Bi Any Means Podcast #62: Street Epistemology with Anthony Magnabosco

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My guest for today is street epistemologist Anthony Magnabosco. For the past couple of years, he’s been making YouTube videos where he asks religious people questions about their beliefs in a way that’s both non-confrontational and thought-provoking. So today we’re going to talk about what street epistemology is all about, and how to have better discussions with religious people.

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PZ Myers vs. David Smalley: Maybe They’re Both Right?

Being both a 4th Listener and a Freethought Blogger, I knew I had to listen to PZ Myers’ conversation with David Smalley this morning on Dogma Debate. I wasn’t able to take notes because I listened to it while I was driving to work, but I made some mental notes. Overall I think they were both right.

First, here’s a little context to the conversation. Last week, as readers may remember, Joey Lee Kirkman publicly bashed Callie Wright and Ari Stillman of The Gaytheist Manifesto for no reason other than the fact they are both social justice activists (or as Kirkman likes to call us, PSJWs—pseudo social justice warriors). This led Smalley to both write a blog post and upload a short episode of Dogma Debate about the need to handle disagreements privately before they escalate into ugly public spats. Myers responded by writing about how Smalley’s statement was the same old “Let’s be nice to one another” silencing technique people use to brush harmful behavior under the proverbial rug. So Smalley invited Myers on his show to talk about it.

Smalley began the conversation with a story about how he settled a disagreement between Justin Schieber and Peter Boghossian by having them call each other. They still disagree with each other about social issues, but according to Smalley, they’ve learned to disagree respectfully. Myers responded that if someone has a history of being an abusive asshole, you should cut off ties with that person, and Smalley agreed. Smalley also said publicly fat-shaming and misgendering people goes way beyond a petty disagreement (a reference to the Kirkman situation).

After the break, Smalley gave an example of what he means by a petty disagreement. When he first saw the picture of Ellen DeGeneres riding Usian Bolt, he thought it was funny, but then after learning about how white people used to ride slaves, he realized why it was so controversial. Myers then called Smalley out for brushing over the controversy since DeGeneres didn’t intend it to be racist. Smalley then made the mistake of asking Myers if it would be okay if DeGeneres photoshopped a picture of her riding the back of a white sprinter, and Myers said yes because there’s no history of white people being used as animals in America. Myers then said if you want to know if something is racist or not, it’s best to ask an actual person of color instead of discuss it with another white person. The podcast lasted just for an hour, but if you’re a 4th Listener, you can hear the extended show here.

Now maybe I’m being too nicey-nice, but I think both Smalley and Myers made valid points. I used to be all “If you disagree with me, I want nothing to do with you,” but the more involved get with the atheist movement, the more I realize we’re a pretty complex group of people. We all have our blind spots, so it’s not unusual for two skeptics to look at the same piece of empirical data and come up with two completely different interpretations. For example, Smalley once said he thought Black Lives Matter protesters blocking the road was “going too far,” but Alix Jules explained to him why that wasn’t the case. At least they had that conversation so that Smalley could understand where Jules was coming from.

Which brings me to my next point: sometimes dialogue actually does help. In his discussion with Myers, Smalley shared a story about how, after talking to an anti-feminist woman, he was able to change her mind. Likewise, when I wrote about trigger warnings for The Humanist last fall, a lot of people told me it helped them see the issue differently than just the same old YouTube talking points.

As far as whether to discuss these things privately or publicly, I think it depends. I think private conversations are a good way to prevent things from escalating. It was a private conversation that helped me realize I handled the controversy over my “toxic feminists” post badly. Without that conversation, the whole thing might have blown up to something worse.

However, let’s be honest: Trying to have a civil conversation with some people is like casting pearls before swine. I recently tried doing some Street Epistemology on an anti-feminist guy on a friend’s Facebook wall. Maybe I didn’t do it right, but to me it was obvious the other guy only knew YouTube talking points, so we weren’t able to get anywhere. Also, Myers is right when he said intent doesn’t mean anything. You may have accidentally stepped on someone’s toe on a crowded bus, but you still stepped on that toe. You don’t have to do penance for it; just say you’re sorry and be more careful so you don’t step on anyone else’s toes.

The thing I agree with Myers the most is when he said sometimes opinions are more than just mere disagreements. If someone has a history of saying racist and sexist things again and again, chances are that person really is just a racist and sexist asshole. If someone has a history of being abusive towards others, chances are that person is really just an abusive asshole. We don’t need any more abusive, racist, and sexist assholes in the atheist movement, so we shouldn’t have to tolerate them for the sake of “working together for a common goal.” Also, I think DeGeneres should have issued a public apology and explain that at the time, she was ignorant about the history of whites riding on the backs of slaves.

Overall it was an interesting discussion. Not a train wreck, but not perfect, either.

Another Day, Another Atheist Asshole

You may be wondering what the “Fuck Joey Lee and Lindsay Kirkman” line from yesterday’s episode of the Biskeptical Podcast is all about. Well gather around, kids, because I’ll tell you all about it.

Allegedly a “PSJW mob” (the p stands for “pseudo”) insulted Joey Lee Kirkman’s wife Lindsay last week (who these people were, I don’t know), so Joey decided he had had enough. He decided to fight fire with fire and attack two people who had absolutely NOTHING to do with insulting Lindsay: Callie Wright and Ari Stillman from The Gaytheist Manifesto.

First Joey posted this meme insulting Wright:

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Fatphobia and misgendering for the price of one!

But the real cherry on the shit sundae was when Joey shared a screenshot of a friends-only post Stillman recently made about feeling uncomfortable after a guy tried to flirt with them. (He eventually took it down, but then re-posted the screenshot, only this time blocking Stillman’s name.) Apparently according to Kirkman, being uncomfortable with a strange guy hitting on you automatically makes you some sort of radical extremist feminist who goes around falsely accusing people of rape at atheist conventions.

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Strawman much?

I knew Joey had an ax to grind against what he calls “PSJWs,” but I don’t want to be the one who always gets defensive whenever someone says SJW. I want to know what one means by “SJW” before I jump to conclusions. I also have no problem with disagreements about beliefs and ideas. If I have a belief that contradicts what the empirical data says, then I want the empirical data to squash it.

But what Joey did goes way beyond criticizing a belief; he resorted to personal attacks like a child. He posted someone’s personal information for the sole purpose of bullying them. He attacked random people that had nothing to do with anything. Overnight Joey turned into a YouTube Atheist without even having a YouTube channel.

I know I probably shouldn’t say much since I’ve had my fair share of Facebook temper tantrums. I can’t stand on my high horse and act like my hands are clean. But the difference between Joey and me is that when people I respect tell me I fucked up, I believe them. Joey, on the other hand, has been told by many of my fellow atheist activists that what he did was wrong, yet he still refuses to see it.

So congratulations, Joey Lee Kirkman: You are now part of the elite club of Atheist Assholes Who Are Ruining It For Everyone! Here are your complimentary butthurt cream and bucket for your white tears.

The Biskeptical Podcast #6: The Baltimore City Police Report

Today Ishmael Brown from Angry Black Rant joins Morgan and I to discuss the DOJ’s recent report on the Baltimore Police Department, and to discuss whether or not police reform is possible. I also receive a message on the listener line, and the President makes a public statement about some recent controversy in the online atheist community. Enjoy!

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Bi Any Means Podcast #61: Reproductive Justice and Atheist Assholes with Niki Massey

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My guest for today is Niki Massey, who writes about race, feminism, disability, and geek culture on her blog Seriously?!?, which can be found on the Orbit. She is also a clinic escort and a self-described asexual writer of erotica. So today we’re going to talk about her life, her blog, and her activism.

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Bi Any Means Podcast #60: Black Humanist Alliance with Ashton P. Woods

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My guest for today is Ashton P. Woods, co-chair of the Black Humanist Alliance. He is an activist who, according to his bio, “openly identifies as gay, atheist, HIV positive, and unapologetically black” According to the Black Humanist Alliance’s mission statement, “While we concern ourselves with confronting expressions of religious hegemony in public policy, the BHA is also devoted to confronting social, economic, and political deprivations that disproportionately impact Black America due to centuries of culturally ingrained prejudices. Using humanism as a life praxis, the BHA seeks to realize the need for a more intersectional and more politicized scope of activism through encouraging social justice competency within secular spaces as well as by engaging in racial, gender, and restorative justice activism.” So today Ashton and I are going to talk about the Black Humanist Alliance and all that they do.

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The Atheos App is . . . Actually Pretty Good!

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It’s no secret that I am not a Peter Boghossian fan. As I’ve written several times, he tends to say asinine things on Twitter and then cry foul whenever he’s criticized. He also loves to strawman feminists and social justice activists as dogmatists who think all straight white cis men are bad. Yet the whole street epistemology thing intrigues me. I never liked the whole “You’re an idiot because you believe in a magical sky daddy” approach to debating religion because, let’s face it, it doesn’t work. It only makes believers push us away even more. With street epistemology, though, it’s a conversation where, instead of strawmanning the other person, you simply ask what a person believes and how they arrived at that belief. You don’t always have to be in your face in order to get people to think.

Which is why, despite my criticisms of Boghossian, I downloaded the Atheos App the other day. And it’s actually pretty good!

The Atheos App is divided into ten levels based on Plato’s cave analogy, from “The journey begins” to “Freed from delusion.” Each level contains a series of arguments believers make to justify their beliefs, and you have to choose the best way to respond. (Hint: it’s always the question that asks the believer how they reached that conclusion.)  These multiple choice questions help the budding Street Epistemologist ask the questions that get believers to think about why they believe in what they believe.

One of the first categories is “Time to flee,” which tackles the best way to respond to extremely emotional situations by backing off. For example, if someone says, “I was just diagnosed with cancer, but I know God will heal me,” DO NOT respond with, “Didn’t God give you cancer to begin with?” Instead, you should respond with, “I’m sorry you’re sick. Is there something I can do to help?” Being diagnosed with cancer is scary enough without adding a faith crisis on top of things!

The only drawback is that to unlock premium content, you need to pay $4.99. You get the first level for free, but the second level requires money. Hopefully that’s the only time you have to pay (I’m on Level 2 now, so I don’t know).

Overall, though, the Atheos App is a great way to teach you how to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with you without having it turn into a shitstorm. I recommend it!

The Biskeptical Podcast #5: #GurlIGuessImWithHer

The Biskeptical Podcast is back after a month-long break, and today we’re going to tackle the shitstorm that is the election season. On today’s episode, Morgan comes clean about her libertarian past, we discuss whether or not it’s worth voting third-party, and Melania Trump gives an inspiring speech. You don’t want to miss this!

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Bi Any Means Podcast #59: Feminist Humanist Alliance with Jessica Xiao

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The Bi Any Means podcast is back! And returning to the show today is Jessica Xiao, project assistant of the American Humanist Association and co-chair of the Feminist Humanist Alliance. According to their website, the Feminist Humanist Alliance is “a national network of women, genderqueer and trans people committed to the principles of humanism and inclusive feminism. We strive for social progress through promoting critical consciousness and direct action.” So today Jessica and I are going to talk about the Feminist Humanist Alliance and all the great stuff they’re doing.

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