Like, these are some of the worst people to be regularly trashing if your beef is with neocons. Rod was one of the five journalists on the planet actually opposed to the war in Iraq when it was being proposed, so where the hell does he fit in their evil neocon shit list? I am for real here, courtesy of tvtropes, which never lies to me:

          The recurring segment “Chapo Reading Series” has one host (usually Will) reading aloud a particularly odious piece of writing by some kind of political pundit (most often Ross Douthat or Rod Dreher) while everyone relentlessly riffs on it.

          What the hell is going on here? Pace what you say, it sounds like they should be trashing David French and aren’t? At least he’s actually in favor of forever war and bloodless liberalism*. Are Chapo smarter than they realize? Have they been picking better targets and nobody noticed? I would think you’d have cottoned on if they had. But you have surely got way more context for these conflicting stories than I do, so please help me out.

          *Not seriously meant, if it isn’t clear

          • Atlas says:

            But then when I encounter discussion of particular content from them, they’re not doing this. Instead they’re making fun of Rod Dreher, or Ross Douthat, who are both apparently common targets. And, like, do Chapo realize how out of the mainstream a Reformocon conservative Catholic pundit like Ross is? Or paleo Crunchy Con turned BenOp Orthodox Rod? Like, these are some of the worst people to be regularly trashing if your beef is with neocons. Rod was one of the five journalists on the planet actually opposed to the war in Iraq when it was being proposed, so where the hell does he fit in their evil neocon shit list? I am for real here, courtesy of tvtropes, which never lies to me:

            I would conjecture that you might tend to read fora where Chapo episodes that mock Douthat or Dreher get more attention than ones that mock e.g. David Brooks or Jerry Falwell, jr.

            To answer your questions, I think their views are fundamentally distorted on Douthat and Dreher, as well as many other issues, by being conflict theorists. It doesn’t matter to them that Dreher was right about the Iraq War, because they think he’s wrong about social issues. Conversely, it doesn’t matter to them that Max Boot/Bret Stephens/David Frum agree with them on gay marriage, because they disagree on foreign policy.

            The TvTropes entry is right about the general character of the reading series, but I think it’s either outdated or was never accurate in describing Douthat and Dreher as the most common targets.

            What the hell is going on here? Pace what you say, it sounds like they should be trashing David French and aren’t? At least he’s actually in favor of forever war and bloodless liberalism*.

            Yeah, they love going after David French, as a search in this helpful archive demonstrates. I particularly liked the episode where they read and dunk on his article about being harassed by anime Nazis, because it somehow never occurs to them that maybe the literal avowed Nazis are a little bit more worrisome than National Review conservatism?

            More broadly, they definitely are emphatic in criticizing US foreign policy and its promoters (Henry Kissinger, John McCain, Elliot Abrams, etc.). Long-time readers of my posts are no doubt aware that I largely agree with their critiques, but I find it frustrating that they don’t seem to realize that an increasingly powerful brand of conservatism among young people owes a lot more to Pat Buchanan than George W. Bush in this regard.

            An almost parabolic example of this was when they showed up at CPAC to epically own Jacob Wohl and instead got owned by Nick Fuentes and his posse. Hmm, I wonder who’s a better representation of the future of conservatism 10-15 years hence, Jacob Wohl, or Nick Fuentes?

            Have they been picking better targets and nobody noticed? I would think you’d have cottoned on if they had. But you have surely got way more context for these conflicting stories than I do, so please help me out.

            I wish they had been, man. If they’d been paying closer attention, they’d have realized that E. Michael Jones and Owen Benjamin are more powerful forces of reaction than Ross Douthat and Rod Dreher. But, to them, Douthat might as well be a Falangist.

          • Nick says:

            @Atlas
            Thanks, I didn’t know there was an archive with full transcripts and everything, and it looks like French is indeed a lot better represented. Also a lot of Jonah Goldberg and some Stephens and Boot.

            Maybe the tvtropes folks just love the Dreher and Douthat readalongs?

    • Dan L says:

      So I’ve read a lot more far-right material over the past few years than I would have previously expected. And I’ve noticed a change happening on the Internet more generally, but on the right-wing parts of it in particular:

      As an aside, I bet sensitivity to this pattern is a good chunk of the reason SSC gets accused of being crypto-Right. I think Scott is correct to dispute it, but it’s not for nothing he occasionally gets included in descriptions of the IDW.

    • EchoChaos says:

      One thing to be aware of is that the fact that there are bad people on one side does not mean that everything that side says is wrong.

      One of the great things that Steve Pinker said was that a risk of mainstreaming denying obvious facts (he was talking about race, but it fits here) is that the first time someone hears these obvious facts they are hearing it from a crazy far-right/left person who also smuggles in a pile of crazy.

      If internet atheists are denying that Chesterton and Aquinas are brilliant and erudite men, then the first time someone who hasn’t read them cracks open Orthodoxy, he’s going to realize the internet atheists are full of shit.

      What you need is to build a sustainable ideology that can combine “yes, Chesterton and Aquinas are brilliant, and that doesn’t mean that we have to kill Jews”. Note that mainstream Christianity already has this ideology, so you don’t exactly have to reinvent the wheel.

      And that requires not lying about history, because if you require people to believe that Christianity caused the fall of the Roman Empire to buy your ideology, your ideology is not going to win.

      • Atlas says:

        One thing to be aware of is that the fact that there are bad people on one side does not mean that everything that side says is wrong.

        Indeed—I think that’s a/the fundamental difference between mistake and conflict theory. I think the ability of mistake theory to integrate good arguments from the “other side” is a great strength that makes it more adaptable and less fragile than conflict theory.

        And that requires not lying about history, because if you require people to believe that Christianity caused the fall of the Roman Empire to buy your ideology, your ideology is not going to win.

        True enough. However, my perspective on this has changed somewhat since seeing the superweapon. I now perceive, rightly or wrong, a difference between a historical thesis about the Roman Empire and Christianity and, say, the Qin dynasty and Legalism. The latter is something that I view as relatively domain-limited and disinterested, but I have become very sensitive to how the former can be used to help create a partisan cross-domain thesis of “Christianity is great, society should be structured around it and people who don’t accept it are bad.”

        So I’d definitely want to avoid making false or over-bold claims in response. But I’d be very interested in constructing counter-arguments like: “The apex of Christianity, and particularly Roman Catholicism’s, influence in the West circa 400-1400 AD was not an era of unique or exceptional peace, justice, scientific discovery, artistic achievement, commerce or martial prowess compared to rival contemporary civilizations or the pagan eras before it and the Protestant and secular eras after it. It may still have made a positive, commendable and necessary contribution to the maintenance and rebirth of civilization, but it cannot be fairly maintained that the historical record suggests either that societies must organized around Christianity/Roman Catholicism in order to flourish or that such organization is sufficient to ensure such flourishing.”

        Such an argument—which I concocted rather hastily and am by no means wedded to—has, to my eyes, the virtue of sabotaging part of the superweapon while placing the onus for seeming to “go out on a limb” argumentatively on its opponents.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          But I’d be very interested in constructing counter-arguments like: “The apex of Christianity, and particularly Roman Catholicism’s, influence in the West circa 400-1400 AD was not an era of unique or exceptional peace, justice, scientific discovery, artistic achievement, commerce or martial prowess compared to rival contemporary civilizations or the pagan eras before it and the Protestant and secular eras after it. It may still have made a positive, commendable and necessary contribution to the maintenance and rebirth of civilization, but it cannot be fairly maintained that the historical record suggests either that societies must organized around Christianity/Roman Catholicism in order to flourish or that such organization is sufficient to ensure such flourishing.”

          That would be a fun argument to have! I love historical arguments.

          I think the general line of counterattack (or is it counter-counterattack at this point?) would be linking the relative deprivation and “darkness” of the, er, Dark Ages with the constant barbarian* assaults on the periphery of Europe (Huns, Saracens, Berbers, Vikings, Magyars over a couple of centuries) coupled with the ongoing conversion of Europeans (in 476 Christianity was mostly confined to the Roman Empire, and not all that well-established in the West). Then, you can start arguing Christendom at the time of Charlemagne, and compare the societies of the Middle and High Middle Ages with their contemporaries.

          The hardest obstacle is explaining away Song China, but I think it could be done.

          *here meaning non-Christian non-European

          • Jaskologist says:

            This is the argument SSC should be having.

          • Atlas says:

            I think the general line of counterattack (or is it counter-counterattack at this point?) would be linking the relative deprivation and “darkness” of the, er, Dark Ages with the constant barbarian* assaults on the periphery of Europe (Huns, Saracens, Berbers, Vikings, Magyars over a couple of centuries) coupled with the ongoing conversion of Europeans (in 476 Christianity was mostly confined to the Roman Empire, and not all that well-established in the West).

            True enough, but to me the consequent question is why the rise of Christianity, and more specifically the Roman Catholic Church, didn’t manage to reverse the decline of the pagan Roman Empire and do a better job of creating a unified temporal Leviathan that no kingdom of unbelievers could stand against?

            To be clear, I don’t necessarily think that Christianity/the Catholic Church necessarily did a bad job in this regard, given the external material circumstances, I just don’t see that it did the kind of spectacular job that I would expect it to have done if it had access to very important knowledge about how the world works that Mohammedans and Chinamen didn’t.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            why the rise of Christianity, and more specifically the Roman Catholic Church, didn’t manage to reverse the decline of the pagan Roman Empire and do a better job of creating a unified temporal Leviathan that no kingdom of unbelievers could stand against?

            Ah, but did it not? The far more Christian East survived the storms that brought down the more pagan-ish West in the 5th century. For a few centuries, the Roman Empire continued to be Leviathan that no kingdom of believer could stand against – Justinian thrashed the Persians with only half an Empire, utterly destroyed the Vandal and Gothic Kingdoms, and was making inroads into Spain and Gaul. Plague and court politic stopped Leviathan then. A century later, Heraclius drove the Persians back from the gates of Constantinople itself.

            It was Islam that finally brought down the Empire, in successive battering waves of first Arabs (whom the Empire outlasted), then Seljuk Turks (whom the Empire outlasted), and finally Ottomans (after the Empire was stabbed in the back by their Catholic “brothers”), in the meantime enduring invasions of Avars, Maygars, Slavs, Bulgars, Huns, etc.

            That’s one argument. If you point out that Islam seems to have done a better job, well, obviously Islam was created by the Devil to bring down God-fearing civilization. u_u*

            The other half of the argument is that once the West finally became Christian under the Carolingans they created their own superstate in the West, beating up the pagans so hard that finally even the Norse decided to give up and just convert because clearly the Christian God was better. Rinse and repeat for the Americas, Africa, etc.

            Still leaves the nagging problem of why Christianity failed to conquer China and Japan, of course.

            *I do not actually believe this please don’t crucify me on Twitter in 15 years

          • The original Mr. X says:

            True enough, but to me the consequent question is why the rise of Christianity, and more specifically the Roman Catholic Church, didn’t manage to reverse the decline of the pagan Roman Empire and do a better job of creating a unified temporal Leviathan that no kingdom of unbelievers could stand against?

            Because otherwise people would have come to see “Christendom” and “The Roman Empire” as interchangeable, hampering efforts to spread the Faith to non-Roman parts of the world.

          • Jaskologist says:

            why the rise of Christianity, and more specifically the Roman Catholic Church, didn’t manage to reverse the decline of the pagan Roman Empire and do a better job of creating a unified temporal Leviathan that no kingdom of unbelievers could stand against?

            Christianity promises eternal life, but via resurrection rather than never-dying immortality. Western Civ lived out in large what believers experience in small; it died but was resurrected.

      • Ant says:

        Aquinas’s arguments against atheism are really poor by today’s standard and easy to refute for an atheist(try google and you will see my point). The few I saw of Chesterton didn’t impress me(Chesterton’s fence is a variation of the precaution principle, and I consider it a sophism only employed when you don’t have any good argument: if the benefice/cost is in favor of action, you don’t need to consider the past). That doesn’t mean that Aquinas and Chesterton weren’t intelligent, just that smart people can write bad arguments.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I’ll politely disagree with both points, but that’s not the main gist of what we’re discussing.

          The main point of @Atlas’s post was that the initial wave of New Atheists initially denigrated Christian thinkers entirely, which is easy to refute because they were clearly great and smart men (even if they were wrong). If your movement relies at a base level on an easy to refute assertion, it’s going to be hard to persuade people who look deeply.

          • Nick says:

            For example: I distinctly remember an Amazing Atheist video where he claims not only that Aquinas’s proofs are wrong, but that Aquinas himself is an imbecile for ever writing such stupid things in the first place. (Not going to try to find it while I’m at work.)

        • quanta413 says:

          Chesterton’s fence is superficially kind of like the precautionary principle, but I think not actually much like it. Because it’s often very hard to gather the sort of information you need to override the precautionary principle because it’s typically about dealing with things that have not occurred before. Whereas overriding Chesterton’s fence will often mean reading what people in the past wrote down or what they did and thinking about whether why they put up X fence still applies.

          The way to look at it is that just because you run a cost/benefit analysis doesn’t mean that will be the actual costs and benefits. Existing institutions typically evolved for some reason and are better than nothing in some dimension. So to actually do a correct cost/benefit analysis you need to know why they exist in the first place. If you know why, then you probably understand the tradeoffs at hand and can choose to tear down the fence.

          • Aapje says:

            Yes, I would argue that the correct lesson is that people should consider the potential costs of change more and that they shouldn’t take the benefits of the current situation for granted.

            I think that people who advocate for change often only consider the improvements compared to the status quo, not the ways in which is considers some things to be worse.

        • maxmaria says:

          “Aquinas’s arguments against atheism are really poor by today’s standard and easy to refute for an atheist(try google and you will see my point).” — A laughable assertion. The very fact that anyone thinks that they can just Google refutations shows just how intellectually lazy and stupid the average Internet Atheist really is.

          No, it turns out that NONE of Aquinas’s arguments have been rationally or even honestly refuted AT ALL. All one needs to do is examine them carefully and look at modern philosophers like Ed Feser who have shown the errors of the Moderns–in fact those arguments are NOT refuted, unless you go by intellectual lightweights who dominate Atheist forums–who are supported by Google and the other search providers, BTW, while they intentionally obscure rebuttals.

          In reality entirely intelligent, rational, logical people who understand science as well or better than you DO NOT agree with the ludicrous “there is no evidence” claim forwarded by Atheism Cultists, and no, none of the argumetns have been convincingly refuted.

          We have ample evidence in contemporary science that irrefutably supports the ancient proofs, too.

          Simply put, ATheism is stupid. It’s irrational. It’s a religious belief. And it’s not defensible. It is also not “Lack of Belief.” It is an identitarian religious cult that cannot defend its own belifes, and which can only defeat religious argumetns by strawmanning and lying.

          It also, again, makes the average Internet Atheist not just stupid, but obnoxious, shallow, condescending, and hateful to be around.

          Thank the God that irrefutably has been proven to exist to rational minds has been proven to any rational standard. The only thing left is to see what we can do to undo the Indoctrination brought out by the ideological Atheism cult that took over the Internet and the universities.

          There’s really no reason, until Atheist stop lying and pretending that we the religious are stupid, irrational, dangerous, etc., for religious people to even be polite to Atheists. When you say we have no evidence you lie; when you claim all our proofs have been debunked, you lie. When you sneer at us, you deserve to be shunned.

          We have evidence that convinces us. It’s VERY good evidence never debunked, so even if YOU find it unconvincing, that is entirely your own arbitrary personal choice; you really have no science or anything else to back up your atheism.

          BTW, the studies claiming atheists are smarter than the majority of the human race are easily debunked too.

          Sorry, you just bought a bunch of religious dogma you thought was rational. Atheism is stupid, especially Internet Atheism and New Atheism–and anyone using Google results to prove their points should be mocked as a charlatan and a lightweight.

  83. Simon_Jester says:

    The thing is, a lot of the social justice bloggers who emerged out of Internet atheism are still atheists. They’ve just decided that specifically fighting religion isn’t going to help with whatever object-level problems they perceive with society., or that the problem is caused by a mix of factors. They’re about as hostile to, say, fundamentalist evangelicals as they ever were. They just don’t focus [i]only[/i] on fighting fundies.

  84. illumina says:

    I don’t want to dwell on this too much. I don’t have a great sense of how this era went, since it was around the time I unfollowed every atheist blog and forum for the sake of my own sanity, but my impression is that some of the Atheism Plussers later admitted they came on a little too strong and dropped that particular branding.

    Legitimately suprised that you missed the defining event that split the anti-Islam, antifeminist Dawkins-ites in the NAM from the skeptics that became social justice bloggers.

    Turns out, people had over-invested in this central banner and the fiction that Atheists were “more rational” just because they rejected a small number of very specific narratives about the world.

    Since the Discovery Institute has literally moved onto blockchain cash-grabs (I got served up an ad for them) the world has moved onto Qanon, Flat earthers, Antivaxxers, Wi-fi allergies, and as humanists the need to protect others from harm remains.

  85. luispedro says:

    ‘New Atheism’ lost at least some points for being wrong.

    I used to call myself an atheist before New Atheism and I am on board with all of the basic premises (creationism/homeopathy/astrology are all false, evolution is true &c &c), but the movement went well beyond that.

    ‘The God Delusion’ is embarrassingly bad in its historical analyses (I forget details, but it tries to pin everything on religion to a laughable degree; I just don’t see Dawkins as a serious thinker). Sam Harris’ ethical reasoning is stronger and defensible, but does not readily derive from science as much as he claims it does (it’s a philosophically valid P.O.V., but not “correct” in the same way that Darwinism is correct). Hitchens is dead and I just had to google for who The fourth Horseman was again, so I don’t really know enough to comment on his work.

    • illumina says:

      This as well.

      What happened to NAM? We bought their books and felt like we knew them.

      Until we had the opportunity through the internet to *listen* to them, to see their blogs and vlogs and tweets and screeds.

      I visited the JREF and enjoyed meeting Randi, but many “Skeptics” I admired turned out to hold out disdain not just for woo, but held archaic and terrible views, and in the end provided us the IDW, the non-religious “Alt-right”, TERFs which bond with Christian groups, and Dawkins has been hawking Christian endeavors that would enforce his values on society.
      https://skepchick.org/2019/09/richard-dawkins-loves-evangelicals-if-they-hate-social-justice/

      Without God, how do you define morality? Do you appeal to humanism, or do you become some Randroid “master of your own destiny”?

      It is also not surprising that the Cato, Libertarian atheists and later the IDW move to this position, and the people who thought we were all “in it” together observe that the atheists who seek power and religious zealots started working hand in hand. Started sounding alike. Resonated in a voice that we’d ignored under the illusion of solidarity.

      So, both “sides” see value in collaborating with religious persons who can help them get their ideal world.

      The old NAM deities have began working their version of the grifter circuit, gladhanding evangelicals and inviting in the Jordan Peterson “evo-psych” woo.

      Pharyngula still posts about old skeptic-y topics, but I think the Atheism+ crowd is absolutely willing to work with churches not to support God, but to support the individuals that go there.

      I’ve volunteered for some local politics to help reduce local police shootings, stood by the Nation of Islam, Hubbard-followers these days! But if their members are being targeted explicitly because of race, I’m protecting their humanity and most importantly not dehumanizing or ceding anything. This is not seizing power in some zero sum game, this is a necessary ceding decades and hundreds and in many cases thousands of years in the making.

    • John Lynch says:

      I’m a protestant Christian, and I’m on board with the basic premises ((creationism/homeopathy/astrology are all false, evolution is true &c &c). Just as Atheists are diverse in their ideas, so are Christians.

      I take the view that everyone has a religion, and I like my religion to be honest about what it is. I think some very, very rationally minded people can escape having a set of beliefs that function as a religion, but I don’t see it very often. Usually, they end up being nihilists, which I think is the only honest place you can end up if you totally reject religion. The New Atheist’s God was human progress. If you are honest, you realize that given the scale of the universe, we don’t matter and human progress is an illusion. History doesn’t run in one direction, there is no morality other than what we construct, etc.

      Communism was a religion while claiming to be atheistic, their God being History. I’d argue the current SJ movement is a religion. It’s not based on science. Believers did not arrive at their conclusions by ruling out all other possible causes for racial and gender disparities. It came out of literary criticism, not social science, and what social-science support there seems to be from sociology and psychology, not the most rigorous fields.

  86. AllAmericanBreakfast says:

    One of the odd things Scott leaves out of his account is that America has a centuries-old and vivid history of bloody struggle between supporters and opponents of racism and sexism. Genocide of the first nations, slavery, voting restrictions, Jim Crow, the war on drugs. We don’t have anything on that scale between atheists and religious people. This country has always had fairly strong laws to protect freedom of religion, even though they stemmed from times when almost the entire white population in power was Christian. Were the Stalinist and Maoists communists considered evil because they were atheist, or because they were (and are) slaughtering religious people and repressing religious practice?

    Maybe what happened is that atheists realized that we’ve got it pretty good on balance, and that racism and sexism really are much worse. Maybe they also realized that religious people are mostly harming each other, and that the religious aspect of conflicts may be more a propagandist’s tool than something inherent to the belief structure, especially in the modern era. Maybe atheists won the battles they needed to fight, mostly keeping religion out of the biology classroom, and realized that the internet had put the kibosh on the ability of censorship to do more than slow the flow of ideas and that the culture was trending in their favor. Maybe the New Atheists were just wrong, and they eventually realized it through rational discussion and returned to the ancient war against sexism and racism that has been the legacy of this country since Columbus hit like a meteor on the shores of Guanahani.

    That would be right in line with their stated preference for acting on rational beliefs about the state of the world.

    • onyomi says:

      I think your view of what American history is all about may be colored by current trends Scott is trying to take a step back from. Sure, race and gender have been divisive issues to some extent all through American history, as they must be throughout the history of any place inhabited by more than one race and sex, but to claim that they have been the central issues animating most of the struggles on this continent since 1492 is a much stronger, and, I think, hard to defend claim–one a lot fewer people would have made ten (or thirty or fifty or one hundred) years ago and, perhaps also ten or twenty years hence.

      • AllAmericanBreakfast says:

        Even if you’re right that fewer people in the past would have viewed American history through a racial conflict lens, they might simply have been misguided. Or the discipline of anthropology or historiography might have needed more time to mature. It may be that people will adopt an equal or even stronger version of a racial lens in the future. Who knows?

      • zzzzort says:

        I’m pretty sure that the civil war was understood to be about slavery from the get go, and that race relations was a major political question both before and after. The biggest incidences of violence in the US, the civil war, settler-native conflicts, and Jim Crow were all clearly racially motivated. A quick perusal of Wikipedia’s list of civil unrest shows that well more than half were racially motivated. Abolitionism, women’s suffrage, and women’s liberation were all mass movements. There were other mass movements, and maybe you could view history as a struggle vs. intoxicants, but you can’t say that a concern with racism and sexism came out of nowhere.

    • sharper13 says:

      Curious based on one possible interpretation of your comment:
      Do you believe racism and sexism was a dominant/prevalent belief system/problem in North America before Columbus arrived or that it wasn’t?

      • AllAmericanBreakfast says:

        I’m sure it’s a nuanced issue with rather limited evidence. Certainly there was tribal conflict with gender roles informing culture.

        I have to acknowledge that I don’t feel historically, anthropological, or philosophically prepared to analyze pre-Columbus tribal cultures and tie them into some sort of moral analysis. That’s beyond my pay grade.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This is a hard topic to talk about, because I neither want to go 100% cultural-relativism “there is no truth of the matter, only different narratives”, nor go 100% Whig “the truth is exactly what we believe right now and everyone else was just stupid”. I think my actual position is more Kuhnian, so try to take it from that perspective.

      I think a pure New Atheist (so pure that maybe the type doesn’t exist anymore) would have a narrative available fitting all history into science vs. religion. It would start with Galileo and have a lot more in that vein. History would be seen as the struggle of Progress to emerge from the swampy waters of Superstition, and like everything else, it would work as long as you were willing to massage things a little.

      And when it seems obvious to you that US history since Columbus has been about racism, I think that’s seen through just such a narrative. Someone a few steps back might be able to see the English declaring the Native Americans “savages” and conquering/colonizing their lands to be as non-racially-charged as the Romans declaring the Celts “barbarians” and conquering/colonizing their lands. They might see it in the context of the English doing the same thing at the same time to the Irish (I know modern race theorists would say the Irish weren’t “constructed as white”, but I wonder what the same people who pointed out holes in the Galileo narrative would do if they were incentivized to work on that one). They might even see it in the context of the English showing contempt for, evicting/killing, and colonizing the territory of the Borderers, who were ethnically basically English themselves. To such a person, the obviousness with which moderns know that conflicts are 100% about race and not about any of the other things they might be about would seem a weird narrative blindness, the same as a New Atheist who relates everything to the Science vs. Religion conflict.

      I think if you haven’t spent a lot of time trying to deconstruct the modern paradigm and see how many weird ways you can build it up again (eg without including a term for racism at all), you’re likely to get led really astray here.

      • AllAmericanBreakfast says:

        I think a pure New Atheist (so pure that maybe the type doesn’t exist anymore) would have a narrative available fitting all history into science vs. religion. It would start with Galileo and have a lot more in that vein.

        And I’m sure they could go further into the past, with everything prior to the rudiments of the scientific method as an almost hopeless fumbling in the religious dark.

        The point I’m trying to make is that although we’d be wrong to make any single one of these Manichean historical lenses – Science vs. Religion, Racism vs. Equality, Protectionism vs. Markets, the list goes on – our explanation for how things came to be as they are, some of them do make much more sense, at least intuitively, for a particular place and time. Especially as a historical explanation with moral weight.

        Even though we can find plenty of examples of religion holding back progress, it’s very difficult to make a compelling case that religion is a purely evil force in the world. We can find plenty of scientists, mathematicians, and progressive philosophers who were and are religious people. We can find religious activism and ideals that we can respect. Many atheists have had positive encounters with religious folks. Some of us even have this strange urge to find the good and leave the rest in religion.

        By contrast, it is much easier to cast racism and sexism as the original sins, at least in America. And of course people didn’t used to do that as much – it was a much more racist and sexist time! There is nothing we like about either racism or sexism. There is no countervailing good. We’d happily wish it expunged from the planet. Christopher Hitchens might have felt that way about religion, but would he have advocated punching priests? Would any of the New Atheists, or any of their followers? Could the ethics and efficacy of priest punching as anti-religious activism ever have been debated as widely and seriously as Nazi punching?

        An Oregon woman was written up in the Guardian recently, because she’s chosen to spend her time cosplaying a 50s housewife. She’s got the whole house decorated in the style, she thinks that husbands need to be spoiled. The reaction from the feminist op-ed writer was predictable: “good on her for using her feminist empowerment to live her dream, but let’s all remember that those times were horrible for women.”

        If someone decided to cosplay a Nazi wife, KKK member, slave plantation owner, or a rapist, would we find the same grudging tolerance among op-ed writers? Probably not, because all those costumes can’t be interpreted in any way except a signal of truly reprehensible beliefs. I do find it distasteful that the imagery of Maoist China and Stalinist Russia is acceptable cosplay wear, but I look at it and I think: “these people are idiots,” not “these people are trying to signal their genuine support for a purge of the middle-class.” So it’s not my hill to die on. And as long as Stalinist communist costumes and imagery continue to signal marginal discontent with our imperfect economic system, I’ll continue to hold that position.

        So overall, I think that it makes sense for New Atheists to have shifted toward social justice themes because
        1) They were already invested in projecting outrage against an unqualified evil
        2) It became increasingly obvious that religion was not a convincing unqualified evil; neither is capitalism unless it’s defined tautologically as “whatever’s wrong with the system.”
        3) Racism and sexism are convincing unqualified evils, a few among many such as cancer, ransomware attacks on hospitals, or the genocide of the Rohingya.
        4) They were chosen out of other candidates because they are human-caused, historically salient and have been for decades or centuries, and local issues, and are thus a more compelling target for preaching about the outrageous state of our society.

        While I do think that racism and sexism are meaningful issues, it probably comes across in my post that I don’t think they’re the end-all be-all. But I do think that if someone’s going to preach against a social ill, they make much more sensible targets than religion. That is what I was trying to get across in my post above.

        • Aapje says:

          While I do think that racism and sexism are meaningful issues, it probably comes across in my post that I don’t think they’re the end-all be-all.

          I want to point out that there are different definitions of racism and sexism (just like ‘science, ‘markets,’ etc). You can fight against your definition of sexism, while I can believe that you are fighting for sexism.

          When a concept is anathema or holy, but many people actually don’t truly want it, a common approach is to subvert the definition.

        • Viliam says:

          it’s very difficult to make a compelling case that religion is a purely evil force in the world. We can find plenty of scientists, mathematicians, and progressive philosophers who were and are religious people.

          We can also find plenty of scientists, mathematicians, and progressive philosophers who had cancer. Does it make difficult to conclude that cancer is bad?

          If someone was religious simply because he lived at the place and time when not being religious got you killed, and then the person did something great, I would not count that as a positive aspect of religion. (Okay, a slightly positive aspect of that specific religion, because one could imagine even worse religion, which would outright kill all the scientists and ban all the science.)

          Now if people who previously didn’t give a fuck about science would suddenly become good scientists after religious conversion, that I would count as a positive thing. A thing done because of religion, not just regardless of religion, or even despite religion.

          • EchoChaos says:

            But there were absolutely scientists for whom religion was their primary and aggressive driver.

            Roger Bacon, William of Ockham, even Isaac Newton were not just “living in a place and time when not being religious got you killed”. Their view of the world was fundamentally Christian and they did their things because of Christianity.

            Yes, Christianity does get to take credit for them.

          • Enkidum says:

            In precisely the same way that the Ancient Greek pantheon gets to take credit for the origins of western philosophy, I guess?

            Which is to say, it does. Just there’s a lot more at play.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Enkidum

            I don’t know that any of the originators of Greek Philosophy were actual pagan priests.

          • AllAmericanBreakfast says:

            Religions can cause wars, wars motivate scientific and technological progress. Therefore religion promotes science.

            Religion can motivate a culture of scholarship, scholarship develops the logical, mathematical, and observational tools that contribute to science. Therefore religion promotes science.

            Religion promotes an attitude of compassion for suffering. That attitude of compassion leads to a search for effective ways to solve problems. This search requires science. Therefore religion promotes science.

            Religion ascribes mystical significance to worldly phenomena in a way that’s not related to survival and reproduction, such as the shapes of plants or the movements of the stars. That mystical significance leads to extraordinary efforts to observe the world more closely. Close observation of the world is fundamental to science. Therefore religion promotes science.

            Religion is the systematic, mass organization of belief in which some beliefs are designated wrong and others as right. Organizing our beliefs in a systematic way is fundamental to science. Religious dogma sets the intellectual stage for the concept of truth. Religion is a necessary precondition for science.

            What unites these arguments is that they hypothesize that religion was the midwife of civilization as it gave slow, painful birth to science. This might be wrong, but it at least leaves room for the possibility.

            The question remains whether it’s necessary or useful anymore. Clearly religion in the modern era does sometimes stand in conflict with science and civilization. But we can also find many examples in which religion is making itself compatible with modern sensibilities and providing resources that we know are good for people, such as community, structure, networking opportunities, and pro-social values.

            As an atheist, I prefer a future in which healthy, open-minded religion remains to one in which it vanishes. Though it is mostly only a little bit sad when a culture disappears through voluntary abandonment. Obviously it is a tragedy when it’s stamped out through factors like conquest or disease.

            I’m not sure that the definition of religion is coherent even within western cultures. Overall, I think it’s a good liberal practice to advocate for cultures that are not our own. I consistently find in my personal relationships that when people feel they are under attack, they retreat to their corners and close their minds. By contrast, when they are greeted with consistent valuing of who they are, they in turn open their own minds and remember what they appreciate about others.

            For a great example of this, next time you see street preachers with hellfire and brimstome signs, try asking them if you can read them your favorite part of the bible. They’ll typically say “yes.” Then read them the Song of Solomon.

            Quotes from times I’ve done this:

            Me: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you. Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers.”
            Street preacher 1: “That’s disgusting! Faggot!”
            Street preacher 2: “Dude, dude, that’s the bible.”

            Me: “As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women.”
            Street preacher: “Where’s the part where he says ‘I am like an army with swords drawn?’ I know that’s in there somewhere…”

            Always a delight.

  87. Sniffnoy says:

    Great post. A remark on this part:

    This probably comes as a surprise, seeing as how everyone else talks about how atheists are heavily affiliated with the modern anti-social justice movement.

    It’s interesting to see how the stereotype of the “nerd” has changed here too — or perhaps not actually changed but rather just been different in different places. These days you see a lot of this idea of the nerd as the creep and as the opponent of feminism. And this really contrasts with, y’know, well, I remember ScienceBlogs, and PZ Myers, before there was Freethought Blogs, you know?

    Or to put it another way — I feel like the way I thought about such things growing up was the way Eliezer Yudkowsky described it, where, y’know, feminism was just the natural conclusion you came to taking all those ideals from those science fiction books seriously! Of course, that leads you to a very different sort of feminism than the kind that’s currently popular…

    This does bring up a question though — there are some glaring incompatibilities between the old internet-atheist general thought and new SJ general thought. Such as, say, what they have to say about free speech. How that particular change occurred (as part of the broader change of course) might be intersting — if horrifying — to see the details of…

  88. blacktrance says:

    I used to be really active in religion-atheism debates in the late 00s, so I’ll give my perspective.

    First, only something like 3% of Americans identify as atheists, so internet atheism was only a small (but vocal) part of the anti-fundamentalist coalition. Growing up, I didn’t know any atheists outside my family and the internet, but I did know a good number of secularists, most of whom were active Christians. It might be true that the Blue-Tribe impulses that motivated secularism now motivate SJ, but atheism was always a bit anti-Blue as well (pro-nuclear, pro-GMO, anti-New-Age, etc).

    Second, secularism won. It wasn’t a total victory and atheism would’ve liked to go further, but these days it’s rare to see the kind of load-bearing appeals to the authority of Christianity that were common in the 00s. There are Christian “woke conservatives”, but their appeals are secular and borrow much from progressivism. Same-sex marriage was recognized and conservatives aren’t up in arms about it. Before, no matter where you started, you’d always end up arguing about religion, but now it genuinely feels like it’s more possible to talk to internet conservatives about politics without disagreements always coming down to the same thing every time. This predated the rise of SJ by a few years. So maybe we should be asking what happened to Christian conservatism.

    I think the move from forums to social media was important. On forums, you had to argue against people on the other side, and if you went too far, they’d make you look dumb, so you learned which arguments were good and got a feel for your opponents’ beliefs. But now you can surround yourself with like-minded people on Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook, which narrows everyone’s Overton Windows.

    And the rationalism of the Sequences is an “orthodox” descendant of New Atheism.

    • illumina says:

      Second, secularism won. It wasn’t a total victory and atheism would’ve liked to go further, but these days it’s rare to see the kind of load-bearing appeals to the authority of Christianity that were common in the 00s.

      This!

      It’s most evident by Trump’s popularity. He’s an Atheist, he appeals to right wing Cultural Christians. They know the lie, they see his winks and love it. Self-ascription has always been more important than faith.

    • Anthony says:

      Before, no matter where you started, you’d always end up arguing about religion, but now it genuinely feels like it’s more possible to talk to internet conservatives about politics without disagreements always coming down to the same thing every time. This predated the rise of SJ by a few years. So maybe we should be asking what happened to Christian conservatism.

      Part of this is that the more intelligent conservatives realized that appeals to religious authority won’t carry weight with the non-religious, so they started working on developing secular arguments for their positions. The results of social permissiveness and evolutionary biology provide lots of ammunition for people arguing for socially conservative policy. (This reliance on evolutionary arguments is probably part of why creationism is basically dead. That, and Young Earth Creationism doesn’t help you find oil.)

  89. Brandon Berg says:

    “They just had to CTRL+F and replace a couple of keywords.”

    Come on, this is just silly.

    CTRL+H is the standard keyboard shortcut for the find and replace function.

  90. Rob K says:

    I feel like there’s some broader thing here about how everyone knows what it is “we’re” all arguing about.

    In the early 2000s I was a high schooler in the Midwest and didn’t have the internet. And yet somehow I knew that creationism was a thing we were arguing about; I had three or four relatively close friends who were young earth creationists, we argued about it, I owned a much-too-advanced-for-me book refuting creationist arguments.

    I do think, in the millenial generation, that there’s an extent to which the argument got settled; I’m not entirely sure, but I think that none of those people is a creationist any more and only one is still actively religious.

    I don’t know quite what my takeaway is here. What made us all argue about it back then? Do the kids these days not? Seriously, we argued about that more than say, Iraq or gay rights or anything else that would have divided that group at that time. Weird stuff.

  91. chridd says:

    If all you have is a hamartiology, everything looks like a nail. (I might be pronouncing that wrong…)

    Some thoughts:

    • I’ve seen people claim before that New Atheists were anti-SJ, which seemed weird to me, since it seemed like most of the loud internet atheists and loud pro-SJ people were mostly the same. If it’s true that pro-SJ atheists stopped talking about atheism so much and split off then maybe that would explain that (and I just wasn’t around any of the atheists that ended up on the anti-SJ side). (Also, both groups were similar to me in that I sort of agree with them, in that I am an atheist and am against most of the things SJ is against, but seem to not quite agree with them on some things and don’t like their argument style.)

    • …and perhaps the reason I don’t quite agree with SJ could (at least partly) be thought of as agreeing with their goals but not their hamartiology? Like… my own answer to why bad things happen, or at least the bad things SJ people care about, I think involves conformism, and probably typical mind fallacy; and maybe also problems that can arise from large-scale interactions even when the individuals involved aren’t necessarily bad (impersonal forces in the same way the invisible hand of the market is impersonal… things like the toxoplasma idea, or the fact that even good people can get stuck in situations where they have to defect because the other side is always defecting). And a lot of SJ stuff seems to make a lot of assumptions about other minds, and to be a part of some of those large-scale problems…?

    (…I don’t know if this comment is as well–thought-out as I’d like…)

    [Edit to add:] • Also I wonder if age has anything to do with it? As in, maybe the group of people who used to be New Atheists and are now more socialist are mostly the same generation, and when New Atheism was popular more of them were living with or had recently moved away from their religious parents and now that they’re supporting themselves economics is a bigger issue.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      If all you have is a hamartiology, everything looks like a nail.

      Scott is now kicking himself for not titling the article this.

    • Nornagest says:

      Conformity was a late-90s boogeyman for sure, but I’m not sure it rose to the level of hamartiology outside the punk scene and Adbusters‘ editorial staff. It probably would have, if Internet access had been mainstreamed ten years early — certainly there were plenty of sites like UnAmerican.com in that era peddling generically antiauthoritarian merch — but America in the the late ’90s was still a genuine mass media culture, notwithstanding Usenet and Geocities, and the mass media wasn’t on board with crystallizing those anxieties into a cohesive worldview. Selling movies that catered to them, sure, but not systematizing them in any meaningful way.

  92. Bugmaster says:

    I think this analysis is more or less correct. When the Atheism movement was subsumed into the Social Justice movement, it lost its own identity, and just naturally disappeared into the general background of Social Justice. The usual internal purges followed swiftly, helping to further dissipate what remained of the original movement. Nowadays, “Atheism” just means “Social Justice”, so not many people focus on the atheist aspect of it, specifically.

  93. disluckyperson says:

    I disagree with both Scott’s explanation and the other common explanation, that the atheists won. To me, the explanation is obvious, and I am surprised nobody is saying this: After a few years, the atheism debates just got boring, and people went on to other things. Which implies something else, similar to Scott’s point, but different: That the point of these debates was never really to engage in serious discourse and convince the other side. The main point was for entertainment, plain and simple. And just like all entertainment, the fads come and go. In fact, I see most politics this way. I think the current obsession with social justice is a form of entertainment, albeit of the serious and highbrow type. And it too will eventually fall to the wayside when the next new and shiny thing comes up. Similarly, I believe that Donald Trump’s success can be attributed not to his policies, but to his skill as an entertainer, which none of the 2016 candidates could even approach.

    • onyomi says:

      There is a kind of Occam’s Razor-y beauty to this explanation.

    • meh says:

      the point of these debates was never really to engage in serious discourse and convince the other side

      True of most any public debate.
      I think the point of them for the new atheists was to take away some of the unspoken default respect religion was afforded; though they were probably less successful at this.

    • Spot says:

      I’m also very suspicious of the claim that New Atheism “succeeded.” Sure, secularism is on the rise in the US. But something like 75% of Americans still actively identify as Christian, about 40% are some form of creationist, and according to Gallup, as of 2015 about 50% of the country would not vote for an open atheist. One would think there is still a great deal of work be done. We certainly don’t see feminists asserting that #MeToo means an end to gender inequality.

      However, there might be a different way to look at it. Someone (I think it was – sorry – The Amazing Atheist), once said that New Atheism was best thought of not as a movement per se, but rather as a kind of hammer that was made to shatter a certain cultural taboo against full-throated criticism of religion. And by that standard, I would agree that one could argue the “movement” succeeded. But if we do accept that premise, it also means that basically everyone and everything aside from the celebrity Horsemen and a select few others were essentially superfluous.

    • sharper13 says:

      I tend to agree with this viewpoint for the large numbers of people (on all sides) who aren’t exactly intellectually rigorous in their debates. For them, culture war topics are almost completely tribal. Thus, the exact topics in play resemble fads, because that’s what they are, in some ways explicitly driven by media leading/following those fads and pounding them into attention.

      This is rational for them, in the myth of the rational voter sense, where their individual opinion is unlikely to make any difference in the topic being debated, anyway, and it doesn’t change their life much to believe either way.

      Most people read/watch the news as entertainment, not as something which will seriously impact their lives. This type of news can frustrate other people who actually want the details, the why, the truth, but they’re typically not the ones paying the bills.

      The others are those for whom the debates are more intellectual and they seek more of the truth, rather than just tribal signaling points. Many of those post here (and less we pat ourselves on the back, the tribal motivations are still there, just subsumed to a greater or lessor extent, just like the truth seeking motives still exist in at least part for the more tribal amongst us). They’re (we’re?) also entertained by the debates, but by a different portion of the debates, the actual search for truth part, especially the intellectual give and take and discovery.

      The two different groups vary in size and will also tend to move between different sets of debate topics differently, but when the masses follow a new fashion, the non-masses will inevitably find themselves drawn in, because that’s what everyone is talking/writing online about.

    • Ragged Clown says:

      That the point of these debates was never really to engage in serious discourse and convince the other side.

      I never thought of this as **the point** of New Atheism.

      I think the point of the Dawkins book in particular was to convince *existing atheists, agnostics and skeptics that their worldview was respectable and “correct” in a way that it wasn’t before. This create a critical mass of nones and broke the dominance of the theist worldview so that the next generation had an easier path to a materialist worldview.

      * This applies to the USA in the 2000s. England, for example, had got there 50 years earlier.

    • Anthony says:

      the point of these debates was never really to engage in serious discourse and convince the other side

      This is understood by many people debating, and has been for a long time. The point is to convince the undecided bystander. Except that for many, it really is just entertainment. (Especially people like me, at the 9th percentile of Agreeableness.)

  94. bessiambre says:

    What maybe made me give up on the debate was encountering De Rerum Natura. Periods of enlightenment have been ephemeral since before Christianity even existed. It seems difficult to beat the memetic and genetic forces of religion. Especially in political systems where it can be wielded as a strong “culture hacking” tool to gain influence and political power. Maybe my outlook is too fatalistic.

  95. Spot says:

    First of all, this is a fascinating article. I don’t think it entirely explains the phenomenon of New Atheism’s decline (which is very complex and probably deserves some kind of book-length treatment), but it’s an important angle.

    As far as I can tell, it eventually ended with the anti-social-justice atheists stomping off to YouTube or somewhere horrible like that, while most of the important celebrity members of the public-facing movement very gradually turned into social justice bloggers.

    I think this is mostly correct, but there is also the fact that many of the really big-name New Atheists (including two of the three surviving Horsemen) resisted this “transition,” and Harris in particular is now probably more famous for his criticisms of identity politics than his atheism. And since these select individuals were essentially synonymous with “New Atheist” in the mainstream press, New Atheism itself quickly took on negative connotations, even as many or most of the lesser lights became aggressive social justice evangelists. Then, in turn, many of the right-wing/alt-lite/contrarian Youtubers began emphasizing their atheist bona fides precisely because New Atheism had become unpopular in the liberal/mainstream press, and a vicious circle was born.

    I think that if Dawkins and Harris – just those two men – had happened to be as social-justice-friendly as (say) PZ Myers, the Blue Tribe’s current view of New Atheism as a movement would be quite different. It might still be somewhat unfashionable, but it wouldn’t be identified as an active antagonist.

    • I think that if Dawkins and Harris – just those two men – had happened to be as social-justice-friendly as (say) PZ Myers, the Blue Tribe’s current view of New Atheism as a movement would be quite different. It might still be somewhat unfashionable, but it wouldn’t be identified as an active antagonist.

      Good point. Why should women, blacks, or others support anyone who mocks their sense of unsafety? (which is what attacking SJ sounds like) Atheism seems less important than safety.
      Another point… The SJ split between atheism reminds me of another split between evolutionists. going back to the 1990’s between Stephen J Gould’s position and the Bell Curve (Murray).

      • Spot says:

        Well, I do think there are ways to criticize social justice that avoid trivializing what some see as their concerns and lived experiences. But Dawkins (surprisingly) has turned out to be incredibly crude and tone-deaf in his Tweets and comments on feminism, identity politics, social justice, and so on. It’s kind of weird because I’m not sure that he’s actually all that ideologically opposed to social justice, but he frankly comes across as uninformed and out of his depth on the subject. Or maybe social media is just not a good medium for him.

        Sam Harris is much better at articulating his objections, but unlike Dawkins he really does seem to be fully committed to a politics that is suspicious of identity in the social justice sense. In that sense Harris is sort of the Murray-equivalent here (note that I don’t hate either Harris or Murray), and the Gould-equivalent would be – well, an aggregate of minor bloggers and writers mostly concentrated online, PZ Myers foremost among them.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          But Dawkins (surprisingly) has turned out to be incredibly crude and tone-deaf in his Tweets and comments on feminism, identity politics, social justice, and so on. It’s kind of weird because I’m not sure that he’s actually all that ideologically opposed to social justice, but he frankly comes across as uninformed and out of his depth on the subject. Or maybe social media is just not a good medium for him.

          Dawkins always came across as crude and a bit out of his depth on religious stuff, too, so I don’t think it’s social media.

          (To justify this impression a bit: Dawkins always came across as arguing against a straw Beard In the Sky that I and many of my co-religionists never believed in. Maybe he was a strong mouthpiece of atheism for people who had never seen atheist arguments before, but a lot of stuff in the God Delusion was a bit old hat. I’d be curious to see Dawkins debate, say, Feser, who comes to mind as the most prominent theologian still wading into the Does God Even Exist? debate).

        • Well, I do think there are ways to criticize social justice that avoid trivializing what some see as their concerns and lived experiences.

          Agreed. That’s why it’s a pity when critics discredit their position by seeming too dismissive of the other side, or angry or tone death.

  96. Gilbert says:

    Some disconnected points:

    1. Atheism was the biggest comprehensive Internet world-view that exploded at that time and then mostly faded, but not the only one. Other examples:
    For a while it looked like Libertarianism would be a really big thing. At the time it also had an hamartiological wing for whom the state was the root of all evil. I don’t know how it happened, but by now Libertarianism has mostly faded back into the fringe.
    Free/Open Source Software used to have much more ideological valence. Originally Free Software types used to consider proprietary Software as simply evil and proprietary Software (i.e., at the time, Microsoft) had similar hate for “viral” licenses. Then part of the movement rebranded as Open Source which originally basically meant “Our prefferred licenses lead to better software, so proprietary software is dumb (and also, mumble, mumble, still immoral) ” And then arguing over software licensing just went away almost entirely.
    Also, Catholic Answers used to be a discursively much bigger thing, leading to a much more homogeneous Catholic Internet party line then there is today.

    2. Part of this might be my Catholic resentment and schadenfreude speaking, but I think the division that became explicit in the Atheism+ war was actually a fundamentalism/liberalism split on a mostly insincere side doctrine. New atheist canon had a “hate the sin, love the sinner” distinction between beliefs and their adherents. The party line was that there was nothing mean about mocking and contempt for ideas as opposed to people and that was totally severable and what everyone does about every non-religious idea. Only with religious ideas people were feeling offended, because those had previously been treated better than all other ideas. Some parts of the movement took this so serious they thought they could apply it to in-group doctrines. Atheism+ basically tried to impose an explicit taboo on the part of the movement that didn’t have the social skills to apply the doctrine selectively. Only it turned out they actually believed it and some of them were there for that belief.

    3. Some small part of the Internet atheist movement also transitioned equally seamlessly into Yudkowskian “Rationalism” where atheism also got demoted to the sideline. The Sequences were clearly an up-sell on atheism and in the early days the community had an expectation that religious people couldn’t understand them without becoming atheists. There was also a strong anti-theist vibe, “Rationalists” clearly disliked religion more than other beliefs they thought irrational. Then “Rationalism” became its own thing and atheism didn’t go away but faded so far into the background that nowadays there are even some religious “Rationalists”.

  97. John Lynch says:

    Great article.
    I have to say I miss the old free-thinking atheist crowd because one of their core beliefs was freedom of conscience. Leave us alone, religious people. I sympathized with that. I still thought a lot of people were awfully angry at a God who doesn’t exist, but whatever, it’s a free country.

    The SJ crowd doesn’t want to be left alone. They won’t leave me alone.
    To them, freedom of conscience is an obstacle. Thinking the wrong thing, as opposed to doing the wrong thing, is the sin. They don’t want a free country, in the sense people can think and say what they believe.

    There’s a big difference between the two ideologies. One was fundamentally pro-freedom, and the other is anti-freedom. I’m a religious person, but I’d much rather have the left dominated by Christopher Hitchens-style atheists than the modern SJWs.

    • yildo says:

      Are you arguing that religion wasn’t wrongthink to New Atheists?

      In the New Atheist worldview, people thinking that God exists caused 9/11, the Iraq War, and a ban on teaching basic biology in American schools. If creationists weren’t banned in online flamewars, it was because of an optimistic appraisal of the chances of (de)converting them from their religion.

      I think the difference is in the lapse of faith in the power of online argument to change minds. If you no longer believe that you can convert your opponent to your point of view through a sufficiently eloquent argument, then de-platforming becomes appealing.

      • lvlln says:

        Are you arguing that religion wasn’t wrongthink to New Atheists?

        I would argue that, as someone who used to be a New Atheist until fairly recently.

        In the New Atheist worldview, people thinking that God exists caused 9/11, the Iraq War, and a ban on teaching basic biology in American schools. If creationists weren’t banned in online flamewars, it was because of an optimistic appraisal of the chances of (de)converting them from their religion.

        Yes to the first sentence. But the 2nd sentence is false, completely false. Even if people thinking that God exists was the cause of all those terrible things, it never once occurred to me that it would follow that we ought to place any restrictions at all on people’s freedom to believe those things or to express their beliefs in those things publicly without any impedance (not any more than any other belief or expression of belief, anyway). The harm caused by people believing bad things, as far as I – as a New Atheist – was concerned was completely orthogonal and unrelated to people’s freedom to believe and express those things.

        Wrongthink isn’t a term used to refer to just beliefs that are wrong – it refers to beliefs that one believes ought to be suppressed through force. Again, as a New Atheist, it never once occurred to me that belief in creationism or Islam or whatever ought to be forcibly suppressed. The thought of “de-converting” people away from theism through anything other than convincing them that theism was wrong would have been far more horrifying than even theism itself to me.

      • Corey says:

        There’s also plain old tiredness.

        I remember a NA blogger venting about this, from her point of view there was just an endless stream of “the banana is evidence for intelligent design” and “what use is half an eye” and people reinventing Pascal’s Wager.

        In some cases de-platforming is a useful tool like moderation. If you were going to discuss paleontology for example, there’s little upside and much downside in allowing that endless stream of argument in.

      • Purplehermann says:

        Maybe a difference here is between an offensive vs defensive ideology? Blue Tribe defensive ideology was atheism, “I’m free to do what I want”. Once Blue Tribe won the “don’t judge us” war they transferred to the offensive “you should change yourselves and you are bad” war. Shaming religious folk by claiming that they are following their beliefs is a losing strategy, claiming religious folk they aren’t following their own rules and are therfore bad would just be inviting the a reopening of the earlier defensive war.

        What they had left was claiming the Red Tribe is evil for failing to pass the modern morality test, irrelevant of religion.

    • Rob K says:

      This is an amusing read to anyone who actually remembers the line and tone Christopher Hitchens took with Iraq war opponents.

      I didn’t always disagree with Hitchens, but he was always an insulting prick and a bully.

    • nicktachy says:

      I’m a religious person, but I’d much rather have the left dominated by Christopher Hitchens-style atheists than the modern SJWs.

      Yes, very much. As a Christian myself, I think Hitchens, in particular, actually made many good points. The “God” he said was “not great” is not the God I know and have faith in. I think the New Atheists were quite rightly accused of defeating a strawman, but the fact is that many Christians actually believed in that strawman themselves. I think they may in fact have served a role in the renewal of Western Christianity, by clearing out some of the chaff. The result is that Millennial Christians are generally not the lukewarm kind.

      The SJ activists, on the other hand, are not trying to make arguments. They’ve made up their minds and are seeking power to force morally conservative Christians from the public square. I think that can play a role in the renewal of Western Christianity as well, but it will be through martyria rather than kerygma.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Thirding this. Hitchens always won a lot of respect from me. For some reason more than, say, Dawkins, who was mostly arguing against stuff I didn’t believe anyway.

  98. I’ve been thinking lately about two related mysteries: why many Trump opponents hate him so much, and why many Trump supporters continue to praise him despite all his failures. For some Trump opponents they’d think any Republican was Hitler, but the anger at Trump seems far disproportionate to his stated views, let alone what he’s actually doing in office. I’d think if you asked Democratic pundits who is worse, Donald Trump or David Duke, almost all would say Duke, but many would have an emotional revulsion to Trump they lack for Duke. I think it goes to the idea of respect. Trump is hated by these pundits and talking heads and professors and computer programmers because he lacks respect for their positions in society. If put in a room with them, he’d say “oh, you’re an economist, that’s an interesting job, blah blah blah” while frantically looking for the exit. The people he really respects, who he’d really like to be a room with, are celebrities, athletes, rappers, porn stars, ect. Duke, in contrast, would see the liberal pundit, professor, talking head, or scientist as an enemy, but would respect(and desire to usurp) the role they hold. Duke views them with envy, Trump views them only with contempt. In a similar vein, many Trump supporting proles like him specifically because he disrespects the intelligentsia, the people who disrespect them.

    There was a similar dynamic in the 2000’s with Bush. It was less serious as at least the smart people were aware that Bush’s attitude was an act, a sop to average people, whereas Trump’s attitude is real. In American Protestant Christianity, the intelligentsia found something that did not respect them, it’s much worse in this regard than Catholicism or Judaism or Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and Bush was its devil, a man who might not personally believe it in his heart, but who was leader to millions of fanatics who did. But after Bush left and the Tea Party became the face of the GOP, this bogeyman became less powerful. Blue Tribers knew that an abstract threat existed across those hills, but they weren’t personally interacting with it and didn’t see many representatives of it on T.V. In contrast, all Blue Tribers interacted with the White male bogeyman, even if they were other Blue Tribers, so it was a more convenient target. And then the target would actually respond(either with defiance or “you are right, but I’m one of the good ones”) and you’d have controversy, clicks, attention!

    There is an essential difference, however, between these two movements: the New Atheists couldn’t really do anything about religion, at least within the confines of the ideology they supported. No one wanted to have the government ban religion or have firms fire people for being religious. The demands were reasonable even if the rhetoric wasn’t. In contrast, the wokeness people are making substantial policy demands. We hear the demands for open borders in all but name. Many would support policies along the lines of Black Economic Empowerment. Although few will say “firms should fire people for conservative speech,” many will eagerly agree with “conservative ideology is inherently sexist” and “firms should fire people for sexist speech.” So I doubt we’ll ever look back on it as a quaint, weird, and ultimately harmless movement.

  99. AllAmericanBreakfast says:

    If you’re into social justice and call someone a racist or a sexist, they typically don’t want to identify that way. They don’t want to ironically claim the label, either.

    Atheists participate in Satanism, and will happily refer to themselves as evil, as going to hell. They have fully embraced the ostracizing labels that religious people tar them with, and made them cool. The things that religious people think atheists want, like wild sex, drugs, and rock and roll, are mostly legal and cool and available. It just wasn’t that hard for atheists to just be themselves.

    Likewise, religious people mostly don’t mind the atheist assault on religion. Not really. Human intelligence is not especially prized among world religions, so calling a believer “stupid” is not attacking their core identity. And if you call religion evil, it’s very easy to think “yes, almost all religion is evil – except mind.”

    There was a failed attempt, briefly, to code racism and sexism as cool. I vaguely remember some Milo Yiannapowhatever quote where he compared the alt-right to rock stars. In the end, though, conservatives have gotten outraged that they’re being labeled as racist or sexist. They complain they’re being treated unfairly. The alt-right, then, hasn’t really made progress. They haven’t mainstreamed sexism and racism, they’ve just megaphoned it. Even Trump doesn’t get up at his rallies and ask his followers to identify explicitly as sexist or racist.

    So I think the current outrage culture is operating because both sides have found a core identity of the other side to attack. Liberals can attack racism and sexism. Conservatives can accuse liberals of entitlement (ie privilege) and intolerance. Nobody wants to accept either of those labels (though there’a a little motion toward reframing “entitlement” as being oppressed by baby boomers).

    • Nornagest says:

      Atheists participate in Satanism, and will happily refer to themselves as evil, as going to hell.

      It’s true that LaVeyan Satanists — the largest branch, though that’s kinda like saying the largest anthill — identify as atheist, but Satanism per se was extremely fringe even among the edgiest New Atheists at the edgiest stages of the movement. It might have picked up a few, especially teens looking for the most effective ways to shock their parents, but it’s not really a part of this story. It’d be more accurate to ID atheists with joke religions like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which were genuinely well-known at the time, but I doubt participation in them went beyond buying a bumper sticker in the vast majority of cases.

      Even IDing as “evil” was uncommon as best I recall — the New Atheists did have a concept of evil (their critique of religion wouldn’t have many teeth if they didn’t) and weren’t eager to associate themselves with it. Jokingly talking about “going to hell” did happen, though.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Even IDing as “evil” was uncommon as best I recall

        It’s an old saw that, outside of Saturday morning cartoons, everyone sees themselves as Good Guys.
        This was actually funny for the New Atheists, because they didn’t have a philosophically grounded definition of Good: the Platonic one was right out for obvious reasons, and they weren’t uniformly utilitarian (“pleasure is the good, pain is evil”) like the internet-rationalist movement.

        • Nornagest says:

          Philosophical grounding is all well and good for Jesuits and Pinkerites and Objectivists, but most people get along fine without it. These days I’m actually more suspicious of people who do subscribe to a deeply held philosophical superstructure for their ethics, because most of those allow enough latitude for a clever person to spin up a bulletproof justification whatever they feel like doing; paradoxically, it seems somewhat harder to get that out of a wishy-washy goulash of deontology and hedonism and legacy Platonism that mostly boils down to “don’t act like a jerk in the eyes of those around you”.

    • zzzzort says:

      I would say the charge leveled at atheists that stung the most was that they were immoral. Atheists were always strident in saying that although they didn’t believe in a god, they ended up reaching most of the same conclusions on what constituted good and bad (e.g. murder, theft, violence, dishonesty are all bad). Likewise, people on the right, or alt-right, can say that their moral code means treating people of different races equally, but that they disclaim the intellectual framework and specific shibboleths requested by the left. So you can end up with people not wanting the label of ‘racist’ but very much owning the label of ‘politically incorrect.’

  100. I’m not really buying the framing here. Those are two separate trends that happened for different reasons. New Atheism died because atheism has basically won. People are becoming less religious over time and it doesn’t look like the trend is going to change any time soon. When you win, you spend less time talking about it. The rise in social justice issues happened because of stuff like Ferguson and Michael Brown. Sure, maybe some of the New Atheists put more of their time in to it, but I don’t think they caused anything.

    • Enkidum says:

      Because a lot of the specific people who were thought of as important members of New Atheism (although, really, this amounts to Freethought Blogs, Skepchicks, and people in their orbit) ended up converting to writing almost exclusively about social justice.

      As noted above in discussion with Atlas, I think it’s more accurate to say that things bifurcated, with most of the actual biggest names becoming exceptionally hostile to the modern social justice movement, and vice versa.

      • They probably started writing more about social justice because atheism was becoming boring(having won) and Social Justice became the hot new trend. New Atheists were already Democrats so it’s a natural segue. I’m sure they also spent more time talking about Game of Thrones but it would absurd to suggest that the show “killed” the New Atheist movement.

    • “New Atheism died because atheism has basically won. People are becoming less religious over time and it doesn’t look like the trend is going to change any time soon.”

      What’s really different between then and now? The large majority of people still identify as religious, and you could have identified that same long term secularization trend in 2005 as well.

      • 2005 was still early. Remember that the rise in people identifying with no religion really only started in the 90’s. I’m guessing people still thought they could fight back the trend. But it’s more entrenched now with no sign of stopping.

        I’ve also seen data that suggests that declines in religiosity aren’t just a young people thing but it’s happening across nearly every demographic. That’s more concerning.

      • matthewravery says:

        “Winning” in this case doesn’t mean that everyone’s now an atheist. It means that now no one really cares if you’re an atheist. There are fewer overt signals from society that you don’t belong if you’re an atheist. There are fewer public events/ceremonies with overtly religious text or subtext that you’re expected to participate in as a matter of course.

        sharps30 put it well above:

        Being non-religious in public has gotten a lot easier — fewer microagressions, to use a SJW term.

        This may not have been what leaders of the movement(s?) Scott discussed above envisioned as success, but it seems like that’s what most of the followers actually cared about.

  101. I wanted to comment to say: This is a great post and I hope your curiosity leads you down the History Of The Internet From A Social Perspective^TM rabbit hole a few more times in future! Turns out while I’m usually not that interested in regular history, apparently this brand of history fascinates me!

    Also, this actually made SJW much more understandable/accessible to me; I wasn’t in the New Atheism movement, although I did try to get into it for a while (being an atheist), but the methods just seemed so foreign to me. And they still do seem foreign to me now, but now I know I sort of tried something similar (albeit near-infinitely milder) in the early internet. So there’s now a semantic bridge between that and SJW. It’s still not my thing, in the sense that I would like the style of discourse associated with it to go away, but it no longer feels like it came completely out of nowhere.

    But anyway. Please dig up more about the history of the internet, if your muse allows! 🙂

    • John Schilling says:

      Yes, independent of the Atheist-specific aspects, I did enjoy being reminded of the Early Internet Argument Culture and the rest. Somehow, I don’t think I’ve seen that bit of social history laid out very well anywhere else, and it deserves more than being a sideshow here.

    • Nick says:

      I too really like history like this. Like I said elsewhere, Scott should an archaeology tag for things like this. 😀

  102. Big Jay says:

    I was never into either the new atheism nor the social justice movement, and that’s probably because I follow a different hamartiology. I generally think that sin* exists because sin evolved – in game theory terms, because “always cooperate” is an easily dominated strategy and those who followed it didn’t leave many descendants. This strain of thought seems to be associated with the “intellectual dark web”, where “dark” is a reference to the lack of a corresponding soteriology**.

    * Used here to mean predatory behavior, willful deception, selfishness, etc.
    **Theory of salvation

  103. Yosarian2 says:

    Really interesting argument.

    One thing that went unmentioned is that it feels like at some point in this time period (I guess between 2008 and 2016) the Republican party seemed to go through a similar change but in the opposite direction, and also went form talking less about religion and more about other culture war issues (to a point where an argument can be made that “white identity politics” helped Trump win the Republican primary in 2016, despite him fairly obviously not being a religious person in any real sense.)

    I’m wondering which one happened first; did Republicans become more less focused on religion and more focused on racialized issues because Democrats now were, or did it go the other way around? Or maybe both were caused by the fact the Democrats had elected a black president?

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m pretty sure the rise of idpol issues in the establishment left — which I’d date to about midway through Obama’s second term — is tightly linked to the earlier movement in that direction among the online left, and the latter can be traced back at least as far as RaceFail (2009). There aren’t any comparable online antecedents to Trumpism, and the timing doesn’t work out for it to be a reaction to Obama’s election; the rightist blog scene hated him, of course, and the likes of He-who-must-not-be-named — less Voldy himself than some of his fellow travelers — arguably contributed some intellectual DNA, but it took Trump himself to crystallize vague feelings of restlessness and betrayal into the religiously ambivalent populist nativism that we’re all familiar with. The Tea Party for example — which was largely a reaction to Obama, though less, I think, to his race and more to his handling of the recession — was quite a different animal.

      • matthewravery says:

        Wasn’t Birtherism the direct antecedent to Trumpism? Isn’t a lot of that, like, straight out of the internet during Obama’s first term?

        • Nornagest says:

          Too narrow. An observer — especially one who’s predisposed to view everything the right does through the lens of racism and willful ignorance — could certainly look back at the birth certificate business and see a premonition of Trump, but it’d take a lot of creativity to get the actual ideological shifts we’ve since seen right of the aisle from it.

          • matthewravery says:

            Trump’s political brand was “the birth certificate business”.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Trump’s political brand was “the birth certificate business”.

            That’s a particular expression of Trumpism, not a core component. Trump’s schtick is he tells it like it is and not being afraid of the other side calling him racist, not caring about respectable opinion because he Speaks The Truth, etc.

            So being willing to embrace Birtherism is what makes Trump Trump, without Birthism itself being necessarily Trumpist. Does that make sense?

          • mtraven says:

            Trump’s schtick is he tells it like it is.

            Oh sure, Trump is definitely associated with a strong commitment to truth-telling.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            That’s his brand to his supporters, not a reflection of objective truth, clearly.

      • philwelch says:

        The main precursors to Trump were paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan, whose stances on immigration, protectionism, and to some extent military intervention were unique on the American right before Trump. Buchanan first gained national prominence in 1992, when he tried to primary George HW Bush, lost, and proceeded to endorse Bush in a famous RNC speech where he declared that America was in the midst of a “culture war” over abortion, gay rights, and women in the military.

        The only online aspect of this might be the paleolibertarians. Paleolibertarianism was born when Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell chose to align with paleoconservatives, even explicitly endorsing Buchanan himself. Paleolibertarians went online just as all the other libertarians did, and some paleoconservatives, including Buchanan himself, still contribute to their blogs to this day (antiwar.com for one).

        The most internet-prominent paleolibertarian was ultimately Ron Paul. In fact, one of his former advisors, and the likely ghostwriter of his controversial newsletters, was none other than Lew Rockwell himself. Ron Paul’s fiscal conservatism inspired the Tea Party, but his isolationism was a much clearer break from mainstream Republican doctrine. To be clear, I don’t see Ron Paul as a clear precursor to Trump, but I think he did open the door to fundamentally redefining what it meant to be a Republican. He was also the first candidate to inspire the kind of disproportionately fanatical online enthusiasm later seen with Sanders and Yang.

    • If you look up “Great Awokening”, you can see that it was white liberals who changed most dramatically.

  104. Anatoly says:

    >We woke up one morning and the atheist bloggers LessWrong-style rationalists had all quietly became social justice bloggers effective altruists. Nothing else had changed because nothing else had to; the underlying itch being scratched was the same. They just had to CTRL+F and replace a couple of keywords.

    • James Banks says:

      So that’s a case of anti-theism giving way to a different positive humanistic program.

      Is EA based in hamartiology? I think it’s a lot different than social justice atheism. EA being constructive, social justice being conflict-based, in general. Maybe “the next hamartiology” (someday) after conflict-based altruism will be toward constructive altruism (the sin will be to turn on people aggressively). I guess the “should we attack the evil elite / evil culture or build a better society / change through healing?” debate exists already off in the corner (a tension between left on one hand and liberals and Christians on the other). But that might not make a good Internet debate because one side wouldn’t be interested in participating.

      • Randy M says:

        Was less wrong anti-theistic? I always saw them as predominantly atheist but mostly just bored of the question and more interested in how and why people come to conclusions .

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Less Wrong was totally anti-theistic. It just didn’t come up much because religion was seen as not even worth debating.

        • Jaskologist says:

          The Sequences contain a number of New-Atheist-style digs at religion, often ones that are wrong at a basic factual level.

          • Randy M says:

            Yes, true, but that wasn’t the thrust of their discussions in my experience. Perhaps that was my selecting particular posts or arriving late.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Yeah, that actually made them less irritating to me, because I could happily ignore them while grappling with whatever larger point the article was making.

        • Gilbert says:

          I think the “Rationalist” community became less anti-theist over time as it grew into an own identity, much like it happened with social justice atheists.

          In the beginning it was basically an outgrowth of the Internet atheist movement Scott described here. That movement was very much about religion being dumb rather than just false and that’s were a detailed theory of why otherwise smart people think dumb things came in. A lack in rationality-as-opposed-to-intelligence was a popular answer and Overcoming Bias went one step meta in asking what other irrational beliefs might spring from the same root causes and selling the worried atheist nerd a complete solution. Religion always being the standard example of dumbness was a symptom. But more generally about all of the early “Rationalist” community was recruited from Internet atheism and saw “rationality” as the technology to solve religion-like things. In those times there was much optimism that learning about cognitive biases would actually protect against them and early “Rationalists” were sure that even odd-ball religious people reading the Sequences would either refuse to engage them or, if they allowed enough contact to understand them, necessarily become atheists soon after.

          Note, how this is very similar to the early years of Marxism or Psychoanalysis.

          During the Less Wrong and Diaspora epoch the atheism gradually got deemphasized. Part of this was probably no longer needing the graft it grew on and also that graft dying of as described in this post. Another part was general deemphasizing of the founder. And I think there also was a gradual realization that reading about cognitive biases isn’t that much help in overcoming them, and a corresponding decline of the expectation that “Rationalists” should basically come to agree on all the rational beliefs.

          Nowadays I think atheism is still part of the assumed cultural background of “Rationalism”, sort of like some religions are for some ethnicities. But I think much like atheism for social justice bloggers it’s no longer something they deeply care about.

          • Nick says:

            I think it also helped that, at least for SSC in the early days of the diaspora, Scott was always willing to engage with religious folks. He was happy to review Feser’s The Last Superstition or engage with BadCatholic about abortion statistics or talk MacIntyre and virtue ethics. Yudkowsky by contrast is nearly Bulverist: “It’s obvious to all present that you’re wrong, so let me tell you how you got that way….”

            Also, long time no see.

        • Corey says:

          EY himself said that atheism was a basic baseline in the process of raising the sanity waterline. It’s one of those things that was in the water there, like cryonics.

          It stuck out to me, having gone from late-2000s Less Wrong to no engagement with the community to late-2010s SSC, where the modal commenter is a devout Christian up in arms about gay wedding cakes.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Hooray, I’m a modal commentator!

            Wait, I thought you said model. 🙂

          • Nick says:

            I mean, I’m often the one up in arms about gay wedding cakes, but I’ve been reading Scott since the Livejournal days and read the Sequences even earlier.

          • profgerm says:

            Is that really reflected in Scott’s surveys? Or is that just an intuition based on the same phenomenon he’s describing in this article?

            The activist atheists moved on to be other kinds of activists, the less-activist atheists stuck to Scott for sake of continuing to be mostly (if weakly) anti-authoritarian, and he accumulated a handful or two of religious followers that had common cause with the less-activist atheists (and, as Nick pointed out, he’s considerably less anti-theist than many rationalist writers).

          • Nick says:

            @profgerm You’re missing that comment frequency varies. Religious commenters tend to be so in both senses of the word.

          • Randy M says:

            Religious commenters tend to be so in both senses of the word.

            My productivity would improve if I only came here a couple hours a week. :/

          • Nick says:

            My productivity would improve if I only came here a couple hours a week. :/

            I keep hoping for Deiseach to come back from one of her bans having written a novel or something.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            where the modal commenter is a devout Christian up in arms about gay wedding cakes.

            up in arms about Christians being forced to contribute to a gay wedding ceremony.

  105. Glossy says:

    Atheism has increased in America. Atheism is correlated with IQ, which is unfortunate, because it’s also correlated with childlessness. So I’m not happy about this increase, even though I’m an atheist.

    Anyway, maybe arguments about atheism decreased because atheism has taken up a larger share of the smart section of the population. The point on the IQ distribution where the forces of atheism and religion are anywhere close to a match has moved down. Most of the arguments probably happen around that point. If it’s sufficiently low, you wouldn’t even notice those arguments. It wouldn’t be reflected in searches of the NYT, it would happen in parts of Twitter you don’t look at, in a style you’d find boring.

    People dunk on each other on Twitter, occasionally even have back-and-forth exchanges, but the average person doesn’t post long screeds and get equally long responses fisking each of their points.”

    People interested in political discussions moved from blogs to Twitter. I don’t know why. These two platforms are so different. Blogs seem much more suitable for debate. And it didn’t look like a case of one generation having a shorter attention span than its predecessors. The whole scene, the same group of people, moved to Twitter in the span of a year or two. Of course discussions are going to be shorter and shallower on Twitter – it’s the nature of the medium.

    I’m not sure why this happened. Maybe it took about ten years from the founding of the Internet for people to really internalize that online arguments didn’t change minds.

    You’re not going to change the mind of the person you’re arguing WITH. Defensiveness sets in. You’re really under attack when others argue with you. But onlookers? Of course their minds can be changed by arguments that they witness, especially if they’re under 30. Happens all the time, happened to me. The protagonists learned about that through comments, which gave them additional motivation to continue.

    And anyway, it’s like war for wusses. Even if you’re not convincing anyone, stopping feels like defeat. So people still argue a lot, but for some reason on Twitter and not on blogs, and therefore in a less detailed, more immediate, less intellectual way. That change I can’t really explain. But no, this demographic hasn’t learned that arguing is useless. Only the style and the medium changed.

    Or maybe it was something else. Maybe it was that getting online was actually pretty hard in those days, you needed to be technically inclined or attending a college or both, and so netizens were just more educated.

    On Twitter smart people are only really talking to smart people. Worlds and social classes don’t collide there any more than they did in the blogging or IRC periods.

    When the Internet was small and confined to an optimistic group of technophile intellectuals, this spawned Early Internet Argument Culture, where we tried to iron out our differences through Reason. We hoped that the new world the Web revealed to us could be managed in the same friendly way we managed differences with our crazy uncle or the next-door neighbor.

    You’re severely underestimating how fractious, conflict-prone and dogmatic computer nerds are, and smart guys in general. The least conflict-prone people are in the upper middle of the IQ distribution. The low and high ends are trouble.

    As friendly debate started feeling more and more inadequate, and as newer and less nerdy people started taking over the Internet, this dream receded. In its place, we were left with an intolerable truth: a lot of people seem really horrible, and refuse to stop being horrible even when we ask them nicely.

    Richard Stallman was in the news recently. Close to peak early nerd. Is he friendly in debates?

    The Blue Tribe kept posing its same identity question: “Who am I? What defines me?”

    They’re people who want to feel more upscale, more sophisticated than others. People who’re actually sophisticated don’t even notice it, it’s a “do fish know they’re in water?” thing for them, so there’s a lot of wishful striving and pretentiousness in the Blue Tribe. Actually-upscale people are mostly liberal, but matter-of-factly, without that passion for mocking “the rubes”.

    Most movement atheists weren’t in it for the religion. They were in it for the hamartiology. Once they got the message that the culture-at-large had settled on a different, better hamartiology, there was no psychological impediment to switching over.

    You’ve got a point there, yes.

    • Anthony says:

      People interested in political discussions moved from blogs to Twitter. I don’t know why.

      This ties in to my hypothesis. In November 2017, Twitter went from 140 characters to 280 characters, which makes it much easier to send a debating point in one tweet, and easier to have twitter threads that don’t break between sentences.

  106. DP_Roberts says:

    Early in my career, I was on a consulting project for a multi-billion dollar home security company with atrocious customer retention numbers that were quickly moving in the wrong direction. As we dug into the reasons for attrition, the cause became extremely clear: Their door-to-door salesmen were signing up customers who they knew had no promise of enduring as customers for more than a few months. They were selling to people with terrible credit and low incomes, and in many cases committing outright fraud and signing up people who had no idea they were agreeing to a home security contract.

    The cause of this bad behavior was also extremely clear: The company created enormous incentive jumps. Below 100 accounts, you might make $250 per account; but above 100 you make $500 per account RETROACTIVELY APPLIED. This means that your 100th sale would literally make you $25,000 and be the difference between a successful summer and a complete waste of time. As the summer neared its end, panicked salesmen would do whatever it took to get to number 100.

    We recommended that they adopt a more gradual pay scale with smaller bumps, and the executive overseeing our project told us “We can’t do that.” We asked why, and he said “because panic is an exponentially more effective motivator than desire.” They had tried implementing the gradual pay scale and sales, both legitimate and otherwise, had plummeted.

    I think about that a lot in the context of politics. Panic is strongly incentivized. “These people want to destroy you, your people, and your way of life” is exponentially more powerful than “these people have a bad governing philosophy that will lead to disastrous outcomes.” This incentive is so strong, that the political powers at be will naturally align themselves around whatever scissor statement will create the most mutual panic.

    Sure, New Atheism/Social Justice is essentially an evolving leftist attempt at hamartiology, but it’s an economically incentivized one. Why the shift? I think it has to do with “the rise of the nones.” Religious scissor statements were no longer as panic-inducing when fewer people take religion seriously.

    Additionally, it does seem like there is a hierarchy: Race/origin is the default division and is most powerful, religion comes next, and class divisions come third, usually when a population is so homogenous that racial and religious divisions become difficult to make. Many people have wondered why the US is so much less socialist and so much less class-warfare-inclined than other nations. Maybe it’s as simple as class divisions being crowded out of the market in the context of unparalleled religious and racial diversity.

    Where do we go next? I think the current SJ dividing line (race/sex/orientation) is here to stay for the next 50 or so years. But eventually, in a society that is ethnically mixed beyond any ability to draw clear lines and homogenous in its irreligiosity, we shall finally stabilize around being panicked by class-based divisions, like a nice, normal country is supposed to.

  107. Tyrrell McAllister says:

    A point of contention needs to excite both sides of the dispute to become the kind of protracted discourse-dominating argument that New Atheism was in its day and that Social Justice is now.

    So it seems important that New Atheism and Social Justice both provide two-sided hamartiologies. They don’t just give their followers a simple explanation for why the rest of the world is evil. They also give the rest of the world a simple explanation for why the followers are evil.

    On the one hand, as Scott says, followers get one simple point on which to hammer the rest of the world (god-belief or racism). But on the other hand, the rest of the world gets one simple point on which to hammer followers (god-denial or race-baiting).

    “Of course atheists do terrible things. Their defining quality is their rejection God, who is the fount of all goodness. Without God, all is permitted.”

    or

    “Of course SJWs do terrible things. They think that they’re the victims of terrible oppression, so they’ll do anything to unite their fellows, and they’ll feel no mercy for their perceived oppressors.”

    Each side feels like they’ve exactly nailed what’s wrong with the other side. Each side feels confident that a position grounded in such a simple truth cannot lose in debate. Each side has a simple explanation for why the other must be stopped. So each side fights tirelessly for years, until the next yet-more-irresistible crux comes along.

  108. Freddie deBoer says:

    The very first thing that I ever wrote that got any attention was a piece about how I was an atheist who rejected the New Atheists for their demeanor. I wouldn’t write it today; pendulum swung too far.

  109. smilerz says:

    I think hamartiology is a pretty good explanation, John McWhorter’s theory that SJW is really just religion gets to a similar conclusion, though from a different direction. I was always a little turned off by that exact framing though, as it’s too easy to throw out as an accusation of”that’s just a religion (blind faith, etc) to simply dismiss a set of beliefs and close down conversation.

    But humans love heuristics that explain the universe, and having a simple heuristic that can explain why things are screwed up seems like an almost universal need. And with the overall fall of religiosity it seems like something had to replace it, right? So why not SJW?

    And, FWIW, this feels pretty close to John McWhorter’s theory that SJW is really just religion – though approaching that conclusion from a slightly different direction.

  110. Reasoner says:

    I blame this comic for the internet’s decreased intellectualism when it comes to arguments:

    https://www.xkcd.com/438/

    People no longer endorse arguing online the way they used to.

    • Reasoner says:

      Oh sorry I meant this comic: https://www.xkcd.com/386/

      Anyway, Scott writes: “Maybe it took about ten years from the founding of the Internet for people to really internalize that online arguments didn’t change minds.” I actually disagree. I think online arguments do change minds, to a scary large degree. For example, look at the newfound popularity of socialism, the newfound acceptance of and advocacy for transfolk, the success of Donald Trump. In all cases these ideas were initially fringe and benefited hugely from internet followings.

      You might say “the stupidity of Trump support proves arguments don’t change minds” or similar. But how much anti-Trump efforts are actually doing their level best to meet Trump supporters from where they’re coming from and actually be persuasive, vs just rallying anti-Trump people together? There’s so much preaching to the choir nowadays that actually engaging with opponents can have a disproportionate memetic impact. Even in subreddits explicitly devoted to mocking one or another group of people, I’ve been upvoted for stating counterarguments in a calm, fact-based, non-antagonistic way. Sure, the person you’re arguing with is never going to come out and say “you changed my mind”. But that doesn’t matter, because there are 100 people reading for each person actually contributing to the discussion.

      The issue, from my perspective, is that the people who have the most time to argue online are often those with the least worthwhile to say.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        Even in subreddits explicitly devoted to mocking one or another group of people, I’ve been upvoted for stating counterarguments in a calm, fact-based, non-antagonistic way.

        Are those the SRS-type subreddits or the TumblrInAction-type subreddits?

      • Two McMillion says:

        I actually disagree. I think online arguments do change minds, to a scary large degree. For example, look at the newfound popularity of socialism, the newfound acceptance of and advocacy for transfolk, the success of Donald Trump. In all cases these ideas were initially fringe and benefited hugely from internet followings.

        Did these become more popular because of arguments, or because people adopted these beliefs as fashions?

  111. skybrian says:

    re: “conservativism began with the cotton plant in Jamestown”

    Uh, did you mean tobacco? I don’t know how cotton-growing got started, but the Jamestown colonists were so busy growing tobacco that they didn’t grow enough corn to feed themselves and had to trade for it with the Indians. They also attacked the people they depended on for food. Rather than being particularly conservative, the enterprise seems more like a spectacularly ignorant, desperate, floundering get-rich scheme.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Strict historical accuracy isn’t the point – it’s not like the Bible got started in Jerusalem, that Islam and Christianity are “Bronze Age” religions, or that their origin stories are “3,000 years old” either. It’s more about the spirit of the atheists/SJW’s beliefs.

  112. Atlas says:

    A lot of this is very good and I’ll explicate/expand on how I agree with it in later comments. But for now I just want to say that I’m still a little skeptical of the thesis that New Atheism was replaced/subsumed by Social Justice. I think the Intellectual Dark Web (e.g. Quillette) might be a closer current analogue. My metric is famous leaders of the movement, because it seems easier but probably still informative to track their personal ideological positions than to longitudinally study internet browsing habits of the masses.

    I agree with Scott that PZ Myers seems like a New Atheist who was attracted to Social Justice for similar reasons. But he seems more like an exception than a modal or very informative case to me. The most famous New Atheists were the so-called “Four Horsemen:” Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens is dead, but I don’t think he was really a Social Justice type—he wrote a well-known article about how women aren’t funny and moved pretty far to the neoconservative right post-9/11. Dawkins emphatically criticizes Islam, and he was apparently involved in a 2011 Social Justice scandal (that Scott upthread seemingly doesn’t want people to talk about but I hope I can at least euphemistically allude to) on the anti-SJ side. I’m not very familiar with Dennett’s work, but from what little I know I’d be shocked if he’s really into Social Justice.

    I think these are all pretty good pieces of evidence for my argument, but I’ve saved the best for last: Sam Harris. Harris is not only not a Social Justice partisan, the way e.g. Dennett might be. He isn’t only someone who occasionally feuds with Social Justice mobs, like Dawkins. He’s someone whose brand and intellectual output has become substantially about being anti-Social Justice. He invites people like Charles Murray, Jonathan Haidt, the Weinstein brothers, Douglas Murray, Nicholas Christakis, J[0]rdan B. P***rson and Geoff Miller on his podcast. His invitation of Charles Murray in particular was very controversial, and he later debated Ezra Klein on the issues that it raises.

    I don’t know, I won’t claim to follow all the complexities, or even the major facts, of the issue, but I kind of wonder how many people were big fans of Sam Harris back when he was best known for being a New Atheist but now hate him for being anti-Social Justice? I would suspect that a lot more people liked him back when he was mostly attacking religion, and still like him now because they like that he’s attacking Social Justice.

    Also, I kind of get what Scott is saying about how New Atheists were/are similar in affect to Social Justice proponents, but I feel like you could make an equally valid or superior comparison with IDW types. They make a lot of basically valid arguments, but they (or at least the unwashed masses following them) can also be uncharitable and obnoxious towards their enemies. They both really worry about a problem that seems trivial to critics, but which they see as a reality-distortion-field that causes a lot of other problems. They both really, really enjoy aggressive confrontation with people who believe in the idea that they oppose. (Another example would be Sargon of Akkad, who has said that he was really inspired by the Four Horsemen.)

    • Enkidum says:

      I don’t think the claim is that New Atheism merged into the social justice movement, I think the claim is that the branch of New Atheism that Freethought Blogs exemplified did. Which is clearly true.

      And I think there’s a very simple schism in two directions, with a few people like Dennett essentially withdrawing themselves from the fray. Myers, Watson, and others were hugely influential at the time, albeit less so than the Four Horsemen, and their side went SJ, while the people you’ve mentioned went in the other direction.

      • Atlas says:

        I think that would certainly be a more defensible claim, but I’m not sure Scott was making it in OP as precisely/carefully as are you. He wrote:

        New Atheism was also more centralized. EIAC was every man for himself; you would march forth alone into your chosen bulletin board and engage, neither seeking or receiving any help beyond precooked arguments from your local armory-site. New Atheism, for the first time, started to have celebrities. Richard Dawkins, of course, and the Four Horsemen, but also random bloggers like PZ Myers and Stephanie Zvan. These were the days when bloggers filled auditoria and travelled in high-altitude balloons. Every day they would tell you the latest reason to be outraged about religion, and every day you would discuss it on social media and comment sections and get appropriately angry.

        This corresponds to the peak of Freethought Blogs on the traffic graph above, and ended around 2016. What happened to it?

        I think it seamlessly merged into the modern social justice movement. [Based on the preceding paragraph, I take “it” here to mean New Atheism generally, not specifically the Freethought Blogs subset, perhaps I’m misunderstanding. In any case, I don’t think the distinction is emphasized enough.]

        This probably comes as a surprise, seeing as how everyone else talks about how atheists are heavily affiliated with the modern anti-social justice movement. I think that’s the wrong takeaway. Sure, a lot of people who identify as atheists now are pretty critical of social justice. That’s because the only people remaining in the atheist movement are the people who didn’t participate in the mass transformation into social justice. It is no contradiction to say both “Most of the pagans you see around these days are really opposed to Christianity” and “What ever happened to all the pagans there used to be? They all became Christian.”

        I guess it’s not obvious to me (I’ll reread the relevant section of OP) why we should believe that the New Atheist—>Social Justice transformation was larger than the New Atheist—>Anti-Social Justice transformation. (And I think a comparison of the two is highly pertinent to OP’s argument.) I could be convinced of that, but based the evidence I mentioned in my original comment I’m currently still fairly skeptical of it.

        • Enkidum says:

          I think I misread the reference of “it” in the second and third paragraphs. In which case I stand by my earlier claim that it bifurcated.

        • Tarpitz says:

          I guess it’s not obvious to me (I’ll reread the relevant section of OP) why we should believe that the New Atheist—>Social Justice transformation was larger than the New Atheist—>Anti-Social Justice transformation.

          I think the assumption – right or wrong – is that New Atheism and Social Justice are both vastly larger (in terms of membership/ground level online presence) than Anti-Social Justice, so Anti-Social Justice can’t be where very much of the New Atheist membership went, even if it is where much of the leadership has ended up.

          • Enkidum says:

            I think that assumption has to be wrong. Harris, Dawkins, etc (not to mention the various youtubers) continue to have massive audiences, and continue to be important influences on all sorts of online shenanigans. I’d assume the two “sides” are fairly equally-matched.

          • Spot says:

            I think the assumption – right or wrong – is that New Atheism and Social Justice are both vastly larger (in terms of membership/ground level online presence) than Anti-Social Justice

            I think this is assumption is wrong, and while it doesn’t invalidate the article, it’s a point that Scott maybe could have made more carefully. I think Anti-Social Justice (plus their sympathizers and on-off associates) is quite large – maybe not as large as Social Justice or New Atheism, but not “vastly” smaller – and I think it did absorb a significant number of New Atheists after the movement’s collapse.

            I’d argue that people tend to underestimate the size of ASJ because SJ has huge – albeit sometimes tepid – support in left-leaning legacy media (which is to say, most legacy media) and ASJ doesn’t.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      As an aside, is Jordan Peterson really censored?

    • Akrasian says:

      Another current SJ figure, Contrapoints, was apparently involved in the youtube skeptic community. She is of course a minor figure compared to your examples, but I don’t think SJ has major figures in the same way a New Atheism or the IDW does. The reasons for this would be another interesting question.

      • ManyCookies says:

        Well they don’t have major Youtube figures like Ben Shapiro or whatever, or at least are way less popular. That’s kinda our online bubble. But now that I think about it, is there a definitive progressive/SJ personality in the “mainstream” or whatever? AOC arguably, sorta…?

        • I wouldn’t call AOC a SJ personality. She’s more of an old-school socialist. She recently endorsed Bernie Sanders—if we identify the SJ camp with the people who think “Berniebros” are a thing, she can’t be put in that camp. She is definitely not a SJW.

          In general, “SJ personality” is more of an externally-applied epithet than something people identify as themselves. Kind of like “neoliberal”. SJ is part of a broader package of liberal/socialist politics, not a cleanly separable thing.

          • Enkidum says:

            I would disagree. She’s very much an old-school socialist with a very strong commitment to identity/SJ framing as well.

            Frankly, she gives me some hope for the future.

        • Spot says:

          Maybe people like Ta-Nehisi Coates and DeRay Mckesson for antiracism? Contemporary/fourth wave feminism is tougher: there are a LOT of minor public figures known for their feminist work, but very few that could be called anything close to famous. All I can really think of are people like Jessica Valenti, Lindy West, Rebecca Traister, etc. – and of course they don’t have anything remotely like the star power of the Four Horsemen at their peak.

          How can this be so given the movement’s enormous cultural power? I’ve noticed that the public imagination, SJ seems to be represented less by individuals than by grassroots movements, eg Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Occupy to a lesser extent, etc. Why is this the case? I’m not exactly sure.

          • Aapje says:

            Isn’t it because it is mandatory among the ‘elite?’ You don’t need Stalin to purge the unbelievers when there are a million little Stalins in positions of power.

            Ultimately, mainstream SJ isn’t at all intellectual, but really just ‘benevolent’ racism/sexism/etc. You don’t need advanced coordination if all that is needed is strong bias.

          • Spot says:

            Isn’t it because it is mandatory among the ‘elite?’ You don’t need Stalin to purge the unbelievers when there are a million little Stalins in positions of power.

            Maybe, but this framing presents some problems in the context of the “hamartiology” hypothesis. I think Scott is right that there was a period in which New Atheism was basically fashionable in urban Blue (“elite”) circles in a way that is at least somewhat analogous to social justice today. So why did New Atheism give rise to big-name celebrities and not SJ? It’s especially striking because I would say SJ is a) an even more politically important phenomenon and b) is more entwined with Blue identity than New Atheism ever was.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that the main reasons why it seems that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a smaller celebrity is because SJ is a much bigger tent, with much more internal disagreement. Ta-Nehisi Coates has sold 1.5 million copies of his second book, while the most popular atheist book, The God Delusion, sold 3 million copies over a much longer period. I predict that Ta-Nehisi Coates will reach that.

            In any case, they seem very similar in how big they are, relative to society as a whole, although Coates is far less read by those who identify as SJ than Dawkins was read by those who identify as atheist.

            I think that this is caused in part by there being extremely broad support for the abstract/claimed goals of SJ (including by anti-SJ people) and lots of people being recruited into sympathy for SJ by way of fairly hollow memes. I saw a very large number of claims like this: “feminism = the radical notion that women are people too.” There seems to be a constant supply of bland SJ memes that SJ advocates interpret very differently (equal pay, black lives matter, believe women, etc).

            So this kind of rhetoric caused widespread agreement that feminism/anti-racism/SJ/etc is necessary and great, while those sympathizers often have radically different interpretations of what feminism/anti-racism/SJ/etc actually is. In fact, it seems like the joke about Jews/philosophers/etc: if you ask 10 X’s for their opinion, you get 11 answers.

            More specifically, I think that there are a huge number of people who support SJ in a very, very, very moderate way. These people are turned off immensely when Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about reparations or anything else more radical than what moderate politicians and pundits are already saying (note that fairly core aspects of SJ ideology like political correctness are extremely disfavored).

            So essentially, there is no space for radical SJ advocates that find favor with all those who consider themselves to be a SJ advocate of some kind. The moderates don’t like Ta-Nehisi Coates, but prefer Michelle Obama’s books and such, who is herself a casual SJ advocate.

            In contrast, atheism was never mandatory in the blue tribe. Despite this meme, the blue tribe never widely accepted that religious people were necessarily anti-science. The result was that the atheist community agreed more on the substance.

            Tl;DR: The more mandatory an identity is to be accepted by your peers, the less agreement there is on what the ideology behind the identity actually is.

  113. meh says:

    If I were to describe the power of New Atheism over online discourse to a teenager, they would never believe me. Why should they?

    Their age group is also probably ~40% non-religious

    https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/13/a-closer-look-at-americas-rapidly-growing-religious-nones/

  114. Clutzy says:

    If you want to turn this into a series, or make an addendum, perhaps also investigate people converting to climate change from atheism in this same vein.

    As a non-atheist I don’t really feel qualified onto why people choose these “hamartiologies”, I simply from afar have observed them as always being similar to an evangelist religion. And since you think people are always converting between these secular religions, it makes sense to me that they evangelize so much. I don’t doubt the common sense wisdom of, “the zeal of the convert”; Sohrab Ahmari being the example of our times.

    • JohnBuridan says:

      Interesting point about people converting among secular religions.
      This research from Pew shows that Americans who change religion or affiliation once, frequently do it multiple times. Assuming that religious and non-religious people are not hugely dispositionally different, then irreligious people would change their shtick similarly frequently. The thing that caught my eye in the chart was how many Protestants became unaffiliated changed affiliation multiple times.

      I need help understanding the chart on religious changing though. Is it claiming that of those who change religion, between 1/5th and 1/3rd change religions multiple times before landing on unaffiliated?

  115. Jaskologist says:

    Proposed: all of this has happened before, in pre-Soviet Russia.

    Dostoevsky wrote in Bros K:

    In the same way, if he had decided that God and immortality did not exist, he would at once have become an atheist and a socialist.

    For socialism is not merely the labour question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism today, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to Heaven from earth but to set up Heaven on earth.

    Which is just them saying “Instead of rehearsing the same old tired arguments for or against the existence of God, it’s time to become part of the struggle for progress and equality.” some 150 years ago.

    • Quixote says:

      That’s a very interesting historical note.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      Very interesting. I had been wondering if there were precedents for a movement that successfully infiltrated and partly “turned” unrelated social movements, and whether maybe communism was a good candidate.

    • mike150160 says:

      The Dostoevsky references always intrigue me. These are fiction but seem to be treated as at least biography if not history.

      You’re not the only one of course, JP references C&P as if it represents the typical thought processes of an atheist.

      • Two McMillion says:

        If you’re a religious person, it’s very difficult to get into the mind of an atheist any way except in literature. And Dostoevsky’s work is engrossing and compelling if nothing else.

        • Enkidum says:

          I found Dostoevsky very difficult to follow mostly because the thought processes he describes are so fundamentally alien to me. Growing up as an (at least) third-generation atheist, never having been to church or Sunday school, there’s nothing I ever felt I was reacting or rebelling against, except very rare and very specific cases where someone said/did something to me because of my atheism. And I’ve never felt very depressed or upset about it.

          I can’t imagine gaining any useful insight into the minds of myself or people like me, who I think probably constitute the majority of modern atheists, from his novels. But I haven’t read them all, and could definitely be blind to something in what I have read.

          ETA: “I can’t imagine gaining any useful insight into the minds of myself or people like me,” is an overstatement – better is I can’t imagine gaining any useful insight into the aspects of my mind that are central to my atheism.

          • acymetric says:

            I can’t imagine gaining any useful insight into the minds of myself or people like me, who I think probably constitute the majority of modern atheists

            I’m less certain of this than you are. If true, it is not a significant majority.

          • Enkidum says:

            I didn’t mean to refer to people who come from multi-generational families of atheists (this is trivially false, since the majority of people have always been religious), simply people whose atheism is not really founded in much of a hostile attitude to anything, who are not really rebelling against anyone.

            This is definitely not representative of most atheists in places where religion still dominates politics and culture, however, where you have to be willing to take an explicit stance against your own society.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          I am afraid that if you are trying to get into the mind of an atheist through reading Dostoevsky, great antiatheist, you are doing it wrong.

          • Viliam says:

            Well, at least you get familiar with the usual strawmen. Don’t all atheists grow through the phase when they murder their neighbors because without God there is no reason not to?

          • Zorgon says:

            “22, M, GSOH, Atheist. I have killed 12.”

      • Protagoras says:

        Dostoevsky writes great characters, his atheist characters included. But none of them are particularly typical; they nearly all make terrible choices pretty consistently. So while they no doubt remind us of ourselves in our worst moments (though for most of us even in our worst moments our bad choices aren’t quite that bad), they definitely aren’t useful as examples of typical anything.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I find him relevant in this case because, though he is writing fiction, the setting is then-present-day Russia. I think we can presume that he is describing the social climate there with a fair degree of accuracy, even if his characters themselves are exaggerated. Certainly the ideas he is engaging with then were ideas that were in the water, and provide us some data points about how those philosophies developed in Russia.

          • Jaskologist says:

            For comparison, there’s a thread in the current OT where people are using Jane Austin’s novels to learn what the Anglican rules on married clergy were.

            Austin also wrote contemporary fiction. We don’t expect information about the Darcy family to be true, but if she portrays clergymen seeking wives as a normal thing in society, that’s really strong evidence that it was indeed a normal thing that the church allowed.

      • Protagoras says:

        Obviously Raskolnikov is (and is meant to be) an outlier in lots of ways other than his atheism. In fairness to Dostoevsky, we should also remember Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov, a much more reasonable atheist (well, by the standards set by the usual unreasonability of Dostoevsky characters in general). For that matter, the underground man, pathetic though he is, would surely never murder anyone.

    • SaudaraX says:

      I was also struck by the parallels with the 19th century. Marx and Engels began their engagement with philosophy through the Young Hegelian critique of religion, before turning to socialist politics. In Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843-4), he writes

      For Germany, the criticism of religion has been essentially completed, and the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.’

      He goes on to state that

      the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.