#RichardDawkins #Awkward

Like a lot of you, I look back wistfully upon a time when Richard Dawkins was a name to inspire admiration, and not one whose mere mention immediately triggers an “Oh shit, what has he said this time?” response. Over on Twitter, where he’s cultivated a reputation for (to put it politely) shooting from the hip and being nearly as reactionary as any Teabagger, his latest gem goes something like this:

Hmm, okay. And yet, oddly, in 2013 (*corrected posting date), the Richard Dawkins Foundation website was favorably reporting on this:

‘Secular safe zones’ offer campus shelter to atheist students

The small sticker on professor Robert Schmidt’s office door isn’t just a decoration — it’s a beacon of safety for students who feel they are being singled out for their lack of religious beliefs.

The blue, green, yellow and pink rectangle signals that Schmidt’s office at Utah State University is a “Secular Safe Zone” — a place where students who are atheists, agnostics or just questioning their faith can go for advice about dealing with bullying, discrimination and other forms of aggression.

“Being an ally to ‘create safe spaces in which secular students can question, criticize, and discuss topics and issues important to them’ feels right to me,” Schmidt said from his Logan office, quoting the goals of the Secular Safe Zone program. “All students should feel safe on campus.” [Emphasis added.]

Yeah, this is one of those moments best addressed by a Fillion GIF.


Addendum: Sadly, it didn’t take me long to find another example of Dawkins being a bit two-faced. I noticed this tweet exchange…

…and remembered that, in the wake of Elevatorgate and “Dear Muslima,” Dawkins got some personal revenge by demanding Rebecca Watson be disinvited from Reason Rally. #Awkward.

Open thread on episode #917

Russell and I are fending off the theist hordes with our mighty brains today on the show. But we will also be dissecting this condescending article on Salon, in which an “I’m an atheist but…” dude (apart from perpetuating the annoying meme that Dawkins, Hitchens and Maher are the global ambassadors of New Atheism, dictating a party line to us all) whinges that we lack proper appreciation of religion’s warm fuzzies. And of course, callers. Below is where you write your thinky bits.

Discussed on show: The Hotline Project.

(Yes, I know I can prattle on. Bad habit.)

When you know you’ve butthurt the right people

It’s when they add you to their “Bigotry Map,” that’s when.

It is a well-understood and even tiresome habit of bigots and bullies that they adopt the language of those they oppress in order to make themselves seem righteous in thought and deed. Heck, even old Adolf got into the act with his famous justification for the “racial purity” platform that ultimately killed millions. “By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord!” (Emphasis added, because why be subtle?)

Screaming baby Hitler

It’s not really Godwinning when it’s accurate, is it?

So this is how a noted and infamous hate group of hateful bigots, the American “Family” Association, can convince themselves that those who criticize them and who stand for equality and against discrimination are the true bigots. Because when self-righteousness takes up residence in very tiny brains, it must drag self-awareness into the trash to free up disc space.

And so you get the comical spectacle of the AFA condemning the Southern Poverty Law Center for labeling “Christian organizations who support the Biblical definition of marriage as ‘hate’ groups and falsely disseminat[ing] this information to liberal news media,” and they post that right next to a panel proving just what a hate group they really are (by describing LGBT marriage equality as forcing poor put-upon Christians to embrace “sexual perversion”). It would be a lot funnier if folks like this really weren’t so dedicated to hurting actual people.

Check out central Texas, and you’ll find the Atheist Community of Austin on their map, for which we are enormously proud. When the kind of people who call hate “love” and love “perversion” decide you’re the bad guy, you know you’re really on the side of the angels.

Oh…and which “Biblical definition of marriage” are they using again? Because that can get a bit confusing, you know.

Matt’s comprehensive new takedown of Pascal’s Wager

Matt has been Patreoning a new series of videos in which he plans to take on arguments for belief in as detailed and complete a manner as possible, and the first of these is now available. It’s a full-on brilliant demolition of Pascal’s Wager, which he has addressed many times on AXP itself, but never to this degree of fine-tooth analysis and rebuttal. In particular, he distinguishes between modern colloquial versions of the Wager Christians today commonly use, and Pascals’ original wording. Definitely worth the 27 minutes. Enjoy.

So have you heard the one about the pastor who wants to sentence gays to 10 years’ hard labor?

Yeah, sure you have. It’s the latest thing blowing up the atheist blogosphere and social media. Some utter fool named Pastor Michael V. Williams, who runs a website called PreachingPolitics.com (to which I am not linking — take note of this brilliant trick, other atheist bloggers), has, in a YouTube video, offered up this solution to the homersectionality problem as he sees it.

Can I just make an observation?

Yes, this is a recapitulation of the “don’t feed the trolls” thing, but it bears mentioning that Williams’ YouTube channel, on which this drivel appears, has all of 10 subscribers. Generally, his videos get fewer than 100 views, and most get fewer than 50. He has some that have gotten only one.

Except this one, which has, as of this writing, gotten close to 10,000. Because some people got their panties in a twist, decided this mouth-breather was actually someone in a position of being able to influence real policy and lawmaking decisions (here’s the Progressive Secular Humanist blog calling the utterly obscure Williams a “Christian leader” and treating his “proposed amendment” like it’s a clear and present danger and something that may be about to go up for a vote on Capitol Hill any minute now), and have — O! irony, you cruel mistress — given Williams exactly the exposure he’s always dreamed of but never would have otherwise gotten by embedding and sharing his asinine video everywhere they can.

For fuck’s sake.

Look, religious bigotry against gays, atheists, women, minorities, what have you, is a vile thing and an ongoing real problem that produces real victims. This is not in dispute. But the real battles against those things are being fought in a much bigger arena, and while there is a long long long way to go, headway is being made. There has been a sea change in public attitudes towards marriage equality, for instance, and the momentum is on the side of the good guys here. We are almost certain to see nationwide legal gay marriage by the 2020’s, at least.

But the ongoing threat to equality does not mean we need to do the enemy’s work for them, overreact to every online outlier with a webcam and a Neanderthal opinion, and elevate his importance by giving him unwonted and undeserved exposure. The proper reaction to the Williamses of the word is to point and laugh, people. History is already leaving the pathetic, benighted clowns behind. So let us make merry at their increasing irrelevance, and their butthurt at this state of affairs. Point and laugh.

First rule of holes…

I can only think that what was on Richard Dawkins’ mind when he composed his most recent series of tweets was that he hoped to reassure critics of his, erm, often problematic approach to social issues that he wasn’t really saying or suggesting the awful things they thought he was. The result has, I fear, made an awkward situation worse. For starters, the tone of scolding condescension doesn’t help.

Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.  Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think. X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of X, go away and don't come back until you've learned how to think logically.

Someone might have tapped Dawkins on the shoulder at this point and gently suggested that addressing rape survivors as if they were creationist numbskulls who never grasped the whole thinky thing might have been the wrong approach. So he attempted to clarify some more.

[Read more…]

An observation on the concept of “callout culture”

So if you call yourself a skeptic, that means — or should mean — that you embrace the notion that no idea is sacrosanct, there is no dogma, and every idea and statement should be subject to criticism and rebuttal.

Crazy talk, right? But check it: there are some people, even in our august society of self-styled skeptics and freethinkers, who don’t actually hold to this. Oh, sure, they pay a great deal of lip service to it, but that’s easy to do as long as safe ideas are all that are brought under critical scrutiny: young earth creationism, Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing, UFO abductions and crop circles, “I had a three-way with Bigfoot and Slenderman,” or whatever fortune cookie word salad Deepak Chopra tweeted today.

But the minute they say something stupid, suddenly, the core principle of skepticism doesn’t apply. It is a thing to which they should be immune, because how could they be wrong!? Dammit, they are rationalists! Says so right there on their RD.net T-shirt.

So what happens is that sometimes a person like this will say something other folks think is really stupid, and instead of doing what skeptics pride themselves on doing — entering into a dialogue involving argument, rebuttal, and counter-rebuttal — they’re just so sold on the complete unassailability of their ideas that the only rational conclusion is that their critics must be just doing everything wrong in every way.

Well, that's settled then.

Well, that’s settled then.

See? It can’t be that one of our own might be a fallible person who doesn’t actually get everything right all the time. You’re just getting something wrong. Haven’t we already established that we’re the skeptical community, which my character sheet tells me gives us an automatic +20 on our “smarter than everyone else” die rolls? Indeed, if someone from within the ranks is criticizing your ideas, well, they are simply malcontents and agitators who are looking to create…


So it’s like this.

To sum up:  Atheist YouTuber makes humorous video mocking the worst aspects of callout culture.  Atheist public figure tweets said video.  Atheist callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.

Atheist YouTuber: Here is my new video in which I put on a wig and mock people I think are wrong.
Response: Okay, but this whole thing is a big straw man fallacy. If you’re going to criticize people, why not just criticize what they actually say?
Atheist YouTuber: SEE? CALLOUT CULTURE! And I totes predicted it. Where is my million dollars, Randi!?

All you have to do is slap a dismissive term on anyone critiquing your critique, and voila, you are immune from critique. Anyone who disagrees with me is just wrong about everything, because SKEPTICISM.

Let’s see how else we can play this game.

Creationist: “Look, I posted another video about how the universe is only 6000 years old, and evolutionist callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”
Psychic: “Look, I went on Montel and talked to the dead relatives of everyone in the audience, and those James Randi callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”
Moon landing hoaxer: “Look, Alex Jones posted another video about how the government totally faked all this shit, and the brainwashed sheeple callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”
9/11 Truther: “Look, I posted another video in which I scientifically explained how exploding jet fuel burning at thousands of degrees could never in a million years structurally weaken a skyscraper and cause it to collapse, and the police state callout culture warriors freak out and overreact, pretty much like in the video.”

Huh…when those people talk that way, suddenly it sounds kind of stupid.


Well, fuckin A.

Here’s an idea.

Be a skeptic.

Step one: realize that you could be wrong too!

If someone else’s ideas are stupid, then it should be enough to address them accurately, not misrepresenting them, and on the sole basis of their merits. And if someone thinks you are wrong, then you should listen to what they say, and pick apart their criticism based on its merits, rather than simply slapping labels on them that are little more than the rhetorical equivalent of “lalalala I can’t hear you!” Because maybe it isn’t “callout culture” coming after you after all. Maybe you actually just said some stupid bullshit. People do. And you’re a people.

I know. No one ever said this skepticism thing was easy, or that handling its sharp edges would mean you’d never get cut yourself.

Sorry if that’s what someone told you when you came on board. But some men will just tell a pretty lady anything. You should have been more skeptical.