Is Thunderf00t a Sociopath?

In response to my video promoting positive goals and values for the atheist community (Atheism…Plus What?), Thunderf00t (whose real name is Phil Mason) has expanded his anti-feminist rants to the point that I am seriously worried he might have no empathy for other human beings at all. He is now even ranting against concern for minorities. His departure from logic and reason, in defense of abuse and amorality, is just weird, and makes it ironic that he claims my call for more community and compassion, honesty, and reasonableness is toxic to the atheism movement. Clearly, his chucking overboard empathy, women, minorities, and anything actually good for our community is what’s toxic. If his vision were realized, the atheist community would be a scary and awful place to be.

Before I break down what is most disturbing about his video, some backstory is needed. [Read more…]

Atheism…Plus What?

Picture of Dr. Carrier at the podium discussing Atheism Plus at the 2013 American Atheists conventionVideo of my talk at the 2013 American Atheists Convention (their 50th anniversary!) is now online. It is getting downvotes from the haters (even at one point more downs than ups). Please go watch that video (Atheism…Plus What?) and see if you can find anything in it that honestly deserves a downvote. Seriously. And if you don’t, please upvote it. Show the haters they don’t own the movement.

Others reading the comments (I can’t stomach such a task myself) tell me that the downvotes appear to be coming from people who didn’t even watch the video (or didn’t watch it all through). It appears, in fact, that these downvotes are there in an attempt to discourage people from watching the video, rather than representing disagreement with its actual content or quality or value. [You can now read a transcript and view the slideshow.]

Note that the Women in Atheism panel at AACon 2013 is also a must-view adjunct to this, since in it the women on the panel brilliantly answer some of the common questions that arose from my talk. Unfortunately that video is not yet online (I’m not sure if they are putting everything up or only select things). I will link it in here as soon as I find out it’s available. But one of the examples of what they addressed is the hyperskeptical claim that all the harassment of atheism women in our movement is done by hundreds of Christians posing as atheists, which actually should outrage you all the more if you really believed that (rather than using it as an excuse to do nothing about it). Greta Christina gave an excellent discourse on why that doubt is irrational (in short: we see the same phenomenon in every other movement, e.g. the gaming and tech industries, so we should not expect to be a miraculous exception), and other members of the panel added to that (such as pointing out that we have plenty of evidence a lot of them are atheists).

I also did a podcast last month on Atheism+ that went up just recently, in which I have a reasonable conversation with someone who disapproves of it, UK political scientist and Huffington Post blogger Tony Sobrado (listen to his Interview with Richard Carrier on Atheism Plus). No hating or flaming, and no straw men or other fallacies. He had concerns based on misunderstandings and missing or incorrect information, asked about them calmly, and gave me the opportunity to answer them. All without any atmosphere of hostility. A model for how to do this. [A convenient transcript of that interview is now available.]

That podcast was inspired by Sobrado’s Huffington Post article against Atheism+ “What Is Atheism Plus and Do We Need It?” and from listening to the ensuing podcast or reading its transcript you can see how we addressed everything in his article on that show. So anyone who may have read that and wondered how we might respond (or was angered by it and wished someone would answer it), this is the podcast for you. But the AACon video is a good introductory piece to start with. The two together tell you pretty much all you need in order to understand what we’re really advocating in the Atheism+ movement and why.


[Update: I have since also published an essay on this subject in Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism 21.1 [2013], pp. 105-13, which is available online as Atheism…Plus What? Then see here for all my blogging on the topic of Atheism Plus, before and since.]

Appearing in Texas: American Atheists 50th!

I shall be one of the featured speakers at the American Atheists convention this month, in Austin, Texas, March 28-31 (2013). And I’m just one among a huge array of awesome folk presenting there: just look at this lineup! Yes, that’s Jay Jay French from Twisted Sister and recent United States congressman Peter Stark on the roster (at an explicitly atheist convention!)–along with a zillion other hoopy froods. Read all about this convention, who will be there, and how to get in and get accommodations, at their convention website. It’s their 50th anniversary, so this one is special. So many people will be speaking and performing there it’s mind boggling. If you can make it, do!

I’m currently slated for the 5:15pm slot that Friday (March 29th), but be aware that can sometimes change. My talk will be “Atheism…Plus What?” Yes. That’s right. Shock. Horror. I’ll summarize the backstory and aims and values of what we’ve been calling Atheism Plus and explain why I think it’s important (whatever we choose to call it) and how we can have reasonable critical discussions about it (instead of emotional kneejerk reactions). No Q&A is scheduled, but you can chat with me at the nightly afterparties.

They will be selling my books Proving History and Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith. If you can find me anywhere at the convention without interrupting a speaker, I’ll happily sign anything you have (whether bought there or something you brought with you).

Harriet Hall Redeemed

Getting back to things I missed this past week and a half while I was away, I have good news to report on the infamous “big rifts” front. In my original post for Atheism+ I included what appeared to be the grossly callous behavior of leading skeptic Harriet Hall (although without naming her), which really shocked me and led me to conclude she must be rather heartless. I had then linked to a description of that and other actions against Surly Amy and the Skepchicks at the same event, and made these general remarks of outrage (though of the behavior of numerous people as a whole, not Hall specifically):

[A]s the Surly Amy story shows, there are clearly many of us who disregard the happiness of others just to hurt them, mocking or insulting (or even threatening) them merely to please one’s own vanity or self-righteousness, in complete disregard of the pointless misery it causes another human being. That is fucking cruel. And if you are complicit in that, or don’t even see what’s wrong with it, or worse, plan to engage in Christian-style apologetics for it, defending it with the same bullshit fallacies and tactics the Christians use to defend their own immorality or that of their fictional god, then I don’t want anything to do with you. You are despicable. You are an awful person. You disgust me. You are not my people.

Even the most rudimentary application of The Golden Rule would have caused any of the people who treated Amy as they did, or Rebecca Watson, or any of the many women and men who have been targeted by this shit, to stop themselves well beforehand. “Wait. Would I want people to treat me this way?” No, you fucking wouldn’t. So alas, you are a hypocrite.

Well, I am now glad to report I can (and will) add a retraction regarding Dr. Hall. I was quite wrong in her case. She has since apologized and explained that she didn’t realize the context of what she had done and how it had been misconstrued. She and Surly Amy have had an excellent correspondence over this, and Hall comes across as a great person and very concerned and on board with our goals and values (and not, as she had erroneously given the impression of, mocking and deriding them). Indeed her image is fully redeemed for me. She says she had no idea the harm she had caused, and would have behaved otherwise if she knew. That’s the behavior Atheism+ wants to promote and wants to see more of: recognition of moral responsibility, learning, and improving ourselves and our movement. And above all, listening and communicating in a reasonable fashion.

Surly Amy has written an excellent post on their reconciliation, with quotations of their correspondence, which is all very well worth reading: Chicks, Tough Old Hens and Roosters. Oh, and T-shirts at TAM. It explains a lot, and dispels a lot of myths, especially the notion that Hall has any sympathy for the people who were using her t-shirt protest as proof she was on their side. She quite clearly explains she was not then and is not now.




Sexual Objectification: An Atheist Perspective

Picture of Caroline Heldman, Ph.D.A recently excellent TED talk by Caroline Heldman about sexual objectification is a must-view. It will just take you thirteen minutes of your time, and I guarantee every minute is informative–things you should know, if you don’t already (and don’t assume you do). She correctly defines and identifies a real problem, identifies from empirical and scientific findings why it’s bad, and lays out what you can do about it, and everything she suggests is doable without much expense (the only resources required: just your attention and concern, and what it motivates you to say and think and do) except one thing, which is producing better art, advertising and media yourself (which we need not all do: that’s a recommendation for artists, marketers, and media people).

To watch that video, and read yet another disgusting example of how the women in our own movement are being treated, see Rebecca Watson’s post on it (Reminder: I Am an Object). Her post is short but to the point and she gives the evidence of what she’s talking about (in her case, something far worse than what Heldman is talking about, but on the same arc). Why so many men in our movement (and even some women) are not taking this seriously as a problem to speak out against and fight I don’t know. Anyway, the Heldman video is embedded at the end of her post, so if you don’t care about the latest harassment of Rebecca Watson, you can just skip to the end and watch Heldman (or click on her picture here above). Indeed I dare you to.

In the meantime, I have more to say on this subject as an atheist, a humanist, a feminist, and a philosopher… [Read more…]

Atheism+ : The Name for What’s Happening

Adam Lee has launched a petition I hope all my godless readers will sign. In fact I hope you will encourage as many godless friends and colleagues as you can to sign, to show how many of us support women in our movement and oppose the abuse and harassment of them that is going on from a very vocal minority of appalling atheists. See Petition: Support Feminism and Diversity in the Secular Community for the full explanation and link, or go directly to the petition at The Leaders of Atheist, Skeptical and Secular Groups: Support Feminism and Diversity in the Secular Community.

Why is this needed? As Lee well puts it:

We, the undersigned, are atheists, skeptics and nonbelievers who value free speech and rational thought and who seek to build a strong, thriving movement that can advocate effectively for these values. We’ve chosen to put our names to this petition because we want to respond to a video created by a blogger calling himself Thunderfoot. In this video, Thunderfoot attacks named individuals who’ve been active in promoting diversity and fighting sexism and harassment in our movement. He describes these people as “whiners” and “ultra-PC professional victims” who are “dripp[ing] poison” into the secular community, and urges conference organizers to shun and ignore them.

We hold this and similar complaints from other individuals to be seriously misguided, false in their particulars and harmful to the atheist community as a whole, and we want to set the record straight. We wish to clarify that Thunderfoot and those like him don’t speak for us or represent us, and to state our unequivocal support for the following goals: We support making the atheist movement more diverse and inclusive. … We support strong, sensible anti-harassment policies at our gatherings. … We support the people in our community who’ve been the target of bullying, harassment and threats. … [And we want] to put a stop to this bad behavior once and for all [by] chang[ing] the culture of the atheist movement…

As of this posting, his petition is approaching 1700 signatories, and I want to see it go as high as possible, so we know how many atheists in our movement have our back, and how many of us these horrible bad apples of atheism are offending. I want to know how alone I am in this, or how supported I am. I want to see where our movement is going: their way, or ours.

Please go sign that petition now. Then come back to read on. Unless you are still not convinced you should bother. In that case read on first, and then see how you feel. [Read more…]

Being with or against Atheism+

What does it mean to support or oppose Atheism+? I took a stab at defining what Atheism+ is all about in The New Atheism+. And Dana Hunter has assembled a quick roundup of other articles on FtB about this movement up to then, but Greta Christina’s posts Why Atheism Plus Is Good for Atheism and Atheism Plus, and Some Thoughts on Divisiveness are both a must-read, while Jen McCreight has announced the launch of the new Atheism Plus Website which is still under construction but will certainly grow in content.

Here I will make it as simple as possible. I have added this new requirement on my booking page (and this is just my own personal speaking policy, I don’t expect anyone else to adopt it):

Note that I will not speak at events run by organizations that are unwilling to repudiate sexism, racism, and homophobia, or that do not endorse the values of reasonableness, compassion, and integrity. You do not have to make a public statement or policy on this. You don’t even have to specifically mention it. But I must feel comfortable that you are an organization that shares these values. And I will assume you are, unless I have reason not to. But if you consider my taking a stand on this to be divisive, don’t ask me to speak at your event (unless it is specifically to debate our moral differences in a reasonable manner). Otherwise I will work with any organization that approves of this value statement, even if it is not an atheist organization or is even an explicitly religious organization.

This goes for individuals as well as organizations, although that will simply be a matter of which company I would prefer to have wherever I happen to be, and not a condition of speaking anywhere (since it’s a free country and I fully expect assholes and douchebags will inevitably be anywhere). It will also be a condition of who I condemn or disown on my own time and in my own venues. In short, if you reject this value statement, you are simply my ideological enemy, and I will give you no quarter. I’ll respect your legal and human rights, because I believe in that. But don’t be shocked if I am not friendly.

This includes if you mock or make fun of Atheism+ or belittle it with stupid dumb-ass shit like calling it Stalinism. That makes you an asshole. Point blank. Plain and simple. We are simply not going to let the Atheism movement become like chat roulette (a point well made in How Not to Build Inclusive Communities).

The rest of this post deals with other, more specific confusions over just what Atheism+ is all about, and who we are chucking into the sewers and shaking the dust off our sandals at. [Read more…]

The Art of the Insult & The Sin of the Slur

Throughout my blogging career I have occasionally been taken to task for using insults and ridicule on select occasions, and have in turn often discussed the ethics of insults and ridicule. And in The New Atheism+ I articulated some of those principles again, and then I went overboard in using the tactic in comments.

People rightly brought up issues with that, so I reexamined my actions there and what people had to say on the subject, and retracted and apologized for some of my actions there. In discussing the matter further I found I was wrong about a few other things, and realized this is an important issue that deserves an article of its own. Getting things like this right is what Atheism+ is all about, and debating and educating each other on these issues is valuable and ought to be welcome.

Because this article necessitates using offensive (in some cases extremely offensive) words in illustrative examples, a trigger warning is in order for anyone who might have a bad reaction to that. This is a clinical, philosophical post about proper and improper use of words, and should be approached as such. But if that is not possible, you should avoid it. [Read more…]

The New Atheism +

There is a new atheism brewing, and it’s the rift we need, to cut free the dead weight so we can kick the C.H.U.D.’s back into the sewers and finally disown them, once and for all (I mean people like these and these). I was already mulling a way to do this back in June when discussion in the comments on my post On Sexual Harassment generated an idea (inspired by Anne C. Hanna) to start a blog series building a system of shared values that separates the light side of the force from the dark side within the atheism movement, so we could start marginalizing the evil in our midst, and grooming the next generation more consistently and clearly into a system of more enlightened humanist values. Then I just got overwhelmed with work and kept putting it off on my calendar for when I had a good half a day or so to get started on that project.

Since then I blogged On Sexual Harassment Policies and Why I Am a Feminist (which smoked out a few of the dregs who attempted to defend their anti-humanist atheism), but closer to my growing thoughts on what separates us, and ought to separate us, within the movement was my post on (Not) Our Kind of People, which wasn’t really about any moral divide (since lots of people who aren’t my kind of people are nevertheless my people as far as basic values go, and I know they would agree; we just enjoy different company), but it paralleled my more private thinking about the evil among us. Then I read Lousy Canuck’s account of the whole abuse of Surly Amy at TAM and elsewhere, which enraged me (I had previously only known parts of that story). It shows the dregs will now publicly mock humanist values, and abusively disregard the happiness of their own people. Well, that starts drawing the battle lines pretty clearly then.

So I was chomping at the bit to find time to write something on this, but still not sure what to say or how to say it. It especially bugged me because I couldn’t get to it for lack of available time (which reminds me to mention, be warned, I am AFK most of this week and so comment moderation here will be unusually slow).

Then Jen McCreight said it for me, more eloquently and clearly than I could have. This weekend she wrote How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism, which was so well received (and quite rightly) that she wrote a brief follow-up: Atheism +. And Greta Christina and others have taken up the banner: Atheism Plus: The New Wave of Atheism. I am fully on board. I will provide any intellectual artillery they need to expand this cause and make it successful.

Its basic values (and the reason for its moniker) Jen stated thus: [Read more…]