I bet I can find at least one good reason for what I do

Hi, Aaron. As you’ve probably come to expect of me, I’m just going to jump right into analyzing some of the things you said.

Your central point appears to be that my videos make no difference – that they fail to influence people’s religious views, and are thus a waste of time. You seem to place all potential viewers into two distinct categories: either they already agree with me, making my videos superfluous, or they don’t agree and are completely beyond the reach of any kind of persuasion, firmly and inextricably entrenched in their views.

This probably isn’t the case. Not all of the people who don’t share my views are forever inaccessible and totally unable to be convinced otherwise. Some are, but they certainly don’t comprise the entirety of everyone who disagrees with me. There are actually plenty of people whose belief systems, while different from my own, are capable of changing when challenged in one way or another. They are potentially “vulnerable” to that – they have not all placed themselves off-limits to argument.

One case of someone who may be open to persuasion would be a person who perceives that there may be something not quite right about their religion, and harbors some primordial doubts about it, but lives in an environment where their culture and even their own life has been thoroughly infused with religion, to the extent that actively rejecting and leaving their faith is unthinkable. These influences may deter them from further pursuing any doubts they may have, and they’ll instead simply “go with the flow” as their family, friends and culture expect of them, remaining observant of their religion. They may not even be aware that outright nonbelief is possible, let alone capable of offering a more richly developed and satisfying outlook on life than their current faith. Exposing such people to the atheistic worldview can open doors for them that they might not have even realized were there.

Another example would be the people who simply don’t think very much about the religion they follow. If it’s something they’ve always been a part of, they might not have contemplated the possibility that there are other religious views available, or that they could be wrong. Some people really have just never considered these things, instead operating on “autopilot” for a large part of their lives without critically examining their own beliefs. In this case, there could definitely be certain arguments that might make them think about their religion in ways they never have before. It’s quite possible that such people can have various different “threads” hanging from the sweater of their beliefs which, when pulled, kickstart the process of unraveling the entire thing. Some people really do have weak spots in their belief systems that can be targeted by specific arguments.

In essence, there is still a movable middle here of people who, while religious, can be persuaded to change their views. Religion is not always a fully-enclosed, impenetrable and unfailingly self-reinforcing system for everyone who believes in it. For instance, I’ve received numerous responses from Christians and other nonspecific believers who acknowledge that I have good points, even if they don’t fully share my views. There are also many atheists who were previously religious, but eventually settled on atheism because something happened that helped to change their beliefs.

You said that, if someone is capable of becoming an atheist, they can “get there on their own” without our assistance, and that they can only “see it and realize it for themselves”. But not everyone truly is capable of reaching these conclusions on their own. It isn’t an inevitability; simply being capable of arriving at a position of atheism does not mean that one necessarily will. Individuals are not fully complete, independent and self-reliant fonts of rationality unto themselves. By sharing our ideas, we fill in the gaps in each other’s abilities, the different areas that were missed and left blank by our varying faculties. Outside perspectives are valuable because they present ideas that people may not have realized or discovered by themselves – or it may have taken them a much longer and circuitous route to get there. So, while you maintain that “if someone’s smart enough to connect the dots, they’re going to do it with or without your help”, we can still accelerate this process by smoothing the path ahead of them. Even if they are smart enough to connect the dots – and I certainly hope they are – they could nevertheless benefit from having the dots clearly pointed out, in the form of pre-digested and easily accessible arguments. They aren’t equally obvious to everyone, even among potential atheists.

You are right to point out how important it is to reach people as early as possible and provide them with the intellectual tools to recognize, resist and reject religious belief systems. Prevention should certainly be a significant component of atheistic outreach. But religion, once acquired, is clearly not an incurable condition. These people are not forever lost, and it’s just as important that we try and reach them as it is for us to keep religious belief from taking hold in the first place. Not all of them can be written off, because there is a real possibility that some of them could change their views – given the proper approach. It would be foolish to ignore all of them as hopeless when many may not be.

So, am I really making no difference here? Is it true that “no number of YouTube videos will win people over”? I don’t think so. The format in particular lends itself to easy, widespread dissemination of ideas and arguments. YouTube is an immensely popular platform, and there are many people who prefer to simply watch videos as a “passive receiver”, rather than having to actively read something which requires greater effort on their part. Perhaps unfortunately, video can be more popular than the written word, and it appeals to a very different kind of audience. I consider it worthwhile to present my views to them, because I think it’s possible that they could find it helpful, and it could ultimately effect some kind of positive change in their beliefs. Posting videos also makes it simple for viewers to share them with their own networks of acquaintances, and expose more and more people to these ideas. In this way, it can take on a life of its own, and grow into something more than I could accomplish alone.

Are there “better battles to fight” than this? Quite possibly – I certainly wouldn’t doubt it. But religion is still a very important one. Working to reduce the prevalence of religious belief and observance holds the promise of, in turn, reducing the problems it causes, and that is not a minor issue. If this can realistically be achieved, it’s worth fighting for, and I hold that my efforts can be effective in influencing people’s beliefs here. While it’s obvious that the unreachable people are unreachable, not all people are. And the ones who can be reached, should be.

When neutrality isn’t right

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” -Elie Wiesel

This July, 15-year-old Justin Aaberg of Anoka, Minnesota committed suicide after he was bullied at school for being gay. Following his death, many students have spoken up about the prevalence of anti-gay harassment at Anoka High School, which the staff have failed to address in any meaningful way. This is due to the school board’s policy, which states:

“Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.”

As a result, teachers are reluctant to do anything to stop homophobic bullying when they see it, not knowing whether this would contravene school policy. The district’s excuse for this is unbelievable.

“It’s very difficult. We have a community that has widely varying opinions, and so to respect all families, as the policy says, we ask teachers to remain neutral,” said District Spokeswoman Mary Olson.

How is it that respecting the opinions of bigots can even be given the same weight as preventing harassment in schools? Why are both homophobia and promoting basic respect and equality reduced to simple “opinions”, as if they should be treated as equal in merit? Working to make schools a safe place for every student is more important than catering to the community’s prejudiced attitudes. Their biases do not need to be respected at the very real expense of children who are being bullied. No student should be forced to bear the personal cost of someone else’s bigotry. Period.

In a situation like this, where concrete harms are being ignored just to satisfy irrelevant and outdated hate that has no place here, a position of “neutrality” is nothing more than the most repugnant neglect. It is a pitiful failure to ensure something so basic as the safety of all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. There is no conceivable moral argument whereby the safety of LGBT students can legitimately be sacrificed just to make homophobes more comfortable in their prejudice. Never.

Fortunately, the district seems to have recognized that they may have screwed up here, and they’re making some changes:

Olson said the district doesn’t tolerate bullying and expects staff to stand up to it, but does acknowledge it happens to gay and lesbian students at school. She said the schools are adding some new training to their anti-bullying policy, which is currently seven years old.

Teachers will get a new training on sexual orientation and harassment. Every student will also be shown a video to lay out what that might mean.

This is a good start, and a necessary step toward handling the serious problems at their schools. When homophobic bullying becomes prevalent, there need to be specific policies geared towards counteracting that. Other schools should learn from this and work to prevent this indefensible anti-gay harassment before it can claim more lives. Anything less is a stark abandonment of fundamental moral duty, and the stance of “neutrality” becomes the utmost irresponsibility.

georedd manipulates reddit again

It looks like an incident from about a year ago has made a surprise reappearance on reddit.com. Last year, a user named georedd was posting dozens of stories pertaining to health insurance and other assorted political issues, and insisting that his submissions were being targeted for down-voting by networks of insurance lobbyists operating on reddit. Once he started claiming this in his posts, they were frequently voted up into the high thousands by people who, understandably, wanted to counteract what they believed to be an attempt at censorship.

The problem is that there was never any evidence that this was actually happening. None of the voting patterns in any of his posts were out of the norm or unusual in a way that would suggest some kind of coordinated suppression. He specifically claimed that it was “statistically impossible” for some of his posts to have 0 points (an equal number of upvotes and downvotes). Yet this happens often with controversial or unpopular submissions – sometimes, there really are just a roughly equal number of people who like and dislike something. This occurs anywhere on reddit, not just on posts about healthcare and politics.

Similarly, the voting patterns on his posts with less than zero points (more downvotes than upvotes) didn’t appear to be abnormal, either. It is possible for posts to just be voted down a lot; this is pretty common on reddit. His posts often had irritating titles which could easily be construed as spam, and were cross-posted to multiple sections of reddit that they weren’t always relevant to. It’s not surprising that people would vote him down – none of this was excessive or odd, and it was nothing that would require the coordinated efforts of insurance lobbyists.

Once I noticed what georedd was doing on reddit, I posted a video explaining that he was most likely just claiming to be systematically censored so that more people would vote on his submissions, and suggested that reddit users vote his stories down in response to discourage this. After a few weeks, he mostly faded into the background and people stopped caring.

Until now. Yesterday, georedd made a post titled: “A year ago a reddit moderator made a video which told redditors to downvote my posts categorically because the moderator thought my claims of right wing suppression groups operating on social networks like reddit was ridiculous.”

Guess this goes in the category of “I told you so.”

I again recently ran across the youtube video made by a reddit moderator who told redditors to downvote me categorically because the moderator thought my claims of right wing suppression groups operating on social networks like reddit was ridiculous in 2009. ( did you get that? The reddit moderator told people to downvote me enmasse because my claims of groups of people voting down my comments enmasse was not real… sigh. )

here’s that video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfrfyszQdJE

(please note since then it has been widely proven via this story at alternet.org http://blogs.alternet.org/oleoleolson/2010/08/05/massive-censorship-of-digg-uncovered/

That huge right wing groups called “bury groups” indeed were operating on social networks doing exactly what I said – they were massively downvoting stories in organized efforts that didn’t agree with their conservative outlook on Digg and they do the same thing on Reddit although they haven’t been tracked as closely on reddit yet. (I documented some of them in some of my own posts years ago including some redditors who pointed people to bots to manipulate reddit.)

This was interesting. It seems he hasn’t given up trying to mislead reddit users. To call me a “reddit moderator” isn’t quite accurate, since it has no relevance here. Anyone can be a moderator on reddit, and it isn’t administratively assigned – all you have to do is start your own section, which anyone can do, or be added as a moderator for a section. I’m only a moderator of the WTF and LGBT sections; I’ve never had anything to do with georedd’s submissions. So when I posted my video, it’s not like I was acting in any official capacity as part of reddit – I’m just another user.

More importantly, georedd seems to think he’s been vindicated here when he actually hasn’t. Stating that there are “right wing suppression groups operating on social networks like reddit” suggests that such groups actually were systematically suppressing his posts as he claimed. And yet there’s still no proof of that, or even any evidence vaguely pointing to it. The story he referenced was about a large network of right-wing Digg users who would organize to bury specific submissions that they disagreed with. From this, he seems to think it can automatically be assumed that his own posts were being subjected to the same treatment, and that similar networks are operating on reddit. Such an assumption is unfounded, and even he admits this – he just says they “haven’t been tracked as closely on reddit yet.” In other words, either evidence of this is eventually found, and he was right, or we should just have faith that it will be found, meaning he’s still right. Regardless of whether there’s anything to support his claims, he ends up being right either way – the total lack of evidence means nothing here.

And, just like what happened last year, his deceptive post convinced hundreds of reddit users to vote it onto the front page. He misled them into believing he was being censored when he wasn’t, and now he’s misleading them into thinking he was right when he wasn’t. He lied last year, and he’s lying again. And reddit took the bait: the truth lost, and the lie won.

By the way, would you like to see what reddit thinks of gay people, trans people and women?

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Good fucking luck if you’re expecting an apology from this bitch.

How dumb does Gary Glenn think we are?

Ruth JohnsonAs dumb as he is, apparently. Ruth Johnson, Republican candidate for Michigan secretary of state, recently tried to match her opponent Paul Scott prejudice-for-prejudice by declaring that she also doesn’t support allowing transgender citizens to have their gender officially changed on their driver’s license. Gary Glenn of the American Family Association of Michigan, who previously suggested that states should criminalize being gay, offers his thoughts:

“In an era of identity theft and national security concerns, we’re glad that Ruth Johnson has now joined Rep. Paul Scott in expressly stating her opposition to the Secretary of State policy of allowing men to falsely identify themselves as female on their state-issued driver’s license, and vice versa,” said Campaign for Michigan Families chairman Gary Glenn.

“The people of Michigan should at minimum be able to trust their state government to tell the truth, not enable certain individuals’ psychological and emotional delusions by officially and legally identifying them as something they biologically are not. We urge all candidates for Secretary of State to let voters know where they stand on this honesty-in-government issue.”

Whatever gender you may identify as, this doesn’t mean that you’re identifying as someone else. Your identity, regardless of gender, is your own, not that of another person. So where exactly does “identity theft” enter into this? Whose identity is at risk of theft? And how is it truthful, honest or trustworthy for the government to designate a female-identified, female-presenting woman as male? That’s not even accurate, let alone honest. It’s just confusing, and it doesn’t foster any kind of trust when the law refuses to recognize citizens for who they are.

Acknowledging the reality of gender and its nuances, and by extension, the genuine identities of trans people, is a responsibility of the government. Indulging the ignorance and discomfort of people like Gary Glenn is not.

Bryan Fischer’s failure of character

Bryan FischerIn the aftermath of Wednesday’s historic Prop 8 ruling, some social conservatives have been getting just a little heated. Like Bryan Fischer, the AFA blogger who thinks we should once again make it illegal to be gay. His solution to the Prop 8 ruling? Impeach the judge. And you’ll never guess why…

Although almost no other organizations other than the American Family Association are making an issue of this, Judge Walker should have recused himself from this case since he is a practicing homosexual. This created a clear conflict of interest, and he had no business issuing a ruling on a matter on which he had such a huge personal and private interest.

So, any gay person can be assumed to be biased when judging a case regarding the legality of gay marriage? Does that mean all heterosexuals are similarly biased about cases pertaining to whether marriage should be reserved as a heterosexual privilege? Of course not. This isn’t about sexuality, it’s about impartiality. And there’s nothing to suggest that someone’s sexual orientation automatically renders them incapable of making an impartial judgement. Claiming otherwise means implying that, while heterosexuals are able to put aside their personal preferences when deciding cases, gay people absolutely can’t. Why? What is it about being attracted to the opposite sex that makes you inherently less susceptible to bias? This is akin to saying that female judges are obligated to recuse themselves from any cases about gender inequality, and black judges should be required to recuse themselves from cases involving racism, because their personal qualities mean they would never be able to remain impartial.

His own personal sexual proclitivies [sic] utterly compromised his ability to make an impartial ruling in this case. After all, the bottom line issue is whether homosexual behavior, with all its threats to psychological and physical health, is behavior that should be promoted in any rational society.

You may have missed it, Mr. Fischer, but we’ve already been over this, and the answer is that it is not the place of the government to discourage anyone from being gay. Further, it seems you’ve failed to realize that stopping gay people from marrying does not stop them from being gay. And if you think Judge Walker’s ruling was “compromised” by his sexuality, I suggest you read it for yourself. It is a remarkably thorough and well-sourced decision, citing a vast array of factual findings, expert testimony and legal precedents which clearly establish that Proposition 8 was in violation of the United States Constitution.

And if it were handed down by a straight judge, it would have been just as sound.

He is Exhibit A as to why homosexuals should be disqualified from public office. Character is an important qualification for public service, and what an individual does in his private sexual life is a critical component of character. A man who ignores time-honored standards of sexual behavior simply cannot be trusted with the power of public office.

What comes to mind when you think about character? Is it integrity, resilience and courage? Honesty, fairness, discretion and respect? Trustworthiness? Loyalty?

For Bryan Fischer, it’s about nothing more than who you find attractive: men or women. I challenge anyone to find a more irrelevant and uninformative basis for judging character. Being gay, or straight, or anywhere in between, tells us nothing about a person’s honor, virtue or moral uprightness. It only tells us who they love – not who they are.

It’s worth noting that there have been many different “time-honored standards of sexual behavior”. Historically, polygamy has been one of the most common. Homosexual pederasty was a well-established practice in ancient Greece and Rome for centuries. For much of history, marital rape was fully legal, with no recourse for the wife. And in some parts of the world today, men have continued the time-honored tradition of taking child brides, who often die from intercourse or childbirth.

Certainly some of these standards are worth ignoring.

Citing “time-honored standards of sexual behavior”, and nothing more, only serves as an excuse to avoid explaining why these standards should hold any weight. Note that he isn’t appealing to anything like, say, elementary sexual ethics. “Standards” are all he has to offer, because these standards are the only place he can hope to find support for something as ridiculous as a moral injunction against being gay. How are such “time-honored standards” defined? In this case, by the widespread condemnation of gay people and gay sex. For Fischer, “time-honored standards of sexual behavior” is just a disguise for an appeal to common bigotry: “a lot of people think being gay is bad, so it is!”

So, what does all of this tell us about Bryan Fischer’s character? Well, what does it say about your character when you derive your morals from irrational hate? What does it say when you appoint yourself as automatically superior to anyone who doesn’t share your personal preferences? What does it say when you declare people to be “compromised” and untrustworthy because of who they love?

What does it say when you would tell our most outstanding, most competent, most qualified aspiring judges and leaders that they are never worthy of holding office, simply because they aren’t heterosexual?

Nothing good.

Bryan Fischer has vividly demonstrated why Prop 8 was rightfully overturned:

Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate.

Focusing on the most irrelevant thing possible

Cliff KincaidHey, remember Cliff Kincaid? The guy who said Uganda’s proposed gay execution bill only includes death “for deliberately spreading AIDS and engaging in homosexual behavior that threatens children and society”, when the death sentence could actually apply to any gay person who’s had consensual sex more than once (“aggravated homosexuality”), and the majority of HIV infections in Uganda occur through heterosexual contact? Yeah. Well, guess who I got a shout-out from…

Military Homosexual Scandal Tied to WikiLeaks Treason:

Gawker cites evidence that Manning contacted well-known trans videoblogger ZJ via AOL Instant Messenger as far back as February 21, 2009, and said that he enjoyed the videos on the site. “He just said he enjoyed my videos,” ZJ said. “He told me that me and him were on the same page.”

ZJ is “Zinnia Jones” and the site is linked to a Facebook entry for “Queer and Queer-Supportive Atheists,” described as “A group for atheists and agnostics who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, or otherwise queer, as well as straight allies. We support LGBT rights and oppose the influence of religion in the government and the law.”

(Oh, dear. There’s “well-known trans videoblogger ZJ” again.)

Really, “Military Homosexual Scandal”? So is it a scandal about a person in the military who happens to be a homosexual? Or is it a “homosexual scandal” in the military? Either way, why does that have any relevance here? Sure, he may have leaked thousands of potentially compromising documents about an ongoing war… but he’s gay!

Kincaid’s entire article is a morass of unsubstantiated rumors and insinuations:

It is apparent that Manning, based on published reports, was a public homosexual activist for at least over a year. During this time he apparently came up with the idea of downloading and releasing the classified information to WikiLeaks as a way to get back at the United States military over its policy regarding homosexuality.

If he had actually read any of Manning’s conversations, it’s obvious he had a number of concerns that motivated him to release the documents, but never listed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as one of them. He had already mentioned DADT when he spoke with me, all the way back in February of 2009 when he hadn’t even leaked anything and didn’t indicate that he was planning to. And he really didn’t seem very worried about it.

In another bizarre twist, reliable reports suggest that Private First Class Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army Intelligence analyst accused of leaking the classified information to the WikiLeaks.org website, was not only a homosexual but was considering a sex change.

While it’s impossible to completely rule out that he’s trans, the support for this claim is extremely weak to nonexistent, and appears to rely solely on a creative interpretation of his conversations with Adrian Lamo. Nothing he said to me ever suggested that he was trans, or questioning his identity in any way.

The riveting Telegraph account of Manning’s growing rage and anger raises serious questions of how the soldier was able to flaunt his homosexuality despite the fact that the Pentagon still officially has a policy in place of excluding open homosexuals from military service.

So, it’s not really about his “growing rage and anger” – which would seem to be pretty important in terms of understanding his motives – but his homosexuality? Just think about this for a moment. Here’s two hypothetical scenarios:

  1. Manning was just as upset with the military, but he was also a heterosexual. Would his not being gay have been the only thing keeping him from making the same choice, under the same circumstances, for the same reasons? Why?
  2. Manning, while gay, was perfectly satisfied with the military and loved his job. Would his being gay have been enough to make him release thousands of classified documents, despite having no reason to? How?

Again, what makes this relevant to anything?

The dramatic revelations about Manning’s circle of friends and associates suggest that, rather than repeal the homosexual exclusion policy, as Obama is demanding, the prohibition on homosexuals should have been more strictly enforced and that it should be strengthened today. What’s more, it is clear that Manning should have been expelled from the Armed Forces long before he allegedly did his damage to U.S. national security.

How does a requirement of heterosexuality function as a reliable security measure? Are straight people inherently incapable of espionage? Does being attracted to the opposite sex guarantee loyalty, obedience, and a greater ability to keep secrets? This is what you would have to demonstrate in order to justify anti-gay discrimination as a useful method of threat reduction. Prove that you are a more capable person than us, because of who you love.

Would a more strictly applied anti-gay policy have kept Manning out of the military? Possibly. But what it wouldn’t do is ensure that a heterosexual wouldn’t have leaked the same material instead. It may end up excluding the gay soldier who would have turned that person in before they could do any damage, though. Do you see how this is a totally useless criterion?

It will be interesting to see how the pro-homosexual U.S. media deal with the shocking revelations about Manning – and whether they investigate whether he was part of a secret homosexual network in the military that is currently working with WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, once part of a group called the “International Subversives.”

Oh, I see why he mentioned me…

What is this, the ’50s? It’s the Lavender Scare all over again! Really, if someone is crafty enough to infiltrate the military for the purpose of espionage, what makes you think screening out gay people would prevent this? If they can manage to stay under without being found out, how hard would it be for them to pass as straight? That would be trivial in comparison, and it’s exactly why excluding gay people fails to accomplish anything. And even if they could reliably keep out every gay person, do you really believe there would be no straight spies to replace them?

This is important because the Manning scandal provides ammunition to those who want to maintain the exclusion of homosexuals from the military. It proves in dramatic terms that homosexuals with gender identity disorders are potentially unstable and that their strange sexual preferences can subvert the military mission and cost lives.

Homosexuals are “potentially unstable”. Heterosexuals are “potentially unstable”. People with gender identity disorder are “potentially unstable”. People without gender identity disorder are “potentially unstable”.

It’s not about whether they’re “potentially unstable”, it’s about whether they actually are. And a person’s sexuality or gender identity is not useful information that would help in determining this. And since when is being attracted to men or women a “strange sexual preference”? Whichever you prefer, so does about half of the world population. How “strange”!

The only way this “provides ammunition” is if you’re a gutless hatemongering idiot. This is nothing but the same bigoted tactics we’ve come to know all too well: malicious generalization using one unflattering example to demonize an entire group of people, which is oddly never applied to all straight people based on the bad behavior of individual heterosexuals. So what makes it okay to mischaracterize gay people like that? Homosexuality and heterosexuality have nothing to do with it. Gay people serve in armies around the world, ours included. And they do their job as professionally and as competently as their fellow straight servicemembers. One prominent counterexample does not negate that.