Jerry Coyne at BHA 2016—Part 1: YES!

In February Jerry Coyne delivered the British Humanist Association’s annual Darwin Day Lecture in London. For those unfamiliar, Coyne is an evolutionary biologist, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, and the author of Why Evolution is True (which I have read) and Faith vs Fact (which I have not). He is a fierce critic of creationism and a fiery proponent of atheism; he blogs prolifically about these and other topics at Why Evolution Is True.

I genuinely like Jerry Coyne. He comes across as knowledgeable and affable, the kind of person I’d really enjoy sitting next to at a dinner party. Of course that doesn’t mean I agree with him all of the time, and in fact his annoying propensity to shit all over straw feminists is fucking exasperating (more on that in Part 2), as is his comical obliviousness to his own privilege (more on that later too).

But hey, nobody’s perfect. We can all decide for ourselves who we will expose ourselves to, on which topic(s) and under what circumstances. For example, Richard Dawkins is dead to me, barring his (highly unlikely) resurrection into a state of semi-self-awareness minimally capable of basic human decency and rationality. On the other hand, when a good friend recommends Jerry Coyne’s Darwin Day Lecture to me, I might be inclined to put on my (metaphorical) biohazard suit so as not to get splattered with (metaphorical) shit, and check it out. Those with less privilege are always making such calls: suit up and wade into the muck, or maybe sit this one out. Otherwise we would consistently miss out on some interesting and useful knowledge, and worse, we would hardly ever go to any dinner parties at all.

I get the Spidey-Sense that anyone reading this who is in some marginalized group(s)—i.e., not white, male, straight, cis-, able, etc.—is nodding along with me, because microaggressions are A Thing to which those privileged along these axes tend to remain haplessly oblivious. So I completely respect your making a different call about paying any attention whatsoever to Coyne (or Dawkins or anyone else).

But I found (some of) Coyne’s lecture, entitled Evolution and atheism: best friends forever?, fascinating. Moreover, he provides support for my point in this post, namely that:

there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that a robust welfare state (especially quality universal single-payer health care) decreases religiosity, while economic insecurity (with respect to wages, housing, food, etc.) increases it. See, e.g., Phil Zuckerman’s book “Society Without God.” Fiscal conservatism in the form of [American Atheists president] Dave Silverman’s “small government, low taxes, a free market” is entirely antithetical to taking the path most likely to get us to the very outcome he seeks: the death of religion.

I transcribed portions of Coyne’s lecture because I think readers may be genuinely infotained by it, but mainly because I’d like to have an easy link to it in order to help shut down the font of incoherent nonsense that is conservative movement atheism. In case it helps you decide whether to continue reading: I do not allow Coyne’s aforementioned (metaphorical) poo flinging in these portions of the transcript to stand unrebutted, and in any case no poo is flung in Part 1.

Tl;dr:

TRIGGER WARNING: Jerry Coyne.
(especially Part 2.)

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Casualties of conservatives.

[CONTENT NOTE: suicide.]

I woke up this lovely morning to a news alert from The Washington Post about soaring suicide rates in the U.S.:

The U.S. suicide rate has increased sharply since the turn of the century, led by an even greater rise among middle-aged white people, particularly women, according to federal data released Friday.

Well, not exactly. Ten paragraphs later, we learn that Native Americans and Alaska Natives have seen an even greater rate of increased suicides than whites. There’s even a colorful graphic and everything:

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I approve this mockery.

IMAGE: Sunset at Waterrock Knob © Robert Ludlow, North Carolina photographer (Used with permission. All rights reserved.)IMAGE: Sunset at Waterrock Knob
© Robert Ludlow, North Carolina photographer
(Used with permission. All rights reserved.)

As readers here know, the stunningly beautiful state of North Carolina recently enacted an egregious law that voids and prohibits any and all anti-discrimination statutes enacted by local municipalities to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, among others. The law also prohibits local anti-discrimination statutes and/or state law remedies for discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, ethnicity and religion. And since this was not nearly enough doucheweaselry to pack into a single bill introduced in an “emergency session” and passed into law 11 hours and 10 minutes later, it went even further: with respect to public-sector contractors, HB2 also prohibits local municipalities from enacting laws concerning minimum wages, health insurance standards, family leave policies, child welfare protections and the number of consecutive hours an employee is required to work without a break. I mean that is impressive people, amirite?

The most notorious provision of HB2 is the one requiring people to use restrooms corresponding to their assigned gender at birth. Putting aside (for the purposes of this particular rant) its significant implications for those of nonbinary genders, HB2 means, among other things, that these people must now use restrooms designated “WOMEN”: [Read more…]

Squirrel people collude to maim and kill Mississippi women.

Mississippi has been all up in the news lately, most notably for its attempt to wrest the championship title from North Carolina for Worst Asshole State:

Mississippi is making headlines today after Governor Phil Bryant signed House Bill 1523 into law, which allows private businesses to deny service to LGBT customers, and to anyone who has had sex out of wedlock. The bill states that it means to protect the “religious freedom” of Mississippians who believe marriage is solely defined as between a man and a woman, that sexual intercourse should only occur within the boundaries of that definition of marriage, and who don’t believe male or female genders can be changed.

Under House Bill 1523, any church, religious charity, or private business can decline to provide services to those whose lifestyles do not meet that criteria. As ThinkProgress reported, businesses can also fire employees whose lifestyles are in alleged violation of a business owner’s religious freedom…Perhaps the cruelest element of the new law states that a religious-based suicide hotline can refuse counseling to an LGBT caller.

These Christians sure seem super nice. After all, who would Jeezus shun? And how soon until we have a constitutional amendment guaranteeing USAmericans the right to SNIFF ALL THE PANTIES?

Anyway, it should hardly come as a surprise to students of the conservative menace that the Mississippi legislature also passed a bill this week outlawing a safe and effective abortion procedure (D&E), thereby effectively banning abortions after 14 weeks. It will also not come as a surprise that the state senate passed the bill 40-6. What may come as a surprise is that ten of those 40 doucheweasels are Democrats Squirrel People. And there are nine more of them in the House:

The house voted on final passage of the bill Tuesday with an 85-32 vote, approving the amended version passed by the state senate. Nine house Democrats joined with the Republican majority in voting for final passage.

On the bright side though, it’s very reassuring that the Mississippi government doesn’t have any serious problems to solve, so they have the spare time to sit around determining which particular tools and procedures doctors in the state are permitted to use when performing legal medical procedures upon penalty of felony charges, $10,000 fines and two years in jail.

Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who has said that it is his goal to “end abortion” in the state, has not yet said whether he will sign the D and E ban.

There is no way to “end abortion.” There is, however, a way to end safe and legal abortion—and the Squirrel People are on the job.

Invasion of the Squirrel People.

By now you’re probably wondering whether this whole squirrel dealio I’ve been obsessively ranting about here is, you know, actually going somewhere, or if instead I am just writing to amuse myself (as I admittedly do) and wasting a lot of valuable server space at FtB.

Well. I have merely been setting the stage for the Epic Truth Bomb I’m about to drop on you.

I refer, of course, to the Squirrel People.

No, I do not mean the traitorous humans who have taken up the cause of the enemy rodents (although I cannot rule them out). Nor should the Squirrel People be confused with Dick Cheney’s Lizard People, who can be observed in the wild attending CPAC, independent Baptist churches, Republican-sponsored events, gun shows, and terrorizing people outside of Planned Parenthood clinics. The Squirrel People, on the other hand, are by definition all in the Democratic Party. But they conduct themselves primarily as conservatives—with everything that implies.

Oh sure, they go by other names from time to time: Blue Dogs, New Dems, DINOs, the Center Aisle Caucus, etc. But I will not be having any of that. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said recently, “Well, if it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist – it’s a terrorist.” Similarly, if it looks like a squirrel, swims like a squirrel and, um, quacks? like a squirrel? (Okay so that sentence did not go as well as I thought it would. :| ) My point is that the Squirrel People are conservatives. And just like the fucking squirrels, they ruin everything.

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I ♥ NY.

Following in the footsteps of some very powerful companies—including Apple, IBM, Wal-Mart, the NFL, the NBA and American Airlines—that are pressuring the state of North Carolina to repeal its evil law that forbids anti-discrimination statutes that protect LGBT people in any way, and bans trans people from using restrooms appropriate for their gender identities, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is piling on:

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Conservative atheists: get outta mah tent.

Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, is a self-identified conservative. So is Jamila Bey, who sits on AAs board, and who last year gave a speech at CPAC, the annual right-wing clown circus attracting virtually every conservative shitweasel dedicated to ruining life on Earth for everyone (except themselves of course).

Samantha Bee sent a crew to cover Dave Silverman and American Atheists’ presence at this year’s colossal shitshow. It’s a hilarious segment. (If you haven’t been watching her new show Full Frontal on TBS, it is the genuine heir to John Stewart’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.)

My favorite part is when AA’s Amanda Knief says this about Silverman (@1:28):

Dave is what we call a firebrand. In any movement, we need people who are dicks. Who are assholes.

Perhaps this is true. But it is also true that there are different kinds of assholes. And movement atheism, which likes to consider itself a “Big Tent,” is already so chock full of them that many, many good people have been driven away and quite understandably want nothing to do with it.

This fact was highlighted in a recent podcast by one of my awesome new colleagues here at FtB, Trav Mamone at Bi Any Means. Trav was interviewing some d00d named Justin Scott, who has recently made a splash trolling all the presidential candidates by asking them their views on religious freedom. Scott had volunteered with American Atheists at CPAC this year, which prompted this question from Trav (@4:18):

TRAV: Don’t we have enough asshole atheists without bringing the conservatives on board?

ME IN MY APARTMENT: YES! YES!

JUSTIN SCOTT (WHO PROBABLY FEEDS SQUIRRELS) FOR THE REST OF THE ENTIRE PODCAST: NOOOOOOOOOOOO.

I disrespectfully disagree.

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Hello FtB people. FYI, I don’t like squirrels.

I’m Iris, and I really don’t like conservatives. Or squirrels.

(More on that in a minute.)

My story.

I’m one of those notorious godless, feminist leftists, living in New York City for two decades now. I was raised in and around Philadelphia by Christian conservatives, and thereby indoctrinated with the notion that Nice Girls™ never talk about sex, religion or politics. As it turns out though, those are pretty much the only subjects I have any interest in discussing (besides the fucking squirrels OBVIOUSLY).

I blog at perry street palace, and I’m not yet sure whether or to what extent I will move the Palace here. I figure I can just hang out in this space for a while and see how it goes. In the meantime I’ll probably cross-post and re-post here when it feels appropriate, so apologies in advance to my Many Tens of Loyal Readers™ if you’ve followed me here expecting a spectacular cornucopia of new material. Despite appearances, Your Humble Monarch™ is only human, people. I can only crank out so much snark (and craptastic graphics) in a day.

I also blog at Secular Woman and contribute to the HerStory project there, a collaboration with the Freedom From Religion Foundation to celebrate the work of secular women and counter their pervasive erasure from contemporary and historical narratives. I write for the The Greanville Post, and have guest posted at Pharyngula and Worldwide Hippies/Citizen Journalist Exchange and blah blah blah I don’t really like talking about myself MOVING ON.

On mocking conservatives.

I write about a lot of things, but mocking conservatives is truly my calling.

It may be worthwhile to briefly take stock of exactly what it is that US conservatives so fervently wish to conserve: an imperialist oligarchy, in a perpetual state of permanent war, governing a society that is structurally racist, sexist, violent, social Darwinist, ubercapitalist, patriarchal and viciously punitive.

So there’s that.

Because violence (except when necessary for defense) is never a good solution to any problem (except for the goddamn squirrels), this is where mockery can come in quite handy. Properly deployed, it is an extraordinarily potent weapon; that is precisely why petty tyrants, repressive regimes and right-wing asshats the world over will attempt to suppress and seek to outright ban political satire. Clearly it is worth engaging in mockery just to piss off these kinds of people alone.

More broadly though, the social spaces in which conservatives freely regurgitate their toxic views with impunity are downright ubiquitous in the US. If we want to subvert this reality—that is, make the spaces conservatives have heretofore inhabited comfortably uncomfortable for them (for a refreshing change)—then there must be a social price to pay for spewing that tripe. And as any social justice warrior worth her trolls will tell you, silence in the face of harmful speech, from rape jokes to racist slurs, is taken as agreement and solidarity by the speaker, and by others who may witness it.

In one sense, mocking conservatives is easy. Having dedicated much of my adult life to the study of conservatives in the wild (and not coincidentally, much of my childhood to surviving them), I can tell you that these people are some seriously fragile flowers. Conservatives are compulsively status- and approval-seeking creatures, and place a weirdly high value on superficial norms and social conformity. This makes them uniquely vulnerable to any suggestion that they are the outsider (and incidentally explains why they prefer to dwell in the homogeneous bubbles they erroneously construe as the One True Real America™).

I can also tell you that conservatives generally do not change their views in response to overwhelming evidence and reason; in fact, they have an unfortunate propensity to cling to their demonstrably wrong views even more tightly when confronted with rational appeals. So while it isn’t remotely realistic to envision conservatives becoming more reality-based in numbers significant enough to bring about an enlightened egalitarian society in the US, it is a legitimate (if daunting) goal to make sure it is in their own best interests to shut the fuck up. After all, their own interests are pretty much the only thing that has ever motivated them.

But if mocking conservatives is easy in theory, it is not so easy in practice. Whenever we launch rhetorical barbs at our conservative enemies, we must take great care to avoid collateral damage to innocent third parties—and particularly to third parties who are marginalized, oppressed or otherwise less privileged. We do not want to be the ones perpetuating the ugly status quo; that’s their thing. As all activists do, I sometimes fuck this up (and I welcome being called out when I do). But nevertheless it is necessary to leverage whatever privilege, power and platforms we have to punch up—never down—and to only use our mockery superpowers for good.

That said, conservatives are manifestly not marginalized, oppressed or less-privileged in any way. They control the government of the most powerful nation on Earth, have done so for decades if not centuries, and show no sign of retreat (quite the opposite). They have also taken over state and local governments across the nation and are eagerly destroying civil liberties, labor unions, the human right to bodily autonomy, the air and the water, the rule of law, living wages, public education, the woefully insufficient social safety net, crops and coastlines, the wall of separation between church and state, the wall of separation between big business and government, and the lives of countless millions of innocent people, including children, here and around the globe. (This is hardly a complete list of conservative evils.)

Therefore it is our goddamn patriotic duty to mock them, relentlessly, until they are the ones whose voices are marginalized. As opposed to, you know, everyone else. Then and only then will we quit. (Maybe.)

Thoughts on religion.

I’m against it! I’m a capital “A” Atheist and Anti-theist and not shy about it. I think faith itself—that is, belief without evidence—is a terrible pox on humanity. (And then pretending that is some kind of virtue?! PLEASE.) Faith as an epistemology fosters all kinds of tragedies, like irrationality and gullibility, wars, toxic masculinity and awful music. I abhor it, and would like it to go away forever THE END.

But the thing is, my Muslim and Christian and Jewish and Hindu and neopagan and astrologist friends and neighbors are intelligent and kind and tolerant people. Except for the supernatural bullshit, their values and priorities overlap with mine considerably. You will therefore be unsurprised to learn that they are not conservatives.

From this observation I think we can gain some important insights into some very big and complex issues we face, as a nation and as a species. For example, the problem in the Middle East isn’t Islam—it’s conservative Islam. ISIS is not made up of liberal Muslims seeking to create a pluralistic society based on democracy, equality and tolerance. Likewise, the problem in the US isn’t Christianity—it’s conservative Christianity. The problem in Myanmar is conservative Buddhists, if you can believe it.

So while I’m not about to stop skewering faith or religion generally, I naturally tend to direct my most pointed mockery at the conservatives among the faithful. THEY ARE THE FUCKING WORST.

But it isn’t because they’re religious, at least not fundamentally. It’s because they’re—say it with me now!—conservatives.

For what it’s worth (probably not much) I once took a silly political test and scored so far off the left end of the graph that I had to redesign the chart just to plot my position:

irischart

Economic score (Left/Right): -18.25 Social score (Libertarian/Authoritarian): -9.03

I call your attention to this chart incident not to flaunt my lefty bona fides or anything, but to perhaps offer some perspective on my otherwise inexplicable loathing of all things conservative, and my burning mission to mock them. Mercilessly.

Now about those squirr—

OMFG I have so, so much to tell you! But this post is waaaay too long already. (I may have forgotten to mention that I can be excruciatingly verbose? Oops.) So the fucking squirrels will have to wait.

But would be remiss if I did not leave you with this advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid.